Interview with James Ferron Anderson, author of The River and The Sea

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This week’s interview is with my fellow Rethink Press New Novels 2012 competition winner, James Ferron Anderson, who won best new novel for The River and The Sea, a story of love and hate, set in 1918 in a dying enclave of end-of-Empire Britishness on the Thompson River and in 1920 in a cabin on the Thelon River, Canada. He is also a judge of the Rethink Press New Novels 2014 competition.

Over to you, James.

Can you tell us about yourself in 100 words? No more and no less.

I am a fading orchardist, dying of cold and hunger… no. Sorry. That’s Jack Butler of The River and The Sea. I am a fading Hollywood actor… no. Sorry. That’s Rory Devlin of Terminal City. I am a layabout author and former alcoholic, now editing and writing novels, conducing research into various histories hoping to make novels and other yarns out of them, and promoting myself as an anti-theist. Making statements that are true and a laugh at the same time is a talent to which I aspire. If only. Life, while seriously overrated, can be nevertheless a joy. (Coughs)

Why did you decide to become a writer?

I decided I was a writer when I was about eleven. That first novel never got past page two, for I couldn’t read my own handwriting even then. It was all I could do anyway well. That and run. Nippy on the streets and nippy with words. Now my knees are banjaxed the words are all that’s left. I took a novel sabbatical for about thirty years after that first attempt, but battered away at poems and short stories. Then loads of drafts that went onto shelves straight away. The first million words are just practice, that’s what I say.

Tell us about your book.

My novel The River and The Sea was published last year and won the Rethink New Novel Award. It’s a tale of love and loss, set in Canada in 1918 in the arid interior of British Columbia. The interest in telling a story of how people need each other, hate each other, love each other and dispense with each other was there first. I suspect it has been there all my life. It’s not a theme I think I’ll be exhausting any time soon. Setting The River… where I did grew out of an interest in the rise and fall of the British Empire, which in turn grew out of an interest in the Irish Famine when I was researching an earlier book. One hot day in 2007 I was driving with my family from Kamloops to Cache Creek when I stopped to read a road sign telling of an English middle-class town that flourished and then failed completely in the seven years before the Great War. I had my location. The protagonists and events grew out of combing my relationship theme and the rise and fall of Empire.

Tell us about the authors who inspire you? 

I’m not sure I think like that. A lot of frogs have been kissed that remained frogs. But when wonder is found and language sings there is no substitute. Well, except possibly sex. Or a long hard fast run. And I can’t run much any more. I could also equally honestly say I’ve been inspired by everyone I ever read, either thinking that while I could never attain that height, that accomplishment, I could try, or alternatively, that a cat could write better than that and I certainly could. All, in their way, are inspiration to write if you are already so inclined. If… Brendan Behan inspired me to drink and write. Hemingway inspired me to stop drinking and write. Charles Bukowski inspired me to write. All these statements are in their way true.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m working on Terminal City, a book that excites me and satisfies me and frustrates me as I struggle with it. It should be no other way. I labour to make it better, and I think I succeed. Another day I’ll not be so sure. So be it. It were ever so. It is a story of… well, as above: how people need each other, hate each other, love each other and dispense with each other. It’s set in Vancouver in 1939 and 1959. An event happens on Wreck Beach late at night in the week before the outbreak of WWII. For twenty years it lies forgotten. Then faded, ill, former Hollywood movie star Rory Devlin returns to Vancouver to sell his last possession of any value, his yacht, the Zara. As a young unknown he was on the beach that night. The wealthy Westwood family want the investigation re-opened… The dots are to indicate that you’ll want to read on.

Describe a typical writing day for you. 

A typical writing day for me would be to rise at 05.30… honestly… make coffee and toast and get to the laptop and the novel until about 06.45. Then I trot across the road to the Sportspark and be in the gym at 07.00. I pound away there until 08.00, and trot home again. I only live over the road. Easy peasy. Then coffee with my wife, get back to the laptop. A lot of procrastination often follows. My great industrious start gets flung out the window. I feel terrible. I nap for ten minutes that turns out to be an hour. I feel worse. I think about how I feel. I feel worse again. I make more coffee. Then I go food shopping. I get impatient. I should be at my desk and not looking at sandwich spread and wholenut peanut butter. I come out with half the things. I’ll have to go back tomorrow. I get into the writing again, but only after making more coffee and eating the muffins I bought. So little free time and here I am wasting it. I feel worse all over again. I get to work. After ten minutes it flows. It’s great. After fifteen more minutes it’s time to stop and get some dinner ready for my wife coming home. So it goes. On and on. And on.

Every writer must dream of seeing the big screen version of their novel. Who would you like to see playing your lead characters?

The River and The Sea Sarah Underhill: Keira Knightley. Is she both attractive and tough enough? Emily Blunt. Ditto. Jack Butler: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who has played Vronsky and John Lennon. Can he be vulgar enough and do an Ulster accent? A bulked-up-a-bit Rupert Friend, of The Young Victoria and Homeland. Terminal City Rory Devlin: Johnny Depp could do it, but nobody would ever forget they were looking at Johnny Depp and not at an ill and dying reprobate suffering from social diseases and malaria. Dan Kearney: Colin Farrell.

