Sunday, November 7, 2010

Interview with John Booth author of "Hellogen" "Wizards" Shaddowden" and so much more

Hello John and welcome: I like to introduce my readers to the writer as a person as well as discuss their work, so first up tell us a little of your background. Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Sheffield, Yorkshire, about two miles from the Peak District National park. I thought all woodland was on a steep slope and everybody lived with rolling hills and impressive views. I lived there till I completed my degree in Mathematics at Loughborough. Then I moved south.

Where do you live now?
I lived in London for a short while and then moved to Reading in Berkshire where I have lived ever since. It’s far from ruggedly beautiful, but it has its own charm and the Thames Valley is much warmer than where I grew up. I don’t miss being able to build igloos at all.

Are you married and do you have children?
I have been married for 32 years and we have two grown up daughters and a grandson. I’m very proud of my family.
Apart from your writing which you clearly love, what other interests do you pursue?
My career has been in systems engineering, designing and building systems in the defence field. Just before I left university I was strongly encouraged by the poet Roger McGough to continue writing and publishing poetry, but I took a twenty year break from writing but design specifications and mathematics. Work and bringing up the kids dominated my life.
I have always loved reading Science Fiction and Young Adult/Children’s fantasy. These two genres have dominated my reading since I was a child. It was always my intention to write fantasy at some point in my life, until then I satiated my passion by reading it.
When did you start writing?
There are two or maybe three answers to this. As a teenager I made several attempts to write novels, but my handwriting is so bad that even I can’t read it. I bought an electric typewriter but found that was still too slow for my thoughts and my spelling was atrocious, it still is. I tried speaking my stories onto audio tape (reel to reel in those days) but I would advance the story between tapings and couldn’t be bothered to go back to it.

Poetry is much easier as the word count is manageable. I decided to become a poet and scientist at age 11. I set myself impossible targets, like being published with my poetic heroes (this was the 1960’s). Reading with them and being told I was good by them. I did all that by the age of 21 and the lustre went away.

I started writing poetry again when I joined Myspace about six years ago. I joined Myspace as it was the only way I could send a fan message to a singer-songwriter called Nerina Pallot. While I was there I put up some old poems and people liked them. When they ran out I started writing new ones. This progressed to a series of epic Sword and Sorcery poems about Jalia and Daniel in the world of Jalon. The completed set of poems about them ran to well over 40,000 words.

It was then I decided to write a novel in a rather strange way. I wrote a chapter daily onto Myspace with no idea what the plot was. The rule was that because I had readers I could never go back and change anything. I wrote the 61,000 word novel in a little under a month. You can read some of it over at Inkpop. It’s called The Spellbinder. That was in October 2006.

By December I set myself the task of writing a novel a month through 2007. I thought a novel could be as low as 50,000 words.
So you could say my real writing career started in January 2007. I wrote novels and short stories through to February 2009 totalling 1.7 million words. Then I discovered Authonomy.

I have always thought I was good at narrative, characterization and scenes, but poor at the mechanics of writing, sentences and grammar. I saw Authonomy as the place where I could learn to write well and devoted myself to promoting the first book I put up there and to editing all the other books I’d written. The book was Shaddowdon and my reason for choosing it was that I thought it was the most obviously commercial book I had written.
Much has been said especially in recent months about the Authonomy experience, what are your thoughts.
Authonomy is a strange experience. I met a host of wonderful writers on it and all the publishing success is down to those friendships. I remain terrible at writing synopses and contacting agents.

The down side is that the place is dominated by opinionated commenter’s who do immense damage to the voices of new writers. I have spent almost as long unlearning the crap they foisted on us as I have learning how to write properly. The value in Authonomy is that you see awkward writing in other people’s books and if you can explain to them how to fix theirs, you learn to fix your own.
I spent a year editing my books and promoting Shaddowdon. This culminated in the book getting a gold star in February 2010. The HC review was very positive and called for a complete re-write, which I did. Some of the new version can be read on Authonomy.

While I was waiting for HC to get back to me on the rewrite I wrote the sequel and joined a few other sites where I have books sitting around. I regularly contribute to several flash story sites and the stories do quite well.

I was asked to contribute stories to a number of collections which have hit the internet since. These include Summer Shorts and Flashes Though Time. Dancing in the Dark is a little too erotic to use my own name, but I contributed to it under an obvious pseudonym.

