Larry Darter Interview: “When in comes to fiction, my tastes are quite eclectic”

larrydarter

This week I speak to Larry Darter, a Crime Fiction author who writes in a really original, interesting style modeled on some of my favorite authors, including the legend that is Raymond Chandler. He discusses his work, the inspiration behind it and where he hopes to himself in the future.

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

I’d define my writing style as efficient, with a definite lack of a lot of lofty, eloquent language. By intent, I try to avoid the complicated or ambiguous that may lead to misinterpretations. My aim is to write in such a way that readers really engage with the characters which I think makes for a more realistic and interesting novel, particularly with regard to my chosen genre. I credit my maternal grandmother with the genesis of my interest in crime fiction. She was quite taken with the old-school, hard-boiled American detective greats, authors like Raymond Chandler, Hammett, and Ross MacDonald. You could always find those kinds of novels in her library, and I’d read them sometimes when visiting her. Soon I became as taken with it all as grandmother. Ironically when I first decided I was going to write a novel, I chose to write an Old West novel. But once I started writing I always had in mind to write crime novels. I’ve always enjoyed reading crime fiction, and given my background I feel it’s the genre I’m most suited to writing.

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

I spent a good many years in military service, first in the U.S. Navy after high school and later as an infantry officer in the Army. After leaving the Army, I worked for the U.S. Department of Justice for a few years. My experience there provoked my interest in becoming a police officer. I worked in law enforcement for a little over 20 years, primarily in patrol and crime scene investigation. During the last four or five years before retirement, I did some freelance writing and had some success with that. Writing novels, I think, was just a natural progression from that. After retiring, I finally had the time to write full time.

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

Since I started writing crime fiction, I’ve written and published two novels, Come What May and Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair. They are really two very different books. Come What May was inspired by a true story, an actual cold case homicide that went unsolved for 23 years. The book is more a Joseph Wambaugh-like police procedural than a Raymond Chandler-style detective novel. I wanted to be as true as possible to the real story and felt the fictional version was most effectively told as a police procedural. Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair is quite a different story. It truly is more of an old school, hard-boiled American detective novel, the kind of book I really wanted to write when I decided to write crime novels. Both books are part of my current Malone Mystery Novels series. I’m presently writing the third book in the series, Cold Comfort, which will be released in November of this year. As mentioned, I define my writing style as efficient. Some might call it bare and spare. Part of that comes from my deliberate effort to follow in the footsteps of some of the old-school, hard-boiled crime novel masters I most admire, authors like Chandler, Hammett, and, Robert B. Parker.

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

As far as that goes, I do employ figurative language to a degree, figures of speech and even occasional clichés for artistic effect. I rely a great deal on Shakespeare in my current series for a unifying theme. That starts with the titles of the novels, each of which comes from a line from one of his plays, phrases that have over time become so familiar that they literally have become sayings that repeatedly appear in our everyday speech. I strengthen that Shakespearean connection with a hero, Ben Malone, who frequently quotes Shakespeare in the novels. The purpose of that is to present Malone as a bit of a contradiction. He is tough and street-smart but at the same time an intelligent and educated man. He is a man with foibles, an insolent mouth, a bad attitude toward authority, and a part of him likes the violence he gets involved in. But he is unapologetically heroic and truly wants to help the people he meets who need it. The model for Malone is the anachronistic knight-errant with a pistol in a shoulder holster, which I see as one of the archetypes of American culture.

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

I’m a voracious reader, as I think most authors are. I read both fiction and non-fiction. While I have a university degree, I feel I’m more self-educated than traditionally educated. I attribute that to the non-fiction books I’ve read over the course of my life, the source from which I believe I have learned the things of most enduring value. With regard to non-fiction, I truly love reading history, biographies, and books on finance and investing. When in comes to fiction, my tastes are quite eclectic. I enjoy military thrillers, crime thrillers, mysteries, westerns, historical fiction, as well as the classics by authors like Steinbeck, J.R.R Tolkien, Tolstoy, Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Crime fiction is easily the genre I read most and truly enjoy. My favorite contemporary authors are John Roswell Camp who writes as John Sandford, Lee Child, and Robert B. Parker. Not a surprise then that I feel the works of authors like Chandler, Hammett, and Robert B. Parker most influence my own writing. I deliberately use their writing styles as a template for my own.

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

Collaborating on a writing project isn’t a concept I find particularly appealing. I’m the guy who back in my school days absolutely hated it when a teacher or professor dictated that the class participates in a group or team project assignment. It isn’t that I can’t see the potential value of collaborating with another writer on a joint project. I’m certain I could learn a lot from working with another author, especially if I could pick any author I liked, living or dead. I’m actually not an introvert by nature, but I consider the craft of writing to be a solitary pursuit and feel I’m most creative working autonomously.

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

As far as writing goes, as mentioned earlier, I’m currently writing the third book in the Malone Mystery Novels series, Cold Comfort. I’m about midway through the first draft. I’ve also outlined the fourth novel, Foregone Conclusion, which is due for release in the spring of 2018. A related project that I’m pretty excited about is the launch of my new street team initiative, Team Malone. With so many books being published these days,        visibility is the biggest challenge that authors like me who aren’t exactly household names face. The golden age of publishing when all you had to do was write a book and upload it to Amazon and then just wait for readers to discover it has long since passed. Street teams have I think become increasingly important to the successful launch of any book, and so for the first time, I’m trying to organize one. I want my books to be discovered and read, but that’s not the sum total of my desire to build a street team. I’m also looking at it as a way to more closely connect with my readers. Team Malone is still in the very early stages of development, and I’m still sorting it, but a Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/725102497695722/) is in place for anyone who might be interested in checking it out and learning what a street team is all about.

