The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Malcolm Fawbert and Asa Jones

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Malcolm Fawbert and Asa Jones

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Summary: Malcolm Fawbert has just published his first children’s book whilst under the name of Asa Jones he’s brought out his first novel for adults. We couldn’t resist the opportunity to get both his alter egos into one room and ask them a few questions!
Date: 24 January 2011
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Malcolm Fawbert has just published his first children's book whilst under the name of Asa Jones he's brought out his first novel for adults. We couldn't resist the opportunity to get both his alter egos into one room and ask them a few questions!

  • Bookbag: I’d like you both to close your eyes and imagine your readers. Who do you see?

Malcolm Fawbert/Asa Jones: For my children's story, it's a cosy bedroom. I imagine a young boy or girl curled up in bed, with either their Mum, Dad, Grandad or Grandma. It's a moment of love and caring, one of life's mushy moments. It could be anywhere in the world, maybe America, or Finland, maybe a house just around the corner from me, anywhere. Because of me, two people are sharing a tender private moment with my story. They are looking at my pictures and pointing. I'll never know them.

For my novel, well ::smile:: what a difference! Somebody who is getting in touch with their spiritual side is sat, either in bed, or on a chair by a fire. It's a solitary moment. They want to delve, but at this point in their life they dare not. They are reading my detailed account of a reading, lapping it up. Up above them, in the shadows, someone is watching, and smiling, and hoping they go deeper. Oh my! Where did that come from? The watcher has just turned to me, smiled, and said 'Thank you'. Then the reader gets to one of my sexier parts, I'd better not say what image drifts in here...

  • BB: Indeed! (Moves on quickly...) The books are very different, even taking into account one is for adults and one for children. What inspired each of them?

MF/AJ: Life inspired them.

Not many Dads could give more into being a Dad than me, I reckon. I have loved it, and now with my Grandchildren it is here again. I love imaginative play and some of my future stories will be on this theme. I have always loved a game where I make tunnels and rescue kids and dolls, or whatever. Imagine a child on a school trip using this experience to be saved. That's one story I have buzzing around in my head, what pictures there are to paint there! So there you have it, the stories I paint and tell are a way of preserving special moments of play or storytelling I had with my own children.

Inspiration...what a word, where does inspiration come from? You don't even have time to think. One night many years ago my daughter looked up at me from her bed. I asked what story she'd like. She looked around the bedroom humming, and her eyes stopped on a bottle. Every year when we went on holiday we used to put some sand in, every beach is a different colour. I used to write on the bottle in gold, the year and place. 'Tell me a story about a bottle Dad.'

So I did. It popped out of my head with hardly a pause. Had my mum told it me as a child? I don't think so. It just popped up from the place where inspiration lives, as quick and easy as this...POP!

In a nutshell, life inspired me via my daughter, and my son of course. I have just laughed out loud. I took my son and daughter up on the moors with bows and arrows we had made. We had been to see a stone circle, and they were being hunted by a savage beast of a warrior (me!). I jumped over a low wall because I heard a noise on the other side of it, a fearful cry coming from my mouth, ready to slay my prey. The poor old lady who was painting must still be shaking....chuckle.

Now then, what inspired my novel.

Life has inspired me, people I have met, films I have seen, mistakes I have seen people make. Personal things, religious beliefs, coping with sadness, feeling guilt when I know I should have helped someone I didn't. Feelings like love, lust, happiness, fear. All these things, and many more. But I think getting older and trying to figure out life's big questions. Why am I here, what is it all about? Then the usual things...are there ghosts? What happens when you are dead, things like that. Very often in my life answers to questions have just popped up, usually with a more tantalising question in tow. This popping up intrigued me. It almost became a personal thing, you know, like a guardian angel or something. The answers and 'signs' felt as if they came from the same place, every time. I gave him a name, the man who answered, I called him Sean. So I bet you never had an answer like this ::grin:: Sean inspired me most.

  • BB:The novel includes things like Tarot, Runes, and I Ching, Is this a real life interest?

MF/AJ: Yes.

Better pour another cup of coffee luv, this could keep me going for days. But I will be as brief as I can.

BB: Good plan!

sips coffee:: ...  ::sigh:: I went looking for Sean. Wherever inspiration comes from, so does Sean. Conscience has it's own voice, most of it mine. Thought is definitely mine. Most of the inner voices everybody has are very much made up of their own voice. I am not hearing voices like a man in an institution, I don't want people thinking I'm a mad man. All I am saying, is that somewhere deep down is a voice which hand on heart I cannot say is all me.

In my research I went to see a schizophrenic. The poor man, how scary that must be. I am delighted to say that Sean is not like his voice, but a little fear arose, maybe if ever I got really depressed (which I never get) he could turn into one.

I don't want to ramble, so to keep the story short, I went to spiritual classes, seances, tranfigurations, churches of many denominations, meditation classes, oooh I went to alsorts of places.

