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Jackson Marsh Interview Published on: 03, Jan 2019

What’s your favourite childhood memory? When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My favourite childhood memory comes from Christmas 1974 when I was 11. I saw a paperback copy of 'Dracula' in a bookshop and told my dad I wanted it for Christmas. It wasn't the kind of thing he'd usually buy me, and when I saw a suitably sized gift under the tree I agonised for days that it could be 'Dracula', or it could be something he thought an 11- year old should read. Christmas Day came, it was the first present I opened, and it was the novel I had longed for. The rest of that day is a blur because I set about reading it immediately, difficult though some of the language was.

When young wanted to be an actor. At one point I wanted to be an orchestra conductor, and in my teens, I wanted to be a theatre stage manager. That all morphed together, and I wanted to be a theatre director of musicals, and that's what I ended up doing, for a while at least. Whatever it was I wanted to be, it was always something creative and to do with the arts.

What were your hobbies as a kid? What are your hobbies now?

As a child, I was all about music, the piano and church organ in particular. I learned to play both, spent a lot of time practising and performing. I was also mad about the old Universal horror films and collected the Aurora horror model kits (the glow in the dark line). I loved Hammer horror films and, of course, school and amateur stage productions. I was all about theatre, creepy stories and music which led me to collect horror models and Pelham puppets - a bit of an odd mix.

I still enjoy those old films, and I have started to collect those old model kits though these days the originals are hard and costly to come by. Now I live in Greece, my hobbies include walking and travelling when I can. I guess you could also add reading and writing though they are more a way of life than a hobby.

What sparked your imagination for your book, The Mentor of Wildhill Farm? What is the significance of the title?

The Mentor if Wildhill Farm was my first real foray into MM romance with some erotica, though I had written short erotic stories before. I had also been writing travel books and mainstream thrillers under my own name (Jackson Marsh is a pen name). Because I was writing about moving to Greece, being an expat, and other 'straight' themes, I had grown something of a following, but what I really wanted to do was let my gay imagination free. I knew that gay erotica and MM Romance wouldn't necessarily fit with my established readership, so I began writing under Jackson Marsh. This freed me; I didn't have to worry about what my James Collins readers might think.

My imagination, therefore, was sparked by the idea that I could now write anything. I could set free some fantasies and describe a situation many older gay men would like to find themselves in. Let loose with four hot 18 + teen boys all keen to be mentored and at my disposal to be guided in any way I thought necessary, indulging their writing (as the story is about developing young talent) and also sex, because the story takes the idea that to free one's creativity, one must also free one's sexuality.

There are two parts to the title. The idea of the older man mentoring the younger in all things dates to Ancient Greece. Not only is mentoring an erotic notion to my mind - the younger/older sharing of knowledge and experience - but it is also one that brings the chance to help develop the full potential of youth.

The second part of the title, 'Wildhill Farm' is significant in that the location of the story was important to me. I wanted to suggest loneliness, isolation and set the tone with the landscape. I went on to write three more Mentor books all set in similar, imaginary locations, Barrenmoor Ridge, Lonemarsh House and Lostwood Hall. All are isolated, where an older man helps a younger discover love. In the case of Wildhill Farm, of course, it's one older and four younger.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing? How do you, as an erotic romance writer, make your stories entertaining and interesting?

It's hard not to repeat what every good book about writing technique tells you, that there are many facets to creating a good story. For me, the most important of these are Story Arc (character and plot development), Clarity of the narrative, Originality of the story and Connection to the reader. Make the reader want to follow, or better, be, the main character(s), and engage with their situation and development, and do it in a way that is satisfying to read and makes sense.

My erotic writing began with a commission, so I was writing to market, and what the readers were expecting was sex; in this case, older/younger hardcore. It's easy to write sex stories as many of us have read on 'post your own story' sites, but it's not easy to write it well. I turned to Lars Eighner and his 'Elements of Arousal, How to write and sell gay men's erotica' which should be compulsory reading for anyone setting out to write gay erotica. Talking purely about the erotica, I aim to give the reader what he/she expects - a lot of hot sex but in context of a developing story. I must admit, my collection of shorts is more to do with sex than character, but when writing erotica in a novel, the most important things are the charters and stories, and it is they that I employ to add an entertaining substance which hopefully keeps the reader reading and not skipping through to the sex.

Oh, and a couple of general tips here: Write, cut, write and cut again, and: There should only be one major orgasm in a sex scene; more than one and the reader doesn't know who to join in with.

What inspired the story of your first gay romance, 'Other People's Dreams?' What challenges did you face while getting your first book published?

This one's simple. I was alone on holiday on a Greek island when I saw a yacht a little way out in the bay, an idyllic and tranquil scene. It became more intriguing when I saw the crew were all male and naked. Personal fantasy kicked in with: What if I had enough money to do that? This then led to my imagination running riot and creating four sexy youths who would be at my beck and call. Technique then kicked in as I developed a sinister but desirable main, older, character and a thriller plot.

