Author Interview: James Clarke

Tell us a bit about yourself? Where were you born? Grow up? What job do you do now? Before?

I’ve been writing since I was 12. My first book was published a week before I turned 29 so I was able to satisfy a personal ambition (that I do not expect anybody else to be remotely interested in) of having my first book published before I turned 30. I was born in Wimbledon in southwest London and it was there at Wimbledon Odeon that I fell in love with movies. That fascination has stayed with me ever since. When I was fifteen we moved from London to Hereford and that was a stunning shift in every respect and that was when I really started to read and write. For my 16th birthday my mum and dad gave me a manual typewriter and a book about how to write novels written by Michael Legat. I read that book repeatedly in the summer of 1988.  I currently combine my freelance writing work with work in writing education resources and also teaching at the London Film School as a Visiting Lecturer on its MA in Screenwriting course.

What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?

My latest book is Media Labs and it’s been inspired by recognising a need to offer readers with interests in filmmaking or gaming or both a range of information about where they can access connections and opportunities to develop their work and begin to establish their creative identities. You know, in the very late stages of working on the book I realised (finally) what the spirit of the project is and it’s simply this: it’s in the spirit of a ‘legendary’ book that’s published annually: The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.  When I think back to The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook I think about how it suddenly opened up for me an ocean of possibilities and suddenly a world of writing that I wanted to somehow become a part of revealed itself to me.

Can you let me have three fabulous facts you uncovered as part of your research?

1. Well, the first is just that the culture of media labs is longstanding, reaching back to the late 1960s and early 1970s and moves towards community based filmmaking and arts practice (which is the world that I first worked in, starting in the late 1990s)

2. The sheer range and volume of media labs and related programmes that are delivered on a global scale. By extension, and I really mean this: there are so many opportunities to pursue and research and take advantage of. It’s all there if you have the imagination and the focus to commit to the challenge. It’s hugely competitive of course but what I hope this book might do is encourage readers to jump right in and see where you go.

3. This is a sweeping observation but it’s simply this: that increasingly there will be a really fascinating interplay between narrative filmmaking and gaming aesthetics and narrative design.

Who will this book appeal to?

I hope that this book will appeal particularly to young men and young women who are seeking to find a route through to seeing their creative talent and work facilitated. We might suggest that part of this is to provide a particular range of suggestions and resources that might aid young people for whom applying to Higher Education may be a challenge.

What else have you written?

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to write a number of books, including The Year of the Geek (Aurum Books), Bodies in Heroic Motion: The Cinema of James Cameron (Columbia University Press/Wallflower Press) and The Virgin Film Guide: War Films. In my film journalism work I have written for 3D Artist, 3D World, Empire and other outlets and I tend to specialise in visual effects and animation journalism. Much more recently I’ve enjoyed contributing to the Fantasy / Animation Research Network online.

How do you write? Do you have a special place or routine?

I have a dedicated writing space, just as a carpenter would have a workshop, with all of my tools to hand and the more that I write the more I realise that, for me, it is so like doing English and History homework when at school. It sounds a bit glib, perhaps, but if you enjoy, or enjoyed doing homework, you might be just the right kind of person to pursue writing in a more serious minded way.

How do you organize your research? Do you use any programs like Scrivener or Evernote?

I organise my research in quite an analogue way. Certainly, online resources are so key now. A critical starting point for me with all of my work is google scholar.

What were you like at school? Were you good at English?

I had a very split kind of experience at school. As strong as I was at English and History and Art I was quite the opposite when it came to Maths and sport and science. I wish someone had told me back then that Maths was a language…it may well have helped me ‘see it’ more readily but it was a huge struggle. Lots of memories of tear stains on the grid pages of my Maths exercise book. Going back to English and History, for a moment, though: what binded them both together was that they were about storytelling of course. How can we live without stories and without thinking about stories?

What authors, or books have influenced you?

Oh gosh, how long have you got ? In terms of books about movies: I always cite Film Art: An Introduction, Film As Film: Understanding and Judging Movies and also I have a soft spot for The Movie Book of the Western.

Outside of movies, I am a lifelong enthusiast for the works of Willa Cather, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain and Frank Norris. Two other writers who I discovered in my late 20s and who remain important to me are Gary Snyder and William Kittredge. I’ve also come very late to the George Eliot party and am currently working my way through her novels and I love Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Wizard of Earthsea, J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows and John Masefield’s The Box of Delights. Paul Auster and Marilynne Robinson are also writers I really enjoy the work of.  I am also a massive fan of Marina Warner’s work. I was totally starstruck when I noticed her in the café at Waterstone’s at Piccadilly a few years ago.

What are you working on now?

I have several book proposals underway and there are also several screenplay projects that are chugging away in the background. The screenwriting is such a long road to pursue that I daren’t talk about it too much at all but wheels are turning…albeit slowly. And then, of course, I am chipping away at a novel as we all are.

What are you reading now?

I am fascinated by American history and so I am currently reading Michael Burlingame’s biography of Abraham Lincoln. I am also re-reading Lewis Hyde’s book The Gift, prompted by a magazine article I am currently putting together. I am also reading, after long wanting to, Marina Warner’s Alone of All Her Sex. Warner’s book is such a feast of ideas and connections and illuminations.

What is your favourite book of all time?

I can’t reduce it to one. I can get to five, I think:

The Wind in the Willows

Walden

The Octopus by Frank Norris (it deserves a movie adaptation I would say)

The Professor’s House (this also deserves a movie adaptation I think)

Peter Pan

But I also have to add: The Masks of God by Joseph Campbell and Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde both hold their magic.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Believe in your creative choices: do not second guess what you think people will want to read. Always start with: what would I buy / or take from a library if I saw it on a shelf ? It took me a while to really recognise that and stripping away at things in this way has a value. It’s an approach that starts to make much easier the process of thinking about what idea you might want to pursue. “What would I want to read ?” should be the first question I think.

In terms of practice: Write something everyday (maybe a diary entry rather than a social media posting), read fiction and non-fiction and also read interviews with writers whose work you connect with if you can. I would always recommend The Paris Review for writer interviews and also read literary periodicals like The London Review of Books or The New York Review of Books.

Do you have a website or social media platforms where readers can find more information about you and your books?

I have a twitter feed and that can be found at: @jasclarkewriter

Phone: 44(0)203 2610000