Anthony Hooper, author of Sheffield set thriller The Glass Lie talks me through his work and how he came to publish this innovative novel.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards writing political thrillers?
I prefer to write in a conversational style. I’m not sure it’s the best way to write a political crime thriller but the feedback so far has been quite positive. The second instalment is finished and written in the same style. The third book is planned out and that will probably go the same way. Originally the idea came to me as a script which may have had a subliminal impact on the way I write.
I am a retired lecturer of politics and international relations. I came to the job quite late after taking a politics degree at the University of Sheffield. I graduated as I approached my fortieth birthday and spent fifteen years teaching undergraduates. Whilst at University I attended a seminar on the cycles of power. Countries and people ascend to a position of power and authority. Some believe these cycles break down and the country or person’s authority declines. Usually, they do all they can to hold on to the privileges of authority. The seminar was about a year after Mrs Thatcher had been removed from office by her own party.
It was after this seminar the idea for the book began to form (1992). I wrote about 5,000 words around a person wanting to desperately hold on to power, only to see it evaporate. Those words stayed in the computer and every incarnation of disk and USB stick until I finally sat down (retirement finally offered me the time).
I met Harlan Coben on his book tour and questioned him about my book. He was very generous with his time and advised me to switch main characters from the civil servant to the police officer. The reason for this was the story was planned as a trilogy with the civil servant rising to the top of the political tree. If I made the police officer the main character, I would be able to write far more than three books, as long as I could think up a decent plot.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?
Suffice to say, I have had a number of careers, spanning the armed forces, private industry, social services and teaching. The latter, by far, was the most fun and rewarding. I was studying towards my PhD when I retired and it was a source of great disappointment that I did not complete my thesis. The book was a cathartic way of writing 100,000 coherent words. Once the book was finished, it seemed natural to try and get it published. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a literary agent to represent me, so I took the alternative route and sent my manuscript to a number of publishers. Luckily, Scribblin House liked what they read and offered to publish the book for me on a three- book deal.
I draw heavily on my past in couple of important areas. Firstly, the books are set in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, where I was born. The Glass Lie is set on a university campus in Sheffield. Although the name of the university has been changed for legal reasons, it wouldn’t take anyone with a passing knowledge of Sheffield geography to work out which university it is. Secondly, there is an element of historical licence within the book, in that certain locations, such as the police headquarters, no longer exist in the location within the book. The police HQ has moved out of the city centre towards the M1 motorway. The building is now the main magistrates court for the city.
The second book also delves into the world of the armed forces (from my very distant past) when soldiers on leave or in uniform are murdered on the streets of Sheffield. Their motivation for the murders takes revenge to a new level.
Please tell me about your books. What do you believe draws readers to your work?
I only have the experience of one book to draw on but the feedback I have received focuses on one theme and that is setting. The book sold very well locally. When speaking to local book clubs (around South Yorkshire) they liked the idea of a mainstream crime novel (they didn’t see it as political) being based in Sheffield. Considering it is the fourth largest city in England, it tends to go under most people’s radar. One reader hoped it would be filmed and then Sheffield ‘really would be on the map’. The setting was just as important when I spoke to a group in York, only for them, it was the Yorkshire setting. We really do see ourselves as Gods own County.
Although mainly based around the city, the original manuscript included far more political discussions in London as the plot centred around a prime minister trying to stay in power by looking tough on a topic that was in the news and wouldn’t go away. Although still there, it is far more diluted than originally planned. However, it is based on campus and students come from all over the country and when two students commit a crime the run away during reading week to a cottage in Wales until everything calms down. The village is very real and the cottage is where I have spent the past week walking in the hills around Harlech.
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
I draw on people I know for the characters in the book. Although they may not do that job I picture these people when writing and it helps the flow. As I’m new to published writing I haven’t experienced writers block (touch wood). If anything, I have become estranged from the characters in the first two books. They became so entrenched in my head I began to resent them. It’s easy to see how George Martin kills off his main characters with alarming regularity. It’s crossed my mind a couple of times.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
If I could collaborate with anyone it would be someone I have got to know very recently. Sharon Bolton, the crime novelist. Her writing is very dark (much darker than mine), and she draws such wonderful characters. When we exchange comments on Twitter her humour is very similar to mine and that always helps if you’re working with someone.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
Beyond book three the publishers have indicated that I can develop a couple of ideas that have been in my head for years. The first one is The Intueri Children; a book about Aliens living amongst us, trying to subvert our civilisation. It is up to a special group of children to stop them. The second book is the Bus Conductor’s Bench, a supernatural themed book about how people pass over to the other side and how they may be given a second chance of life.
Thanks for taking the time Anthony, it’s been a pleasure.