Happy Friday to you all!
What a horrible and dreary morning it is in Thirsk today! Hope it is much better wherever the rest of you reside!
So, after getting my trilogy out there again and doing some promoting, I've finally got around to some writing this week. Not much, but I've added about 1000 words to one of my WIPs (a suspense thriller) and maybe 800 words to one of the other projects! It's a start, at least! Anyway, back to today's interview!
Eva: Good morning, John. It's a pleasure to have you here with us. Now, tell us all about yourself (as in, a bit of a biography).
John: Morning Eva! Thank you for interviewing me! I grew up in the Yorkshire mining village of Featherstone. I was lucky to have grown up around the time of the Hammer horror films, and television shows such as The Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense and The Night Gallery. As I got a little older, as a treat, I was allowed to stay up on a Friday night and watch the spine-tingling series: Appointment With Fear. Couple all this with the
great Pan Books of Horror and the plethora of ‘true’ ghost stories that featured in and around my local
area, and it is perhaps no surprise that I began writing dark, spooky stories.
I had a great career in teaching and loved my job; I still do some supply teaching now and then, but I am now able to devote more time to my writing. The kids I teach are excellent sources of inspiration and I find it useful when writing dialogue and forming characters, to draw upon some of the things they do and say! I’m a natural story-teller and love shaping ideas into tales and fully-developed novels. I write mainly, but not exclusively, for children and young adults, but have had over 50 short stories published in the independent press under the pseudonym, John Saxton; including a collection of adult horror stories, entitled ‘Bloodshot’.
My first Middle Grade novel, Firestorm Rising, a chilling tale, inspired by a visit to a gothic
graveyard one dark, rainy day, reached the finals of The People’s Book Prize. After that, I published
Demons in the Dark, a horror story, broadly aimed at the 10-14 age range, but with an eye on the
young adult market. I also published a short anthology entitled, Nightmares in the Graveyard. The
‘day job’ took over for a while then, as promotions and the like consumed so much of my time, but
around the pandemic times, I got back in the writing hot seat and am now writing pretty much full
Since then, I’ve published the sequel to Firestorm Rising, which is called The Teardrop of Ice, and,
when I approached Red Cape Publishing with my Middle Grade novel, Jack Devlin and The Roman
Curse, they really liked it, took it on, and published it in June. They did a brilliant job all-round and
the cover art was to die for! I’ve also published several short stories with House of Loki Publishing,
and have more lined up in the pipeline. Again, the production values on these are great, and it’s a
real pleasure to work with both publishers.
I believe that horror should be scary but fun, and love to lace my stories with humour.
Well John, I was about to ask how many books have you written up to now, but...
Hmm yes, I think I inadvertently covered this in question number 1, sorry Eva! (Eva: no worries, John! LOL!)
Of all the genres there are, is there any genre/s that you feel you wouldn’t be able to write and
why? Is there any genre that you really wish you could write, but feel you wouldn’t be able to
do it justice?
I’m not sure there is a genre that I feel I wouldn’t be able to write; it’s more a case of if the genre
would interest me. I always advise people to write the kinds of things they enjoy reading, or enjoyed
reading when they were the target audience age. I guess I might not be as successful writing in some
genres, but I’d have a go if there was a demand for it.
Do you have any favourite ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ words that you like to use in your books?
What are those words? Also, what words used by other authors irritate you more than they
I enjoy creating names for characters; that can be a lot of fun. Jefferson Molecule is a small kid with
a heart like a lion, and he is the hero in one of my short stories. I have an eccentric side-character
who features in another short story, and she is called, Delphinistwhistle P’Ting-P’Ting-Methuselah-
Johansson. I enjoyed naming her! Other than that, I just enjoy playing around with words, and will
always have access to a good thesaurus to try to ensure I choose the right word to hit the spot. I
never back away from challenging younger readers with new vocabulary either, but it’s important to
get the balance right between enhancing stories with unusual vocabulary, and allowing strange words
to get in the way of the narrative flow.
In terms of words used by other authors, again it’s about if they get the balance wrong and start to
slip into ‘purple prose’ by making every other word obscure. You can tell they will have scoured the
thesaurus to choose the strangest, oddest words, in an attempt to sound ‘bookish’. But anything that
gets in the way of the story has to go, in my view – including weird words!
Do you sing at all, be it karaoke, in a choir or have done so professionally? Whether you have
or not, have you ever written (or had the urge to write) any song lyrics? Have those lyrics
been used at all?
I did a bit of karaoke at a disco in a school I worked at years ago. I was only in my mid-twenties and
I fancied myself as a bit of a rock star. However, the karaoke machine was a bit dated and I ended
up with ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’, by the Righteous Brothers! I was giving it large and
visualising platinum sales till a random kid threw a half-chewed Haribo at me which stuck on my
jumper. True pro that I was, I carried on till the end, though! Never did find out who the culprit
I’ve never written song lyrics as such, but I have dabbled with poems and, in fact, I have one coming
up in an anthology called Dreaming of Dragons, to be released by House of Loki. The poem is a
companion piece to my short story contribution for the same anthology. It would be interesting to
hear it put to music – but that would have to be done by someone far more musically talented than
What question would you like to pose, (if you were to ever interview your favourite author),
which never seems to get asked in author interviews? And who is that favourite author?
