Taylor Leon Interview: “The key for me is always the premise”

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Taylor Leon, author of the captivating Erin Dark series, talks to me about his work and explains the influence that other writers, as well as TV and films, have on his work.

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

I have been writing since I was about seven and over many years have experimented in probably every genre, but thriller writing comes the most naturally to me. I have a low boredom threshold so, if I’m reading a book or watching a film it really must grip me and not let go. That is how I naturally approach my writing. I must keep myself hooked first and foremost- hopefully that will then be the same for my readers.

The key for me is always the premise, it might be a scene that I “see” first, but it always comes back to the premise. If I ‘m choosing a book to read, or a TV show to watch, then I want it scream out to me: “Wouldn’t you like to know more?” That in a nutshell is what I’m trying to achieve when I start a book. The premise must consume me and prey on my mind 24/7 before I will consider turning it into a novel.

Please tell me about the Erin Dark series. What defines your writing style?

Erin Dark became a police detective after her mother was murdered and the killer never caught. Over time however, she has become disenchanted with her day-job which she doesn’t think always provides justice. Now she also leads another secret-life with a group of vigilante witches who, quite literally, send unrepentant, evil criminals to hell. The series follows Erin as she juggles the two very different lives she leads, and the moral questions she faces.

In the first book, Dark Justice, Erin and her new partner, Detective John Cade, are investigating what at first appears to be a straightforward gangland murder but which transpires to be something bigger and more sinister. Erin needs to convince her Coven to come out of the shadows and help her save thousands of people from a planned terrorist act.

In the second book, Dark Games, Erin is on the trail of the mysterious Games-Master who has created a game for serial killers to compete with one another for a huge cash prize, by murdering specially selected victims and earning points.

In terms of style, my writing is “efficient”; I steer clear of wordy prose, and concentrate on keeping the story moving forward and the reader interested. Of course, there are some ebbs and flows, there has to be in order to build tension and unleash the unexpected twists, but the story is king and it must always march on. Strong, interesting characters are vital in making this happen!

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

I write in short chapters, each one ending in a way that, hopefully makes the reader want to keep turning the page to find out what happens next.

Otherwise, I don’t consciously use any particular medium or trope. I write what I “see”. I have the premise, a brief outline of where I think the story will go (which usually changes!) and a set of rules (in a series there is a larger story arc to keep an eye on). But then I let the characters take-over. I see things through their eyes, and hear their voices in my head, and then I write it all down.

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

I enjoy reading all types of fiction and styles, but my three favourite writers are Cormac McCarthy, David Peace and Stephen King. I could read anything those guys write.

When I was growing up I read a lot of thrillers, especially Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, Dean Koontz and Stephen King. At the same time, I also read the so-called more “literary” writers (oh how I hate that term) like Isabel Allende, John Updike, Armistead Maupin and John Irving. I have always tended to veer away from nineteenth century fiction, with the exception of Charles Dickens.

Reading books to me is like watching TV. Sometimes you want a fast-thriller, other times you want something a little deeper, or maybe a comedy, and so on. I just read whatever the mood takes me.

I don’t think any single book or writer has influenced me, but my whole reading experience has shaped the way I write and subconsciously think about character, dialogue and plot.

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

I find novel writing such a personal and immersive business that I imagine I would find it quite hard to collaborate with anyone on a book. Hats off to those that do- one of my favourite books is The Talisman which was a collaboration between Stephen King and Peter Straub, and of course, James Patterson has built up an industry collaborating with other writers. For some, it clearly works- after all they don’t come much bigger or better than SK and JP!

But I would love to collaborate on a TV series. Say, contribute an episode or two to a show like Doctor Who. I actually have an outline for a Doctor Who episode that, believe me, would blow everyone’s mind, but I’m keeping it to myself for now, because you never know…

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

I have three first drafts written and several outlines on the go at any one time, so it is always very exciting. My next couple of books are thrillers without a paranormal element so a slight difference from the Erin Dark series, but believe me, just as exciting. Maybe even more so! I am hoping the first one will be published in October. I am also working on my first YA novel which does have a strong sci-fi slant, and which I am really excited about. It’s different to my first four novels, but still retains the excitement and unexpected twists and turns. Then, of course, there is the third Erin Dark novel that is also in work. I can’t forget Erin, not after the way I ended Dark Games!

