Friday, May 17, 2013

Author Interview with Jack Scott

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Jack Scott and I was born on a British army base in Canterbury, England in 1960 and spent part of my childhood in Malaysia as a ‘forces brat.' At the age of eighteen and determined to dodge further education, I became a shop boy on Chelsea’s trendy King’s Road. Days on the tills and nights on the tiles were the best probation for a young gay man about town. Two carefree years later, I swapped sales for security and got a proper job with a pension attached. By my late forties, passionately dissatisfied with suburban life and middle management, my partner, Liam, and I abandoned the sanctuary of liberal London for an uncertain future in Turkey.

In 2010, I started an irreverent narrative about our new life in a foreign field. Quite by chance, Perking the Pansies became one of the most successful English-language blogs in Turkey. Within a year, I’d been featured in the Turkish national press, published numerous essays and articles in expat and travel magazines and contributed to the Huffington Post Union of Bloggers. You could have knocked me over with a feather boa, I was that surprised. It was then that I began to think there might be a book in me. Remarkably, there was. ‘Perking the Pansies, Jack and Liam move to Turkey’ hit the streets at Christmas 2011. The book became a critically acclaimed, award winning best seller and its success has opened up a whole new career for me as an author. Eventually, Liam and I decided to end our Anatolian affair and paddle back to Britain on the evening tide. We now live in Norwich, a charming cathedral city in eastern England.

What do you do when you are not writing?

We live in a city with a vibrant arts and entertainment scene and more bars and restaurants than you can shake a stick at. We take full advantage of the delights on our doorstep. Added to the mix are weekend trips to London to catch up with family and friends and a regular gig at a local radio station.

Do you have a day job as well?

All my daily activities have writing at their heart. I’m lucky enough to be able to indulge my passion, though Liam has gone back to work part time to help keep the wolves from the door. I know this writing malarkey is unlikely to make me rich but it does make me happy.

When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

When Liam and I first flogged off the family silver, jumped the good ship Blighty and waded ashore to Turkey, we planned to put our feet up and watch the pansies grow. Twelve months into the dream, we began to feel, well, a little bored. It was a benign type of boredom — not the terminal kind that leads to low self-esteem, heavy drinking, chocolate binges and serial infidelity. But it was boredom nevertheless. That’s why I started the blog and from the blog came the book. The book itself took nine months to finish but I wasn’t writing full time. We had a life to live. 

How did you choose the genre you write in?

Expat memoirs can be popular - Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’ and Chris Stewart’s ‘Driving Over Lemons’ are commercially successful examples of the genre. Most expat books talk about the majesty and grandeur of the landscape or building a dream home out of a hovel in the rolling hills. I wanted to write something different – something about the reality of expat life in a Muslim land from a unique perspective as a gay man. It’s something no one has done before, and why would they? There weren’t many of us there.

Where do you get your ideas?

Fact is stranger than fiction as they say. It provides constant inspiration.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

The beauty of drawing from real life is that writer’s block is rare. Writing it well, now that’s a different story entirely.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

With a memoir, the story has already happened. My writing technique is to story-board the tale, like they do in the movies. This gives me a clearer idea of plot and pace and enables me to write it like fiction.

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

Armistead Maupin wrote the manual on page-turning. His ‘Tales of the City’ series is a brilliant example of great characterization, attention-grabbing plots, sparkling narrative, edge of seat pace and witty, believable dialogue. This is what I aspire to achieve. 

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

Believe it or not, I found my publisher, Jo Parfitt, on Twitter which just goes to show the power and reach of social networking these days. Jo is the force of nature behind Summertime Publishing and really knows her stuff. She’s an accomplished and successful author, writing mentor, journalist and publisher with 30 books and hundreds of articles under her belt. Jo specializes in writers who have something different to say about living abroad. I sent Jo a sample of my work and she thought I had an original idea with a different angle. She offered a contract after seeing the first five chapters. When I got the email I did cartwheels around the room (not literally you understand, these old bones of mine wouldn’t quite take the strain). More than one cork was popped that night.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

I’d love to attract the attention of the big boys and I fantasise that one day a fat advance cheque will land on the mat. As I’m neither a celebrity nor a TV cook, I’m not holding my breath. I was fortunate to get picked up quickly by a small niche publisher and I’m very grateful.

How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?