I currently have a number of novels in various stages of publication. None quite so certain that I care to name them or their publishers yet. But I would not be surprised if you are able to buy several of my novels over the internet by this time next year.
 The publishing world is changing and quite rapidly, do you see the larger publishing houses needing to embrace Kindle and the like in order to meet the bottom line?
I don't think the major publishers will take to change easily. Their recent deal with Amazon reflect an unwillingness to embrace the new technologies or even understand them. I think there are strong parallels with the music industry and all the same mistakes are being made. Pricing is the primary issue and you can't charge as much for an ebook as you do for a hardcopy, but that is what the industry is insisting on.
Do you ever envisage a time when holding a paperback in your hand will only happen in a library surrounding?
Not for a long time. Books are more than just the words. I suspect we will get a two stage market where people read first on ebook and then choose to purchase hard copies of the books they like. A clever book company would set up a discounting system to encourage people to do just that.
Do you schedule your writing time...or do you write when the muse insists upon it?
Both. When I am writing a novel I will commit to write 2k to 3k words a day and structure the process. Set aside time for plot developments and scenes, for structuring it in my head, and then a specific time to write it. Short stories I write whenever the muse takes me.
Do you require silence around you when you are writing, or do you like to have music playing?
I can't write and listen to music, because I am always listening intently.
Of all the prose and poetry you have written do you have a stand out favourite for each? If so why ?
There is a novel I have written called Andrew Hawks, which I am tremendously fond of, but I don't see how to market it. It deals with difficult subjects and doesn't choose easy answers. On the other hand, I have written half a million words about a 'sword and sorcery' pair called Jalia and Daniel. I am always at ease when I write about them. They are old friends.

Much more difficult to choose a poem. It would depend on the time of day and my mood. :-)

Shaddowdon a brief synopsis...

Old secrets emerge and evil threatens from all quarters as a brother and sister use their magical powers to investigate the disappearance of their mother.

Sharing an ancient living mansion with ghostly servants ought to be cool and some of the time it is. Living up to your family's expectations isn't so easy if you happen to be a Shaddowdon and your younger sister is incredibly smart.

Set in an alternate England where magic and science have coexisted since records began, when Tim finally decides to talk to the pretty girl he sees down by the brook he sets in motion a chain of events that will change his life forever.

Tim's mother vanished mysteriously 11 years ago and he is going on a quest to find out why. Secrets, hidden for hundreds of years, are about to be revealed. Things everyone believes to be true are about to be turned on their heads.His search will bring him face to face with evil in human and ghostly form. It will lead to death and destruction as well as the righting of many wrongs.

Review on Shaddowdon by HarperCollins ...Please note,
this is the original review. Shaddowdon has had a rewrite and the revised version reflects the recommended changes suggested in the following review.
Children are fascinated by stories about ghosts, and ghosts are a perenially popular subject matter in children’s fiction. This means that there is a market for your book, but that you will have to work very hard to make SHADDOWDON stand up to the competition. Your writing shows flair and I thought there were lots of lively and appealing characters. There are fantastic imaginative touches – I loved that only the old gaslights work at the top of the house – and these are the kind of inventive details that need to be peppered throughout the book to make it really come to life. Overall your writing shows lots of potential and the central story is a strong one, though I think there are areas that you can really develop.

You are writing quite a timeless story and I felt that the 21st century setting wasn’t quite convincing. The contemporary setting actually felt quite incongruous to me and I wonder if the story might work better in a past setting. You wouldn’t need to give lots of historical detail but taking the story back into the early 20th century might better suit the feel of your story and writing. The contemporary references (for example, the ‘Hummer’) pulled me up each time I came across one.
Most importantly, you must perfectly pitch your story to the readers that will be most receptive to it. At the moment I think there is a slight mismatch as the subject matter will appeal to 9 – 11 year olds, but the child characters feel a little too old. Perhaps Tim, as the hero, needs to be younger. He’s very adolescent (for example, there are references to virginity). He feels particularly old in the scenes with Mary and I would suggest you avoid sexualizing her by cutting descriptions of her body shape. I think Tim needs to feel 12 at oldest so I would suggest you consider ways to make him younger. Perhaps you could get this across through his relationship with Eloise? I love the idea of a brother and sister who seem them at battle but that ultimately they’re very loyal to each other. Can you bring even more comedy and spark to their relationship and have Tim feel like the slightly annoying younger brother?

