James Hayman, former advert writer turned bestselling author talks me through his books and how he draws on his previous role when writing them.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction and thriller writing?
Before starting to write fiction I spent over thirty years writing advertising copy, mostly for television, for one of the world’s largest ad agencies. Writing TV advertising trains one to write fiction in a couple of ways. First, you have to write tightly. You can’t waste a word. After all, you can’t cram more than 120 words into a 60 second TV commercial but very often those words have to tell a complete story.
I’ve brought that discipline into my fiction. I try very hard never to use any words that don’t move the story ahead. Writing advertising is also a wonderful training ground for writing dialogue. Anyone who’s read any of my McCabe/Savage thrillers know that they I use a lot of dialogue to tell the tale. Finally, writing for television trains you to think cinematically. Capturing a scene as a camera would allows readers to actually “see” in their minds the scenes I am describing.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?
Writing was the one thing that came naturally to me back when I was in school. After leaving university I looked for some job, any job that would pay me a living wage to do what I do best. As I said before, that turned out to be advertising. However, the whole time I worked in the ad business I had an itch to write fiction. After 30 years I finally got a chance to scratch that itch. My first thriller The Cutting quickly attracted one of New York’s top literary agents and she quickly sold it to one of the major publishing houses. The Cutting subsequently became a bestseller both in the US and the UK as well as several other countries. It is currently being translated by an Israeli publishing house into Hebrew.
Now, nine years after The Cutting there are six books in the McCabe/Savage series.
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
All six of my McCabe/Savage thrillers weave topics of social importance seamlessly into the story. For example, in my latest, A Fatal Obsession, I introduce readers to a villain who kidnaps a young actress who he brings to a remote house. Same old, same old? Not exactly. Turns out the so-called villain suffered multiple concussions as a teenager at the hands of an abusive father and his criminal actions are the result of an advanced case of CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. As you probably know CTE is a disease that afflicts the brains of many men ranging from professional football players who have suffered multiple concussions to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan whose brains were damaged by proximity to explosions. When the disease is not driving his actions, the villain turns out to be a loving and caring young man. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Kind of but not quite.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
There’s no way I could ever collaborate successfully with any other writer no matter how talented. My books grow organically out of my brain and out of my unique relationship with my characters. It’s no exaggeration to say Michael McCabe and Maggie Savage are the closest friends I have and I’m happy I get to spend a lot of time with them. I suppose in one sense you could say McCabe and Maggie are my best collaborators.
What do you like reading yourself and how does this influence your work?
I have pretty broad tastes in reading. Naturally I read a lot of both thrillers and what they call literary fiction. Among the Brits I particularly like are Kate Atkinson and Ian McEwen. I also read a fair amount of non-fiction. Most recently a fascinating biography of war correspondent Marie Colvin who worked for the Sunday Times in London. The title is In Extremis for those who’d like to dip into it.
What’s next for your writing? Are there any new releases or projects your doing in the future that you are particularly excited about?
I’m currently working on my first stand alone novel which is about a woman who is convinced her husband is planning to kill her. When that’s finished I may come back to McCabe and Savage. Or maybe I won’t
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?
I’m currently reading a John Grisham book called The Reckoning. After that I’m not sure.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just to say thank you for liking my work enough to want to interview me.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, it’s been a pleasure.