John Knock Interview: “I’ve been involved in story making all my life”

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Scottish Crime Writer John Knock talks me through his work and the many books and authors that have inspired him.

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

As a reader, I read Ian Rankin’s excellent Black and Blue, which my father and I were excited about because he remembered the Bible John killings. I then read a lot of the Rebus series and particularly liked Let It Bleed, which had a really well plotted conspiracy thriller that impacted on ordinary people’s lives. I think that is what Rankin does well, drawing on the Raymond Chandler tradition of the corruption of power.

I love thriller movies or great TV series that have a great plot that really makes you work as an audience. I remember as a kid being so disappointed with Colombo. Peter Falk was a fine actor and the character of Colombo so brilliantly created and yet the plots are all open, they require no effort on the part of the audience, which I feel really disrespects them. When I watch or read a thriller, I want to guess it out as I go. When I came across Christopher Brookmyre, I guess that’s what got me really excited because here was someone who had worked for Sight and Sound and got movie plotting. What he did was to give it a great comic voice. A lot of crime writers get their work adapted for the screen, what I think Chris did was to adapt the screen for the novel.

I’ve always been able to work out plots but I needed to find the voice. The skill to give each character a voice and to write with those voices. It took me a while to get there. When re-writing, I always let the voice dominate. What was the character’s experience? What did they know or not know? What did they regard as important or not? That way the reader acts as detective. Bram Stoker did that with Dracula. He’s a mystery writer. The reader has to work out whether to believe the evidence presented to them.  He’s an action thriller writer as well. In fact, until he came across the legend of Vlad the Impaler was going to set the story in Scotland.   Just imagine if you’d asked Irvine Welsh to write it today, that I’ll be close to the style. It’s hybrid. I’m writing a whatdunnit rather than a whodunit.

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

I’ve been involved in story making all my life. I’ve worked in education, working on group creating, analysing structure and narrative and all that stuff. Therefore, plot and structure and roles etc. was something I naturally can grasp. I just decided to do it for myself.

What took time was the prose, getting it right. I just took the decision to take time to write and re-work bits of material I had being pulling together. Confidence that what you have is good and the feedback from test readers and now readers that what I was trying to do has worked.

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

Inspiration is a bit of a misnomer. Writing is a job like any other, it’s task driven. I have to deliver. I have a clear task in my head when I write. Then I might do some research, make a visit, go for a walk and clear my head of all the distractions so I can find a voice, find a plot point or character idea. By setting a wider goal it makes it clear what I have to do. Then I can work to that. Lee Child is great on this; he makes it clear that you are writing for an audience and that you owe them a service. Once you put these two rules together the tension helps to create.

I’m lucky to live somewhere where I can just get out into the countryside and walk. I find listening to radio shows, dramas, comedy, documentaries etc. a great resource. I shelve the block until I do this. So, I’m working on several books at a time plot wise. I get stuck on one, I can just jump to the other. I might hear something I can use and I’ll just mentally shelve it to be drawn on later. It’s all nebulous filled away in the creative cloud, just a feeling and then later I can draw on it. I can’t find my glasses or car keys but I can recall something that clicks into place while I’m trying to get out the door.

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

I have to say Terry Pratchett. I like the way his later Discworld novels were going, dealing with issues that we face but giving them the prism of a fantasy setting. That’s what Brecht was trying to do. So, I have an idea for a Discworld novel and I’d like to write it. He and Neil Gaiman worked on Good Omens together and I’d like to do that. I loved the Sandman series and Neverwhere by the way. He said that it was a proper partnership that they wrote it together not him writing the plot and Terry making it funny.

Anyway, I would like to work with Terry. I get why his daughter has said no more Discworld to protect his legacy. I would want him to keep that focus on his creation and get to the big debates that he was trying to provoke.

I would love to work with Neil on a TV project both my daughter and I are fans. She loves Coraline. Maybe a radio project., it has more scope. I’d also like to work with Agatha Christie. To really play with the genre she created.

