Rick R. Reed Interview: “My writing style varies from project to project”

With more than 50 titles to his name and a string of high-profile awards, it’s safe to say that Rick R. Reed has made a smash in the literary world. He talks to me about his career so far and his next exciting project.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. How did you come to write so many different novels?

I have always been a storyteller and have always been fascinated by and comforted by the written word. I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid and have been doing so professionally since 1991, when Obsessed, my first novel came out from Dell.

My writing style varies from project to project, but I prize simplicity in prose and showing and not telling. I believe fiercely in my characters and making them sympathetic and/or fascinating to read about. I’ve often been told even my evil characters are compelling. My style comes from wanting to NOT draw attention to myself, but creating what constitutes a movie in the reader’s mind. After all, every book (every piece of art, really) is a conspiracy between the creator and recipient.

I’ve written so many books (40+ at last count) because I have yet to run out of stories I want to tell and characters whose lives I want to delve into.

What is your background in writing and how did you become a professional writer?

I have a degree in English with Creative Writing emphasis. As I said above, though, I have always been passionate about telling stories and have been writing since I was a child. This use of my imagination, along with voracious reading, has provided my writing “education” as much as my formal, university-set training. I became a professional in 1991 when I got my first agent and was picked up by Dell, a major publishing house.

What features do you believe are vital to creating good books and how do you incorporate these into your work?

Creating characters who are real in the reader’s mind. Showing and not telling, ie expressing feelings, thoughts, hopes, dreams and more through action and dialogue, rather than simply informing the reader. A good story that has a beginning, middle, and end.

A satisfying conclusion. That doesn’t have to mean a happy ending, but it does mean that when the reader closes one of my books, he/she/they come away feeling their expectations have been met and they’re glad they came along on the journey with me. Between the lines, something that resonates as universal with readers regarding the human condition.

Please tell me about the books you read. How do they influence your work?

My favorite writers are Flannery O’Connor, Patricia Highsmith, and Ruth Rendell. These three women capture a kind of dark, quirky mindset that resonates with me and inspires me to write about obsessed people on the fringe.

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

Inspiration comes from all over—dreams, news items, snatches of overheard conversation, other books and movies. I write most every day and always in the morning, when I’m at my best. I usually aim for 1,000 words per day.

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

I guess it would have to be the great Patricia Highsmith, mentioned above. I’d love to do a crime-based novel with her.

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

My next book releases on May 3 from NineStar Press. It’s called Wounded Air. This is what it’s about:

Rick and Ernie found the perfect apartment on Chicago’s West Side. Before they’re settled, Rick begins having all-too-real disturbing “dreams.” Each time, an emaciated young man with sad brown eyes appears, terrifying and obsessing him.

From their next-door neighbor, Paula, Rick learns about Karl and Tommy, who lived there before them. Tommy’s mysterious disappearance pains her. When she shares a photo of her with Tommy and Karl, Rick is shocked and troubled. Tommy is the man who appears to him in his dreams.

The ghostly visitations compel Rick to uncover the truth about Tommy’s disappearance. It’s a quest that will lead him to Karl, Tommy’s lover, who may know more about Tommy’s disappearance than he’s telling, and a confrontation with a restless spirit who wants only to—finally—rest in peace.

Huge thanks to Rick for answering my questions. You can find out more about him and his work here.

Gary F. Bengier Interview: “My time in Silicon Valley informed the kind of hard science novel that I wished to write”

Gary F. Bengier talks to me about his latest novel and how he came to define his writing style.

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

I think that a writer must count his ‘reader attention coins’ carefully, rewarding the reader enough to keep turning pages, while expending the coins in measured amounts to pursue objectives beyond entertainment. My overarching objective with Unfettered Journey is to pass on a particular view, a philosophy of life that might offer a path to purposeful existence to some. But few readers want straight-up philosophy, so only there did I spend reader attention coins. To balance that need, I eschewed other contemporary literary flourishes and techniques (non-chronological storytelling; unreliable narrators; flights of literary prose about scenery, etc.) that might slow the story pace, and otherwise tried to tell a story filled with rich characters you might love, with a tight, action-packed plot.

The themes of Unfettered Journey are universal, dealing with the human condition. The futuristic setting avoids many details about our existence that might age the story. This future is a hard-science view, with details that I hope will stand up to the reality, though none of us can know the nonlinear future.

Please tell me about your career background and how you draw on it in your writing.

