Writing in the dark – an interview with John Clewarth


John Clewarth writes mainly, but not exclusively, for children and young adults, but has had over 50 short horror stories for adults published in the independent press under the pseudonym, John Saxton; including a collection of adult horror stories, entitled ‘Bloodshot’.  His latest short story, Amelia’s Labyrinth, can be found as a podcast in Season 7 of The Wicked Library.

His first novel, ‘Firestorm Rising’, is a chilling tale, inspired by a visit to a gothic graveyard one dark, rainy day. His second novel, ‘Demons in the Dark’, is a horror story, broadly aimed written for the young adult market. John believes that horror should be scary but fun, and loves to lace his stories with humour.

What got you interested in writing?

I was lucky enough 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 Tales of the Unexpected. I was soon devouring the great Pan Books of Horror and the plethora of ‘true’ ghost stories that featured in around my local area (I even sent off a story to the Pan Horror team, when I was about 13 years old!  Sadly, it was rejected…).  It was in no small part due to the inspiration and escape I found in the aforementioned tales that I got the writing bug and began writing dark, spooky stories.

Tell us a little about your chosen genre.

I’m always a bit wary of defining my writing in this way – but I guess ‘horror’ would loosely fit.  I like to write about the things I enjoyed reading and watching when I was a boy; ghosts, monsters, things that rattle the coat-hangers in the wardrobe in the dead of night, the one under the bed who always gets you in the end…  But the thing I like best is the sense of escape from ‘real’ life, like politicians, Brexit (blah, blah, blah!).  Something to tingle your spine, give you goose-bumps, and that rollercoaster thrill.

I have to say though that many of the people I know, who write this kind of stuff are the nicest, most well-balanced people I know.  Their scares take place on the page and at the end of the session, the book can be closed.  Scary – but safe!

What are your happiest memories in your writing career?

There are lots of high spots.  One of the best is seeing your story realised in one format or another; whether it’s the magical glossy cover of your very own book in a reader’s hands, a podcast bring a story to life in spooky sound, or a compact piece of flash fiction being enjoyed by keen readers!

I particularly enjoy connecting with the audience I write for – book signings, workshops, Q and A sessions are all rewarding and it makes me proud to think that something I’ve dreamed up has given pleasure and entertainment to someone else for a while.  And when a reader says they have been inspired by my stories to write themselves, well that is fabulous.

How do you handle success and failure?

I’m getting better at it!  When I first set out as a writer, I was 100% convinced that agents and publishers would find my work irresistible and snap it up immediately.  I was gutted when they didn’t and the rejection slips began to roll in!  Like many writers, I assumed I was rubbish at it and almost quit.  But I had encouraging advice and help from the people who really count:  other writers, and especially other readers.  They liked what I was doing – and, crucially, they let me know when it wasn’t working.

When the successes come now, they taste all the more sweet – and when the setbacks come, I know that anybody who has written anything worthwhile has experienced them too.  All part of the book of life!

What makes you write when you’re exhausted and your fingers ache?

Caffeine and Red Bull.  Oh, and that absolutely irresistible urge to write, no matter how I feel.  Writing is in my blood and bones and is as much a part of me as my own shadow.  Also, the thing that keeps me going is past experience.  I had a period where I stopped writing for a while, due to a switch and increase in the demands of the ‘day job’.  I realised I missed it like hell and, despite having very little time, eventually began scribbling again.  I have been in full flow ever since and feel all the better for it.  When I calculate the amount of material I could have produced, in the time-out period, I think:  Why did I ever stop?!!

What is your advice to young and new writers?

Get down and do it.  Read lots, write lots, connect with other writers because the writing community is vibrant and supportive; in this way you’ll learn lots and make good networks too.  Write every day, even if it is just a small amount – these will all add up to something more substantial!  Start by writing about things that you know about – and write for yourself; enjoy the process.  That enjoyment and passion will transmit to others and some of it will be published if you’re persistent.  Just don’t quit.

Are you a traditionalist or a digital? (paper or eBook)

Traditionalist mainly, though I have a Kindle!  I don’t think you can surpass the feel and the smell of a book in your hands, curled up in the evening.  Ahhh……

Do you blog?

Not at the moment.  But I am active on social media, especially Twitter. @johnclewarth

Do you self-publish?

In essence, yes.  A few years ago, a number of authors signed a publishing contract with a ‘publisher’ who was less than able to make good on the delivery of the titles promised.

That group of people connected and we set up Mauve Square Publishing, the platform from which my titles were both launched.  That has run its course now and we are moving our titles over very soon, to Silver Quill Publishing, which will be launched in the very near future.  Check into my website for news on that soon!

If you have a publication or promotion – tell us.

I have completed the first draft of a new young adult horror, and it is hair-raising.  I think I must have had far too much cheese before bed, to enjoy the kinds of nightmares from which that baby was born.  Once redrafts and revisions have been made, and I’m totally happy with the beast, I’ll be releasing that as a new title – hopefully in the Spring.  Also, do check in to the Wicked Library podcast and listen to my latest ghost story, Amelia’s Labyrinth, they did a great job in producing this tale!

For further details and sneaky previews of John’s future projects, please visit his website: www.johnclewarth.com


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