Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I chose to write this book for young adults because I thought it might be a way for younger readers to get into Shakespeare´s world, especially kids at high school who might have to study Macbeth or one of Shakespeare´s plays. I was lucky enough to have a great teacher who brought the play alive and I wanted to give my readers a bit of the passion that my teacher gave me.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer and how does that affect your writing?
I´m a part-time writer. I teach English here in Spain, where I live, but I think having a “real” job is not a bad idea for a writer for two reasons. One is that you interact with people not connected with books or the literary world. The second is that having to go out to work, and/or raise kids like I do, means the time you have is precious. You don´t have enough of it to sit staring at a blank screen. When I´m not teaching, most of my time is spent planning what I´m going to write that night or the following morning, or whenever my next writing window is. People often ask me, “How do you find the time to write?” and my answer is – I don´t watch TV for the sake of it, I don´t read boring stuff on the internet and I don´t waste my free time. I wrote The Invisible Hand in my mother-in law´s kitchen between about 9.30 and 12pm every night (our own kitchen was being reformed). Everyone else was next door watching TV and I was sitting in the kitchen typing up the book.
What are some day jobs you have held?
I´ve worked in the toy department of a big retail shop: that was great in the sense that I got to meet Barbie and Action Man. The warehouse was across the road, one of the oldest buildings in town, and it´s probably the only place I´ve ever been which I can genuinely say was haunted – or creepy, at least. Someone had apparently hung themselves from the rafters of the upstairs room and when I was dared to go up there I had the evilest, strangest sensation on the stairs at the top and turned around. Icy cold malevolence that I didn´t fancy messing with.
I´ve sold coats and tourist knick-knacks in Marble Arch in London, I´ve worked in a comic shop in Covent Garden, I´ve worked as a waiter and short order cook in Galway in Ireland, and as a dishwasher there too. I´ve looked after kids in France and run a small hole in the wall restaurant there. I was a trainee journalist for a while in London, publishing front page articles in Geriatrics Weekly, for example. Sometime during my wandering around the world in my twenties I managed to get a teaching certificate and since then I´ve taught English in various places like Thailand, Germany and now Spain.
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
The Invisible Hand is a book about a boy called Sam who goes to a boarding school in England. One morning Sam wakes up and finds himself in medieval Scotland and there he meets a girl called Leana. He begins to flit between the school and Scotland and Leana also travels back and forth through time. They realize they are in Macbeth´s world – Sam is studying the play at school – and begin to get wrapped up in events in the play. The book is a love story and an adventure. It would appeal to teenage readers who love books: all the characters in the story are based on fictional characters or writers, for example. I think it´s a nice little read. It was fun to write and I think it´s fun to read.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing this book?
As I said, I´d fallen in love with Macbeth as a school student and had always wanted to go back to that world of witches, prophecies, and questions of fate and destiny. I love the idea that Macbeth cannot be killed by any of woman born and that until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill, where his castle is, he will not be beaten – and then how these things come to pass. I also love the ideas of stories within stories – plays that take place during plays, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead – and, having been to a boarding school, I´d always wanted to write about that too. This book was a chance to combine all of those things.
Who is your favorite fictional character and why?
A few. I´ve just finished reading I, Claudius, and Caligula in that is something else: deliciously malicious and depraved. Henry Chinaski is good fun from time to time. DH Lawrence books are interesting because Lawrence is usually in them and he always entertains me, the way that he presents himself. Enid Blyton was great at characters, I think. I felt like I knew all of the Secret Seven (way better than the Famous Five). Eça de Queiroz is also masterful at creating psychological portraits. Holden Caulfield is great. Jem, Scout, Atticus, Boo Radley, Tom Robinson: you get a feeling of them. Good writers beget good characters.
What one person from history would you like to meet and why?
There´s no one person. Perhaps to talk to, my maternal grandfather, a Dutchman who was tortured by the Nazis and died when my mother was young. People say I´m like him and it would be interesting to meet him and have a chat.
If we´re talking about famous historical figures, I think it would be more events I´d like to witness. The Sermon on the Mount would be interesting to hear live (if I could magically understand Aramaic of course).
Getting drunk in Hamburg down at the Kaiserkeller and watching the Beatles stomp through an all-night set would be a laugh.
I´d also like to have a chat with Charles Joughlin, who was the chief baker on the Titanic. He survived the sinking, saying he climbed over the rail at the back of the boat and went down with it, slipping off into the waves and barely wetting his hair. He was from the same town as me and I´d imagine a few beers with him would be entertaining. I´d also love to go right back into prehistory and observe the ancient peoples who built the dolmens in Europe, find out what they were all about.
What do you like to read in your free time?
A bit of everything. I love biographies and history books. If I read fiction I´ll read anything, really, although I like something with a voice and personality. I don´t like flowery writing or self-consciously clever or pretentious stuff.
If there was one thing you could do to change the world, what would it be?
There are a lot of things I´d change. Environmental issues: plastic, pollution in general, our basic disregard for the earth and nature. The way the world works also niggles me: supra-national organizations, the importance of money and the making and hoarding of it, inequality among the peoples of the world, media manipulation of public opinion. All that bothers me and in a perfect world I´d change it but if there was one event I´d like to see happen before I die it would be some form of contact with alien life, preferably sentient alien life. I really think that just might wake people up, show them once and for all that we are more similar than we are different, that we are all brothers and sisters here – and let sink in what that actually means. Suddenly we really would be “us” and they would be “them.” I think it would be a consciousness-changing event and it might just save us.
How can you learn more about James and his work?