I began writing short pieces some time ago, but they were fragments of stories and parts of characters. It wasn’t until I reached a crisis in my career and life that the writing process crystallised and ideas became paragraphs and chapters.
I suppose I am the original Sick Teacher, although I have nothing on my principal character Aileen Byrne. As a devoted career teacher myself I have experienced the rollercoaster that working in a State run school in the UK can be.
After fifteen years I had climbed up the greasy pole to the point where I thought that I could really begin to put my pedagogy into practise. However, I let my principles and my pride stand in the way of corporate pragmatism and slipped straight back down.
Serious two or three thousand word writing days began as a form of cathartic therapy. A process whereby I could give voice to all my ideas. All my pent up, controlled, constrained and irrepressible creativity erupted from me. Long years of ‘towing the line’ and following directions; sparking creativity in others by repressing it in myself.
To help control it I took long walks with my Working Cocker Spaniel, Jet. Together, she and I walked for miles every day. I allowed my feet to just follow the path, my mind emptying of worry, travelling along country paths on autopilot as she sniffed and chased pigeons and squirrels.
I suppose I entered a meditative state. The characters began to exist without my conscious direction and the plot revealed itself before me as I walked. Characters began to explain how they felt and why they were behaving as they were. At one point, I imagined them arguing about a particular plot device as Aileen argued a Head Teacher would never behave in such a manner in public. Needless to say, she made her point well and the plot was altered accordingly.
Once I returned home with a tired, and often muddy and soggy dog, I would set myself up at the kitchen table, dog lying across my feet, my laptop open and try to capture the action that had occurred that morning. Sometimes I could instantly recall everything; sometimes my memory was not quite up to the task. However, I always got there in the end.
Some days I hit a block, not sure how to get from the point of the story that I was at, to where I wanted it to be next. I found that the only way through this was to walk and then write – no matter what. Even if it was a day where fifty or a hundred words were hard fought for. The only way to get to where you want to be is to write through it. I had to just keep writing, deleting, writing, deleting, writing and so on, until it just felt right.
Writing has become a part of my life now. I couldn’t give it up. My career needs to fit around my writing as I have become a writer who is also a teacher, rather than the other way round. I have begun to write my second novel, the characters have begun to take shape and they have begun acting through the plot. I am excited to find out what happens.
You can check out James’ work for yourself on Amazon.