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

Yes, I’m really looking forward to the November 2017 release of the next Reacher novel by Lee Child, The Midnight Line. I’ve read every one of the books in the series and really love the Reacher character as well as Lee’s writing. Frankly, I was a bit disappointed in his last novel, Night School, which was another flashback-type story to Reacher’s former days in the Army. I think the series is a bit mature for that now and so I’m very hopeful that Lee’s upcoming novel returns us to the kind of Reacher story we fans have come to expect. In addition to the big name authors I like reading, I also read a good many first novels, and I recently discovered a very fine UK crime thriller writer by the name of Jennifer Lee Thomson. I just recently read the first book in her new series, Vile City, and it was literally the best thriller I’ve read in years. I’m not sure when it’s meant for release, but I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, Cannibal City. Jennifer is truly a special talent, and I think she has the potential to become one of those household name-type authors in the not too distant future.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’ll just end things with a thank you, Hannah, for choosing to interview me. It has been both an honor and a pleasure. I’ve enjoyed reading the interviews on your site that you’ve done previously with some truly amazingly talented authors. I do hope we speak again in the future. Take care.

Thanks Larry, it’s been great to hear your thoughts and it’s always an honor for me to learn more about the lives of awesome authors. You can read more about Larry’s work HERE.

Anthony Hooper Interview: “I draw on people I know for the characters in the book”

tony hooper

Anthony Hooper, author of Sheffield set thriller The Glass Lie talks me through his work and how he came to publish this innovative novel.

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

I prefer to write in a conversational style. I’m not sure it’s the best way to write a political crime thriller but the feedback so far has been quite positive. The second instalment is finished and written in the same style. The third book is planned out and that will probably go the same way. Originally the idea came to me as a script which may have had a subliminal impact on the way I write.

I am a retired lecturer of politics and international relations. I came to the job quite late after taking a politics degree at the University of Sheffield. I graduated as I approached my fortieth birthday and spent fifteen years teaching undergraduates. Whilst at University I attended a seminar on the cycles of power. Countries and people ascend to a position of power and authority. Some believe these cycles break down and the country or person’s authority declines. Usually, they do all they can to hold on to the privileges of authority. The seminar was about a year after Mrs Thatcher had been removed from office by her own party.

It was after this seminar the idea for the book began to form (1992). I wrote about 5,000 words around a person wanting to desperately hold on to power, only to see it evaporate. Those words stayed in the computer and every incarnation of disk and USB stick until I finally sat down (retirement finally offered me the time).

I met Harlan Coben on his book tour and questioned him about my book. He was very generous with his time and advised me to switch main characters from the civil servant to the police officer. The reason for this was the story was planned as a trilogy with the civil servant rising to the top of the political tree. If I made the police officer the main character, I would be able to write far more than three books, as long as I could think up a decent plot.

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

Suffice to say, I have had a number of careers, spanning the armed forces, private industry, social services and teaching. The latter, by far, was the most fun and rewarding. I was studying towards my PhD when I retired and it was a source of great disappointment that I did not complete my thesis. The book was a cathartic way of writing 100,000 coherent words. Once the book was finished, it seemed natural to try and get it published. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a literary agent to represent me, so I took the alternative route and sent my manuscript to a number of publishers. Luckily, Scribblin House liked what they read and offered to publish the book for me on a three- book deal.

I draw heavily on my past in couple of important areas. Firstly, the books are set in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, where I was born. The Glass Lie is set on a university campus in Sheffield. Although the name of the university has been changed for legal reasons, it wouldn’t take anyone with a passing knowledge of Sheffield geography to work out which university it is. Secondly, there is an element of historical licence within the book, in that certain locations, such as the police headquarters, no longer exist in the location within the book. The police HQ has moved out of the city centre towards the M1 motorway. The building is now the main magistrates court for the city.

The second book also delves into the world of the armed forces (from my very distant past) when soldiers on leave or in uniform are murdered on the streets of Sheffield. Their motivation for the murders takes revenge to a new level.

Please tell me about your books. What do you believe draws readers to your work?

I only have the experience of one book to draw on but the feedback I have received focuses on one theme and that is setting. The book sold very well locally. When speaking to local book clubs (around South Yorkshire) they liked the idea of a mainstream crime novel (they didn’t see it as political) being based in Sheffield. Considering it is the fourth largest city in England, it tends to go under most people’s radar. One reader hoped it would be filmed and then Sheffield ‘really would be on the map’. The setting was just as important when I spoke to a group in York, only for them, it was the Yorkshire setting. We really do see ourselves as Gods own County.

Although mainly based around the city, the original manuscript included far more political discussions in London as the plot centred around a prime minister trying to stay in power by looking tough on a topic that was in the news and wouldn’t go away. Although still there, it is far more diluted than originally planned. However, it is based on campus and students come from all over the country and when two students commit a crime the run away during reading week to a cottage in Wales until everything calms down. The village is very real and the cottage is where I have spent the past week walking in the hills around Harlech.

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 draw on people I know for the characters in the book. Although they may not do that job I picture these people when writing and it helps the flow. As I’m new to published writing I haven’t experienced writers block (touch wood). If anything, I have become estranged from the characters in the first two books. They became so entrenched in my head I began to resent them. It’s easy to see how George Martin kills off his main characters with alarming regularity. It’s crossed my mind a couple of times.

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

If I could collaborate with anyone it would be someone I have got to know very recently. Sharon Bolton, the crime novelist. Her writing is very dark (much darker than mine), and she draws such wonderful characters. When we exchange comments on Twitter her humour is very similar to mine and that always helps if you’re working with someone.

