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Jim Younger Interview

Posted on 22 September 2006. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Jim Younger, a.k.a WW member JoPo, about his novels

Tell us something about your background.

I am the author, or perpetrator if you like, of High John the Conqueror, published by Jonathan Cape in May this year. Now that I have permission to write, I can get on with the umpteen other books I have lined up. There are a number of novels in various stages of development, and I’ve settled on the one I want to offer next. I’m not short of good ideas or scenarios. My hope is that I live long enough to complete them all. High John has had a fair-sized clutch of reviews for a first novel and has attracted some favourable comment - and a couple of begrudgers, as I always knew it would. All I need now is good sales so that the whole team scores - my family, my agent, and my publisher.

I started reading at the time of the Coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth (and if you’re reading this, your Majesty, I wish you many more years to reign over us). My father taught me to read with kindling sticks, when he was setting the fire. He made words for me on the hearth. He told me if I didn’t learn my letters, demons with pointed hoods and black robes would come to take me to Hell. Seems to have worked pretty well, because I’m still waiting. Readers of High John will recognise the iconography here.

My first reading was the Missal - that’s the book you take to Mass. In those days, it had Latin and English in it, so I picked up some Latin early on. The Gospels were an early hit with me - the story of Christ’s Passion and the Crucifixion in particular. I remember being taken to Wembley Stadium one Easter to see what I thought was the Crucifixion - the real thing. I thought it came round every year, like Father Christmas. I was heartbroken when the day finished with no-one nailed up on a cross. Religion has tremendous power, don’t you think?

How did you start writing?

I began writing at school. I had two ‘stories’, just pictures with captions. I would reproduce them on alternate days at infant school, in my ‘news’ book. Monday was a picture of a house, with the caption: “this is my house”. Tuesday would be a ship: “this is my ship”. Both works of fiction, because I didn’t have a house or a ship, just two rooms in a transpontine hovel. The teacher took me aside after a bit and said: listen Jim, could you not write something a bit different for a change? So the next day I doubled my output. I drew pictures of a bigger house and a purple ship with the legend: “this is my cousin’s house. this is my cousin’s ship”. So I learned early on the value of the plain, direct style -and the full stop. Looking back, I like to think I detect the beginnings of my ironic take on life.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

My favourite writers are legion, too many to name exhaustively. I spent juvenile years imitating H.G. Wells and Graham Greene. I value literature as entertainment. I wrote dreadful poetry in imitation of Eliot and Pound. I was very taken by Ezra Pound, and later the Beats and Dylan, whom I imitated in their turn. Then I took up music obsessively and stopped writing until I was in my thirties. Bit of a jump-cut there, eh? If I was to name names today I would say: James Joyce, Herman Melville, and among living novelists, Doris Lessing.

How did you get your first agent/ commission?

Finding my agent was a real fluke, an unlikely example of the ‘shotgun’ method actually coming good. After about a zillion rejections, I sent the partials to Rogers, Coleridge and White, and the book was picked up by an intern there, a very sharp guy (ahem) called Mark Richards. Mark passed it up the line, and Gill Coleridge got in touch. RCW offered a critique and I spent a month reworking the book. I put 10,000 words on it then. Gill sold it to Dan Franklin at Cape and I got the news on Christmas Eve (“oh look everyone, it’s snowing!”) There is no doubt in my mind that without Gill’s expertise and reputation it would never have sold at all. Gill told me on the phone it was the craziest book she’d ever read, which I take as a compliment. I’m very lucky to have Gill on my side, and only too aware that I can’t offer her any old rubbish to sell either! I sometimes think that tyro writers don’t quite get this aspect of the business - agents are not our servants, but an integral part of the industry. The relationship is much more one of equals, with different skills and jobs to do. Well, that’s the way I see it, and it helps keep me sharp and ruthless about my own work.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

Lammi at 18:25 on 22 September 2006  Report this post
What a wonderful interview! I didn't know you were with RCW; I'll look out for you.

And I shall buy your book.

Dee at 18:43 on 22 September 2006  Report this post
Nice one, Jim. Great interview.

Lammi, HJTC is a fabulous tale – in all meanings of the word.


rogernmorris at 19:27 on 22 September 2006  Report this post
Hurray! An interview with the inimitable Jim Younger. High John the Conqueror is a work of genius. It's as simple as that.

JoPo at 21:13 on 22 September 2006  Report this post
Aw shucks, y'all, Dee, Kate and Roger ... and thanks to everyone on this talent-lode of a site for the support over the months. Very much appreciated. God bless us, one and all.


Account Closed at 10:37 on 23 September 2006  Report this post
An inspiring interview! Congrats on your success, Jim.


EmmaD at 14:54 on 23 September 2006  Report this post
Great interview, Jim. Lovely to get an inkling - complete with whiff of brimstone - of the origins of all that extraordinary world.

And yes, you're right about agents.


Nik Perring at 17:48 on 23 September 2006  Report this post
Great interview, Jim. Still not had chance to read HJTC yet (it's on my to-read list with many, many others) but I shall try my hardest to do so soon.

Best of luck with what's next.


JoPo at 00:27 on 24 September 2006  Report this post
Thanks Casey, Nick and Emma for reading the inerview and emanating positive vibes in the direction of my aura. What goes round comes round, so positive vibes back to y'all.

Sorry, I've been at a friend's 60th birthday party and I've been drinking etc and it's taken me back to when I was a lance-corporal on national service in the Psychedelic Army.



optimist at 14:04 on 24 September 2006  Report this post
Great interview, Jim. Just been re reading 'High John' - it is fabulous.


JoPo at 14:30 on 24 September 2006  Report this post
Blimey Sarah - thanks for the compliment.


nessiec at 12:00 on 28 November 2006  Report this post
Only just read this, but love the way you cite Ronan Keating! Firmly grounded in reality - great interview.

JoPo at 21:51 on 12 April 2007  Report this post
A long time getting back - but thanks, Vanessa. Yes, why not cite Mr Keating when what he says makes sense!


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