Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Interrogating Steve Robinson

On the release of To The Grave, the follow up to his very popular book In The Blood, I interview Steve Robinson on the eve of his first year of being an indie author

How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?

I like to write the kind of books that engage and excite me as a reader and I figure that if I can achieve that for myself when I’m writing then others might enjoy my books for the same reasons.  I like a good story and that’s what I try to create.  A good story, well-told. That’s my mantra.  It doesn’t really feel like I’m making any compromises and that’s perhaps because I love the genres I write for and crime-fiction in particular is very popular at the moment.

What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in.

I love weaving a mystery through a book and it’s the unanswered questions that keep us turning pages to find the answers, isn’t it?  Also, because my protagonist, Jefferson Tayte, is a family historian, I have the freedom to write in any time period I choose, and that’s something else I love about the genres I write for - it’s exciting for me when I finish a book and I start to wonder where the next story will take me.  It keeps everything fresh for both writer and reader alike.  To paraphrase Forrest Gump’s ‘box of chocolates’ scene, you never know what you’re gonna get - and neither do I.  Add in the crime-fiction element and things get more exciting because I can also write for the thriller genre.

Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them? 

I keep notepads by my bedside and all over the house (as I’m sure every writer does), but most of my ramblings go into files on my laptop.  I don’t do longhand at all well because I can type faster than I can write - if I want to keep things legible that is.  And I do ramble.  By the time I’ve finished a book of around 100,000 words, I’m sure that I’ve written twice that in notes and research.  I love technology for that reason.  Without my laptop I’d go through so many notepads, be completely disorganized and need a bigger house in which to store all the boxes, drawers and folders I’d need to contain all those words.

How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with ? 

I’ve wondered that myself.  My agent asked me this a few years ago when she was trying to get a mainstream publisher interested in my debut book, In the Blood. I was sitting with her at her office in London, having hand-delivered my second book largely because it was cheaper to visit her than post it.  She asked where I got the character of Jefferson Tayte from and I said that most of him came from me.  She said, ‘but you don’t look anything like him.’  That’s true, but it’s not really what I meant, although we are roughly the same height.  I tend to define my characters by their moral attributes as well as physical.  When you see a character you get an image that you can recognize, but you don’t know them, do you?  What I meant was that in any given situation that I’d put Tayte in, I would ask myself what I would do.  How he behaves is much as I would behave myself or hope I would.  Other characters are taken from people I’ve met.  Tom Laity from In the Blood is a real person by a different name.  The real man is exactly like the character in the book and he also lives in Cornwall and ran a deli at the time.  You can’t beat drawing from real life - and you can always embellish.  In To the Grave, Tayte really shares the lead with a character from 1944 called Mena.  She’s a 16/17 year old girl and I’ve no idea how she came to me but she’s such a wonderful character that I’m so glad she did.

Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?

I think she wonders where I am more than who I am.  I do tend to get into character though as well as the period when I’m deep into a book.  I think you have to or how else am I going to feel it?  And if I can’t feel it, how can I expect my readers to?  It’s all part of the job.  At least I’m at home though, so I’m kind of around and the balance works okay for us because my wife works long hours herself. 

What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?

Pretty much.  I like crime-fiction, of course, and I love a good mystery, but I’m off police procedurals and I don’t like murder-mysteries.  I prefer to think of my books as mysteries with murder, where the mystery itself runs deeper than whodunnit.  I like my mysteries to be more about why.  Every now and then you come across a book that grabs your attention outside of your usual genres, don’t you?  I love it when that happens.  If the storytelling in a book is strong enough, I don’t really mind what genre it is. 

What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor?

I like to raise questions in a book blurb while letting the reader know what it’s about.  There are about thirteen questions in the blurb for To the Grave and hopefully they will entice the reader to read on and find the answers.  I don’t know about X-factor.  I think that’s a little different for every reader and the answer to whether or not a book has it for a reader can only come at the end of the book.  The reviews from such readers stack up over time though and books that have that X-factor will eventually show through.  I guess the only way I could try to convince you that my books have the X-factor would be to show you what others thought about my work.

How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?

Grateful.  They really are doing me a service.  I’ve had what feels like a small army of proofreaders working with me on polishing To the Grave and we’ve already had a great comment from one reader who said how well edited and proofed it was, so credit to them.  This is the very reason I’m holding back the paperback release for a few weeks because it’s so easy (and free) to fix an error in an eBook publication, less so when it’s in print.  So, if you or any one else finds any errors in my work, please let me know.

What do you like most about visiting KUF?

I’ve been a Kuffer since last year now and I find it a very friendly and supportive environment.  I look in quite a bit just to keep abreast of what’s going on, even though I don’t find as much time to interact as I would like to when I’m writing, which is most of the time.

What is on your near horizon?

The 3rd book in the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Crime Mystery series.  I have the title and most of the plot already.  Beyond that I’m planning a six book series, so four more to go, and maybe a second series if there’s call for one.  Once I’ve set things up for the paperback edition of To the Grave, and once I’ve finished all the jobs around the house and garden that have been piling up while I’ve been writing, I’ll hunker down to book three, which I hope to release early next year.

Where can we find you for more information?

I’m told that my website is an interesting place to visit. The address is:  Please drop by and take a look around.  You’ll find my contact email there, too, and I’m easy enough to find for a chat on the KUForum and the Goodreads UK Amazon Kindle Forum.


  1. Half way through To the Grave and loving it, Steve.

    Susanne (KUF)

  2. Phew, that's good to hear Susanne. I'm eagerly awaiting your book end report. :o)

  3. Have just started reading In the Blood, and I´m sure it is just my kind of mystery :)

    In fact, genealogy is also important to my next novel (only published in Danish yet), and that is because it is a hobby of mine.

  4. Wow great books. In the Grave just touched my heart. Related to this that it brought me to tears. Please contine to write this kind of book.

  5. I am crazy about your Jefferson Tayte series, Mr. Robinson! When a vision problem finally adjusted to the point it allowed me to read again (with pleasure!), I realized very soon that I needed to figure out where to find books that really stimulated me and were a comfortable stretch for my brain and were really well-written. So I began reading Pulitzer Prize winners! SO many current novels and suspense stories tend to be full of really poor grammar, and/or graphic sex, that I'm just really turned off. (Thanks to my Senior English teacher Miss White, I find ignorant grammatical mistakes annoying; and I've always believed that sex is for doing, not reading about!) I don't know why I'm so offended by poor grammar in print, but I think it's because it is a proof of ignorance and lack of standards that makes me nostalgic for when folks cared about language. I'm not talking about the vernacular which helps build a character, but just stupid grammatical errors in the narrative. I thought that was what editors/proofreaders were supposed to do - find them and correct them. (Thanks for writing in comparatively good English!) I am a serious amateur genealogist myself, and am captivated by the research, even of these fictional characters. I hope the Jefferson Tayte series goes on and on and on! It's a really great character, and the stories are endlessly fascinating! Thanks SO much! - Happy Ol' Lady!

  6. Thank you, Happy ol' Lady. I'm very glad to hear that your eyesight has improved enough for you to enjoy reading again, and that you 're enjoying my Jefferson Tayte series so much. I'm certainly going to keep writing them. The fourth book (The Lost Empress) will be out later this year, and I've just started on the plot for book five, so I hope to keep you entertained for a while yet. :o)