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SPEAKER NIGHT, James Oswald – Wednesday 3rd April 2024

I was genuinely excited this week to have the opportunity to listen to one of Scotland’s top writers, James Oswald, at Ayr Writers’ Club. As many members will know, there has been a lot of anticipation for his visit, and AWC is grateful that he was willing to come all the way from Fife to be with us.

He most certainly didn’t disappoint. We were presented with a gentle, modest and humble crime writer; a writer of some particularly gruesome murders! Although James was happy to talk about his DI McLean crime series, he was particularly keen to explain how his fantasy series came about. It was clear that fantasy writing is his true love, and actually, where his writing began.

He has a life-long love of comics: his first published work way back in 1993, was for a comic, and his fantasy series grew out of this love, having written the first three books in the series before his success came with crime writing.

Despite finding an agent for his fantasy series, publishers weren’t interested. A suggestion that crime novels were more popular, set James down this path, and much to his surprise, he became top of the Amazon charts within months, shifting 350 000 self-published e-books in a few months. A publishing deal quickly followed, and DI McLean was on his way.

Success is a double-edged sword, and James soon discovered his publisher wanted two crime novels a year. Fantasy writing was put on the backburner for ten years before a publisher became interested and requested books four and five.

The inspiration for James’ fantasy writing comes from a time he spent living and working in Wales. The Welsh culture, traditions, and language opened up a rich seam in his imagination, his characters all named after rare Welsh sheep breeds!

James generously shared his writing experience, telling how he takes ideas from wherever he can, listening in a café or friends and relations, but always changes the names!

James explained how he turns norms on their head, so instead of a fierce dominating dragon, his is downtrodden. Beginning each chapter with a quote helps explain his fantasy world without giving long descriptions within the text.

Very much a pantser and not a planner, James likes to take a small idea and worries away at it until it grows and becomes something big, which eventually turns into a novel. For James the creative process is organic, and he enjoys building his ideas as he is out walking around the hills of his farm.

He asks questions of his small idea, why does this happen? how did dragons get magic? until his ideas are fully formed. Sometimes two unconnected ideas collide and create a whole new world.

The secret, he said, is in bashing out the words and recognising the ideas when they come.

Many thanks to James for such a comprehensive and inspiring explanation of the life of a writer. I’m off to buy more of his books!

Fiona Johnson

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