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

I’m currently working on the next novel. It’s going to be set in Glasgow and will feature Craig Miller. I really don’t want to say too much about it until I reach Chapter Five or Six, just in case I end up going off in a different direction. I also want to get the Glaswegian voices right and don’t want to end up being too stereotypical. Glasgow has been very good to me and I want to do it justice.

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

I’m looking to read the latest Brookmyre series. I stopped reading him a while ago and I want to get into his newest work. He killed off Jack Parlabane and then brought him back. I agree with him that the hero of a series can get very unbelievable and I always found the other characters much more interesting.   I’m going to find time to read his Jasmine Sharp series.

I am currently trying to read both Lee Child’s Echo Burning and The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connolly. They are two writers that I really admire and I want to enjoy their work. I’m finding crime writers the most interesting bunch as much for them as for their work. I really love the podcast A Stab In The Dark and the interviews are inspirational. It’s great to find writers talking to writers. The crime writing community is a very supportive one. I would like to find the same for the horror community. HP Lovecraft was great in that respect, he supported and mentored other writers including Bloch, who wrote Psycho. I’m looking to get into both communities.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just to invite readers to give me feedback. Go to the site John Knock Author or email me on johnknock@gmail.com.

Thanks for speaking to me, it has been really interesting to hear your thoughts.

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Celine Terranova Interview: “I definitely owe a lot to fanfiction”

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Belgium writer and NaNoWriMo veteran Celine Terranova talks me through her fascination with sci-fi and fantasy writing and how fanfiction inspires her writing.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards sci-fi and fantasy fiction?

I’ve always been a big fan of these two genres, as far as I can remember. Every story that I made up when I was a child had a part of sci-fi or fantasy in it. I was especially fascinated by witches, and I used to ask my mother to bring me books about them from the library (every week!). I was also a big consumer of any sci-fi/fantasy film or TV series that I could find, and it’s left a mark in me.

I think these genres give you a certain kind of freedom that you don’t have otherwise. I can speak about difficult or divisive subjects without being too upfront about it. Genre fiction provides a distance that doesn’t trigger the reader’s inner censor. It’s very powerful!

I started writing for Young Adults mainly because I am fascinated by the changes that we undergo at this age. Many opinions that I have were forged by books I read when I was a teenager, and my dream is to be able to have that kind of influence on young readers too.

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

I wanted to become a writer since I was a child, but I was advised against pursuing it further because it’s not the kind of job that could pay the bills. In Belgium (where I was born), writing is mostly seen as a hobby and not a serious career. At school I was good at science, so I studied Physics at university, but it was not really my passion.

During school and university, I continued writing with little success. It was not really understood or even accepted by people around me. I was then very lucky to discover the fabulous world of fan fictions. Internet really opened for me opportunities that I didn’t know existed. I wrote and published fan fiction for twelve years, and it helped me understand that writing was my real calling. In my “real life”, I quit working in science, I moved to the UK, and started working in a much more creative industry (theatre).

I definitely owe a lot to fanfiction. It taught me how to discipline myself, how to work with a critique partner, how to deal with feedback from readers and how to craft a proper story. I’ve taken all that experience and I moved to writing my own stories a couple of years ago. It was extremely scary at first (it still is to be honest), but I enjoy creating my own characters and settings!

You write a lot of short stories. What draws you to this style of writing? Do you find the limited word count restricting or freeing?

I started writing short stories because of several challenges that I found online. The first one was the 48h challenge for the SciFi London Festival, where I had to write a story and film myself reading it. Short stories helped me make the transition between writing fanfictions and writing my own worlds. I really enjoy having to build an entire story within a restricted number of words. It helps me try many things that I wouldn’t dare trying in a novel. I definitely find it freeing!

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

My biggest ideas always come to me in dreams. I have very vivid dreams and I try to write the most important down, because I know they can lead to a good story. I always have a notebook ready in case I need to write down the details of what I dreamt.

