Tom Claver Interview: “When reading a thriller I enjoy seeing what authors do with the built-in tropes”

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Tom Claver, author of the popular thriller Hider/ Seeker, discusses his fascination with detective fiction and dark films and how it influences his writing.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?

My style of writing tends to be quite direct with plenty of dialogue. I think my economy with words comes from being a journalist and keeping the word count as low as possible when writing news. When I was young I had ambitions of working in films and made some shorts, which helped me gain a visual sense of storytelling. This led me to write some feature length scripts, one of which interested the BBC, but nothing came of it. Some thirty years later, I decided to re-write that particular script into Hider/Seeker, my first novel.

Why crime fiction? As a young film buff I was mad on Hitchcock although I never thought at that time of writing a novel. I was too focused on cinema and enjoyed all film genres, although thrillers excited me the most. In the 1970s while I was studying for my economics degree, I went to a creative writing class that had just been set up by Dr Rod Whitaker, an American professor from the Department of Radio, Television and Film at the Austin School of Communications in Texas. He arrived late to the first class because he’d just come off the phone from speaking to Clint Eastwood, who was going to turn his debut novel, The Eiger Sanction, into a film. After that entrance, he had my full attention. 

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I’ve had a long career in business journalism, both in print and television. One lunchtime I was browsing in a bookshop and I came across The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I realised that I had seen the Humphrey Bogart films many times, but had never read the novel. After devouring that book, I began to read other classic thrillers to see how much they varied from their film version. Books such as Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain, Point Blank, by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake) and Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. This rekindled my desire to try again to write a novel as I enjoyed so much reading these books. I read books on writing and taught myself to put 90,000 words together in a comprehensive way.

I had already been writing for more than 10 years when I decided to go full-time. I just wanted to see how I would fare in an entirely different sector of the publishing industry. I think that during those years of writing part-time, I knew I was repositioning myself towards a new type of career ahead.

Please tell me about your novel, Hider/Seeker.

Hider/Seeker was published originally as an ebook in April 2015 and after three months it had broken into Amazon’s British top 100 paid ebooks. It reached No.11 in the Kindle Store and ranked No.2 in Crime Thrillers in the UK. Last year, it reached No.48 in paid ebooks on Amazon.com in the US and was No.3 there in Crime Thrillers. The paperback version is due out shortly.

The story is about Harry Bridger, who makes his living helping people disappear from their enemies by teaching them how to avoid detection in the digital age. But when he helps a woman disappear from her violent husband, little does he know he will need to find her again for his own survival. The story opens in London, but it soon shifts to Central America and there are plenty of twists and turns on the way.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative tropes you like to use in your writing and why?

That’s the whole fun of writing a thriller. Bertolt Brecht, who was a fan of thrillers, was once quoted as saying that the aesthetic quality of the detective novel is derived from the variation of its fixed elements. When reading a thriller I enjoy seeing what authors do with the built-in tropes. It’s like watching an escapologist getting out of chains while in a burning box. Every time I pick up a thriller, I think, how is the author going to pull it off this time around?

When starting a novel, I always create a hero with plenty of baggage who is reluctant to get involved in an adventure. Then I engineer it so that he has a lucky escape from death towards the end. It is the basic chassis to build any story upon. As long as I can torture the hero along the way, I’m happy because the reader needs to experience directly the dilemmas and anxieties facing the protagonist.

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What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

You’ve probably guessed that I prefer reading thrillers from an older era, partly because they are less horrific, but mainly because they have such a wonderful style of writing. I read recently Rebecca for the first time, having seen the Hitchcock film on numerous occasions and found that I enjoyed it more than the film. I’m currently reading My Cousin Rachel, also a Daphne du Maurier novel, and am totally absorbed by her clever storytelling. Similarly, I like Patricia Highsmith for those reasons. But the trouble with writing is that you can only do what you can do however much you dream of writing like your favourite author. You have to work with the material you’ve got and know your limitations. I tend to introduce humour into my thrillers as I feel it brings more realism to the characters and also helps to bring a greater contrast when things go wrong for them. I’m probably most drawn to authors such as Hammett, Chandler and Deighton because their dry wit is so appealing.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I strongly believe it is a mistake to meet your heroes, as they can never live up to your expectations. After all, it is their work that we love, not them, as they are complete strangers with their own private lives and complications. So, I don’t think I would be attracted to collaborate with anyone as writing a novel is not really a collaborative art form like filmmaking. But if I had a time machine and had a chance to work on a film script with a director, it would have to be Hitchcock, because I would be able to learn how to extract the nub of a story in such a cinematic way. He would always seek a story where he could explore its emotion rather than its detail. Daphne du Maurier didn’t like what he did to her novella, The Birds, but he had the good sense to focus on the horror she had created based largely on her descriptive writing.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

Yes. I am publishing my second book, Scoop of the Year, at the end of October. It’s a suspense novel with a healthy dose of humour and is quite a departure from Hider/Seeker. It’s about a young hapless journalist called Martin who becomes jealous of the meteoric rise into television by Tom, a fellow reporter. But when he lands a scoop that would allow him to outshine his rival, he discovers his malfunctioning family gets in the way.

