Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
I’m Neal James, and am sixty-six years old
Fiona: Where are you from?
I live in the Derbyshire town of Heanor.
Fiona: A little about yourself (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
My early education was at our local grammar school where I sat ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. After college, I worked in the accounts department of a local building company and eventually qualified as an accountant. I’ve been married for 42 years and have two grown up children. I’ve tried retiring, but agencies keep on finding me work.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I have a new book coming very soon – a second volume of short stories – and have just begun work on a novel for 2019. ‘Shadowman’ will be the sequel to last year’s crime thriller ‘Three Little Maids’.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing in 2006. ‘Talk About Laugh’ is a family history prompted by the death of my wife’s father. From that point on, I started to write short stories for a couple of US wiring sites, and they seemed to go down quite well. I decided to try an expand one of these into a novel, and ‘A Ticket to Tewkesbury’ was born. The rest, as they say, is history.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
The completion and acceptance for publication of ‘A Ticket to Tewkesbury’ in 2008 was the moment when I thought of myself not as a writer, but as an author. Up to that point, the writing had been nothing more than a collection of ideas – that became a little more serious with the completion of a major piece of work.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
This was the idea that one of the short stories had enough in it to make a much more complex piece of writing. ‘A Ticket to Tewkesbury’ was a short piece of around 3,000 words which evolved from a love story into a spy thriller harking back to the end of WWII.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Titles are always my most difficult part of any of the books. The working title for ‘Ticket’ was originally ‘A Ticket from Grimsby’ as that was where one of the main characters lived. However, the words did not seem to fit well, and I spent weeks trying to come up with an alternative. We were travelling home from Wales where we had been spending a holiday, and whilst passing through Gloucestershire, I noticed several road signs pointing to the town of Tewkesbury – another location in the book. It suddenly occurred to me to turn the destination of the book from Grimsby to Tewkesbury, words which rolled off the tongue much easier.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
My chosen style is crime because that is the type of book which I like to read, but I do not limit myself to it. As to challenge, research is always the greatest demand upon my time. This is a challenge, and one which I relish because if you don’t take the time to get your facts straight, not only will the book fail as am piece of work but someone will always be there to pick up the errors which you have made.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
There are elements in all of my books which are drawn from real life events or from people whom I know. I also try to use factual locations and real events to try to ground my stories in a kind of reality. I do take care never to use an actual person’s name without their specific permission, and although those events about which I’ve written are clear to me, anyone else would have a hard time matching them to the facts at the time.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I don’t tend to travel during research. When I use locations they are invariable places where I have already spent time, and with people I know. For other places and people, I use identities and places in the public domain and always only as references points. I have made retrospective journeys (one to Tewkesbury a few years ago is a case in point) and to actually stand in a place which has featured in the book is quite eerie.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Five of the ten books to date have been designed by the publisher, one other was drafted by a friend in Missouri, I chose one myself from a self-publishing website catalogue, and the remainder were designed by a friend in the UK who is a bit of a wiz with Photoshop.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Only that I need them to enjoy what they are reading. For that purpose I use short, punchy chapters which tend to make the reader keep on turning the pages. I will introduce a series of false leads and blind alleys into all of my books before the final Reveal catches the reader by surprise.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favourite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I recently read ‘The Beast of Bodmin’ by Mark Edmondson. It is Mark’s debut novel and is an impressive piece of work. As for favourites, it rather depends on the style, but James Patterson (crime), Isaac Asimov (science fiction), James Herbert (horror) and Deric Longden (humour) are the one who stand out. All have the same ability – that of making me read just that one more chapter before putting the book down.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
Pneuma Springs Publishing in Kent – they gave me my first opportunity to become a published author, and their support down the years has been excellent. I have had a constant stream of advice and tips from them, and my writing as a result has improved.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
No, simply because I like doing it. As a full-time writer, I believe that my time would be taken up too much on a treadmill, and I have already spent over forty years as an accountant doing just that. Writing, for me, is fun – when the fun stops, so will the writing.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
‘Three Little Maids, the last published work, was a real pleasure to write, because I used local locations in Derbyshire and transplanted them, along with a few local people willing to take part in the story, to the London borough of Edmonton where my detective DCI Dennis Marks lives and works. Once written, no major changes to any plot are even considered – the books are what they are.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Not really. I tend to write about things which I know as fact, or which I can justify from my own experiences. I like to keep things simple, otherwise there is always a danger of going off at a tangent into areas where I have no experience.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
In ‘Three Little Maids’ the lead is DCI Dennis Marks. I see Dennis as a man, in his late fifties, winding down to retirement from a very demanding position at New Scotland Yard. I know, in my own mind, what he looks like, but it is always hard to explain his appearance to someone else. However, were I to pick an actor who, to my mid, fits the persona, it would have to be Peter Capaldi.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Stick to what you believe in and refuse to compromise. Never be bullied into altering your style on the advice of an agent or publisher because they say they know better than you do. Your readers will like you for they style YOU chose rather than that of someone who you are not.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Believe in yourself, but never fall into the trap of thinking that you are going to make a lot of money from writing. Do it because you love it, and because of the thrill that it gives you. Never forget that buzz that you felt when you saw your book in a shop or on a library shelf – you can’t buy that kind of experience.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
‘Timekeepers of Fate’ by Avery Henville – another new author. The book centres upon a set of seemingly paranormal events which affect three generations of the same family.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
‘Tess of the d’Urberville’s was the first serious novel-reading which I carried out. It was one of the set books in ‘A’ Level English, and I fell in love with the heroine, Tess, and the author, Thomas Hardy. I’ve read in many times over the years and have all of Hardy’s novels – I never lend them out.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Stupid things make me laugh – Laurel and Hardy for their manic sense of comedy slapstick. Weepies (Sleepless in Seattle, Field of Dreams) always bring a lump to the throat. Some music has the same effect.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
There are so many writers that it’s very hard to nail one down, but I suppose W.P Kinsella would be my choice, purely because he wrote the book ‘Shoeless Joe’ upon which the film ‘Field of Dreams’ was based. Bill dies a few years back, but he would be my choice.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
I write. No, seriously, I play the organ, have a lovely garden, and a wonderful wife. That, I think, is enough for me. Anything more would be greedy.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Anything related to Science fiction or the paranormal. I’m fascinated by events which appear to be beyond man’s current level of ability to either carry out or understand. I like ghost stories, but they have to leave things to my own imagination in order to hold my interest.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colours, music?
Food – my wife is an amazing cook and we love Italian food. Colour – shades of green; they’re soothing. Music – most styles, but I do have a preference for light classical stuff.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Relax more. My wife and I dance five times each week at various placed local to us. I find dancing (all styles) relaxing and great fun. It’s also a great way of keeping the brain active and, since retiring from regular work year, I think that it’s important not to simply sit back and let the world pass you by.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
With my wife, reliving all the things that we’ve achieved in 44 years that we’ve been together (42 of them as a married couple). I would laugh away those final hours, happy in the fact that I have lived a great life.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
“Neal James – he built it and they came.”
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
This is my website:
All books are previewed there free of charge. There is a Guestbook, a Gust Author page where I promote other writers, details of how to contact me, and lists of special events which have happened down the years.
You can also find me here:
Amazon Authors page https://www.amazon.co.uk/Neal-James/e/B0034PVDKO/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
Links to other upcoming books, including this years’s, are here: