This week I’m joined by John Beresford. I’ll let the more astute among you work out how I know John (even saying that sounds pretty odd to me). He’s been writing solidly since an early age, but in the last few years – well, I’ll let him tell you himself. Welcome John, and let’s kick off with question #1 (I feel like I’m hosting a TV show… ! ).
- A little bit about yourself, your background etc.
Worked for 38 years in the computer industry as a software & systems designer, developer, and architect, writing in my spare time. Took early retirement in June 2015 and now write full-time, which of course means my rate of progress has nosedived. No formal training in English or writing, but a natural ability with language coupled with extensive reading gives me a better-than-average grasp of grammar, spelling, and good sentence structure. I also like to persuade myself that I have a writer’s ear for good dialogue.
- How long have you been writing for?
I’ve been expressing my ideas and designs through writing my whole working life, but assuming you mean fiction, I returned to this seriously in late 1999 and haven’t stopped since. Although I’ve had long periods of inactivity in the intervening 16 years, I’m always at least thinking about writing, plotting, jotting down ideas, etc but obviously with two books published and another in progress there have been periods of intense writerly activity too.
- What are you inspired by? This can be anything – places, people, music etc.
Some of the characters and events in my second novel were inspired by one of my favourite prog rock tracks. The idea for my first novel came from my involvement in the Distributed Computing protein folding project.
- Your dream – what would happen to make you die happy?
To make the New York Times bestseller list and have (at least) one of my novels adapted for the screen. I’m sure this is not an original dream.
- Working on anything currently?
The second in my, as yet unnamed, fantasy trilogy. Book 1 – Gatekeeper – was published in June 2015 and I’m hoping to complete the second instalment before the end of 2017. I am concurrently working on the plot for book 3 so the trilogy has a coherent story arc.
- Do you research your work – how much, why/why not?
The premise of my first novel – War of Nutrition – was that a protein derived from genetically modified wheat, when it found its way into the food chain, could mimic the behaviour of a prion and lead to a worldwide medical crisis. I researched prions, and protein structures, extensively for this piece. I also had to research how to pilot a helicopter for one of the action scenes.
My more recent work has been fantasy, which on the face of it doesn’t lend itself to research. However there’s a wealth of material available describing and defining mystical powers and since the magic in Gatekeeper et al is based on the archaic “four Elements” I’ve been able to research this to ensure my work is consistent with the rules of the genre, or at least breaks them in acceptable ways.
- What’s your main genre – or do you write in lots of different genres?
As a boy dreaming of being a writer I always expected to write science fiction – my first and best literary love. Although my first novel has a science base, it’s more of a thriller, so not a genre I would normally have tackled, but the idea spoke to me so I went with it.
My current work is a SF/fantasy cross-over but again with less SF and more fantasy, so I’m moving in the direction of my supposed “main” genre but I’m not quite there yet. Once the Gatekeeper trilogy is done I have an idea for a novel that’s more “hard SF” which I really would like to run with.
- If any of your pieces were adapted, would you prefer Film/TV? Why?
An excellent question. My first reaction was Film. It reaches a wider audience (still, I believe, although this may be changing), has greater visual impact, and attracts better funding in the main, so the result is richer and proffers greater bragging rights. That said, you need look no further than the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones to realise that such examples shoot down all my assumptions. It has enormous reach and influence, is exceedingly well funded, and the extended series format allows the adaptation to follow the text more closely, which inevitably delivers a more satisfying result.
Taking a step back I’d be delighted if any of my work was adapted and realistically wouldn’t much care which form it took!
- What does your writing schedule look like?
Howls of derisive laughter. If I can write, or plot, anything on any given day I consider it a win. I’d love to have a writing schedule, but I’m not that disciplined. Which kinda explains why it’s – so far – taken me eighteen months to plot the sequel to Gatekeeper.
- Do you plan or “wing it”?
Plan, plan, plan. I dread creating thousands of words of perfectly crafted prose only to discover I’ve written myself into a corner (or perhaps black hole would be a better metaphor for a science fiction writer) from which there is no escape without casting all that work aside and starting again. I plan down to “scene” level, where I know how the scene must start and end, and who’s involved, and then within that framework I can let the creative magic happen – so I’m not totally straitjacketed but neither do I have an open road with no waymarkers.
- Your best writing tip would be…?
I think William Forrester said it best (in “Finding Forrester”): “No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!”
I discovered years after seeing this movie for the first time that research proves, underneath the obvious meaning, he was talking about silencing your internal critic. Writing with your heart takes 10-15 minutes to warm up. After that your intellectual mind gets bored, and stops editing everything you’re writing. Steps out of the way, if you like, and allows your creative side to flourish.
- Advice to your younger self.
Start sooner and don’t get distracted. Don’t let “life” get in between you and your writing. What you create is the most important thing – in fact I believe at least one famous author has said it is the only important thing. I maybe wouldn’t go that far, but it’s true that many of my most memorable and deeply satisfying moments have come from writing.
- Do you have a writer’s/author page?
I have a writer page on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/garretguy
And I also have a personal website that is showing every pixel of its age (hasn’t been refreshed in over ten years). Even the CSS has stopped working on some of the latest browsers, so I really must give it a makeover.
- How do you decide on titles?
I go with a working title in the early stages, until the story suggests a title to me. War of Nutrition (whose original title was ‘Love on a Wire’) was supposed to be a clever play on words – a combination of ‘war of attrition’ melded with the nutrition element of the plot – but its cleverness has passed at least one reviewer by, so I’ve shied away from clever titles in later works. Gatekeeper is named for its main character/theme, and I expect to stick to that approach for the other two parts of the trilogy (although the “main” character has changed for the second book during the planning process).
- Your favourite thing you’ve ever written – why?
My first song – Broken Rules – simply because I’d never thought of writing songs before the opportunity arose, didn’t know if I could pull it off, and I’m really pleased with the result.
There’s also that one scene in War of Nutrition. It’s only there because I was short on word count, but it turned out to be one of the strongest parts of the whole novel.
- Favourite new author.
China Miéville. Assuming he counts as new, having been first published almost 20 years ago. He’s new to me.
- If you started all over again, what would you do differently?
Apart from following my own advice to my younger self (from #12 above), I’d start collecting log lines sooner. All those fantastic ideas I had for stories over the years that I never wrote down, now lost like water on the hot sands of time (bonus point for anyone who knows the origin of that metaphor).
- Number 1 thing you learned from writing your first story.
No-one wants to buy your novel. That’s not a reason not to write it.
- Anything else/other comments before we go?
Got any cake?
If you’d like to read more on John Beresford, you can check out his Goodreads profile. You should also like his Facebook page for future updates about the sequel(s) to his second novel, Gatekeeper, and other updates from this author.