Name J.P. Sexton
Age; When I hit 50, I decided to start counting backwards. So, I’m in my 40’s.
Where are you from;
Ireland – The very far North – County Donegal. I have been working around the world for the past 30 years – Ireland, U.S., Africa, Balkans. Now that I am focused and spending more time writing, I intend to draw from these overseas experiences and weave international locations into my writing.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Well, I just recently moved to South Florida, to get away from winter and to say thank you to my bones and joints for hanging in there and to bribe them into keep working for me. I’m a 10 minute bike ride to the ocean, which helps my writing. I started writing Book 2 of my memoir at New Years and hope to have it finished in the coming months.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I started writing in National school, in Ireland, when I was around ten. It was a form of self-entertainment. We were very poor, as were many when I was growing up, so you had to amuse yourself and it needed to be done with empty pockets. As long as I could scrape up a pencil and paper, my mind could do the rest.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I figured I could write half-decently whilst attending school, as the teacher would often praise my stories. I don’t know if I really considered myself a “writer” as such – in Ireland we would say; “I could write a bit.”
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I wrote my first manuscript, as a result of working and living in Mozambique. It is a crazy tale about a bunch of Irish expats and their escapades in a fictional African country. It will be published after I get done with my memoir books.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I’d say a cross between; Brendan Behan, Roddy Doyle and some have said; John Grisham. I just call it my own crazy style.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
My father was known in North Donegal as “The Big Yank,” since he came from New York. He stood out, as he wasn’t one to blend in. He and my mother wanted to return to Ireland and raise their children in my mother’s home place. Much of the book revolves around our relationship, or lack thereof. “The Big Yank,” was in my head and stuck with me throughout two and a half years of part-time writing.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I have been told by many who read it that it is an example of how the human spirit can overcome great odds and rise despite being kept down. For me, it was just a matter of survival. It has made me appreciate everything I ever had after those bleak days and to take nothing for granted. No matter what I struggle I may face these days, I can look back and think; “I had it much worse when I was younger.”
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
It is 100% realistic. It’s based on myself and I know the author fairly well.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
When I was a young teenager and before, I read everything I could get my hands on. It wasn’t quite normal reading, but I couldn’t afford to buy anything and I had to read whatever my father came across. I read several books by a Tibetan monk (Lobsang Rampa) who practiced astral travelling and when I was done with that, I read all of Brendan Behan’s works. I have always been a student of poetry and have a soft spot for the Irish poets of past and modern times. I’d say I was most influenced by Hemmingway. He enticed me to go to Cuba and to also “Run with the Bulls,” in Pamplona a few years ago.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I haven’t had much chance to read new authors these past 2 years as I have been focusing on my memoir and preparing it for market. For the book proposal, I had to draw comparisons with other memoirs and discuss why mine was even better! I considered that a tall order, so I had to immerse myself in memoirs, especially Irish. One author whom I just discovered, is Sorj Chalandon. His writing reminds me of Frank O’Connor. His latest book; “Return to Killybegs,” is a story about an IRA man turned traitor. He writes with such great detail, that the reader feels like he must have been in the I.R.A. himself.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Bushmills Whiskey. We have developed a close relationship. As for family – they are yet to show support! I know this is an unusual thing to say, but it is true. I can’t get one of them to say a thing about my memoir, so I have no idea what they even think about it. They were initially scared as some of them thought they were going to be hounded by the paparazzi, once it came out. Don’t I wish!
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I do. I’m a bit mad that way. I feel that I could make a decent go of it, if I could put in full hours. I thought writing the book was the biggest step. Now I realize that is only the beginning. I am constantly lining up places to do a book signing, writing blogs and FB postings and researching everything from Top Amazon Reviewers to the best Irish cultural festivals to attend. I can see me becoming something of a bard of olden times, who would take to the road and entertain people from village to village in return for a meal and a place to sleep!