It is written in the first person from Martin’s POV and shows a positive side to envy. Martin is a luckless hero you can’t help but root for as he aims for greatness. Both the ebook and paperback will be available on Amazon from 28th October.

Thanks ever so much for your time Tom, it’s been really interesting to hear your thoughts. To find out more about Tom and his work, click HERE.

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Nepotism: Is it Killing Literature?

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Recently there has been a huge furore about David Beckham’s son being given a book deal, which saw him showcase his poorly taken, often out of focus photographs, alongside lame captions designed to be witty one liners but coming off as smug social media snippets. I have been watching this row in fascination, finding it hilarious that so many people are missing the reason behind Brooklyn Beckham’s book deal; that nepotism is at the heart of it, and that it will always remain in every faction of the arts, no matter what we say.

The Beckham’s are famed for sliding themselves into industries where they don’t fit with varying degrees of success; from David’s stilted cameo in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur to Victoria’s successful fashion empire, the power couple and their offspring have used their fame to worm their way into markets where others have had to strive and sacrifice to survive. Frankly, they are not the only ones. Everywhere you look there is someone getting their child into their industry on the merit of their name alone, or sliding into a new space with no talent, training or knowledge simply on the strength of their fame in another market. Models and sports stars, whose careers are notoriously short, often move into other spaces, and writing, alongside acting, is one of the most common thanks to the idiotic notion many have that both are easy.

This causes issues for those who have actually grafted to get where they are today, and resent being usurped by the untrained and often untalented. Brooklyn’s book attracted the ire of writers and photographers alike, with both factions arguing that his book deal highlighted the lack of respect for those who actually work for their success. Whilst this is, in part true, in reality the issue is society’s appreciation of celebrity, and the increasingly corporate nature of the creative arts. Whilst many were quick to pan What I See and mock Brooklyn’s poor attempts at both photography and writing, there were many who bought the book simply because of his second name.

Anyone who has tried to get a book published will be particularly wrangled by Brooklyn’s easy access to a high value deal- it can be almost impossible for even brilliant writers to get their work out there, resulting in many turning to alternative platforms such as Kindle or self publishing. With this in mind, it can be tough to reconcile the notion that Brooklyn got a deal based on the success of his parents, however the subsequent outcry from both reviewers and the general public proves that we still have good taste when it comes to both writing and photographs, and are not willing to settle for anything less than the best of either.

Fundamentally, nepotism is always going to exist throughout the arts, and I doubt that we will ever be rid of it. As such, the best way to handle the issue is simply to support those who are genuinely grafting to create legitimate, exquisite art, drawing on their skills and expertise, rather than on the accomplishments of their families. There are many great authors out there and we need to be buying their books, listening to their readings and watching their shows.

Only Dead on the Inside Review

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I’ve been a fan of the hilarious Twitter account of James Breakwell, AKA @XplodingUnicorn, for a couple of years now, and I enjoy his joking discussions on the absurdities of parenting. As I’m not a parent myself this may seem strange, but I can assure you that his tales of raising four girls under 10, a pig and a dog are utterly hilarious to this 20-something who uses them as validation to explain why she will never change my mind about having children (and to try and convince her housemates to band together and buy a pig instead).

So far, the latter endeavour has not been successful, and frankly neither has the former, as everyone is still convinced I’ll one day want a sprog of my own (why?!). For this, I entirely blame James for not having tried hard enough. But no matter. We are here to review his book, the result of his hard work tweeting about his family and their disdain for his love of tweeting about them. The book offers an informative guide for parents on how to survive if the dead ever start rising, so that it won’t just be just ‘smug, outdoorsy Millennials’ left when the end happens.

Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse is a remarkably through overview of everything a parent could possibly need to know about navigating the end of the world; from how to tell your kids the bad news to which toys make the best weapons. There’s even handy tips on how to survive everyday life with kids, such as how to check that your day-care provider isn’t overrun with zombies, making this a great read regardless of whether the end of the world is nigh. There are even helpful comic strips and charts throughout, offering the dual benefit of being easy to read and ensuring that the message gets through even to those who are reading whilst on the run, whether it be from brain eating zombies or disgruntled toddlers.

At the end of the day, (or the world), if you’re looking for genuine zombie survival tips then go watch The Walking Dead or ply Sean Bean with shots and see if he’ll give you some. If you want a light-hearted and witty representation of how parents can survive the apocalypse that is having children, as well as any literal zombie based issues that may come their way, then Only Dead on the Inside is the book for you.

The Top Five Miss Marple Novels To Get You Back Into Agatha Christie

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Miss Jane Marple is a very underrated female detective. She remains the archetypical female sleuth, and every female detective who has ever come after her is compared to this legendary female crime expert whose powers of deduction are second to none.

As you may have noticed, following Kenneth Branagh’s latest trailer for his upcoming film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express (you can read my thoughts on that HERE), I have been on a Christie binge, revisiting old favourites and exploring just what it is that drives my love with the Queen of Crime. Therefore, I thought I would share my top five favourite Miss Marple novels. Although she is always second in my affections beneath the Belgium super sleuth Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple is a truly excellent character and one whose novels make for fascinating studies in the very best of Golden Age detective fiction.

5. The Murder at the Vicarage: The first full length novel to feature the waspish and determined Miss Marple, The Murder at the Vicarage is a great place to start if you’ve yet to sample the delights of these intriguing mysteries. Set in Miss Marple’s home village of St Mary Mead, the plot revolves around the murder of the highly despised local magistrate in the vicarage, with a vast array of suspects all close at hand. Miss Marple, a local busybody, soon involves herself in the investigation and works tirelessly to find out the truth.

4. A Caribbean Mystery: Transplanted from the traditional setting of a Christie novel, A Caribbean Mystery is Set on Caribbean island of St Honore, offering a new space in which to enjoy this elegantly constructed story. Miss Marple, on holiday to recover following an illness, has an ominous conversation with a fellow guest at the resort, who tell her of a man who got away with multiple murders. Later, the man himself is killed, leading our detective to uncover a tangled web of lies, deceit and dishonesty.

3. The Body in the Library: This novel is worth a read for the inventive, almost Dickensian name of Inspector Slack, who is called in to investigate the murder of an unknown young girl, done up as if she were going to a party, found in the library of an ancestral house. The lady of the house is an old friend of Miss Marple, and as such our ammeter detective is roped in to help solve this fiendish mystery and uncover the identity of both victim and killer.

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2.At Bertram’s Hotel: As is often the case with Christie, it is the characters that make this novel really remarkable and worth a read. The befuddled Canon Pennyfather, the repugnant Michael Gorman, the scheming Bess Sedgwick, as well as her calculating daughter Elvira Blake, and of course, the shrewd Miss Maple, all amplify the mystery thanks to their cunning and conniving throughout the plot, which centres around Blake and her mother’s reunion at Beteram’s Hotel, where Miss Marple is visiting to relive old memories.

1. 4.50 from Paddington: Dark, twisted and exceptionally well-plotted, this is the ultimate Agatha Christie novel. The plot is so exceptionally well thought out and complicated that I defy anyone to guess the conclusion. Miss Marple is assisted by friends as she works to uncover the mystery of a woman being strangled on a train, seen from afar by her friend, who is swiftly disbelieved by everyone except the ever wary Miss Marple. Full of scheming characters and mountains of social envy and greed, this exhilarating novel explores the darker side of human nature that Christie was committed to portraying at its very worst.

S.P. Joseph Lyons Interview: “I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember”

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Author of The DRUX Series S.P. Joseph Lyons answers my questions on his books and what’s next for his writing.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards darker fiction?

I’ve always enjoyed stories that move quickly and don’t drown you in detail. When I began to write professionally, I emulated this in my work. As a result, I have been described as an author who is fast-paced with intense action and emotion. I had not set out with a particular style in mind, but when I wrote about what I loved, the way I loved, my style developed itself around me.

I find that in fantasy fiction one has an endless canvas on which to express themselves. Though true love is always my favourite motivation for putting pen to paper, tragedy, revenge, and triumph can be very expressive, and when needed, very dark. Often the darker side of a character or story helps balance the tender moments of magical connection.

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing darker science fiction?

I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember. In the tales we tell, we have a real opportunity to explore the many aspects of ourselves, and share parts of our heart we could never do without our own carefully crafted words. Sometimes, telling a story is the only way we can share an otherwise invisible but powerful part of what makes us who we are.

