Author Interview – Ian Johnson

I am very excited to be talking to Ian Johnson today about his excellent novel The Witcher Keys, published in 2012 by Book Guild. I stumbled upon The Witcher Keys by accidentPhotoIanJohnson[1] shortly after its publication, and by the end of the first paragraph I was hooked. Anyone who enjoys a fantastic adventure with mythical beings aplenty will love The Witcher Keys. Ian beautifully merges the ‘real’ world with the world of elves, goblins and such – but I’ll leave him to tell you more in his own words.

Alison – Hello Ian, and welcome to An Author’s View. Thank you for taking the time to chat to us today. Let’s start with a bit of information about you.

Ian – I am a construction manager, looking after 180 old properties on an ancient 15,000 acre country estate. I live in a haunted manor house near the Yorkshire moors with three daughters and a mad cocker spaniel. Sixty this year…bloody hell!  No-one believes me though, which is good news.

Alison – No, I don’t believe it either! A haunted manor house; I’m jealous. I’ve got a thing about ghosts, and like to think the house in which I live has one of its very own – but it could simply be the product of my overactive imagination. I live on a crossroad, and I’m led to believe executions used to take place at crossroads so the spirits wouldn’t be able to find their way back into the village. Our ghost is very benign, though; not what I’d expect from the spirit of a hardened criminal. Anyway, I digress. As I’m sure you know by now, Ian, I am a huge fan of The Witcher Keys. Is the book a one off, or do you plan to write more?

witcher_cover[1]Ian – The Witcher Keys is my debut novel, and I’m not planning another until I see if this one flies. I do have some ideas though, and may even move out of fantasy and into another genre, writing straight at adults. The Witcher Keys was written with young adults in mind but has crossed over fully into the adult market. Any reader over 11 is fine, up to 99.

Alison – I find it a bit odd that The Witcher Keys seems to be aimed at the teen market as it appeals to all ages, as the Amazon reviews prove. I suppose it makes sense as the lead (human) characters are teens themselves. I’m sure readers are intrigued to know more about the story, so please would you sum it up for us?

Ian – The Witcher Keys is a contemporary fantasy adventure story set on the North York Moors in mid-winter, both above and below ground, and inspired by real events. A couple of teenage friends are drawn into the ‘unseen’ world of elves, goblins, spriggans etc as they attempt to save the life of a baby, drugged into a coma by evil spriggans. There are other story lines as well, involving hidden emeralds, four secret keys, six enchanted swords, and the book is riddled with magic, of course. It concludes on Christmas Eve.

Alison – The fact that such a magical book is based on real events is thrilling. Do you have a website or social networking pages where we can find out more?

Ian – The website is www.thewitcherkeys.co.uk.  This links you to the facebook and twitter pages – not my thing, really, but I post stuff on facebook quite often. There is also a great interactive map on the website taking you to all the real locations in the story. A kind friend keeps the website up to speed, although he likes a bottle of whiskey now and again (needs it, probably).

Alison – (Laughs) Don’t we all, especially when dealing with technology. Shortly after a computer whizz had designed a website for me earlier in the year, I decided it would be a good idea to trash my homepage, thus deleting all his hard work. It took a few beers to smooth over that little mistake! I’m sure there are things that have amused or intrigued you since The Witcher Keys was published.

Ian – The best book-related anecdote came along as I came off air at BBC radio Humberside. A lady rang into the station saying how good it was to hear someone talking about real goblins and elves. The previous week her daughter, who lives in Farndale (where The Witcher Keys is set), cut down a very old pear tree in her garden and was awoken that same night by three sad little faces and twinkling lights at her bedroom window – which is an upstairs window. Amazing.

Alison – Poor things. Homeless hobgoblins? I follow news of your marketing campaign on facebook, and you really seem to have a flair for book signing events. This must take a lot of hard work on your part.

Ian – The first signing was tricky – for Waterstones in York, who wanted to read the book first. After that (22 hardbacks signed and the bestselling line that day in the store) the rest became easier, with the book’s reputation gaining weight all the time. My 14th signing is coming up soon, at W H Smith. All my recent W H Smith events have resulted in immediate requests for a repeat event. Just to prove how hard it is though, Smiths still haven’t agreed to stock my book nationally.

Alison – I think it’s marvellous that you’ve gained recognition from W H Smith as well as Waterstones. Do you enjoy your signing events?
Ian – Signings are hard work. I never ever sit down, which is why I’ll sign 60 books sometimes. Often, a book signing by a quiet, sitting-down author will not produce any sales at all. You meet a wide range of human spirits, from lovely to revoltingly rude, which is interesting but depressing at times. Generally I enjoy them, and it’s great when an excited 14 year old wants their photo taken with the author, or you meet a real white witch, which has happened a few times to me.