These days writers have to do much more of their own PR. Gone are the days when a writer writes and someone else does the donkey work. Fortunately, the blog provided a ready-made audience for the book so it hit the ground running. Since the launch I’ve promoted the book with guest posts, articles, interviews (like this one), blog tours, competitions and giveaways. I was fortunate to be invited to present the book at the Polari Literary Salon at London’s Royal Festival Hall and reach the top ten for the Polari First Book Prize. As a direct result, the title was stocked in several leading stores, including Foyles of London, arguably, one of most famous bookstores in the world. I’ve also banged the social media drum to get my message out. These days, effective use of social networking, particularly the big hitters like Facebook and Twitter, is vital for getting any product out there. It doesn’t matter how good a book is; if no one knows about it, no one will buy it. All you’ll end up with is a box of books gathering dust and cluttering up the garage. All this hard work has paid off. Sales have remained strong and the book has been number one (in its category) on Amazon UK several times over.

Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?

Not so far. Recently, I dipped my toes into the world of self-publishing  by releasing the best of the blog from the Turkey years as a two volume e-book (‘Turkey, the Raw Guide’ and ‘Turkey, Surviving the Expats’).  The uncensored director's cut includes previously unpublished material together with homespun advice about living the dream. I chose the DIY route because I wanted to learn about the whole self-publishing process. The experience was educational.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

I’m currently half-way through the sequel to Perking the Pansies to tie up the fraying loose ends and bring our misadventure to its crashing conclusion. It’s a corker! The current working title is ‘The Sisterhood,’ so take a wild guess on the theme.  As with the first instalment, it will be released by Summertime Publishing.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

It’s all real life. While Perking the Pansies is written like fiction, it is a memoir (though some names and details have been changed to protect the guilty and keep me out of court).

What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

The penultimate chapter is called ‘Home Alone.’ Liam had flown back to London to deal with a family emergency and I stayed behind to keep the home fires burning. It’s virtually a one-scene chapter that enable me to reflect hard on our time in our adopted home - the flaws and virtues, challenges and pleasures – and how we’d found diamonds in the rough and roses among the weeds.

How did you come up with the title?

The title was lifted from the blog. It seemed the natural thing to do. Originally, the blog title came to me in the night. ‘Perking’ because our new life provided renewal and ‘Pansies’ because it’s a derogatory term for gay men. I used the word ironically.

What project are you working on now?

In addition to writing the sequel, I’m about to launch a new venture to offer authors affordable tailored packages to develop their web presence and get their work noticed – website, blog and social media, all wrapped up in a bow. I’ve called it author2author because I’ve been there and done that.

Will you have a new book coming out soon?

I’m hoping to get ‘The Sisterhood, the Further Adventures of Jack and Liam’ out by the autumn. I have everything crossed.

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?

I love ‘Nancy,’ one the central characters in both the first book and the sequel currently under construction. This was my opening description of her:

Nancy was a lippy social worker, a shapely sassy lass dressed to impress with enormous breasts and a cavernous cleavage. A genuine Eastender of Cypriot extraction, Nancy spoke both English and Turkish with a Cockney drawl. I liked her instantly. She had abandoned a long loveless marriage for romance and orgasms and soon laid bare her tempestuous dalliance with a local skipper. Wedded Irfan had assembled a foreign flotilla of autumnal ladies vying for his favours. Nancy was the undisputed chief concubine, his Nell Gwyn to her improbable Charles the Second. Apparently, the old sea dog skillfully managed to keep all his romantic plates spinning without too many breakages. When double booked, the ensuing choppy waters only served to nurse his considerable ego.
“So what’s he like, this paramour of yours?”
“A giant of a man, in every department if you get my drift.”

Nancy provides endless opportunities for both visual and narrative comedy. This appeals to my tongue-in-cheek tastes and helps lighten the mood during some of the darker moments of my tale.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

Book reviewing is a strange business. Amateur reviewers, often anonymous and sometimes with an axe to grind or with lofty literary pretensions, can damn with faint praise or go nuclear with their toxic pen. Naturally, no book appeals to everyone. Bad reviews are an occupational hazard. Even the top of the heap get mixed critiques. The best anyone can do is rise above the din, turn the other cheek and keep their own counsel. It doesn’t do to spit back even when sorely provoked. I’ve got off lightly. On the whole, reviews for ‘Perking the Pansies’ have been excellent and I’ve got a couple of awards under my belt. The toughest criticism I received was from someone who’d never been to Turkey and accused me of being culturally insensitive. The greatest complement came from an eminent journalist and author based in Turkey who reviewed the book in the Turkish National Press and thought I was spot on. I know which one I most value.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

I’m still a novice writer. For most of my meandering expedition, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. A blend of trial and error, luck and intuition turned an uncoordinated series of chess moves into a well-received book that I am proud to have created. My probation was illuminating and rewarding in equal measures but, as the new kid on the block, I’m hardly qualified to advise others on their own paths to literary glory. What follows should be taken with a large pinch of salt (and shouldn’t upset the old pros too much).