I used to have rituals to put me in the mood for writing, for example I would put a specific playlist on, or sit at a specific table. Now, it has become a routine so I don’t need it anymore. If sometimes I need more motivation, I use a timer to get me started (I write for 30 minutes, then I can get a coffee). Usually by the end of the time, I have forgotten about the incentive and I keep writing.

Why did you choose to participate in NaNoWriMo and how are you finding the challenge?

I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time two years ago. I had wanted to do it for years, but somehow there was always something happening in November that prevented me to do so. In 2015, I made the decision to take the leap, mainly to improve my English. I wrote a NCIS fanfiction (which I haven’t published yet) and it was a crazy ride! Writing 1667 words per day, every day, when you have to juggle with a full time job, is not easy. I was very surprised to win and it proved to me that I was capable of crafting a long story in another language than French.

Last year, I participated with my first original novel in English. It was much harder than the first year! I had spent months plotting the story, but I was really not sure of myself. I changed the plot right in the middle of the month, and had to fight writer’s block many times. I won the challenge (50K), but it took me another 8 months to complete the first draft (which reached 100K in total).

This year, I’m a NaNo rebel because I’m writing the second draft of the same novel, Healers. The first draft was honestly not very good, but it is a start! I’m much more confident with my abilities now and I have planned this NaNoWriMo more than I have ever done before. The story is very similar but pretty much all the scenes have changed. The only struggle this year is my new job in theatre, that is eating away all my free time. I find the challenge more exhausting than the previous times, but I enjoy very much the support and sense of community on Twitter!

What style of writing do you enjoy reading yourself? Are there any particular authors you admire?

I read a lot of Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy, because that’s what I enjoy to write too. Most recently, I devoured La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. He is one of my absolute favourite authors and I was lucky to attend his conference in London in October. I find his stories so inspiring, and they had a big impact on me when I was a teenager.

There are plenty of major authors that I admire (J.K. Rowling, Orson Scott-Carr, and Tolkien), but if I had to choose only one it would probably be Pierre Bordage, a French author of several series that I revered as a teenager. His style is still a major influence on what I write.

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

I would love to collaborate with the French writer/actor/producer Alexandre Astier. He writes for TV, which is something I would like to get into one day, and he’s a magician with words. I am a very big fan of his work, his humour and his work ethic. I would probably be very intimidated, but I think it would be a unique experience.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

My main project currently is my novel Healers, which is the first book of a Young Adult science fiction series. Otherwise, I have a couple of projects in the pipeline: a zombie apocalypse story, a supernatural crime podcast, and I also recently completed a sci-fi/horror short story called Video Time that I’ve started to send to magazines.

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

I’m definitely looking forward to the follow-up to La Belle Sauvage. I am also eagerly awaiting the next Cormoran Strike book. Other than that, I recently fell in love with a book by Leah Thomas, Because You’ll Never Meet Me, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you Hannah for giving me this opportunity to talk about my projects! If you would like to know more, visit my website: celineterranova.com or follow me on Twitter: @CelineTerranova

Thanks for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been fascinating.

Donald Allan Interview: “I have been a lifelong lover of books”

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Donald Allan, writer of the New Druids series talks us through his passion for fantasy and how he cultivated this to create an innovative and immensely popular series.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards fantasy and sci-fi writing?

I have been a lifelong lover of books. Since the days when I would sneak out of class to hide in the library to read books I have wanted to see my own writing on a shelf with my name on it. I was introduced to the Lord of the Rings in grade 5 and it opened up a world I never knew existed. Fantasy and Sci-Fi allows me to travel to strange new worlds, and I adore it. I am naturally drawn to writing fantasy and finally wrote my first novel. A lifelong dream came true and I love being an author. Next to being a father, it is my greatest achievement.

Please tell me more about New Druids series and how it came to be so popular.

The New Druids series is epic Celtic fantasy that examines a world where druids were hidden in society before being wiped out by a church that feared them. The series follows the last druid who has just awoken his powers and is trying to determine how the druids should interact with the world and return the harmony of nature.

