My Inspiration: James Ross – Dealer No. 1 | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Sunderland Literature Festival 2021 launches on Monday 18th October, with local author James Ross taking part in a Local Author Session at Sunderland Local History Library on Monday 25th October (11am). 

After two critically acclaimed non-fiction books about life as a teacher, James went on to write fiction and has a number of novels and short story collections to his name. His latest book, Dealer  No. 1, is set amongst the underclass of Sunderland and is described as Billy Elliott meets Breaking Bad. 

Here, James tells us what inspired his latest work…

I’m a people watcher. My favourite thing to do is to sit in a cafe or on a bench at the beach and just watch the world go by. I love to study people and ask myself questions about their lives. One of my first novels, Shoreline Gold, was based on a guy I knew who, over a period of years, had become a very bad person. As I wrote in the book, “the road to hell is wide and smooth”, so I asked myself, What if he stopped doing bad things? What if he renounced evil? How would the world react? 

Dealer No. 1 comes from my experience as an English teacher. I taught kids who lived in homes with little to no furniture and where the heating was usually cut off, where mum and her boyfriend just sat and smoked dope all day while watching Cash in the Attic, kids who didn’t get pocket money, they got drugs to sell. These kids were often quick-witted, funny, and very perceptive, they had to be, to survive. They were sentient, they were fully aware of their situation, but crucially, they weren’t in control: the lifestyle wasn’t their choice. So I asked myself, what if a really smart kid decided, coldly and realistically, to become the top drug dealer in town? What if he chose it, and having watched The Wire and Breaking Bad like they were public service announcements, he planned accordingly? (my pitch for Dealer No. 1 is ‘Billy Elliot meets Breaking Bad’), And what if, for a while at least, his plan worked? Obviously, the protagonist, Mickey, is heading for a fall, and the novel isn’t really about drugs anyway, it’s about family, in all its mewling, chaotic glory. Mickey is smart – he’s the kind of kid who, if he’d gone to the right school and had a decent set of parents, would have gone on to become a captain of industry or a millionaire, or the Prime Minister, but in his world, he’ll be lucky if he manages to escape the turbulence of his own family life, never mind the consequences of his actions.

If people watching provides the inspiration to write, being an online/independent writer provides the means to be read. The internet has exploded the traditional writer-agent-publisher route that I had to follow with my first novel. It’s liberating. My books are still available in print and as eBooks but now I can sit in my office and reach out to artists to do my book covers, discuss meaning and motivation with students from El Paso to the Iran, and connect with readers from across the world – all of it without having to traipse down to London to plot my career path with some dilettante from the literary scene. Fact is, I don’t have a career path. I don’t have a game plan. I just write.

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