Alison – Has anything funny or significant happened during your book signings? Meeting a white witch must have been amazing.

Ian – Not really funny, but significant when I signed for a white witch called Rosalie from Lincoln who knew all about elementals (gnomes, goblins etc) having nearly lost her life during a run-in with them. She has become a close friend and is a huge fan of the book, which she says has changed her life a great deal, spiritually. Wow!

Alison – Wow indeed. As I said, I’m impressed by the success of your marketing campaign. Did you have marketing experience beforehand, or did you learn on your feet?

Ian – I picked it up as I went. Common sense and determination are pre-requisite, though.

Alison – Since reading The Witcher Keys, I often wonder what strange creatures may be lurking in the hedgerows. Please tell us more about spriggans, goblins, dark elves etc so we can be prepared for the unexpected.

Ian – That would take me hours, but the appendix in the book tells you everything you need to know about all of these creatures, as you may remember!

Alison – (Laughs) Just testing! The Witcher Keys is a very handsome book, and the cover art is perfect. Was it difficult to decide on a design?

Ian – The designer at Book Guild found the design in a library of three million pictures, all of which had no copyright attached to them. It seemed just right, after we added a key-hole and did some other tinkering to get it perfect. 

Alison – Did you send the manuscript off to a number of publishers before deciding on Book Guild? Did you receive any constructive feedback, even if it was a rejection?

Ian – Book Guild was the first publisher I ever sent it to. The MD there described it as a ‘classic’ and that the only reason it hadn’t been picked up previously was that no-one knew who the hell Ian Johnson was. I’d spent 2 years trying to find a literary agent to take it on, but all 30 of them refused, (J K Rowling had 24 rejections, I seem to remember). One of them, Ampersand, was extremely encouraging, though, and even edited the first half for me free of charge. It was great to send them a copy of the final result a couple of years later, with many thanks!

Alison – I sometimes wonder whether agents and the ‘big’ publishers take on any new authors. Perhaps there’s some sort of writers’ inner circle we mere mortals know nothing about. At least you found one agent who was encouraging and helpful; constant rejections can get a little trying. Given that it is so hard to get recognition in the literary world, what made you decide to write in the first place?

Ian – I decided late in 2003, after the events described on my website involving real goblins. I thought there had to be a good story there, if only I could write it!

Alison – What would be your advice to a budding author?

Ian – Don’t even start unless you have a vivid imagination and huge levels of determination. The latter is almost more important though, to keep you going through the low times, like writers block, severe editing as directed by experts (called killing the babies) and trying to get published when it’s all finished. Worth trying for, if you’re up for it.

Alison – Vivid imagination – ‘check’ as the Americans would say. It’s getting my imagination to shut up I have problems with, especially in the early hours of the morning. I agree on the determination, though. It’s not easy to keep your head up after a flurry of rejections, but there are always options. I find blogging and social networking invaluable, and there’s plenty of help at hand via search engines. Going back to the subject of writing, do you feel your writing has been influenced by a particular author?

Ian – J R R Tolkien. It must show a tiny bit in my work, as some reviewers mention the similarities. Hopefully, my work is slightly easier-going!

Alison – It is! I’ve always found Tolkien a little difficult to read; too many songs, and sons of So-and-so who in turn is son of someone else. I love the Tolkien influence though, as my beautiful collection of Harry Potter books – and my treasured hardback copy of The Witcher Keys – will testify. Are you reading anything at the moment?

Ian – Yes: ‘Destination of the Species’ by Michael Meacher (MP).  Awe-inspiring, and makes me realise how insignificant we are in the big picture (universe, big bang, evolution etc). The book does require high levels of concentration here and there!

Alison – That sounds – interesting! I’m sure it’s an excellent book, but my personal taste is for stories that absorb me. We touched on imagination earlier, but a lot of authors regard careful planning to be almost as important when writing. Are you a planner, or do you prefer to see where your imagination takes you?

Ian – I see where my imagination takes me – infinitely more exciting than having a plan at the start.

Alison – I agree. It didn’t take me long to give up on my plans while writing Dory’s. Characters who were supposed to be peripheral became essential to the tale; baddies switched sides and helped out the good guys; one couple had been harbouring feelings for each other all through the story, and I’d never even noticed! It’s a style of writing that involves a lot of self-editing, but I wouldn’t succeed any other way. However, with The Witcher Keys being based on real events, I’m guessing you did have to do some research?

Ian – I looked at all the local folklore I could find, then learned everything I could about elves, goblins, spriggans and all the rest of them, so I could try to gauge how they might be in real life. I was determined to try and describe how it would be if two teenagers came face to face with real, 5 foot tall elves. Hopefully I did a fair job of it in The Witcher Keys.