My search for Sean went on for years, and eventually, I saw him, from the back, sat near a prayer flag. I was very pleased. As a result, keeping the tale concise, I delved, and did readings for people. Quite well as it happens. But... I am also a Christian, basically, I went to a Methodist Church in my younger years, and I felt guilt at what I was doing, it seemed a bit wrong. Having said this, the nicest, most at peace people I have ever met are the spiritualist people I met at meditation classes.

Over the few years I did readings I saw many things. Some strange ones, especially a certain tree.

But these which follow ::sighs again:: , well just imagine these!!

Hand on heart and as true as the nose on my face.

I saw a young girl in a reading, just stood behind the woman I was reading for. I told the woman not to be scared, and said what I saw over her shoulder. The woman told me she had lost a baby, we came to the conclusion the baby had grown in spirit, and had come to say hello. Maybe a silly thing to say, but to me and that woman, it is not silly.

Then after a few more readings, I foretold a suicide. To be frank, this scared me, what was I doing? The readings were getting better, the china-man I saw was weird. Could something get me? daft things came into my mind really, but life at this time seemed hectic and not as settled as it should. So, I stopped.

Just like when I stopped smoking...bam, that was it, time to stop. If ever I felt I had to do another reading I would, but it would have to be special.

I then had this feeling of guilt worse than the other feeling of guilt!

People asked for readings and things. I said no. I had a chill of a feeling, a feeling that a) Sean was disappointed in me, and b) Somebody or something was a bit angry with me.

I soon found the answer. I can only think that the answer came from ... yep, you got it! Sean.

He said that my purpose in all this is to guide somebody, somebody with much more talent than me in these things, to them. So, I put all life's experiences together and made a story up. So far I am only a third of the way. I strongly believe that somebody who will read, my novel(s) will try the path it shows. And reach dizzy heights. I wonder if his name is Mike Reeves? I have no idea where the name come from, I had a pal called Mike Rushton, maybe it was a corruption of his name.

I am not gifted. I just looked for answers, maybe more than most do, and got them. I was given a wonderful story to write, though.

I think of myself as a medium in a way. Not a psychic medium, just a medium. A medium is no more than a tool. I can't paint a picture without a paintbrush. I am no more than that, a link between an artist's mind and the paper, a useful tool. I think I served my user well and have been rewarded with a lovely hobby. But I know I am no more than that, just a device for them to use for a while, and I feel I am left in a box, maybe to be used again one day.

A final note. I am glad I dabbled. I am more glad I stopped.

But do you know, writing this has brought it all back, the feeling of wonderment, and temptation.

It's five minutes later now, the feeling has gone. I'm glad it has. I am back in my box.

  • BB: Where and how do you write?

MF/AJ: Now that my children have flown the nest, we have converted my daughter's bedroom into a study, and my son's bedroom into a playroom for the grandchildren to play. The study is my sanctuary. It is filled with everything I love and is a wonderful place to both paint and write.

As for the methodology.

For my children's stories, because they are shorter, it's just a matter of sitting down and writing what has been developing in my head. I am always thinking. The stories are constantly tweaked. So it's quite easy to write them. After the initial writing I go through it and fit pictures to the story, with rough sketches, this very often affects the text a little. So I then go through it all again making one fit the other. The pictures just pop into my mind and are usually not very different from the first image I see.

As regards to my novel(s). The first thing is to write a synopsis, to give a basic structure and a story line. I'd guess at this only being three to four sides of a4. I then go through it making notes with little arrows if I think a chapter or section should be moved back or forward. It's a matter of building my characters then. I make notes of their age, and what would have influenced their youth and childhood. I make notes of their appearances and any funny / strange habits, even voices. The funny thing with characters is that the next stage is just to put the sheet of each one in a drawer, and I am sure they talk amongst themselves. This is because a week or so later when get them back out, they seem to have grown in stature and little links between them spring out. I then just think and think, with a note pad and pencil always with me. It's back to the original synopsis then, to add all my little notes and thoughts.

By this time I have a file of about 20 pages, and it's off I go! I start at the beginning and write away. It all goes into a drawer for a while then, because my initial writing will have thrown up many questions and they need researching. I love this bit, it's books on magic, visits to meditation classes, talks with pals over a pint or three. All the time I make more notes.

Then it's the assembly line where all this is assembled. I go from start to finish maybe five times, and with a hard copy printed off, I make many more notes.

After a few weeks I go back to the computer and adjust it all as meticulously as I can, and bob's your uncle, something approaching the finished item is there.

The final stage is a bit of magic. I go through it all slowly, putting sound and flowery bits in. Someone just doesn't sit in a chair. He now sits in a comfortable leather one which creaks. An arm just doesn't switch a lamp on, a bracelet will rattle on the rim. They don't sit and listen to music, I pick a certain piece of music to fit the character, and so on.

  • BB: Do you ever find that one person starts to intrude on the other’s writing, or do you concentrate on one author and let the other have the day off?

MF/AJ: I feel very different when I write one or the other, and Asa never interferes with Malcolm. I'd guess that most people would like 'Malcolm'. I have a feeling that if someone met me as Asa, they could be a little intimidated. In real life Malcolm is Malcolm, he is me. Asa lives deep within me and lives in the study.

