Interview with Jags Arthurson

You have a fairly interesting career. Give me a brief overview.
I left school quite young and went to work as a trainee chemist with a major oil company. i earned my degrees and post graduate degrees all part time - it took me 13 years. By that time I was a research chemist in a University laboratory but I was feeling ready for a change. As luck would have it, I saw an advertisement for 'Scientists in the Middle East' and when I went to find out what it was all about I was blown away by the money they were offering so I took it. To cut a long story short, I ended up out there for 7 years: Mainly I was based in Saudi but I also went to Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, the Emirates, Yemen and Oman.

When I came back I decided on another change so I went to university full time for a year and took a Master's Degree in Business Analysis. After a spell with an international financial organisation, in 1986 I set up my own company and have been self-employed ever since. I'm more or less retired now but still do the odd bit of work for my favourite customers.
When did you start writing?
I've always been a writer. At school the other kids used to see 'essays' as a chore but I loved them. When we were assigned the "What I did on my holiday" sort of assignment I saw this as a challenge, to see how far I could push it without drifting totally into the realms of fiction ... or get into strife with rather staid schoolteachers. Fortunately I was encouraged by various English teachers. One, by the name of Sibeley, really tried to persuade me to go into a field that involved creative writing but I was determined to be a chemist and so that's the way I went.

But I never stopped writing - short stories, a couple of novels, that sort of thing. Not that I ever thought of having anything published (apart from the occasional magazine article), it was just a hobby but one that I enjoyed immensely and that I could do anywhere.
Isnt't it rather strange, writing without any plans to publish?
I can see how some might think it a bit pointless but I never thought so. Think of the guy that builds a model of a sailing ship from used matchsticks or collects the labels from beer bottles - is that really any different? And I think it's made me a better writer. Don't they say that practice makes perfect? I'm still a very long way from perfection but whenever I look back at some of my earlier stuff I'm, frankly, embarrassed. At least, after all these years, I'm confident enough in my product to share it with others.
So why, suddenly, start publishing now? And why self-publishing?
I sort of retired a couple of years ago. My business had taken me all around the world and it was a rare week that I slept every night in my own bed. This meant that I never had the chance to get involved with any local clubs or the like. The thought of suddenly turning into a couch potato filled me with dread and, having been very lucky in my career choices, I thought it would be great if I could put something back. I joined the local branch of Lions Clubs International. We carry out events to raise money to support local good causes.

About the same time, my wife found out about a writing group, The Hatchery, that meets at Hove Library once a month and I joined that. Other members read my work and suggested that it was of a good enough standard to be published. I decided to combine the two ... publish my novel and donate any money that it makes to The Lions.

I really didn't want to get involved with agents, publishers and all of that rigmarole. I mean, don't get me wrong, they do an incredible and worthwhile job, but I'd had my career and I didn't think that I wanted to get involved in another. Self-publsihing seemed like the way to go.
Tell me about the book and how are sales going?
It's a crime thriller called Pagan Justice. I had several objectives when I wrote it. Mainly, I wanted the characters to be believable. Too many books in this genre have 'James Bond' type heroes ... seemingly indestructable hulks who overcome odds of biblical proportions. My main protagonist is pretty competent but when he gets hit he is hurt and goes down. The main premise of the book is that a group of ordinary people are put into a more-or-less impossible position where a 'Mr Big' crime boss is blackmailing one of their number into committing a crime. They have to work together to get him out of the mess.

Of course, 'ordinary people' would need some motivation to take part in the scheme that emerges so I had to explain the 'back story' of each character so there are several threads that all eventually come together into what is, I hope, a gripping climax.

So far I've had 21 reviews on Amazon and every single one has been five-stars ... so that's very gratifying. Sales are going quite well and I think the highest it's reached in its genre was number 19. Obviously I hope that sales will pick up, especially now I'm also selling through Smashwords, because I really believe in the work The Lions do and every single penny goes to help them in this. They support good causes from local people in distress to international appeals such as natural disasters in far-flung places. The Lions has over 1.3 million members throughout the world and one of the real advantages of this is that when emergency relief is needed in any area money can be set to the local club ... the people on the ground, who know what is needed, where and when. It cuts out all the bureaucracy that agencies and governments can impose and gets speedy help to the people who need it.
What is your writing process?
I just write. I do lots and lots of thinking so by the time I come to putting it on paper I pretty much know what I'm going to write. I don't do much of the conventional pre-writing stuff that a lot the 'how to write a novel' textbooks suggest. If I ever find that my work is not progressing as I would like I just take a break and do something else - maybe write a short story or something.