I was proud of the finished result (this was a long time ago and have learned much since) and pompously sent a synopsis to the then leading UK publisher of gay men's literature, The Gay Men's Press. They, to my delight, were interested, and I was asked to submit the whole MS, which I did. The MS aroused more interest, and we were in the process of discussing publication when the company owner retired and, soon after, the publishers closed down. At the same time, I found an enthusiastic agent who began promoting me and made me feel like a 'real writer.' Sadly, she then suffered a heart attack and also retired. 'Nearly but not quite' was my motto for a while as I persuaded myself that the closure of GMP and the health of my agent were coincidences and not my fault.

Which is your favourite story in "In School and Out?" Why did you decide to make it a collection of thirteen older/younger gay love short stories?

It's hard to say which is my favourite as these stories were written for a commission and for a specific niche within a huge market. 'The Greek Lads' section would probably come out on top for me because I can see the development of my writing style from the simplistic hard- erotic to a more considered narrative style that develops atmosphere.

There were more than 13 stories in this original collection, but I chose what I considered to be the best. In most cases, they are early stories, the later ones tended to be less erotically gratifying but had more substance. I also wanted to concentrate on the older/younger aspect, and the (18+) teens-together aspect and, for me, boarding school (where many are set) was probably the most erotic time of my life.

'The Mentor of Wildhill Farm' (2017) is now published in Kindle and print. How do you think Kindle has changed the Book Business?

For me, the attraction of Kindle (and other formats) is immediacy. I love the feel and smell of a book made of paper, and consider layout, covers and binding as much of an art as the writing contained inside. But Kindle gives us the chance to start reading as soon as we have decided what to read. No more waiting for Christmas or postage, and fewer trees have to die in the process.

It has also made publishing more accessible for writers. That's mainly to do with the development of the self-published eBook which didn't start with Kindle, I know, but Kindle learned and developed from it. The results of this accessibility are not always good books, of course, but Kindle brought opportunity to many, including myself. It gives an outlet for good and bad writers alike, but personally, I find it most useful for research. I can find and download what I need there and then. I miss bookshops no end, but where I live, there aren't any so Kindle makes reading (and writing) so much more accessible while saving trees, which can only be a good thing.

When you first started writing, did you expect to win awards for your gay erotic writing one day?

No. All I wanted to do was write stories that I enjoyed writing and that I hoped others would enjoy reading. Being awarded for my writing was a huge boost, but I didn't set out to write award-winning erotica, only the best stories I could tell. The fact that others found them worthy of their vote was something of a happy surprise which gave me a big boost and showed me that I had something to offer. I hoped that what I was writing was good, but I never expected to win an award for what was then, for me, a new venture, particularly as some of them might be considered controversial.

How much do you enjoy screenplay writing? What was your reaction when you received an award for the same?

Oh gosh! Does any screenplay writer actually enjoy writing a screenplay? Hopefully, yes. I certainly do but what I don't enjoy is what happens after. Writing a novel happens on your own, with perhaps an editor and publisher having input. What you see on a screen is a collaboration of many artistic minds, and you have to be prepared to let your story fall into the hands of others who have a different vision of it. Kind of 'Here's my baby, now you bring it up from birth.' Producers, directors, actors, even the costume department have an input into the script, changes are constantly called for and, as I experienced with one of m produced scripts, what ends up on the screen is a far cry from what your vision was. You become a writer for hire (unless you're James Cameron or someone) and you have to accept that.

However, what is good about screenplay writing is that it focuses your mind. In several instances, I have started what are now published novels by writing the story as a screenplay. You have 120 pages in which to get your story across visually with characters, pace, plot, development, setting and everything else. Screenplays are all about structure, and I still use film structures as my guide when building a plot simply because they work.

A bit of trumpet blowing: I have won awards for 'best film' as well as best screenplay as the writer is part of the film's team whether on not what they see on the screen is what they wrote on paper. I was very flattered to receive both awards and to have one of my produced films win awards for others involved, music and direction for example. However, I won an award for Best Screenplay on its own merits and purely for my writing. That award reinforced to me that my scripts could stand on their own merits, and accepting the award in Athens last year was something of a pinnacle in my limited screenwriting career.

What about the character of John Hamilton in ‘The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge’ do you find him the most attractive? Who was the inspiration behind this character?

I forgot to mention that mountaineering was one of my hobbies when I was young enough to stretch my limbs and didn't have vertigo, and 'Barrenmoor Ridge' reflects the passion I still have for the sport. These days I read and watch rather than do, and it was after reading about the Everest disaster of 1996 that John Hamilton was born.

