Q1: Tell us a little about yourself, what are you up to at the moment?
John: Ignoring my office manager day job for the moment, I’m a comedy writer with four novels published through Three Ravens Publishing, an independent publisher in the US. I’m currently trying (and failing) to nail down one of the countless ideas bouncing around my head for the fifth novel. When it comes to short-form writing, I usually stick to more serious issues, with Blinkers being a good example of this. This stems from a difficulty I find in shoehorning my character-based comedy into such few words. Short stories benefit from an emotional punch to make the reader think, and real world issues are more suitable to this than stories about, for example, a caveman inventor or a time-travelling octopus.
Q2: CIEDA's very own time travelling octopus is a bit nervous over her usefulness now John. Help out by telling us what matters most in the creative world - ambition, luck or talent?
John: Certainly not ambition. If a writer inks his first line with an expectation that they will make the NY Times bestseller list, then they are likely to write for others rather than for themselves. Arguably the best lesson I have learned over the years is that if you write for yourself then the end product will be all the more authentic for it. Of course, some people will like your writing and some people will not, so just write what you want to write, let your personality shine through in the little details, and see where it takes you. This is especially true of comedy. Add in a healthy dose of dedication and you will end up with a body of work to be proud of, no matter its public success or otherwise.
Q3: What made you enter the prize and how did you find out about it?
John: In 2019 I was looking for an outlet to test myself with some non-comedy writing. I came across the Perito Prize and thought it was perfect – the polar opposite of the writing I had done to that point. I wrote a piece about a homeless man in Dublin and was surprised to learn it had been shortlisted for the award. This gave me the confidence to try again (and be shortlisted again) in the 2020 competition. My Mum had been diagnosed with dementia by this point, so I chose that as my cathartic subject. In 2021 my entry, Six Days To Eternity, centred around everyday grief and gave me my third shortlisted entry. Imagine my surprise then when this year’s effort, Blinkers, was not shortlisted but had, in fact, won. I’m still trying to get the coffee stains off my monitor.
Q4: Some people may not have read your story yet. Tell us what ‘Blinkers’ is all about?
John: Blinkers is principally a piece about the invisibility of people’s issues, and how common the seemingly uncommon is. People everywhere deal with issues that make their lives harder every day, but not all show up as starkly as others. If you were to line up the characters and ask someone to identify those who were likely to experience accessibility issues, the same one or two would be chosen, when in fact it could be argued they all do. I think that sums up society in a way that is often difficult to articulate in everyday conversation.
Q5: Tell us a little about who your creative inspiration or mentor is and why? This might be a favourite author or place to work.
John: In terms of my comedy writing, Douglas Adams and Sir Terry Pratchett are the authors I look up to most. Adams for his absurd yet thought-provoking style, and Pratchett for his unparalleled wit and sense of social justice. To some extent, I am my own creative inspiration too insofar as I judge my own comedy as I’m writing it and if it makes me laugh then it passes the test. For the less rib-tickling pieces, I draw on authors like John Boyne and John Grisham who are extraordinary in their ability to draw the reader into an emotional environment and then bring them along, almost involuntarily, right up to the last page.
Q6) Does the place you live or are from inspire you in your work or life and if so how?
John: It does to the extent that I live in a quiet coastal part of Dublin, so I have plenty of opportunities to stare at the horizon while I formulate my next project. I also used Dublin as the backdrop to my homeless story, Home. That said, my work has also been set in places like England during the Black Death, thirteenth century Mongolia, a remote planet, and Neanderthal forests, none of which I have yet come across in the Greater Dublin area.
Q7) As you know the Perito Prize is dedicated to inclusion, access and inclusive environments. Did you find the topic difficult to write about?
John: It certainly did at first, given the seismic shift in writing style required, but once I got into the flow I really enjoyed it and found it was a great vehicle for me to highlight a range of issues and to add more emotive scenes into my writing. It also made me think more about accessibility issues in general, and of the minutiae of problems that people face every day.
Q8) What was most valuable about going through this writing process for you?
John: I think it was the forced insight it gave me into an area of life that I hadn’t devoted much of my free thought to before. It is easy to become wrapped up in your own bubble and not see the problems faced by so many people around you, and turning my attention to that gave me a new perspective on many issues we face as a society today.
Q9) Has this prize made you think differently about how inclusive and accessible the world we live in is?
John: Absolutely. Going back to my 2019 story, Home, I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about how homeless people manage to survive each hour, let alone each day, each month or each year. My family’s experience with dementia, the inspiration for my story, Fading, suddenly threw accessibility issues into sharp focus too. Ultimately, that’s what led me to write Blinkers and to realise that accessibility issues are ubiquitous, not exceptional.
Q10) Are you planning on building the concepts you incorporated into your entry into more of your work? If so, how?
John: Yes. While it would likely be beyond my skills to write a comedy novel about such matters, it has certainly convinced me to continue with my ‘serious’ short story writing. I am now planning, in time, to collate them into a single-volume collection. While I have touched on homelessness, dementia, and grief, they are just a fraction of the issues that can benefit from a greater focus in the literary world. I’m excited to do my small bit to help.