Child readers want their child heroes to be agents of their own adventures and to make things happen. They want their heroes to hatch plans and be hurled on some kind of mission. At the moment Tim and Eloise feel rather passive as they are too often simply presented with vital information that they need to know. For example, Mary tells Tim about the ghost, his mum appears to warn him and the Bishop presents the children with lots of information: it is just too easy for them. I’d urge you to have your child characters find things out for themselves as much as possible. This will also help to bring more mystery to the book as at the moment the readers are also told what they need to know, rather than discovering it.

I felt that for the readership the book was very long. Even Harry Potter started off at a much more manageable length and the word count only went up as the readers grew with the series. I felt you really needed to tighten up the narrative – I’d suggest paring back some of the long exchanges of dialogue and really focussing on what detail is essential to the story. For example, we get to know a lot of the servant characters, but do we need to? I also felt you could cut back on the exposition which often begins chapters and can sound quite clunky. Overall I do feel you need to work on making the book a pacier read and my suggestion would be that you don’t exceed 60,000 words. A small but important point: do really hone in on chapter endings so that they are as punchy as possible. Child readers love a cliffhanger!

I really enjoyed SHADDOWDON and I think that with work it could certainly be publishable. I would suggest looking at the work of writers like Eva Ibbotson who bring great vibrancy to their ghost stories but perhaps you could also look at Joseph Delaney’s SPOOK’S series as these books have the kind of pacy narrative that your readers will demand. I’d be very interested to read the book again, if you are happy to revise along these lines.

Other reviews of the original work

Paul Freeman wrote

Hi John, thought I'd sneak over here for a quick peek, ended up spending half the morning.

You sure you're not Philip Pullman in disguise on some kind of weird ego trip? Like His Dark Materials you have taken the real world and dumped it on it's head to wonderful effect. Shaddowdon is clearly its equal.

The world you have created feels so rich and magical and such a better place to live than the dump we got stuck with.

It's raining outside at the moment, dark and horrible and I would love to have your book in hard copy in front of me now, getting lost in its pages.


.BL Phillips wrote
What I found really likeable about this is the ease with which the story is told and how well you bring normalcy to something that isn't. What's wrong with having Ghasts in the house? Not a darn thing! We've got four of them! Love it! Along with really good writing, magic and mayhem are great attributes for good YA reading. This book has all three. Good job. -Brad

R.C. Lewis wrote
Love this! I'm a sucker for anything that involves a girl being good at mathematics, but even beyond that, I enjoyed how clear and vivid the character's personalities are from the outset. It seems clear you have a distinct, rich picture of this world in your mind, which makes it more believable for the reader.


When people vanish in Dankstone Wood it’s a matter of concern. When the wood begins to expand its borders they call in the army. When air strikes fail they build a wall around it, but that doesn’t make it safe.

Nigel lost his brother to Dankstone Wood. It’s been a year and he still broods about following him. When MI5 gives him the opportunity, Nigel takes it, but his friends won’t let him go alone.

Nigel’s search for his brother takes him into a world inhabited by the gods of ancient Britain and their human subjects. A cruel world called Avalon where every god's word is law and to break the law means death. He has to rescue his brother and save our world, because the boundary between the worlds is weakening and when it fades our world will be absorbed and destroyed.

Nigel has spent a year grieving for his brother and abandonment by his father. Bullied in school, he has become surly and insular. The arrival of Sabrina, the daughter of an MI5 operative and Tim, a Welsh nerd, brings him out of himself.


Freya wrote

So glad to see you on here. Nice to see some faces I know. I have already read the book and o enjoyed it. Your descriptive passages of the rows of houses in an English suburb are so apt. The characters are well rounded and visual with the bickering of Nigel and Brittany. Then it turns poignant as Nigel sees his twin's clothes. I shall be back for more. The language excellent and the style just flows carrying the reader along on an exhilarating read.

Tigerprincess wrote

As good as Shaddowdon

John, you've done it again! I love this story - it feels like it is for a slightly older audience than Shaddowdon and I love the concept of a wood that can get destroyed one moment and regrows itself over night!


Coming soon Wizards...

Coming Soon, Fall 2010, eBook and Print! Wizards from Pfoxmoor Publishing

Jake has a secret hidden in his bedroom, under the carpet. It is a game that every child knows and plays. But for Jake, there is one small difference. This game takes him to strange and wonderful worlds. He calls it hopscotch and it helps him find missing people. It helped him find Jenny.

Jake is a wizard but he doesn’t have a clue.