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

Beyond book three the publishers have indicated that I can develop a couple of ideas that have been in my head for years. The first one is The Intueri Children; a book about Aliens living amongst us, trying to subvert our civilisation. It is up to a special group of children to stop them. The second book is the Bus Conductor’s Bench, a supernatural themed book about how people pass over to the other side and how they may be given a second chance of life.

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

Matt Johnson Interview: “It never fails to surprise me how much I recall as I write”

Deadly Game cover 2

Matt Johnson, a former solider and policeman who has since turned his hand to writing engaging and exciting thrillers, talks me through his work and the process he uses to create it.

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

I describe myself as something of an accidental author. I say that as becoming a writer had never been an ambition of mine and I came to it almost by accident. Many years ago, I received counselling as part of a therapy treating PTSD. Included in that therapy was writing about my experiences, emotions etc. I found I enjoyed it and the counsellor was moved to comment on how much she liked the result. One day, I sat at my PC and started to weave my notes into a work of fiction. That it became Wicked Game, a crime thriller, is almost certainly a product of my working life.

Please tell me about your books. What key narrative tropes do you draw on?

With two books now published, I’m about half way through my third. I haven’t had the benefit of any formal training as a writer so what I generate comes very much from the heart. I just let the words flow as the story grows. Tropes – the use of words for artistic effect – are something that may or may not result. I describe what I see, and use words in the best way I can to do so. If that may be described by those better qualified than me to say as a ‘trope’ then so be it.

How do you draw on your past as a former solider and policeman when writing fiction?

It never fails to surprise me how much I recall as I write. Ask me, face to face, about something and I may not be able to access the memory. But, once I start writing that changes. Something happens as I ‘get into the groove’ and it all comes flooding back.

How do your various hobbies (beekeeping, motorbike riding etc) influence your work? I’m intrigued!

They don’t really! In fact they are a terrible distraction. I’m the world’s worst at committing myself to the work in progress. So, it might be said that those hobbies slow me down. But, all the hobbies give me time to think. Some of my most creative ideas occur when I’m walking the dogs, out in the fresh air on the mountains near my home in Wales. For the reason, I try to remember to carry a digital recorder as, so often, by the time I’m back at the PC, I forget what the idea was!

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

One thing I have learned is ‘just write’. So often we want to get that sentence, that chapter beginning, that point in the plot right, and first time. We forget that the first writing is just that and that it’s going to change. It really doesn’t matter if we get it right first time. So now, I just write and mostly, but certainly not always, the words will flow. And if I get a block, I walk the dogs and just unwind. Ideas often come when you least expect them.

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

Oh goodness, that’s a tough one. I think it would be Peter James. Peter writes very well and is really thorough with his research. I’d quite like to have my protagonist, Robert Finlay, work on an enquiry with Roy Grace.

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

I do, but for now I’m keeping them close to my chest. One thing I have learned since my introduction to publishing as that the real competition between writers is not for sales – there are lots of readers who read many different authors – it is for ideas, especially that real gem that will become a best-seller.

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

Three spring to mind. One is a chap called John Sutherland. John is a Chief Superintendent in the Met and is just about to retire following a serious issue with depression. John’s first book, an autobiographical account of his battle with mental illness is called Blue and is an incredible read. I’ve followed John’s blog – Police Commander – for a long time and I was so impressed with it I suggested he should write a book. I’m pleased he did, because Blue’is quite incredible’

My second choice would be Amanda Jennings, one of last years WH Smiths’ Fresh Talent authors. I loved her book In her Wake.

Finally, I recently met a young man called Matt Wesolowski whose debut is a crime story called Six Stories. The book is very original in both style and content. It’s also very good. Matt is, to my mind, a real talent and one to watch.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just to say thanks for the opportunity, and for getting me writing again! I’ve just returned from a break abroad and was finding it a little challenging getting back to the coalface. Completing this interview has kick-started the grey matter!

Thanks to Matt for taking the time, it was really great to hear from you.

Charlot King Interview: “I didn’t consciously choose a writing style, it chose me”

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Charlot King, author of the Cambridge Murder Mysteries series featuring the feisty Elizabeth Green, discusses her work, how she draws on her time at the BBC and her new role as mother to a very excitable puppy!

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

I didn’t consciously choose a writing style, it chose me after I’d written for a while. I think writers are trying to figure out why we humans are like we are, to try to make sense of the world – even if just for themselves. If that’s the case then there is space for endless stories and styles because we are still so far away from understanding everything about human nature. In the end, writers write what they know don’t they? I feel very lucky to be able to write about Cambridge.

The Cambridge Murder Mysteries and writing crime fiction I suspect came about because I grew up loving so many detective shows like Columbo, The Rockford Files, Magnum P.I., The Sweeney, etc… I also read Raymond Chandler and P.D. James when I was a little younger and still dip in now and then. And I especially enjoyed reading Colin Dexter’s Morse books. I was lucky enough to live in Oxford for a bit and was absorbed into that world of Dons and garden parties and great characters, which he captured so well.

Other influences drawing me to crime fiction may have come from spending years as a journalist at BBC news before I moved to drama. I worked on some big murder trials, sitting in courtrooms, listening to evidence, visiting locations, speaking to the police, and interviewing some involved. I found the trials fascinating, chilling and sad.

I find making up the puzzle side of crime fiction very absorbing and enjoyable. Working out when to plant red herrings and drop clues, to see just how subtle I can make them while ensuring that they still work at the end. I like the challenge of the whodunit and it keeps me out of trouble.

How do you draw on your past working in BBC Drama when writing fiction?

