Interview with John Bayliss
I first met John on the HarperCollins’ writers’ on-line community Authonomy, where I achieved my first big break, securing a coveted first-place gold star and editorial review, thanks to the generosity and tireless support of John and hundreds of other readers and writers. Three years is a long time in a writer’s life…
John, you introduced us to detective Springer with your first novel, Five and a Half Tons, published in 2013 and followed by A Fistful of Seaweed published the following year. What writing projects do you have up your sleeve at the moment?
I have recently finished a brand new novel and I am wondering if I ought to seek out some trusty beta readers. This is the project that elbowed another of my other novels, Serpentine, out of the way, and I believe it does have something of the same flavour and similarly memorable characters. It’s called The Garden of Infinite Vistas and is set entirely within a very large garden. (When I say large, I mean huge.) In terms of genre, it could be classed as fantasy or magic realism, although it’s definitely not a conventional fantasy novel. It is rather long, too (120,000 words).
Do you plot closely, or do your characters guide you?
Bit of both. For the Springer novels (Five and a Half Tons and A Fistful of Seaweed) I literally made up the plot as I went along, which meant I had no more idea of what was about to happen than my hapless hero did. Then I had to do a lot of revision and re-writing to make sure that everything made (relative) sense at the end. There is a third unpublished Springer novel: my contract with my publisher was only for two novels.
In my current and future works-in-progress, I have decided to start by writing an outline of the plot first. I don’t expect to keep to it, because a story has a way of finding its own path irrespective of what you might have planned. Having an outline, however, does mean that I’ll always know where I’m aiming for, even if the story does take a few detours or shortcuts on the way. It’s a bit like a road map that I might take with me on a touring holiday: useful for navigating my way back to somewhere recognisable if I ever get lost, but it won’t stop me exploring a side road if it looks as though it might lead to somewhere interesting.
When I’m writing, lately, I find my characters coming to meet me in my dreams. Does that happen to you?
I often have weird dreams, but I don’t remember meeting any of my characters there. My dreams tend to be dominated by landscapes and unusual buildings, often large rambling houses with secret rooms. There are people in those dreams, but they have very little distinct identity of their own. Maybe they’re characters from novels I haven’t written yet who are planting ideas into my unconscious that will surface again once I get around to writing about them.
What motivates you to write?
I have been writing fiction for almost as long as I have been able to write. To write is a part of my personality, and I cannot conceive of a situation in which I did not write. If I don’t write anything for a day or two, I start to get itchy keyboard fingers.
How do you find time to write?
I was made redundant from my full time job a couple of years ago and decided that my finances were robust enough for me to take early retirement. So basically I have as much time as I need. (I don’t seem to get much more writing done, however…)
And when do you write best?
I can be thinking about writing at any time of the day or night, irrespective of what else I might be doing. Daydreaming about the characters or the situation in the current work-in-progress can be an excellent way of coming up with plot twists and interesting character quirks.
When I write the best is probably the first half of the day. There’s usually a point around four o’clock in the afternoon when my brain says: “That’s enough! I can’t do any more” and that’s when I stop.
A word about your future plans?
I need to decide what to do with The Garden of Infinite Vistas. The choice is either find an agent, find a publisher directly without an agent, or self-publish. I’m not sure at present which is the best course.
My current work in progress is a science fiction novel set on a spaceship, a story that addresses some important questions about the future of humanity. I also have a science fiction short story accepted for an anthology of stories being published by Grimbold Books—I haven’t been told when that’s due to be published, but hopefully it won’t be long. I also have plenty of ideas for more stories, including an idea for a very large ‘epic’ story that will unfold over several volumes, so I’m expecting to be busy for some time to come.
I’m very glad to know you have so many projects coming to fruition. Thanks so much for our interview, and the very best of luck with all your creative endeavours.