The Interview: Bookbag Talks To John Saunders
|The Interview: Bookbag talks to John Saunders|
|Summary: John Saunders' The Vernham Chronicles is set in the beautiful countryside of Vernbury Vale. There you'll meet the villagers of Vernham. They're distinctly odd but we promise that you'll like them. We were delighted to interview John about his humorous stories.|
|Date: 12 January 2011|
|Interviewer: Sue Magee|
John Saunders' The Vernham Chronicles is set in the beautiful countryside of Vernbury Vale. There you'll meet the villagers of Vernham. They're distinctly odd but we promise that you'll like them. We were delighted to interview John about his humorous stories.
- Bookbag: Close your eyes and imagine your readers. Who do you see?
John Saunders: The people that might read The Vernham Chronicles would probably have chocolate all over their faces - that is to say that they haven't completely left the playground and still have a lot of the child left in them. It's definitely not a book for serious person that has a sophisticated sense of humour - the type that might find chemical equations hysterically funny.
- BB: I've had a good look on the map, but I can't find Vernham anywhere. Where exactly is it?
JS: In my original proposal for the rear cover blurb, I described the location of Vernham as a pimple on the left buttock of England. If you look at an atlas of the UK it looks like a man sitting down driving a car; the BSM used that image at one time for their driving school logo. So the bumpy bit at the back or East of the English part of the UK is the left buttock. For me Vernham is possibly in Suffolk with its gently rolling hills. But Vernham seems to be familiar to whoever reads the book, so I suppose the village is near wherever the reader lives, or lived at one time.
Low Street in Vernham is inspired by a little High Street that I used to walk through to school nearly 35 years ago.
The name Vernham was inspired by a village in West Sussex called Barnham; I thought it was a fairly original name for a village until I discovered that there is a place named Vernham Dean. But I wasn't going to change the name - after all, the writer of the detective program A Touch of Frost used the name Denton; and although Denton is supposed to be a fictitious name, there is actually a place called Denton.
- BB: I live in a village and I could have put alternative names to some of your characters. Are they inspired by people you know – and if so, has anyone ever realised who they are in the book?
JS: Some of the characters are inspired by people that I have had the uncertain pleasure of meeting; but the characters are very distorted so the people that inspired me probably wouldn't realise that it's them. But there are certain comments in the book that other people have said and I think if they read them they'd know that it's them I'm having a laugh about. One comment was made by a friend from a long time ago after she had just been dumped by her boyfriend. She had become quite drunk and philosophical and she said Still, it is better to have loved and never to have loved at all! It obviously wasn't going to be helpful if I laughed at her but I said Surely that should be than never to have loved at all rather than and? She just looked at me with a wobbly head like drunk people do, said Yeah, whatever! and took another sideways swig of her Bacardi. A number of readers have thought that I had made a mistake with that comment, and I suppose most people wouldn't understand, Maybe if Vernham goes into a 2nd edition I will change that part, after all it's pointless trying to explain a joke if it hasn't worked.
- BB: Have you ever lived in a village like Vernham? Would you rather live there or in a town?
JS: I lived with my wife Carole in a lovely village called Ferring about 10 years ago - the village where Carole was born. Ferring had its unusual characters and one of them inspired one of the characters in the book called Nelly Birdham. Ferring is one of the few villages in West Sussex where the countryside meets the seaside. You can be walking down a farm track and go through a gap in the hedges and suddenly you see pebbles, breakwaters and the sea.
I think I like village life more than a town or a city; whenever I visit a town I like to pop in and do what I have to do and get out as soon as I can.
- BB: Who's your favourite character in The Vernham Chronicles? Are you in there at all?
JS: My favourite character is Mr Robson, the counterfeit Scotsman; it was very difficult for me to hold back featuring him more in the book. I think that I had to be careful not to labour all the characters too much; but definitely Mt Robson was the most difficult.
There are little parts of me in a lot of the characters; I can promise you though that I am no flasher, and when it comes to public toilets the choice between a latrine and a cubical is quite clear for me!
