When I asked Author Jim Webster to describe himself, he replied: “Modest, but I have much to be modest about.” Please welcome my fellow Sci-Fi Roundtable Knight to No Wasted Ink.
Farmer, adviser, writer, husband, father, churchwarden, Maverick. I’ve been a farmer for the vast majority of my life, a writer for not much less. I became a husband slightly later, and a father later still. As for adviser, I was never shy of giving people my opinion and with being a maverick, I may always have been one. Churchwarden just happened.
I farm in the south of Cumbria, between the sea and the English Lake District. Married, three adult daughters and still I have no dress sense.
When and why did you begin writing?
In simple terms with a small farm you need another source of income for a family to survive. Admittedly I didn’t have a family at the time, but this also meant I didn’t have a wife to go out to work. So I turned to writing as a form of diversification which took no capital (Unless you allow for the typewriter, and then a fax machine.) So I did freelance journalism, (almost all in trade publications) and then about 2010 people started pestering me to write fiction.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
It’s not something I’m precious about to be honest. I’m Jim. I’m a farmer who writes rather than a writer who farms. Some have suggested I stick with ‘farmer’ because I can cope with the dress code. How I quantify it is that I would leave my writing to help a calving cow, but I wouldn’t leave the cow because I realised I had to put in another paragraph.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
I’ve just finished a series of Science Fiction four books, the Tsarina Sector. I was asked to do it by a small publisher back in 2013 and Justice 4.1, the first book, was published in 2014. I went to Loncon with it in 2014 and it sold well. But the publisher was fading, life was closing in on them (in the nicest possible way, an addition to the family) and so by the time the second book War 2.2, came out, they gently closed down. I was left with two manuscripts and half a third. Anyway I went on to write other stuff (a lot of fantasy) and in 2020 I thought I might have chance to finish the series. Whilst farming didn’t have a lockdown, (if anything we were busier) all sorts of government bodies and inspectorates went into hiding and left me alone. So I got the time that way, finished the third book and wrote the fourth. I pressed publish on them all on the same morning at the end of June.
Having had the series almost die because of ‘life’ I thought that I wasn’t risking having it happen again. Now people can buy the whole series at once.
It’s SF, set on the planet Tsarina, which is not particularly important, but isn’t a bad place to live and all sorts of people want to take it over, from Starmancers (space pirates) looking for a base, to genetic engineers who want to sterilise a continent, ‘just to be sure.’
What inspired you to write this book?
Actually I was asked. But I’ve always loved SF as well as Fantasy and I’d been mulling over the idea of a story set in the backwaters of a galaxy.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Because I’ve done so much freelance journalism I am not precious about my ‘voice.’ Indeed even now, I have a different voice when I write as ‘Tallis Steelyard’, the poet who narrates some of my fantasy, to when I write my ‘dog and quad’ tales about life farming in Cumbria. Ironically from the comments made by my proof reader, Tallis Steelyard has better grammar and sentence construction.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
Ironically I didn’t. The publisher did and as he read it before suggesting it, I have stuck with it. I do think it fits.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I think the question that hangs below the surface across all four books of the series is, ‘What is Justice’ and at what point do you have to compromise for the greater good? As one female character comments on the last page of the final book in the series, “I think it is fair enough to buy justice at the cost of your own life. But I don’t think anybody is entitled to spend the lives of others just so they get to feel a warm glow of smug satisfaction that justice, however you define it, has been done.”
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
All sorts of things I have been told by people, living or dead, have drifted into the books. A phrase of my grandfather’s is in there. When cake was cut too thin he would comment that, “It tastes of knife.”
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
Jack Vance. Because he was an amazing writer. His work straddled the fuzzy borderland between fantasy and science fiction and his powers of description, and his ability to invent and describe cultures and societies has always awed me.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write. Writing is like carpentry, the more you do, the better you get and the better you are at covering up your mistakes.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Don’t be precious, be prepared to laugh at yourself, write books you enjoy. A good book is a holiday you can take without all that nonsense of going through airports. When you turn the final page, you should experience the sensation of leaving one world and returning, perhaps regretfully, to another.