Prior to taking up writing, I had a successful career in Silicon Valley. When I retired from that, I had the freedom to pursue passion projects; further education (astrophysics, mathematics, and philosophy) and writing were two. My time in Silicon Valley informed the kind of hard science novel that I wished to write. I had the chance to participate in a broad spectrum of exciting technologies—computer peripherals (hard drives, printers, computer screens), chip design software, bioscience, scientific equipment design, streaming video over the Internet, and the Internet as a marketplace. These gave a respect for the hard work to build technology. It makes me somewhat jaded by grandiose promises by many futurists. But it does not cause me to give up trying to realistically guess our future worlds.

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

Let me focus my answer of just this book, Unfettered Journey. The philosophical ideas behind the novel had been percolating in my head for thirty years, and the novel story and characters for over a decade. That is the inspiration’s long gestation.

The hard work of writing the novel took only three years. That process was a blend of free association thinking and planning. I like to plan, so I outlined the novel—only a skeleton at first, then with more detail as the story became clearer to me. Then I roughed out the scenes. Along the way, my characters began to wake me up at night, to whisper in my ear (“No, I won’t do that…”). That’s when the writing truly became a lot of fun. The interaction of characters and story, in a roughly planned structure, then allowed me to dive deep into my experiences, dredging up gems of ideas that fit the scenes perfectly. That experience is one joy of writing fiction. I think the extended creative process left me blissfully free of any writer’s block.

What books do you read yourself and how do they influence your writing?

I read across a broad set of topics, virtually everything, from nonfiction science, physics, philosophy, history, economics, and politics; to fiction both classic and contemporary. My favourite fiction writer is William Faulkner, because of the universal themes that he explored through his books set in the fictitious Yoknapatawpha County. In the process of writing Unfettered Journey, I read many writing craft books, attempting to improve my style, and often read craft suggestions followed by writing some scenes, then repeating the process to burnish the language. Now I am happy to set those aside and return to the stacks of ‘to be read’ books waiting on my credenza.

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

My focus this year is on the international launch of my novel. The French translation recently launched, and the Italian translation will be released next month. Then the German and Spanish editions are not far behind. I’ve had a blast working with my translators, and have learned much about the challenges of making a ‘transcreation,’ which is a literary translation that captures the nuance of the language and culture while reflecting the essence of the novel.

Who is the audience for Unfettered Journey?

The question raises a challenge for my novel, because it does not neatly fit into any genre category; it is truly a cross-genre book unlike others. While the novel is speculative fiction, sometimes grouped into sci-fi, this is a very different sort of novel, outside the usual boxes. Both men and women have found the novel thrilling. Everyone loves my powerful female characters. These are real people, people that you can relate to, people that you can like. It is for the intellectual reader, someone who is comfortable thinking about deep questions. But Unfettered Journey is simultaneously an adventure novel, as the characters confront social injustice, and the difficulties of living with and without modern technology. The story traces a long arc, and I hope will leave my readers thinking about these questions long after they have closed the cover.

Huge thanks to Gary for answering my questions: it’s been fascinating to find out more about your work and future plans.

John Cox Interview: “I was a prolific reader at an early age”

As part of his blog tour to celebrate the publication of his debut novel, Ashes Of The Living, I interview up-and-coming crime fiction author John Cox.

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

When I first started writing, I focused on paying attention to how many of my favorite thriller writers wrote. Not so much the storyline but rather the style. Did they like first person or third person? How they describe a character’s actions or what a piece of steak tasted like? I tried writing short stories first to see how I would describe an action scene or provide an atmosphere for a tense situation. Most importantly, I have always been drawn to thrillers because the best ones keep you reading until 3 in the morning, and even then, wanting to keep going!

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

I grew up in a family of teachers who focused on English classes and writing. I was a prolific reader at an early age and wanted to create stories like the ones I was reading. My main passion is telling a good story that other people want to hear. When I got into college, I received some constructive advice and earned awards and accolades that told me that what I was doing was working. I was inspired to start focusing on longer and longer stories until I had my full novel that eventually became my first published work.

Tell me all about your upcoming novel Ashes of the Living. What was your inspiration?

Ashes of the Living is about what grief and anger can do to someone’s morality. My protagonist Detective Tyler Morgan loses everything and must continually ask himself what lines he is willing or not willing to cross to get to his version of justice. I was inspired by my interest in noir and thriller novels and wanted to blend the styles in a book that was fast-paced but still took enough time to examine what people are willing to do in times of duress. It has always been a fascinating subject for me! This is a story about revenge and what a single-minded goal can do to you.

What was your experience getting your work published? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with budding authors looking to get published?

To get my work published, I had to learn to accept that not everyone will respond to your inquiries for review. The book industry is so large that you may have a fantastic story to tell, and publishers and agents will not be able to have time to read it, or perhaps it is not in a genre they can currently accept new writers. Sometimes, being a new writer can be disheartening trying to get others to see your work the way you do. Don’t ever give up on this because the day you are successful is the best feeling in your life.