Fantasy leaves the creative door wide open. We are free to create an entire universe out of nothing at all, and manipulate that universe as we see fit. It also offers no limits or rules other than what we place on ourselves. This means that we are in full control of our entire story. For me, I needed a place where I could dig deep into the heart ablaze with love, or one twisted into a darkened nightmare, and fantasy allows me this.

Tell me all about the DRUX series. What was your inspiration?

If I had to describe the DRUX series in short, I would say it’s Lord of the Rings meets Romeo and Juliet. But for a longer description, I would tell you that it is mostly a tale of loss, overwhelming odds, and the triumph of love over those odds. A demigod is sent back into the universe as the only one who can stand against an overwhelming enemy. In an ongoing tale of impossible love and crippling obstacles, a lineage of five mortal-DRUX children stand against enemies greater than any mortal can tackle alone, and love more fiercely than anyone ever has.

When I was very young, I was taken from my family and placed in foster care. Alone, scared, and needing to survive, I began to create a safe place in my mind. It was there that the basics of what would become an eighteen book series sparkled to life. For me at the time, the only way to make sense of the tragedy around me was to create a safe place to tackle in fantasy what I could not control in reality. With many years of floating in and out of my universe, I knew I could finally take what was once very painful, and make it into something beautiful.

What books do you like to read and how do they impact on your own writing?

I love a good tragic romance, or really anything where true love prevails despite whatever stands between them. Sci-Fi has always been a favourite, even as a child, and many journeys I have taken are through the rich and vast worlds of fantasy.

I’ve found that a strong love interest with a complex world is a great place to build upon. As I love dialogue and action driven stories, I place a lot of my focus there. But when it comes to falling in love, nothing is more exciting to write about.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

I would love to work with C.S. Lewis. His worlds are so immersive and his writing, though quite complex at times, has a smooth flow that pulls you right in.

Have you done any other work that you are particularly proud of?

Though I cannot speak in detail about it, I have had the opportunity to ghost-write a number of short stories and full length novels. None were in my genre so I had the great opportunity, and challenge, of weaving my craft into unfamiliar territory. I’m quite proud of how they turned out.

What’s next for the DRUX series? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

The DRUX series is a six book universe that was picked up by Waldorf Publishing with the first in the series launching to the world on July 17th, 2017. Having your work recognized by a publisher is an incredible step. With the launch of the DRUX series, a sequel and prequel series are in development tentatively titled ‘The NEXUS Series’, and ‘The GUARDIAN Series’. There is a lot in this universe to share.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

As much as I would love to dive into a new book, I’m dedicating myself to fulltime writing and promoting for the next couple of years. I want to ensure I give my work the dedication it needs. I am a sucker for a classic though so may find myself slipping back into the Narnia Chronicles, or The Hobbit. I may even reread To Kill a Mockingbird.

Anything you’d like to add?

If you are interested in a fast-paced story that puts you in the shoes of our hero and takes you through intense action, passion, and emotion, I’d encourage you to pick up ‘The DEMOND of Legend’ from my website www.thedruxseries.com Nothing can stop the power of true love.

Secondly, I’d encourage anyone and everyone to chase your dreams, as cliché as it may sound. To quote Jim Carrey – “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

Thanks for taking the time, it’s been great to hear more about your work.

Everglade Review: An Inventive Thriller That Packs a Punch

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The fifth instalment in the Selena series, Everglade is a smart, streetwise novel about a smart, streetwise woman set on making crime pay.

Greg Barth delivers a strong novel as he charts the continued struggles of a cultured criminal trying to start afresh, but finding that life isn’t always that easy. Having barely survived the last drug war, Selena wants out, and is trying to build a new life for herself and clean up her act. But things aren’t that simple when you are walking away from a lucrative business in a trade where murder is as common as liquorice in a sweet shop, leading our likeable anti-heroine on a one woman war against some incredibly devious and powerful enemies.

Dialogue is a bit hit and miss, with some terribly tedious conversations punctuated by some witty one liners and some sharp, insightful comments. There are some great lines: “It’s just my kitchen. And I don’t care who I had to kill to get it.” However, these are often punctuated by clunky discussions and unrealistic conversations (at times, the level of concern for Selena’s wellbeing is wearing, given her otherwise excellent characterisation as a tough, hard-hitting criminal). Consistency would make the book a lot easier to read and ramp up the pace, but beyond that it is very difficult to fault this smart, charismatic thriller.

