Slight changes with the way this is laid out in terms of adding Jack and I’s names!
Compass: Hello! Thanks for taking part in this interview. Now, tell us a little bit about you and your work!
JC: Thanks for inviting me. So, a bit about me – as my name suggests I’m a Jack-of-all-trades. I’ve dabbled over the years in many fields and gained a vast range of experiences. I’m a qualified person centred counsellor, with a specialisation in bereavement and loss, which includes PTSD – now retired. I started life as an archaeologist, with a specialisation in the Neolithic. I’ve written papers on the theory of Neolithic warfare based upon evidence excavated at a number of UK hillforts. I’ve practiced experimental archaeology and built my own iron ore smelting furnace.
From the iron produced I made a dagger in the forge. At one time I had my own business as an armourer and made armour for re-enactors, live role players and museums. For one week I was the manager of a pig farm in the Midlands – it went into administration, which, thankfully wasn’t my fault! I’ve worked for the Post Office, County Mental Health teams, the NHS, a couple of supermarkets and mainly myself. I’ve had a number of businesses over the years, some successful, some not so successful.
I’ve lived in three of the four countries that make up the UK, but have now settled in South Wales, with my family. I have three high dependency children: the eldest is ASD/PDA; the middle one is OCD, my youngest has both physical and mental disabilities and for whom I act as full time carer. This is not to say my wife doesn’t do her part in all this too – we are run fairly ragged, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing.
Writing – I’ve written, as I suspect many of your other interviewees have as well, basically all my life. In one aspect or another, usually for myself, although in the academic world there was invariably some external motivation for the papers I wrote.
I rather enjoy the research that goes into academic work, but loathe writing it up, I’m always drawn away from it by stories that then spring to mind about the people of the past and the lives they possibly lived based upon the archaeological evidence I end up pouring over. My forté for writing is very much more in the realms of fiction. There I am God, and, on occasion, will write in such a manner – although I know such omniscient styles are frowned upon in the literary world. But as I write for myself and not for other people, I don’t care what the current norm is, nor do I care for the idea that a story needs to follow a current trend, style or have to be pigeonholed. It could be a reason why I haven’t been published as widely as I would have liked, but I doubt it. Given the feedback I’ve had from publishers and editors I think I have a strength at writing, it just comes down to finding the right editor in the right frame of mind at the right time.
I started working semi-professionally as a writer about two years ago, at least that’s when I started touting myself to the world. Prior to that I had spent the better part of two decades writing my magnus opus – a 283 thousand word epic and the first in a series of five planned books. It is a Romano-Celtic fantasy Western with shamanic magic and a psychic horse. The book draws on much of the historical knowledge I have and the fantasy that I grew up reading. This is still pending publication, but it’ll get there eventually.
Initially I looked at sending out the few short stories and flash fiction I had written, after joining a local writing group I had recently started to visit. But because I write for myself I was finding it hard to place my pieces. The first piece I eventually submitted was written in the afternoon of the day of sending, based on the magazine’s own prompts, with their closing date for that evening. If nothing else it proved that I work best under pressure, because it was promptly accepted. For ten days I had a 100% acceptance ratio. I’ve always been rather chuffed by that. That story was ‘Flies’ and can be found in the links at the end of the interview.
I’ve had a number of pieces accepted since then, less than I would have liked, but that goes without saying. I suspect I would have more in print if I was more dedicated to the submission process, but I tend to go months without submitting and then wonder why I’m not getting published. Too busy with all the other projects, life, family and writing that I’m doing – I could really do with a PA to do that side of things for me!
Compass: Before we get into everything else, do you have anything published? If yes, you can add links to your work and your socials in question ten!
JC: Following on from the previous question, I do indeed have some things published. They’re all quite different in their ways. A lot of my inspiration comes from dreams – I’m a lucid dreamer and this helps when it comes to writing. As an example of this, ‘Torso’, published by Teleport Magazine, is probably more of an exact transcript of a dream I had, than a story. There is a short story, ‘The Ledger’ due out in July as part of an anthology published by Monnath Books and I’ve had a short story published by them in a previous anthology. I’m particularly keen about this because they tie together in their topic. The first, ‘The unbooked room’, published in ‘Through death’s door’, is a tale told in the voice of an eight year old girl during World War II. The second anthology short story sees an aspect of that period from the other side of the coin. I don’t want to say too much as it would spoil the stories. A lot of my stories have links with the other stories I write, so it pays to read everything I put out to see the interlinking and the story backgrounds that develop.
Compass: Why did you start writing and how did you start writing?
JC: As I said previously, I’ve written all my life, both academically and non- academically. I prefer fiction and I’m as eclectic in my story telling as I have been with my life. I prefer fiction, but have written in many genres and forms, hence my dislike for pigeonholing. I remember quite vividly a story I wrote for my Common Entrance exam, I would have been about eleven or twelve at the time, which involved a young girl and her pet pig. Even then I had a tendency towards the darker side of life, it ended with the pig dying and her clutching dramatically at a bacon sandwich – always wished I could have been able to rewrite that story, I still remember thinking after leaving the exam hall that I wasn’t happy with the ending.
