John M. Taylor was raised in the East of England. He claims he spent more time at school daydreaming great adventures than studying, then at college he qualified as a design draughtsman. He has lived in Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia. John has been married to Elisabeth for 46 years, they had a son who they lost to a brain tumor. He has written three books and appeared as a regular guest on radio. He now calls Perth, Western Australia home.
Time to chat with John!
What is your latest book?
Here Tomorrow, Gone Today. Although finished, it is yet to be available but I hope it will be as soon as I find a publisher. It’s fiction based on real places and factual history. Five children go missing from the village without a trace. Part takes place in the early 20th century while some is located in the early 13th Century. It’s an intriguing mystery laced with suspense, hopefully keeping the reader guessing to the end.
How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?
The novel I Will Find You certainly found me but it is the genre I would have chosen. I read Empty Cradles by Margaret Humphries and became sensitized to the plight of Child Migrants. I later met some ex-child migrants, now adults, and listened to their harrowing stories of separation, lies, exploitation and abuse. At the same time I saw how it had affected their entire lives. Their treatment was denied by authorities for decades when they wanted their story told. By opening their hearts to me I realized that I had been chosen to tell this story. That said, I Will Find You is not all about Child Migration and their harrowing treatment, but follows the inspirational epic journey of one courageous boy who passed through the system and later sets out to find his mother.
Do your books begin with ideas for characters or plots? Something else?
They begin with a plot which can change. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow is the result of my long standing speculation; History records that in the 13th Century King John lost his wealth in the tidal marshes of East Anglia. Now drained, it is fertile farmland, many attempts have been made to find these treasures but nothing has been recovered. So I question if it was it really lost? Who could have taken it? Where was it hidden? Where is it now? Although to be written as a novel that was the original plot. The characters came when I entwined the mystery of missing children. They, with other characters created emotion, reader involvement and interest so changing the main plot to ‘what happened to the missing children?’ So I’m prepared to follow where the story takes me.
Often, while I’m writing, I’m surprised when a word pops into my head that I never use in real life … and sometimes, it’s a word I didn’t even realize I knew. Yet there it is, wanting to become a part of my novel. Does this ever happen to you? If so, what do you make of it?
Yes, quite often a sophisticated word jumps into my head but I rarely use it and tend to write words I would speak in a typical conversation. I like to keep it simple and make it easy for ’everyone’ read. I personally dislike the need to break the flow by reaching for a dictionary to discover what the author is saying. There is also a danger that in dialog an overly sophisticated or uncommon word could be out of character for the person speaking.
How much of your own personality goes into your characters?
It depends on the character. But yes, much of my own style, opinion and emotion is written into some characters. I often imagine myself in their position and ask how I would react. So it becomes inevitable that my own personality is included. Other characters are based on people I know or have known. I try not to invent personalities and prefer the authenticity of real people, they are always much more interesting and believable.
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
Yes, I need to map out the basic plot in my head first and know that I will have a memorable ending. Sometimes I write the last chapter first. That way it helps to remind me where I’m heading with the story and how to use characters along the way. Even if the plot changes I still plan the ending. I believe endings are important as it’s the last piece anyone reads and will influence their opinion of the work. The title can come much later and be tailored (pardon the pun) to what has been written.
What else have you written?
My writing began with commercial instruction and training manuals, then after retiring, newspaper and magazine articles. My first book Raising Fen Tigers, is a book of simple verse depicting life in a specific era while growing up in an English village immediately after WW2. Some verses are humorous while others are nostalgic and a few sad ones are thrown in. They describe true events, characters and some are impressions of life seen through a child’s eyes. Collectively they give an insight to the village and the era.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?
Oh yes! It’s easy to create negative personalities but I tend not to. I encourage the reader to form their own opinion of a character by providing their words and actions without an opinion. In that way the reader’s imagined character will always be correct for them.
Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell well while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it?
