John Bayliss

I’d like to introduce you to the fifty-fourth interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. He is John Bayliss.

Hi, John! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer?

Thank you for inviting me. I have written for as long as I can remember; many of my earliest childhood memories involve making up stories and writing them down, and I’ve been writing ever since. For a very long while, I wrote just for my own entertainment. I didn’t bother submitting anything for publication because I knew that it probably wouldn’t be good enough.

However, in the past few years I’ve decided to become more serious and professional about writing. I joined a writer’s website in the hope that might be a “shortcut” to publication, and although that site didn’t quite live up to its promise, I did make a great many new friends as a consequence, and some of those friendships have led on to some useful contacts both in the UK and abroad.

Your mystery/crime novel, Five and a Half Tons, will be released in August, 2013, by Grey Cells Press. Can you tell us a bit about your book? What inspired you to write it?

I am a very harsh critic of my own work, and I am always looking for ways in which I can improve as a writer. In many novels I had written in the past, I realised that although description and characterisation were fairly good, one element that definitely needed improvement was the plotting – basically, not a lot happened. So I set myself the challenge of writing a novel where the story would be central – and a mystery novel, with a convoluted plot and carefully laid clues and red herrings, seemed like the ideal choice.

Is ‘Five and a Half Tons’ part of a series? How many books are completed or planned?

I never intended to write a series, but that’s what I’ve ended up doing. I actually started with the book that will eventually be the second in the series, but that story grew in all manner of unexpected ways – not all of them relevant to the actual story I was trying to tell – so I discovered that I needed to write more novels to tidy up all the loose ends. So, in addition to Five and a Half Tons, there are two more Springer stories written and another one half written. Plus I have a collection of notes and ideas for at least two more novels, and by the time I get around to writing them, I suspect I will have ideas for several more. The whole series will contain an overall story arc that will only reach its conclusion in the final story – and I’m not sure how many books that will take. Each book, however, will be a self-contained story in its own right, so it won’t essential to read the whole series (though it would be very nice if people do).

Tell us about your private investigator protagonist. How did you come up with the character, and what is unique about him?

Most detectives in literature are very, very intelligent, always manage to sort the clues, dismiss the red herrings and discover the culprit long before the reader does. I wondered if it would be possible to have a detective who wasn’t so super-intelligent – not stupid, by any means, but at much the same level as the reader, so that he sometimes misses the clues and gets side-tracked by the red herrings too. I also wanted to write a comedy, so Springer turned out to be a little accident prone, and he gets himself into all sort of scrapes that a more astute detective would probably avoid. Would a mystery novel with that sort of detective-hero actually work? The only way to answer that question was to write it myself and let the reader decide.

You were born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, and spent most of your life in the English Midlands. You now live in a seaside town in the West Country. You book is set in the fictitious seaside town of Westerby. Is Westerby based on your town? How did you create Westerby?

Originally, Five and a Half Tons was set in an anonymous big city that could have been anywhere in the world. At that stage I was concentrating on the story and the characterisation and leaving the setting and other details to look after themselves. But when I sent the manuscript to Robert Peett my editor at Grey Cells Press, one of his first suggestions was “Why don’t you set the novel where you live now?” (which just happened to be a traditional English seaside town). I quickly realised that there was an enormous potential in doing exactly that. In fact, the town of Westerby has the potential to become a character in its own right.

The main reason why I made “Westerby” a fictional place rather than simply setting the novels in my home town because the plots of future episodes concern corrupt businessmen, police and politicians – and I didn’t want any local businessmen, police and politicians (all of whom are fine upstanding members of society, I am sure!) think that I might be referring to them.

Do you write other genres, too?

I like any genre of fiction that allows the imagination complete free rein. I have always had a love of fantasy and science fiction, so those are the genres I most feel at home. I have also written a big historical novel (set in Italy during the Second World War) which needed rather more research than I am used to. Most of the ideas I have for future novels (outside the Springer series) would fall under the heading of fantasy or science fiction.

How much research do you do for your books?

Some authors love research, others don’t, and I’m one of the sort that don’t! I do try and avoid research, much preferring to use my imagination to fill in the details. However, despite trying my best I haven’t managed to avoid research completely. For Five and a Half Tons I had to investigate such unusual subjects such as how to look after fancy pigeons and slang terms for the police that were prevalent in the 1960s.

What has your experience with your publisher been like? Is it everything you’d hoped for?

In the past, I have heard stories from some published novelists who claim they have little control over their work after it’s been submitted to the publisher, and had very little say over how their novel is presented. I am happy to say that I have had completely the opposite experience with Grey Cells Press.

Five and a Half Tons will include illustrations from the immensely talented B. Lloyd (author of another Grey Cells Press book, Greenwood Tree) and I have been included in all the discussions and shown all the drafts for the illustrations all the way through the process. I can honestly say that my experience with Grey Cells Press has been all I have hoped for and more.

How does it feel to be a soon to be published author? How are you dealing with marketing and advertising? Will you be doing book readings and signings?

It seems totally unreal. Even at this stage (a matter of weeks before publication) I can’t believe that it’s going to happen. I’m a complete novice when it comes to marketing and advertising, but I have been trying to establish an on-line presence through my blog and through Twitter. I’m still amazed that complete strangers have read my blog (and commented positively) or are willing to follow me on Twitter.

I haven’t arranged any readings or signings yet, but I know that I will have to soon. I suspect that it will only seem “real” when I am actually holding the book in my hand.

What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing?

My favourite part is when something unplanned happens, like when a character says something or does something that I never intended, but that “something” turns out to be the perfectly natural thing in the circumstances and takes the story into a completely new area. In those cases, it’s almost as though something magical has happened.

The least favourite part is when I have an idea in my head but just can’t find the right words to express it. I shuffle words around and pour over the thesaurus to try and make it come right, but whatever I write down never does justice to the original idea.

Do you have a writing routine, a special place where you go to do your writing, or a certain time of day? Do you listen to music while you write, and if so, what kind of music?

I don’t listen to music while I write – I prefer complete silence. (I do like music, only I find it’s a distraction when writing.)

When I was younger, I used to write best in the evening – often in the late evening, after midnight. Now I find that I write best in the morning, so if I have a day available for writing, I try to start as early as possible, often before breakfast.

What books or authors have influenced your writing?

I think I can say that almost every book I have ever read has been an influence, one way or the other – either as an example to be followed or as a case study of what not to do. J.R.R. Tolkien was a huge influence upon me when I was in my early teens, and a little older I discovered Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Writers who have influenced me more recently are “Lit Fic” writers like Iain McEwen, Iain Banks and Julian Barnes. My favourite fantasy writer is Robert Holdstock and my favourite Science Fiction writer is M. John Harrison – neither of whom are household names but certainly deserve to me. Five and a Half Tons, of course, was at least partially inspired by Raymond Chandler and the “hard-boiled detective” genre in general.

Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your book. Thanks!

My blog is called “News from Westerby (and other imaginary places)”:
http://johnbaylissnovelist.wordpress.com/
Also, details about “Five and a Half Tons” can be found here:
http://www.greycellspress.co.uk/books-coming-soon/five-and-a-half-tons/

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