Monday, 3 December 2012

Interrogating BJ Burton

Next up is BJ Burton, the only expert who writes about the tiny people who live on Dartmoor.

How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?

This is a beautiful world and we are the only species on the planet that is equipped to appreciate that beauty. I’d like to blatantly confront those elements of the human race whose selfish, greedy actions damage our world, but if a novel becomes a polemic no one will read it. I have to be a lot more subtle, create characters that readers will really care about, and show how they are affected by what is going on.

What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in?

My two novels have to have the ‘fantasy’ tag attached but, despite the wide range of material in that genre, I’m not sure that they actually sit in there very comfortably. I can honestly say that they are unlike any other book I’ve ever read. I enjoy writing them because it’s fun to create normal, likeable characters and then watch how they react when really strange things start to happen.

Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them?

If only I could be that organised! Everything is in my head. I work on the assumption that if I forget something, it probably wasn’t worth remembering.

How do you manage plot bunnies (ideas that invade your mind that aren’t usually helpful to the story you’re writing but breed

I’m not in any hurry to finish a book. It’s four years since my second book was published in paperback, although both have since been published as ebooks. I haven’t been totally idle in the meantime as I’ve been editing for other authors, but it’s the creative process that is enjoyable and I love the plot bunnies. I frequently catch myself leaning on my spade, making no progress with the gardening, while my imagination takes a plot off in all sorts of insane directions. I can keep myself entertained for hours, but eventually the lunacy is filtered out and the book stays on course.

How much of you is in your characters?

A lot. In ‘Dartmoor…The Saving’, Bob Johnson, who gives up his job as a chartered accountant to become a Dartmoor Ranger, has my attitudes, my sense of humour and my sense of bewilderment at what goes on around me. There’s also a lot of me in the central character of my new novel which should be out in March.

Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?

Bearing in mind what I’ve just said, I’m sure Cheryl doesn’t doubt for a moment that she is married to my characters.

What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?

I read and enjoy all sorts of books. Historical fiction from the likes of Patrick Cornwell and C J Sansom provide escapist entertainment. I love the humour of ‘Pickwick Papers’, ‘Diary of a Nobody’ and the works of P G Wodehouse – it’s a warm, gentle style that no one seems to write anymore. If it’s set in the current day then I like a book that gives me a jolt and makes me take a fresh look at some aspect of life.

What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor?

I do a lot of research to try to ensure that there are no inaccuracies to irritate the reader and I unashamedly go for the heartstrings. If I can make readers laugh and cry they will remember the book. I try to burn the characters into their memories. When they finish the last page I don’t want them simply reaching out for their next book, I want them sitting there, lost in thought – so I give them a powerful ending.

How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?

So far it hasn’t happened. The thought of taking delivery of thousands of printed copies, and then finding typos, was so horrifying that I sweated blood over the typescripts. I may have removed all the typos (or maybe I haven’t and no one has troubled to point them out), but I was taken to task by crime writer Rebecca Tope because I’d slipped into colloquial usage and occasionally used ‘sat’ instead of ‘sitting’. I know what she means; it’s the sort of thing that makes me cringe, but at least with ebooks mistakes are easily corrected and I’ll be pleased that a reader cares enough about the book to want it made perfect.

What do you like most about visiting KUF/forums?

It’s absolutely fascinating. In some ways it’s like other bookie forums with readers chatting about books ( how the hell does Joo find time to read and review so many?), but it’s unique in the way that the author members operate a mutual help society addressing each other’s anxieties and problems. I suspect that anyone visiting the forum purely as a reader may get the impression that they’ve stumbled into a literary bedlam – but long may it last.

What is on your near horizon?

I suppose I should be terribly earnest and say my next book – but it wouldn’t be true. The only thing I’m thinking about is Christmas. I have never lost my child-like enthusiasm for it. The carol concerts, the tree, the presents beneath, the decorations, the family gathering, all out for the quick pub crawl on Christmas morning and then back for dinner with everyone helping out – I love it. And this year I get to take my three-year-old granddaughter to her first panto! I can’t wait.

Where can we find you for more information?

I have a website, where I post the occasional blog. Cheryl and I run Moorhen Publishing, as a retirement hobby, with its own site
If anyone fancies a chat about anything, please email me at

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