If you could find out the answer to one of life’s mysteries, which one would you choose? 

I would discover why so many people opt to preference superstition over reason and fact. How people can argue that evolution is ‘just a theory’ while not having one fact to support their own waffly creationist half-wit theory. Where does the desire to believe we, and only we, have a purpose come from? That the entire universe was put in place to accommodate us, a tiny dot on the left buttock of that universe? That a god who can create all this gets himself in a tizzy over what I do with my genitals? Because science can’t answer every question, no… it’s not all right to substitute your favourite comforting superstition instead. SO WHY DO PEOPLE DO IT? That’s my life’s mystery that I’d like answered. Then I’d like to burn at the stake or stone to death everybody who still disagreed with me. After all, that’s the religious way.

What would you do in life if you knew you couldn’t fail? 

End world hunger, bring peace and love everywhere… No. Well, maybe. Get creationists (see above) and Republicans and right wingers generally to be able to add two and two and get four, to tell old hippies that chemicals are not per se bad… that everything we can see, touch, feel, including them and that daisy over there is made up of chemicals… get over it. Then make a lot of money from writing and go live with my family in a wee house on the west coast of British Columbia and wait for the inevitable earthquake and tsunami.

Share one quote, or saying, that keeps you going in life.

You must be joking. No, that’s not it. Well, it could be. Yes, that’s it.

And the cliché question, four guests at your dinner party (dead or alive), who do you choose?

Christopher Hitchens right off. More informative fun dead than most of us alive. Gore Vidal, ditto. Socrates, for those tricky questions where he pretends he doesn’t know the answer but does, really. Jesus, just for the hell of it. A fifth: a translator up to handling all this.

Writing Highs – And why you should enter the Rethink Press New Novels Competition 2014

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It has been just over a year since I learnt I had won a package with Rethink Press to have my novel, Dead Letter Day, published and as I edit the sequel I am taking a moment to reflect back over the highs of the last twelve months.

Writing can be difficult. Depending on the day, staring at the blank page can be either terrifying or exhilarating. The story is in your head, but finding the right words to put it down on paper so other people can enjoy it can be challenging. You have to breathe life into characters, write believable dialogue and create realistic, but interesting scenarios that will make a reader want to turn the page.

To any aspiring writers and certainly anyone toying with entering the Rethink Press New Novels Competition 2014, let me share with you why persevering was worth it for me.

1/ There is no greater high than having someone read your book and then take the time to tell you how much they enjoyed it. I honestly had no idea how Dead Letter Day was going to be received, but the response was amazing and I have dozens of emails from people I have never met telling me how they were kept up most of the night unable to put the book down.  Several of these lovely people have continued to engage regularly through my Facebook Author Page, as they wait for the sequel, and I am so grateful for their support. I was also invited to talk to two book clubs – a surreal experience listening to the members discussing and dissecting my story, but also very rewarding – and both clubs are keen to invite me back once they have read the sequel.

2/ I never expected to get a good critical reception to Dead Letter Day. I always believed professional critics to favour literature over popular fiction; therefore I read the reviews of my book in the local press with trepidation. I honestly couldn’t have asked for better write ups and these helped restore my confidence and belief that I am good enough to do this writing lark.

3/ Holding the hard copy of your book for the first time is a feeling you will never forget. All the years of hard work, rejection and periods of self-doubt are sitting there in your hand. Dead Letter Day looked fantastic thanks to the folks at Rethink who designed a slick, classy and striking cover and seeing it sitting on the shelf in Jarrold Book Department alongside established authors such as Dan Brown and Mark Billingham just about blew me away.

4/ Finally, I turn to the Amazon sales ranking. Dead Letter Day spent much of the first month or so inside the top 5,000, which when you consider the millions of books on sale means it was doing pretty well. But the ultimate high came about three months after the release when a surge in sales saw it almost break into the top 1,000. The geek in me had to capture a screenshot to remember the moment.

Two months before I learnt of the Rethink Press New Novels Competition, I was sitting in a dead end job with a bleak future. I had taken so many knockbacks with my writing I had thrown in the towel, concluding I just wasn’t good enough. If this is you, do not give up on your dreams. Yes, I still have to do a dead end job, but winning has restored my faith in my writing ability and I know I have a future in this industry. I have just completed my new novel, working my butt off putting in ridiculously long days, but it has been worth every minute.

No I have not become an overnight success, but let’s be honest, how many people do? What I do have is the belief and the determination, and now the foundations to build on the opportunity I was given. And if you enter and your book wins, you could have this too.

For more details about the competition, please follow this link.  http://rethinkpress.com/new-novels-competition-2014/

Good luck to all of the entrants.

Want to have a character named after you in my next book?

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Fancy seeing your name in print?

I am hard at work on the Dead Letter Day sequel and offering one reader the chance to have a character named after them.

The competition is on Facebook, so if you want to enter please head on over to my page www.facebook.com/allaboutbeev and follow the instructions.

Closing date is Sunday 5th May.

Good luck!