My series borrows from the Celtic words for Leaf, Branch, Stalk and Root for my druid ranks and my novels titles: Duilleog, Craobh, Stoc, and Freamhaigh (coming out in 2018). I love my first novel as you would love a first child. How could I not? I have grown as a writer over the past few years and I write much better than I did in my first novel, but it is still a wonderful novel and I won a gold medal from the Dan Poynter’s Global eBook Awards in 2016 for the category Fantasy/Other Worlds.

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

I am a father, husband, author, and an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy. I am an Information Warfare specialist who specialises in interoperability between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States navies. I am also a dog owner who thinks that dogs are the most wonderful animals on the planet. Writing is my passion. I’ve longed to see my name in print since I was old enough to read.

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

Inspiration comes from that magically place-somewhere out there beyond the rainbow. Haha! I have no idea where I find my inspiration. I swear that my novels write themselves. But once I know what I want, I flush out a complete outline of my novels before I do anything. I break it down into chapters and scenes and work out timeline issues. I let that soak for a while, then go back, and revisit the plot and sequence. Once I am confident I have it right, I open my laptop and start writing.

Writer’s block for me has been about not writing well. Not about not being able to write. To write well I need any place alone where I can listen to my music. Then I need to simply start. Inspiration will strike me and then it’s all about typing as fast as I can.

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

Elizabeth Moon. My favourite trilogy of all time is her The Deed of Paksenarrion. I love her writing style. She’s wonderful and it would be an honour to write with her.

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

I am deep into NaNoWriMo and using the opportunity to push my fourth novel into full creation. This will be the second last novel in my series and I am excited about where I am in the plot. It’s a great story and I love being able to tell it. I’ve built this world and writing in it gives me such joy.

Many thanks to Donald for your time; you can find out more about him and his work HERE.

Pat Krapf Interview: “What drew me to darker fiction was my fascination with delving into the sinister side of human nature”

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Pat Krapf, author of the Darcy McClain and Bullet series of mysteries, talks me through her work and the journey she made to create it.

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

When I began my career, I worked as a copywriter and technical writer. Writing concise, snappy advertising copy kept me focused on the message. As a technical writer, I wrote and edited operation and service manuals, which helped me hone my organizational and descriptive skills, paying close attention to small details but never losing sight of the big picture.

What drew me to darker fiction was my fascination with delving into the sinister side of human nature. But out of the darkness, there is light—that light being my main character Darcy McClain, who, with help from her giant schnauzer sidekick Bullet, does her best to right the world’s wrongs.

What is your background in writing and how did you get into writing crime fiction?

At age nine I became addicted to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries and started penning short stories, all the while wondering if I would ever have enough to say to write an entire book. In college, I worked for the school newspaper and wrote a weekly column. After I earned my journalism degree from the University of Oregon, I worked in the aerospace and medical industries, which introduced me to a wealth of scientific and technological data. Intrigued by this knowledge, I’ve used it in my series to do some good, but mostly to weave dark plots.

Tell me about your books and how you came to write and then publish them.

My debut novel in the Darcy McClain and Bullet Thriller Series was Brainwash. The gist, is that what begins as a missing person’s case soon escalates into a dangerous game that places Darcy’s life at stake after she infiltrates the top-secret biotech labs at LANL, where shocking neuroscientific research soon comes to light.

Book two, Gadgets, was also set in New Mexico. The reader is introduced to The Carver—Albuquerque’s most brutal serial killer. Only one person can end his carnage—Darcy McClain. That is, if he doesn’t kill her next.