No, they never meet, and I don't think anyone has ever met Asa. He's different. He's sat very close behind me right now, I can almost feel his breath on my neck.

  • BB: Is writing your day job? If it isn’t do you wish it was?

MF/AJ: NO it isn't my day job. I do real work three days a week. I have reached an age where I have been able to cut down on the real stuff. Two days a week I concentrate on my art, as well as illustrations I do pictures for people. In these two days I attend to my writing, and a little craft stall I have in an old mill. Then there is my family and a lovely boxer dog called buster. Me and Buster are very much in love and share many tender moments ::sigh:: he says hello...WOOF!

Do I wish it was? Not really. I would like to get rid of the proper stuff, which won't be for that long anyway. I think then my life shared between the things above and my hobbies of walking and antiquities would give me a very nice life. I don't expect to make much money from writing, but a bit wouldn't go amiss!

We'll talk more soon, I'll give you a call and maybe we'll make it an afternoon coffeee with scones next.

  • BB: There are some excellent illustrations for Mrs Stopper’s Bottle. Which came first – the vision of the buildings and places or the story?

MF/AJ: I'll have to close my eyes and think a bit, hold on.

I think the story and the pictures come to my mind together. As I jot it down I can see it all, and the final pictures don't look that much different. It's the same with my novel, I can see it all, a bit like you see a dream. I even painted a few pictures of the novel for myself to keep. I have this image of two characters in my novel, Sean and Mike sitting by a moonlit lake discucssing plans, I will have to paint that. Sorry, back to the question. Once my children's stories are written, I look at the rough sketches I do and then paint the picture, it develops as I draw.

  • BB: What are you reading at the moment? Is it any good and would you recommend it?

MF/AJ: I am reading The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and yes I would recommend it. It's not the best book I have ever read, but it is certainly worth finishing.

  • BB: If you could both have one wish, what would it be?

MF/AJ: They'd wish for another ten wishes, then what fun life would be!

Seriously. Malcolm would wish for his books to sell plenty and get lots of lovely feedback from readers. Asa would want to have his book made into a film and be an international man of mystery, 'who is this wonderful elusive Asa Jones?'

  • 'BB: What’s next for Malcolm Fawbert and Asa Jones?

MF/AJ: Malcolm Fawbert is slowly winding down what I call 'real work'. He hopes to spend more time writing and painting. My paintings are selling quite happily, I do local scenes, portraits etc. I have written and illustrated the next book in the series ~ 'Tales From Thimble Hall', ~ it is all about a pair of magic clothes pegs handed down through generations to stop it raining on wash day. All goes well until the Mum in the story goes out with a friend and leaves Dad to hang the washing out! Strategic published the first book in the series for free, for which I am eternally grateful, it is very satisfying to know they saw enough in it to spend money on me. It all depends on sales figures now. They seem happy with me, and are very supportive and energetic. It was presented at Beiing Book Show last year, and they say that China liked it, and a deal is on the cards... I will believe it when I see it. You get to a certain age and take nothing for granted. It was lovely to see it in Chinese though! This year it is a 'book in booth' at Bologna in Italy, for a children's book show. I cannot sing Strategic's praises high enough really, they nurture authors, and make you feel wanted. They seem to want me to write more and I hope this next one will be out later this year. I have written the third, about a caterpillar who wants to fly. I have my next after that mapped out, so lets see eh? One exciting thing is that Thimble Hall ( a real place in Derbyshire) should open as a tourist attraction soon. They say they will have my original art on display and of course sell my books.

Asa Jones is slowly writing number two in the series. He will finish the story, its a trilogy. Immense pleasure is gained from this, it dribbles all over him, I love the story! He hopes they get published. Eloquent Books say they will keep it in print for up to 10 year. Again it all depends on book sale figures. No pressure then!! But Asa has made a decision, which is this. Even if the novel only ended up with a handful of readers (it's only sold about a 100, it's early days yet) they will find out what happens to Mike Reeves. The story will be finished, even if it ends up on a web site for free!

The signs just now seem to be saying Malcolm will have most success, but the signs are like a swinging pendulum, tomorrow they might say Asa!

All I know is that God willing I will write and illustrate five or six children's books, and finish my trilogy. For one reason... I like writing and painting!

I would just like to finish off by saying to anyone chasing the same dream as me. Don't expect to get rich. Do expect a lot of pleasurable work. Sooner or later you will realise that you are writing and painting just for the love of it. When that sinks in, a calmness descends upon you, and life becomes lovely. At the back of my mind I will always have the hope that one day, a little snowflake will fall in the right place at the right time for me. But as Asa might say... he turns to look at you with an intense, unblinking stare. You feel uneasy, and don't want to look back for too long. His mouth opens slowly, and he whispers " if it never falls in the right place, let the little bastard land in the wrong one and fucking melt, you'll still be a published author."

  • BB: And we wish you both all the luck in the world in chasing your dreams.

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