What is your writing process?
I tend to write in what, for some, is probably a slightly unusual way. Firstly, I spend usually many weeks researching the subject areas that I want to write about. I’m very fortunate to live not too away from and being able to use the British Library in London, where I can lay myself where I can lay my hands on a wide variety of materials, and go where my reading takes me.
I like to focus this activity as much as possible, absorbing as much as I can in a relatively short period of time, setting my mind on what I’ve learned.
The next stage is the writing itself. In retelling a familiar tale, I will first read through several versions (translations) of the story. I will then just write the story as I imagine it. This involves speaking aloud, which I find gets me into the feeling of telling a story, as though I had a group of willing listeners around me. I use voice dictation software for this, and then come back to the text this produces to enhance and edit it on my laptop. The laptop work gives me a chance to fine-polish the story, as well as usually correcting a lot of errors!
I next reflect on what the story means, referring back to my research notes. This involves allowing time for ideas to emerge. I then start to consider some scenarios in modern life that might capture the messages found in the original tales. This is when a parallel story can start to come alive.
I write the modern stories in the same way as the original tales – making use of dictation software. While I’ve often sketched out I an outline of the plot, and have visualized the characters involved, it’s true to say that most stories take on a life of their own – and I find the voice of the central character coming through in ways that I might not earlier have imagined.
This is one of the great joys of storytelling – as a writer, I am involved in a magical creation process, but it doesn’t always seem that I’m the one that fires all the shots! I believe that taking part in storytelling gatherings and training has greatly helped me develop as a writer – the skills needed for great storytelling and writing are virtually the same.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
I believe that names have meaning. How they come to be is a mystery to me, but I’ve often observed that the names that people are given as children seem very appropriate for them.
My name, for example, means “someone who lives near a cliff”. I puzzled over this for a time, but then came to see that it could describe someone who likes living near the edge, or someone who often prefers to be on the periphery. I think this sums me up very well.
When I’ve imagined the character or the story, the name usually just seems to come through. I usually have to research names for characters that aren’t from my own culture, but still one name will usually just stand out as feeling “right” for the character in question.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
I suppose that I could be tempted to answer this question in terms of some accolade that I’ve achieved, a project that I’ve completed, a qualification that I’ve worked for, or some such thing. Were I to think this way, I’m not sure that I would come up with very much that anyone else might consider extraordinary!
This probably shouldn’t matter, since what you feel you’ve achieved is obviously very much a personal matter. But I think that I want to answer the question in another way.
Right now, it feels that my greatest achievement is having made some headway in reconnecting with my true self. I won’t go into the detail here, but through meditation and other activities during recent years, I’ve more and more tuned into my heart and rediscovered the powerful wisdom and intuition that comes from inside.
For someone who is very goal focused, loves logic, order and structure, this is quite a step forward! If I can continue to be who I’m meant to be – not who the person my mind says I need to project in the world – then I have every chance of accomplishing whatever I’m meant to accomplish in this life.
I don’t think that will have anything to do with winning races, heading up corporations (definitely not!), or climbing mountains. Not that any of these things are bad – they’re just not right for me. Still, for one or other of my books to break into the big time would be something that would make me very happy!
Have you always liked to write?
An interest in writing has been with me throughout most of my life, although it’s only in recent years that I’ve picked up my pen again (or rather my laptop), and started to let the words fly.
For some years, I wrote – and read – a lot of business and non-fiction material, but now my great passion has come back to writing fiction, and discovering the magic and creativity that this involves.
Until quite recently, I hadn’t written stories such as the ones that I write now since my school days, and there is a lot of catching up on time to do! But I think that everything that I’ve read and absorbed up until now has an important part to play in what I write – mythology, mystical things, and understanding something about the inner lives of people all feed into a story.
Reading was my first love, but with this I was a slow starter. I struggled to learn to read when I started school, but with the help of my parents and a very dedicated teacher, I somehow overcame my blockage, and went from the very back of the class to the front by the time I left the infants’ school.