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

Besides McCarthy, Peace and King, I tend to browse and choose books as I go along. Having said that I have enjoyed the last couple of Adam Croft books, so I imagine I will keep an eye out for his next one.

Anything you’d like to add?

Just that I hope you enjoy my books as much as I enjoy creating them.

Thanks Taylor for answering my questions, it’s been awesome to hear your thoughts. You can find out more about Taylor’s work HERE.

Tom Claver Interview: “When reading a thriller I enjoy seeing what authors do with the built-in tropes”

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Tom Claver, author of the popular thriller Hider/ Seeker, discusses his fascination with detective fiction and dark films and how it influences his writing.

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

My style of writing tends to be quite direct with plenty of dialogue. I think my economy with words comes from being a journalist and keeping the word count as low as possible when writing news. When I was young I had ambitions of working in films and made some shorts, which helped me gain a visual sense of storytelling. This led me to write some feature length scripts, one of which interested the BBC, but nothing came of it. Some thirty years later, I decided to re-write that particular script into Hider/Seeker, my first novel.

Why crime fiction? As a young film buff I was mad on Hitchcock although I never thought at that time of writing a novel. I was too focused on cinema and enjoyed all film genres, although thrillers excited me the most. In the 1970s while I was studying for my economics degree, I went to a creative writing class that had just been set up by Dr Rod Whitaker, an American professor from the Department of Radio, Television and Film at the Austin School of Communications in Texas. He arrived late to the first class because he’d just come off the phone from speaking to Clint Eastwood, who was going to turn his debut novel, The Eiger Sanction, into a film. After that entrance, he had my full attention. 

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

I’ve had a long career in business journalism, both in print and television. One lunchtime I was browsing in a bookshop and I came across The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I realised that I had seen the Humphrey Bogart films many times, but had never read the novel. After devouring that book, I began to read other classic thrillers to see how much they varied from their film version. Books such as Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain, Point Blank, by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake) and Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. This rekindled my desire to try again to write a novel as I enjoyed so much reading these books. I read books on writing and taught myself to put 90,000 words together in a comprehensive way.

I had already been writing for more than 10 years when I decided to go full-time. I just wanted to see how I would fare in an entirely different sector of the publishing industry. I think that during those years of writing part-time, I knew I was repositioning myself towards a new type of career ahead.

Please tell me about your novel, Hider/Seeker.

Hider/Seeker was published originally as an ebook in April 2015 and after three months it had broken into Amazon’s British top 100 paid ebooks. It reached No.11 in the Kindle Store and ranked No.2 in Crime Thrillers in the UK. Last year, it reached No.48 in paid ebooks on Amazon.com in the US and was No.3 there in Crime Thrillers. The paperback version is due out shortly.

The story is about Harry Bridger, who makes his living helping people disappear from their enemies by teaching them how to avoid detection in the digital age. But when he helps a woman disappear from her violent husband, little does he know he will need to find her again for his own survival. The story opens in London, but it soon shifts to Central America and there are plenty of twists and turns on the way.

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

That’s the whole fun of writing a thriller. Bertolt Brecht, who was a fan of thrillers, was once quoted as saying that the aesthetic quality of the detective novel is derived from the variation of its fixed elements. When reading a thriller I enjoy seeing what authors do with the built-in tropes. It’s like watching an escapologist getting out of chains while in a burning box. Every time I pick up a thriller, I think, how is the author going to pull it off this time around?

When starting a novel, I always create a hero with plenty of baggage who is reluctant to get involved in an adventure. Then I engineer it so that he has a lucky escape from death towards the end. It is the basic chassis to build any story upon. As long as I can torture the hero along the way, I’m happy because the reader needs to experience directly the dilemmas and anxieties facing the protagonist.

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

You’ve probably guessed that I prefer reading thrillers from an older era, partly because they are less horrific, but mainly because they have such a wonderful style of writing. I read recently Rebecca for the first time, having seen the Hitchcock film on numerous occasions and found that I enjoyed it more than the film. I’m currently reading My Cousin Rachel, also a Daphne du Maurier novel, and am totally absorbed by her clever storytelling. Similarly, I like Patricia Highsmith for those reasons. But the trouble with writing is that you can only do what you can do however much you dream of writing like your favourite author. You have to work with the material you’ve got and know your limitations. I tend to introduce humour into my thrillers as I feel it brings more realism to the characters and also helps to bring a greater contrast when things go wrong for them. I’m probably most drawn to authors such as Hammett, Chandler and Deighton because their dry wit is so appealing.

