Interview with J L Blenkinsop

What are your five favorite books, and why?
I suppose my favourite books must have had an effect on my own writing. I've been reading since forever - I can't remember when I have not had a book in my hands, except that nowadays it's an e-reader. And five favourites? Impossible.

But, I'll start with the Gormenghast trilogy, by Mervin Peake. It's a whole imagined world, contained within a vast castle. The characters are grotesque, but no wonder - they know nothing except the world of Gormenghast; they are ruled by its rituals and customs, and are powerless to resist the clever, vindictive Steerpike... Read it; you'll love it!

A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K Dick. To my mind his most accomplished novel. You will know his books from the films that were made from them - Bladerunner, Minority Report, Total Recall and A Scanner Darkly (an animated film). I have had for many years a screenplay in my head for this book, but I think it's going to stay there. Why this book? Because it is a brilliant account of a policeman's descent into paranoia and drug-dependence. Love could have saved him; but even love is twisted, and is used by his superiors to bring justice at the expense of his own sanity.

Martin Rattler, written by R M Ballantyne in 1858. Ballantyne is nowadays a forgotten author, but he wrote cracking books for boys. I read Martin Rattler when I was ten - a tip here: If you are a young reader, always keep a comprehensive dictionary by your side. The best books are those that stretch your imagination, and to do that they also have to stretch your vocabulary. Martin is kidnapped and taken to sea at the age of ten, and has adventures all the way to South America and back again. I particularly remember the episode with the vampire bats.

I have two left, and two hundred in my head. I'll have to give mention to Sir Terry Pratchett, whose books I have read since he published his second novel, The Dark Side of the Sun, in 1976, and to Neil Gaiman, who I have only recently rediscovered,

Should I select Gaiman's American Gods as my fourth book? I could choose Neverwhere, or The Graveyard Book - but what the heck; I'll choose Anansi Boys. Why? Because Gaiman does not write with colour. You know that some of his characters are black, and some are white; some are Chinese, some Venezuelan, some are ghosts and some are not. He does not have to be explicit. You just know. And that is a great equaliser. People are just people. And some are gods.

Why is this important to me? Because my wife and daughter are Chinese, because I have friends who are a different colour to me, because it's tedious to say, "You know, the black guy?"... Because we are all just people, even the ghosts. And so I, like Neil, just want to write about people as people, and not trip switches in reader's minds by starting with their colour.

So many books. But now to the last I'm allowed here.

The American writer Neal Stephenson (yet another SF/Fantasy writer) wrote an amazing trilogy, The Baroque Cycle, which is - in the real meaning of the word - awesome. Set at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century it is a wild, sprawling romp through a turbulent period of European history, filled with romance, science, politics, economics, alchemy and mathematics... lots of 'ands', really, far too much, it's a real page-turner, even though it was published in some markets as eight separate full-length books.

It will keep you occupied for a while. And then, when you finish that, read Cryptonomicon, which brings it all up to date.

So; five favourite books. If I could write anywhere near as well as any of those writers could write, I would be the happiest man in the world. Go read at least one of them. You will be inspired.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read mostly in the SF/Fantasy genre, but I still like childrens' books, and have re-read those from my youth. Books by R M Ballantyne, Enid Blyton, Captain W E Johns (Biggles).

I like the kind of old-fashioned thrillers by Dashiel Hammet (The Maltese Falcon), Raymond Chandler (the Philip Marlowe books) and Leslie Charteris (The Saint). They are just so darn GOOD!

I read factual Scientific literature, too, about Mathematics, Quantum Physics, Relativity and so on. Scientific biographies can be fascinating - read the biography of Paul Dirac by Graham Farmelo, as an example. And read the books by the scientists themselves, particularly the autobiographical works of the late Richard Feynman, and the not-late Murray Gell-Mann's great book The Quark and the Jaguar.

Charles Dickens can be very very good. Bleak House is my favourite, followed by A Tale of Two Cities. I still have others to read, but I advise against reading Hard Times. It is a very awful book.

Authors recently read and recommended - Charlaine Harris (Lily Bard series), Charles Stross, Lee Child, the late Ian M Banks / Ian Banks, Sir Terry Pratchett, Herman Melville (Moby Dick), Neil Gaiman and E Nesbit.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Old-style black-and-white Kindle without a keyboard. The best present I was ever bought,
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I don't know - I have only just started!
Describe your desk
At present, my lap. If you use a laptop, ALWAYS put something thick between the laptop and your lap otherwise you will cook your thighs...
When did you first start writing?
I can't remember when I was too young to write. And I have always read, as far back as my memory takes me. Reading and writing go together. I used to tell stories at Sunday School, and write 'newspapers' full of funny articles. At Grammar School I enjoyed 'composition', but not essays - writing with freedom, from my own imagination, rather than from a brief designed to find out how much I know about a subject.

I even once wrote a Sherlock Holmes story in French - the best mark I ever got in that subject!

In my teens I started writing stories for friends, and even friends of friends. The first of those was Princess Pauline and the Knights of the Golden Drain. I had never met Pauline, but I was going out with her friend, so it was a good thing to do - got me kudos with my girlfriend. The Golden Drain series grew over the years, and eventually resulted in a pantomime for a local theatre group.

I've never been in a Writers' Group. I was in a poetry group for a while, but I'm better with prose. I'm not sure whether being in a group would help me, but it may help others. Chacun a son gout, as Sherlock Holmes might have said.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I wrote the story for my step-daughter, who at the time was massively interested in Princesses (and unicorns, fairies, magic...). I intended it to be children's novel length, which meant that it have to have a strong story, and it would have to move along with her. So it starts when she is 11 and ends when she is 13.

