How would you describe your work as someone new to it?
My poetry, both for children and adults, is often described as whimsical and humorous. my short stories and flash fictions as bizarre and exuberant. I would go along with that.
How would you describe your writing process? Do you follow a routine?
I started out following a routine but now – and for many many years — I work haphazardly which isn’t to say I don’t put in the hours each day. I constantly think about what I am writing or what I could write and jotting down paragraphs or whole pages of writing. Some of these pieces come together. Some don’t. But I write them down because you can then go back to what you had written.
What’s the biggest obstacle you had to overcome as a writer?
That’s easy. When I started out writing poetry as an adult a teaching colleague and an established poet rubbished me as a writer behind my back. The rest of that year I devoted to proving him wrong and by the year after that I didn’t need his negative motivation any more. I just wrote because I was good at it and I kept getting published — and to this day whatever success I have had as a poet I owe to him. Maybe one day I will tell him .
What is one of the most surprising things you have learnt as a writer ?
That you don’t have to plan a head as you were taught at school. Often I just set out with a sentence or a paragraph or a very weird conceit as in this short story: ‘One of my ears is missing. I don’t know where it got to. When I went to bed I had two. When I woke up and looked in the mirror ….’ I just wrote and wrote having at first no idea where it was going but as I went along I could see where such a story would logically go so I could see the ending before I was even half way into the a story.
Many of my poems are like that too. I just start with a sentence or a conceit and off I go. Sometimes of course you paint yourself into a corner. When that happens you have no choice but to abandon the piece and start something new. You can always go back to it later.
What book most influenced you and why?
That is a tough one. I don’t know how to answer that. The books that I think most influenced me are the Alice books by Lewis Carol, the short stories of Stephen King and Raymond Carver — I don’t know anyone who isn’t influenced by him in one way or another — Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, ‘Macbeth’ and ‘King Lear’ , Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse 5’… and so it goes…. I’m sorry, that’s the best I can do.
What are you reading now?
Ahhh. This is easier. ’The Outlaw Album’, a collection of short stories by Daniel Woodrell, the author of ‘Winter’s Bone’. I like short stories because that’s what I’m into at the moment. I like stories –- and novellas — where the narrator’s voice has a strong character, where the voice itself is a character. I like stories that start – what’s that phrase? — ‘in media res’, in the centre of the action, where things are at or near white heat early on. I like stories with a strong pulse. My favorite story, if I had to name one, would be ‘The Thing in the Forest’ by A S Byatt.
An e-book or paperback?
Not an issue with me.
What is your favorite writer’s quote?
I consider Jerry Seinfeld a writer as well as a performer. He said this, and as a writer I live by it: “You have to motivate yourself with challenges. That’s how you know you’re still alive. Once you start doing only what you’ve already proven you can do, you’re on the road to death.”
What is the best writing advice you have received?
The best writing advice I have ever received — and I didn’t even have to think about this — comes NOT from a writer but from an advertising slogan. It’s the Nike phrase: ‘Just Do It’. It made immediate sense to me. When I was struggling with the concept of public speaking, the necessity of doing it if I wanted to have a public persona as a writer, I began to read books on it until I saw that there were an endless array of books on the topic. All I had to do was to do it! The same with short story writing. I could read endless books but in the end and in the beginning all I had to do was do it!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Watch TV. Read, mainly short stories and magazine articles. Brisk power walks along the beach. Swim in summer. Drink and eat with friends. Meeting new people, garrulous conversations then solitude. Being with the grandchildren.
John is a prolific writer of poetry who has had considerable success both in children’s poetry and adult poetry. He also performs his work regularly at schools and literary festivals and has a number of text books published on the teaching of poetry aimed at teachers and students of middle school. John recently performed his poetry at nine different primary schools in three days as part of Poets On Parade.
John can be contacted via his blog – johnlmalone.wordpress.com