This year, I released Genocide. Sean Ireland, the first gay presidential candidate in US history, is guaranteed the election—until he’s found dead at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

I completed my first novel in 1987. By 2010, I had five completed manuscripts for my thriller series and rough drafts for an additional four. Rather than pursue the traditional route—a very slow process—I decided to self-publish.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

My inspiration comes from nonfiction books, current news stories, and/or firsthand experiences. Many of Darcy’s adventures were at one time also mine. As for the settings in the series, they are global. Like me, Darcy grew up overseas. The series begins in the US, but with book five I will transition to setting the novels abroad. I’m constantly reading or searching for the next theme to my next novel. It’s an ongoing process and inspiration is everywhere. No, I don’t have any rituals because Darcy is constantly calling me back to the computer to continue her adventures with Bullet. My only complaint is that I can’t always shut out real life.

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

Robert Ludlum. I started reading Ludlum in 1971 and was captivated by his powerful storytelling. His Bourne series is the inspiration for a future Darcy McClain thriller that will be set in the EU. Posing as a double agent, Darcy finally realizes her dream to become a spy. But at what cost, and to whom?

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Yes. Besides being a prolific blogger—I post on a weekly basis—I am polishing the fourth novel in my series—CLON-X. The storyline: while out for a run in Texas, former FBI Special Agent Darcy McClain and her giant schnauzer, Bullet, find a trash bag submerged in a creek. Inside are the pulverized remains of renowned geneticist Dr. Catherine (Cate) Lord, who has been receiving death threats for her alleged research on human cloning. I recently received the cover design for CLON-X and am quite pleased with the outcome.

What new books or writers are you looking forward to later in the year and beyond?

When it comes to reading, I search by topic as opposed to specific authors. For instance, currently I am hooked on spy, espionage, and bioterrorism as subjects for future novels, so I will seek out books on those subjects, and about 75 percent of what I read is nonfiction.

Anything you’d like to add?

If you’d like to know more about me and my books, visit us—Pat, Darcy, and Bullet—at patkrapf.com. Thank you, Hannah, for the opportunity to talk about our thriller series.

Many thanks for your time Pat, it has been fascinating to hear your thoughts.

Mark Pepper Interview: “I definitely approach character building with an eye to my acting training”

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Following on from my review of his novel Veteran Avenue, I spoke to Mark Pepper about his writing and what he thinks makes truly great crime fiction.

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

I’ve never given any thought to my writing ‘style’ and have never considered trying to adopt one. I hope I write with style rather than in one. My sole intention has only ever been to write well, with fluidity and intelligence. It’s clearly not up to me to say if that’s worked; that’s up to the reader. I think if a writer tries too hard to adopt a certain style, they run the risk that their expression becomes subservient to a certain effect they hope to achieve. You see this in some ‘literary’ work, where the meaning takes second-place to the word-play the writer believes is clever. For me, clever writing is simply that which the reader only has to read once to understand.

Again, the genre is not one I pursued; it was just the natural vehicle for the tale I wanted to tell, in this case Veteran Avenue. But I have always enjoyed stories that keep the reader guessing, so I do enjoy the mystery element, and crime fiction is something that never seems to go out of fashion. It is one of our strange human foibles that, as much as we fear pain and death in real life, we cannot get enough of it in books and films when it happens to someone else.

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

I tinkered with some (dark dark) poetry at university (it’s on my website), as befitted my mood, but properly started writing in 1991, about a year after leaving RADA, when I realised my plan to crack Hollywood was beginning to run a tad behind schedule. It was an alternative outlet. And I had read some stuff I wasn’t too impressed with, so challenged myself to do better.

My first novel was entitled Returntime, which got me an agent, but by that time I was halfway through The Short Cut, which was taken on in a two-book deal by Hodder & Stoughton. That and Man on a Murder Cycle were published hardcover and paperback between 1996 and 1998. They were both horror/thrillers. There’s a story behind the near-twenty-year gap until Veteran Avenue, but I’ll leave that for another day. At the heart of Veteran Avenue is the core idea from Returntime, so Veteran Avenue is actually the first book I wanted to write. But, although there is crime in it, it’s not really a crime novel in the traditional sense.

How do you draw on your work as an actor when writing? Do you use any of the skills you gained in this profession when creating a new book?

