I am absolutely ecstatic to be hosting the first day of the blog tour for Jack’s Well by Alan McClure. A little over a year ago I had the pleasure of reading Alan’s debut novel, Callum and the Mountain, and it was the most wonderful experience. The word that stuck in my head about Alan’s writing was ‘unique’. And with Jack’s Well he has continued in the same vein. It is a book that is unlike anything I have ever read before. To be an authentic, original voice in a world of so many beautiful, amazing writers is quite a feet.
Jack’s Well follows a rather unusual narrative structure. I love the ‘throw the rule book out the window’ attitude and Alan McClure has very kindly shared a wee bit of insight into his thought process below.
“Beginning, middle and end. That’s how a story goes, isn’t it? It’s what I was taught in primary school, and I’ve suggested it to countless pupils over my ten years as a teacher. So I have to confess that any of my ex-pupils picking up Jack’s Well might find themselves a wee bit perplexed – they may even wonder if Mr. McClure has, quite literally, lost the plot! Because Jack’s Well doesn’t really work like that – it jumps around from present to past and back again and has at least three different narrative voices vying for your attention. It even, without giving too much away, sort of ends at the beginning. Or begins at the end. You’ll need to decide.
I have a few excuses for playing fast and loose with structure. The first, most important one, is that I really love books that play with their narratives. When I was about 17 I read a book called Lanark – a Life in Four Books by legendary Scottish author Alistair Gray and from the first page, where I discovered that it starts with Book 3, my mind was blown. After all, what fun are rules if they can’t be gleefully broken? Lanark massively widened my sense of what was possible in a book and is probably partly responsible for my becoming a writer.
Secondly, Jack Wilde, the hero of Jack’s Well, is having a really tough time when we meet him. He’s suffered a break from reality due to a number of huge pressures on him – bullying at school, the loss of his mum, and dealing with celebrity status – so his mind is jumping from one thing to another rather a lot, and I wanted to book to reflect that. Jack even warns you at the beginning – “There’s a danger of this journal being very disjointed because I’ve been very disjointed lately.” And it is, and he is, though I’m glad to say he gets better…
Thirdly, I just enjoy plittering about with narrative voice. In Jack’s Well, you do hear from Jack himself as he records his recovery journal: but you also get to read bits of books Jack’s dad has written, in which Jack stars as a 6-year-old fantasy hero. This let me invent a whole series of novels without actually having to write them all! Jack’s dad has achieved huge success with these stories, and that’s where Jack’s fame comes from, for better or for worse. We also read from an unauthorised biography called Jack: the Life Behind the Legend, which gives poor Jack yet another version of himself to deal with. I really enjoyed writing all these different voices and I hope I’ve succeeded in making them each distinctive and believable – a challenge to relish if you love playing with language.
Of course, the story does still have that all important beginning, middle and end – it’s just that the journey is more of a dance than a straightforward stroll. And while at times it might seem as if the threads in the story are all winding off in their own directions, bringing them all back together again for the finale is one of the things I’m proudest of in this book.
I hope that readers will find the journey as compelling as I did, and that, when they come to write their own novels (as everyone should!), they know they have near total freedom to plot it however they think will work best.”
Jack’s Well is one of the weirdest, mind twistingly glorious things I have ever read. Clever, powerful and utterly unique. This is not a book you should read, this is a book that you must read. Enjoy.