JAMES GAULT MEETS AN AUTHOR ... ROB BURTON
Rob Burton is the author of the urban fantasy Meditations on Murder and of the Celtic novella The Castle of the Red Haired Maidens. He was a professional Sociologist for over 25 years at a number of prestigious British Universities. Now semi-retired Rob works in Nanjing, China teaching English and writing novels.
Hi Rob, Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.
What motivates you to write fiction? What do you want to achieve by it?
Ever since I was at school where I always did well in ‘composition’ I have wanted to be a writer. I have written poems most of my life. Then when I was busy working in factories and got involved with the Trades Union I wrote political polemics for local left-wing magazines. Then I was at university writing essays and after that working as an academic writing learned papers so my fiction writing ambitions were buried beneath all this other stuff. Then my university wanted to make me redundant and so did the mother of my child. So I sat in my office and started writing blogs and then that developed into a first novel – now lost on some old hard disc somewhere. Then as the angst set in so started the beginning of what is now my first novel Meditations on Murder. Write what you know they say. Read between the lines in this novel and you will understand my motivations.
What do I want to achieve? A person enjoying my writing is enough. Writers write to be read – don’t they?
I know you live and work now in China? How do you think living in another country and travelling in general influence your writing?
As I mentioned above “Write what you know’ is good advice. I have lived and worked in a few countries, travelled through war zones, done things I don’t want my mum to read about (That’s why I use a pen name for my China memoir). Young writers come on Facebook and ask about how to write a novel and make it realistic. I say take Jack Kerouac’s advice and get On The Road. Have some experiences and live life.
You’re an academic. What difference does an academic background make to your writing?
When I was an academic and wanted to write fiction I would convince myself that academic writing in itself was actually a creative process – so I was writing. What I have learned is the discipline of writing. One sees writers on the Facebook groups bemoaning the fact that they have “writer’s block.” Well I suggest try telling their boss, if part of their job description includes writing, that they can’t possibly supply the report they were meant to provide because they are “blocked” – it doesn’t wash. Writer’s block is a myth from my point of view. Many, many writers have deadlines they have to meet if they want to eat, keep a roof over their heads and remain employed so for them it’s nonsense to suggest writers block is a thing. As an academic I have also learnt how to research what I am writing to make it as authentic as possible – although I am not adverse to using artistic license to play fast and loose with facts, history and geography – something one cannot do as an academic.
Is there a short paragraph form your work that you’re particular proud of? Can you share it with us and tell us why?
From Meditations on Murder
I looked into his face, well, up into his face. He was bigger than me, and not as plumpish, quite solid in fact. A local bouncer, or Security, as they prefer to be referred to while bouncing people. He oozed Russianness. Black leather jacket, white shirt, black tie, big fuck off watch, bald. He had a special-forces earpiece in and a Spetsnaz attitude all over his face.
What would Jason do? Kill him.
I couldn’t, because I was too busy trying to breathe. He was a real professional, and he spun me around, dropped the chokehold, and shoved my arm up my back, executing a pretty practised arm lock.
‘Ow’. That hurt too.
I struggled. I tried out a Kung Fu kick I saw on a movie once. I’m not good at street fighting. It didn’t work.
‘Hey, motherrrfucker, kalm fuck down beforrre I smack you.’
He smacked me anyway.
I like this little scene – It sort of sums up Charlie and the situations he finds himself in – a sort of hapless hero.
You have described your genre as ‘urban fantasy’ – what exactly is that?
To be honest I never knew what urban fantasy was. I didn’t know I was writing it. I just wrote a story. Im not even a planner. I don’t plan. I write. I’m a pantser in the jargon of the writing groups. I just write what my characters do and say – I don’t control it. Then I got involved with a twitter pitch party where you tweet you pitch to agents. I had to have a hashtag with my genre. So I asked what’s my genre, I gave people a synopisis of the story and they said urban fantasy, so I stuck with that. My current novella is set in 12th century Scotland so I guess that may be Historical Fantasy as it does have ghosts. And my WIP is set in Cornwall with all sorts of going’s on I think that might be Contemporary Fantasy or I’ve started a new genre called Rural Fantasy. What is urban fantasy – I don’t really know the exact definition. I could Google it I suppose – Charlie does that all the time.
I see a lot of historical and linguistic influences in your last novel. Can you say a bit more about that? What was it that got you interested in these topics?
As I mentioned above I don’t plan these things. I’m a pantser and I just write what my characters do and say. So A sarf Landen boy would have a South London accent as would the yardie and a Scottish character and so on. They say it I write it. For the reader it seems to be like Marmite, some like it some hate it. It does seem that nowadays people don’t want to work too hard with their reading. On the advice of the editor and some comments I did tone it down a little – but even that grated with me. In The Castle of the Red-Haired Maidens I did tone done the Scottish a little. So Nye is not quite so intelligible.
One of the works that really interested me was A Clockword Orange by Anthony Burgess. The main characters use lingo/slang called Nadsat a mix of Russian, Cockney rhyming slang, the King James Bible, and German. In a sense he pre-empted the rise of the London patois or street patois that youths use today just with a Jamacian/Hip Hop influence rather than Russian.
What are you currently working on?
I have just published a Novella called The Castle of the Red-Haired Maidens this is Nye’s back-story. In Meditations on Murder she told us that she had been murdered horribly in 12th Century Scotland. But she didn’t want to give details – understandably.
I am also working on Book 2 of Charlie Simpsons adventures – The Twelfth Rune takes place in Cornwall and it’s a Dan Brownish romp through Cornish Myths and Legends. My PhD was Cornish Identity so once again I am writing what I know.
I also write textbooks for ESL students. In particular books for students taking the IELTS English proficiency tests. I have published a speaking guide and am now also working on a writing guide.
Is there anything you want to write in the future that might be a change in direction for you?
I have no idea what I’ll write tomorrow let alone in the future.