John has an attractive personality but isn't your typical movie-idle stud; I don't know any climbers who are, tending to be wiry and powerful, weather-worn and often lacking digits. But John has a noble personality. He goes out in all weathers to rescue people from the Yorkshire peaks in blizzards without question. He's a mountain rescue volunteer and one of the world's top photo-climbers. Even suffering the loss of his lover in an avalanche and trying to come to terms with all that, he finds the humanity to recuse a guy he thinks subjected him to a homophobic attack that morning. That kind of humanity is attractive. He's also sexy and has an impressive 'overhang', you might say, but that's not what's important in 'Barrenmoor.' The story is about his mentoring of the totally sexy (for me), youthful and slightly naïve Gary, a lost youth many of us would like to belay and summit emotionally and physically.

John Hamilton was inspired by all those men and women who risk their lives to save others. He does that in Barrenmoor both physically and emotionally as he nurses Gary though his injury, mentors him through his coming out while in return, and unknowingly, Gary mentors John through his grief. There's also some action, humour, intrigue and a very sweet ending and, being one of mine, it's also set in an isolated place, Barrenmoor Ridge.

Out of all the books that you have written so far, which one did you enjoy writing the most? What is the most challenging part of writing LGBT romance?

I enjoyed writing 'The Stoker Connection' the most, though I have never not enjoyed writing any of them. Stoker brings in many elements that drive me. First-love at 18, intense friendship, acceptance, lonely locations, coincidences, conspiracy theories, adventure, history and, of course, that book I was given when I was 11, Dracula. It's not a vampire story, but it's a present day treasure hunt mystery with first love (and first sex) and told in a similar way to the original, through diaries, letters and, these days, emails.

It was a challenge to come up with a viable theory that Stoker didn't write Dracula and then a way of having my two 18-year-old protagonists prove it. It was fun to do. What's always hard to do is get the sex right. In this case, it's described by Morgan and Dexter, the two MCs, so I had to write it as two eighteen-year-olds would write it in their diaries. I couldn't bring in anything too 'advanced' if you like, so the erotica is nothing like you'd read in the 'In School and Out' collection.

The hardest part of writing the erotic sections in a romance is making sure they make sense. I've read loads of stories where two guys meet, fuck and do it again a chapter later for no reason, and it's all mechanical and comes across as shoved in there purely for the reader, not the character. The most erotic part of any romance is what Casanova called the 'walk up the stairs' — the chase, the possibilities, what is not seen. See a cute lad in tight Speedo's, and it's erotic because you don't know what lies beneath. See a cute lad naked, and there's no more anticipation. It's like having a Christmas present under a tree; wondering and imagining is more rewarding than knowing what it is.

What’s the best advice you have ever received about writing?

'Don't get it right, get it written.' It works for some, but not for others. The advice here is just to get it down on paper. Exorcise your ideas, write a whole first draft and then leave it, look at it months later and then write what you meant to write in the first place. Apparently, Hemmingway said 'The first draft of everything is s**t.' That's not always true, but no-one apart from Mozart should be pleased with his first draft except to celebrate that he's reached the end of it.

Recently, I reread something I'd written only a year ago which I had considered to be perfect. A year later and I've learned a whole lot more and am ready to return to that story perfect it. My advice would be to get it out of your system, sit down and tell yourself the story in draft one, improve it in draft two, and then write draft three for your readers. Many new writers think their first draft is the best thing ever, myself included. It rarely is, but at least you have it out of your imagination. From there, you can develop it into something better.

What do you want readers to remember about your books? How do you handle literary criticism?'

These days I want readers to be more turned on by the story, characters and writing style than the sex. My early stories were all about sex to the detriment of the story; fine for hardcore shorts, not so satisfying for novels. I'd like to think readers come away from my later stories with a sense of hope, that everyone deserves a happy ending, that even when you are young and struggling with sexuality, you can find a way through and become the person you were meant to be. That hopefully comes across in the Mentor stories. I also want to take readers on a journey they will remember because they felt a part of it, and adventure features greatly in my other novels, 'The Stoker Connection' and 'The Blake Inheritance' in particular.

As for criticism, I am used to reading it and take time to read all reviews, good and bad. Having worked in the theatre, you grow accustomed to criticism, as you should be prepared for in any job where you put yourself or your work out there for the public. Not everyone will like what you do, and you can't write to please everyone, so there's no point in stressing over someone's bad review. In fact, although it's only happened once, when I received a very low-star review of a title, the sales rocketed, so there really is no such thing as a bad press. I handle criticism by thinking, 'Good of you to take the trouble to write your review, now let's move on,' and that goes for both negative and positive reviews.

What is the title of the next book you are working on? What is it about?

I have loads of ideas, but one draft in process. 'Deviant Lamplight' is an erotic historical mystery set around the time of Jack The Ripper. This fits into the same collection as my recent release, 'Curious Moonlight' where the romance develops between two MCs brought together to unravel a historical mystery. Right now, I am 20,000 words into 'Deviant Lamplight' and researching the rent-boy underworld of Victorian London - I'm loving it.

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