12 October, 2016

#Interview with Clive Johnson, #Author of Arabian Nights & Arabian Nights

About the Author:
Clive Johnson is a student and follower of the perennial tradition, the belief that many myths, fairy stories and faith traditions point to common truths at their heart. Clive is a storyteller, as well as being a teacher, an interfaith minister and a retreat host. He has had a lifelong interest in the power of myth and the oral tradition of story telling. Being autistic, a would-be mystic and not approaching his reflections from an academic standpoint, he approaches his writing with an open heart and a keen curiosity. He has no fixed home, pursuing a nomadic lifestyle that allows him to follow his heart. This is his seventh book.

Previous works: Fairy Stories & Fairy Stories/Traditional tales for children, Contemporary tales for adults (fiction), Picturing God (spirituality), Managing Coaching at Work (business/with Jackie Keddy), Managing Conflict at Work (business/with Jackie Keddy), The Complete Guide to Managing People (business), The Complete Guide to Visioning (self development).

Contact the Author:
Blog * Facebook * Twitter

Interview with the Author:

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?
I’m actually quite new to writing professionally. My first books, published by a mainstream publisher 5 or 6 years ago, were business titles, and then I continued with a couple of self-development titles, before turning to fiction only a year ago. I’d long wanted to write short stories, but for some reason, only felt the inspiration to actually put pen to paper these few months back.
My first foray into this arena was to re-tell classical fairy tales, alongside modern tales that aim to maintain the same magic and messages. I’ve greatly enjoyed the research for these stories, and this continued with Arabian Nights & Arabian Nights.
I love storytelling, and have been fortunate to take part in a number of wonderful storytelling events. The oral tradition of storytelling is sadly not as strong as it once was, but I think the skills of an author are not too different from the great storytellers who would often draw a crowd in a busy market square – creating magic is their special skill, and with every telling of a story, something new and wonderful will always emerge from what they say.

What inspires you to write?
I think that my great passion is stories that have meaning relevant to our everyday lives. I’m fascinated by mythology, mysticism, and fairy stories. These seem to dip into the human psyche, and have many levels of meaning that might often get lost on a child.
My inspiration is therefore probably rooted in my own thirst for discovery and spiritual meaning. Stories energize me, stir my imagination, and seem to take on a voice of their own as they start to form on paper.
In the same way, the characters that I write about are ones whose lives I feel I have the privilege of peering into. Some may take some characteristics from people I’ve known, but they are all unique and – for me at least – real.

How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
I’ve had a longstanding fascination in the stories from the Nights, and wanted to revisit some of them from the point of view of an adult. This also gave me an opportunity to discover interpretations of some familiar stories–like the Sinbad adventures–and to come across some lesser known tales as well.
After researching the suggested meanings of the classical tales, I sit with what I’ve read and allow thoughts about possible modern-day contexts to emerge. I like to mix different themes for the stories, and set them in different countries and contexts. This also involves research and imagination.
A story will then emerge, often taking on a life of its own! Some of the words that end up on paper are definitely not ones that seem to come exclusively from me. This is a mystical and magical process, which I don’t fully understand–but as someone who believes in a greater being(s), I’m sure that they have a hand in it!

Tell us about your writing process.
I tend to write in what might be seen as a slightly unusual way. Firstly, I spend usually many weeks researching the subject areas that I want to write about. I'm very fortunate to live not too away from and able to use the British Library in London, where I can lay myself where I can lay my hands on a wide variety of materials, and go where my reading takes me.
I like to focus this activity as much as possible, absorbing as much as I can in a relatively short period of time, setting my mind on what I've learned.
The next stage is the writing itself. In retelling a familiar tale, I will first read through some versions of the story. I will then just write the story as I imagine it. This involves speaking aloud, which I find gets me into the feeling of telling a story, as though I had a group of willing listeners around me. I use voice dictation software for this, and then come back to the text this produces to edit it on my laptop, or printing this off for marking-up using pen and paper.
I next reflect on what the story means, referring back to my research notes. This involves allowing time for ideas to emerge. I then start to consider some scenarios in modern life that might capture the messages found in the original tales. This is when a parallel story can start to come alive.
I write the modern stories in the same way as the original tales – making use of dictation software. While I’ve often sketched out I an outline of the plot, and have visualized the characters involved, it's true to say that most stories take on a life of their own – and I find the voice of the central character coming through in ways that I might not earlier have imagined.
This is one of the great joys of storytelling – as a writer, I am involved in a magical creation process, but it doesn't seem that I'm always the one that fires all the shots!

