Such a treat to have Jay here today, answering my daft questions.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve been doing it so long I can’t remember; except that I’ve always had a very vivid imagination and, when I was young, read so much that I would occasionally run out of books. Eventually I wrote my own stories so as to have something to read. In the early days, these were never finished. Perhaps my true beginning story was the first I completed, when I was at university. It began with a picture in my mind of ski tracks off the edge of a cliff (it was a very bad story and full of angst). My first novel, unfinished and unpublished, was set in the imaginary world where I set the ski tracks. It has a complete as well as an incomplete novel set there, but I doubt that either is publishable.
Do you have another job (paid or otherwise) apart from being an author? If so, how do you juggle your time?
I have a part-time job, mostly brain-work, and time doesn’t so much get juggled as firmly put into boxes. I’m a night owl, always have been. My writing happens between 10pm and midnight, or 1 am or 2 am… unless I’m lucky enough to be on holiday.
What did it feel like watching your first book fledge and leave the nest?
It was as exhilarating and scary as suddenly acquiring the ability to fly myself. That’s all I can say, really.
Are you character or plot driven? What do you do if one of your characters starts developing at a tangent?
Um. Both, I think. I start with a situation. Then I put a character in the situation; how my character reacts then drives the plot, but also (since I write historical), the plot can be driven by historical events, and these will affect different characters differently.
If a character starts going off at a tangent I will give him/her free rein for a while, in case this is my subconscious having a good idea; if not, I will cut the tangent out and give it to another character. (When Robert Robinson asked Iris Murdoch what she did if her characters acquired minds of their own, she replied very firmly, “I squash them, dear!” – but she was much more of a planner than me. I start with the idea and see where it takes me).
If you were in a tight corner and had to rely on one of your characters to save you, which would it be and why?
I would most like to be got out of a tight corner by Hugh from Dance of Stone; he seems to be the quickest thinker and the most reliable. I’m very fond of Philip in The Peacock’s Eye, and of all my characters he’s the one I’d most like to have dinner (and a bit more) with – but I would have to be a real friend of his before he would get me out of said tight corner. Hugh would do it whether I was a friend or not, because he just does the right thing regardless, however much he tries to persuade himself not to.
If you had no constraints of time and a guarantee of publication, what book would you write?
I’m not sure I didn’t already get to do that with Dance of Stone! I had lived with a dream of writing my Great Medieval Novel for twenty-five years or so. However, if it has to be a new book, then it would be a historical novel set in the early nineteenth century about the Royal Navy and its work in stopping the African slave trade (and for a change, I don’t think it would be a gay romance).
Is there a classic book you started and simply couldn’t finish?
I even managed to plough through Joyce’s Ulysses because it was on my university reading list, so the answer to that one should be “no”… however, it’s “yes”. Moby Dick is one, and (less classic) Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is another. Everyone expects me to like the latter, for some reason. Instead, it enrages me.
What’s your favourite gay romance/other genre book? And why?
Gay romance has to be Adam Fitzroy’s Make Do And Mend. I adore Jim Brynawel in that, and Adam sets it so specifically to its time, while at the same time calling up the deeps of history that are in Wales… that, and his rather astringent style, and the pitch-perfect relationship between Jim and Harry – mmm!
Other genre: Too many to choose from! I’m sure I give a different answer every time I’m asked this question. I would say that The Lord of the Rings is probably the book I have read most often. One that strongly influenced my writing was Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, the first m/m relationship book I ever read; however, I haven’t re-read it in years. They say the answer to this question is to define what you would save from a house fire. I had thought, not The Lord of the Rings, because I could always get another copy; then I remembered that my copy was a gift from my parents, so I think it would be that after all.
What’s your next project?
First I’m committed to Across Your Dreams, which is a novel set during the Great War and after; it tells the stories of the three main characters from my two stories in Manifold Press’s A Pride of Poppies. After that, probably a Second World War story whose working title is The Careless Heart. After that – there’ll be something. What, I don’t yet know.