During my time at the BBC I worked with teams of writers, directors, actors, execs and crew in a wonderful ensemble of extremely talented people. I script edited close to a hundred episodes of television and read scores of film scripts while working in drama and film, so my time was pretty full on thinking about story and characters every day. It’s a strange existence. You go to work to make things up- you’re lying for a living. It was fun working with others to make characters do things, experience things, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes; all of that stuff that we can’t do ourselves in real life maybe because we’d upset someone or it might be to dangerous. It’s a totally absorbing and fun process.

When I chose to leave the beeb it felt like quitting an orchestra to go and play an acoustic solo in an empty room. I stepped off a big partying cruise ship onto a quiet desert island where I could hear the waves whoosh and not much else. I think I needed that time of quiet though to find my ideas for writing. It wasn’t until I left that I came up with the Cambridge Murder Mysteries series of novels. I have a great summerhouse in my garden where I do most of my writing; only this time the team around me consists of two cats and a dog.

Please tell me about the Cambridge Murder Mysteries series. Why do you believe they have become so popular?

The Cambridge Murder Mysteries are a series set in the heart of Cambridge, featuring a vegan and animal loving sleuth Elizabeth Green, and her sidekicks Inspector Abley and grandson, Godric. In her fifties, the chief protagonist Elizabeth Green is quintessentially English. An eccentric professor in her ivory tower, she maintains a sharp wit and is not that interested in connecting with many people, instead giving off a cold, opinionated and sometimes acerbic air. Though very kind to animals and a great gardener, in truth she keeps her friends close, and only lets a few dear people into her world.

These books are ultimately about her journey following her husband’s death and how she copes and responds to what life throws at her. Elizabeth is a lecturer of plant sciences at the University of Cambridge, specialising in poisonous flora. From time to time Cambridgeshire police, especially Inspector Abley, call on her skills to help deal with cases involving poison. Book 1, Poison, starts when a junior lecturer dies an horrifically painful death and police pathology can’t establish the cause, Elizabeth Green is desperate to help, especially as it happened in her own back garden. Book 2, Cursed, continues with Elizabeth, Godric and Inspector Abley, this time the porters at All Saints’ College, Cambridge, feel under threat. There are witchy spells, hate mail and buckets of flour over the Porters’ Lodge and Inspector Abley’s mind is elsewhere, so Professor Elizabeth Green starts to dig out clues to try to help, but can’t solve the mystery before the death of a porter.

When I started writing I had absolutely no idea my novels would become as popular as they have, and I’m truly thankful to the readers. I started from a place where I wanted to read crime fiction based in Cambridge and have a strong female protagonist, so I thought why not try and write it myself. With Elizabeth, I didn’t want to write a likeable character. She’s not plucky or vulnerable, no dark secrets or big flaws she’s working through – all those things that usually might make a protagonist loveable and attractive to the reader. Instead she’s very strong, extremely clever, doesn’t suffer fools and doesn’t really have much time for more than a few people. She is the most together of all the characters in the book. Maybe that’s something people want to read? Many women are strong and formidable, yet on the whole there are more male main characters in crime fiction.

I get many kind messages from readers, for which I’m extremely grateful. These messages spur me on to write more. I certainly have a lot of plots swirling around in my head, and they often come to me while I’m out walking.

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

My characters and stories come out of my imagination, which is increasingly very messy. Usually when I’m not consciously thinking about writing then the ideas will pop up. For the Cambridge Murder Mysteries, I also walk around The Backs and through the colleges quite a bit, and while on my walks ideas will often drift into my head. So I would say the beauty of Cambridge helps me write and find a sense of place, time and incident too.

I am very lucky in that I haven’t suffered from writers block (yet). Once I get the spine of a story and the ending then I spend time plotting everything out in great detail before I start to write. I travel to other locations that I like to use for inspiration for the books, or that feature in my novels. I feel like I have put some distance between Cambridge and myself too, as it figures so heavily in the books that I’d be lost in the woods if I didn’t leave occasionally!

The characters of Elizabeth Green, Inspector Abley and Godric have all lodged themselves in my head now, and often keep me company when I walk about the city looking for inspiration. I don’t think they are leaving for while.

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

Oh, what a lovely question. Can I have two, as I can’t decide between them? It would be E.F. Benson and P.G. Wodehouse, because they wrote my favourite books, the Mapp and Lucia and Jeeves series. It would be real treat to sit with them (individually) and feed them stories and characters so they could make them funny. Everyone knows that writing funny is the hardest thing to write and I’m in awe at how both these writers made it look so easy. To spend time with such clever people would be the biggest treat. I hope they wouldn’t find me too ‘tarsome’.

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

Yes! I have just taken responsibility for a very bouncy puppy this year whose idea of helping me write is eating draft pages or knocking my laptop off my knees. She’s knocked me off course with my writing a little too, as I’ve taken a short break from the murder mysteries and I am currently writing a book from the perspective of dogs, and it is set in the future. But I will be back to writing the mysteries after this as I am beginning to miss writing them.

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

At the moment I’m reading Peter James’s Dead Simple, the very first Roy Grace novel – can’t believe I haven’t read before – it’s gripping and I’m so pleased that I have a big series to get lost in. I know it’s not a new book, but I have also just bought Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, as I’ve heard good things about it. Finally, I’ve been dipping into Why We Love Music by John Powell, which isn’t fiction, but it’s about how music can change our emotions, very insightful.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Hmm, only that I’m just wondering if the Dorset Book Detective has a secret life she doesn’t tell anyone about? I reckon she is also a super sleuth herself and this blog maybe just a cover? Down on the sand sifting for clues, in a tea shop watching the couple at the next table, or deciphering the clue from the new advert on card in the post office window… she’s there, isn’t she? Feels like a perfect lead character in a crime fiction series to me. Thanks for having me, and happy reading.

