Local author looks at life and love via '60s America
Local novelist Richard Joyce's novel of love, death and defiant youth, set in the dusty plains of North Texas, has been a long time coming. It had its generation 40 years ago when Richard left Texas and returned to England.
A resident of Lamyatt for nearly 25 years now and taught at King's School Bruton for the first 12 of those years, Richard celebrated the launch of A Premature Affair this week.
Your Time spoke to Richard to find out more.
Your Time: First of all can you tell us what themes A Premature Affair looks to address and where the idea came from?
Richard: A Premature Affair has been through many transformations since its conception back in the late 1960s, finally becoming chiefly the description of an abortive love affair between two young people who meet in a foreign country and separate in the more rarified atmosphere of 'back home'.
There's a sort of fragility about human relationships, which I wanted to write about. Secondly it's about the stimulating period of the early '60s in America, the era of 'Camelot', and how it fell apart – on a personal level – following the assassination of JFK.
Thirdly there's day to day description of a small private school in its infancy, struggling to survive; its comings and goings and its in-fighting.
The idea came from a two-year long job I had in just such a school in North Texas between September 1963 and '65. I would however like to emphasise that this is fiction above all, and that characters in it are more imagined than real, even though the basis for them came through observation of people.
What has been the reaction to A Premature Affair so far?
Difficult to say. My 'facebook' former pupils in the States have grasped the book eagerly, however there's no immediate feedback available. Perhaps what they read is not how they imagined it.
How did you go about getting the book published?
I submitted it in vain to many agents over a period of a year until finally two agents showed interest in the story and the writing, and said some nice things about it.
One of these pointed me in the direction of a publisher, who gave the book a 'glowing' report and agreed to take it on.
Can you tell us when you first noticed you had a talent/passion for writing yourself?
I've always felt I wanted to write and to express feelings that puzzled and disturbed me.
I didn't however feel I had the 'background' actually to write a book, but nevertheless gave it a try by resigning my London job at the age of 30 and heading off to southern Spain to write 'my best-seller'.
It didn't actually work out at the time and life intervened, but I believe the initial endeavour was valuable and necessary – a kind of statement of rebellion.
But that's another story, of course.
How did you nurture your skills?
I continued to write for newspapers and the BBC World service throughout the seventies, as well as writing unpublished short stories and one other novel. It always remained with me and I suppose I was honing my skills without being aware of it.
As for further education, I felt it was experience I needed, not instruction from someone else.
I might of course be wrong, but I don't really believe one can 'teach' creative writing: You can either write, and have the feelings driving you to do so, or you can't and are probably more interested in making money.
What and who inspires you?
Many writers. Steinbeck was a great inspiration, Saul Bellow's Sieze the Day, Philip Roth's Goodbye Columbus.
But above all Shakespeare, theatre in general and the works of Mozart, Beethoven etc, which are so terrifyingly disturbing.
In the above three writers, I admire the brevity of style and their engagement with the reader.
How would you describe your style and how would you describe the creative process?
Concise. One word is better than two. Also 'direct'. I try always to involve the reader, as if the writing were a conversation. No one wants to be bored by a too verbose description, or by too much labouring over just one thing. They just switch off.
As for creativity, I think an art-form 'develops as you create'. Once you kick off, introduce the characters etc, then it all becomes a matter of 'improvisiation'.
I believe to be too confined to a structure can mean to lose creativity.
To use a well-used cliche: the characters take over and demand to be heard and you find yourself going up unexpected channels. That's the thrill of it. The characters in my book – particularly 'Bill' – are very real to me.
Have you any new projects in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
Yes, there's a sequel to A Premature Affair. There are unanswered questions in the novel, and they need answering.
I hope to have the histories of Adam, Bill, Charlene, Hateley, Tessa, Mack fully complete in this forthcoming sequel, perhaps ready in a year's time.
What do you hope to achieve with A Premature Affair?
Make some money, break into the writing market, get a 'voice' out there, and, above all, get a sense of self-fulfilment
Similarly what do you hope audiences go away thinking after reading A Premature Affair?
Empathy with the feelings expressed. Pleasure from the language.
Above all, a real 'engagement' with the three main characters and perhaps a desire to see this fictional place in beautiful North Texas for themselves.
A Premature Affair is out now and available for £15.99 (paperback) and £2.99 (Kindle) at www.amazon.co.uk.