Simon Bower Interview: “As long as I can remember, I have adored a good crime thriller”

SIMON BOWER

For anyone looking for a good book to read while they laze on the beach and enjoy the heat wave, Dead in the Water is a great thriller to keep you entertained. I interviewed Author Simon Bower to learn more about the novel and how he drew on his own experiences of international travel to write it.

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

As long as I can remember, I have adored a good crime thriller. While I can appreciate some literary fiction, my personality dictates that I prefer fast-paced heart thumping suspense and mystery to beautifully crafted clauses! When I wrote Dead in the Water, I spent considerable time defining the writing style. Specifically, my first decision was to couch each chapter in the viewpoint of one of the characters. This provides a limited viewpoint that also allows a scenario to be explored from two different points of view, and at times with humour (an early example of this in the book is when Charlie and Ana see their relationship from very different points of view). I also decided to write Charlie’s chapters in the first person – it really immerses the reader in his psychological character. Finally, the vantage point of parts 1 and 2 of the Dead in the Water, is at the end of part 2, so part 3 transcends naturally into a present tense suspense. This real-time style can be liberating for the writer and the reader, since anything at all can happen. So I was attracted towards the writing style that I love and I wrote the book that I wanted to read.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

I have always enjoyed writing and wrote a number of pieces for personal exploration during the past twenty years that I have spent living away from the UK. Undoubtedly, these projects guided the maturity of my work and allowed me to structure Dead in the Water from the outset. In terms of profession, I have lent myself to a whole array of jobs and industries in quite a few different continents – some of my most influential jobs have been when working in the communications field. Despite my keen interest I writing, time has always been in short supply. So the catalyst to put into words my plot for this book was the opportunity that presented itself a few years ago to concentrate on writing full time.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

In order to have characters with sufficient depth, emotions, speech style and motive, I base my characters on exaggerations of real people that I know. I might not know them well, but it helps to ensure consistency of thought and the liveliness of reality. The crime elements come from a release of constraints, thinking like a kid who has not yet understood the moral lines and laws accepted in our society. What could you get away with if moral boundaries were removed and you didn’t care about the risk of a life in prison?

Dead in the Water is one of a new wave of hybrid genres. It’s a thriller, but before that it’s realistic and a mystery too. Three books in one. The one constant throughout my work is a very strong sense of place. I draw inspiration from locations I know intimately, taking the reader to parts of France, to Amsterdam, New York, London and Oxford, to name a few. When I wrote the manuscript, it was not one contiguous drafting journey – I dipped and delved into different parts of the book, and this meant if I ever met a wall, a way around it soon appeared by working on another point in the story, then going back to it.

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

Writing the first draft for Dead in the Water was a solitary endeavour. However, developing it with my editor, Kate Taylor, was a productive collaboration. Suddenly I could share the responsibility and she was terrific at editing out superfluous details. However, I have not really considered collaborating to write a book, like Clive Cussler and James Patterson tend to do. Although I love the idea of working with Iain Banks, who has sadly left us, it would probably be most fruitful to work with someone who could bring a truly different perspective to the table – a CIA agent, or a convicted killer.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’ve begun planning a sequel to Dead in the Water. It certainly won’t be simply an extension of the first, but so many people are craving to know what happens next. I won’t say too much, to avoid spoilers, but it would also be set globally, have some of the same characters and occur after the end of the first book.

Other than that, I have a keen interest to work on a book that is more speculative in nature. I enjoyed Matt Haig’s The Humans in part owing to its completely normal setting, but with an utterly abstract twist.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I’ve mentioned a few writers, but the one that keeps getting away is Terry Hayes. I enjoyed his debut novel I am Pilgrim, despite some reservations of stereotyping, and very much look forward to his belated next release The Year of the Locust. I also like to check out new writers and I have a few of those to try out. One example is Strangers on a Bridge, by Louise Mangos – the plot sounds intriguing.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

My book has been released by a UK indie publisher, Middle Farm Press, and the odds are stacked against ‘David’ when ‘Goliath’ and all the collaborators hold all the cards. Dead in the Water is stocked in some bookshops but for now, our distribution is limited mainly to the biggest online consumer direct suppliers. We are working on improving this, but need to demonstrate demand, so we are most appreciative for the support we get for either the eBook or paperback. Finally a hearty thanks to Hannah for conducting this interview and I hope you enjoy Dead in the Water!

Thanks for answering my questions Simon, it has been awesome to hear your thoughts.