If you didn’t like writing books, what would you do for a living?
Writing is not the only thing that I do, although it’s probably my first love. I am a trained interfaith minister, designing and holding ceremonies for people to mark important points in their life, and I also narrate and produce Audible audiobooks for other authors.
Recording audiobooks is something that I’ve taken up only recently, but this has given me an opportunity to engage with a range of books in a very intimate way. This might not have happened had I merely added them to my list of books to read. Recording and editing takes at least three read-throughs of a text, and of course giving careful thought to how best to present the story that another author has written.
I’m beginning to run a few workshops and retreats as well, especially relating to the themes that particularly interest me – mythology, storytelling, connecting with the earth (Gaia), and self-discovery.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
Before my last book (Fairy Stories & Fairy Stories), I probably would have said that I would avoid writing anything that had an explicitly erotic nature. This isn’t a genre that I read or feel attracted to; it’s the human experiences and (if you like) morals of a story that I like to focus on – including how a character develops over time.
However, I surprised myself – along with several of my friends – in what came out in one of the chapters of this book. My recasting of the Red Riding Hood tale told the story of an adolescent girl who was assaulted by her aunt’s boyfriend. I found that the story needed to not hold back on its punches, and I was amazed with the words that flooded out on to the paper!
While this wasn’t probably very explicit by many people’s standards, it was uncharacteristic of my style, and not something that I thought I would be capable of imagining, let alone writing! A couple of my friends thought so too, telling me that they had had to put the book down after reading this chapter (the second chapter in the book) – they just didn’t associate the writing with me, and had found it to be very powerful.
I think that this is the key – stories can develop with a power that even an author couldn’t have imagined. Possibly disturbing emotions that my story may have stirred might have been no different from intention of the original teller of the Riding Hood story. Fairy stories are well-known for presenting what are often challenging and troubling teachings. If I’m to go where the story needs me to go, there’s no knowing where it may end up.
Nonetheless, I redoubled the warning about the particular chapter that I wrote in the second edition of the book, and changed the ordering in which the various tales were told. My stories don’t usually venture into this sort of territory, but in terms of what I may or may not write, I guess the lesson for me is – “never say never”. Inspiration can come from a very deep place that isn’t necessarily exclusively yours. My job as an author is to let that inspiration flow on to paper.
Do you write naked?
No, but I often write while wearing loose clothes. I like to be comfortable when I’m writing, and this often means lying down, or sprawling in a seat. This doesn’t happen when I’m at the British library researching a story, of course! There, the steam can usually be seen coming out of my laptop!
Do you drink? Smoke? What’s your vice?
I used to smoke, but that now seems many years ago (the ending of smoking in public places played a big part in my own success in kicking the habit).
I enjoy drinking socially, and probably drink more than is good for my body. Not that I drink excessively, but rather too quickly when I do.
Without question, my biggest vice is drinking coffee. I must drink at least eight cups a day, if not more. Being a lover of coffee shops doesn’t help – in fact, I’m in one now!
On at least one occasion, my addiction to caffeine got me into trouble. I had made myself a full cafetière of coffee – capable of filling at least four mugs – and was drinking this virtually as though the rich liquid were on a drip. I’d put far too much coffee powder into the cafetière, and this hadn’t diluted well. Within a short time, I found myself feeling very dizzy and nauseous, unable to do very much. A visit to the doctor was necessary the next day, but happily I soon was back to normal. I know that caffeine’s not good for me, but unlike with my old smoking habit, I’ve not been very successful in curbing my addiction just yet.
What do you want your tombstone to say?
A part of my [interfaith] ministry training was to write a ceremony that could be used my own funeral. This was not the first time that I had undertaken this exercise, and I found it to be a very rewarding one. Thinking about how you’d like to be remembered can help focus attention on what you might not currently be doing in your life, but which you have the capacity to change.
