The Haddon Blog spares no effort when it comes to bringing the very best to your screen. The following interview with master wordsmith Clive Johnson took place in his 18th Century house in Manchester, UK. Clive is author of Leiyatel’s Embrace which he describes as a ‘Speculative Fiction Mystery’ and which has justifiably drawn excellent reviews. His blog can be found on Goodreads. Clive is working on a sequel novel called Of Weft and Weave.
Clive stood up when I squelched in through the door. A tall man, slim and fit-looking, dressed in a teal fleece-top and blue jeans.
“Good swim?” he said. “It’s a long haul from Maryland.”
“I guess that’s a problem with being an Indie author,” I said. “No expenses.”
We sat down. Through the window in front of us, the afternoon sun shone proudly on bursting buds and the green haze of emerging leaves. The creeping shadow of the church across the road felt its way towards the end of the day.
“Are those trainers GOLD?” I said.
He looked down.
“’Fraid so. It’s a weakness.”
“I hate to think about the underwear.”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
My laptop had survived the crossing, wrapped only in a ziploc bag. I fired it up.
“Pretty impressive CV, Mr Johnson. All that IT stuff you work at is only the tip of the iceberg (no Titanic jokes please). It says here that you have an HGV licence. For readers in the US, this means you can drive big trucks. You’re also a biker – Honda Blackbird rather than Raleigh five-speed – and you have a green belt in Judo. The list goes on. Fell running? That’s one of those activities that would kill most of us ordinary mortals. Bonsai growing? Is that not a contradiction in terms? I see you are also very good with your hands, but I shall resist the temptation to sink into double entendre at this point. Instead, why don’t you give me an idea of your favourite activities?”
A ginger cat jumped onto his lap. He stroked it, looked distracted for a moment.
“Other than sex, d’you mean?”
“We’ll take that as read.”
“Actually, I prefer…oh, never mind. Well, let’s see – favourite? I won’t cite writing as I think you mean ‘physical activity’, so I’ll say horse-riding. Particularly collected work on a highly strung Thoroughbred or Arab. As near an ecstatic experience as I can imagine. It’s the kind of empathic and hence sensual feeling (in the strictly non-sexual sense) that comes from giving yourself over so completely to something else, something genuinely potentially highly dangerous. A near second must be cutting-up the bends on a powerful motorbike during a long and engaging ride.”
“Excellent. Almost as good as sex. And what about authors who have most influenced your writing?”
“Umm. Mervyn Peake by a long mile, although last read more than thirty years ago. Tolkien, of course. After that, I’d have to mention Robert Heinlein, Olaf Stapledon, Lewis Carroll, E. R. Eddison, Frank Herbert, Dickens, Laurie Lee, Charlotte Bronte, Tolstoy, Stanislaw Lem, Vladimir Nabokov, Stephen King, William Hope Hodgson, and many, many more.”
“An impressive list, Clive. Olaf’s a new one on me, I must admit. Now, I won’t ask you anything as daft as naming your favourite books, but give me three that pop into your head immediately.”
“Oh – Titus Groan, Gormenghast, Lord of the Rings. How about those?”
I squeezed water from the arm of my fleece into a convenient plant pot.
“Having read ‘Leiyatel’s Embrace’,” I said, “those seem like good choices. Speaking of which, tell me how that wonderful story evolved.”
He lifted the cat from his lap and stood up.
“Would you like a beer?”
“I thought you’d never ask. Maybe a towel might be handy, too.”
Things were looking up. Clive returned with a fluffy bath towel and dried up the worst of the water on the floor. We toasted our mutual health in amber nectar. He settled back into his seat. The cat returned.
“I was about twenty, at university and drunk on excessive spare time and other intoxicants students in those days partook of – I was also naïve! It wasn’t so much an urge to write, nor a story to be told but more the need to commit a ‘feeling’ to paper. That’s the best way I can describe it; a ‘feeling’, for it was more akin to a half-remembered dream or clinging phantom image of somewhere only recently visited. I am an artist at heart, you see, and a good practitioner at that (something I was born with and so didn’t have to work at) and so I think in images, in atmosphere and presence. With hindsight I realise it was the need to record that revelatory place that brought scrawling pen to paper. In a way, I was letting some inner muse take care of the narrative and concentrating almost wholly on creating the feel of Dica. The story hiding in my head went only so far, though, and eventually left me scratching a progressively more rambling and unconvincing tale, as though the muse had recoiled at my poor wordsmith’s skills. The manuscript eventually found its way to the loft of the house we’ve lived in for the last thirty years, before being unearthed in preparation for improving the insulation up there. Somehow, I became gripped by it once more, keen to rediscover the tale it held. Through the naïve, clumsy and shockingly inept prose I re-saw the story but saw it far more fully, as though the muse had lived on in it and had then smiled in recognition of the mature me. It didn’t then take long for transcription to become rewrite and before I knew it, I’d inadvertently become a budding author. The story started out as ‘The Winds of Change’ but an internet check threw up countless volumes with the same name, so I had to rethink. The name Leiyatel, as with just about all the work’s names, came from the story’s initial inspiration, from the muse within, and proved almost unique. Without wanting to give too much away – it is after all a work of ‘mystery’ – the device of Leiyatel’s remit or embrace is key to the tale and so the title wasn’t long in coming.”
