In October 2012, HarperVoyager signed 15 full-length novels from mostly unagented writers, gathered in a two-week open submissions process. Jack Colman’s THE RULE was one of these novels, a gripping Viking-style fantasy set in the uncompromising town of Helvik. Here, as part of our series of interviews with these debuting HarperVoyager authors, we talk to Jack about the writing life.
Hi Jack, thanks for talking to us. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up as one of five children, in a dale in the middle of the North Yorkshire Moors. At school I never really liked English lessons but always liked stories, and made my first attempt at a novel aged sixteen, whilst putting off revising for my GCSEs. It was my mum’s idea, and mums always know best.
What was your first ever job?
I’ve been working during holidays and weekends ever since I was about twelve years old. My first job was probably picking potatoes on the local farms. Since then I’ve been an ice cream server, kitchen helper, antique furniture restorer, grain tester (yes, it’s a real thing), football coach, petrol station cashier, counsellor in an American summer camp, plasterer’s mate, promoter, landscape gardener, and finally, most menial of all, a corporate lawyer.
Have you always wanted to be an author? If not, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
I never really had a plan for what I was going to do when I was older. As a kid I fancied being an RAF pilot like my granddad, but colour blindness ruled that out pretty early. After that I just chose my exam subjects based on what I enjoyed the most (or disliked the least). I didn’t apply to university initially because I didn’t see the point of going just for the sake of it, but a year later I decided I was probably more suited to that path than any other. I chose Law because it was pretty much the only subject I could do with my mish-mash of A-levels that sounded reasonably interesting. I always planned to get a book out there one day, and eventually I just decided to stop waiting around for the right moment. Fortunately, this opportunity came along shortly afterwards.
What was the inspiration for your novel?
There was no grand scheme to The Rule. I just set out to write something that I thought I would like to read. Initially, I remembered hearing a line in a lecture about ancient European tribes that lived under a system like the one I created for Helvik, and that got me wondering what such a life would be like; what perils it might entail. We seem to live in a climate of fear these days, with people more likely to film crimes on their phones than step in to prevent them, so I wanted to explore the idea of a world where all law is grounded in self-enforcement. I also wanted to think about the fine line between freedom and vulnerability. At its heart though, all I really wanted was to write a good story about the conflicts between love and duty, law and morality.
What is the best advice anyone has given you about writing?
I’ve never really had much formal training in writing. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever been given advice on the topic. I went to a good local state school, but unfortunately I seemed to clash with a succession of my English teachers and was completely put off the subject. My lowest grade at GCSE was in English Literature and I never went near it again. It’s really my parents who saved me, by feeding me books every birthday and Christmas. Therefore, the best piece of advice was probably just their encouragement to pursue the things I wanted to in life.
Aside from writing, what is your favourite thing to do?
I struggle with favourites, I am too sentimental to pick only one winner. I enjoy a nice evening with all my family crammed around the kitchen table, passing a bottle of £3 red around and battling to get a word in edgeways. Otherwise, animals, all kinds of sports, anything involving being outside among nature really. My dad is a big fan of strapping a tent to his push-bike and riding off somewhere, and Marta and I have taken to copying him. Poland to Italy is the furthest we’ve made it so far. It’s a lovely feeling to wake up in the morning and wonder where you’ll get to.
What are your top three SFF books and why?
I’m sorry to say I’m not actually very well read in adult fiction. I went through a phase when I was seventeen or eighteen where I was so desperate to be a writer that if I read a bad book it made me bitter that it was published and I wasn’t, and if I read a good book it made me depressed that it was better than mine. I barely picked up a fiction book again for probably the next three or four years. I think also, as I was writing The Rule at the time, I was scared that I would lose my own ‘voice’ (if I even had one) and start to mimic someone else’s. Nevertheless, I remember Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife being the first and only book I took from the school library. My mates took the piss but I loved it. I was late to the A Song of Ice and Fire table but I’m sure even George R. R. Martin is bored of hearing how good that is. The stories I grew up on, though, are the Redwall books by Brian Jacques. What could be more entertaining than a badger with an axe?
If you could ride off into the sunset with a fictional character, who would you choose and why?
My wife, Marta. She’s unreal.
Find Jack on Twitter @_JackColman
Author photo credit: Kuba James