 

 

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Grave Island Review: A Scorching Thriller to Get You Through the Heatwave

Grave Island

For anyone with time on their hands during the warm spell we’re currently experiencing, Grave Island is the latest gripping thriller to keep you hooked as you laze around and lap up the sunshine. Spy novels are all the rage right now, and as far as espionage tales go Andrew Smyth’s tale of counterfeit drugs and one man’s desperate quest to stop this vicious trade is as intense as they come.

Beginning with the disgrace of Philip Hennessey, an army intelligence officer with a troubled past, following a set-up that sees him lose his career, Grave Island, leads the reader straight into a devilish mystery. When an old friend of his former wife comes knocking to plead for help following the death of her father, Hennessey is drawn into a quest to find a consignment of counterfeit vaccinations before they wreak untold havoc.

Faced with multiple challenges, including the issue of his downfall and the planting of false evidence, Hennessey is diligent and determined as he hunts down a consignment of fake vaccines that could impact the lives of thousands.

Throughout the novel I have the sense that there is a serious understatement to it all. After all, Smyth is depicting a scandal on a global scale that could potentially affect millions, yet his protagonist is, largely, calm and collected, or certainly less panicked than anyone I can think of would be in such a situation. Nonetheless, Hennessey is a strong central character, with his supporting cast equally strong as they lie, cheat and deceive their way through this fast paced novel.

Overall, I was impressed by Grave Island. I enjoyed the pace of the storyline and the intensity of Smyth’s characters as they race against time to stop a global massacre. There is a constant tension throughout the narrative that is completely compelling, drawing the reader through to the nail-biting conclusion and leaving you wanting more.

Why Omnibuses Are A Godsend On Long Haul Flights

reading on planes

As I’m sure you’re aware by now, I recently had the fortune to travel to Australia and sample the delights and explore the natural wonders of Queensland. Being from the UK, the flight is horrendous, with a long layover in Singapore as well as the flights themselves, both of which combine to steal away nearly a full day of your life.

When packing, I had to think long and hard about which book to take with me for so that I didn’t get board en route. I was only taking carry on luggage in the form of a massive backpack, and as such I had limited space for literature, giving myself added pressure to choose correctly.

In the end I opted for a tried and tested option- an omnibus of Colin Dexter’s incredible Inspector Morse novels. They seemed like a sure bet- I love all of his work and I hadn’t read them in a while so I would be suitably enthralled throughout the whole massive flight.

During the flight I noticed that some of my fellow travellers had also plumped for omnibuses to ensure that they had enough reading material. One of the girls I was travelling with had chosen a Bridget Jones The Single Years and there was a bloke at the back of the plane who was reading a Jeeves and Wooster omnibus.

This got me thinking- why are omnibuses such a good choice for long haul travel? I suppose the main issue is consistency- you know what you’re getting with work from the same author/ series, so you can safely say, even if you haven’t read every book in the omnibus, that you will be reasonably happy with your choice and won’t hate your reading material for the entire flight.

Then of course there is the not-so-small matter of space. Because each book does not need a front and back cover, and the legal bumf is usually confined to the front of the whole omnibus, they are significantly smaller than lugging however many individual books around with you. This is a great thing when trying to cram everything you’re going to need into a limited amount of luggage, and means that you don’t have to heave vast reams of paper about with you.

Anyone who is about to mention buying a Kindle for long haul travel can kindly fuck off. Whilst tablet computers and e-readers have their virtues, there is something to be said for reading an actual book over staring blindly at a screen, particularly when one is on holiday and wants to switch off. Also, on places there are often restrictions to the use of electrical devices, as well as the limitations that the battery will place on you, as there are often not charging points for ages, and those things drink power.

So, as far as I’m concerned, omnibuses are the way to go. They’re often a cheap alternative to buying all the books in one go anyway, and with so many older omnibuses available second hand they are, in my humble opinion, vital for anyone planning a long distance trip this summer.

 

 

Juliet Bell Interview: “It helps that we both respect each other’s ability”

JB 1

Apologies for the delay in posting- I’ve been in Australia exploring tropical Queensland. As a treat now that I’m back, I’m sharing an interview I undertook with two incredible writers- Alison May and Janet Gover, who, coincidentally, is from the incredible country that I’ve just had the fortune to visit. Together they write as Juliet Bell, creating intriguing re-workings of classic novels, something I was keen to find out more about.  

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards creating modern retellings of classic novels?

We first discussed The Heights in the bar at a writing conference. We’d both taught workshops that day, and both used Wuthering Heights as examples of very different points we were making. We only knew each other slightly, but over a glass of wine we started talking about how many people misremembered the Bronte book and focussed on the romance, rather than the darkness of the story.

