An interview with James King

Much time has passed since the first issue of Open Pen hit the bookshops of London. So we thought it might be a good time to catch up with the winning author of our debut issue, James King. Here’s what he had to say:

“I find the freedom of imagination less daunting than the freedom of language.” – James King

James, it’s been over a year since your piece became the first winning story of Open Pen in Issue One. Your story The Giant Tree, a children’s adventure piece, adorned the cover of Issue One. What have you been up to since?

I’d set 2012 up as the year of finding a couple of new hobbies that I could take on from the ground up, so I bought a snazzy camera and signed up for wall-climbing sessions. The former has gone really well and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to take some nice shots in some interesting places. The latter, disappointingly, has been put on hold after I hurt my ankle in April. I’m a physically active person, so it’s tough not being very mobile for a time that seems to be dragging on and on.

Going back to The Giant Tree, your story is written from the point of view of a child. A lot of writers shy away from the child protagonist, yet it seems as though it’s something you’re at ease with.

I think writing about children and for children can open up the imagination and allow you to take it further afield. That said I find children’s literature a far easier road to travel than writing creatively for an adult audience. That’s not to say I never like to take on the challenge, because although you can have fun with the colourful similes and fantastical metaphors found by a boy trying to discover a fairytale world within a tree, I’ve found that discovering the perfect sentence within the perfect paragraph for a more mature demographic can be much more satisfying. In the end though I suppose I find the freedom of imagination less daunting than the freedom of language, which is why children’s literature fits more easily within my comfort zone.

What’s next for you in writing? Are you writing anything at the moment? 

Though I’m not the most prolific when it comes to producing a finished piece, I’m always in the middle of writing something.

I think that’s true of most writers though, right?

I should imagine, yes. I’ve wanted to write a novella for a while, and now I’ve reached a point where all my themes and characters have finally fallen together within the structure of one story. I wanted to write something fun for the reader and myself so I’m targeting a young adult audience with a bit of modern fantasy. I’ve found my biggest challenge is writing for myself, so if I can produce something that continually keeps me excited and entertained throughout the creative process I think I should have a completed novel (if the content gets any larger) by the end of 2013.

Can you tell us anything more about the novella/novel, or is it so original you’re scared of someone stealing the idea?

Well a few quick Google searches have left me assured that I’m not stepping on any toes, big or small, though I won’t be sharing it until I’ve worked the narrative through to the end. I’m learning as I go at the moment, having never written anything as broad as this before. Though I will tell you it falls within the genres of young adult, fantasy, and adventure. More than anything at this point I want to be able to enjoy myself as I write this story.

What’s been your favourite piece in Open Pen thus far?

There’s a good set of issues to choose from, with Issue Four being the strongest. And certainly the one story that I found I couldn’t be distracted from (I think I agitated a few South-Londoners reading the story from my iPhone in a queue at Tesco) was The Grudge Elephant.

What are you reading at the moment? What’ve you got your teeth sunk into?

I told myself that if I’m going to be spending a lot of my free time writing fantasy then I should spend the rest of it reading fantasy. I’ve read some absolute stinkers this year but I’ve really been drawn into George RR Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire. The strength of the story is really down to the depth and variety of its characters, and the broadness of its themes. Don’t watch the television series (Game of Thrones), read the books instead.

Of all the stories you’ve read, seen or heard. What is the one that stands out captivates you, makes you wish you’d written in?

Well, going back to The Grudge Elephant again. It seamlessly blends the imaginative creativity that a short story can offer with the often grim bitterness of the modern literature that otherwise fills the pages of Open Pen. I was lucky enough to see Darren Lee read this story at one of your ‘Readings’ a few months ago and have to admit I was sold by his enthusiastic performance. My favourite short fiction is the kind that creates an extravagantly imaginative world that can fit neatly within our own, and for me Darren Lee’s story exemplifies that.


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