The literary life of EDWARD JAMES, author,reviewer, occasional poet and former pension adviser to the government of Kyrgyzstan
My guest this month is Jarek Adams, playwright, novelist and tutor. I first met Jarek when she came to speak to Cheltenham Writers’ Circle to talk about digital publishing. She was so persuasive that I signed up for two of her courses which she runs in Gloucester with her husband, novelist Andrew Thorn. I was prompted to invite her to be interviewed on my blog when I saw her new play advertised at the Playhouse theatre in Cheltenham, ‘The Mysterious Gentleman’, about the Victorian ‘magician’ John Maskelyne.
I did work for Customs & Excise, as well as the Law Society a while back, but as a creative person having to do a proper job is always something I’ve tried to avoid. Having said that I do think what I do is important. A lot of my work has been in educational theatre, where I write mostly science theatre for schools, museums and festivals such as the Cheltenham Science Festival. So using my writing skills to make difficult subjects accessible is what I think of as my job now.
Were your family at all literary?
Not at all! I come from a really sporty family. My parents met through cycle racing, and when my brother and I came along they got into all sort of water sports such as surfing and diving. We used to go chasing waves every weekend, even in the snow. But I grew up at a time when children had a great deal of freedom and I think our adventures were what fired my imagination to write.
What came first, writing for the stage or writing for readers?
Definitely play writing came first. Given that sporty background, I don’t know where my pull towards the stage came from, but it was definitely there from a very young age. I was always in school plays and youth theatre, and I started writing for the stage in my teens. I went to drama school to train as an actress, but the pull towards writing was so strong that the course was altered for me so I could focus on play writing. The idea of writing novels had been at the back of my mind for some time, but it’s a huge time commitment and I only managed to start writing for readers in my middle years.
What drew you to digital publishing? How does this compare with print? How do you market your books and do you design your own covers?
I did have some interest from the publishing world, but when e-publishing came along I liked the idea of being at the forefront of something new. I liked the control it gave me over my work and the new markets it opened up to me. Some people still prefer to have paper copies of books, so my books are also available as print-on-demand. I think that’s another fantastic opportunity for new writers as it means you don’t have to commit a huge amount of money to a large print run, which you may not be able to sell. I have done the cover designs for my books, as computer software is good enough for this, and even if you need help with artwork it’s easy to source cheaply online these days, but again I put in a lot of hours researching book covers and what sells. I mostly market my books through social networks, which is fun, but time consuming, and I always give people a link to my website where they can read excerpts and reviews, as well as follow links to buy copies. www.jarekadams.com
Tell me about your books. Would you describe them as ‘dark’ novels?
Yes, I do tend to be drawn towards darker stories, but that said, I don’t think my books are at all gloomy. ‘Bitter Roots’ is about a woman who travels to Corfu after her mother’s death, and slowly unravels a web of family secrets and lies, but it’s an uplifting story about someone coming to terms with their past. ‘Brighton Sucks’ is a vampire romp, so I’d describe it as being a darkly comic story, where I’ve tried to put a new spin on a very popular topic, with vampires trying to ‘live’ normal lives in the quirky seaside town of Brighton.
Your books are definitely for adults but your plays are for a variety of audiences. Could you tell me about your work as a playwright.
You’re right that my books are definitely for adults as they do have quite a few steamy bits in them, but most of my plays until recently have been for children and family audiences. I written over thirty educational plays, which is something I’ve loved doing, but I do like being able to explore meatier subjects. Over the past few years I’ve managed to move more towards writing for theatres, which has given me the opportunity to explore subjects in more depth.
I understand you belong to the writers’ workshop at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. As an experienced writer, do you find this useful?
Being part of any writer’s network is really important for a writer, as you need that support and feedback on your work. As a writer it’s vital that you build networks of people who can help you along the way with contacts and advice. I’ve also set up a new group for playwrights in Gloucester based at the Olympus Theatre in Barton Street, and anyone interested in coming along to that should just get in touch with me.
You are also a very active tutor. Could you tell me about your the courses you run? Have you had any star pupils?
Well of course I did work with a chap called Edward James… But I love teaching as you never know which students will go on to greatness. Although for many people just being supported in their writing is enough and being able to share their work with like-minded people is a vital outlet for their creative urges. I really love passing on the things I’ve picked up over the years, as it’s a fantastic way to pay back all the people who have helped me along the way. I currently teach a creative writing course at Gloucestershire College, but I also run workshops all over the place, and there’s lots more information about that on my website.
Finally, please tell me about your new play. What drew you to write about John Maskelyne?
JN Maskelyne is a fascinating character, who I discovered when I moved to Gloucestershire about ten years ago. He was an amazing man, who took incredible risks in life, which didn’t always pay off as expected, but which he always managed to turn into positive outcomes. That was just one aspect of his personality that drew me to him. Another intriguing part of his story was a family myth about a deal with a mysterious gentleman in black who gave ten generations of the Maskelyne family amazing powers – and they do seem to be an interesting bunch of characters. But I think the most important part of the story I’ve told in this play is his constant battle with spiritualists, who he thought were cheating people with deceit and trickery. But there’s a fascinating twist to that part of his story which I hope people will enjoy when they see the play. I’ve wanted to write this play for some time, but it’s taken a while to find the right people to work with, and to find enough funding to do the job as well as the story deserves. I’ve got the Arts Council to thank for the funding, and Jenny Wren Productions to thank for bringing my words to life on stage.
You might also like to meet JANE BAILEY, LIZA PERRAT, ELISABETH GIFFORD and Carol Mcgrath