I rather like the idea too of being a voice at my funeral – having a poem read that I’ve written, offering some brief thoughts about my views on life after death, or speaking my gratitude for the folks who’ve been with me along the way. I went to my aunt’s memorial service a week or two ago, and a video was played of her reciting a poem. She was alive, with us, and I think virtually everyone present loved to see her smiling and hearing her voice among us again!
In fact, when I began to think about everything and everyone that might have been involved in helping my life to be what it’s been –this made me realize that, were I really to take this exercise seriously, this would involve acknowledging a cast of thousands.
As for my tombstone, perhaps I would refer back to what my school gym teacher once wrote in my school report (I wasn’t the best at physical education) – “Not everything is [was] his particular forté, but he’s a real tryer!”
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?
There are so many places that I want to visit, along with a whole host that I want to revisit sometime. St Petersburg is high on the list, as is Buenos Aires. But the places that I most enjoy our really wild, and usually difficult to get to. I would love to go travelling in Far East Russia – further north than Siberia – and to see Antarctica, and the mountains of southern Chile.
Writing actually has allowed me to travel, if only in my mind. One of the stories in Arabian Nights & Arabian Nights is set in Baghdad during recent times. I had to do quite a lot of research for this story, including reading the stories of several people’s real experiences, to envisage what life in that city must have been like, and indeed is still like for many. Imagination can take you some distance toward “being” in a place, even if it can never fully capture the sensations and emotions of encountering a place for real.
If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
This is a question that has come up from time to time. Probably I’ve given a different answer every time I’ve considered it! I’m sure that some of my friends might want to venture an opinion too – one once suggested that I might have been a sloth, although I’ve no idea why (I don’t think that I’m particularly lazy!).
My current thought is that I would like to be a domestic cat – and a very well catered for, at that. I do a lot of house-sitting for people, which normally involves taking care of pets when their owners are away. This has introduced me to many wonderful creatures, especially of the canine, feline, and avian kind. I’m a big fan of horses too – and cows, and geese, and even seagulls, for that matter (one of whom used to visit my window ledge every day)!
It’s become clear to me through my various encounters with furry friends that many cats don’t have a particularly bad life. In the main, dogs aren’t too happy when they’re not being given attention, but cats are free to come and go as they please – and to command being fussed over when they want to, even (in some cases) taking over your bed.
They are agile, are keen observers, and don’t suffer any nonsense – and are pretty good judges of people as well, I think. Life as a cat might involve everyday adventure, but with all the creature comforts of home right at hand. That sounds as though it could be quite the life for me!
Title: ARABIAN NIGHTS & ARABIAN NIGHTS. TRADITIONAL TALES FROM A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, CONTEMPORARY TALES FOR ADULTS
Author: CLIVE JOHNSON
Genre: FICTION / SHORT STORIES (CLASSIC AND CONTEMPORARY)
Publisher: LABYRINTHE PRESS
Audible version available soon.
Magic carpets and flying horses, caverns glittering with gold, unexpected plotlines following the fortunes of heroes and villains–who cannot fail to be enchanted by the magic and wonder of the tales of the One Thousand and One Nights?
This most celebrated collections of tales feature shape-shifting and miraculous transportation across continents, powerful jinn who rise like smoke from simple vessels, dreams that delve into the secrets of the subconscious, and gigantic, man-carrying birds.
The backdrop for the tales moves from barren deserts to spectacular cities, from the edge of the world to the inner sanctuaries of mighty rulers. Kings and paupers, benevolent sages and devious magicians, worthy princesses and unscrupulous harlots–all play their part in teaching important truths and providing lively entertainment.
This innovative book offers retellings of a selection of tales that have captured the imaginations of countless people over many centuries. Accompanying each is a short story set in a contemporary context, which reframes the messages and teachings of the original, specifically written for an adult audience.
Here are stories of betrayal and murder, exploitation and sibling rivalry, soul-searching and discovery. The modern parallel tales swap the busy alleyways of old Baghdad for the horror of Saddam’s prisons, move from following caravans sweeping across the Sahara to modern day pilgrims trekking along the Caminos of northern Spain, and lift Aladdin out of his cave to unwittingly face Triad gangsters and antiques smugglers.