Many thanks to Charlot for taking the time- I wish I had a secret life as a super sleuth! You can find out more about her work by checking out her website HERE.

David Videcette Interview: “My books cross over into the real world”

I can't tell you the truth, but I can tell you a story both books TTP and TD

Former crime fighter turned writer David Videcette talks me through how he draws on his experience in the police when writing his novels.

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

Having worked in the Metropolitan police for twenty years, most of it spent investigating organised crime and terrorism at home and abroad, there isn’t much that I haven’t seen of human nature’s darker side.

What has always surprised me however, when reading a book or watching a film, is how many authors and filmmakers portray things so very differently to how they are in real life – even the basics such as police procedure, which anyone can research. If there are crucial errors or discrepancies, they would throw me out of the story I was reading, or the film I was watching. More than that, there would be hugely fanciful plots and storylines that I just couldn’t relate to.

I realised that there must be a number of people like me, that got frustrated by these things. So, after having consulted for various television projects such as ‘Burgled’, ‘The Bill’ and ‘Crimewatch’, and having written articles and blogs for many years, I knew that it was time to take the plunge into books.

I had a story that needed to be told, which I will go into later, but because I signed the Official Secrets Act, I wasn’t allowed to write an autobiographical, tale. So I decided to turn to crime fiction – and I leave it up to the reader to decide how much is real and how much is poetic license. However, I believe that my books are as close to crime fact as crime fiction will ever get.

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

 My debut novel, The Theseus Paradox, was inspired by the day I went out to work and came home two weeks later wearing the same clothes and with fifty-six people dead. the day of the London 7/7 bombings.

The book provides a ground-breaking new theory about the motives behind the 2005 attacks on the capital. It was an investigation I worked on as a detective with Anti-Terrorist Branch for five years. It was a case I could never let go of and one which would never let go of me – and as an ambassador for the 7/7 Tavistock Square Memorial Trust, the events are still very close to my heart.

The truth behind the fiction was investigated by one of the UK’s leading journalists, Andrew Gilligan, for the Sunday Telegraph – and sales and downloads are raising money for the Police Dependants’ Trust, a charity which helps officers and their families who’ve been affected by tragic events. 

How do you draw on your past as a former police officer when writing fiction?

In my books you sit on the shoulder of Jake Flannagan, a no-nonsense detective inspector. He is very much modelled on my own experiences; he’s his own worst enemy. He knows the rules, and how to bend them – or completely avoid them in many cases – to get to the truth. I tell the story of events from his point of view, so the evidence is presented to you in the way that a detective would see things happen in real life, and you can attempt to solve the mystery as you read.

Jake is a complex character who on the one hand sees the world through his very clear sense of right and wrong – (i.e. assist the victims, uncover the bad guys) – but also has to deal with the conflicts of being human, being fallible, coping with PTSD, and making decisions that cross the line into a murky, grey area. As I always say: to catch the bad guys, you have to think like a bad guy, and that’s why the best detectives always have a dark side.

You get to experience the genuine, authentic world which Jake and the people around him inhabit. Within that landscape sit the frustrations, the pain, the anger and often the sheer desperation which Jake experiences in trying to solve the unsolvable before it tears him apart.

You get to be that dogged investigator in a real-life situation, trying to track down those responsible for some of worst crimes that a police officer could ever possibly come face-to-face with.

For many years I worked with spies and intelligence agencies, both in the UK and abroad – and Jake also unpacks that world for you. He shows you how this shadowy side interfaces with the world that we more commonly see and understand, and how the decision making inside these intelligence agencies impacts upon the events that play out on our news channels.

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

My books cross over into the real world. They appeal to fans of hardboiled, gritty crime who want an author who’s been there and done it. Readers love the fact that my stories put a different spin on cases and issues they’ve read about in the news, but in a page-turning, easy-to-read way.

I use real-life crimes, real facts and ground-breaking new theories, told from an insider’s perspective. I use my detective knowledge and policing experience to shed new light on old cases. My readers love to have their eyes opened to other possibilities and I like to challenge pre-conceptions. Forget what you though you knew about certain events and why they happened.

Equally, if it couldn’t have happened, then you won’t find it written in the pages of my books. As a detective, all my theories are credible and have to work. Not just within the pages of my book, but when they’re held up to scrutiny in the real world too. I want readers to have a genuine understanding of why and how something has happened, and the motives behind it.

However, as I’m prevented from writing non-fiction due to the Official Secrets Act: “I can’t tell you the truth, but I can tell you a story…”

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

I love the escapism of the James Bond franchise and how it’s been updated with time. But, there are rumours that Bond was the idea of another writer, and that Fleming stole the framework and makings of Bond from her. It would be wonderful to sit down with that woman, and get back to the basics of what she thought Bond was, and write a book true to her original intentions – I wonder how different that would turn out from the Bond we know today.

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

My second thriller, The Detriment, is released on 29th June. Once again it is based on true events. It’s set against the backdrop of the investigation into the Glasgow airport attack. You may remember the news back in 2007, when one summer’s day up in Scotland, a blazing Jeep was driven into the departures terminal and two assailants set fire to themselves. In his second outing, DI Jake Flannagan uncovers how terror doesn’t always mean terrorism – and how we all have secrets we say we’ll never tell. Readers can pre-order their Kindle copy here.

I’m currently working on my third and fourth books. One may see Jake working abroad, which I’m really excited about, and one may see him in a much earlier setting, fresher in his career, and perhaps slightly less cynical and hard-bitten than he’s become over time!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’d just like to say many thanks to you for inviting me to come along and have a chat with you today on The Dorset Book Detective – and letting me share with your readers a little about me and my thrillers.