Excellent question. I think I have a very good ‘ear’ for dialogue, but whether I’d have that without my acting experience I don’t know. I certainly ‘run’ the lines out loud to make sure they sound right, as actors do with their scripts. I find that bad dialogue in a novel can ruin the otherwise sterling work of the narrative, so I believe it’s just as important in a novel as it is in a movie screenplay. Novelists really do need to ‘run’ their dialogue for authenticity. I find it off-putting when I read dialogue that’s not only unrealistic for the character, but for any human being.

It’s also possible I use my acting head to view the scenes as I’m writing them; something Stephen King brilliantly dubbed his ‘Skull Cinema’. I see everything as though I’ve seen the movie of the book, but that’s probably more from a director’s than actor’s point of view.

I definitely approach character building with an eye to my acting training. I think about how I would tackle the character for the screen. What traits and behaviours do they exhibit? What’s their back-story? It all helps to build three-dimensional characters that engage the reader. Having said that, I don’t believe in banging the reader over the head with character information and description that holds up the narrative, such as their appearance. There are two characters in Veteran Avenue who I give an age to and nothing more. Unless a character’s physical appearance is crucial for the plotting, I think it’s perfectly okay to do that. A lot can be gleaned from a character’s speech and behaviour, and the other characters’ response to them, and the reader’s Skull Cinema fills in the blanks on the rest. I think it’s fun to let the reader do that.

What features do you believe are vital to creating good crime fiction?

Apart from the obvious, such as clever plotting, a writer needs to get their facts straight. Research is paramount, especially when you’re dealing with crime and police procedure. It bugs the crap out of me when writers have clearly not done their homework, and have instead relied on what they think they know to be true, often trusting TV clichés or mistakes so oft-repeated in books that they have become accepted. For example, the myth of a sympathetic cop closing the eyes of a murder victim with the gentle downward stroke of two fingertips. It can possibly be done within the first hour after death, but not beyond. I know this because I attended an embalming as research for Man on a Murder Cycle and watched the undertaker superglue the open eyelids shut – something he said he always had to do.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

I know this may sound weird, but my main inspiration comes not from great writing but from bad. Nothing is as certain to get me tapping at the keyboard as someone else’s published work I have had to discard because it was poorly written. I think aspiring authors can be put off if they look at the greats because they think: Well, I could never write something like that. So they don’t bother trying. Far better to read something awful and think: Bloody hell, I could do better than that.

I have no rituals, as such. I need a good few hours so I can get a flow going, and I do prefer silence.

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

Stephen King. I haven’t read any of his stuff for years, but I have most of his early work. He did inspire me – in all the right ways.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’ve started a fourth novel but I try not to get too excited about it all these days. I’ve had too many let downs in the past. Excitement creates expectations, and they are the source of much misery in this world.

Anything you’d like to add?

My favourite bit of writing advice: Give the reader what they want, but not in the way they expect it. When you work that one out, your plotting shifts up several gears.

Thanks for taking the time Mark; it’s been a pleasure. You can find out more about him and his writing HERE.

Martin Daley Interview: “It never ceases to amaze me how many crime writers list Conan Doyle as an inspiration”

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Martin Daley, a writer who is re-inventing Sherlock Holmes, discusses how he undertakes this Herculean task and the writers and events that inspire his work.

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

It never ceases to amaze me how many crime writers list Conan Doyle as an inspiration and without sounding a bit clichéd, I probably have to join the end of that long line! I don’t claim to be Sir Arthur’s biggest fan but Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are probably my two favourite literary characters, and it was probably the Holmes stories that drew me towards crime fiction in the first place.

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

I wish I could say I studied English Literature at Oxbridge and them fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition in becoming a writer, however the truth is I sort of fell into it by accident. I had a fairly modest education (I wasn’t a good learner as a child and my teachers were hopeless – the lot of them!). In adulthood I started to properly educate myself: reading books that I wanted to read, travelling etc.

