An Interview with J.D. Sumner

Daniel Brady

Looking for some inspiration to help you put pen to paper? We spoke with J.D. Sumner, former Royal Holloway PhD student and author of The Excursionist. James is also a former postgraduate student from The Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College Dublin and has visited 130 countries, making him well-versed in the workings of the world. Here’s what he had to say when we chatted to him:

Can you please tell us more about your book, The Excursionist, and tell us what readers can expect?  

Jack Kaganagh wants to visit 100 countries before a landmark birthday and travels to Placentia, Kilrush and Fulgary in the fictional locale of the Coronation Islands, somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Placentia is an eco-resort, Kilrush is the world’s only Irish Protectorate and The Omanalak on Meelick Bay in Fulgary is a seven-star barefoot luxury resort. The novel takes a satirical look at the idea of luxury travel, the commodification of the travel industry and travellers themselves while exploring the themes of inequality, loneliness and materialism. As to what readers can expect: reviews range from ‘a comical, light-hearted look at travel’ to ‘a meditation on loneliness disguised as a travel comedy’ and ‘laugh out loud…It may even result in letting out an involuntary wee’ to ‘a story of self-discovery and coming to terms with the past.’


How did Royal Holloway and the English Department help you to shape your ideas into a fully-published book? 

I was accepted by Royal Holloway College’s English Department (just writing that makes me anxious about my spelling and grammar) to do a PhD in Travel Writing and Satire which involved both a critical component and a creative component. I was always obsessed about travel and have a mild form of dromomania, the compulsion to travel. I wanted to find out why I felt the need to travel. My thesis explored the history of British travel writing and my creative component was eventually to become my novel, The Excursionist.


What was the highlight of your time at Royal Holloway?

I had several highlights, being offered a place was one and getting my doctorate was another. My low point was some compulsory courses about something to do with a computer. I have never owned a mobile or sent a text so it was a bit of a struggle. On the other hand, I was very lucky with my supervisors, Doug Cowie and Professor Robert Hampson, who were both incredibly patient not once threatening me with violence. I have no idea what would have happened if I hadn’t worked with those two. I suppose I would have chucked it all in and I wouldn’t have published The Excursionist. I have wanted to write since I was 18 and reading Oscar Wilde on the tube which almost made me miss my stop.


Any tips for current students hoping to publish their first book?

The cliche is don’t give up the day job…I would be very cautious about thinking you could ever support yourself financially. More people are writing than reading nowadays so getting onto a publisher’s radar is well nigh impossible. As to getting a book published, just keep going, ignore what the experts say because if they actually knew what they were talking about they’d be far too busy to talk to the likes of you. The writing industry is like the Klondike Gold Rush where the people who made the money weren’t the people digging for gold but the people selling the equipment. These days there is a better chance of supporting yourself if you are marketing writing services to writers than actually writing. Huge oversimplification but there is something in that.


Who are some of your main influences? 

The Excursionist owes its structure, satirical bent and narrative drive to the works of Jonathan Swift, Evelyn Waugh and Malcom Bradbury. I studied all three of them as part of my critical component and I would heartily recommend all three writers. They all make me laugh out loud and they all have something to say.


Do you have any rituals to invoke creativity when you write?

When I write I make myself go to my man cave at 2 p.m. come hell or high-water. I read websites about a struggling lower league football club, check to see what the stockmarket is doing, answer any leftover emails, look out the window, tidy up my desk, shuffle some papers, clean my desk top, wipe my screen and make another coffee, I open my word document just to give it the once-over to see what garbage I wrote yesterday, begin to re-write it and start adding some more to fill out the gaps, writing is re-writing. And, by the way, I’m no expert… just a scribbler who was helped along the way by some kind people.
What’s next for you? 

I had always thought I would work for a local lower league football club until I was kicked off the board after a unanimous vote of no confidence at a meeting I didn’t attend so that was the end of that. I am always busy but never quite sure what I am busy at. My current projects include bringing a legal action against a solicitor, designing an ultra-modern house and travelling to Nicaragua and Mexico which will be my 130th country.

I have a couple of ideas for a book which at some point I hope to write and to publish, one is a noir-ish tale of lower league football and the other about a young fella lied to on his adoption form by his birth mother who tries to contact his birth father with hilarious consequences…


James’ book, The Excursionist, is available for purchase on Amazon and comes highly recommended from The Founder staff!

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