I first met James Sillwood after a presentation by the talented Jersey writing trio The Blonde Plotters, at the 2017 Jersey Festival of Words. After the session, James asked if anyone was interested in joining a writers group; because he was planning to set one up. He had an overwhelming response and the Jersey Writers Social Group (JWSG) was born shortly afterward.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to chat with James and find out a bit more about his writing journey.
TESSA: At what age did you first have aspirations about becoming a writer?
JAMES: It started at boarding school, aged 11. We would take it in turns to tell each other stories in the dormitories after lights out. But it wasn’t until much later that I started writing them down.
TESSA: As writers, we tend to draw from personal experiences and travel broadens everybody’s horizons, the cross-culture experience serves to broaden our creative arsenal. I believe you have lived in quite a few far-flung places.
JAMES: Well yes, a few. I was born in Wales. My father was in the RAF, so we moved around quite a bit and he was based in Cyprus and Aden for a time. After I finished school, I joined the Merchant Navy and spent time in the Caribbean and South America, mostly Brazil. My wife, Caroline, and I have also travelled around, living in the UK, Holland, France, Spain, Portugal and now Jersey, where Caroline grew up.
TESSA: You are also a very talented musician. Which came first, your love of music or your love of writing?
JAMES: Music. I was writing and performing as a professional guitarist long before I seriously started writing. I only started to seriously focus on writing about twelve years ago. Amatore’s Restaurant was my first novel, completed in 2014.
TESSA: Many writers believe that self-publishing means you have more control over your work. You have self-published six books to date, would you ever consider going down the traditional route?
JAMES: Well yes, I would, with the right publisher. However, I am happy with self-publishing right now. As you say, it gives me total control over my work.
TESSA: What genres do you write in?
JAMES: Historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and psychological thrillers. Whatever the period or genre, I’m always character focussed. I like to put my characters into situations where they are out of their comfort zone and work out how they deal with adversity.
TESSA: Your novel, The Assiduous Quest of Tobias Hopkins, is written under your pen name, James Faro. It set in 1675 and is an epic piece of work. From the excerpts you have read to us during our meetings, it is a fast-moving story and you have managed to capture intricate details of what life was like during that period. What inspired you to write that book?
JAMES: The inspiration came after I read an article about the witch trial of Mary Webster in Massachusetts. I created a short story where my protagonist, Tobias Hopkins, is asked to investigate an accused witch in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Part of this story is included in the recently published anthology of the work of the JWSG.
From this short story I went on to write a novel which continues with the adventures of Toby and The Assiduous Quest of Tobias Hopkins was published in 2015.
My intention is to write a series. Whilst the first book is set mostly in Jamaica, I am currently writing the follow up which will take place in the Northern Colonies; Virginia up to Massachusetts. Hopefully, this book should be finished by the beginning of next year.
TESSA: The JWSG will be celebrating its second birthday in October 2019. You must be delighted how ‘your baby’ has grown in such a short period of time.
JAMES: Yes, I am delighted. I wanted to start a group where we could exchange writing ideas. The membership is a mix of established and new writers, which works really well. The standard of writing is very high with interest in a variety of styles and genres which is very encouraging for a small group.
TESSA: Not so small! We have over seventy members now, which is proof that such a group was desperately needed in Jersey.
JAMES: There are now two meetings; one on Tuesday mornings hosted by myself and an evening group, hosted by Chris Rive. For members who can’t make either meeting, I update everybody by email to keep them in touch with our collaborative projects, etc. And there’s our Facebook page, of course.
TESSA: This year, with the help of your wife, Caroline, you have spent a large chunk of your time compiling and editing a diverse collection of members’ work, consisting of poems, songs, short stories, extracts from novels and collaborative projects. The compilation of Gathered Words from an Island: An Anthology of Work by the Jersey Writers Social Group 2019, was an inspired idea and is a real milestone for our Group.
TESSA: Thank you, James, for taking the time to chat to us and also for starting the Jersey Writers Social Group. Since I joined the group, I am more focussed and driven about my writing and I’m sure my fellow members feel the same.