But that’s not all - Jake has yet another secret, hidden away in the attic. It’s an accident, a strange object from another world. Jake has forgotten about this secret, but that’s all about to change. Because this secret is about to hatch!

Jenny doesn’t think Jake is weird - she likes weird. Princess Esmeralda of Salice thinks Jake should repay past mistakes. Evil wizards, kingdoms at war, chases, rescues, an offer he can’t refuse …

Jake is a wizard and his life is about to get interesting.

Prime Rules for Engagement with the Enemy

Rule 1 Never Gamble Unless You Have No Choice

Rule 2 Always Make Sure

Rule 3 Discover The Local Politics

Rule 4 Make Friends And Use Them

Rule 5 Trust No One


The Spellbinder

by John Booth

Book: Romance, Mystery, Paranormal, Adventure

In an alternative England of 1860 Laura and Tom become the targets of assassins. But Laura is a Spellbinder and more dangerous than she appears...

It is the height of the Victorian era. The British Empire is growing by hundreds of square miles everyday. One reason is the Department of Military Magic, constructed on the foundations of Issac Newton's secret research.

Tom and Laura find themselves the target of an assassin who is willing to kill hundreds provided they die. They are sent to a secret spy school as bait to try to uncover the traitor in Military Magic's organisation.

Laura is a Spellbinder, able to change reality by writing spells, but the spells only last a short time before they are consumed by fire. Tom is a Healer, destined to patch up the soldiers of the front line as the Empire expands.

Trouble follows them everywhere they go. Spy school is supposed to be the safest place in England, but it has already been infiltrated as foreign forces prepare to strike at the very heart of the Empire and kill Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband.

MIC wrote
Ooo ... read everything you've put up, John!!!
This is fantastic!!!
“Turning the sky a light sulfurous yellow and creating an acidic tang in the mouth”---I loved this
What a clever way for us to get to know our MC with her talking with the dog!
Love Tom and Laura’s banter …
“Tom felt he had blushed enough today to cover a lifetime”---loving this …
“I daresay we may speak”---I’m loving the language!
“He appeared to have no eyebrows left”---great story telling ☺
Good intrigue with why Snood would want Tom killed …
“As a Spellbinder she could turn x into y anytime she felt like it”----hah! So fun
“To aim the note straight down the back of Tom’s shirt”---I’m loving these little humor moments …
“And prepared the spell to bind himself to the squirrel so he could hear and see whatever the squirrel experienced”---so cool!!!
Clever section where you describe how Spellbinders can kill other people …
"A long, leisurely examination of each other's lips"----loved this
Intense scene in the park! Whoa! Wonderful writing. I just love the ideas you come up with. The
story's progression is perfect, I feel immersed into this fantastic, original world. I love Laura, she's so spunky, but proper ... I'm intrigued by Tom, and I love the politics that are building behind the
story. So glad you are gracing us with your presence, John! You are wonderful! ~Morgan :)

Flashes Through Time

edited by Diane Nelson from Pfoxmoor Publishing

Find it in eBook format from Smashwords and Amazon Kindle

From the minds of John Booth, MJ Caraway, Paul Dayton, Maria K., Bill Kirton and Diane Nelson come a hodgepodge of sensory delights: fiction that flashes, wee love stories for a long drawn-out sigh, foodie delights, kitties and dogs, nostalgia, humor, rollercoasters, dragons, magick and more. Stretch out on the sand, curl up on the sofa, or steal a moment from that report - go on, you know you want to - and prepare yourself for a smile, a knowing wink, and an "aaah" moments.

The following are the available sites to read John's Work.

Flashes Through Time and Dancing in the Dark at

Summer Shorts at

Shaddowdon at

Dankstone Wood at

Hellogon at

Jalia Fights Back at

The Spellbinder at

Please see John's brand new website...

Scrawls in the dust...

 Thanks so much for joining me, John. I look forward to owning my own copies of your work in the very near future

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  1. Really interesting interview with John, thank you!

  2. Taken by the scope of this author's work and the reviews he has received.


  3. What a great interview. I've always enjoyed seeing John's comments and this just makes him all that much more real by providing us with a bit of his personal history. He always brings a smile and a cheery spirit with him and I'm glad whenever I know he's near. Thank you, Suzanna for such a great interview.

  4. I really enjoyed reading about John as I've only known him from his comments and now I know more about him as a real person. One day I hope we'll be able to actually sit and have a beer together in a rowdy English pub.


Please leave a comment/review on any of the stories/poems contributed.