Today, Tilbury Talks To… John R. Cowton. Welcome John. Please would you introduce yourself?
I’m retired from my career working in Mental Health as a registered nurse, but even during my busiest times, I have always managed to find time to read a book. I love the crime genre, but also enjoy historical fiction. I’m also an aspiring writer and am known to write the odd story or two when not reading, which isn’t very often.
What went through your head when you first decided to start your book blog?
I have been reviewing on Amazon and Goodreads for some time whilst struggling to keep a ‘writer’s’ blog going. I say struggling, because I had reached a point where I believed I had nothing more of value to say. I don’t think anyone can read a book and not have an opinion about it, so there was always something to say. It became clear that it was time to start again, so I started a new blog with a new name. There is a button on my new blog which links to my old blog for those rare occasions that I have something else to say. But, essentially, I have evolved into a book blogger.
What are the best and worst things about being a book blogger?
The best thing is I feel I am making a connection with the author of the book I have just read. I then try to let them know through social media or email that there is a review out there. The reaction is usually good. When a writer has given me great pleasure from what has been written, I would hope I have reciprocated by giving the writer pleasure with my positive feedback. If I didn’t like it there would be no review at all, because I don’t make claims to be a professional book critic. Just because I didn’t like what I have read, somebody else probably loves it, so who am I to assume the position of judge and jury. I’m just a reader who likes to give back.
The worst thing is when I doubt myself that anyone could be the remotest bit interested in what I have to say. I don’t mean the author, but other readers.
How soon after finishing reading a book do you write a review?
Oh, it has to be immediately while it is fresh in my mind. If I leave it too long I would most certainly be into another book by then.
Have you met any fellow book bloggers in ‘real life’ and what were they like?
I’ve met Mike Stotter Editor-in-Chief of Shott’s Mag or Shott’s Crime and Thriller Ezine, to be more correct, and his assistant editor Ali Karim, both of whom are major players for book reviews but at the same time very approachable and happy to share their time. I’ve known Ali for longer, who is living proof that it’s possible to make an outstanding career from book reviewing if that’s your dream. It’s not mine, but it’s good to rub shoulders with the best.
Have you met any of your favourite authors? Did the experience meet your expectations?
There are so many. As I said before, I do attend writing events. Mainly crime writing events. It never ceases to amaze me how these people who have the most disturbing thoughts about heinous atrocities against innocent people appear to compensate for this by presenting themselves as the nicest, warm and friendly people to keep company with. If there are exceptions, it has to be said I haven’t met them.
If you could meet any author, alive or dead, and ask them one question, who would it be, and what would you ask them?
I would love to have met the legend that was Harper Lee, Pulitzer Prize-winner. In her only recorded interview in 1964 she was asked what was her reaction to her success of her novel To Kill A Mockingbird? Her answer was that she was “It was something I never expected to, ah, but I never expected the book to sell in the first place. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers, but I was hoping that somebody might like it well enough to give me some encouragement about it. Some public encouragement.” She died in 2016 so may well have been aware of the shift in culture due to the internet, self-publishing and book bloggers, so my question to Ms Lee would have been, based on your own experience of self-doubt what words of encouragement would you say to a writer who’s newly published debut novel had left a good impression with you?
Think of the worst antagonist you’ve ‘met’ in a book. If you could dish out your own justice on behalf of their victims, who would it be and what would you do?
There are so many worst characters, when you have read as many books as I have. I could even go back to my childhood reading and remember such characters as Flashman in Tom Brown’s Schooldays. It would be difficult to answer the absolute worst, a small number of books that I have read has even had the Devil himself making an appearance.
So, I am going to select from more recent memory, and it has to be said Mark, I nominate Detective Inspector John Carver from The Abattoir of Dreams as the worst character I have ‘met’ for the intense pleasure he felt from carrying out his vile unspeakable acts. For the second part of the question, I couldn’t carry out my own justice on behalf of the victims, I would just want to do everything in my power to ensure that justice is seen to be done within the constraints of the law. I’m retired now, but I have had a career rehabilitating offenders and would be letting myself down if I said I would be willing to cause harm to such characters. Nevertheless, there is a world of difference between reality and what makes a hell of a good story.
Which book has had the most emotional impact on you? This can be any emotion – sadness, laughter, fear etc.
Without doubt it would have to be Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, for it’s many dark emotions from hopelessness and total despair to paranoia and fear of discovery. The intensity of the narrative had me as a reader on edge and gasping for air, as I am doing right now just thinking about it. I must have read this novel over forty years ago, and it is a book that I think is worthy of a re-read during my more senior years.
If you could transport yourself into one book and be part of the story, which would you choose?
Again, I am going to refer to To Kill a Mockingbird. I would want to transport myself to be Atticus Finch the small-town lawyer who against immense opposition from his townsfolk stood up for what’s right. For me, nobody could hold his head up any higher than Atticus Finch.
In your opinion which book should everyone read at least once, and why?
I apologise for the narrowness of choice, but after all I have said there can only be one book that fits the bill and that is To Kill a Mockingbird. Hailed as the best novel of the twentieth century and having sold over thirty million copies in forty languages, it is a tale of a child’s blind faith in trusting her father to save the life of a black man wrongly accused of murder. Harper Lee captures the spirit of the small town in the deep south during times of austerity and extreme prejudice. It’s a book that is humbling to read and that is why I believe everyone should read it.
Who are your 3 favourite authors and what makes them stand out?
I’m not going to say who my favourite authors of all time are. I’m here as a book blogger and ought to be able to stick my neck out and just pick three from the authors I have reviewed on my blog. I apologise in advance to those of you that have been mentioned on my blog and have not been picked out. You are all my favourites, it’s just that these are three of my favourite favourites. So here goes.
Ricki Thomas. One of the first crime writers that I ever met. She has seven standalone thrillers in print, all of which I have read. There are many and turns in each of her books and the appeal for me is each book is totally different. I do like a series, but Ricki Thomas’s standalones are a breath of fresh air. Her characterisation of the antagonist I believe is due to her in depth knowledge of the psychology of serial killers and her extensive reading of true crime.
Anita Waller. Anita doesn’t write series, but she is partial to a sequel. She too develops some outstanding characters with protagonists that you really care about and do not wish to see any harm befall them.
Mark Tilbury. Yes you are in my top three Mark. Simply because nobody describes pure evil just like you do Mark. I think I’ve said in the past that you are the new Shaun Hutson. My goodness how do you sleep at night with all of those thoughts that go into everything anyone could wish for in a dark psychological thriller.
Thank you for inviting me to be interviewed Mark, I feel very privileged.
If anyone would care to take a look and subscribe to my book blog, you will find me on www.johnrcowton.com
As always, thank you for your support.