Interview with John Dickinson
by Jane Turley
Some dreams fade in the morning light, some dreams return to haunt and some dreams wake you abruptly leaving lasting, vivid impressions.
Author John Dickinson is a man who dreams. And he uses them to weave wondrous tales.
John is an author of both adult and teenage fiction. His latest novel WE, a science fiction novel, is aimed primarily at young adults but its fascinating premise of an isolated community struggling to balance humanity and progress on the fringes of the solar system, will be of interest to anyone who wants to contemplate the larger issues in life. Whilst it is a story of only average length it is also a tale of epic proportions encompassing huge, almost mind boggling concepts. These are ideas which when awake may seem incomprehensible but in our dreams seem all too tangible.
WE is a conceptual and sometimes melancholic book. So as I travelled down to the heart of the Cotswolds to meet John, I wondered just how serious his disposition might be. It crossed my mind that with a first in History from Oxford and seventeen years working for the Ministry of Defence, the Cabinet Office and NATO John might actually be mad or, at the very least, a little stuffy. Not so. Instead of a stuffed shirt I found a warm, affable and modest man who clearly finds inspiration in his picturesque surroundings.
As a child John was surrounded by creativity. His father is the award winning Peter Dickinson, also an author of adult and children’s fiction, and it is through his father that the foundations of John’s writing were laid. In a household where writing was an everyday occurrence John learnt the techniques of telling a story. From the hard graft of daily writing to understanding the rhythm of words, from learning to observe the world to appreciating the complexities of mixing fantasy with realism, John both consciously and unconsciously absorbed his father’s knowledge.
Perhaps it could be said that a writer cannot be truly free to imagine or to express, without revealing what lies beneath his skin. And for the novice it is not always easy to find the time to write, let alone to reveal one’s inner world with the pressures and intrusions of everyday life. So despite John’s ever present desire to create, it was not until he had landed his first job that he first put pen to paper with serious intentions. It was only then, on a secure footing, that John was ready to face what he calls the “emotional risk” of writing.
Yet despite this progress it was another seventeen years before John finally threw down the ultimate gauntlet to his ambitions. The decision made, he cleared his office desk, said goodbye to his colleagues and headed home to write The Cup of the World, the first instalment of a medieval fantasy trilogy for young adults.
The Cup of the World is a wonderful tale and one which perfectly demonstrates probably the greatest gift John received from his father; the art of weaving dreams. In this, his first novel, the dream is visibly present at the beginning when the heroine, Phaedra, is drawn into the arms of a man she has visualized in her dreams. In John’s other novels the dreams are less visible but nevertheless he readily acknowledges that throughout all his writing, he uses dreams as inspiration for his stories;
“Dreams do matter. Especially the kind of dream that wakes you up. A dream is coming from the back of your mind, just over the horizon of the subconscious and you don’t have any control over it, so you take that control over it by weaving it into a story… so you know how the story ends.”
No doubt many writers use dreams or day dreams as the foundations or inspiration for their writing but John’s method of working through his dreams to find a satisfactory resolution is a fascinating concept. Perhaps it is also indicative of John’s analytical mind. His degree in history and his civil service career demonstrate his ability to understand complex issues and ideas. He utilizes this ability in his novels where he is able to mix fact and fiction, to temper fantasy with reality and create a story not just in the terms of the protagonist(s) but in terms of the wider world. In The Lightstep, an historical novel for adults, the premise of the book is a simple love story yet the story also encompasses a huge tale of revolutionary Europe. As in his latest book WE, you can take as much or as little as you want from John’s writing; you can take the simple individual stories or you can view the wider picture and look, as John does, for an understanding of societies and how they change and develop – as do the people within them.
John’s latest projects are another fantasy novel and a tale for young children. Clearly, John has many dreams and not all of them so reflective. Indeed, his laughter lines betray someone who knows how to enjoy life as much as he knows how to contemplate it. His children’s tale has a humorous element to it too; an aspect of his writing he is keen to explore. Above all, it is John’s natural enthusiasm for life and quest for answers which leads him to experiment and progress with his writing. Unlike many established authors, he is happy to go wherever his imagination takes him. He is not afraid to cross genres or to write what he enjoys. Labels, he believes, are dangerous and I’m inclined to agree.
John Dickinson: Dream Weaver
John would probably be the first to say that he is still a developing writer and he would go back and change parts of his work if he could. Perhaps so. However, I found it refreshing to meet a writer as enthusiastic and dedicated as John. It takes so much more than having a father who is a writer to become a writer oneself. I’m sure one can learn many things about writing but I’m not so sure one can learn to imagine or to dream. These are gifts. They are the realms of the best authors and where ultimately their fantasies, desires, beliefs and even failings are open for criticism. It’s not a place to go unless the voice within speaks very loudly.
It’s obvious that for John that voice did speak forcefully but, nevertheless, there was no easy road to publication despite his childhood apprenticeship. His success has come on the back of a lifetime of learning his craft and weaving his own dreams. And whilst it’s true that the majority of us writers are doomed to have our manuscripts shut away in a drawer just occasionally, when talent, determination and good fortune come together, as they did for John, it’s good to know that sometimes dreams really can come true.
To read a full review of WE click here
To read how our artist put together the the illustration accompanying the WE review click here