Janet had always wanted to do an adaptation set against the Thatcher years and the miners’ strike, but being Australian didn’t think she could write a North of England book. Alison is from Yorkshire, so fairly late in the evening, we announced we would do it together. A week or so later, when the wine had worn off, we talked again and decided that wasn’t actually a completely terrible idea.

Sharing a pen-name with another author must be an incredible experience. Please talk me through how you work together to create your books. How do you combine your collective skills?

Spreadsheets. We both love a good spreadsheet. Well, perhaps Janet more than Alison, but she’s coming around. We have started each book with a really good plan of how to divide the work and we stick to it – for at least the first two, or maybe three, weeks. We both have our own solo writing careers and deadlines, and of course the same family commitments everyone has. Neither of us normally plots our books in advance, but when writing together we have to, which is where the spreadsheets come in.

With The Heights, we ran out of time, so Janet was still writing Cathy and Heathcliff when Alison started writing Kate and the second generation. With Jane Eyre, we are each writing one main character’s point of view. We both review and comment on and edit the whole book, which sounds crazy but seems to work.

It helps that we both respect each other’s ability – and that we meet regularly for pizza and wine.

The Heights - hi res

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

Alison: I started writing seriously in my mid-twenties, when I signed up for an evening class in creative writing as a distraction from a not altogether fascinating day job. The evening class turned into a part-time degree. At the start of the course I thought I was going to be a very Serious and Important playwright. I started a terribly earnest play about Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton as my dissertation piece. When it got to six weeks before the deadline and I hadn’t actually written any words I admitted that serious theatre might not be my calling and wrote the opening of a romantic comedy novel instead. That novel eventually turned into my first published book, Sweet Nothing, which came out in 2013.

Janet: I started writing stories when I was a kid growing up in the Australian bush. There wasn’t much else to do apart from ride horses and read – and I did a lot of both. I went to University in the ‘big city’ and then became a journalist and television reporter. That was fun – I got to travel and meet a lot of interesting people. Then I discovered computers, fell in love with them and set out on a second career in IT. That was when I started writing fiction seriously. I thought switching from writing fact to writing fiction would be easy. How wrong I was. But I stuck with it and now I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

We are both always coming up with shiny new book ideas- it’s terribly distracting. The problem is locking them in a drawer until current book is written.

Actually writing is much trickier than having ideas. Alison, in particular, actively dislikes writing first drafts. She sees them as a necessary evil to get to the editing, which is where the actual real work of creating the book gets done. Her tip is to get through the first draft as quickly as possible, even if it’s terrible. Then at least you’ve got something to work with.

The Bronte adaptations are obviously inspired by the original books, and by the women who wrote them. The books have themes and characters that still resonate today. That’s a remarkable achievement.

Juliet Bell is the place we take our shared fascination with misunderstood classic literature, and heroes who aren’t actually all that heroic.

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

Alison: Without even looking I know Janet will say Neil Gaiman, which is interesting because I’m going to say Terry Pratchett. Basically we both want to have written Good Omens! Obviously Pratchett is no longer with us, and realistically if I’d every tried to collaborate with him I would probably just have ended up gabbling at him incoherently in a pathetic fangirl sort of a way.

If I go for someone who’s still alive, I’d indulge my secret dream of writing a musical (despite having zero musical ability) and go for Tim Minchin.

Janet: A really tough question, but I’d have to say Neil Gaiman. He’s one of my favourite authors. He has such a brilliant mind. I’ve seen him speak a couple of times. He is funny and thoughtful and angry and all those things that make a great writer. He’s also very cute in scruffy writerly way. Of course, if I ever found myself face to face with him, I’d probably explode in a mass of fan-girl excitement, so possibly not the best collaborator in the world.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

We are now in the final stages of writing the second Juliet Bell book. It’s another Bronte book – Jane Eyre of course. Rochester is another ‘romantic hero’ we don’t love. His behaviour is not so heroic, and we don’t just mean locking his wife in the attic.

We’ve set this book in Australia. This is Janet’s revenge for having to write about Yorkshire in The Heights. It’s also a modern setting with the kind of isolation that still allows someone to be kept in an attic without the neighbours anyone catching on.

Jane’s story of fighting to make her way in the world still resonates today, but we have done a couple of radical things in this book. We’re excited (and maybe a little bit afraid) to see people’s reactions.