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

Donald Westlake who also wrote under the pen name of Richard Stark. He turned the crime and thriller genre on its head in the 1960s by writing about topics or characters that were controversial by having morally gray themes or elements. Unfortunately, he has passed away, but if anyone wants to see the groundwork of modern thrillers, I highly recommend his body of work.

What does the future have in store for you? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

I am focused on my next novel and cannot wait to share further details as it progresses. I do not want to give too much away because it is tied to the ending of Ashes of the Living, but I am focused on writing about what inspires me, humanity, and how our perception of it can change continually.

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

I have enjoyed Chris McDonald’s work recently and recommend anyone check out his DI Erika Piper series. This is a new author to keep an eye on! He has great talent and is very interactive with his fan base.

Is there anything you want to add?

I am proud to be a part of the writing community and all the phenomenal people I have met in the last several years. Always keep reading, writing, and sharing with others those stories that inspire or move you!

Thanks to John for answering my questions; it’s been awesome to be a part of your blog tour!

Rebecca Wait Interview: “I’ve always been especially interested in the nuances of relationships”

Teacher and writer Rebecca Wait, author of the amazing thriller Our Fathers, The Followers and other incredible contemporary novels talks to me about her writing and how she uses her experiences to inform her work.

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

Despite the subject of Our Fathers, I’ve never really thought of myself as a mystery or thriller writer until recently. My previous novel The Followers also occupies quite clear crime/ thriller territory, though it was never marketed that way (and when asked, I always describe my books in unhelpfully vague terms as ‘contemporary fiction’). But I read a lot of thriller and mystery novels, which I think often distil some of the most important elements of novel writing, with their emphasis on clear story-telling, narrative momentum and pace. The very best also display depth of characterisation, psychological acuity and emotional heft – which essentially makes for the perfect novel.

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

I’ve always written stories, and decided when I was still quite a young child that I would be a writer one day (whilst having no idea, obviously, what it involved). I finished my first novel not long after graduating from university and was taken on by my agent off the back of that (she’s fantastic, and is still my agent now). Then I secured a book deal for that first novel, and everything followed from there.

This all makes it sound like it was very easy for me, but in terms of publicity and book sales I would describe my success as pretty modest – it’s often felt like two steps forward and one step back, which I think a lot of writers would echo. Our Fathers has been my most high profile book to date. I’d never have been able to make a living from writing alone. I qualified as a secondary school English teacher after university, and have been balancing teaching and writing ever since. I’m lucky that I enjoy both jobs, so it’s worked out well for me, though occasionally I feel a bit frazzled and short of headspace.

Please tell me about your books. Why do you think readers are drawn to them?

Well, I hope they offer the things I look for myself in the books I read: a gripping story, well-drawn characters and emotional impact. I’ve always been especially interested in the nuances of relationships, and those micro-interactions between people that carry so much more weight than might appear. So I suppose one of my main focuses has always been the gap between what’s on the surface and what’s below the surface. It also occurs to me that all three of my published novels have some kind of trauma at their heart: my most recent two deal with the lead up to and aftermath of a violent crime, whilst my first, The View on the Way Down, focuses on a catastrophic tragedy that befalls a family. So there’s a lot of darkness there, but I also try to inject some warmth and humour.

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 definitely find inspiration from teaching – not specific events, but just being out there in the world, interacting with people; and my students can be very funny. Similarly, an evening in the pub with my friends (though that feels a long time ago now) can get my ideas going. I also read a lot of non-fiction, especially medical and psychology books, which sometimes spark ideas. The novel I’m currently working on is about a particularly dysfunctional family, and so I’ve been reading a lot of self-help books about distancing yourself from a toxic mother (I should add here that my own mother is lovely; unfortunately too lovely for the purposes of my research).

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

I’m not sure I’d be a very good collaborator when it comes to novels; it all feels so internal that I can’t imagine I’d play well with others. But if I could force another writer to collaborate with me, I’d ‘collaborate’ with Hilary Mantel on a novel.  (I put collaborate in inverted commas because I wouldn’t really plan on helping much. I’d just watch her beadily to see how she works, make some mental notes, and then claim 50% of the credit when the book came out.)

What books do you enjoy reading yourself and how do they influence your own work?

It definitely varies depending on my mood. At the moment, I only seem to be reading thrillers. I’m in a lockdown slump, and really need a strong storyline to carry me through a book. Usually I read more widely: lots of contemporary fiction, lots of non-fiction, plus as an English teacher I obviously read a lot for my job and at the moment that’s taking up most of my mental capacity. I’m doing Middlemarch with my A-Level class at the moment, over Zoom, which is fantastic, but also quite high-effort for us all.

