Author of “Petri Viventum” (Soft Science Fiction)
How long have you been writing? Do you write genres other than speculative fiction?
As I’m sure is true of most writers in this anthology, the truth is that I’ve been trying to write stories since I first learned to hold a pen. But in a serious sense, aside from abortive teenage fiction and some very questionable spoken word poetry whilst at university, I’ve been writing for about 2 years. What triggered this was suddenly finding myself out of work. The few months I had to myself allowed me some time to really think about what I wanted to be doing, and as it turns out, that’s writing.
Aside from Speculative Fiction, I mostly write Literary fiction. I’m also working on a Magical Realist novel, but that’s some way off yet; I’m still getting to grips with the style.
What are some of your literary influences?
When I reached a certain age, my older sister decided that it was time for me to move on from the historical hack-and-slash fiction that I did (and still do) love, and read some serious books. With that in mind, she bought me Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, and Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger. Each of these are masterpieces in their own way, but I think your real influences are always the writers whom you feel you discovered on your own. With that in mind, the first two writers who really gripped me are Iain Banks and Margaret Atwood, who brilliantly reconciled the literary world I was just coming to know, and my own yearning for exciting, plot driven speculative fiction.
When it comes to writing, reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces had a huge impact. Since then I’ve been a true believer in narrative archetypes, and having been blessed with an education in classical literature, I find myself frequently imitating the story structures of epic poetry, and the characters of Greek tragedy.
What’s on your to-be-read list right now?
As an introduction to short fiction, I’d always recommend Ben Loory’s brand of whimsical gut-punching. His new collection, Tales of Falling and Flying was published September of last year, and I can’t wait to dig into it.
Are there themes that you find recurring in your work?
Certainly, and my story for the 5×5 anthology is a perfect example. The leading question in “Petri Viventum” concerns life after death, but what I really want to ask is if there is a possibility that we as individuals are part of something greater than ourselves. I’m not much closer to figuring this out, so I’ll likely be writing about this for a long time. Paradoxically, I find that this is a question best explored by outsider figures, so my fiction often rests on themes of solitude and isolation.
What is your typical writing process? Outline or seat-of-the-pants? A quiet room or a lively café? Music and coffee or tea and silence?
I’m lucky enough to have a balcony overlooking the Water of Leith, in Edinburgh. This allows me all the benefits of fresh air and direct sunlight, without the nuisance of having to leave my desk. Once settled, caffeine and nicotine keep my brain active.
In practical terms, I make sure to write every day, if only for as little as ten minutes. I don’t plot my stories in advance, so a lot of the legwork is done by my subconscious as I go about my day. Coming back to a story every day means I don’t stray too far from the path, or lose the thread altogether.
You can read James Ross’ story in Metaphorosis Magazine, “Murder on the Adriana,” for free online.