AJ Stiles Interview: “A lot of my writing comes from observation”

dancing with turtles

Check out my interview with AJ Stiles about his debut novel, The Dancing Turtle, which is inspired by his love of travel.

Tell me about your book. How you came to define your writing style?

My book is set primary in Brazil during a scorching summer heat wave. The main character is Marcus, who is sailing around Brazil on his yacht. As the story unfolds we discover dark secrets, which haunt him and his family and, in meeting a local fisherman, Miguel, he starts a journey of healing in which Miguel saves his life, both literally and metaphorically. My style developed naturally, but I have always loved books with a strong emphasis on the sensory environment. I like to feel like I am there.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

My background is in education but I have always enjoyed writing, ever since I was at school. I started writing formally one summer, when on holiday. I didn’t have a book with me to read, so I decided to start writing one myself!

Talk to me about your passion for nature and the environment. How does this shape your writing?

The environment is one of the biggest passions in my life and I enjoy living in the countryside – it’s where I get a lot of my inspiration. This is very much reflected in the Dancing Turtle, which has a strong environmental protection message.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

When I am stuck for ideas when writing, even though I want to press on with the book, I find that I need to sit back and read. I also find the environment that I am in has a big impact on my writing. Large parts of The Dancing Turtle were written in Spain, by the poolside, during one summer. But a lot of my writing comes from observation, whilst traveling or just out walking at home. I find the ocean gives me space to think which is why I always jot ideas down on my phone when they come to me.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

My hero has always been Harper Lee. I found it fascinating how she only wrote one book which had critical acclaim in her life, and also how much discussion her book led to at the time in transforming the way people think. I admired her work’s perspective, from a child’s point of view. They are usually the best judges of the world.

What books do you like to read and how do they shape your own work?

I love to read a variety of books, but particularly enjoy books dealing with other cultures and histories. I’ve just read Between Enzo and the Universe by Chase Connor, which I really loved. My next two books to read are On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming and The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m excited about my next novel which will be quite different in tone- it will be darker more claustrophobic and this time set in farthest reaches of Norway, a world away from the white beaches of Brazil. There will be similarities though – I love writing about other cultures and the Inuit culture is something that has fascinated me for a long time. The book will also have plenty of mystery and twists and again, will deal with the main character’s inner anguish.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Although I read commercial books, I am also keen to support Indie books and I have read some brilliant stories to be told through discovering a gem of a book on Twitter. I would urge readers to support this industry, as there is some fantastic work out there, that otherwise might not be seen.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I tried to make my book as universal as possible and for that reason, The Dancing Turtle crosses many genres of writing, from historical to romance, from travelogue to mystery. I have been so supported by many of the LGBTQ community for the romance that blossoms in the book. But I think the book will appeal to anyone who likes to read a book that will make them think and reflect on the world afterwards, and their role within it.

Thanks for taking the time, it’s been great to hear from you. You can read more about AJ and his work here.

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