I was studying the life of an ancestor of mine and found so much information about him that I thought his story might make an interesting book. To test my own writing ability I entered a national short-story competition and – although I didn’t win it – I received some really good feedback from the judges. This encouraged me to write about my great-great grandfather; the book was well received locally and I got the writing bug as a result!

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

That’s quite an easy one! I write both fiction and non-fiction, and all of my books to date have been inspired by either my own ancestry or local history. Like everyone else who reads this I’m sure, I have an interesting heritage and we don’t have to go very far back to fine some interesting characters that can capture our imagination.

The other point with me is that I’m from such a historic city. Carlisle has over two thousand years of history dating back to the Romans – if you can’t find something there of interest there’s no hope for you!

This all led to me combining my interest in fact and fiction. To explain: as I said earlier I’ve always been a fan of the Holmes stories and I thought wouldn’t it be great to set one of his adventures in Carlisle (great for me anyway!). So I used Watson’s links with the military to have our two heroes come up north in 1903 to investigate the theft of the Arroyo Drums, the Border Regiment’s most prize possession.

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

Regarding fiction, I suppose the obvious choices would be some of my favourites – Dumas or Dickens perhaps. But thinking a bit more about it I will plump for Stieg Larrson. I loved the Millennium trilogy and the way he used characters that were different to the standard cop and sidekick were really interesting and inspirational.

From a non-fiction point of view, I think I would go with Simon Schama. I suppose I harbour a bit of a long-term ambition to write a history of Carlisle, and who better than my favourite historian to help me do it?

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

Yes, I’m excited to say there is plenty going on right now. By way of background I should say that when I wrote the Holmes pastiche I deliberately didn’t make my local detective a buffoon (like in so many Holmes stories) because I wanted to give him some adventures of his own. Detective Inspector Cornelius Armstrong was born!

A couple of months ago I signed up with MX Publishing, who not only wanted to publish Volume III of the Armstrong Casebook, but Steve (Emezc) suggested we re-brand the series and publish the first two volumes leading up to the brand new book in December. The cover designs by Brian Belanger are sensational!

While there are other Armstrong stories in the pipeline, I am also working on a modern-day transnational thriller that is something different for me. Hopefully it will see its way into print late next year or early 2019.

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

I’m always eagerly anticipating Charles Cumming latest spy novel and – following David Lagercrantz picking up Stieg’s Millennium baton – I believe there are to be further Salandar/Blomkvist adventure, so I’ll be looking out for them too.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I suppose I should give a shameless plug to my Armstrong series with MX Publishing, and if there is anyone interested further in my ramblings they can follow me on twitter or check out the new blog I’ve just added to my website.

Thanks for taking the time Martin, it’s been a pleasure. You can find out more about Martin and his work HERE.

Roger Keen Interview: “I find the best kind of inspiration comes from unexpected things”

Roger Keen Author Pic

Roger Keen, filmmaker and psychological thriller writer, discusses his work and the influences behind it.

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

When I started writing, I was initially drawn to literary fiction, particularly American countercultural writers such as Kerouac, Burroughs, Henry Miller and Richard Brautigan. But I also liked classic crime and noirish fiction, ranging from Poe and Conan Doyle to Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell. Later, I decided to write dark horror-type short stories, because there was a market for them in small press magazines, and literary stories were harder to place. The types of stories I liked to write were more psychological rather than supernatural, and more rooted in the real world than in the realms of Gothic fantasy. I was always interested in aberrant psychology and read about it widely, including true crime books, and in the stories I explored psychopathy, psychosis, obsession and various personality disorders. Characters such as Highsmith’s Tom Ripley appealed to me, as did Hannibal Lecter, and indeed Annie Wilkes in Misery!

I’ve attempted several psychological thrillers over the years, each with a central deranged protagonist, but such ideas really gelled with Literary Stalker, because the setting allowed me to indulge my propensities as a horror/crime book-and-film buff, and the backbone thread of an obsessed, enamoured fan, becoming progressively unhinged, made for an ideal psychological exploration.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your work as a filmmaker when writing fiction?