The whole family is in the book, because of course Yifan belongs to a family. It's not just her story. But she is the major character - twice, because she is present as Vicky, too.

Although the story looks ahead to Yifan's adulthood, which is positive and fulfilling, there is also her present behaviour. I never knew how hard it is to look after and bring up a child, until I was introduced to Yifan. The hopes and fears I and her mother have for her are nothing beside those she has for herself. Maybe reading about them in her story would help her to come to terms with them; but then, that's a rational presumption, and children do not always appear to be rational.

Being with Yifan brings back memories of my own childhood, and how I behaved, and how much my parents would despair. I cannot tell her off too much for doing the same things I did at her age. So maybe writing them down for everyone to read might give her some idea of how she OUGHT to behave. I hope so.

But ultimately the story exists to entertain her, and I believe it's good enough to entertain others. And if it does result in a better child, that would be a bonus. It would also be a miracle.
What are you working on next?
The premise behind Yifan's inhabiting 'herself' in another Universe means that sequels are not just possible, but mandatory. The natural first sequel to Princess Yifan is, of course, Prince Yifan.

Does that mean what you think it means? Yep. Why should your self in an alternate Universe inevitably be the same sex as you are in this one?
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I have a full-time job writing computer programs for a multi-national Company. Creative Writing does not pay me - so far - and even if it does it won't be enough to give up working for a living.

And at the weekends, I get up early because I can't sleep late. I did when I was a teenager - until 2pm, most weekends, and Yifan does that too, to my annoyance. But it makes for a peaceful morning.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Creative writing is the communication of ideas, feelings and information. Don't let me talk to you about the things I'm interested in - I'll talk for ever, repeat myself, get onto side issues and generally bore you. But writing imposes a discipline - you can't go on and on; you have to keep more or less to the point.

So, writing allows me to show you my thoughts and beliefs, lets me explain things, lets me come to a conclusion. Stories are entertainment, and I do like to entertain.

You know, or I hope you do, the warm feelings that come over you when you receive approval - applause, praise, smiles, nods of understanding? Well, that's nice to have. If I tell a good joke, or make people laugh some other way, I feel really good. And you can get that from writing, if people come back to you and tell you.

But writing doesn't always attract that sort of direct appreciation, so it has to be its own reward. Writing makes me feel good when, as I read it back, it provokes in me the laughter and surprise I hope it will provoke in others; and when the emotional breakpoints in the writing make me choke back a sob, or make me feel a glow of pride in that character.

The joy of writing is, therefore, for me, in the reading of it.
Published 2015-04-06.
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Books by This Author

Teal's World
Series: Worlds of Yifan. Price: Free! Words: 80,900. Language: English. Published: November 5, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure, Fiction » Adventure » General
Shen Teal Travelled to our own World in the book Prince Yifan, where he met the young murderess Qing Shur. Now he is pitched into a completely different World - a planet called Mara, where he is on a quest to destroy the Demon device that holds the world away from the last humans. And he has taken his beloved Qing Shur with him - but has no idea where she is.
The Tower
Series: Worlds of Yifan. Price: Free! Words: 49,300. Language: English. Published: November 5, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Sci-Fi & fantasy
On an Earth where the Sun is dying, the appearance of a girl who can travel between Worlds could provide an escape for all humanity - but at what cost? Yifan, dragging her mother with her, fights for her younger self while back in our World her step-father battles for their lives against two Intelligence Services, and tries to find the elusive Captain de Vlieger, who holds the secret of Travel.
Frapps The Barbarian
Price: Free! Words: 14,690. Language: British English. Published: July 22, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Humor & comedy » General, Fiction » Religious
Frapps, a lowly wen-picker from the Equatorial Girdle, is overwhelmed when he picks up a paperback novel in Catenary Jones' Trading Post. Its cover depicts the gormless Frapps himself, bestride the Globe; and the title is Frapps the Barbarian...
Prince Yifan
Series: Worlds of Yifan. Price: Free! Words: 40,350. Language: British English. Published: November 28, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Action & Adventure / Survival Stories, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Adventure
Prince Shen Teal is looking forward to seeing his annoying older brother married to the eldest daughter of the Queen of Taiwan. He's not enjoying the long sea voyage on the tall-masted European ship The Unicorn, where the food is even more nauseating than the motion of the waves. But when one day he wakes up in another World, in the body of a girl, he finds that his problems are just beginning.
Price: Free! Words: 2,260. Language: English. Published: August 30, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Contemporary
(4.00 from 3 reviews)
It must be fun, being a Superhero. Meet Denis, who might just change your mind...
Pink Fairies
Price: Free! Words: 3,240. Language: English. Published: June 20, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense, Fiction » Gay & lesbian fiction » Gay
Russia and Europe are at war, and Putin's Pink Fairies have been deployed in Germany.
Princess Yifan
Series: Worlds of Yifan. Price: Free! Words: 38,010. Language: British English. Published: May 9, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Royalty, Fiction » Children’s books » Family / General
Yifan, like many eleven-year-old girls, wishes she was a Princess. Then she meets Vicky and becomes part of an adventure that began over two thousand years before. But who is Vicky? Is she Yifan from the future - or is she something even more mysterious? And even with Vicky's help, Yifan can't avoid the threats to herself and her family that the revelations of the past can bring.