All in all this is an interesting and exhilarating thriller. With an interesting protagonist and a fast paced plot, this is a rip-roaring novel which is worth a read for the main character alone.

Mark Ellis Interview: “I have always been an avid reader with a particular fondness for detective fiction”

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On this fine Sunday Mark Ellis talks me through his work, particularly the latest novel in his creative historical Crime Fiction series.  

Tell me about how the books you write. What drew you to thriller writing?

I am the author of a detective mystery series set in World War 2 London and featuring Scotland Yard detective Frank Merlin. The plan is to follow Merlin through the war with books set at six to nine month intervals between 1940 and 1945. I have written three Merlin novels so far, including the latest, Merlin At War, which is out on July 6th. I have always been an avid reader with a particular fondness for detective fiction, mysteries and whodunits. It felt natural to commence my writing career in the thriller arena. 

What was the first thriller novel you read and how did it draw you into seeking out more books of this genre?

The first adult thriller I read was The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan. I couldn’t put the book down and read it in a day. Of course I was keen to find more books that would grip me in this way.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I studied law at university and became a barrister. After a short period in practice I went into business, first working for other people and then, in my thirties, for myself. With a friend I started a computer services company that grew into a multimillion pound enterprise and was eventually sold to a major American corporation. I had always had ambitions to write, and the sale of the business afforded me the time to give it a go.

Please tell me more about your books. Why do you believe that they have become so popular?

My books are detective thrillers set against what I hope is an accurate portrayal of the wartime background. My research is meticulous and I enjoy mixing real characters in with my fictional ones. Churchill, De Gaulle and Marshal Pétain are some of the historical figures that feature in my new book which is set in June 1941, just after the Battle of Crete and before Hitler’s invasion of Russia. My first book, Princes Gate, is set in January 1940, the so called ‘Phoney War’ period, and the second, Stalin’s Gold, is set in September 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain and in the early days of the Blitz. I believe some of the popularity of my books derives from the large and growing public fascination with British life during the war years.


front cover Merlin at War

How did you come to create DCI Frank Merlin and why do you believe readers enjoy reading about his exploits?

My family and I spend much holiday time in Spain. When I was trying to create the hero of my series, it occurred to me to give him a slightly exotic background as the son of a Spaniard. So, his father, Javier Merino, came into being as a Spanish sailor who had settled in London and married an English shopkeeper’s daughter in the East End. Tired of mispronunciation of his name he anglicised it to Harry Merlin. Likewise his children’s names were changed and his eldest boy, Francisco Merino, became Frank Merlin. Why do readers enjoy Merlin’s exploits? I hope their enjoyment owes something to quality of plot and characterisation, but I think the wartime conditions of Britain and its capital also have much to do with it. London in the war was a dangerous place not just because of dropping bombs. Recorded crime in the war years grew massively. The blackout, the chaos of the Blitz, the booming black market and other factors contributed to the city becoming a criminal’s paradise – or in other terms, a wonderful, broad and exciting canvas for a crime fiction writer.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

One idiosyncrasy is that each chapter of my books is set on a specific day of the war. Thanks to the voluminous literature on the war as well as the wonders of the internet, I can find out the exact nature of the weather on any day, the numbers of bombs dropped or fighters in the air, and a myriad of other minor or major facts which add to the authenticity of the story.

What books/ authors do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

Favourite writers include Simenon, Graham Greene, Eric Ambler, Le Carré, Christie, Alan Furst, Michael Connelly, and William Boyd. I could go on and on, there are so many wonderful thriller writers alive or dead. In terms of influence, Simenon is an author I particularly admire. I love his direct, spare and simple style and bear him in mind when I feel my prose might be becoming a little overwrought. I have too many favourite books to list but if I confine myself to recent thrillers, I absolutely loved Don Winslow’s The Cartel and I have been devouring his other books

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Of the dead authors, Simenon for reasons above. Of the living, Le Carré or Boyd as they are masters of their trade and within easy reach.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

The next project is Merlin 4, which I shall start in September, after Merlin At War has been launched in the U.K. and I take a summer break. I do have one other book idea that I have been contemplating for some time. It is a spy/detective series set in the late 17th century featuring a character based loosely on Daniel Defoe, who was a spy himself as well as a brilliant author. How I make the time for this as I continue taking Merlin through to 1945, I am not quite sure.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

I am looking forward in particular to the new books from Le Carré, Winslow and Joseph Finder.

Do you have anything to add?

Thanks for having me!

Thanks for taking the time, Mark, it’s been a pleasure.