Clearly born to be a writer. A couple of years ago I found a copy of a story I wrote when I was c. thirteen years old about an old man being visited on his birthday. I wrote it for a local competition, which I won, but again the thing I noted about it was the darker element that ran through it – he died at the end and no one noticed.
Generally, I would say that the common thread for most of my work is darkness. Although, there are one or two exceptions to this rule – ‘Bertram the cow is an elephant’, published by Sledgehammer Lit, is a good example of this. So, I have been writing since I was at least eleven years old. But I didn’t have the opportunity to dedicate more of my life to its pursuit until about two years ago.
Compass: Do you have a specific writing schedule or do you just write at any time?
JC: A bit of both really, this is because of the pressures and demands of life and family. I’m a night owl at heart and work best in the evening. Thanks to my kids, it’s generally impossible to get any real writing done when they’re conscious. When they’re at school I will do some writing on occasion, but the real drive doesn’t come until after it’s dark – perhaps I need the dark to write the dark? When writing normally I will write for two to three nights on the trot and bang out twenty to thirty thousand words, usually a multitude of short stories and flash. Then I won’t write anything for about a week, sometimes longer. When a particular idea jumps me I find I will have to write it up as soon as possible, so a couple of weeks back I ended up writing two and a half thousand words on my phone in a shed.
My current project, however, was very different. I started writing it one evening and then every night consecutively for about six weeks, I would write anything up to five to six thousand words. Until it was complete. Never written like that before and it was quite interesting as a writing experience. It’s currently in the pause/mulling process before I move to the rewrite/editing stage. I have had a go at the first chapter, but I’ve needed some time off – enforced by half term. I hope to get stuck back in later next week. It’s calling to me.
Compass: What inspires you? Does life itself inspire you? Do ideas just come to you? What about searching online for ideas?
JC: A good 75% of my inspiration comes from dreams, the rest from the aether. That would be from casual conversation and an idea will pop into my head because of a turn of phrase. Someone was asking for suggestions for a farmer’s name on Twitter the other day and I gave them a couple of suggestions, I then started to think about the names I’d suggested and came up with a variant. I then applied it to a farmer, and started to consider him. His neighbours describe him as ‘the grumpiest bastard you’re ever likely to encounter’. Which then led to why? And also why was someone asking about him? I considered a couple of options and then it hit me that, given his name and a probable reason for his eternal grumpiness, he and his story would fit very neatly into the mythos I’m developing. So there’s a process example for you right there.
‘Bertram the cow…’ came from a conversation I was having with my youngest. I ended up with the title and for six months I had no story to go with it. Not quite sure I remember how the story itself came about, it just sort of fell out of my head. A lot of the stories when I write do just that – they just plummet out of my head and go splat on the page. Sometimes it’s exhausting, sometimes it’s a relief – at any time I could have a dozen voices shouting their stories at me inside my head. If I have a really heavy flow on I will go until I basically finish or pass out. During the novel writing I did recently there were a number of occasions where I had to stop because I couldn’t focus on the page anymore and on two other occasions I woke up in the middle of the night to discover I had fallen asleep mid-sentence!
Research for pieces that I work on will often spring to mind tangents or variations on a theme. Sometimes they spark whole new ideas. Great in a way, but also irritating as it distracts from what I’m supposed to be working on. There’s a lot of research gone into the novel that’s on hold at the moment. There’s been less research requirements for the current novel, as I have a fair amount of stored knowledge on the subject area.
The problem I have is not, having ideas, it’s having the time to write them all up. In my pending bank I have: five complete fantasy worlds to write, this includes the Western five book series. I have two dozen short stories and a novella pending and written for all of these worlds. I’m developing a mythos parallel world inspired by my early years of reading Lovecraft et al, I have one novella which needs a massive overhaul for this and several short stories already written, plus several more pending. Individual short stories and flash, which are just notes number well over 100. So I’m not short, so to speak, on ideas. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to write everything that needs to be written.
Compass: Has your work every made you laugh? Smile? Cry?
JC: Yes. All of the above. Some have also made me wonder if I have pushed the boundaries too far for the comfort of your standard reader. Certainly some of my published short stories have been described as ‘gruesome’ or ‘horrifying’ by readers. Which is why I’m working on getting a collection of shorts together for publication, hopefully by the end of the year. Entitled ‘Horrific Tales for a Horrific Year’. It has ‘Chameleon’ in it, published by Datura, one of the pieces that was described as gruesome. All the stories in there are pretty disturbing to one degree or another. I know at least one other story that hits the mark, as it so disturbed one of my beta readers, she had to bail out on reading any more. While I wouldn’t have wished for her to suffer from trauma flashbacks from my work, it does mean that the work in question is close to the bone, even if that means it’s deeply disturbing. The question is whether I’ve pushed the boundary too far. That said my illustrator has read all of the stories and she liked them, so hopefully upon publication I won’t find myself being investigated by the local serious crime unit or being sectioned by the county mental health team!
