Could we start by asking you how your passion for creative writing emerged? Have you been writing since childhood, or did it take until adulthood for the writing ‘bug’ to kick in?
I didn’t start writing until I was in my twenties. I read a lot and every time I read a book that I really enjoyed I’d think: ‘I wish that I’d written that!’ So I started writing in the mornings before work, and after ten years and over 97 rejections I finally got published.
You’re internationally known for the extremely popular 13-book series, known as the Wardstone Chronicles, which began in 2004 and has been sold in 25 countries. I wonder if you might share with our readers the foundations for the inspiration behind this wonderful series, Joseph. Also are there any more Wardstone Chronicles adventures planned for the future?
I had to come up with an idea at short notice and I checked back through my notebooks. This was the Year 2000 and I had to go back all the way to 1983 where I found I’d jotted down a story idea about a man who dealt with boggarts. This was because in that year I’d moved to a Lancashire village called Stalmine which has a boggart. I developed this into The Spook’s Apprentice, the first book in the series. From then on, I drew upon the folklore of Lancashire, which I tweaked and modified to create my fictional world.
Is there a reason why you set the Wardstone Chronicles around the year 1700, Joseph? Does this period of history hold a particular fascination for you (along with the subject of history itself)? Or is the time-setting purely random?
The film people came up with the seventeenth century as they needed some context for the costumes and set design, but in my writing I have deliberately kept the books free from any specific time in history, rather it is set in a mythical Lancashire. I didn’t want to be trapped by dates and facts. I have always been interested in Lancashire and world mythology and have a particular love of the fantasy and horror genre, so all this informs my writing.
Each of the 13 books in your Wardstone Chronicles begins with the message, ‘For Marie’. Could you enlighten us as to the identity of Marie and the importance of this dedication?
Marie was my wife who died in 2007. She was very supportive and believed in me despite all the rejections, so I continue to dedicate the books to her.
As a former teacher of English, what were the most common pieces of advice that you gave to your students? Now, as a hugely successful author, what additional advice would you impart to your students today?
There are three main pieces of advice that I have to offer. Record all your ideas and don’t censor them. At the time you may not be able to judge their worth. I sat on the idea for The Spook’s Apprentice for over eighteen years. Second, make time to write. Too many people dream about becoming writers but don’t actually do anything about it. It is hard when you work and have a family, but it must be done. I got up early and wrote before I went off to my teaching job. Third, read widely; the process of reading fiction teaches you to write fiction.
Is there a particular set routine that you employ whilst writing, Joseph? A favourite location to write? A certain type of background music…or complete silence? How important is this routine to you and has it altered much over the years?
As I said previously, when I was a teacher I used to get up before work and write from about 6.15 to 7.30 every morning. That way I could write a book in a year – which promptly got rejected! Now I write to meet deadlines, but my working day is erratic. Sometimes I do what’s required in a couple of hours; on other occasions I pace about most of the day. I am anything but a 9-to-5 writer. Most of my writing is done when I’m neither holding a pen nor tapping the keys of my computer. I can be watching a movie or sitting on a railway station but I’ll be writing in my head.
Thank you for sparing your time to share these insights with us, Joseph. Finally, how important do you believe it is to develop a strong sense of creative imagination within the minds of young children? Is this something that you positively encouraged within your own children – and now with your grandchildren?
Yes! I think that reading is the key. Reading fiction transports you to other worlds and that experience (for me) is better than any film. Creative imagination results from reading. The best thing you can give any child is a love of that.
Picture courtesy of fanpop.com