BookView Interview with Author James Darren

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed author James Darren, about his writing and his debut novel, Arbutus Manor, a fast-paced tale with unexpected friendships, romance, and surprising twists (Read the review here.)

Author James Darren has always been intrigued by the knowledge that every person, on average, is said to meet 10,000 people in the course of their lifetime. Darren has managed to remember many in some capacity because of some unique characteristic, a fashion style, or a particular human quirk. Those memories are the basis for Darren’s characters in his first novel, Arbutus Manor, a slice of life look at disparate individuals living in a Vancouver boarding house during a single summer. Vancouver is a place that Darren knows well, as he lived there for years, before moving to Calgary spending time pursuing his love of writing and other creative pursuits.

Follow on facebook: James Darren


What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I use to write a lot of letters to family that lived afar and I had pen-pals from all over the world. My Grandmothers loved my letters with cute comics in the margins or wrapped with cursive writing mid-page. I met a pen-pal in person and they said. ‘You’re just like your letters.’ I was thrilled.

What is your favourite childhood book?

For me the ‘Arabian Nights’ (1963) children’s version really stuck with me. I could stare at the cover for hours (Mamoru Funai; illustrator) and although it was above my reading level my mom or babysitter would read it to me and I would practice reading some passages out loud with some help.

Who and what ultimately inspired you to become a writer?

Family, friends and co-workers were inspiring. Teachers provided the spark. One English teacher Ms. Bonnie Cradock was encouraging with praise. It was the first time I ever did well in English class and I remember her raised brow and ‘Hmm’ as she saw my choices for some assignments; ‘The Secret life of Walter Mitty’ (Short story. 1939) and ‘Doctor Zhivago’ (Novel. 1957).

I liked zed names, not knowing ‘Doctor Zhivago’ was a historical fiction novel about a doctor (poet) in love with two women during the Russian revolution.

A summer school teacher I had was so much fun. Mr Morin gave us an essay assignment on the dark subject of; “Death and what is the best way to die?” He thought drowning was the preferred method and it elicited several horrific ‘ew’s’ from the class. Kids love dark, scary stuff. We studied the Shakespeare play ‘Othello’ and I liked it. ‘Death of a Salesman.’ (1949) by Arthur Miller was the contemporary play study.

What authors do you like to read? What book influenced you or your writing?

The authors I’ve read the most are; Martin Cruz Smith, Bernard Cornwell, John Le Carre’, Stuart McLean, Piers Anthony and many others. Mostly fiction. Non-fiction most notable author is Edward O Wilson. I mostly admire the craft of these writers and don’t feel they really had any influence on my writing as I read for my own escapism and enjoyment. I have a kobo ereader with a dictionary and or a physical dictionary for when I’m reading a regular book. The author Wilbur Smith for example is always rich with vocabulary and I note any new words. A book written by Nancy Friday; ‘My secret Garden.’ (1973) influenced me with the subject matter. 

What’s more important: characters or plot?

I think characters are more important because they have to be solid and believable to carry the story. Distinct from each other and never perfect. Names are critical; especially with a possessive proper noun and the names should have a natural melodic flow and easy to pronounce.

How do you begin a book?

I’ll start with a synopsis and expand it like a treatment for a screenplay or an outline. Then I’ll develop main characters and rough plot their story arcs. As the book progresses and comes together, I’ll adjust or change the elements as the story takes on it’s own momentum. Surprises evolve.

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

I’ll research certain facts depending on setting, character and era. For example; Arbutus Manor is set in 1985 and a character’s perfume I originally wrote as ‘Sunflower’ was not available in 1985 and so I changed it. I would not want any inaccuracies and dodged a bullet there. 

Which scene was most difficult to write? Why?

One of the characters in Arbutus Manor has an episode and it was difficult to write because it’s a hellish experience for the character. A surreal seeping of their subconscious into consciousness.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

I hope readers will simply escape into the story with the characters.

What’s next for you? I am currently working on a continuation of the characters stories from Arbutus Manor


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