Compass: Do you have a number one supporter, or even multiple supporters!?
JC: No. I have a few beta readers who seem to like what I write – some have been most complementary. But other than that I have no supporters – although if anyone reading this would like to be the first, then they could always pop over and buy me a beer (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/jacktc).
Compass: Do you have any advice for someone who may be feeling negatively towards their work? Perhaps they feel it’s not good enough or are struggling to find ideas and motivation. What would you say to them?
JC: Bollocks! Bollocks to the world. Every writer is riddled with self-doubt, from the internationally acclaimed to the writer who has just picked up a pen (showing my age there) – ipad (see I’m down with the kids ) – and is scrawling out the first words of their master piece. I’m always reminded when I see this question and its variants to the advice David Gemmell gave back in the 1980’s when asked ‘What’s the best advice you can give to someone thinking of starting writing?’; his response was, ‘Give up now’.
Best advice ever. Just ponder it for a bit and you’ll see what I mean. It’s possible that the work they are doing isn’t good enough, but in that case, make it better. Either by editing or dumping it and starting something new. Every time we write we learn. Beta readers and editors (they don’t have to be professionally paid ones either) will give feedback, some of it you should take onboard, some of it you’ll probably disagree with. Work out why you disagree with it. Then reconsider. You may still disagree. I’ve had feedback from a couple of readers recently on two separate pieces of work – both of which have been acclaimed in different quarters by other readers. Both have said how much they didn’t like them and gave reasons for the various parts that they disliked. In both cases I realised it wasn’t so much my work that was at fault, but them. And I don’t wish that to come across as being arrogant, although a writer needs to have enough confidence in their work to border on arrogance. But in one case, it was clear that the reader was reading something well beyond their comfort zone, hence the fact that they didn’t like it. The other reader found the topic too close to home and their personal experiences and felt that it was ‘unrealistic’ – of their personal experience. However, the work in question wasn’t written with them in mind, so the fact that it didn’t feel real to them doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel real for someone else. And, indeed, a previous reader had told me how they thought it was the most original and funniest thing they had read in a long time. So there we are.
If you want to be a writer, give up now!
Compass: Before we wrap up, how about a fun question! Do you enjoy editing!?
JC: On the twenty year epic – maybe, but then I had to transcribe it at least once from a rescued hard copy, after I’d thought it lost – computer was wiped, along with the backups by flood damage. Three years afterwards I discovered a second draft hard copy in a box I was about to throw out. Transcribing was dull, but rewriting the story as I transcribed was more enjoyable.
I’m keen to get stuck into the new novel for editing, as there are a lot of areas that I think once done will make me feel more confident again. Perhaps another part to the answer for the previous question. I know this is the book that will make it for me. I have that level of confidence as a foundation – but I will still have moments when this foundation of faith is shaken. Hence, looking forward to the editing. When it’s done I will have the proof that this is the book that will change my life. It also means I can get on and write the other novel that I had to put on hold to write this one. Not to mention all the other works that are standing in the wings.
Compass: Okay, now for the real stuff, post the links to your work and your socials!
My first published short story, ‘Flies’, is open for free viewing here. You can also read ‘Torso’ and ‘Mr Johnson’, if you fancied buying me that beer. There will be more coming as I get around to uploading my work. If you want to read ‘Torso’, but don’t want to pay for it, you can see it here – but it is not the final draft as it happens – I changed it before placing it on buy me a coffee: https://www.teleportmagazine.com/2020/02/01/torso/
‘Mr Johnson’ you’ll have to pay for either way, as Blood Moon Rising is a selling publication – but you’ll have the opportunity of reading other authors to boot. http://www.bloodmoonrisingmagazine.com/bmrpastissues13.html
‘Flies’ and ‘Living in a jar’, published by Potato Soup Journal:
http://potatosoupjournal.com/?s=flies (Second story down)
‘Tuesday morning’, published by Purple Wall Stories can be found at the link below and is being published as part of the Champions anthology due out later this year. It won me an Honourable Mention and the end of year accolade of Co-Champion. You’ll also get to see a particularly unflattering photo of me!
‘Chameleon’ – the gruesome tale, shortly to be featured in the short story collection, publication pending, ‘Horrific Tales for a Horrific Year’. First published by Datura. https://daturaliteraryjournal.blogspot.com/2020/04/issue-7-april-2020.html
And the two stories published in Monnath Books anthologies, ‘The unbooked room’: Through Death’s Door: A Short Story Anthology
And The Ledger’ – forthcoming July 5th 2021
‘Bertram the cow is an elephant’, published by Sledgehammer Literary magazine: https://www.sledgehammerlit.com/post/bertram-the-cow-is-an-elephant-by-jack-t-canis
I can be found on Facebook: @jacktcanis
And Twitter: @jacktcanis
Thank you for giving me the time to prattle on about myself.
Thank you for taking part in this interview!