Wayward Baptist ministers, adulterous accountants, and eco-warrior backpackers follow in the footsteps of the no-less colourful characters than those that feature in the original tales.
Each pair of stories is accompanied by a commentary on how they might be interpreted. The result is a gripping collection of tales that may continue to bring the mystery and magic of the Nights to life, as well as provoking fresh thought and feeling for adult readers. Prepare to be surprised, uplifted and–in the spirit of the original Arabian Nights Entertainments–enthralled.
A journalist had picked up on the news of Todd’s arrest, and by some means had been able to identify him as a Baptist pastor. Soon, the news of my husband’s escapade with the prostitute had made not only the front page of the Louisville Courier-Journal, but had carried across the state to Lexington too. I dreaded to think what the decent people of our church would say when they saw the photograph of their pastor being paraded in front of a police identification plate.
When we returned to Lexington, most people seemed to want to avoid mentioning the topic. It was obvious to me that they had been deeply unsettled by Todd’s indiscretion, but to our faces at least, they promised their love, assuring us that ours is a God of love, able to forgive every sinner–even a wayward minister.
Todd was not afraid to show his contrition before his flock. Were Oscars awarded for emotional outpouring by those in church ministry, Todd would surely be nominated for an award. Whether or not his tears were genuine I do not know, but he certainly gave a powerful example of how to show repentance when he took his place on the dais.
“O my Father, how I have failed you! How I have let these, my beloved brothers and sisters, down! Forgive me, for I am the worse among sinners!”
His cries and wailing knew no limit. Kneeling before the congregation, Todd accepted the prayers and blessings of the people. Two of the deacons laid hands on him, commanding the demons that were in him to depart.
Perhaps this display was good for our community. Other men in the congregation came forward to confess their infidelity, and to receive the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus and those of us who serve Him. In fact, I don’t think that our church had for a long time felt so overcome by the love and warmth of The Holy Spirit.
The experience had certainly been a shock for Todd. He knew that his position as a pastor would be under threat were he to backslide again. More than anything, I think that he was genuinely aware that he’d been unfaithful to his Lord.
He had been unfaithful to me too, and privately I went through a period of hurt and suffering. But the fast pace of events, and Todd’s apparent regret for his actions, kept me focused on supporting my husband.
Barnes & Noble: http://goo.gl/mIP8kB
Arabian Nights & Arabian Nights is Clive Johnson’s seventh book, and the second in the series that takes old and often familiar tales and retells them alongside modern-day versions. Taking this approach, Clive says that he aims to recapture some of the magic and important messages that can be found in traditional fairytales, stories from mythology, etc, while inspiring fresh wonder among adult readers.
His earlier books were aimed at business readers, and he’s also edited an anthology of interfaith wisdom. Recently, Clive has also started narrating and producing audible audiobooks for other authors, which is an activity that he says he particularly enjoys.
Clive spends most of his time in the UK, where he was born, although he has no fixed home. This allows him to follow his heart from place to place, often house and pet sitting for friends and others who are taking a break away. He also often takes in or hosts retreats and workshops on various themes. Many house sits introduce him to some wonderful furry friends, and provide the perfect opportunity for settling into some serious writing!
Having an autistic condition and with a strong interest in mysticism, Clive likes to approach his work with a keen curiosity. He says that he enjoys researching and imagining a story almost as much as he does writing it.
Clive is an avid reader, and an ordained interfaith minister.
Social Media Links:
Clive’s Author Facebook page: http://goo.gl/hVrz3e
Clive’s blog (‘The autistic mystic’): http://goo.gl/ZcBNnD
Clive’s Twitter profile: https://twitter.com/AuthorClive
We’re celebrating books and authors all October on the POTL Blog. Follow #POTLReads on Twitter to not miss our recommendations and to offer your own! Spread the Word!