Welcome to my stop on John Simmons’ Leaves blog tour, with Love Books Tours!
Many thanks to Kelly @ Love Books Tours for arranging the following interview with John Simmons…..
Photo by Stuart Keegan, Bloomsbury Festival
Dear author….. John Simmons, author of Leaves, Spanish Crossings and The Good Messenger published by Urbane.
For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book(s) please?
I’m a writer of fiction now but I first became a published writer in the world of brands – particularly how to write more powerfully and creatively for business. That took me into writing workshops (which I still do) and contacts with a large group of writers through the organisations I co-founded Dark Angels and 26.
The wish to write fiction had always been there since school days, and I actually wrote the first version of ‘Leaves’ straight out of university. It then waited a long time until revisions and changing times meant that it was published in 2015 by Urbane.
Where did/do you get your ideas from?
Ideas come when you get out and about and meet people. It’s a gestation process and there’s hardly ever any one source of an idea. I run regularly and I find that running (slowly) is a great source of ideas – that sense of being completely on your own with just your own thoughts – then sometimes needing to be quick in going from jogging to jotting down the words in my head.
With ‘Leaves’ the north London setting was very much based on the area of Camden where I grew up.
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
There is always part of an author in every character created. I’m not sure what this says about me when some of my characters are not people you might wish to meet – but I do think it’s true that an author understands characters through his/her own character.
But there are characters in ‘Leaves’ – Robert and Gerald – who were originally inspired by people I came across in my first job. But they ended up a long way away from the real characters.
How do you pick your characters’ names?
Names are really important – naming companies and products was one of the things I did in my branding career. With a fictional character there are always so many options and I often start writing with one name for a character then feel the need to change it as the story develops. The name has to feel right for the character as you get to know that character better. In ‘Leaves’ the name Selene was the most unusual – the moon goddess but also the first part of the biological name of a tropical fish. It fitted as her brother Gerald keeps an aquarium.
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
Notes in notebooks. Once I feel the story is growing and will turn into something, putting everything into a single notebook. Structure is always vital for me, and I like natural structures – for example, the four seasons that shape the story of ‘Leaves’. So I write by pencil in notebooks and hold off from the typing on the keyboard until words are properly formed in the notes.
Who are your top 5 favourite authors?
Patrick White (Australian 20th century novelist)
F. Scott Fitzgerald
If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
The only one of my five favourites who’s still alive is Philip Pullman, and I’m lucky enough to have met him a couple of times. I asked him, inevitably, about the daemons – how did that idea come about? I was surprised when he said it was only on the 17th draft that he had the idea for the daemons. Astonishing as they are so integral to the stories we now read.
Were you a big reader as a child?
Eventually. But I was slow to get into reading and it was only when a teacher at primary school read ‘The Wind in the Willows’ to the class at the end of the school day that I got really hooked. My mum then bought the book for me for my ninth birthday and from then on I couldn’t stop reading. Funnily enough the first part of my novel ‘The Good Messenger’ owes a lot to childhood reading of ‘The Wind in the Willows’.
When did you start to write?
I enjoyed writing once I got into reading. So at school I wrote stories and poems, then at university there was so much writing about the books I was reading (I studied English Literature). When I left university I scoured the Jobs pages for ads saying ‘Novelist wanted’ but I was disappointed…
So I’ve always written. It’s what I love doing and I’m very lucky to have had jobs that allowed me to exercise creativity with words even if not as a full-time novelist. Luckily writing is something we all can do throughout our lives.
If you could re-write the ending to any book what would it be and what would you change?
I’d much rather re-read novels with great endings and learn from them. For example, ‘The Great Gatsby’ has a perfect ending – those closing lines ‘boats against the current’ are extraordinarily moving, particularly after you’ve read the 200 pages that precede them. They provide inspiration for me as a writer always wanting to emulate that depth of feeling in the closing lines of my own novels.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
Many. But someone else wrote them so there’s no point being envious. You just have to admire and learn.
If you wrote an autobiography, what would your title be?
If you could invite any fictional character for coffee who would it be and where would you take them?
Hurtle Duffield from Patrick White’s ‘The Vivisector’. He’s an artist and I’d probably invite him to the Academicians Room at the Royal Academy. Hurtle’s a volcanic character, so I’m not sure he’d like the place or that I’d like him. But it would be memorable.
What are you working on right now?
I’m finalising the manuscript of my fourth novel which I call ‘Painting Paris’. It’s set in Paris in 1908 in Montmartre at that time when ‘modern art’ was transforming our view of the world. So my main characters are artists and it’s taking me into areas that are less familiar territory than ‘Leaves’. I’ve loved the ‘research’ because visiting art exhibitions has always been one of my favourite things to do – and who wouldn’t enjoy spending time in Paris looking at art, being a flaneur, and writing.
Tell us about your last release?
‘The Good Messenger’ was my third novel published by Urbane in 2018. The previous novel ‘Spanish Crossings’ had been set before, during and after the second world war – ‘The Good Messenger’ went back in time to before and after the first world war. It’s more about the effects of the war than the war itself and is centred around a young journalist whom we meet first as a child of nine before the war (hence the ‘Wind in the Willows’ connection). Essentially it’s a love story with history as the backcloth.
Do you have a new release due?
I’m hoping ‘Painting Paris’ will be finished soon and published. If so, it will be sometime in 2020. I can’t wait.
What do you generally do to celebrate on publication day?
Share a meal and bottle of wine with my wife. No Gatsby-style wild parties.
How can readers keep in touch with you?
They can email me. If they contact via the Urbane site or google or find me on Linked-In, say, I’m always happy to hear from readers.
Or via Twitter @JNSim
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
‘I’m done’ –
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, John 🙂
Thank you – good to be asked – John
Ophelia Street, 1970. A street like any other, a community that lives and breathes together as people struggle with their commitments and pursue their dreams. It is a world we recognise, a world where class and gender divide, where set roles are acknowledged. But what happens when individuals step outside those roles, when they secretly covet, express desire, pursue ambitions even harm and destroy? An observer in the midst of Ophelia Street watches, writes, imagines, remembers, charting the lives and loves of his neighbours over the course of four seasons. And we see the flimsily disguised underbelly of urban life revealed in all its challenging glory. As the leaves turn from vibrant green to vivid gold, so lives turn and change too, laying bare the truth of the community. Perhaps, ultimately, we all exist on Ophelia Street.
ABOUT JOHN SIMMONS
John Simmons is an independent writer and consultant. He runs Writing for design workshops for D&AD and the School of Life as well as Dark Angels workshops. He has written a number of books on the relationship between language and identity, including The Writer’s Trilogy We, me, them & it, The invisible grail and Dark angels. He’s a founder director of 26, the not-for-profit group that champions the cause of better language in business, and has been writer-in-residence for Unilever and Kings Cross tube station. In 2011 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the University of Falmouth in recognition of outstanding contribution to the creative sector. He initiated and participated in the writing of a Dark Angels collective novel Keeping Mum with fifteen writers. It was published by Unbound in 2014. He is on the Campaign Council for Writers Centre Norwich as Norwich becomes the first English City of Literature. John also wrote the compelling novel Leaves, which was published by Urbane in 2015
Spanish Crossings was published in March 2018 and The Good Messenger in September 2018.