Interview with J M Pett

What's the story behind your latest book?
White Water Landings is based on my father's memories, stories he told us round the dinner table when we were kids. He worked for Imperial Airways in the 1930s, and as a young man was sent out to very isolated places in Africa, to set up landing sites for the new flying boat service. He practised his stories on us - I remember the one about the chicken in the ladies toilet very well, although he left out the one about finding a woman passenger in the bath that had been prepared for him - the water had to be carried miles up on to this plateau so it was a real treat for him!

The biggest story, which we never tired of hearing, was how he and my mother got together during the war. His side is fully presented in the book, and I've tried to do my mother's adventure justice, too.

There are lots of great pictures in the book, and whether you're a flying boat romantic like me, or a student of aviation or colonial history, I think you'll enjoy it.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I think Smashwords is amazing, because of the access it gives us to stores other than Amazon. There are plenty of people who prefer to work through smaller companies, and share the love around, and I'm one of them. I really appreciate the pioneering work done by Smashwords, and they continue to innovate, which is great. Others may follow in three years time, but Mark Coker's great team will be ready with another advance by then.
How do you approach cover design?
For White Water Landings, I started by looking at a lot of covers, particularly of aviation books and memoirs. I looked through all the books on my own bookshelf, and one that particularly caught my eye was South, the story of the Shackleton Antarctic expedition, where they got stuck in the Ross Sea ice shelf for years. The cover was a montage of black and white, or tinted photographs, and that gave me the idea for a montage of my father's photos.

Selecting them was hard, especially for the back of the paperback and hardback, since the back blurb covers most of the photos. Heads of animals, local people, and palm trees grace the surround of the cover detail!
What do your fans mean to you?
Many of my fans know a great deal more about aspects of my book than I do. There are a huge number of flying boat and aviation experts out there, but I was pleased to realise that the story from the ground hadn't been told, well there's a great book about the factory side of the planes, but not the operational side.

Fans of this book are extremely diverse, there's so much that creates appeal about the story. I'd really like to thank you for your interest in it.
What are your three favorite books, and why?
I'm going to limit myself to non-fiction for this.

South, the story of the Ernest Shackleton Antarctic Expedition is both inspiring and horrific. What those fellows went through when they were marooned on the ice for two winters, well, it is amazing any of them survived let alone nearly all of them. The final part, where in desperation they take a small boat across thousands of miles of southern ocean to land on the Falkland Islands - and then right at the other side from civilisation - well, you wonder how they did it. That sort of thing always makes me wonder how I'd match up. Poorly, I suspect.

There's a wonderful book, that receives mixed reviews, called the Hare with Amber Eyes. The author, Edmund de Waal (a noted ceramicist) is left a collection of netzuki when his uncle dies, and he remembers playing with them as a child, and starts to research how he came to get them. It's a family history that covers a rich and influential family through very turbulent times, and although I had mixed feelings about some areas, there were other questions I had about why certain political actions were allowed to develop into what they did, that were at least partially answered. It's a study of human nature as much as European history from the mid 1800s onwards.

I could pick out a number of really enjoyable books in what might be called the social history of science, particularly books by Jenny Uglow, such as The Lunar Men. One on the history of glass is absolutely fascinating; The Glass Bathyscaphe by Alan McFarlane & Gerry Martin. I really enjoyed that and learned a lot about the triggers for sociotechnological change.
What is your writing process?
Writing White Water Landings was unlike anything I'd ever done before, because it started with a batch of those little mini-cassettes and a hand held cassette recorder. I remember my dad spending afternoons in the living room dictating his memoirs, and he starts the first tape by explaining how a journalist suggested he write a book, but really not wanting to get into all the editing and so on.

So I started by transcribing all his taped memoirs. Then I put them on a website, then ebook publishing took off and I thought of making it into an ebook. Shaping it into a readable as opposed to an oral history was hard. I liked the way my father said things, although I took out most of the more old-fashioned ways of saying things, and edited a lot of rambling. I heard someone recently say it even better, but 'going off on a string and never finding your way back' was the gist of it!

I've had one reader comment about the mental shift needed to read an oral history, and I can see their point. I like the informality of it, and I hope it works for you.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read a lot of fiction, because I write fiction under a penname. There tends to be more relaxation if it's science fiction, fantasy or crime novels, and I do like series that I can get my teeth into.

I've discovered from doing writing challenges that I like some odd genres - like Weird, which is, simply, strangeness in stories, things that don't really follow. I'm not a fan of dystopian scifi, I find it too depressing, and at present, what we're doing to our world is depressing enough. I need reading matter that lifts me up or immerses me in a puzzle.

However, fiction always feels a little like work, because I usually write a review for it. But then, now I know that in this online world reviews are everything, I usually write reviews for anything I read. Including a gardening book!
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I always said I didn't want to read from a screen. Then ebooks came along and first I read them on my laptop, and then I got a Kindle Paperwhite which was the best thing I ever got. I do a lot of reading in the garden, or in not very good light, and it's perfect for all light conditions, even when I've got dodgy eyes, which I have at present.

I do like having books on shelves, though!
Describe your desk
I now have the luxury of a corner desk, with my iMac on the left side, and my laptop and big separate screen on the right side. Basically, when I started publishing my books in hardback (like White Water Landings) I found my laptop, at seven years old, just didn't have the processing power (and RAM), and I chose the Mac and have never been happier. On either side of those there are piles of stuff. At present on the left there is a pile of my new paperbacks, because I keep referring to them for ISBNs or something else about them to complete promotion material, and on the right are a range of papers in the 'to do' categories of now, sometime, and before Christmas.

And of course, there's a dead coffee cup or two, and some pencils and business cards and random stuff like that! Pretty normal, I expect.
What are you working on next?
I keep thinking about other non-fiction projects, but haven't found inspiration yet. I think about papers and reports I've written, and whether a compilation would work as an ebook, but frankly, with changes in the political landscape I don't think they are relevant now, even if the messages are the same because people don't change. Situations they're in get worse, if anything. I haven't anything to add to contemporary aviation literature, that's for sure.

I'm working on a number of fiction projects, all at once. I have a new science fiction series launching in 2016, with one book ready and the second in progress. The seventh in my fantasy series is part-written, and I have a collaborative project I'm working on. If you're interested in my fiction, check my blog for more news.
Published 2015-08-12.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

White Water Landings: A View Of The Imperial Airways Africa Service From The Ground
Price: $6.99 USD. Words: 67,230. Language: Commonwealth English. Published: September 1, 2015 by Princelings Publications. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction » Transportation » Aviation / History
The romance of pre-war air travel meets the romance of a man and a woman kept apart by war, in this memoir of a young man and his career in Africa with Imperial Airways. The book covers intriguing details of the Empire Flying Boat Service: commissioning of the 'boats; indiscretions of the passengers; the dangers of a herd of buffalo at night, and the bravery of exiles awaiting war-time transport.