I love to interact with crime fans. Readers can chat to me on Facebook, or Twitter or Instagram. You can find out more about me here. Take a look at my books on Amazon here. And if you’d like the chance to win a signed paperback copy of my latest release, you can enter your email address here, and you’ll go into the hat each time I have a new release out.

Many thanks to David for taking the time to speak to me, it has been really fascinating.

Peter James Interview: “I never imagined, in my wildest dreams, the global success that Roy Grace would have”

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I have got a real treat for you as I speak to Peter James, award winning novelist and creator of the Sunday Times Bestseller List stalwart, the Roy Grace series, which is about to reach its 13th book with the upcoming publication of Need You Dead, in which Grace is faced with a challenging investigation as the killer of an abused wife appears closer to home than he’d like. A meticulous researcher and Crime Fiction enthusiast, Peter discusses his journey into writing and how he went from writing for the screen to creating this superb series, which has sold over 18 million books worldwide.

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

I had always wanted to write “crime novels” yet had shied away for many years, because I thought the UK crime fiction genre had very definite rules and conventions that could not be broken. For instance that you had to start with a dead body, preferably in the library of a country house… and the rest of the story was the puzzle of solving what happened. I started writing very bad spy thrillers, then I wrote a number of supernatural thrillers. Then I started reading modern American thrillers by the likes of Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben and James Patterson’s Alex Cross stories, and realized that it was perfectly possible to write crime novels that were, at the same time, fast paced thrillers. The really pivotal moment for me was when Geoff Duffield from my UK publishers, Pan Macmillan, approached my dear late agent, Carole Blake. He told her he felt I had the potential to become the UK’s answer to Harlan Coben if I was willing to write crime thrillers. I jumped at the chance and have never looked back.

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

When I was 14 I read Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock and this book totally changed my life. It is quite simply the book that made me realize I wanted to be a writer the first time I read it, when I was a teenager. It is also the inspiration behind my setting the Roy Grace series in Brighton. When I put this book down, I made a vow that one day I would try to write a novel set in my home city of Brighton that was ten percent as good as this.

This timeless novel is both a thriller and a crime novel, although police play a small part and the story is almost entirely told through the eyes of the villains and two women who believe they can redeem them. Greene has a way of describing characters, in just a few sentences, that makes you feel you know them inside out and have probably met them, and his sense of “place” is almost palpable.

It is for me an almost perfect novel.   It has one of the most grabbing opening lines ever written (“Hale knew, within thirty minutes of arriving in Brighton, that they meant to kill him.”), and one of the finest last lines – very clever, very tantalizing and very, very “noir” – yet apt. Greene captures so vividly the dark, criminal underbelly of Brighton and Hove, as relevant now as when the book was first written, and the characters are wonderful, deeply human, deeply flawed and tragic. And yet, far more than being just an incredibly tense thriller, Greene uses the novel to explore big themes of religious faith, love and honour.” And additionally, a bonus, is it is also unique for being one of the few novels where the film adaptation is so good it complements rather than reduces the book.

Need You Dead. HB. High Res Jacket

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

I started my career writing back in 1970 when I first arrived in Toronto, and worked for Channel 19 TV as a gofer, on the kid’s daily show Polka Dot Door. One day the scriptwriter was ill and the producer asked me to write the show – I ended up writing it for nearly a year. I used to sit in my flat in Toronto, staring out of the window in the morning looking at the rush hour traffic, thinking, ‘You lucky bastards, you are going to an office, you will meet other people, socialize all day…”. Then after 15 years in film and television as a screenwriter and producer in the crazy movie business, it was sheer bliss to become a full-time writer. I bought a massive Georgian manor house in Sussex and for some years revelled in not having to shave in the mornings- having all day to myself- but gradually I started going nuts with the isolation. One day I found myself carrying the vacuum cleaner across the fields at lunchtime to the repairman in Hassocks in order to have someone to talk to; life as a writer is difficult and I find most full-time writers that I know are a little strange. I love the balance that I have now.

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

I never imagined, in my wildest dreams, the global success that Roy Grace would have. I love writing these books more than anything I have ever done in my life and just so long as my readers keep enjoying them and wanting more, I will continue.

In the early days, I had years of rejection letters as an unpublished author. It was as if there was a wall on one side of which were the publishers and the published authors, and on the other side were all those desperate to be published authors – and never the twain should meet. I became hugely despondent in my mid-twenties, really believing that the dream I’d held since the age of eight, of being a published author, would never come true. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never be any good at writing novels, that I just did not have what it took.

I think all of us are the sum of our parts, so I would have to question whether, if I went back into the past and changed anything, I would be lucky enough to be so successful over again.   Writing is a craft, no different at certain levels to other crafts. A wannabe carpenter’s tenth table is going to be better than his first, because practice does make perfect – or at least less bad! My first novel was actually my fourth – I had written three novels in my late teens and early twenties, which, luckily, never got published, before my fourth. But I was to write a further four before I finally achieved my ambition, to make the Top 10 best-sellers list – and exceeded it by reaching No 1.   Knowing what I know now, I don’t think I would do anything differently. Instant success can be a dangerous thing. I’ve seen so many writers get a massively hyped first novel, and then struggle for the rest of their careers to match it – and rarely do. I am very happy with my lot – an overnight bestseller who took 31 years to get there!

The success of these novels has totally astonished me, I never expected them to be this popular – and it is wonderful – I’m immensely grateful to all my readers and, of course, now I feel very protective of him! I think my readers can connect to Roy’s human side which is drawn out of the fact he is based on a real person (David Gaylor) I think they find it interesting that his job is to solve mysteries, and yet he has his own mystery that he can’t solve. I think Roy would be good fun to spend an evening with, but more seriously, if ever I was unlucky enough to have one of my family murdered he’s the man I’d want running the investigation.

