I’ve written about all sorts of topics since childhood but stories have always been my main preoccupation. I started with short ones and eventually had several published in story magazines. These were on a variety of themes and gradually led me to wonder about attempting a full length novel.
Then I wrote three ‘practice novels’ in the 1990s and one almost made it to publication. However, the demands of earning a living became ever more invasive and little constructive work was done for a few years.
After partial retirement I re-wrote the novel I now call Athlingwold and this was eventually published as a ebook in 2017. I’m currently thinking about rewriting one of those earlier novels as well as looking at some new projects.
I experienced frustration when I had insufficient time to write, not only because I had all sorts of things I’d like to explore, but also because I really wanted to develop a more flexible and informal style. That would be in direct contrast to the formal one I used every day as a practising lawyer. In fact, I often wonder if the desire to write is fuelled to some extent by the desire for freedom of expression and release of imagination.
What did I want to write about..?
People, always people, their ambitions, joys, conflicts, successes and failures. Also injustice, and things that need changing, better understanding and tolerance. But although these are serious matters I felt the need to add a light touch as well, using humour. Many arguments can be made more persuasive by that approach I think than by some others.
An added dimension arrived a few years ago when I studied part time for a diploma in English Local History at Oxford University. I now believe that history shows us how many social and other problems have frequently been around before, although in different guises. A study of the past can even show how to resolve them today. Or not, as the case may be.
This relates particularly to issues like intolerance, racism and women’s rights. I think it’s possible to write a novel drawing on both past and present in this search for resolution of conflict. That was what I sought to do in Athlingwold, allowing a forceful and modern woman to permit herself to become immersed in the example of a remote ancestor.
When she finally allowed herself to do that she drew strength from the experience, even when following a present-day version of the perilous path trodden so spectacularly by a predecessor all those years before her. All this she somehow manages to achieve while still finding time to enter upon a passionate affair with someone becoming increasingly significant in her suddenly turbulent life.
When not writing I enjoy reading a wide variety of authors. My tastes are catholic, but I particularly enjoy the following, to name but a few, and their works listed for the reasons given:-
D.H. Lawrence – Sons and Lovers, Women in Love – close ups of people making their way in a rapidly changing world, but still allowing the outlet of emotions.
George Elliott – The Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch- forced to write in the guise of a man she was still able to express controversial opinions within superb stories.
Rose Tremain – Sadler’s Birthday, The Gustav Sonata – deeply perceptive views of the lives of all kinds of people from a man dealing with old age to a successful hotelier in Switzerland.
Colm Toibin – Brooklyn, Nora Webster – vivid pictures of adversity and how to cope with it, whether in New York or Ireland.
Tracy Chevalier – The Girl with a Pearl Earring, At the Edge of the Orchard – the ability to tell brightly coloured tales of life in varied settings.
Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart – a chance to find out about a totally different way of life within the powerful traditions of rural Nigeria.
Patricia Highsmith, Carol, Deep Water –a truly individual and often unorthodox style which somehow seems to enhance the uncompromising approach to be found in her novels.
Graham Swift – Waterland, Mothering Sunday – All his work, in whatever setting, is difficult to put down. The effect of his imagination at work in the strange riverside world of Waterlandis particularly captivating.
Frederic Manning – Her Privates We – I believe this was his only book and if so he packed enough effort and detail into it for several. The descriptions of life at the front in World War One are realistic and often savage, but superb humour tempers the tragedy and futility of it all.
Helen Blackhurst – Swimming on Dry Land – a beautifully written story about life and loss in a decayed mining town in a remote part of Australia. I feel the heat, dust and slow burn mystery with every turn of page
These are some of my literary likes. I’m particularly influenced in my own writing by the examples of Lawrence, Elliott, Toibin and Swift. I’m glad I live in an age when so much literature is easily available in both traditional and modern forms.
Athlingwold by John Cragg is now available to download on your Kindle, via Amazon.
Have a read of John’s other blog post here.
Read Claire Steele’s review of Athlingwold here.