As winner of Writing Times magazine’s first short story competition, Alastair Christie-Johnston has built a career from writing and regularly submitting articles and novellas to competitions. His winning story, Jess, was written several years before it was entered.Christie-Johnston explains that, “When I saw the entry subject, I immediately thought of my story Jess, and saw it might be suitable. I gave it a final polish and sent it off.” The inspiration for Jess stems from Christie-Johnston’s love of dogs, and the sense of loss when one dies. When asked about his views on story competitions, Christie-Johnston enthusiastically states the importance of honing in on writing skills, and receiving valuable feedback. “Inevitably it can become a full-time occupation, which may be no bad thing for many writers. For my part, I have always wanted to try for something bigger, and have a full-length novel accepted by an agent or publisher. In the shorter term, winning a writing competition is a great boost to confidence, and does no harm to one’s CV.” He has only entered a handful of writing competitions, preferring to create a longer novella than struggle with a shorter word count. Yet, a short story could be the basis of a much larger book. Throughout his life, Christie-Johnston has been an avid reader of books, reading and writing as much as possible. He often finds inspiration from other authors; one that stands out to him is Joseph Conrad. Christie-Johnston's trilogy of novellas set in a haunted house derived from a sentence in another book, and started with a short description of his childhood bedroom window. He says about his writing process: “Seldom have I started writing a novel with any clear idea of how it will develop, let alone end. Yet, all [of them] have a biographical element, and are based on subject matter close to my heart. The compulsion to develop the germ of an idea is all it takes to start me off.” As a writer of fiction, Christie-Johnston’s life experiences influence his stories, as do trends and social events. However, he stresses the importance of research when writing historical literature - of capturing the essence of the period in which the story is set. Although he prefers to publish traditionally, Christie-Johnston has some advice for any thinking of self-publishing. He speaks of the importance of marketing and selling, often having to approach retailers directly. Although he does not know what genres, if any, are more suited to self-publishing, he has heard that mainstream publishers generally do not accept short story collections, finding that they will reach a larger audience through magazines. "Self-publishing can be profitable," he continues, "provided one has time to do the marketing. As all my self-published books have been written with the local market in mind, I have been able to turn a modest profit on them. I never offer books on consignment, as this inevitably results in multiple visits to retailers to see if anything has sold. If a retailer does not have the confidence to accept normal trade terms (recommended retail price is less than 35%, payable in thirty days), then I do not proceed to do business. Small orders - up to five books - can often be settled for cash. Where this is mutually agreed, it is obviously desirable.” With literature in publishers' baskets, and a regular column in a local magazine, Christie-Johnston is in a 'wait-and-see' mode. Although he added that he is not aiming to compete with J.K. Rowling, we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next! Click here to purchase Sea View by Alastair Christie-Johnston.
Feature by Amy McLean