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

I write the way I like to read – which is short chapters, with cliffhanger endings. One trope I do enjoy is using a phrase in the last line of the chapter that I then pick up again in the first line of the next chapter.

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

I’ve learned a lot from some of the great classical writers – in particular Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Scott Fitzgerald and Graham Greene. I read very broadly and very eclectically, and I’ve never been comfortable with “genre” boundaries. In my view, great writing is great writing whether it is labelled “thriller”, “crime”, “general fiction”, “horror” or anything else. Of current writers in the UK, I like William Boyd a lot, and early Ian McEwan. One of my biggest influences was the late thriller writer Desmond Bagley. There are some fine UK crime writers, whose work I really like, including Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Brian McGillivray, Anne Cleeves, Stuart McBride and many others, but I tend to read more US writers. I used to love John D Macdonald’s funky Travis McGee series, I was a great fan of Stephen King’s early novels, in particular Carrie and The Shining, and I think Ira Levin wrote two of the greatest, darkest books ever written, Rosemary’s Baby and The Boys From Brazil. I like James Ellroy, and I love Elmore Leonard – he just writes the most fabulous characters. Two of my favourite crime novels of the past few decades are Silence Of The Lambs and Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer.

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

In fact, I have just collaborated on a short story which will form part of an anthology called MATCH UP where I have paired up with the wonderful Val McDermid and we have Carol Jordan, Tony Hill and Roy Grace working on a case together. Similarly, I wrote a short story with Ian Rankin in an anthology called FACE OFF, the story being called ‘In The Nick Of Time’ and this complication was a New York Times bestseller. We had Grace and Rebus working on a case together and it was hugely enjoyable writing it!

I hope to also write more with Graham Bartlett too. For many years, David Gaylor was my principal contact in Sussex Police, working closely with me on the planning of my stories and giving me introductions to any officers he felt would be helpful to my research on each successive Roy Grace novel, to lend my books the authenticity I try hard to maintain. When he retired, I was immensely fortunate to have that baton taken on by his good friend, Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, himself a former senior homicide detective, who then became Commander of Brighton and Hove Police. Graham and I instantly hit it off and he was an invaluable help to me for several years. When he was coming up to retirement he told me he harboured ambitions to become a published author, and sent me examples of blogs he had written over the years, for me to judge his skills. Then I had a true light bulb moment. Many people had been suggesting to me, over the years, that I should write a non-fiction book about my research with the police and throughout his thirty-year career, Graham had the unique experience of policing Brighton and Hove at every rank and had been involved in many of the cases that provided inspiration both for characters and for plots of my novels. He clearly had writing talent. We decided to collaborate and write a book about what it was really like to be a police officer in Roy Grace’s Brighton and it was published last year and went to Number 7 in the Sunday Times Bestseller list!

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

Roy Grace number 13, called Need You Dead will be published on May 18th. The stage play of my 3rd Roy Grace novel, Not Dead Enough is currently touring the UK until July 1st. I’m just editing my latest standalone called Absolute Proof which is actually a move away from the crime genre- it’s a standalone novel on the theme of what might happen if someone claimed to have absolute proof of the existence of God. It is a subject that has long intrigued me, and I have been working on the research planning of this book for nearly two decades. It will be published next year. And I hope also to share some good news about Roy Grace on TV soon!

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

I’m always excited to find a new writer who grips me. I really liked JP Delaney’s The Girl Before and I look forward to this author’s next book.

Do you have anything to add?

I’ve written the foreword to a wonderful work of non-fiction, Dorling Kindersley’s The Crime Book, which has just been published. And in June there is another fantastic book being published, Matchup. It’s an anthology, edited by Lee Child, in which eleven female thriller writers are paired up with eleven male writers, with their central characters working together. Val McDermid and I have Carole Jordan, Tony Hill and Roy Grace working together! Other pairings include Kathy Reichs’s Temperance Brennan working with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. It has been a lot of fun and I think all the stories are great!

Thanks to Peter for taking the time, it’s been really fascinating to learn about his methods, and if you fancy finding out his website HERE.

Nick Tingley Interview: “There is something particularly powerful about crime fiction writing”

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Nick Tingley, whose debut novel The Bluebell Informant follows Detective Sergeant Evelyn Giles as she battles both an ingenious killer and her own personal demons to solve a fiendish case, speaks to me about writing, inspiration and why he doesn’t really believe in writer’s block.

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

There is something particularly powerful about crime fiction writing. It’s a genre that is very popular with readers and writers alike, and I think part of that is the allure of delving into the deep, dark, basic instincts of humanity and seeing what happens when people are put under extraordinary pressure. Other genres tap in to that, but I think crime fiction does it most realistically and potently.

Practically everything I have ever written – from my very first scribbling as a youngster to my debut novel, The Bluebell Informant – has had a similar approach to it. I’m fascinated by individual characters – how they evolve during the course of the events that I put them through and how they emerge on the other side. I’m not a fan of the happily-ever-after scenario – I firmly believe that if a character walks away at the end of my book unscathed then there wasn’t much point to them being in the story in the first place.

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

The Bluebell Informant is my debut novel, but I’ve actually been writing professionally for some time now. I started out as most writers do: toying around with short stories and theatre and film scripts. And then, when I was still fairly young, I wrote my first novel – Such Sweet Lies – and it was absolutely awful. I still keep a copy of the manuscript so I can remind myself how terrible it was when I feel like I’m struggling.

I continued playing round with scripts and stories – film screenplays in particular – before I finally got back into writing novels and started working as a ghost writer for other crime fiction authors who, for one reason or another, needed someone else to pen their novels. I think that was the point where I really honed my skills. The more people started tracking me down to hire me for my services, the more convinced I became that I should be releasing work in my own right. So here we are – it’s still early days, but it’s looking promising.