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
I would have to say that thinking about your target readers right from the start of your writing process is most important. Having some idea of what will interest them, what might challenge them, and hold their interest, can shape not only the stories you tell, but how you will reach out to them when the time comes to tell the world about your book. Marketing isn’t my strong point – but it’s an essential part of connecting with, getting known by, and interacting with your audience. I want my books to be read and enjoyed, and I want feedback that might encourage me and help me improve as an author. Listening to others really makes a difference, even if I’m always apprehensive before reading an honest review!

If you were to be stranded on the famous deserted island, what three things would you carry?
Of course a reading device would have to be among them (I’m a Kindle user), but as for the other two – that would take some real thinking! I think that an atlas of the World might be good to have, if only to remind me that I’m not really alone, while life in an island might seem that way.  Probably a nice woolly rug would be good to have too, just in case I have to face some chilly nights!

How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?
I often house-sit for folks who are taking a holiday or other break, usually involving looking after their pets or other animals. This means that I get to see different places, and often can ‘break away’ to read and write. I spend far too much time in coffee bars, but other than reading, being with family and friends, horse riding, and walking are my favourite activities.

Tell us three fun facts about yourself.
Oh my goodness, this is hard!
- I suppose that being accident prone, I could mention one or two incidents that have gotten me into trouble! One that comes to mind is when I was younger and on holiday with my parents, I knocked into a stand of key fobs, each of which had a person’s name on it, arranged in alphabetic order. The whole thing came crashing to the floor of what was a busy shop! My mother ordered me to get out of the shop, lest I cause any more trouble, but I don’t think that she’s ever properly forgot that incident!
- I also remember once being taken on a tour of the students’ quarters at a training hospital in London, before being led into an interview for a job among the medical staff. I was totally puzzled why I was being quizzed on a subject I knew nothing about, when I’d expected a brief appointment with a consultant for a medical condition that I had at the time. It turned out that there were two Mr. Johnson’s in the reception waiting room. I never found out what happened to the other poor chap!
- Then there was the time while on a camping trip, I cycled across the field where I was camping in the dark of night, desperate for the WC. I hadn’t noticed that there was a ditch in my path. In an instant, my front wheel got caught in the rut, causing me to go flying over the handle-bars, and I landed in a muddy puddle! I was soon able to clean up, but my bike was not in a very fit state to ride the next morning.

What do you have in store next for your readers?
I’ve been researching some of the interpretations of a number of the Greek myths. I’m toying with the idea of retelling some of these as modern-day stories, in much the same vein as Arabian Nights & Arabian Nights. The idea is at a fairly early stage at the moment, though my interest in these timeless tales is definitely on a high!

About the Book:
Classic tales from the Arabian Nights retold alongside modern interpretations. 

Magic carpets and flying horses, caverns glittering with gold, unexpected plotlines following the fortunes of heroes and villains–who cannot fail to be enchanted by the magic and wonder of the tales of the One Thousand and One Nights? 

This most celebrated collections of tales feature shape-shifting and miraculous transportation across continents, powerful jinn who rise like smoke from simple vessels, dreams that delve into the secrets of the subconscious, and gigantic, man-carrying birds.

The backdrop for the tales moves from barren deserts to spectacular cities, from the edge of the world to the inner sanctuaries of mighty rulers. Kings and paupers, benevolent sages and devious magicians, worthy princesses and unscrupulous harlots–all play their part in teaching important truths and providing lively entertainment. 

This innovative book offers retellings of a selection of tales that have captured the imaginations of countless people over many centuries. Accompanying each is a short story set in a contemporary context, which reframes the messages and teachings of the original, specifically written for an adult audience. 

Here are stories of betrayal and murder, exploitation and sibling rivalry, soul-searching and discovery. The modern parallel tales swap the busy alleyways of old Baghdad for the horror of Saddam's prisons, move from following caravans sweeping across the Sahara to modern day pilgrims trekking along the Caminos of northern Spain, and lift Aladdin out of his cave to unwittingly face Triad gangsters and antiques smugglers. 

Wayward Baptist ministers, adulterous accountants, and eco-warrior backpackers follow in the footsteps of the no-less colourful characters than those that feature in the original tales. 

Each pair of stories is accompanied by a commentary on how they might be interpreted. The result is a gripping collection of tales that may continue to bring the mystery and magic of the Nights to life, as well as provoking fresh thought and feeling for adult readers. Prepare to be surprised, uplifted and–in the spirit of the original Arabian Nights Entertainments–enthralled.

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