I have always written lots of short stories but now I've really got into 'flash fiction' - ultra-short stories. I limit myself to 500 words. It's real discipline to create a whole story: beginning, middle and end, with well-rounded characters and a satisfying plot in such a limited number of words. They're really quick to do - sometimes just a few minutes - it's tremendous exercise for the brain without being too much of a distraction from the 'real' work ... the novel. By the time I get back to that I usually find my 'issues' have resolved themselves. And it builds up my stock of short stories.

They say that every author should have a blog but this is something I've not yet got around to. Recently, I've been thinking of starting one and publishing some of my shorts.
What do you read for pleasure?
Absolutely anything. Anything at all.

One of the things i truly beileve is that good writers read. That's the way you learn what good writing is. Every genre has its own strengths - so action thrillers teach you how to write action scenes while romance can teach you how to write about emotions and feelings. Even an instruction manual can teach the writer good practice when handling precise detail. In Pagan Justice there are lots of action scenes but there are some - shall we say - more intimate moments. I hope that I've handled all the different elements well. And I owe it all to the writers that have showed me how. As Isaac Newton said, "I stand on the shoulders of giants."

Recently, I have become a reviewer for a website that critiques new books - many submitted by first time authors. That way I get to read lots of brand new books for free. Sometimes I am absolutely amazed at the quality of these guys. The last few books I have read have been as disparate as Moll Flanders by Defoe, a sci-fi, a mystery thriller and one, Condors Over Cornwall, by an unpublished author which is a story about relationships, trauma, loss and reconciliation. It is an absolutely outstanding piece of work and I can just see it as a three part television drama.

Reading stuff like this really puts me on my mettle.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Kindle. I don't know that it's the best because I haven't really tried many others but I love my Kindle Touch. I keep over 400 books on it and, as I use quite a few heavyweight technical books, it's great that I can carry those as well - my Collins Spanish dictionary and 501 Spanish Verbs spring to mind along with books that most of your readers have never heard of like the IT Service Management set - several kilos of books in those few alone.

There's another trick I've found with the Kindle Touch: text-to-speech. One of the real problems for the Indie author is proofreading. I've just read a really good self-published book, great story, plot, etc, but noted over 1.000 typos. It looks so amateurish. It's the sort of thing that gets Indie authors a bad reputation.

I convert my work to .mobi format with Calibre - an incredible piece of software - then I load it onto my Kindle and use text-to-speech to read it back to me. It's amazing how something that looks quite OK on the page or screen will leap out and slap you on the face when the robot reads it you. Brilliant.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
A famous actor - I can't rememebr which one - once said that being a Hollywood actor was 'like being paid to play cowboys and indians for a living'. Being a writer is like that only more so because I decide 'who I am'. I write my own script. I can cover any subject I like. I can explore ideas in any way that I like. I can be the most glamorous hero or the creepiest mass murderer.

Mind you, it's not always that straightforward. As many authors will tell you, the need to write is almost like an addiction ... like a pressure wanting to burst out. If I go more than a few days without writing I get restless. I've even left social gatherings so that I can get back to my keyboard.

And the characters! They won't leave you alone. Even though I have carefully plotted my story (if only in my head) so that I know how it's going to turn out, the route it's going to take to the conclusion I want it to reach, I will often find that the characters in my head have other ideas and it's almost as if they take over and won't let it go that way.

There's quite an unexpected twist towards the end of Pagan Justice that I never planned and which just seemed to 'happen' - it actually made me quite sad but, once written, it was as if it was meant to be.

And something else. I did a writing exercise a few weeks ago and wrote the first chapter of new novel. Now the character I created won't leave me alone, demanding that I write the rest of the story. It's really weird.
What are you working on next?
Another novel. This is also a crime thriller but this one is almost a psychological thriller. It's provisionally titled 'The Life and Death of Clive North' - but don't hold me to that. It's about a man, Clive North (obviously) who seems to have everything: great life, wealth, friends, etc until some unknown person, calling himself 'Nemesis' from Clive's past appears with some sort of score to settle. As this person rains down disaster after disaster upon Clive, his friends, family and business, Clive sees his whole life crumbling to dust with the prospect of eventually losing everything.

Try as he might he, and the police, private detectives and everything else Clive can think of, he is unable to stop - or even identify - Nemesis.

It also let me include elements of sailing, which I love, and Greece, ditto. What's not to like?

Watch this space.
Published 2014-09-14.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Pagan Justice
Price: $4.90 USD. Words: 175,010. Language: English. Published: July 11, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
Peter James, International best-selling author said of this book, "Jags is a promising and extremely talented new novelist.” A group of ordinary, law-abiding citizens come against organised crime and must either submit ... or fight back. But how?. Maybe the loner, the outsider, Karl Pagan is just the man to lead them. A rip-roaring, roller coaster of a tale with more twists than an angry snake