As for the question of drawing from my own past, that’s something I like to steer very clear of. I had a very happy childhood and an enjoyable adult life, and such backgrounds don’t tend to make for great characters or stories in my humble opinion. Even the sad moments aren’t particularly that interesting for anyone other than me, so I find it easier just to ignore my past altogether.

There’s that old mantra of write what you know. And I disagree with that whole-heartedly. My personal opinion is that you should write about the unknown – the things that worry or concern you because you don’t know how you would deal with them – and then learn about it as you explore your plot. I find that gives a heck of a lot more value to my writing – if I’m worried or uncertain about something, the chances are that there are many people out there feeling the same way.

Please tell me about your books. What sets them apart from other similar novels?

The Bluebell Informant is my debut novel and the first of a new crime series about the cases of Detective Sergeant Evelyn Giles. The story follows Giles as she investigates a murder that seems to bear all the hallmarks of similar crimes associated to The Bluebell Killer, a serial killer she brought down a year earlier. However, as Giles gets embroiled in the investigation, a number of questions get thrown up and she is forced to ask herself whether she got it right in the first place or if The Bluebell Killer is still out there and back to start killing again.

What makes the DS Evelyn Giles stories different to any other crime fiction series is that the main character is quite unlike most detectives you get. Giles is a genuine detective who wants to do everything by the book, but she keeps getting forced into breaking the rules, which invariably ends up causing some quite horrific events to the people around her. In a lot of similar stories, the character manages to forget these things between books and moves on with his or her life.

In this series, the focus is on the character of Giles. She is deeply affected by everything that goes on around her – despite the rather cold veneer that she uses to hide her emotions from other people. As the books go on, the reader will start to see that these events have some quite large impacts on her life and how her career and her environment is beginning to slowly change who she is as a person.

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 was asked this question by my wife’s friend a few weeks back and I’ll say what I said to him because I think it’s possibly the most accurate way I’ve every addressed this question:

I always think of writer’s block as a bit of a misnomer. You hear writers complaining about it all the time, but when you ask them to describe what their symptoms are it is very rare that they describe having no ideas to work with. What they usually say is that they have the ideas ready to go but they are tired or they just don’t have the energy or inclination to sit down and write – and they call that writer’s block. Not all the time, mind, but a lot of the time.

But it is a misnomer, and the reason I say that is because what they are actually describing is just a form of mental exhaustion. What you have to remember is that a lot of writers work a day job and then write in their spare time. Most people are pretty tired when they get home from work, but very few immediately go off and dedicate a couple of hours to doing another job entirely. Usually people chill out or go to the pub or play sport – anything to take their mind off work really.

But writers come home and then will sit down at some point and start work again. And – quite naturally – they burn out. In the same way a chartered surveyor who comes home and then immediately goes to the beach to be a lifeguard for a few hours every evening will burn out. The same way a taxi driver who comes home and instantly goes off to be an apprentice plumber for a couple of hours will eventually burn out.

It’s not writer’s block a lot of the time – it’s not a question of inspiration. Inspiration hits you all the time, as long as you write it down so you don’t forget it, you’re never short of ideas (my solution is that I always have a notebook and pen with me all the time so I can just write down ideas whenever they happen to crop up).

It’s work block that is the problem.

And when I hit that point, I often find that the best thing I can do is not panic and just relax for a few days. I don’t think you can rush yourself back into it – you just have to ride the exhaustion out until you’re ready to sit down and start writing again…

That’s my opinion at any rate.

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

I’ve never really thought of that before. Two people spring to mind, I suppose: Edgar Allen Poe and Agatha Christie. I’m not sure it’s necessarily because I would want to collaborate with them, but I think it would be fascinating to spend time with them to know how their minds ticked. Between the two of them they produced some seminal stuff and I think it would be an absolute pleasure to have the chance to see how they did it.

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

The next Giles novel – The Court of Obsessions – is next on the list, that’s due to be released some time later this year. I know a lot of my readers are looking forward to that one, as they’ll get to see Giles operating more in her comfort zone instead of always looking over her shoulder like in The Bluebell Informant.

Then there is The Butcher of Barclay’s Hollow, which is a novella that I’m hoping to release on the tail end of this year at the latest. That one should be quite fun because it is something a little different in that it is largely about a Victorian policeman (who doesn’t want to be policeman) who is essentially forced to investigate a murder in a small rural village. It was one of those nice side projects that I really enjoyed writing and I think my readers will love reading it – and there’s the opportunity to extend that into a series as well, which is always exciting.

But I think the project I am most excited about is the third Giles novel, The Anonymous Jury. I haven’t started writing it yet, put I’m looking to start soon. I had a few hiccoughs because I started planning the story and then discovered shortly afterwards that a writer I admire had written something that sounded awfully similar to what I had in mind. I was really reluctant to read it because I didn’t want to learn we were writing the same story, but I knew I had to eventually just to make sure.

Luckily my sister-in-law grabbed the bull by the horns and got it for me not long ago, and now I’ve read it I’m happy to say that it is nothing like The Anonymous Jury so I’ll be looking to get my teeth into that shortly.

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

I’m woefully behind on my reading lately so I’m not really on the look out for books that are about to be released, but I am looking forward to getting hold of The Devil’s Evidence by Simon Kurt Unsworth. I read his first book, The Devil’s Detective a while back and loved it so much that I’m eager to dive into the next one.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thanks for having me, Hannah. It’s been great fun!

I just want to say a massive thank you to Nick for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been enlightening. You can read more about Nick and his work HERE.