‘You’re not like other men,’ said my wife.
I was waiting for the compliment but it wasn’t what I expected.
‘You listen…. well, most of the time!’ she said.
It struck me that I do. I always carry a notebook and scribble notes of anything that catches my interest from the changing seasons to overheard snippets of conversation.
I became a Paperback Writer late in life. I had retired after 38 years in education and was wondering what to do next. Write about what you know suggested my mother. It proved good advice.
So I wrote a semi-autobiographical humorous novel, Teacher, Teacher! It sold 100,000 copies and the rest is history. The fourteenth novel in the Teacher series, School Days, has just been published and number fifteen, Finishing School is now with my editor. Each day I receive mail from readers all over the world saying how much they enjoy my gentle tales of country life and it is so rewarding.
I was fortunate in having a wonderful editor, Linda Evans, at Penguin Random House and she helped me to become a better writer. My first novel had been written in the first person. Linda said, ‘We could have a series here, Jack, but it would help if you wrote in Multiview.’
I looked puzzled and she explained. ‘Simply do a double hard return, start a new paragraph with no indent and move the action to another location. In this way you can move from first to third person but still keep the strong voice of the main character.’ So that’s what I did and eventually it became a seamless transition throughout my novels and I was able to include stories of the lives of others in my fictional Yorkshire village.
I am a compulsive reader. It’s my main hobby and I’ve read a novel every week since the age of eight. Over the years I’ve learned so much how top writers use dialogue and conflict. Dialogue can drive the plot forward while conflict is an essential ingredient.
The characters in my novels are based on an amalgam of people I know. I observe their idiosyncrasies and listen to their speech patterns. I note the way they walk, their gestures and their accents. As my novels are set in the 1970s and 80s I dress my characters accordingly so research is essential. Apart from old newspapers from the British Library, I also purchase fashion magazines from the period. In consequence this humble ex-rugby playing teacher now knows why an A-Line skirt was so-called!
For me writing is fun. It’s a way of life. Each morning I review and edit my work from the previous day. Finally, it’s there, the finished novel on a shelf in a bookshop and it’s a great feeling.
So I thank my mother every day for her good advice and I continue to be a good listener!
Jack Sheffield's new book School Days is out now.
MORE FROM BOOKS: How to find yourself after being a people pleaser, by Niki Kinsella
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