Pursuing The Spark: The Jesus Man author Keith Anthony Baird talks to Kendall Reviews.

Keith Anthony Baird lives in rural Cumbria, England, with his partner Ann, a mad spaniel, two cats and two goldfish. He’s also inherited two daughters and a grandson. He’s had a varied career, having been a journalist for ten years, and also a designer and a retail manager in his time. The Jesus Man is his first novel, written throughout 2016 and based upon an idea he devised just under thirty years ago.

Inspired by such luminaries as H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and H. G. Wells, his aim has been to deliver stories in a classic vein, but with a contemporary slant in both style and content. He aims to remain entirely independent, producing his works his own way, without interference from traditional publishing houses.

In his spare time, he and Ann indulge their shared love of the mountains by scaling the many peaks of the inspirational Lake District National Park.

KR: Coffee?

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KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

I lived in the North East of England for the most part but in recent years I settled in the Lake District. I’m 48 and only came to fiction writing at the age of 45. In my twenties I set up my own magazine which eventually went national and saw me travelling to London regularly to interview bands and review concerts. I’ve also had my own bands on and off over the years but that’s all behind me now. After the magazine folded I went into regional journalism for ten years. I then decided to go the self-employed route once again and set up a music shop and rehearsal facility. Two and a half years later that venture folded and I went back to publishing as the editor for a web-based private company. Later, I managed a music shop for someone else and now I work for a specialist book company here in Cumbria.

KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

The older I’ve got, the more active I’ve become and so I get out into the mountains here with my partner Ann whenever possible. We enjoy camping too, but not the pampered kind that seems all the rage these days (glamping I believe it’s called), more the earthy kind which is pure basics and just enjoying the outdoors.

I also like the cinema experience but only when there’s something worth seeing. Got to see A Quiet Place recently at our local retro cinema. It’s much more of an experience to watch a good film in that environment than internet streaming for example. Though I write under a general umbrella of what could be classed as dark fiction, I’m not your average kind of sci-fi/horror/fantasy type consumer of such things. My head needs to be challenged by it, so pure gore has no impact, shock horror doesn’t work (I don’t jump) and the simple ‘captain of a starship exploring the galaxy-type of thing’ puts me to sleep. There’s got to be something deeper going on for it to potentially click with me. I think a part of the problem is I’ve pretty much got most things worked out before I’m halfway through it, probably because as a writer things like plot twists, sub plots et al are just part and parcel of how your head’s wired, so it’s kind of like a built-in spoiler mechanism. Plus, to be honest, in terms of Hollywood, most of what gets served up is put together by a director whose forte isn’t in storytelling, more in the soulless art of satisfying mass consumerism.

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

Winnie the Pooh, or say … Rupert the Bear. Nah, only joking. I didn’t have a childhood favourite. If I had, it would’ve been something like Winnie being involved in some dark plot and supporting characters such as Eeyore and Tigger quietly being bumped off by a psychotic Christopher Robin.

KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

That’s a tough one as there’s so many great albums. I can’t say one in particular but can certainly list a number of them here. The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks, The Clash’s London Calling, Nirvana’s Bleach, Slayer’s Reign in Blood, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, Voivod’s Killing Technology and too many others to list here. As for playing a role in my writing, not directly but I do at times listen to classical music as a background piece when I’m in full contemplation mode. For my mind, a story has a similar pulse to music, in that there’s the rise and fall in tension and things that work as a counterpoint.

KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director?

In the recent top ten favourites I did with you I mentioned The Thing (1982) as being my favourite film. For me, it’s not really holding Carpenter in any high regard as I think, like all directors, he’s done good and bad stuff throughout his career. It’s more that certain things about that production seemed to click real well, such as Rob Bottin’s effects, the cast and how they interacted, and Russell’s portrayal of MacReady. It’s just a shame Spielberg’s ET came out at relatively the same time and buried it at the box office. Mind you, I prefer the fact it’s become a cult classic as opposed to the trashy piece of celluloid which surpassed it at the time.

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KR: What are you reading now?

K. K. Edin’s The Measurements of Decay. I’m still at the initial stages with it but already I can see it’s the kind of work which appeals. It’s clever, insightful and written in a style which sits well with my need for depth.

KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?

