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 write for myself.
I once heard an interview with a famous American author who’d written many books over a long period of time, each of them very successful. He was asked the same question. He answered by saying he wrote for himself, and never paid any attention to his critics. He wasn’t being arrogant, just confident in his ability and wanting to continually improve his writing. He went on to say that you have to find your writing voice, believe in yourself, and write.
This isn’t being complacent. I read and rewrite what I’ve written until I believe it’s as good as I can get it, but I don’t write in a certain way or style to please a particular audience.
What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in?
I write crime thrillers about seemingly normal people who, because of life-changing circumstance, become involved in crimes – like murder, extortion, and blackmail. These things happen in life, and I try to create compelling stories built around believable, fictional events and real life characters. The appeal is the challenge of starting with the gem of an idea and turning it into a full-blown novel.
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?
Oh yes. A very big one, and I’m very nosey. I take cuttings from newspapers, I make notes all the time, and I’ve been known to eavesdrop on peoples’ conversation when I think I’ve heard a good line of dialogue. I always have a notebook with me, and use the note facility on my phone. When I want to create a character, I take time looking at people in busy places. I have a name in my head, and know what that person does in the book, but I don’t know what they look like, their occupation, and they’re lifestyle. I see a face I like, note it down – or, dare I admit, take a picture – and then start to invent that person. I build up a template for each character: how they look, talk, the clothes they wear, their occupation, their background and education, likes and dislikes, and who they live with, if anybody. I pin the image – either my own photo image or one taken from a newspaper or magazine – to a sheet of paper and refer to it often while I write.
How do you manage plot bunnies (ideas that invade your mind that aren’t usually helpful to the story you’re writing but breed like...er...bunnies)?
Shoot them! They pop up all the time, and can take me off down a different road. I don’t ignore them completely. Some can be quite useful, and have potential as good sub-plots. Most of the time, I jot them down on a scrap of paper or a stickie, and carry on writing. Later, I go through them, chuck away the ones I figure are irrelevant, and try to work the ones I like into the story.
How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the one that you’d most like to be? Or be with?
Well, I’m a crime writer, and I write about criminals, so none of me is in them in the sense of committing a crime, but I do try to get into my characters’ heads, and have them doing some of the things I do: like the clothes I wear, the coffee and whisky I drink, the food I cook and eat, the movies I see, the music I listen to, and other behavioral traits. Although they’re villains, I have some sympathy with most of them. Not the real, nasty, violent ones, but the regular guys who find themselves in the depth of despair, and resort to crime to bring their lives back on track. Cameron in The Wrong Menu comes to mind. He’s ditched by his wife, locked out of his home, hunted by his brother-in-law – who’s intent on killing him – and turns to crime to survive.
Most of my characters end up having a rough time and coming to sticky ends, but if I had to choose one who I’d like to be, I guess it’d be Barry Carter in Electronic Crime in Muted Key. After successfully faking his death and pulling of a multi-million scam, he reinvents himself on an idyllic, sun-drenched island. The first bit would be great, but I’ll miss out on what happens to him.
I’d like to spend some time with Max in Murder He Forgot. He only has a small part, but enough to make him a likeable guy. He’s lively, fun and he turns out to be a loyal friend.
Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?
Definitely wrapped up! I leave weird notes around the house with things written on them like, Kill Sebastian tomorrow, Will Harry survive? Does Kate sleep with him? What type of gun? Does The Greek guy smoke? and many more. When I reach a crucial part of a book, I go for days getting up early and going to where I write, closing the door, and writing until I can’t write any more, or when I do it comes out as garbage. Then I stop, have a drink, and look around the house for my wife. She’s not there, and has left a note saying she’s gone to a movie with a friend and will see me later. I don’t know if she thinks she’s married to one of my characters, but I do become pretty wrapped up, and know she thinks I’m strange.
What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?
I read all sorts. I do read crime thrillers, but not all the time. I read general fiction, strong character driven books – often with deep emotional highs and lows – and non-fiction.
What lengths do you go to convince us readers that your book has the X factor?
I start by creating a compelling, unique story with plenty of suspense, some surprises, and several twists. Then I work on my characters, and make them real and life-like, not cardboard cutouts. I do some research where necessary, and then start writing. I try to make my dialogue gritty and easily associated with the character that’s speaking. I edit and rewrite continuously as I write. I have beta-readers reading each chapter as I complete it and giving me their feedback, and I’ll write as many drafts as necessary until I believe it’s as good as I can get it.
After that, it’s down to the readers and promotion. I prefer the writing process to all the marketing and promotional stuff, but I know it has to be done.
How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?
Appalled and annoyed that I’ve missed them. They’re not professional and shouldn’t be there. I have an editor who usually picks them up, but I still check the manuscript one more time when it’s back from her. I once, mistakenly, uploaded the wrong version of book, the unedited one. Whoops! Luckily with kindle you can upload the right version.
What do you like most about visiting KUF/GR/forums?
Well, UK KUF is friendly, humorous and a source of information on almost anything. I’d say similar about Goodreads, but not all is good there as we know, so I’m a bit wary about which groups I join and what I post.
What is on your near horizon?
I’m just finished writing the first draft of the second book in a three-book trilogy, The Harry Fingle Collection. The first book is called Playing Harry. The second one – the one just finished – is called Assassination Continuum, and is about an assassin and his target who discover they share the same lover. That’s due to be published this summer. While I’m writing the second and third drafts and doing the edit process, I’ll also be writing some short stories, and then, after Assassination Continuum is published, I’ll be writing the last part of the trilogy. When the complete trilogy is done and dusted, I’m going to write a book in a new genre, general fiction. It’s probably going to be called Thirty Years, and is about the sometimes funny, often dramatic, and certainly turbulent life of a man who took thirty years to decide he wanted to be a writer. Here’s the first line: It took me thirty years to figure out what life was about, and the same time to work out what I wanted to do.
Where can we find you for more information?
Assassination Continuum: 1st unedited draft on Wattpad, http://www.wattpad.com/8958405-the-tired-assassin?d=ud