Sunday, 26 February 2017

Author Spotlight with Jonathan Fryer

Today I have the honour of interviewing a British writer, lecturer, and broadcaster.
Jonathan Fryer was recently appointed Lib Dem Brexit Spokesperson for London.
He is a Member of The Real Lives Team, of Books Go Social for Authors.

Tell us a little about yourself

I am a British writer, lecturer, and broadcaster, based in London, England. I have published 15 books, mainly history and biography, though my latest book Eccles Cakes is a childhood memoir of abuse and escape, which on my agent’s recommendation I self-published.
For 20 years I was based as a freelance radio reporter and commentator on international affairs at BBC World Service, but since 2010 my broadcasting has mainly been for Middle Eastern TV channels. Since 1993 I have also taught a course in Humanities at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). For eight years I lived in Brussels, Belgium, where I wrote my first four books. These days I spend about half of the year travelling, either on assignments or to give lectures or else to experience new places, with increasing periods relaxing in Brazil where my partner and I have a house on the north-east coast at Fortaleza.

What inspired you to write your first book?

By the age of 24, I had already published a lot of newspaper and magazine articles, beginning with a stint before university as a junior foreign correspondent in the Vietnam War. After graduation I was posted to Brussels by Reuters news agency, but after a year resigned my job (the only full-time job I’ve had) when a publisher I met at a party in London said, “Oh, I hear you did a degree in Chinese at Oxford. Could you write a book about The Great Wall of China?” So that is what I did, and I was very lucky as it became a book society choice in both the UK and the US, as well as in the Netherlands (in Dutch).

What books have influenced your life most?

Probably the Berlin novels of Christopher Isherwood, both for their evocation of the growing storm of Nazism in Germany in the late 1920s/early 1930s and their candid portrayal of alternative lifestyles. Actually, nowadays I believe the much later A Single Man is his best book, but it was the characters of Sally Bowles and Mr. Norris that really captured my imagination while I was a student at University. After my first book came out and my then publisher asked me what I would like to do next, I said a biography, “of someone like Christopher Isherwood”. It turned out that there wasn’t one and as he was still alive I wrote to him and he agreed that I should be his first biographer, so I spent two wonderful summers in the mid-1970s in California interviewing him and his circle.

What are your current projects?

I’ve just started the research for a big book on London’s Bohemian quarter, Soho – based on letters, diaries, memoirs, and interviews of people who have lived, worked or played there over the past 300 years. This project grew out of a rather beautiful little volume I did for the National Portrait Gallery years ago, illustrated with portraits in their collection of Soho characters of the 1950s and 1960s. However, some people have been pressing me to write another volume of memoir as well, so I have written just a few pages of that.

Do you see writing as a career?

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, since I penned my first short story (about a cat) at age 7. I am fortunate in having been able to continue with that vocation, even though it has often been necessary to do other things on the side to keep body and soul together. Like most professional writers I have experienced a sharp fall in income from writing in recent years. According to a recent survey carried out in the UK for the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), the average professional writer’s annual income in Britain now is around US$14,000, which is not enough to live on decently. I am a Non-Executive Director of ALCS (which distributes around $36million in secondary royalties to registered authors), as well as being a member of the writers’ trade union, the Society of Authors, as I believe passionately in defending writers’ rights and trying to ensure we all get just reward for our creative efforts.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Time. Writing a good book takes countless hours over a couple of years usually, in my case. It never gets any easier and one just has to cut oneself off from normal life and plough on. At least new technologies now mean one can rewrite and edit on the computer. I wrote my first book on a portable typewriter on the kitchen table and making revisions meant retyping vast chunks, several times! A nightmare.

Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Undoubtedly the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde, even though he has been dead for well over a century. These days it’s his four great comedies that endure (especially The Importance of Being Earnest) but he also wrote brilliant essays and fairy stories that have many layers of meaning. He was an acute social critic, a reformer and a man before his time – for which Victorian society, in the end, could not forgive him and sent him to jail. But he must be smiling down now, with his reputation as high as it ever was in his heyday.

Other than writing do you have any hobbies?

Travel is my great passion. The adrenaline flows as soon as I get on a plane or a long-distance train or bus. I love to experience new places, Madagascar being the next on my list. I have visited 164 of the 193 member states of the UN, and reported from most of them, but it’s the people there and their cultures that fire me with energy and reassure me that life is still worth living.
What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I don’t own a television, but I watch selected things on catch-up (i-Player) on my large desktop computer. I am a huge fan of Nordic Noir – detective series from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, notably: deeply psychological and often set in the twilight gloom of a northern winter. There was even one from Iceland recently, which was absolutely brilliant. I’ve learned quite a bit of Swedish from watching those films, but the sounds of Danish remain as impenetrable as ever; fortunately the BBC shows them with English sub-titles.

If you were not a writer what else would you be?

My one unachieved ambition was to be elected as a member of the European Parliament, having become fascinated by the EU and its workings during my time-based in Brussels. I stood for election seven times, as a Liberal Democrat, and twice came within one percent of being voted in. But last June, the British electorate voted narrowly to leave the European Union, so there will be no further opportunity after Brexit, alas.

Books by Jonathan Fryer can be found at this Amazon Link. Go get them.
Connect with Jonathan Fryer at Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads