I write a blog for a website I started at the beginning of the year for authors to review other authors' works. As a part of the site I post a segment called Review the author twice a month on one of our authors. This week I had the opportunity to inteview a very prolific author, John Allen. If you are interested in joining us, please leave a comment below and I will get in touch with you.
A little background information to start with –
A brief bio:
Over the years I have lived in South Africa, the UK and US, and am now based on the southern Brittany coast, just outside Vannes, in a typical French village that is quiet and very author-friendly.
At the moment I’m ghostwriting a book about Bob Marley for Glen DaCosta, Bob’s saxophonist from way back, and also editing a book on Attachment Theory for a group therapist in London.
I write fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, autobiographical, political history, historical romance and poetry. Four titles have been translated into French, with more to follow.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for nearly 40 years. It started with a thesis on the nature of man in college, which caused such a stir on campus that I thought it ought to be read by more people. Keep stirring, so to speak. It’s been doing that ever since.
WHY do you write?
I suppose I write because I have to. I love books, love the whole publishing world, and derive great pleasure from helping others get their books into good enough shape editorially to be published. It’s just a way of life.
Books you have written with brief synopsis of each:
There are about 25 books in all, so perhaps I can just mention my favourites here. One is The Islander, which has had much good press and acclaim and later became the first part of the trilogy The Carpentier Diaries, which is on the Reviews4Reviews site. The adventures of Max and Emilie are loved mainly by women readers, although a few men have also enjoyed the story
A major work is Apartheid South Africa: An Insider’s Overview of the Origin and Effects of Separate Development. This was a very necessary book – I lived in South Africa for 36 years, and was tired of all the mis-information about the country, so wanted to put the record straight. The book is now an authoritative university reference in the US and has been well received by people all over the world. It deals with personal as well as political issues, and was exhausting to research. It is probably the first book to contrast South African apartheid with American racism, with a chapter devoted to comparing Martin Luther King with Nelson Mandela. It also reveals that the beginnings of apartheid in South Africa go back a lot further than is commonly believed, with all the documentation necessary to prove the point.
Two of my early novels, The Jerusalem Deal and Cultfilm, were awarded movie contracts when I lived in London in the early 90s. The company director was fascinated with the plots, and although he still hasn’t produced the movies, he’s holding me to the contracts. We live in hope.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of writing?
Most times, keeping up with the pace the characters move at is the most challenging. I write early mornings, way before sun-up, and when things are really humming get about 3,000 words down before collapsing in a heap.
What do you find to be the most rewarding part of writing?
The greatest reward for me is when someone emails or calls to say they loved the book. That makes all the effort worth while.
Do you edit as you write?
No, I tend to write in a rush in case I lose track of events. The editing side is a more relaxed affair, since I’ve got all the main points down and can then tidy up in leisurely fashion.
How do you develop your characters?
My characters have to develop themselves, because I never plan a story or map out a plot. So I leave the characters to do whatever they want to, and then work out what’s happening. At times I’m astonished at the things they do: for instance, in The Islander I had no idea that Claude Besson would evolve as he did – his betrayal of Maximillienne was quite horrifying, but that’s life. Again, in The Jerusalem Deal, Magda was such a bad sort that I wanted to kill her off by chapter 3, but her subsequent deeds of valour turned her into the heroine of the story. One never knows.
Do you ever get writer’s block?
I don’t think so. When I’m writing something it clips along really well – I wake up and stare at the ceiling, wondering what my characters have been up to during the night, and when I’ve worked it out, get up and continue with the next chapter. If I’m not writing it’s because I’ve got nothing to write about, so I get on with editing, or handling publishing contracts for clients. So no, I don’t think I get writer’s block.
If you have written more than one book, which one was the most difficult to write? Why?
Hipper Crit was the most difficult to write, although it turned out one of the best. I wasn’t sure I could handle fantasy, and the hero took some surprising directions during the writing. At one stage he was in such a fix I had no idea how to get him out of it, but he ended right side up. The book is both funny and poignant, and needed a second edition to perfect, but is now doing well. It’s also available in French, and is well thought of in our local library here in Brittany.
Which one means the most to you?
It varies over the years. When I’ve just finished a book it’s definitely the best, but after a while the view gets more balanced: people comment, make suggestions, I re-read it etc., so I don’t think I have one book that’s an all-time favorite.
What do you do for fun?
Apart from writing (which is always fun) I play the piano, garden and do a little cooking. Living in France, I also take French lessons, a few classes a week, and have until recently run a music business. Now that it’s wound down, however, I can devote more time to writing.
Who are your favorite authors? Why?
Robert Pirsig, because he’s a genius at getting difficult concepts across and making real learning fun. Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance ought to be compulsory reading in schools, and Lila is a masterpiece.
Elizabeth Kostova, because The Historian is not just a wonderful story, but also beautifully written. No wonder she was paid $2m for it!
CS Lewis, for so many reasons that everyone who loves Narnia is aware of. His science fiction, although hardly known these days, is really special.
Somerset Maugham, because despite his cynicism his stories are so good to re-visit. I’ve read him on and off for most of my life.
What’s the one thing you’ve learned about yourself since you’ve been writing?
That I’m not half as smart as I thought I was, and that I can learn a huge amount from others. As the joke goes, ‘When I was 16 I thought my father was stupid, but by the time I turned 21 I was amazed how much the old man had learned in the last 5 years’.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
Don’t wait for inspiration. Just write – it’s amazing what gets done when we do something.
Do you have any new books coming out soon?
My latest book, Brine, has just been issued by PublishAmerica (whom I cannot say are very author-friendly), so at the moment I’m concentrating on editing. One day a new idea will emerge – that will be the next book.
Anything you’d like to add?
Just a big thank you to you and the team at Reviews4Reviews. This is a great idea and is unique in its field
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