Alison – I can vouch for the fact you did an excellent job. It’s been a pleasure talking to you today, and I wish you every success with your ongoing marketing campaign. The Witcher Keys deserves to be a bestseller, and should any film directors be reading I believe it would work very well visually – hint hint!

 To purchase The Witcher Keys on Amazon:

 UK Link     US Link     Canadian Link

 Alternative purchase links can be found on The Witcher Keys Website. You can also follow Ian on Facebook and Twitter.

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Best Day Ever – Part Two

29 August 2013 – The Dory’s Avengers Book Launch.

And so it began.

My guests started arriving early, which took me a little by surprise as I was still in my casual clothes – and a few of my helpers had disappeared to the pub! After exchanging hugs and greetings with the earlybirds, I made a quick visit to the ladies toilets/baby changing room on Waterstones’ first floor to put on my posh frock. Such is the glamorous life of the newly published author – it did cross my mind to wonder whether JK Rowling ever dressed for Harry Potter launches while reading ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ on the walls of a book shop toilet cubicle…

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By the time I’d returned all glammed up; or rather, hoping I was all glammed up as the toilet/baby changing room was lacking a mirror of any kind, the stream of arriving guests had turned into a flood. As good friends, old and new, poured in to Waterstones for the launch of Dory’s Avengers, I started to feel a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of the support this unknown author was receiving.

My brother Ian and sister Sue came to the launch. Wanda, Angie and another Sue, friends from way back when we were at school, were there too. Friends from my former workplace, friends from Fen Ditton, friends from football, friends from my favourite pubs The Kings Head and The Brook, friends from book club; they were all there. People from pretty much every era of my life turned out to support me on that one wonderful night; and, much as I love words, I can’t find any that adequately describes how much it meant to me to see them there.

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The evening threw up a couple of lovely surprises too. Fellow Book Guild author, Janet Hopton, had previously hinted she may be able to come along – and so she did! It was lovely to meet her and spend a few minutes swapping published author anecdotes.

I may have mentioned the fabulous Everything Books & Authors website, created by super supportive Twitter and Facebook friend Toni Carter, in earlier blogs. To my delight, Toni attended the Dory’s Avengers launch, and she is as lovely in person as she is in the cyber world.

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The two hours of my book launch flew by in a joyful haze of meeting, greeting, smiling a big happy smile, and, of course, signing copies of Dory’s Avengers. Try as I might, it was impossible to take it all in, and I’m eternally grateful to my brother and the Evil Scribe for capturing a photographic record of the evening. It was nearly an hour and a half into the book signing before I got a chance to make my speech, and I never did get the opportunity to read the passage from Dory’s Avengers I’d intended to share that night.

Having spent the two days prior to the book launch practising my speech in order to speak confidently on the night, my mind completely blanked for a second or two as I stood, grinning inanely, in front of a sea of friendly faces. So much for the Evil Scribe’s insistence that I must not refer to my speech notes – the cardinal sin of public speaking, apparently.

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Speech!

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Mad author

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Er, what was I saying?

It did raise a laugh when I completely forgot the wording of the most important dedication of all, the one to my partner Andy, and had to peer desperately at the paper in my hand. The evening was so emotionally charged for me – especially when I spoke about how I wish my parents could have seen their daughter became a published author – and if I could do it all again, my speech notes would be to hand once more.

After the speech, the piles of books in front of me continued to dwindle as eager readers continued to purchase. My guests mingled and got to know each other; people I care about meeting for the first time, or in some cases for the first time in decades, and getting on famously. Behind the scenes, my wonderful friends Wanda, Charles, Doug, Karl and Andy flitted about replenishing refreshments and restocking copies of Dory’s Avengers – which disappeared to be purchased almost as soon as they’d been set down. Wow! To think I was worried about not achieving the 40 – 50 sales I’d tentatively promised events manager Rosie when we first discussed holding the book launch in Waterstones.

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We sold 59 copies. Fifty-nine! I hardly saw Rosie all evening as she was so busy selling my book, and when I confirmed the sales total to Book Guild the following day apparently there were huge cheers all around the office.

All in all, I think it’s safe to say: ‘My book launch? Yes, it went well!’

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Best Day Ever Part Three – The After Show Party – Coming Soon

Best Day EVER!

Part One.

Two weeks have passed since Thursday 29 August, also known as the best day of my life – so far. As you probably know by now (I think I may have mentioned it once or twice), my debut novel Dory’s Avengers was officially released on that day, and my lifelong dream to see my work published became a reality.

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The ‘New Books’ window display – including Dory’s Avengers!

That was two weeks ago, and – shock horror – it’s taken me until now to blog about the magnificent book signing event in the Cambridge Waterstones, the event that launched Dory’s Avengers into the literary World. It’s probably taken me so long because I’ve since journeyed from a massive high to a bit of a low (‘is that it now?’), visited confusion (‘what next?’) and finally arrived at efficiency (book clubs, shops and other potential signing venues contacted, eagerly awaiting positive replies).

