An interview with Jack McMasters

Can you tell us a bit about your book?

Yielding to an invitation from Rani, the elegant businesswoman he has just met, ‘for two weeks of incredible sex,’ retired architect Arthur Howard has little idea of what lies in store for him when he makes an arduous journey to her home in a remote valley in India. Leaving behind his stale marriage to younger wife Ester gives him little concern as living with Rani in this beautiful valley filled with quiet villages, tranquil lakes, tea plantations and crocus fields appears to be a paradise where his every need is catered for and his attention is sought wherever he goes.

But danger lies hidden there too. He discovers that Rani and everyone he meets there are the remainder of an ancient civilisation, often thought merely mythical. From his contact with them he succumbs to an illness that keeps him bedridden for a long period in a darkened room. He occasionally awakens after wild dreams and when unable to sleep, reminisces about early love affairs and worries about his failing relationship with Ester until he is, at times, unable to distinguish dreams from reality.

What was your inspiration for Molly Fish?

Molly Fish are a type of tropical fish. A subtype is called Amazon mollies as they are a species without males. To reproduce they mate with a normal Molly, but its contribution is only catalytic, the female fish effectively clone themselves. Reading a magazine article on this gave me the spark of an idea for a plot, see more below.

What research did you do for Molly Fish?

I’ve long wanted to find something other than the stories of vampires, werewolves and similar creature that seem to dominate much of our fantasy fiction. Over a long period of time, considerable reading and lots of daydreaming, I hit on the idea of using the people variously referred to as Androktenes, Elithians or Amazons. My taste in non-fiction includes ancient authors such as Herodotus and Virgil along with others that have referred to them over two thousand years ago.

As an excuse to get a more accurate view of the country and describe it better, I entered a 2,000 kilometre rally through Southern India which took me through some very rugged and remote mountains and tiger reserves. The rally raised money for a hospital in the underdeveloped, scarcely populated Hill Country with people that are friendly but largely uneducated and very impoverished.

What are your favourite things about India?

Wow! I’ve only spent a couple of weeks in India and it was wonderful driving from Goa, through Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, but I haven’t seen anything, aside from the Royal Palace at Mysore of the more popular tourist attractions. I hope to return one day and see more so I can chose my favourite.

Why set your book in a remote valley in India?

To have survived, the people in my story, if they existed as described, would have had to migrate constantly to avoid persecution. Most of Europe is pretty well explored now, but they were originally referred to as living close to the Scythians in what is now Ukraine or Georgia. It would have taken perhaps a thousand years of moving from one area to another to have arrived in India, but there are still hidden parts there that we don’t know much about, such as the hill country referred to above.

Where do you do your writing?

Anywhere I can set at my laptop and if using it is inconvenient, I use a pencil and pad. When I travelled with work I spent many hours in airport lounges or on airplanes whiling away the time by creating stories.

How much do you plan in advance?

I write a lot of short stories. Most of these were inspired by something or someone I’d observed and the story would come to me with only a few minutes thinking about the situation. If one wanted accuracy it would take some research and usually a few notes of things I needed to look up would suffice, but I’ve never created a full outline as some recommend.

Have you got any tips for other upcoming authors?

I started to write, ‘What do I know, I’m only a window cleaner.’ But then I thought, perhaps I do have some tips, or at least some experience I can share, if only to tell you to avoid the pitfalls I found.

There are hundreds if not thousands of ‘helpers’ or ‘mentors’ out there who can tell you how to write, you only have to sign up to their websites, buy their books, or go to their seminars.

Or, you can start writing. No one is born with the ability to play the piano or violin. It takes practice, hard work and dedication. Instruction can admittedly shorten the time to learn, but anyone willing to experiment and committed to practice can learn how to play an instrument or write a book. And they will develop their own style by not copying the work of another.

I found it helped to join a small group of other writers to compare, encourage and get some constructive criticism.

I was (and am) a lazy writer, certainly not a natural writer. (Oh, but a natural procrastinator.) It always seemed such hard work. At twenty I told myself I didn’t have the emotional maturity to write anything interesting. At thirty five and forty I still wasn’t satisfied with the stories I created. Everyone else’s writing seemed so much better. But after retiring I devoted myself to writing and tried to write every day.

I learned to leave my work for some time after completing it and look at it later when it wasn’t fresh in my mind. Mistakes then became more obvious. I worked to overcome my tendency to always go on to something new or to let myself become discouraged. I read and re-read my work and re-wrote the mistakes or the awkward phrases and deleted anything that was out of place.

It’s still hard to go to the coalface each day. There is always something more important or interesting to do, but I have to resist those tendencies. It only takes a day or two without writing to erode my imagination and my ability to choose the most appropriate words.

Is there anything else you wish to tell my readers about Molly Fish?

Yes, please buy and read the book. If you like it, encourage your friends to buy their own copy, don’t loan them yours, you may never get it back. And this is a book I’m sure you’ll want to read over and over. I’m sure you’ll find new hidden meanings each time. But most of all, enjoy!