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

I strongly believe it is a mistake to meet your heroes, as they can never live up to your expectations. After all, it is their work that we love, not them, as they are complete strangers with their own private lives and complications. So, I don’t think I would be attracted to collaborate with anyone as writing a novel is not really a collaborative art form like filmmaking. But if I had a time machine and had a chance to work on a film script with a director, it would have to be Hitchcock, because I would be able to learn how to extract the nub of a story in such a cinematic way. He would always seek a story where he could explore its emotion rather than its detail. Daphne du Maurier didn’t like what he did to her novella, The Birds, but he had the good sense to focus on the horror she had created based largely on her descriptive writing.

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

Yes. I am publishing my second book, Scoop of the Year, at the end of October. It’s a suspense novel with a healthy dose of humour and is quite a departure from Hider/Seeker. It’s about a young hapless journalist called Martin who becomes jealous of the meteoric rise into television by Tom, a fellow reporter. But when he lands a scoop that would allow him to outshine his rival, he discovers his malfunctioning family gets in the way.

It is written in the first person from Martin’s POV and shows a positive side to envy. Martin is a luckless hero you can’t help but root for as he aims for greatness. Both the ebook and paperback will be available on Amazon from 28th October.

Thanks ever so much for your time Tom, it’s been really interesting to hear your thoughts. To find out more about Tom and his work, click HERE.

S.P. Joseph Lyons Interview: “I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember”

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Author of The DRUX Series S.P. Joseph Lyons answers my questions on his books and what’s next for his writing.

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

I’ve always enjoyed stories that move quickly and don’t drown you in detail. When I began to write professionally, I emulated this in my work. As a result, I have been described as an author who is fast-paced with intense action and emotion. I had not set out with a particular style in mind, but when I wrote about what I loved, the way I loved, my style developed itself around me.

I find that in fantasy fiction one has an endless canvas on which to express themselves. Though true love is always my favourite motivation for putting pen to paper, tragedy, revenge, and triumph can be very expressive, and when needed, very dark. Often the darker side of a character or story helps balance the tender moments of magical connection.

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

I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember. In the tales we tell, we have a real opportunity to explore the many aspects of ourselves, and share parts of our heart we could never do without our own carefully crafted words. Sometimes, telling a story is the only way we can share an otherwise invisible but powerful part of what makes us who we are.

Fantasy leaves the creative door wide open. We are free to create an entire universe out of nothing at all, and manipulate that universe as we see fit. It also offers no limits or rules other than what we place on ourselves. This means that we are in full control of our entire story. For me, I needed a place where I could dig deep into the heart ablaze with love, or one twisted into a darkened nightmare, and fantasy allows me this.

Tell me all about the DRUX series. What was your inspiration?

If I had to describe the DRUX series in short, I would say it’s Lord of the Rings meets Romeo and Juliet. But for a longer description, I would tell you that it is mostly a tale of loss, overwhelming odds, and the triumph of love over those odds. A demigod is sent back into the universe as the only one who can stand against an overwhelming enemy. In an ongoing tale of impossible love and crippling obstacles, a lineage of five mortal-DRUX children stand against enemies greater than any mortal can tackle alone, and love more fiercely than anyone ever has.

When I was very young, I was taken from my family and placed in foster care. Alone, scared, and needing to survive, I began to create a safe place in my mind. It was there that the basics of what would become an eighteen book series sparkled to life. For me at the time, the only way to make sense of the tragedy around me was to create a safe place to tackle in fantasy what I could not control in reality. With many years of floating in and out of my universe, I knew I could finally take what was once very painful, and make it into something beautiful.

What books do you like to read and how do they impact on your own writing?

I love a good tragic romance, or really anything where true love prevails despite whatever stands between them. Sci-Fi has always been a favourite, even as a child, and many journeys I have taken are through the rich and vast worlds of fantasy.

I’ve found that a strong love interest with a complex world is a great place to build upon. As I love dialogue and action driven stories, I place a lot of my focus there. But when it comes to falling in love, nothing is more exciting to write about.

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

I would love to work with C.S. Lewis. His worlds are so immersive and his writing, though quite complex at times, has a smooth flow that pulls you right in.