Just write
Okay, there are some amazingly talented writers out there. Every word, every sentence and every nuance is perfectly crafted. There’s no way you can compete, right? Wrong. It doesn’t matter if it’s imperfect. You have to begin somewhere. The more you write, the better you’ll get.

Be yourself, be unique
Think carefully about what will make your writing stand out from the crowd. How is your message different? What’s distinctive about your angle? Who will your writing appeal to? Are you prepared to reveal the real you? 

Think about ‘form’
This is one of the biggest lessons I learned turning my blog into a book. A story, even a real-life story, needs order, pace, plot, a compelling blend of highs and lows and a sense of purpose.

Think visually
Set the scene and describe your characters and situations colourfully (but don’t overdo the adjectives). Help your readers visualise your story in their mind’s eye. Use dialogue to underscore the narrative and keep the speech realistic.

Edit, edit, edit and when you’re done, edit some more
Be bold and decisive. If something adds nothing to the plot or message, cut it.

Share your writing
Sharing your writing is a brave thing to do. If you’re a new writer, as I was, it’s the only way of getting a real feel for how you are doing. Ask for feedback and then take a deep breath. Take the comments on board. Some of them will be rubbish but some won’t. Try not to take things personally.

Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?

My only ambition has been for people to take my book on holiday somewhere warm, read it around the pool sipping an iced drink and say when they’re done, “I really enjoyed that.”

I’ve now started some FUN and Wacky questions for those interviewed on my site.

Have you ever gone out in public with your shirt on backwards, or your slippers on, and when realizing it, just said screw it?

No, but I do have a recurring dream that I wander the streets naked and nobody takes any notice.

Do you prefer fuzzy or tub socks?

Neither. I’m a barefoot warrior.

Are you a person who makes their bed in the morning, or do you not see much point?

The bed is always made but not until midday. Hey, how difficult is it to shake out the duvet?

Be honest, how often do you wash your hair?

Most days but since there isn’t much left to wash, I don’t know why I bother.

Do you get road rage? What pisses you off the most about other drivers?

I can’t drive – never learned. Growing up in London meant there was absolutely no point and I like a drink.

Do you go out of your way to kill bugs? Are there any that make you screech and hide?

We had cockroaches from Hell in Turkey. I made Liam kill them by drowning them in the toilet. I took great pleasure slaughtering the swarms of mossies with WMD in aerosols.

Coffee or Tea?

Coffee every time. Ironic, since both Britain and Turkey are two of the greatest tea-drinking nations on Earth.

What is your biggest phobia?

People thinking that I’m boring. Now what would that be called?

What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to social media? (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

Seeing the usual (celebrity) suspects playing out their daily lives to thousands of ‘friends’ they’ve never met and would run a mile from if they did. To be honest, if I wasn’t trying to flog my wares to bring home the bacon, I wouldn’t bother.

Perking the Pansies, Jack and Liam move to Turkey
Book Blurb

Just imagine the absurdity of two openly gay, recently ‘married’ middle aged, middle class men escaping the liberal sanctuary of anonymous London to relocate to a Muslim country.

Jack and Liam, fed up with kiss-my-arse bosses and nose-to-nipple commutes, quit their jobs and move to a small town in Turkey. Join the culture-curious gay couple on their bumpy rite of passage. Meet the oddballs, VOMITs, vetpats, emigreys, semigreys, debauched waiters and middle England miseries. When prejudice and ignorance emerge from the crude underbelly of Turkey’s expat life, Jack and Liam waver. Determined to stay the course, the happy hedonistas hitch up their skirts, move to the heart of laissez-faire Bodrum and fall in love with their intoxicating foster land. Enter Jack’s irreverent world for a right royal dose of misery and joy, bigotry and enlightenment, betrayal and loyalty, friendship, love, earthquakes, birth, adoption and murder. You couldn't make it up.

A bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple living in a Muslim land.

For more information on Jack’s debut book and other titles, please check You can also follow Jack’s new adventures in the flatlands and big skies of Norfolk by reading his blog, Perking the Pansies.

1 comment:

Jack Scott said...

Thanks for the interview. What fun!




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