Welcome to Part One of Confessions of a Reviewer’s interview with an author who will probably be new to a lot of you out there, J.G. Clay.
Mr Clay came to my attention in a strange sort of a way. My wife, Jo, noticed he had a new book out and suggested to him that he send it to me for review. He very kindly did, and it snowballed from there into this week long feature on him. When you read the interview, review and indeed, his latest book, Tales of Blood and Sulphur, you will realise exactly why it snowballed and why I think this gentleman’s writing should be on everyone’s shelf!
In Part One, tonight, J.G. talks about himself and his writing in general. Candid, honest, funny and modest are words I would use to describe how this man talks about himself and when you read this, entertaining is another word that you will be thinking of.
Part Two, tomorrow night, features chat all about the new book, some more general stuff and of course The Ten Confessions where it turns out Mr Clay is a bit of a cad.
Wednesday sees the Confessions review of Tales of Blood and Sulphur followed by showing it off on Thursday.
Nothing left to say at this point other than go grab some nibbles and a drink and sit back, and most of all……enjoy!
CoaR - So tell everyone a bit about yourself? Who is J.G. Clay and what is he about?
JGC - Glad this is the first one so we can get the boring stuff out of the way. J.G. is a Halloween born, Midland British-Sikh child of the 70’s and 80’s with an interest in the dark, the macabre and the decidedly gooey side of horror. He’s an author dedicated to the art of producing genre-mashing quality horror, fully loaded with pop culture references, some social commentary and a sly dark humour. He’s a bit of a lad as well, but without all the boorish, sexist, bigoted baggage that comes with the label.
CoaR - Why use a pen name instead of just going with Pardip?
JGC - It was always my intention before I’d even set pen to paper. I just couldn’t see my real name on the front cover of a book. Also, I think I was a bit wary of reader perceptions at the time. Like it or not, people do tend to run with stereotypes and with a name as ethnic as mine, I was concerned that readers wouldn’t take horror written by a Brit-Indian seriously. Conventional literary wisdom, (especially in the highly charged, identity politics ridden atmosphere pervading the arts these days), holds that if you’re descended from South Asian immigrants, you should be writing arty little pieces about the immigrant experience in the UK and all that bobbins. That’s not my scene at all.
It took a good year or so to come up with the name. I’d been mulling over a few and not really getting anywhere, (including Stephen Singh. I thought it was hilarious at the time until my wife pointed out that no one would take me seriously. At best.), and I was nearly at the point of thinking “bugger it, I’ll use my own name”, when Clay popped up in a thunderbolt realisation moment. The name’s from the 2000AD comic Harlem Heroes. I read that comic religiously every week, often incurring the wrath of my parents for “reading that rubbish”. Harlem Heroes was a stand-out strip for me and one of the heroes was a guy called John ‘Giant’ Clay. I had a lightbulb moment and from there, J.G. was born.
I had planned to make him as separate from me as possible; no glasses, ‘Mexican Bandit’ type moustache, surly ‘Gallagher brothers’ attitude, a complete departure from normal ‘every-day’ me. Then my wife pointed out that I’d have to get contact lenses, switch personalities and grow the moustache back every time I did a book signing or a convention, so that idea was quickly and very quietly dropped. My wife’s the practical, pragmatic one. I’m the dreamy, anarchic idiot with the mad ideas.
CoaR - Do you have a boring pay the bills day job?
JGC - I do, although I would like to point out that it’s not boring, by any means. I mooch around a hospital delivering drips and things of that nature to the wards. It’s a great little job, my colleagues are pretty cool and I get left alone for most of the day to plot and plan the Clay stuff. As an aside, not only does the job help pay the bills, but it’s made me fit. I was a bit of chubby knacker when I started. Now, I’m lean and trim.
Before the current job, I was in Customer Services/Call Centre work, chained to a desk and eating bag after bag of crisps and drinking loads of beer at night because I hated the job so much. I ended being stuck in that line of work for about sixteen years because I didn’t know what to do with myself and that was the safe option, stick with what you know. Never doing that again. I loathe that kind of work and what it does to people.
CoaR - Why writing? Why decide on that as a career?
JGC - I’ve loved the written word for as long as I can remember. As a kid, you could always find me in the corner buried in a book or a comic. From reading to writing was an easy progression. I used to write short stories for my own amusement or to take my mind off whatever was going on at the time. I had school notebooks full of rip-offs of whoever I was reading at the time. One day I might drag them out, have a look and see what I can polish up and release. Looking back, I don’t think they were that good to be honest but we all start from humble beginnings.
Becoming a professional writer has been on my mind for a long time but life and a bit of laziness always got in the way. It’s only in the last five years where I’ve become disciplined enough to give this thing a go and now I’ve started, I can’t stop. The writer’s life is definitely for me.
CoaR - Take us through your process for a story. How do you start it and follow it through to the final product?