Have you done any other work that you are particularly proud of?

Though I cannot speak in detail about it, I have had the opportunity to ghost-write a number of short stories and full length novels. None were in my genre so I had the great opportunity, and challenge, of weaving my craft into unfamiliar territory. I’m quite proud of how they turned out.

What’s next for the DRUX series? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

The DRUX series is a six book universe that was picked up by Waldorf Publishing with the first in the series launching to the world on July 17th, 2017. Having your work recognized by a publisher is an incredible step. With the launch of the DRUX series, a sequel and prequel series are in development tentatively titled ‘The NEXUS Series’, and ‘The GUARDIAN Series’. There is a lot in this universe to share.

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

As much as I would love to dive into a new book, I’m dedicating myself to fulltime writing and promoting for the next couple of years. I want to ensure I give my work the dedication it needs. I am a sucker for a classic though so may find myself slipping back into the Narnia Chronicles, or The Hobbit. I may even reread To Kill a Mockingbird.

Anything you’d like to add?

If you are interested in a fast-paced story that puts you in the shoes of our hero and takes you through intense action, passion, and emotion, I’d encourage you to pick up ‘The DEMOND of Legend’ from my website www.thedruxseries.com Nothing can stop the power of true love.

Secondly, I’d encourage anyone and everyone to chase your dreams, as cliché as it may sound. To quote Jim Carrey – “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

Thanks for taking the time, it’s been great to hear more about your work.

Everglade Review: An Inventive Thriller That Packs a Punch

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The fifth instalment in the Selena series, Everglade is a smart, streetwise novel about a smart, streetwise woman set on making crime pay.

Greg Barth delivers a strong novel as he charts the continued struggles of a cultured criminal trying to start afresh, but finding that life isn’t always that easy. Having barely survived the last drug war, Selena wants out, and is trying to build a new life for herself and clean up her act. But things aren’t that simple when you are walking away from a lucrative business in a trade where murder is as common as liquorice in a sweet shop, leading our likeable anti-heroine on a one woman war against some incredibly devious and powerful enemies.

Dialogue is a bit hit and miss, with some terribly tedious conversations punctuated by some witty one liners and some sharp, insightful comments. There are some great lines: “It’s just my kitchen. And I don’t care who I had to kill to get it.” However, these are often punctuated by clunky discussions and unrealistic conversations (at times, the level of concern for Selena’s wellbeing is wearing, given her otherwise excellent characterisation as a tough, hard-hitting criminal). Consistency would make the book a lot easier to read and ramp up the pace, but beyond that it is very difficult to fault this smart, charismatic thriller.

All in all this is an interesting and exhilarating thriller. With an interesting protagonist and a fast paced plot, this is a rip-roaring novel which is worth a read for the main character alone.

Malice Review: Rina Walker’s Back and as Exciting as Ever

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The third in the Rina Walker series and the follow up to the excellent Threat (read my review HERE), Malice is every bit as thrilling and exciting as the previous two novels.

As the sixties swing away in the background, Rina finds herself at the centre of a gang turf war and tough cases come her way, sending our favourite hit woman on a whirlwind adventure. Duplicitous to the end, Rina fights as dirty as necessary for those she cares for as she battle against increasingly destructive and manipulative foes. There’s everything from kidnapping to hookers, with Fraser expertly touching on almost every trope thriller writers have ever used without making the text feel too overwhelming.

Like the previous two novels, dialogue is where Fraser both shines and surprises. Anyone who is a fan of his bumbling portrayal of Captain Hastings in TVs Poirot will find it incredible to read the truly spectacular lesson in swearing that makes The Thick of It sound like a nursery rhyme.

Characterisation is also excellent in this series; as well as the fantastically ballsy Rina, there are also a number of characters, both new and reoccurring, whose creepiness, scheming and downright vile natures make them incredibly interesting and who help drive the plot forward.

Fundamentally a solid thriller, Malice is not for the faint hearted; the depictions of violence in this extraordinary novel are both sensational and visceral. If you can handle it then this is the perfect summer showstopper to indulge in, and I would throughly recommend it. It’s not necessary to read the first two novels to understand Malice but if you find yourself light on reading and long on time then both Harm and Threat are worth a read as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Rina on our screens soon; these novels are definitely TV worthy.

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

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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.