“Wonderful. Do you want to explain to readers what ‘Dica’ means?”
Clive took a long pull at his beer, then shook his head.
“I’m happy to let them guess. Or Google it.”
“Okay. No problem. Now tell me what happened next.”
“It took about two years to get the initial manuscript into a Word file. Then I decided that all I needed to do was to make it into one hand-crafted, bound volume. Once that was done, all 425 pages of it, I reasoned that it was time to move on. However, at that point a friend showed an interest and wanted to read it. Her enthusiasm bowled me over. She suggested self-publishing, on the basis that no publisher would touch such a long and novel work from an unknown author. She was sufficiently encouraging, and me belligerent enough, that I then seriously embarked on learning how to write proper! Here, my lifelong, beloved companion Kit became instrumental for she’s proven a fierce but constructive editor and natural and highly able teacher, and it’s largely down to her that the published work is at all readable. Once I’d spent another six months or so knocking it into shape, the ePublishing process through Amazon was pretty straightforward. Mind you, I was a chartered IT professional until relatively recently…”
“So. You sleep with your editor, eh? Me, too. Your description of Kit and her role in your life and writing would also describe the situation with Juli and me almost perfectly. Interesting. Okay, now we’re down to the last few questions. What about marketing?”
“Oh dear! Marketing! What a dirty word, but unfortunately an essential task if you don’t want your hard graft to vanish into obscurity amongst the millions of Amazon titles. We’re actually immensely lucky these days in that there are so many social media products out there, things like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, this last one the medium I most twigged with. I tried various dedicated forums, but the only one I’ve stayed with is Goodreads. I really only use their blogging facility at present, but I intend to take a much more active part when my sequel’s finally released sometime in April. Although Twitter and Facebook let you spam to your heart’s content, almost, it’s not an advisable strategy. I’ve found it’s best to use Twitter for getting to know people and organisations, leaving book promotion as a minor, almost background activity. Suddenly, marketing became socialising and so far more enjoyable, although still hard work and very time consuming. Since I’ve made loads of good friends, acquaintances and connections without having to be in-their-faces with my book, interest in it has really grown of its own accord. If you’re the kind of person people like connecting with, then the chances are they’ll like what you write, and that’s very much the direction my marketing’s taken. It was only when I reckoned that I genuinely knew sufficient people well enough, that I considered using the Amazon KDP Free Book Promotion facility. Making a book free for a period isn’t good enough in itself to lift your exposure, not if nobody actually notices it, so I was lucky in having so many good Twitter followers who quickly and effectively re-tweeted my promo, so helping make it a superb success – 1,004 copies downloaded in three days was pretty impressive, a genuine surprise as well, I can tell you. Right back in the early days, someone said something to me that was most pertinent here, that quality will out. Well, it is true but, however good your book, it still takes effort to get it into hands that see it as such, ones that then start making complementary noises about it on their own accord.”
“Well said, Mr J! I’ve found that strategy works well for me, too. Now, we’re running out of time. If I don’t get going soon, I’ll be late for dinner. Remember, I won’t have the Gulf Stream helping me on the way back. So. What do you most like and least like about writing?”
“Most like? The music! It’s actually the cadence, lilt, rhythm and metre of the sentences, that each word’s notes bring together, that I most enjoy. I think it’s probably the artist in me at play here, for I see the shapes of sentences, paragraphs, story arc and characters almost as musical stanzas, verse and chorus, like refrain, movement and opus. If the text reads back like a piece of music then I just know it’s right, that it’s concise, implicit and absorbing, that it doesn’t jar or sound off-key. Okay, get the straightjacket if you must, but that’s the way it is.
“Least like? Editing! I love the end result, don’t get me wrong, but the process is just so methodical, time-consuming and deadening. I’d love to be able to write perfectly first time but know it just ain’t like that, so accept the necessary evil. It doesn’t make it any the more enjoyable, though.”
“Terrific answers, Clive. Especially that one about the music. Thanks so much for your time. Thoroughly enjoyed it.”
We stood up, me still dripping, and shook hands.
“Green,” he said, “and three.”
“I know, there just wasn’t enough time for everything.”
And I squelched off into the sunset.