Getting to know you ♫♪♫♪ Getting to know all about you ♫♪♫♪
I’m anxious to learn about my collaborators in the soon-to-be-released anthology.
My interviews with Frank T. Sikora and Nancy Kay Clark were great fun and inspirational for all writers (and readers). This is my opportunity to get an intimate glimpse into the life and mind of collaborator and fellow Canadian Michael Joll. After only a couple of emails back and forth I felt a warmth of personality. He was someone I’d love to meet over coffee at a local Timmie’s to swap stories of our mutual love of writing.
My Google research has resulted in many interesting facts about Michael. Born in England, Michael spent part of his childhood in India and Pakistan. And then he …. Well, I’m just saying that he had a lot of great background for interesting and exotic stories. Let’s find out more about what makes him tick.
P: Michael, I learned that you started your writing career as a playwright. Can you tell us a bit about that and your successful transition to short stories, of which you have umpteen in publication.
M: I disliked the theatre right since childhood. It wasn't until I was in my fifties that I started going to The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake on a regular basis. I think it was a Noel Coward play which eventually lit the light bulb. "I can do that," I told myself. My first effort, a neoclassical Greek tragedy in five acts (nothing like starting off big), was a disaster. I rewrote the play as a mini series for radio (the first of four radio dramas I have written) and it was eventually recorded and aired, as were the next two. However, there is not a large market for bad plays, so I took inspiration (!) from one of my favourite authors, W. Somerset Maugham, a prolific writer of short stories in the 1920s and 1930s, and began to write short fiction soon after I retired. My first published story, 'Officially Old', which carried a US$100 prize in a competition, came out in 2011 and remains one of my favourites. Several other short stories followed into publication. I really enjoy writing in the genre. It forces me focus and chastises me for wasting words and wandering down rabbit-hole subplots.
P: I loved all of your story submissions to the anthology. My favourite was chosen as one of the four for publication. Can you reveal your inspiration for ‘With Regret’?
M: I didn't submit my favourite short story, 'The Summer I turned Eleven' for this anthology. It has appeared on CommuterLit and in hard copy, but I wasn't confident it would have as broad an appeal as others. 'With Regret', while almost a complete fabrication, has a true story at its heart. I read a newspaper article several years ago about a 101 year old Englishman who had received a Rolls Royce for his twenty-first birthday. He still had it 80 years later. The story flowed in about two hours of writing time and won First Prize in the Elora Writers' Festival in 2012. It was fun to write and allowed me to be thoroughly and unapologetically English. One reviewer sniffed that the story used the Rolls Royce 'as both pimp and pillow'. I couldn't agree more and I'm proud that she disapproved of it!
P: Can you tell us something about yourself that your readers would be most surprised to hear?
M: I won't divulge my darkest secrets as they would no longer be secret, and everyone needs one or two to keep him, or her, honest, don't you think? But if I hadn't done the things I ended up doing over the past 70+ years, I would have chosen to be an opera singer. My bathtub tenor, while soaring to great heights, if only in my imagination, would have undoubtedly brought me crashing down to earth when confronted with reality. In a profession as talent-rich as opera, to rely on a one inch strip of larynx for one's livelihood is to court disaster. I salute those who have made it. Fortunately for the ticket-buying public, my singular lack of vocal talent was spotted at an early age.
P: Think back to your earliest childhood memory. How old were you and what do you remember?
M: I think it was in 1948, and I was three. We lived in Karachi, Pakistan, where my father was working in those days. On occasion my father would drive my mother, my baby sister and me down to the docks. Why escapes me. It probably was for something to do on a Sunday afternoon and for no higher purpose. A railway spur ran from the main docks out to a point on the Arabian Gulf. A shunting engine chugged its way slowly along the track and came to a stop a short distance from us. I remember my father waving to the engine driver, who responded with a long toot of the engine's whistle. It scared the living you-know-what out of me, and I remained afraid of trains for years afterwards.
P: Do you have tattoos? If so, what is their significance? It's all I can do to stop myself from asking where they are.
M: You would think that after a stint as an officer in the Royal Marines Reserve force in my early twenties, and thirteen years as a police officer in Canada, I'd have some ink art. But, no. I don't have a tattoo. After I lost my Springer Spaniel and my Golden Retriever barely six months apart this year, I seriously considered having tattoos of both done, one on each shoulder. For once, my better judgement prevailed, and I bought a six pack of beer instead. It's hard to be disappointed with a beer, and I could always give them away if I had a change of heart.
P: Do you currently have a writing project (of course you do) and could you give us the elevator pitch?
M: After receiving a professional 2nd draft critique of a novel, I am working on the 3rd draft. The neoclassical Greek tragedy in five acts I mentioned earlier? I rewrote it as a novel using the play as my outline. About a decade of revisions later, all that remains of the original play is the title, 'For Valour', and the names of a couple of the characters. 'For Valour' is a Romance which turns into a love story between an aristocratic and wealthy English army officer, Harry, and his wealthy American fiancee, Athena, woven into the fabric of the First World War. With their plans to marry thwarted by the outbreak of the war, Harry finds himself entangled in a love affair with a young French war widow with whom he fathers a child. His affections for Athena cool with time and distance, but two years after their engagement he goes through with the wedding, hoping his love for Athena will return. Harry is badly wounded during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 and returns to England to recover. While there he makes an astonishing discovery about his father. His love for Athena intensifies and the story ends happily, though not in the manner one might expect.
P: We all have experienced heart racing moments. Does one come to mind that you could share with us?
M: But the scariest moment came in 1988. I was a police officer on the late afternoon shift, working the factory areas. Around 2:30 a.m. on a windy and rainy night, the officer who patrolled the neighbouring area and I were pulled up in our cruisers side by side, looking for nothing to do before we went off shift at 3:00. I received a radio call - a burglar alarm gone off not far from where we were idling and gossiping. No way to avoid the call, so we responded. We arrived within a couple of minutes and split up to check the perimeter of the building. I quickly found an unlocked door and I waited for my partner to arrive before entering. One officer into a building in such circumstance was an invitation to a stomach full of bird shot. Two, and the second would probably live to tell the tale. After much discussion as to who should enter the building first, he pulled seniority on me and let me have the honour. The building, a small warehouse, seemed empty. We checked the office area with our flashlights and were about to leave and make the building secure when a door crashed closed. Billy the Kid and Matt Dillon of 'Gunsmoke' never cleared leather faster or got into the crouch position with less grace and dignity than we did. Nothing. Nobody. The wind had taken a second insecure outside door, which neither of us had reached on our perimeter check, and slammed it closed. Sheepishly, we holstered our service revolvers and agreed we had never drawn them, unless we wanted to be filling out paperwork in the style of, 'herewith the reason for drawing my service firearm' for the Provincial Special Investigations Unit, until the middle of the next day. It still makes my heart race when I think about it.
Michael Joll only came to serious writing in retirement. After forty years too many in the work force, from selling Continental Delicatessen in Selfridges on London’s Oxford Street, to part time temporary deck hand and purser on a car ferry plying the north reach of the Bay of Quinte, he brings a lifetime of variety and experience to his stories. In retirement, the most fulfilling job he ever held, (“The hours are great. The pay less so.”), he has spent the past dozen or so years writing, everything from stage and radio plays (disasters) to short fiction (more successful) and novels (still trying). For most of the past 45 years he has lived in Brampton, Ontario, with a wife (his own), a laptop, and memories of all the dogs whose lives he has been privileged to share.