I went to art college from school, and at first I studied painting and then moved on to photography and film. After that I worked in television, but I always wrote in my spare time. The first paid writing work I did consisted of magazine articles and interviews, and focussed mainly on genre and surreal literature and film, which became something of a speciality.

When writing fiction, I sometimes use the world of film and TV as a setting, and I often plan out action scenes in a filmic way, thinking about viewpoints, angles, effects and eye lines as if they were to be filmed by a camera. Also I tend to put a lot of film content and references into my work – which is particularly true of Literary Stalker. One of the central ideas is that the novel-within-the-novel (The Facebook Murders) is a film pastiche, using the 1970s Vincent Price horror film Theatre of Blood as a template, and having murders enacted according to the plots of various other genre movies, such as Reservoir Dogs – also a lot of the treatment is deliberately ‘Tarantinoesque’, pastiching a pasticher. So, I’m having fun in a kind of ‘nudge-wink’ way with movies references, which others will pick up on.

Lit Stalker Cover 1000

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 find the best kind of inspiration comes from unexpected things which happen to me in life, weird and uncanny coincidences, and the kind of quirky incidents that sometimes occur that make you say: ‘You just couldn’t make that up’. I usually write down such things without knowing how I’ll use them, and then, sometimes years later, I will find an opportunity. If I’ve got writer’s block, I don’t try to force myself to write but instead I’ll do something else to take my mind elsewhere. Country walking helps with freeing up the mind and regaining inspiration, I’ve always found. I particularly like the West Country, where I used to live, including Dartmoor and the Devon and Cornwall Coast. I also like the Cotswolds, which is less rugged and more ‘typically English’. I use the Cotswolds as a setting for a later section of the novel, involving ‘country stalking’, making a contrast to the earlier urban scenes.

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

I never have collaborated with another writer, and it’s hard to imagine doing so, but if I had to pick one writer from the past that I would hypothetically like to collaborate with, it would be William Burroughs. I’ve always admired his experimentalism and the way he plays with different genres in a postmodern way, be it hardboiled crime, horror, fantasy or science fiction. He himself has collaborated with several other writers and filmmakers, and David Cronenberg’s movie version of Naked Lunch is a weird mash up of both of their styles. It would certainly be an adventure to write something with Burroughs!

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

Again on the subject of film, there is a non-fiction book that I’ve planned out and hope to get the time to work on soon. It’s a broad study of weird and countercultural film, concentrating on the 1960s and ’70s to a large extent but also going back into the distant past and the silent era to explore transgressive filmmaking there, and closer to the present, showing how these same tendencies have influenced science fiction and fantasy films – especially the cyberpunk sub-genre, in which writers such as Philip K. Dick played a large role. I’m also working on another novel that is more literary than genre-related, but continues with similar ideas that occur in Literary Stalker, such as nested narratives – novels within novels. All I need is more time, because so much other stuff gets in the way!

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

I’ve never written police procedural fiction, but I enjoy reading it a lot, and I also find it educational when it comes to working out noir/psychological plots in general. I’m a huge addict of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series of novels (and TV shows), and the latest – Two Kinds of Truth – is due out very soon, so that’s exciting. There’s also the new Stephen King, Sleeping Beauties, which is just out but I have yet to read. It sound intriguing, and it’s also a collaboration with one of his sons. His more famous son, Joe Hill, also has a new book out in November – Strange Weather – which again looks a bit different and enticing: a collection of four short novels. I met Joe at a convention in 2006 when he was largely unknown (alluded to in Literary Stalker) and I bought his first collection of short stories, which was extraordinary, so superior to the run-of-the-mill output; and the community of horror insiders all knew then he was going to become massive, like his dad. Which shows, amongst other things, that talent is in the genes!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just to say thank you very much for the support and the opportunity to ramble on a bit about myself and my interests. And good luck with your excellent blog!

Thanks for taking the time Roger. You can find out more about Roger and his work HERE.