Thursday 29 August 2013 found me rather more excited than the cool and composed author writing this blog post. The day dawned bright and sunny; following an inauspicious start the UK has enjoyed one of the best summers I can remember, and my book launch fell in the middle of yet another heat wave.

For once in my life, I was very organised leading up to the launch of Dory’s Avengers. Having attended a hugely enjoyable wedding earlier in August, a perfect day thanks to the organisational skills of the bride Babs, I had done some watching and learning. Therefore, by 29 August my speech was written and rehearsed, the food and wine were ordered, the hairdresser booked, and I even had time to enjoy a delicious steak baguette for lunch in the Ancient Shepherds.

Then, everything started to unravel. 1.30 came and went, no sign of hairdresser. Then, ping! In came a message from him saying he’d been held up and would be with me at 2pm.

That’s fine. Relax! There’s still plenty of time before we have to leave at 3.30.

2pm came and went. No sign of hairdresser. No sign of my friends Charles and Doug, who were due to stop on their way into town and pick up some books to take to Waterstones. No sign of anyone! I’m sure there would have been a huge tumbleweed rolling on by, but for the fact that’s not something you often see in a quintessentially English village.

My hairdresser never did turn up. He was doing dreadlocks fifteen miles away, the muppet. It’s a good job we’re friends! Luckily my hair had dried into rather cute curls rather than the tangled mess it usually favours, so disaster number one was averted.

In the grand old tradition of meticulously laid plans, they fell to pieces and instead everything happened at once. Charles and Doug drew up outside my house to collect the books at exactly the same time as my partner Andy got home from work, and my sister Sue arrived from Nottingham armed with overnight gear and a tub of tomatoes. After a short consultation, we decided it made sense for Andy to transport everyone and everything into the centre of Cambridge in his eight seater taxi, and half an hour later that’s exactly what he did.

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The author signing desk

Talk about precision timing; we arrived at Cambridge Waterstones at exactly the same time as the Majestic Wine delivery man. It took a few trips to transport seven people, five cases of wine, three boxes of books, my posh frock and a multitude of snacks up to the third floor in the tiny customer lift, which must have presented quite an unusual spectacle for the people browsing around the ground floor. As is the custom with Cambridge folk, no one took a blind bit of notice! At least the wine delivery man caught on to our excitement, and left with a promise to buy Dory’s Avengers when it’s translated into Polish – hint hint, Book Guild

Rosie, the Waterstones events manager and enthusiastic supporter of my book launch, met us on the third floor where, despite being understaffed, the lovely Waterstones people had managed to clear my area of the usual bargain books. This left us with nothing to do other than plate up (and sample) the snacks, open (and sample) some of the wine, and, in my case at least, scurry around getting ludicrously excited – which was fully to be expected. After all, it’s not every day that one’s dream comes true.

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Alison Jack – Published Author, and ‘Silly Face of the Year’ winner 2013.

Best Day EVER Part Two – Coming soon.

Cloud Nine!

Well, I’m starting to come down from cloud nine following the wonderful Dory’s Avengers book launch last Thursday. Wow! Even my vivid imagination was unable to come up with anything as fabulous as the reality. I am intending to write a proper blog soon, but at the moment it’s all I can do to stop beaming long enough to write anything at all.

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Thank you to everyone who made Thursday 29 August 2013 the best day of my life so far. Thank you to everyone who came along, bought a copy of Dory’s and shared the evening with me. Thank you to everyone who took photos and helped out supplying my guests with refreshments and copies of Dory’s Avengers to purchase. Thank you for all the support from followers on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and, of course, right here on An Author’s View.

Thank you all a million times. You’re the best!

DORY’S AVENGERS is available for purchase in hardback and on e-readers.

Amazon UK   Amazon USA   Amazon Canada   Nook UK   Nook USA

Dory’s Soundtrack Song of the Day: What A Beautiful Day – The Levellers

Thursday 29 August

‘What a beautiful day, hey-hey,

What a beautiful day,

And nothing is impossible in my own powerful way.’

Or, as I’ve been known to sing:

‘Nothing is impossible in my improbable way.’

Either set of lyrics will do. What a beautiful day indeed, for today my dream DorysAvengers Cover Artcomes true. Dory’s Avengers, my debut novel, my beautiful book, is published. The sun is shining, the Champagne is on ice and I’m about ready to burst with excitement! If you’re in Cambridge this evening and would like to pop along to Waterstones at 6pm I would be delighted to welcome you to my book launch. Otherwise, thank you for following An Authors View, and I hope you have enjoyed Dory’s Soundtrack this week. There are plenty more blogs yet to come. Today is merely the start of something wonderful.

What A Beautiful Day – The Levellers