I believe it’s about marketing and a lot of luck. A very ordinary book can sell well if promoted properly, and a great book can fail for the lack of good marketing. Many new authors go to vanity publishers who make impressive promises about all the wonderful promotional things they will do, but sadly few deliver. There is a lot of luck in who reads the book and who they know or can influence to advance it. But we can, to some degree, create our own luck by being active. I believe the industry needs a complete makeover. Perhaps I should write a book about it, but who would publish it?
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. We just have ‘ideas in waiting.’ However I admit there are times when I wonder how best to continue or link events. When this happens I simply stop working on that part, maybe for a day or two. Then the answer comes at the most unexpected moment. For me it’s a bit like failing to recall a place name at a given moment, then later without prompting it comes to mind. It was there all the time, just waiting for me.
Would you like to write a short poem for us?
This from Raising Fen Tigers: A Little Boys Questions.
Why do sprouts make me stink?
The same reason as beans I think.
Why do onions make your breath smell?
When Granddad has had one you can always tell.
Grown-ups say they want better for us.
But when I ask they just make a fuss.
When I want something I’m told to say “please.”
But when I do I’m told “no.” Is that to tease?
How do birds stay up without flapping their wings?
They must be hanging on invisible strings.
Where do stars go during the day?
Hiding behind the clouds I dare say.
Why do dogs smell another dog’s bum?
I suppose it’s their idea of fun.
Why does my dog lick his willy?
It’s so rude and I think it’s silly.
I try hard not to, but why do I wet the bed?
I’ll grow out of it one day someone said.
I yawn when I’m not tired? That’s not right.
Worst of all Mum says, “Early to bed tonight.”
Are you an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert? Have you changed throughout your life?
I think I must have been an ambivert when a child. There were many times when I recoiled into myself, probably as a result of being bullied and a violent home life, but I don’t think it was natural for me. Later, as I gained confidence I enjoyed being with people and sought sincere friendships, which I still hold dear today. Now I’m definitely an extrovert. My dear wife Elisabeth says I’ll approach and talk to anyone without hesitation, which is true. I have a lot of fun at book signings. I specially enjoy chatting with ethnic people and get on well with them. People can be so very interesting, they add to the richness of life and one’s writing.
If you could duplicate the knowledge from any single person’s head and have it magically put into your own brain, whose knowledge would you like to have? And why?
That’s easy, Elisabeth’s knowledge. Her upbringing was quite different to my own having been born and partly brought up in Vienna, Austria. Her knowledge of European history, people and cultures is extensive. She speaks English, German, Spanish, Russian and Hungarian fluently, and gets by with French. If I had her knowledge and those languages, I’d be “like a dog in a forest.” I’d also love to have her quick intuition. It may sound odd but I would also like see the world from a woman’s perspective as well as my own. Now that would be interesting!
If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
I have great admiration for people who can play a musical instrument really well. I watch and listen in awe and rhetorically whisper, “How does anyone get to be that good? It would be amazing to be able to play like that.” I think it’s why I enjoy Bluegrass. Not just because it’s happy, foot tapping music, but because it requires enormous skill and talent. In East Tennessee I watched live bands in amazement and was told, “These guys are given an instrument as soon as they can walk.” Well I’m now giving it a try and bought myself a Dobro earlier this year.
What upsets you?
I get frustrated with arrogance in any form. Arrogant people often close their eyes and hearts to truth and reality. They make a decision to remain ignorant and often adopt a superior attitude while doing so. Sadly, they are the losers because they rarely expand their minds. It’s almost impossible to reason with an arrogant person because they lack an open mind. I have a pet saying: “What we know is 100% of what we know, but arrogance will have us believe that what we know is 100% of all there is to know.”
I get very upset at cruelty to children. Through my own experiences as a child I know it can be terrifying, and much of the time they suffer but don’t understand why. Whilst researching I Will Find You I saw how mistreatment can detrimentally affect an innocent young life forever.
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