Focus: James Ross | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Who are you and where are you from? / What is it you do? / How long have you been doing it?
I’m a local boy, and after a dismal education from which I emerged qualification-free.

I eventually returned to study, got an MA and became a teacher. Back in the 00s, I had a couple of books published about my life as an English teacher. Eventually, I went solo as an independent writer of fiction – a process I discuss in a recent BBC interview, link below.

What inspires you?
Two things inspire me: stories and people. I love reading stories, writing stories, following other people’s stories. I’ve been an avid reader since I was three, and stories enthral me. I’m a people-watcher too, and if I overhear a snippet of conversation or see someone who looks interesting, even if it’s just a glimpse of someone doing something on a Metro station, I ask myself, “What happens next?” and I devise whole narratives inspired by that single glimpse into someone’s life. I do that with real people, and with fictional characters too. I come across a fragment of a story, a moment in someone’s life, and I run with it.

For example, the book I’m working on now, Scallywags of London, began with the question, ‘What did James Moriarty do before he became Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis? What’s his origin story?’ 

And so the germ of an idea was born. 

I then imagined Moriarty, aged nineteen, entering a pub on the King’s Road in Victorian London, and he’s there to meet Gerard John Dawkins, aka, the Artful Dodger, fresh out of Reform School and looking to make his way in the world. I asked myself, “What have they got planned?”

And a novel was born.

Tell us about your work. 
Firstly, I’ve just begun writing a serial novel, Scallywags of London – updated every Sunday on my substack – it’s a mashup of real and fictional characters from Victorian London, describing the origins of Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis James Moriarty,  involving the Artful Dodger, newly released after four years in reform school, plus real-life muse Annie Miller, a bunch of pre-Raphaelite artists, the Great Exhibition, and an attempt to rob the bank of England, all set in the reeking, poverty-ridden streets of 19th Century London. 

Because it’s a YA novel with both literary and historical provenance, I’m working with schools, inviting comments, critiques and involvement from groups of readers. If you’re a teacher or a student, or just a keen reader, feel free to contact me and get involved.

Secondly, also on substack, I’m serialising one of my teaching books, Must Try Harder. I loved teaching, but in the end my desire to write was too powerful to ignore, and Must Try Harder describes my final year as a teacher. 

What have you got coming up in the future?
Finally, I’ve almost completed Harm’s Way, the third part of my YA Jago trilogy, in which all the narrative threads of the previous stories come together. 

It’s a very dark YA fantasy – think Mean Girls meets Blood Meridian with a spot of time travel thrown in for good measure – and I’m busy deciding on a suitable cover, after which it will be available to buy or order at any reputable bookstore from March. 

Add to that the pile of paperbacks and gift vouchers for Barter Books that I received for Christmas, and it’s going to be a busy, bookish, year. Which is all good. 

Where can people find out more about you?
Jago trilogy: 

Substack page (for serial novels Scallywags of London and Must Try Harder): 

BBC interview: 

Must Try Harder:

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