We don’t have a final title yet – our working title is simply Thornfield. Whatever the final title, it will be out in November in both eBook and paperback.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Alison: So many – I’ve just read AJ Pearce’s Dear Mrs Bird which came out in April and is wonderful. I’m always excited for Julie Cohen’s new books – her last one Together was one of my favourites of last year. I also work a lot with newer and developing writers, and there are a few – Pippa James, Kirsten Hesketh and Erin Green spring to mind straight away – who have projects in the pipeline that sound amazing. And, Janet’s latest solo book – Marrying the Rebel Prince is at the top of my To Read pile at the moment. That looks like it’s going to be fantastic fun.

Janet: This would be a very, very long list. My list of ‘must buy’ authors is quite long and varied. And I love finding a new author – especially if they have a long backlist. But – and I mean this honestly – I’m really looking forward to Alison’s new solo book, All That Was Lost – which is out in September. She’s told me a bit about it, and it sounds amazing.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Janet: We often meet readers who say they’re nervous about emailing an author, or telling them how much they love a book. Please don’t be. We don’t get out much and hearing from readers is really important to us. So, if you like a book, email the author, or tweet to them. Write a review for them. Those are the things that make us happy as we sit in our tiny offices, staring at those terrifying blank documents on our computers.

Alison: Yes. Absolutely, do get in touch. Chat to us. Talk to us about books, writing, biscuits, or even an interesting stain you’ve found on your pyjama top. We are expert in all of these areas.

Thank you for having us Hannah x

Thanks you both for your time, it has been a pleasure. You can find out more about their partnership and the work they produce together HERE.

 

A.B. Patterson Interview: “I spent most of my police career as a detective”

568 hi-res

This week I caught up with former Detective A.B. Patterson to learn more about his writing and how he draws on his time in the police to help him create memorable crime fiction.

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

I didn’t set out to write crime fiction when I first started messing around with words. However, that old advice of “write what you know”, combined with (starting about ten years ago) reading a lot more crime fiction, prevailed pretty quickly. I do want to write other stuff as well- more on that later!

Style-wise, I am firmly in the hard-boiled and noir camps with my crime fiction. I enjoy reading that style immensely, and so it came naturally to try writing in it. And the more I do, the more comfortable I am with it. One of my big likes about this style of crime fiction is its accent on characters and social commentary. To me, those two aspects are more important than plot. So my writing is gritty and realistic – not for the faint-hearted!

How do you draw on your past as a policeman in your writing?

I spent most of my police career as a detective, and most of that working in child abuse and paedophilia. Then vice squad for my last 18 months before I resigned. I’ve also worked in investigating government corruption since I was a cop. So, it’s the wealth of experience in terms of cases I’ve worked on and the types of people I’ve met, both in crime and corruption work, that have given me a treasure trove of material on which to base my fiction. I’ll run out of time in my life before I run out of story ideas. I’m very fortunate in that regard. Connected to this is my deep-seated loathing of power abuse, whether it be victimization by criminals, corruption by government people, or workplace bullying. My background, both personal and professional, has me wanting to look after the underdog, so this comes through in my writing, as it is a driving force in me.

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

Sure I want to spin (hopefully) good yarns which entertain people, but one of my big motivating factors in wanting to write is to tell people what actually goes on out in society, both in terms of crime and corruption. The majority of the storylines I’ve used so far are based on truth, to varying degrees. So the sorts of criminal acts and corrupt behaviours you read in my work do actually occur out there.

I also get a kick out of being able to have my main protagonist achieve a certain justice, when in reality this often is not the outcome, sadly. And I like to have a PI as my main character, rather than a cop, as that allows less adherence to the rules. He can be more flawed, which is so much fun.

I’m not at the “popular” stage yet, too early in my writing career. But I do intend to write for the rest of my life, so I’m in it for the long term. If I become popular, then great. What I really want is just to be able to earn a living out of writing, and not have to do more mundane work. When I get to that point, I’ll be a very happy man.

Of course, being a self-published author means that there’s a long road to build one’s profile and grow a readership. So, all the more reason to work hard at it.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

Well, as earlier discussed, my professional background and the cases I’ve worked on are a huge inspiration. So is the desire to tell people what goes on in society, even though it is dressed up as fiction. I also come up with random ideas when I see things. I always carry a notebook so those flashes of inspiration can be jotted down and not lost to the daily noise of life.

