Author Spotlight with J.F Conroy
Exclusive interview with the talented J.F Conroy
My name is John Conroy I am a published author by the name of J F Conroy and I have released my debut novel ‘An Honest Life’. I was born and raised in Brixton, South London and I grew up within the Irish community which gave me the foundation to write my story. I have come to writing late in life but I feel my life experiences have given me an upper hand to hone my craft. The dream would be to pursue a career in writing but that only dictates if my debut novel is received well. The stuff of dreams…
Hi John! Thank you so much for agreeing to take part in this interview. I'm so excited to have you here!
What a fantastic emotional book I read of yours, 'An Honest Life'. Can you tell the readers of my blog what your novel entails? ‘An Honest Life’ is a gritty Irish story between two families who are at opposite ends of the spectrum with their quality of life. The story is focused on the backdrop of a criminal element which entangles the husbands of the two families. The choices they make effects their families causing a rift and endangers their future as a family. The story focuses on relationships and friends; their struggles and their loyalty towards each other. Essentially the book is classed as generally fiction but it is entwined with black humour within a crime story, so I found it difficult to pitch it as a genre. True fans of crime stories would probably be disappointed of its classification so I has to be careful how I pitched the book. The book has clearly had a lot of research, and you could tell you worked hard to create such a masterpiece. How long did it take you from planning and researching to actually publishing? The story or the idea of the story started around six years ago. It all stems from my upbringing; I pieced together ideas, formed character profiles and drafted the story from there on. The address, the names of pubs and roads are all real from where I grew up in Brixton, ‘Sarf’ London. My parents are Irish, they met, married and settled in London then divorced after a violent couple of years. I grew up in a mix of the Irish community and Irish pubs as a young man, the Irish traditions, phrases and culture rubbed off on me so it came as second nature to write the story using these themes. I hope I carried if off well and that readers would be surprised to learn that I’m not a traditional Irish writer. My heart is though! I was amazed by your character development, I loved how you conveyed each individual so deeply, and we, as readers had access to all their deepest secrets, their struggles and their pasts. Are any of your characters based on anyone you know?
When I was in my early forties I had a tough time being self-employed and the taxman. Out of the blue my beloved boxed dog was rushed to the vets and died in my arms, it broke me heart. Soon afterwards I started having a violent reoccurring nightmare where I was in the middle of a fight within a pub but I was unaffected by the other characters, I was able to walk around each one and watch it all unfold. The faces, location and pub were all familiar but distorted. I thought I was having a midlife crisis but after some time I wrote down points of the dream and realised they were all aspects from my upbringing. It was another year later I visited the writer LYNDA LA PLANTE home on a service call and the smell of wood inside her lobby evoked a memory from my dream of the pub surroundings. I didn’t know whose home it was until I saw the invoice the following month from her as I was dealing with her staff on site. I took that as a sign to write my story. I am self taught as a writer, I left school and gained no further academic qualifications. I read books to learn from other writers teaching myself the techniques required. After my first draft I attended night school for a creative writing course then rewrote the manuscript in various drafts while seeking advice from a professional source. I crafted each character by breaking down their profile, their likes, dislikes, their characteristics and frailties. The two main characters, Martin and Declan are based loosely on myself and a bestie called Darren when we were in our twenties. Darren settled down to marry an Irish lass in Dublin and they started a family, while I led my life to full each weekend drinking, getting charged up and becoming very friendly with the female fraternity around me. Declan’s mother is based on my mother by the same name ‘Philomena’ a single mother who brought up three children. The boxer dog insert is self explanatory. That’s as far are the connections go as the characters are all fictional to stop myself from being sued (smiley face). From reading your novel, I read through some pretty hard themes, such as death, violence, assault, robbery, murder and cancer. Which out of all the scenes you wrote would you say was the hardest to write? The themes in the story are varied and at times hard hitting, some of them are from my upbringing and the rest of them are part of my vivid imagination. As previously mentioned I grew up in Brixton, South London which was at the centre of the national news for two riots. The eighties reported terrifying news reels of the devastation that the area suffered and again in the nineties when ‘The Telegraph’ pub was smashed up and ransacked while drinkers were still frequenting the evening. When civilisation returned to the area everything and anything was offered for sale via The Telegraph at substantial discounted prices for cash. My early childhood witnessed an abusive father/husband but that didn’t effect me growing up. In my early twenties my nephew was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of five and for a few years it was touch and go but thankfully he made a full recovery. The boxer dog inset and the trailing feature was added after I lost my first one and ending up with another two that unexpectedly arrived. Mrs C went APE... The hardest theme to write was probably the death scene. I researched grieving websites and forums as well as hospital resources to get that as close as possible, however it is always very difficult to convey the loss of a child. What is your greatest achievement when it comes to 'An Honest Life?' The greatest achievement of ‘An Honest Life’, is that I got it out there. I went down the traditional route of publishing by contacting agents but I feel I pitched it all wrong as it isn’t a traditional crime story but a story of heart. You read such conflicting stories about pitching to agents and never hearing back which can be such a disappointment, but fair play, I received a response from all of them which at least was closure of me. I self-published at the end of 2021 and they say it can take a year for sales to pick up if they do at all, it is a very slow and methodical process. I turn 50yrs old next year and I can say I have left my mark on this world, however significant it turns out to be. The background, scenery and imagery is incredibly thorough and easy for me to envision and emphasise my imagination. Did you find it easy to incorporate these settings into your novel, as so far I'm aware you are from the same area? It is a true saying, the more you read the more accomplished you can become as a writer. Holmewood Road, the park the description of the houses and pubs are all real life elements so I found it natural to write and describe them. Again after each draft of rewriting I honed on how I could improve each descriptive text to bring it true to life.