Ooh, this is a good one! I like to delve into what people are like, without their ‘writer’ hats on; you
know, more of an insight into what they are actually like as individuals. Questions such as, what’s
the worst nightmare you’ve ever had, favourite breakfast cereal, greatest fear, most embarrassing
moment, happiest day and so on. As well as the standard stuff, of course, like what is their writing
routine, what does their workspace look like, do they have any unusual habits/mantras that they do in
order to get the story-machine working. In terms of favourite authors, most of them tend towards the
horror genre: James Herbert, Shaun Hutson, Stephen King, M.R. James, Phil Hickes (wrote the
wonderful middle grade Aveline Jones series), Russell T. Davies (does screen-writing count?) – and
there are many more too. Away from my preferred genre, I’d say Michael Morpurgo is one of the
most consummate authors I’ve ever read.
If you were to ever write a children’s book, (and those of you who already do) would you/do
you do the illustrating yourself, make use of a family member or friend’s talent or pay an
illustrator? Do you solely write or do you have any other creative pursuits?
As I said, I write primarily for children but my illustrating skills stop at the dodgy-looking stick man
level. I was always a bit jealous of mates at school who could just look at something and draw it, or
produce a caricature of someone. So, I don’t illustrate my own work. My books have weighed in
around the 50 thousand word mark, each, so far and have been for upper middle grade, without illos.
I have had book covers produced by a good friend of mine from Uni, David Jowsey, and others by
the publishers themselves – a big shout out to Leanne Blakey-Novis. I am working on a novel for
younger readers at the moment, which will be shorter, and the aim will be for illustrations to be
added to that when it comes out.
In terms of other creative pursuits, writing is my main one. Unless you could call running and
walking (proper, distance walks), taking in all the mental, physical and spiritual benefits that go with
that. Because those pursuits certainly help fill up the well for my creativity in writing.
Of all the characters you have created, who is your favourite? And why?
Wow – that’s tricky. I’m tempted to sound terribly pretentious and say something along the lines of,
‘it’s like asking me to choose a favourite child’, haha! I think, currently, Jack Devlin (from my latest
book, Jack Devlin and The Roman Curse, from Red Cape Publishing) is a favourite. He’s just so
loveable and cool, has great bonds with a diverse group of friends, and he stands up for what’s right,
even if it scares him. A close joint second, currently, would be Malus Odus, from the same book, an
undead Roman renegade with an axe to grind, and a witch from a project currently on the back-
burner who is joyously wicked. They’re both just super-baddies!
Have you ever killed off a character in your books (I’m sure you have)? If so, was it
because…it fitted nicely into the storyline? OR…Did you start to really dislike the character
and, with too much work involved to re-write without that character, think it the easiest
option to have that person die?
I have killed off characters in my stories, yes. One that springs to mind was the father to one of
my protagonists. I knew from the outset of the book that he was the root of all evil, even though
he didn’t reveal this and his son idolised him and trusted him above all others. In that story, the
supposed antagonist became the hero of the day in the end, when the real antagonist (the father)
betrays his son. I love twisting things round and standing ideas on their heads sometimes! I
gave that ‘dad’ character one of the most satisfying demises I’ve ever written; he was hexed by
‘something’ which resulted in all the bones in his body breaking, one at a time, then exploding
outward in a blizzard of bones. Yes, that was very satisfying. ��
Are any of your characters based on family members or friends? Have you kept their
characters totally true to life or have you given them bonus traits that you wish they
possessed in real life?
I haven’t really based any of my characters on one particular person, though I have taken little
chunks of people and stitched them together, on many occasions, to come up with Frankenstein-
esque characters that really work well. This might be a bit of physical features/characteristics from
someone, a way of speaking from another, a personality trait from someone else and so on, mixed in
with things that I just summon from my imagination. I then inject them all with bonus traits or
powers, depending on how they might fit into the narrative arc.
Relationships/family life aside, what are your TWO main regrets in life?
I don’t regret anything. Life’s far too short for that. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them but,
having a Buddhist approach to life, I tend to let things go quite quickly. It’s hard at first but with
practice, it is so refreshing. I’m in a very happy place, with people I adore, doing things that I love.
Everything I’ve done has brought me to this point in my life. I feel very grateful and very blessed
for that. So, no. No regrets.
What was your passion as a child? Did that passion stay with you during your adult life OR
did you, as you grew up begin to detest what you once enjoyed?
I’ve been telling stories, in one form or another, ever since I was very small. Stories have always
been a passion for me. Again, I’m very lucky that my love of stories, reading them and writing
them, has remained undiminished throughout my life. I hope that love of stories transmits through
the books and tales that I write because without stories life would be so much duller!
What was your best subject throughout your school years? And your worst?