For example, I saw a TV documentary a few weeks ago about trafficked African girls working as prostitutes in Italy. That gave me a germ of an idea for a short story, which is now complete and has been submitted to a magazine in the US. You just never know when ideas will come up. If I sit down and try to come up with ideas and write, then sometime that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Earlier on, I used to get frustrated with writer’s block (we all get it along the way). Now, I find it easier in two ways. The first is that as I have become more disciplined at writing most days, even if it’s only for 20 to 30 minutes, I am finding that words flow much more easily. It’s almost as if productivity breeds itself. The second point is that I don’t let myself sit there and get frustrated any more – I simply put the pen down and go and do other related tasks, like research or editing some previous writing. The pernicious trap of writer’s block is that it also feeds on itself.

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

What a great question. And so hard to choose an answer. Well, for my style of crime writing, there’d be a few deceased authors – Ross Macdonald, Raymond Chandler, James Crumley all jump out. But I’m going to go with a living author – Ken Bruen from Ireland. An American reviewer likened my style to Bruen’s, and I love his books. Why? Because he writes it gritty and noir with flawed people everywhere – exactly the world I write in. I could pick several others, but I’d be here a while.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Absolutely. The manuscript for my second novel, Harry’s Quest, is in final editing stages now and I expect to publish it in July/August this year. It’s the sequel to Harry’s World.

I’m also working on a number of short stories, and I’ve decided to put together a set of them into a book, either later this year or early next. I have written a number of Harry short stories, but in the first person rather than the third, so this has been a fascinating adventure, writing my main man as “I” instead.

Another project I started a while ago, but need to get back to, is a novella called The Scent of the Wattle. It’s a dark tale about child abuse and paedophilia, fiction still, but very much drawing on the work I did in that area. Again, there are things I want to say and put out there.

And I alluded to writing other genres before. One of my favourite reading genres, aside from crime, is dystopian fiction. So I definitely want to try my hand at that. And, of course, the more I sit and think about it, the more project ideas that will emerge. I love that about being a writer.

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

I’m a hopeless addict when it comes to buying books, so my TBR piles are huge, despite the fact that I read on average a book a week – my target for this year is 60, and I’m on track. I’ve been getting into crime and pulp anthology magazines since last year, hence my foray into short story writing, of which I’ve had two published now in Switchblade magazine, an excellent hard-boiled and noir anthology. Aside from the short story being a wonderful format, and I think even more appealing in the current age with people being so time-poor, these anthologies are a great way to find new authors. And then you can go looking for their books if you like their style. So I have “discovered” many indie crime writers and am starting to read their books. Some favourites so far are: Preston Lang, Alec Cizak, Scotch Rutherford, Todd Robinson, J.D.Graves, and Travis Richardson.

There is so much good writing out there, especially in the indie and self-publishing worlds. I think a lot of the best writing out there is overlooked by the mainstream publishing industry, which, after all, is purely commercial in its interests.

If I could give some advice to my younger self, a key point would be “Read more!” Oh, and another one would be “Write!” I wish I’d started that earlier. Still, I’m trying to make up for it now.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for showing an interest in speaking with me. Aside from having to do “other work” to pay the rent and bills, I do feel very fortunate to have found exactly what I want to spend the rest of my days on this planet doing. I just want to write more and more.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions; it’s been a pleasure hearing from you. You can find out more about him and his writing HERE

Corrupted Review: A Slick Thriller That Will Keep You Guessing

corrupted simon michael

After reviewing and enjoying The Lighterman I was interested to check out the fourth book in the Charles Holborne thriller series, Corrupted. I compared the previous novel in the series to John le Carré’s work in my review, and as I read Corrupted I could not help but feel that my opinion was completely justified thanks to the exquisite characterisation and the exacting nature of the dogged lawyer Charles Holborne. 

In the latest instalment in this gripping series our intrepid protagonist is settling into his perfect life: he has a girlfriend, his job is going great and things are generally peachy. This is the swinging sixties, and author Simon Michael evokes a great atmosphere that crackles with tension as he catapults his character from homely bliss to underworld grime as he cavorts with gangsters and thieves in a bit to take down the notorious Kray twins.

The plot escalates quickly, and pretty soon Charles is out of happy land and into some strong shit, as he starts courting scandal and contending with threats to his life while investigating a sex ring that involves not just the Krays and the Mafia, but extends up to the very echelons of the UK’s power.

Skilfully blending history with a fast paced narrative to create a suspenseful story, Michael showcases his creative prowess with a novel that is almost instantly classic. The integration of real historical figures adds an extra dimension that keeps the reader hooked throughout. Blending snappy dialogue with strong characterisation, the novel runs away with the reader and leaves them wanting more with each jaw-dropping, suspense-filled chapter.

So if you’re looking for some old-school espionage with elegance then look no further. With strong characters, quick conversation and an exceptional plot, Corrupted is a truly awesome thriller that will leave you coming back for more.