JGC - I tend to follow the same process for shorts, novellas and novels. An idea will sprout up, I write down the bare bones, think on it for a little while then I’ll plan it all down to the last detail – character profiles, plot, back story, history of the world I’m trying to create etc. Again, that’s a pretty recent development. I used to be a ‘pantster’ (think that’s the correct phrase). Charge headlong into a story without a clue where it was going and nine times out of ten, I’d come to a plot roadblock or something that wasn’t working, then I’d give up and go for a pint or two. That approach works for some of my author colleagues but not for me. I like to have an idea of where the story’s going, even if the final product diverges from the plan.
I’m a three draft kind of guy, but backwards, if that makes sense. The first draft is the bare bones of the story, very direct, no-frills or flourishes. It gives me an idea of pace and structure. The real meat of the story gets slapped and stitched on from the second draft onwards. Once the third is done and dusted, I’ll give it a ‘pass and polish’ then off it goes to the editor/proof reader and I’ll start something else. I’m sure there’s some people reading this and throwing their hands up in horror at my approach but it works for me. Or at least it seems to be working.
CoaR - Brit Pop. Is that the correct term to use for it? What is it with your love of it or is it just The Stone Roses?
JGC - I hate to be pedantic…but I’m going to be. Britpop came after the Roses from about ’94 onwards. The Stone Roses were lumped into the ‘Madchester/Baggy’ thing at the end of the 80’s beginning of the 90’s haha.
CoaR – I only listen to decent music so wouldn’t have known this!
JGC - I guess, for me anyway, both ‘scenes’ came at the right time. I was about fifteen when the Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets etc. broke. At the time, England was just dragging itself out of the grey soulless Age of the Yuppie, The Conservative Government were battering people left, right and centre and music had become quite twee and dressed up in expensive suits. It was a bit of a horrid time, especially when you’re on the cusp of adulthood. Then along comes these four lads from Manchester dressed the same as the older lads around town, singing about the Paris student riots, MP’s tripping on glue and wanting to be adored. For a mid-teens lad, this was mind-blowing stuff. I’m kind of guessing that the moment I heard the Stone Roses album for the first time must have been akin to people hearing Sergeant Pepper, Never Mind the Bollocks or Nevermind – that spine tingling, raised hairs on the back of your neck, revelatory moment. I had exactly the same thing when I heard Oasis’s debut, Definitely Maybe a few years after. Again, a bunch of council estate scruffs with big tunes, the right sort of clothes and that ‘Last Gang in Town’ mentality. They were good days and I had the time of my life during those years.
It’s a shame that there’s nothing comparable to those music scenes. I’m lucky enough to remember Two-Tone, Baggy and Britpop and all of those scenes arrived at a time when the world was shit, the state of the country was shit and everything in general was, funnily enough, shit. Now, we’re in a similar position, what with Brexit, thieving, trouble making politicians, fundamentalist religious idiots pushing their nasty agendas and uber-dull pop music acts lifted from reality TV shows. No one’s saying anything or unashamedly being themselves, because they’re too scared of being lynched by the ‘Social Media Worthy Mob’.
Sad times, my friends. Sad times indeed.
CoaR - Do you ever appear in a photograph where you aren’t smiling?
JGC - There are a few knocking about from my younger days. I was a miserable sod when I was younger. Miserable and moody. Now, I’m pretty happy go lucky. I can be moody still, a bit belligerent and temperamental at times but those occasions are very rare. Cruising past forty has mellowed me out a lot. In real life anyway.
On the page, I’m still quite vicious.
CoaR - How do you keep track of your ideas? Do you carry a notebook with you everywhere or write stuff on the back of your hand?
JGC - The wondrous iPhone takes care of that little dilemma. Ideas, story titles, even characters’ names are noted down in my phone and then fleshed out when I get home. It beats carrying a notebook around. Thank you for that, Mr Jobs. Much appreciated.
CoaR - Do you ever appear in a photograph where you don’t have a fag in your hand?
JGC - Only if I’m around my younger nephews and nieces. I don’t like smoking near them. Other than that, all bets are off. I know it’s bad for me and it’s not a pleasant habit and I will give it up at some point. When I decide though, not when people try to browbeat me into it. I’m really good at switching off when I get lectured about something. Once the lecture’s done, I’ll spark up because I didn’t catch anything that was said.
CoaR - Can you tell us if any of the characters in your stories are based on people you have come across in your life or maybe even yourself?
JGC - In part, yes. I never do it blatantly though. A lot of characters are composites of people I know rather than one person. That way, you don’t get people moaning about the way they’ve been portrayed. The only exception to that rule is people who’ve annoyed and upset me in some way. They usually end up getting eaten, absorbed or disembowelled. It’s considered bad form to those things for real, so doing it on the page is the next best thing
I’ve appeared a few time myself, doing a ‘Hitchcock’ as it were. On The Beach and LLTC from Tales of Blood and Sulphur spring to mind. I tried to mimic the way I speak throughout both of those stories. Whether I pulled it off or not is something that you’ll have to ask people who have read the book and met me.