English was always my best subject. I particularly loved it when we were tasked to write stories! Of
course, some people hated it and didn’t see the point, so I’ve been on a crusade ever since to get
folks to understand that stories are dreams, escapes, giving readers wings - the ability to fly, without
leaving your chair. Stories are magic. English also opened my mind to so, so many great writers and
My worst subject was geography. No offence to anyone who enjoys geography because I don’t
dislike it. But I remember one particular geography teacher who had those godawful leather elbow
patches on his jacket and smelt of pipe smoke – we seemed to study some remote part of the planet
and its soil types for the whole year. Talk about matchsticks and eyelids! I’m sure there must have
been more to it than that but my brain obviously waved goodbye to the subject through
disengagement. Nowadays, I have no sense of direction and would be lost – literally – without my
Tell me about your favourite teacher throughout your school years? Was it a crush you had?
Were they just an excellent teacher of your favourite subject?? Or some other reason…kind,
I have a few that stand out for various reasons but one, in particular, edges it as my favourite.
Basically, I was a ‘Jack the Lad’ at school and would often be involved in one silly prank or another
– this helped me become a better teacher in later years, I think, because I could see through the eyes
and viewpoint of the child much more; I’d been there and done all that! Anyway, Mr Jones was my
Form Tutor in what would now be Year 11, and I remember coming out with some daft comment
that I thought was super-smart. Now, most of the teachers would have gone purple and/or hit the
roof, but not Mr Jones. Although he was only about 5 feet 9, much smaller than most of the lads, he
had such an air of confidence and a sense of humour. So, instead of going mad at my quip, he turned
round, stared at me, and from beneath the thriving black moustache, I’m sure I saw his top lip betray
the hint of a smile. He said, ‘I can’t stand smart-arse kids,’ and he turned back round and carried on
writing on the board. Hilarious! He won me over right there and then. I saw him in a gym, some
years later, we remembered each other and had a good natter and a laugh. He still doesn’t know we
nicknamed him Taffy, though. Or, maybe he always did…
Did either of your parents ever express a wish to write? Are they supportive and proud of
your work? Or do they just choose to not get involved, but they are pleased for you?
Unfortunately, I lost my mum before I properly got into published writing, but she always
encouraged me, even to the extent of typing up my scribbles so I could send them out (I know – this
kind of betrays my age – no computers!) However, I still have one that she typed up for me, and I
typed it into the computer years later and sent it off to the small press. It was published and well-
received. My dad passed away much later but was always a complete support for me in everything
that I did. My mum was an avid reader and my dad liked his westerns, but neither wrote creatively.
They’re still with me in spirit and I was lucky to have them.
Tell us about your ultimate ambition, be it personal, travel, writing, work, hobby related or
This isn’t ducking the question in any way, honest! But I’m just not ambition driven. I’ve achieved
so much in my teaching career, including headship, I’m loving everything about writing, and I
couldn’t want for a better family. The planets all lined up in a row the day I met the woman who
would become my wife - and we’re still together. I’ve got two simply-the-best sons and I thank my
lucky stars, fate, the universe, all of it, for all of them. So, I guess my ambition would be to maintain
the good things I have in life, not sweat the small stuff, and be able to welcome both successes and
setbacks without allowing either to affect me too much.
Do you have any phobias and if so, what are they? Have you ever conquered any phobia and
if so, how did you do it?
Oh hell, yeah. Spiders! What on earth is going on there? Arachnophobia! There’s something
ENTIRELY wrong about a thing with eight legs and often eight eyes, lurking about in your house.
And not only that, when they see you, they stop moving and just sit there and freeze. Like a multi-
limbed threat. And then, all of a sudden, they set off at a gallop! Aaarrrggghhh! By now, you will
have probably guessed that I’m not over my phobia. I did do one thing in my teaching career though
that went part of the way to sorting it. I held a tarantula in the palm of my hand, at a science
museum. It was so cute! It covered my palm but was fluffy and gentle. So, now, I’m good with
tarantulas but not house spiders. No logic. Just a primeval conundrum.
Most people I know are not happy with something physical about themselves (face/body
etc.,) but if you could change anything about your personality, what would you wish to
Overthinking. I’m getting better at not doing it; I’m working on it. But sometimes, I still find
myself pondering over something or other that really doesn’t matter and is completely out of my
control. That’s when I have to visualise ‘letting go’. Let go of worries – they’re nothing but
constructs of the mind. There. Told you I was working on it! (Eva: Keep on working at it, John! You're doing
What is your ‘go to’ snack, whatever the time of day? And drink of your choice?
Chocolate, cake, chocolate cake! Yep, that’s where I tend to head when I get the munchies. My
drink of choice is coffee, or if I fancy something a little stronger, I’m partial to a nice Cabernet
Cats or dogs? What do you have? Do you introduce any pets into your books?
Dogs all the way for me. I mean, they’re so happy and gorgeous and loyal. I don’t currently have
any pets but I have had in the past and, if I have one in the future, it will be a dog.
I’ve had a goldfish called Davros in one of my books, and in a work-in-progress, I have a mad
Springer Spaniel who plays a central role!
Facebook: John Clewarth – Author
Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Eva!
You're very welcome John, and thank you for your brilliant answers!
Up next week we have,
Tuesday: Sasha Lane
Friday: Carol Kerry-Green
Have a great weekend everybody!