RR: You have written “The Secret to Being Frank” –please tell us about this novel.
JL: The novel is about the ability or failure of the human spirit to survive in this bizarre world of emotional conflict, fear and futility. An intense spotlight nervously falls on the protagonist, Frank Macleod, in Wales during the middle of the twentieth century. My passion for Wales, which borders on adultery, tells a graphic compelling drama of Macleod’s upbringing in a hard-knocks steel town. Celtic damashealladh, ‘Second sight’, the unexplainable that still exists, forms part of an everyday setting. Through social mayhem, the readers see the gradual ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ change in Frank’s character. Somewhat belligerent, with an addictive steamroller personality, he decides to join the Gwent Police Force. His unorthodox approach to policing and supercilious attitude that rises at dawn to celebrate the glory of his reflection has serious consequences for the offender. Again, the reader is aware of the change in his character that has total allegiance to the victim. He is also willing to put his life on the line for his colleagues. Frank’s ability to walk on water is seriously questioned when a serial killer surfaces and drags him under. Upon reflection, the novel appears to be an unauthorised autobiography about me.
RR: Was it difficult to write from the perspective of someone like Samuel John?
JL: The concept of humanizing a serial killer is quite daunting. That gut feeling suggested that if I intended to write about a wolf in sheep’s clothing I had to howl and think like a wolf. With an objective lens, I decided to take a graphic, compelling picture of Samuel John in order to achieve integrity and an honest reflection of John in the writing. Despite the occasional drop of blood still splashing onto the keyboard, the novel started to take shape. A meeting with my trusty co-worker TELL to review progress concluded in fatality. A rather belligerent SHOW hurried into the room and deliberately pushed my collaborator out of an open window. He then had the audacity to use my lens to project an image onto the wall that read, ‘John is a brutal predator who has no remorse.’ After a while, I politely asked the projectionist if there was any intention of SHOWING anything else. With more than a hint of sarcasm a pitiless whisper boomed around the room, ‘No and from the content of your draft neither do you. If you intend showing a graphic mental picture to the reader, SHOW John in the act of CRUELTY.’ Good advice, but writing how John was thinking, feeling, even his interpretation, had an intense dramatic effect on both the novel and author. Every writing session ended with the ritual of disinfecting the key board and vigorously scrubbing my hands.
RR: I loved your quote “Genre is the clothing that every novel wears.” Please elaborate on this quote?
JL: One day the commercial world is going to run out of the fabric they use to categorise every novel. This rather complex contemporary trend has almost replaced original, traditional practice. The extent and mix of genre has a detrimental effect on both writer and reader. It constrains the focus and creativity of the writer who tries to pigeonhole his work into an endless commercial list. In spite of this approach there are still genre authors writing extraordinary literary work under this system. The marketing trap is exposed then they differentiate between ‘Literary fiction’ and ‘Genre fiction’. Are they suggesting that literature fiction precedes genre? I have lost count of the number of novels in the latter that fit into the so-called definition of the former. Everyone is a writer; no one is a ‘GENRE’. This facade reminds me about the tale of the “The Emperor’s New Clothes” Everyone can see through the pretense of the genre that every novel wears.
RR: What’s your favorite part about the writing process? Your least favorite?
JL: Writing is that magical process where you switch on an imaginative projector in your head and think through your fingers. The words slide across the screen while you are thinking about the moral, meaning and understanding behind the writing. When I write a dramatic somewhat brutal compelling scene, the words jump out from the screen and psychologically sink their teeth into my leg. My response is to write every emotional experience during the bite. There are stages in every novel where personal experience has to deliver or compromise. I love the feeling when a sharp stick called truth pokes my conscience. My favourite part of the writing process is the intense research carried out in order to do justice to the reader. Writing is somewhat like experiencing sex and having all your teeth pulled at the same time. Pleasure and pain, the latter is my least favourite.
RR: What genre do you like to write?
JL: Many moons ago I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. However, destiny, the biggest joker in the universe, with a blatant sense of humour, interpreted that as joining the police force. If I could change places with destiny I would like to write children’s books. My favorite author is A.A. Milne. Winnie the Pooh is an adorable bear that shares his sublime wisdom about morality, character and personality with his friends and the reader. The first chapter in every novel is wisdom. My novel attempts to help the reader to understand the character and warning signals of a psychopath. Perhaps this time fate will intervene.
RR: How long have you been writing?
JL: This is my first novel of a trilogy. After forty-four years in the police force, I had more than an insight into writing fiction. I consider myself an apprentice. Four years ago, I started writing because I had no idea how to write. This elusive monumental goal will never change.
Thank you Robert for giving me this opportunity.
I really enjoyed meeting Joe, please visit Joe: www.joe-leslie-author.com or join him on twitter: @joeleslieauthor