I’m not inspired by other authors directly. I appreciate other works for what they are and could cite a great many authors as being of interest to me, but the truth is I tend not to be led to write a certain way by being a follower of their styles. I have my own way of approaching it and that’s deeply rooted in my own perspective. You have to have your own voice otherwise what’s the point? If you copy something else, no matter what it is in life, it’ll always be nothing but a pale imitation. That’s the reason I don’t believe in guides or instruction literature. It’s just someone’s opinion and opinions are like arseholes … everyone’s got one. In The Jesus Man I paid a small amount of homage to Lovecraft but that was by design, not through influence.

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

My process is a bit of a complex animal to be honest. It usually begins with an initial spark of inspiration, so I’ll run with where that takes me. When it fizzles out I stop and take stock. That can take days, weeks or months. During that time I’m thinking about it as a whole and working out lots of different aspects. I’ll then draft some smaller pieces (my thoughts or workings out usually) and incorporate them into the main body. Sometimes they are what they are, essential nuts and bolts so to speak, other times they act as triggers for something greater than the sum of their parts. Those bigger things can be something like a sub plot which I hadn’t originally thought of, or a twist, or something that brings the need for either a new character or a whole other raft of them. At points along the way I get other bursts of inspiration which can see me producing thousands of words which require no edit at all. However, there are always barriers that need knocking down from time to time, blocks that simply require an almost torturous process of grinding through it to overcome the inertia. I don’t believe in rushing to the finish line. I’m safe in the knowledge it’ll get done and, once you’ve written your first 100k work, doing it again is a relaxed affair. I try to be acutely aware of things like pacing, continuity and balance too, and to aim to craft something that has no holes in it. You need to consider the reader of course, but not too much. If they like it: great, if they understand it: great, but if it’s not their thing they’ll never click with it and I don’t write for the mindset of the masses. I write for those who want something which is challenging, thought provoking and something which may prove to be educational or insightful in some way.

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I’ll tap sources that give me what I need. That can see me scouring the internet for days until I’m happy I’ve acquired ‘accurate’ information. My latest WIP, Nexilexicon, saw me initially arming myself with in-depth information on 19th Century ship-building techniques, blueprints, places of construction, and timber used etc. Off the back of that, sailing techniques of the era, every single part of a three-masted schooner of the day and sailing terminology. In tandem with that, sailing superstitions, costume and routes. I contacted a local sailing club to see if there was anyone who’d had experience of sailing tall ships. I was given the contact details of a guy I could explain the premise of my story to and the planned route and mode of travel. He gave me invaluable advice on how the ship would have to be sailed and the kind of timescale involved depending on the conditions. I tend not to research too much before beginning. I do it as I go, based upon what I foresee happening in subsequent chapters. I think it could be quite possible to get bogged down in research and not actually get going if you worry about it too much. Look, there will always be a clever dick out there who’ll read something and say ‘that’s not right, or not possible’, and then be all full of themselves because they’ve been handed their lifelong, one and only split-second feeling of superiority, but you’ve just got to go with what you believe is right and get on with it. Do as much as you need to cover your arse and don’t worry about the kind of people who don’t get out too much.

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

They’re all different. Some days it’s hard slog, some days it’s pure inspiration and before you know it you’ve got 3k in the bag. What happens most though is I need to stop and get away from the desk. I’ll make a snack or walk the dog and use that time to work things out in my head. Sometimes, those moments allow inspiration to break through and they can be pure ‘light bulb over the head’ situations. I rarely scribble down notes with pen and paper. If something is strong enough to be used then it sticks in my head. Anything that doesn’t I deem wasn’t good enough to be included, so I don’t lose any sleep over it. I don’t punish myself over output either. I see other writers making statements on social media quite often about how much they’ve managed to write that day. I think a day-by-day account of output is a bit pointless really, I mean, who cares? For me, as long as I’m happy with the quality of what I’ve written, that’s all that concerns me. If you write 5,000 words of shite in one day does that make you better because you wrote more than someone who wrote 300? Down that route lies the deep, dark sea of shit which is the overflowing Amazon marketplace.

KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?

I’m not interested in writing short stories. It appeals to others obviously but for me, if a story is worth telling, then it’s worth telling in full.

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

Yes I do. I think every writer should, otherwise you’ll probably be up your own arse. It’s a learning curve and you have to understand that your opinion isn’t the only one that counts. Sure, you’ve put the work in and joe public hasn’t, but they’re buying and reading and giving their time and money to you, so you should listen to their observations.

KR: Any advice for a fledgling author?