CoaR - Do you ever appear in a photograph where you don’t have a pint in your hand?
JGC - Every now and then. I’m a drinker. Always have been since my mid-teens (funnily enough, around the time I discovered the Roses). I grew up around the pub culture thing and it’s always been a part of my life. That was what we used to do. The weekend started on Thursday night for me and my mates. Thursday and Friday was the warm up, Saturdays tended to be all-dayers during the football season (start at half eleven and go right through to 3am next morning), and Sundays were the ‘back to normality so let’s have a few beers to take of the edge’ day. I couldn’t do that now though. The last all-day drinking bout I had was in June. Me and my best mate went to see the Stone Roses (again, that band) and we’d made a pact to take it easy. And we did. Until we finished the first can of Stella on the train. It all went downhill from there. Great weekend though. It did take about a week to recover though.
I always write sober though. That’s a hard and fast rule. I tried writing drunk once and it was utter gibberish.
CoaR - Who would be the authors you would give the credit of being your influences and who do you just not “get”?
JGC - Easy. King, Barker, the late great James Herbert, Ramsey Campbell, Graham Masterton, Robert R. McCammon and my fellow Midlander, Guy N. Smith. These are the guys I’ve spent my hard earned pennies on since forever and these are the guys that I owe an enormous amount of gratitude to. If any of you are reading this, thank you, fellas.
As for writers I don’t get, I’ll have to venture out of horror. As you might have guessed, I’m an avid reader, not just in horror but most genres. I like to consider myself a well-read kind of guy so I dabble in as many different forms. Unfortunately, that curiosity lead me to Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, and I’ll be brutally honest, I hated it. In the interests of balance, I tried some of her other books. Hated them too. From what I’ve seen of her in interviews, I don’t particularly like her as a person either. She comes across as really smug and patronising. If you’re reading this Arundhati…..let’s just leave it at that.
CoaR - What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?
JGC - Starting something new. After all the planning’s been done, the idea’s firmly in place and it’s just me, a blank document and a flashing cursor, that’s the scariest loneliest time to be a writer. I agonise more over the first sentence than I do over the rest of the piece. It’s not enjoyable, at all.
CoaR - What would your ultimate wish be with your writing?
JGC - Putting it bluntly, the wish is to be big, massive, huge. I’m not embarrassed to say it and I won’t apologise for it either. That’s what I want. It’s got to be done in the right way though, with a bit of honour and integrity. I won’t screw over, belittle or over-criticise other writers just to get ahead. That’s not me at all. By the same token, I won’t be a suck up to anyone just to get ahead because it’s not the right thing to do.
If I can get to where I want to be without belittling, hurting or screwing over any of my fellow authors, then I’ll be happy.
CoaR - What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
JGC - Drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, reading lots, watching Doctor Who and horror films and listening to the Stone Roses and Oasis haha.
In all seriousness, I do a fair bit when I’m not being Clay. I like to spend time with my family and friends, although that time’s a little limited at the minute, due to the amount of time I put into the writing and because I have a huge family.
Being a funky kind of guy, I’m also a bass player, entirely self-taught. I can’t read music, I can almost decipher bass tablature but a lot of it has come from listening to a tune, picking out the bass part and giving it a go. I’m fairly decent at rhythm guitar as well but not lead. Ideally, I’ve always wanted to play the drums but my parents nixed that idea pretty early on and I’m pretty sure that my wife and stepdaughter aren’t mad on the idea, so I’ll be sticking with the guitars for the foreseeable future.
Whenever I can, I go to the football (that’s soccer to you American folks) but considering the way my team, Birmingham City, are playing at the minute, it’s a rare occasion.
And that’s it. I’m a staggeringly ordinary guy beyond the author thing.
Well, unfortunately, that is it for Part One of the interview. Remember to come back tomorrow night for Part Two when Mr Clay will tell you all about his new book and he will confess all!
And remember to tell your friends!
J.G Clay is definitely a Man of Horror. There can be no doubt. Putting aside the reverence he has for the horror greats, such as King, Barker, Herbert, Carpenter, Romero and Argento, there is another fact that defines his claim for the title of the 'Duke of Spook'. He was born on Halloween night. By a quirk fate, it was also a full moon that night. Co-incidence?
Here at Clay Towers, we don't believe in coincidences.
The 41-year-old hails from the Midlands in the United Kingdom, is married with one step child and two dogs that bear a strong resemblance to Ewoks. Beyond the page and the written word, he is music mad and can hold down a tune on a bass guitar pretty well. He is an avid reader and also has an enduring love of British sci-fi, from the pages of the '2000A.D' comic to the televised wanderings of Gallifrey's most famous physician. Clay is also a long-time fan of the mighty Birmingham City Football Club and endures a lot of flak from his friends for it.