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. I believe in telling it like it is. Anything I want to say, I just say it, even though that isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. C’est la vie.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
We didn’t have a television growing up, partly because we couldn’t afford one, but mainly because we also lived in cottages without electricity. Our entertainment was visiting old (to us) people who had been friends or neighbors of my mother when she was growing up. Most of these people had no television and often no car either, so they would sit around telling stories and signing songs. That type of gathering was called a “Ceile” I believe that influenced me greatly to become a writing story teller.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
My current book is the sequel to my memoir, which basically finished up when I was nineteen. Book 2 starts up at that time and since I am still writing it, I don’t know yet where it will finish. I have experienced a lot of craziness around the world over the past couple decades and the locations will probably include; New York City (to include two years in Riker’s Island Jail), South Africa, Mozambique, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, India, Spain, Singapore and some more.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
So far, it has been knowing when to stop writing or how to write less. My memoir is 444 pages and weighs as much as a small child. Thankfully, just about everybody who has read it and shared their thoughts on it, said that they didn’t want to see it end. They nearly got their way!
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Just back in time for my memoir material. Once I can get the memoirs out of my system, I want to settle down to writing a thriller/mystery/spy fiction series. My travels around a good portion of the globe will assist me in that regard. When it comes to book signing appearances, I am travelling far and wide. I figure I am my own ambassador and I need to connect with my current and future readers. It is also very rewarding for me as a writer.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
“The Big Yank – Memoir of a Boy Growing Up Irish,” was designed by a professional design firm in the Washington D.C. area called; DGS Creates.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Finding the solitude to get away from everyday life, in order to get lost in my thoughts and writing. I’ve written on buses, planes, doctors waiting rooms – I feel I can write anywhere, as long as the outside world does not try to contact me.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned that it was waiting inside of me to be written and I wish I had been more dedicated these past 16 years. I left Sarajevo at the end of 1999, with the intent of going to London to find a publisher or an agent. A few months later I got sidetracked and time just flew by too fast. Now I know I must stay focused and use my time wisely.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead.
I don’t know who would play the young J.P. Later on, somebody with a decent level of rebel in them….maybe Colin Farell. Maybe by the end of Book 3, Liam Neeson. For the spy/thriller, I think; Michael Fassbender would be a great choice.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
If they are writing with a view to getting published, I’d say; don’t wait to be discovered. Make it happen and self-publish. If you have faith in yourself and genuinely want your book to be read by as many people as possible, do whatever it takes. It will not be easy, but it is incredibly rewarding.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I am humbled every time somebody tells me how much my story moved them – often to tears. I am grateful to every single reader who picks up my book and allows me to enter their lives. It is really special when you think of it.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I just put out “Return to Killybegs” and I have started reading a classic by the Irish author; John McGahern, called; “Amongst Women.”
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I don’t. It probably had more pictures than words, though.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I laugh much more than I cry. I love comedy, especially live and off the wall comedy. When in Dublin, I always make it a point to go to the International Comedy club on Wicklow Street, for their Monday night Improv sessions.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Having re-played my boyhood and teen years for the memoir, I would like to be able to sit down with my father and talk to him, man to man. We never had father and son moments, as such and I would love the opportunity to find out what made him tick.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
I don’t know if I will have a head stone. I told my daughter that I want her to arrange a Viking funeral for me in North Donegal. Nothing elaborate, just set me on a little row boat filled with dry wood, splashed with petrol and light it as they push me out on the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. She’s afraid they’ll get into trouble, but I told her to blame it on me.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I try to ride my bike a few miles each day. I love beach volleyball and can play non-stop for a couple of hours in the warm sand, with a nice ocean breeze.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I don’t watch much television or go to the cinema very often. I catch up on new releases when I fly internationally. I enjoy real-life stories and good action.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music –
All seafood, especially cod and chips, smothered in brown vinegar. Black. Classic Rock/Blues/Reggae; David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Phil Lynott, Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, Van Morrison, Bob Marley, Leonard Cohen
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Writing was always my first love. After secondary school, I wanted to go on and study Journalism. The reasons I did not, are told in my memoir, but I think I would have gravitated towards covering war zone conflicts around the world, had I gone that route. I think I would have also liked to have been a Formula One race driver.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Yes, my blog can be found on my website; www.irishauthor.us.
I can be contacted at; JP@irishauthor.us