- BB: What inspired you to become a writer?
JS: I've been writing things for as far back as I can remember, mostly lyrics for my songs. I am at heart a songwriter and have two MySpace pages with my music on. One of my Myspace pages is called CARPHEAD, and I wrote a short story in my blog called The Leviathan of Black Lake which appeared to get quite a fair few views. Then one day I was sent an email from one of my MySpace friends, musician/songwriter John Ellis (one time guitarist with The Vibrators and later with Peter Gabriel, Peter Hammill and The Stranglers) and he simply wrote keep the writing up!
So it was who inspired me rather than what inspired me to become an author. Apart from my wife and immediate family, I have dedicated this book to three other people that have all played their part in encouraging me to write this book. Singer, musician and great songwriter Doris Brendel took interest in the early stages of The Vernham Chronicles when I posted a sample chapter on MySpace, which encouraged me even more to pursue the completion of something that I only originally intended to be a series of short stories. Then there is Jo McCafferty, also a great singer and songwriter; Jo enthused and tolerated my regular email missives of epic proportion as I waffled on about the book's progress. And finally there is David Shaw-Parker; an author, actor and rather flashy flamenco guitarist who gave me some tips on approaching publishers and such ilk.
- BB: Is writing a full-time occupation for you, or is there a day job to bring in the funds?
JS: I'm afraid the day job is my main means of keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table. Needless to say, having a day job does rather get in the way of any of my artistic pursuits. And if I am ever fortunate enough to be able to be support my wife without having a regular day job, I think I might like to become a proper writer.
- BB: How and where do you write?
JS: I write on my laptop in the lounge, although some ideas I jot down with a pencil and notebook. The laptop I wrote The Vernham Chronicles on wasn't the one I'm using now; my old laptop broke down shortly after I finished the last chapter. I am so glad that I backed everything up on a USB stick otherwise I would have been up the proverbial creek; in fact the whole writing of this book had been plagued by various glitches and malfunctions. I began to think that my book was doomed for some reason, but I got there in the end.
- BB: Do you have to be very organised about it or do you wait for inspiration to take hold?
JS: Well, I always have to be inspired to do anything. But as with anything I do, whether it be music or words, I feel like I am being led as I write; I think that if you asked any writer they would say the same thing. Without meaning to sound arcane or mystical, although one starts with the initial idea of a story, i.e. start, middle and end, one does seem to be led along the way, rather like automatic writing. And when you read what you wrote later on you think did I really write that? But I suppose having a day job does make you rather organised because once you have started writing you have to slot it in at regular times of the day.
- BB: How long did it take you to write The Vernham Chronicles?
JS: I began writing The Vernham Chronicles in January 2009 for a few hours each day and finished it in September of that same year. One might think that 9 months is rather a long time for book of 192 pages; but at the end of that 9 months I edited a lot of the book out due to parts that I felt were too much - a lot of Mr Robson the counterfeit Scotsman was taken out. I think there would have been an extra 40 or so pages; I believe I was right to make it shorter.
- BB: If you weren't writing or doing the day job, what would you be doing?
JS: That's a difficult question to answer because everything I have done has always been governed by the day job. But if my boat came in, I think that I would either be standing by the side of a very loud guitar amplifier with my semi-acoustic guitar feeding back; or sitting behind a pair of carp rods by a beautiful lake – two different extremes of enjoyment but both of them mine! I think, though, that there would still be a certain amount of writing going on.
- BB: What's next for John Saunders?
JS: If all goes well for The Vernham Chronicles, there is a sequel. I also have a wild dream about an audio version of the book; maybe a radio series with David Shaw-Parker narrating. David has a wonderful voice and I have mentioned to him that I would like that to happen if the book becomes successful. David hasn't said whether he is interested or not. It could be a silent no; he is on tour with a play as we speak and he has told me that he has taken the book with him to read between shows. So he may be inspired to narrate for me, or maybe not!
If The Vernham Chronicles isn't a success, there is always the day job!
- BB: All the best of luck with it, John. Thanks so much for the interview!
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