Jem Tugwell Interview: “I like to explore the blurring of people and technology”

Jem Tugwell

As we gear up for the Bank Holiday weekend, thriller writer Jem Tugwell discusses how technology is offering unique opportunities for creativity in crime fiction.

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

I grew up reading the books my parent’s liked. Books like the Lord Peter Wimsey series and all the standalone Dick Francis books. I like thrillers with pace, action and good characterisation. When I had the time to start writing, I joined the City University Crime Writing MA, and one of the things the course teaches you is to write what you like to read. I try to follow this advice.

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

I started working in IT in the City and eventually founded a software house with my wife. We built and ran it for 10 years before selling about 10 years ago. Since then I have written a book on Finance, we have built a house and I now have the time to scratch the writing itch that I have had for years. I don’t currently write full time, but this is the goal.

Please tell me about your books. What defines your writing style?

I like to explore the blurring of people and technology and how willing people are to give up privacy and control for convenience. My debut book, Proximity, explores the themes of embedded technology, a stretched health service and the health and safety nanny-state and paints a world that could easily be only a few years away. Is this world of unexpected consequences, utopia or dystopia? That’s a very personal decision.

Although Proximity does have a futuristic element to it, I would classify it as an alternate police procedural, rather than sci-fi – there are no spaceships, aliens, superheroes, etc. It’s more of a Black Mirror future set in a city.

Proximity opens 10 years after the compulsory introduction of embedded technology which provides convenient and secure messaging, connectivity, banking, and security: but it also knows exactly where you are all of the time. It controls the food you eat, and the risks you take. Proximity crimes, such as murders and muggings, are non-existent, and the police force has been downsized.

In this world, having a missing person is impossible, but this is the challenge presented to DI Clive Lussac and DC Zoe Jordan. With technology working against them, they have to solve a missing person case that escalates into a triple murder. Who can subvert the technology? Who can commit the ‘impossible’ crimes?

I tend to write shorter sentences to make for a faster read and try and put in enough description to fire the reader’s imagination, rather than describe everything in a prescriptive manner.

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

I know it’s unfashionable to say it, but I am a plotter. I think it comes from my background in designing software and buildings where you make mistakes and waste time without a solid base. I will plot down to the scene or chapter level and make sure it all fits together before starting writing. A scene may just have a one sentence that describes its purpose, and that’s what I will use as inspiration when I write the scene.

I like writing from a first person point of view as it allows you to really get into a characters head and see their thoughts. Film, TV and theatre are usually third person stories and books are one of the few mediums that allows a first person story.

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

I try and read widely, usually crime but I also like some sci-fi and non-fiction. As I said before, I will always pick up a Reacher book, and will read Gerald Seymour, Wilbur Smith, Fredrick Forsyth books as well as debuts. I look for an interesting premise, something a bit different. I can read and reread The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin for its scale and imagination.

I shy away from gratuitous sex scenes, horror, and over described books. I’ve read a lot of physiological thrillers recently and have decided that I don’t really want to read three pages on the protagonist’s trip to the supermarket unless it is key to the plot.

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

I would have loved to meet and work with Spike Milligan. I always loved his sense of humour and I can imagine many a happy hour talking drivel and going off at tangents. As I mentioned before I love the Lee Child Reacher books so a collaboration with Lee would be an amazing learning experience of style and structure and plot. I think there might be quite a long queue for this.

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

It’s very simple. Finish Proximity and get it published. I’m open to offers!

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

I can read almost any writing style without a problem, but holes in the plot and key story points that are driven by coincidence drive me mad. I have a big pile of different books that I bought and haven’t got around to reading yet.

I really like the sound of The Memory Chamber by Holly Cave when it comes out.

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you, Hannah, for interviewing me for the blog. As a new, unpublished author, trying to finish my book, find an agent and publisher, it is refreshing and motivating to be given the opportunity.

Thanks for taking the time, it’s been a pleasure hearing from you. You can find out more about Jem HERE.

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