Interview With Author John Fullerton

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)

I’m a former Reuters correspondent who now writes thrillers. If your readers are at all like me, then too much personal information about a writer is irrelevant and sometimes an embarrassment. Anyhow, there’s biographical material on my website for those interested:

What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

Most of the novels are set in countries I visited or lived in as a correspondent, and those were at war in one way or another: Bosnia, Lebanon, Afghanistan and so on.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

Not sure I understand what is meant by inspiration. Writing is hard work, not day-dreaming. I wrote my first novel because I was deeply affected in ways I still can’t express by my reporting trips to Croatia and then Bosnia, and I was finding it hard – if not impossible – to settle down to an editor’s desk job and to rejoining family life in London. Maybe I had a degree of PTSD. I certainly had something to get off my chest. It took the form of The Monkey House.

Here’s the link:

How do you deal with creative block?

Again, it depends what you mean. I don’t sit idly and stare at a blank page. On the other hand if you’re referring to self-doubt and a sense of hopelessness – then I know what that feels like. It seems to me that someone who writes books has to carry around two mutually antagonistic qualities. On the one hand, overriding self-confidence – ego, perhaps – to get the job done, and at the same time, immense powers of self-criticism to be able to edit properly, including ‘killing your darlings’ – getting rid of stuff you thought brilliant at one point but which is in reality awful rubbish.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

To imagine it can’t be improved by deep cutting.

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

No. Maybe you can give me a few, but I doubt whether but would help.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

Constructive criticism is invaluable. A writer is lucky to get it and should treasure it and take it very, very seriously. On the other hand, negative responses without rhyme or reason – from morons who got out of the wrong side of the bed, in other words – should be ignored or brushed aside and instantly forgotten. As for rejection, it’s a writer’s life blood, spurring her or him on to greater things, to better writing, to more writing.

How has your creation process improved over time?

I’m more determined than ever. I’m more philosophical. I’ve never suffered fools gladly, and I suffer them far less now. If you hadn’t noticed, there are plenty of them in the book business. For some, it’s a form of protected employment. I do NOT mean the smaller, more adventurous and innovative publishers, though.

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

How phoney big publishers can be. All the praise, the smiles, the promises, the invitations – it’s all nonsense. They’re just going through the motions. I felt terribly uncomfortable with it from the very start. Disgusted would not be too strong a word. The reality is that you’ve produced a commodity, one of several hundred a month or a year, that will be packaged and dropped onto a production line in a process planned months in advance and then forgotten almost immediately. I was probably just very naive in imagining I’d made something of value. I think I’ve almost grown up now.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

I suppose I should write for the reader, whoever that may be. I don’t, though. I write to please myself. The CEO of what was in the 1990s the UK’s biggest publisher once urged me, ‘John, please write what people want to read.’ Well, I didn’t know what people wanted to read and neither did he. My agent didn’t. I don’t think that’s changed. Agents and publishers follow the herd for the most part. Now that marketing and not editorial is in the driving seat, it’s got a lot worse. They get really panicky at times.

What role do emotions play in creativity?

How would I know? Isn’t fiction all emotion? Isn’t Anna Karenina all emotion?

Do you have any creativity tricks?

They’re not tricks. I read a lot. I read to improve my own writing. I’m careful about what I read. I care very much about good writing (even though it has no bearing on commercial success or failure as certain bestsellers will attest) and I’m always trying to get better at it. James Wood, Charles Baxter, Francine Prose – their books have helped me a great deal in learning to write better.

What are your plans for future books?

I’ve started the second in the Kramer series. I have a spy thriller I’m trying to sell to publishers and it too should be the start of a series of espionage novels set in dangerous places I know quite well.

Here’s the link to the first Kramer novel:

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

Quirky? I’m a recluse. I don’t socialise. My best friends are my daughters. I should learn to play bridge because I’ve heard it said that the game represents socialising without intimacy – and that’s appealing, at least in theory. I have strong political views, but little faith in humanity’s capacity for self-improvement. I don’t drive or possess a television set. I try not to fly anywhere. I can’t abide the false bonhomie of book fairs. Quirky enough, do you think?


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