You’ll want to get your first book out there as quickly as possible. Don’t. Study the market first. Otherwise, disappointment will crush you like a tin can in outer space. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can. Watch videos, listen to wise self-published authors who’ve been burned by doing X,Y & Z, laugh at the kooks who splatter YouTube with ‘the only advice you’ll ever need’ and, most importantly, build relationships. Relationships are key, because otherwise you’re just another author who stands there shouting ‘I wrote a book’ – only to find out no one gives a fuck because you’re just another ‘shouty guy’ and the world’s full of them, and readers have to wade through mountains of rubbish before they find something worth their time.

KR: What scares you?

Having regrets on my deathbed. I don’t want to be in a position where I wish I’d tried to do something. So, I invest in what gives me satisfaction and pursue it.

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

Definitely hardback, it just feels real. Ebooks are shit and a paperback is just the poor cousin of a hardback.

KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

That would be my debut The Jesus Man. It sits in no-man’s land to a certain extent. It’s futuristic but not the standard setting people tend to imagine. It’s post-apocalyptic, but again, set fifty years after the global meltdown. There’s a strong element of horror throughout and many scenes are very graphic, with a climactic explosion of violence. There are sub plots playing out too and also examinations of moral and spiritual behaviour. It’s early days for this title, it’s still finding its audience and I think it’s safe to say it won’t be an obvious choice for most horror/fantasy/apocalyptic readers. It’s a deep read and those just wanting their ‘literary happy meal’ of zombies, survival situations and ‘the obvious’, will not gravitate to it. It has an ominous atmosphere and has been described by some readers as getting under their skin and unnerving them to some extent.

KR: What are you working on now?

Nexilexicon is my current WIP and, without putting too many spoilers here, I’ll provide a brief synopsis. A young Dutch aristocrat embarks on an expedition to the Amazon interior in 1847. For this, he engages the services of an Italian skipper who has recently ran a shipment to Amsterdam. With additions to the crew, the ‘Eva Contessa’, a three-masted schooner, puts to sea only to suffer a string of strange occurrences en route. Eventually landing at Macapá, Brazil, the surviving crew are now fractious and close to mutiny. The smaller expedition party heads up river where eventually they meet an indigenous tribe that grants them time among them. During their stay, the aristocrat records aspects of their rituals in his journal and makes hand-drawn copies of the tattoos applied to the chosen males by their shaman. On the return journey, the Eva is captured and the fate of her crew is established. The journal is taken, along with other possessions and valuables and eventually lost. The time line jumps to the 1960s and wreck hunters discover the book on a Caribbean island. It is taken to America and eventually sold as a historic artefact. Subsequently, a friend of the buyer is shown its contents and, being a physicist, recognises the meaning of the tattoo designs copied in the journal. It makes no sense, atomic equations penned, albeit in a disjointed manner, in a 19th Century expedition journal. In a series of events, including murders, the book disappears once again, only to surface inside a secure facility in 2012, as the heart of a covert black op titled: Nexilexicon. A team, a particle accelerator and the upper echelons of government are about to punch a hole through to another dimension. What could possibly go wrong?

KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?

You can choose…

a) One fictional character from your writing.

b) One fictional character from any other book.

c) One real life person that is not a family member or friend.

The fictional character from my writing would be Rune Larsen, the Danish navigator aboard the Eva Contessa in Nexilexicon. I’d need him to get me back to civilisation once I’d constructed a boat with the help of Robinson Crusoe. Whilst on the island, preparing for departure, Bear Grylls would be a handy fellow to have around, to teach me survival techniques and educate me on what to eat and how to find water.

KR: Thank you very much Keith.

For more information please visit Keith’s website here

You can visit Keith’s Author page here

A desolate Earth is visited by a malevolent force locked in a celestial conflict for the ownership of souls. Post-war colonists must face their last days in the wasteland, at the mercy of evil’s machinations. A priest who is racked by visions and, ultimately possessed, heralds the downfall of the last of men. Rich in descriptive content and paced throughout with a growing sense of doom, The Jesus Man delivers an unsurpassed vision of Hell on Earth.

You can buy Keith’s debut novel The Jesus Man Amazon UK & Amazon US

1 Comment

  1. Great review Kendall! Intrigued with his approach to writing in a “classic” sense with a contemporary slant. That’s what I strive for as well. So very excited about reading this! I’m heading over to pick up this book right after I write this comment.

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