This week we caught up with John Davies, children's author and athletics enthusiast, to learn a bit more about what makes him tick. Welsh born and bred, John is one of the authors that takes us back to our roots so we thought there was no better person to kick off our Spotlight series.
Tell us a bit about you....
I was born in the village of Cwmafan near Port Talbot in September, 1948. My father was a miner and my mother a housewife. She didn’t have time to work because I’m the youngest of six children! I attended Glanafan Grammar School, then worked as an industrial chemist at the Steel Company of Wales before spending more than thirty years in a similar capacity at BP Chemicals, Baglan Bay. I retired when BP closed down in 2002. I have been happily married to Adrianne since 1971 and we have one son, Ian who is also happily married to Tina. They have three children, Freya 9, Ayla 7 and Osian 4.
Sport has played a major part in my life. I first joined Port Talbot Harriers in 1967 and then again in 1983. As a competitor, I was Welsh Masters javelin champion in my age group from 1989 to 2015. I represented Welsh Masters eighteen times and won the Inter- Area Javelin Championship twice. I’m currently treasurer of the Gwent Cross Country League and a qualified track and field official.
I was influenced by the industrial nature of South Wales to follow a scientific path, but I’ve always enjoyed music and reading. I’ve played guitar in several bands and been bass guitarist with the Saints since 2004. Although we don’t gig anymore, we meet every Thursday evening for a chat and a laugh and we might play a few songs as well!
What first inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always been an avid reader for as long as I can remember and enjoyed writing essays in school. Over the years I’d written quite a few songs and dozens of sports reports. When I retired, I took the opportunity to pursue my hobbies of literature and music. My first book was ‘Hewl – Stori Geraint Griffiths’, a biography of the Welsh language singer/songwriter. I wrote it in English and my friend, Geraint Davies, translated it into Welsh.
Song lyrics led me into writing poetry and I joined the poems & pints group at the Lorelei in Porthcawl. When our first grandchild, Freya was born, I wanted to write something specially for her so she’d have something tangible to remember me by. The result was ‘Trevor the One-Eyed Tractor’. Of course, when Ayla and Osian came along I had to do the same for them. That’s how ‘Darren the Dragon’ came about. I enjoyed writing for my grandchildren so much that I decided to continue in this genre – which had nothing to do with my childish nature!
What made you want to work with Rowanvale and be published?
I tried several of the ‘big’ publishers, but they just weren’t interested in unsolicited manuscripts – big names mean big profits! Someone at the Lorelei recommended Rowanvale who were very welcoming. I haven’t looked back since.
When you're not writing, what are you reading?
I’ve got a list of favourite authors longer than my arm – longer than both my arms and both my legs! I’ll try to narrow it down a little so it doesn’t take up too much space. I like fantasy – Tolkien (I’ve read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ 17 times!), Terry Pratchett, Terry Brooks. Naval stories by C. S. Forester, Showell Styles, Richard Woodman and Alexander Kent. As a youngster I read the Rupert, Dandy, Beano and Eagle books. I’ve also re-read Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Captain W.E. Johns, Dick King-Smith and Michael Morpurgo. I’m currently reading ‘South by South-East’ by Anthony Horowitz.
What work are you most proud of?
As a set, I’m most proud of the six ‘Darren the Dragon’ books. Pride of place has to be given to ‘The Mystery of the Missing Vizsla’ though. I made my grandchildren the stars of the book and included some of their photos. They were delighted to have a story written about them.
What's your best advice for handling writers block?
Keep reading. When you come across a sentence or even just a word that strikes a chord with you, write it down. When you’re stuck for ideas, run through the list and pick out something that might be suitable. Don’t just think of the standard meaning, think outside the box and ask yourself, ‘what if?’
What's one thing you always have with you when you're writing?
A pen! I prefer to write with a pen rather than a word processor. I have a collection of about 50 Parker pens and I use a different one for every book. I just love the physical act of writing with pen and paper.
What is the one book you would take with you if you were stuck on a desert island?
Well, you should be able to guess that one! It’s Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’. As I mentioned before, I’ve read it seventeen times. It’s the best book ever written in my opinion. Come to think of it, it’s time I read it again!
What's the best part of being an independently published author?
I have an excellent rapport with the staff at Rowanvale. They always do their best to understand my needs and to fulfill my sometimes quirky ideas. The big publishers seem to be just motivated by profit-making.
What's next for you?
I currently have a children’s picture book called ‘Captain Beany and the Meateorite’ in the process of being published by Rowanvale. It’s due for release at the end of September, 2020. I’m also researching the history of Port Talbot Harriers for another book - ‘100 Years of Port Talbot Harriers, 1921-2021’. It’s hard work, but fascinating. There have been some prominent characters in the early years and I feel I know them. It gave me a sense of elation when they won a race or championship. As time goes on, I’ve come across their obituaries as well which has given me a real sense of loss. I’m hoping to finish this book by the time of our centenary in October, 2021.