In terms of this book, did you have a specific audience in mind when you wrote it? In regards to audiences I found it difficult to pitch the story under a specific genre. Ideally it slotted in under general fiction but that is open to interpretation. The story has elements of crime and family values with a sense of heart. The cover was absolutely beautiful, for the aspiring writers who are reading this, did you get your cover specially designed, and which writing software do you usually work with? The book cover was designed by BESPOKE BOOK COVERS based in the UK who have a reputation from worldwide audiences. I contacted them with an idea but let them run with their own. I think the design is fitting as it features the main protagonist ‘Declan’ walking in the backstreets of the city he owns contemplating his thoughts on the situation he has placed himself in.
What was the most difficult part of your writing process for this book? Do you believe in writers block, if so how do you overcome this?
I can honestly say I’ve never suffered with writers block. I get all my ideas when I’m not thinking about writing. If I’m driving, out with the dogs or hear or see something that’s interesting I make a mental note of it write it down or record it on a pocket voice recorder then convert it into notes in a journal. This is my bible for moving along in the story. I have often woken up in the middle of the night and thought of something and jot down a couple of words on a note because I know I will have forgotten it in the morning. To put it into context if you listen to ‘FRONTIER PSYCHIATRIST’ by ‘THE AVALANCHES’ that is the perfect tune to give you an insight to what goes on inside my head from the moment I wake up.
What to you, are the most important elements of good writing?
I am a writer with my debut novel so it is difficult to give an answer to elements of good writing. I think its the effect of a reader being able to connect with your story. One of my favourites books is ‘THE UNLIKEY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY’ by Rachel Royce, the descriptive passages the writer used to convey the characters feelings and him bracing the elements on his journey is brilliant... I could feel how cold and wet he was as he plodding along throughout the story. With the level of detail in this book, which came first for you? The characters or the plot, and why? The story came first as the characters were loosely formed in my head and then I was able to truly define them. As aforementioned the story derived from a dream so the plot came first with the characters developing throughout the process.
Declan Hennessey was notorious and sometimes dangerous, yet we also saw his softer, family orientated side, do you believe it's quick to judge a person without knowing the true extent of someone's life and personal issues?
The story has an underlining tone that all of us want to protect our family and loved ones and even under extreme circumstances can bring out different sides of our characteristics... good and bad. The title was going to be ‘THE BLACK LILY THAT CAST A BRIGHT SHADOW’, a play on words that signifies that bad people can do good deeds. The title was deemed to be too long and a short concise title would grab a reader better so I changed it. A character like ‘Declan’ had to be cruel to gain respect and ultimately have people fear him in order for his customers to fall in line. Declan kept his family life private and like a lot of families on our streets nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors, we can all have opinions and be quick to judge peoples characters... on the other hand with a name like ‘Hitler’ or Jimmy Savile’ I think it is safe to believe the history books that these people were pure evil. Tell us something that us readers don't know about you? Like the character ‘Martin Lynch’ I lived my younger days on the high life of three day weekends of drink and drugs, loose women and flash cars. I enjoyed every minute of it. Today I am married for twenty years with two children (one of each) and I enjoy the quieter life. My ideal weekend would be on my own on a canal boat with a cast iron wood burner, black coffee, white chocolate and Walker Max Strong Jalapeno & Cheese crisps. I would read and write and break up my days walking my two boxers before I come back to writing refreshed. Then at the end I would return home to normal family life and mayhem. Have you ever googled yourself? If so, what did you find and was it surprising? I have googled myself and there is another JOHN CONROY who is a respected cameraman in his field of film making. I had a few questions aimed at me fishing for answers when I first put the feelers out there to get interest in my story but I go the feeling when I replied back that I was a geezer from London the interest dropped off. Maybe it was me reading too much into it. What is in store for you in the future, are you planning a second novel following 'An Honest Life' or you planning something totally different?
The dream would be for the book sales to pick up and for a media company to see the potential of the story as a TV production. I have written a five part drama series as a screenplay for the same story and the vision would be for someone to see its potential. It’s the stuff of dreams but I believe in the story itself and where it could go. We all have to aspire to be greater than we are in life. I have a follow up story that takes Declan and his crew across the water to London and it leads on from there with new characters and events. I’ve written a couple stories for adverts and another plan for a completely different story that’s non-Irish. If there is one thing I have learnt in writing and that is everything takes time.
Thank you so much for taking part in this interview, and giving me the chance to read your book, it was lovely of you to have gifted it to me, and it was a pleasure to read. Good luck with the future and stay in touch.