In terms of influence, I think it’s quite indirect for me: I notice when I read what other writers are doing well (and sometimes, what they are doing less well), and that can give my own work a steer. For example, if a plot development has been really carefully seeded throughout a book, I might go back and look again at how those clues have been planted, and how the reader might have been misdirected.

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

I’m excited about the novel I’m working on at the moment, which I’ve almost finished now. I really am pleased with it. But it’s hard to sustain giddy levels of excitement during lockdown. At the moment, I get more excited about my next meal than about my work. For instance, I’m making pancakes later. It’s all I can think about.

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

I really enjoyed Romy Hausmann’s novel Dear Child, so I’m looking forward to her next book, which is out later this year. And Elizabeth Strout has a new novel out in October – I can’t wait for that.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thanks for the interview!

Many thanks to you Rebecca; it’s been an absolute pleasure learning about your writing and background!

Sophie Hannah Interview: “Writing had been my hobby since childhood”

As a massive fan of her reimagined Poirot novels, I’m really pleased to be able to share my interview with Sophie Hannah. She shares a unique insight into her work from the very beginning, so if you’re a fan of any of her work, either her standalones or her Poirots, then you should definitely read what she has to say.

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

As a reader I’ve been a mystery addict since I started with Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series at the age of seven. I discovered Agatha Christie when I was twelve, then moved on to Ruth Rendell. My favourite writers have always been crime writers. So, it was probably inevitable that I would gravitate towards crime and thrillers as a writer; I have a very strong affinity with the genre and it’s what I most love to read.

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

Writing had been my hobby since childhood, but I first became a published writer as a student. I published my first picture book (Carrot the Goldfish – inspired by my husband’s observation that a piece of carrot peel in water resembled a goldfish!) and two poetry pamphlets while doing my degree and MA. Then when I was working as a library admin assistant after graduating university—I’d chosen a very easy, undemanding job in the hope that I’d have lots of time and mental energy free for my writing, and this plan worked brilliantly! — I published my first full-length poetry book. On the back of that, I was offered the most amazing opportunity: a two-year Creative Arts fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge, which is where I started to write novels. I published three non-crime novels before discovering my natural niche of crime, and Little Face, my first crime novel, was published in 2006.

How did you get to become a published writer? What was it like getting your work published? 

One of my university tutors really encouraged my poetry writing. He suggested I send off a selection of poems to magazines and then later to a small press publisher, and I started to have regular publication success. People wanted my poems! My first book was a limited edition, 200-copies-only pamphlet, but I really felt as if I’d made it and was now a properly successful writer. The same tutor was also the MD of Carcanet, one of the main UK publishers of poetry, and not long after that he published my first full-length poetry book, The Hero and the Girl Next Door. When it came to publishing my novels though, it was a much harder work.

My wonderful agent at the time absolutely ripped apart my first novel, Gripless, which was agony but she was totally right about everything that was wrong with it. Her feedback enabled me to make loads of improvements and finally it got published. It didn’t sell too well, however, and neither did the next two novels. They simply weren’t commercial in a straightforward way, so I can understand why they didn’t, and I still love them regardless. I then went through two more agents and lots of disappointment before finding my amazing agent Peter Straus, who I’m still with now, and having my big breakthrough with Little Face, whichbecame a surprise word-of-mouth, massive bestseller, sold to 34 countries and led to publishers all over the world saying to my agent and to Hodder (my UK publisher) ‘Please send us lots more books like Little Face by Sophie Hannah’.

Tell me all about your books. Why do you believe readers and critics enjoy them? 

It’s always my aim to create an irresistibly suspenseful hook – to present the reader with a seemingly impossible mystery that they won’t be able to resist because they’ll be desperate to know what’s going on. In Little Face, for example, a mother insists that her new-born baby is missing and that an unknown baby has been left in her place. The baby’s father, however, is equally adamant that his wife is lying or insane.

In my latest standalone psychological thriller, Haven’t They Grown, the protagonist encounters the children of her estranged friend who, twelve years after she’s last seen them, are still three and five years old – no taller and apparently no older than they were more than a decade earlier. My readers can be sure of a complex and twisty ride, followed by a satisfying solution. They tell me they never see what’s coming, which is very important to me, because I’m often disappointed by the guess-ability of solutions in thrillers.

How did you find reimagining the Poirot novels? Talk me through your process of making them unique while still being true to Agatha Christie. 

Thanks to my lifelong and obsessive Agatha Christie fandom, the blueprint for her particular and genius approach to storytelling is somehow imprinted in my DNA. However, Agatha Christie is the greatest crime writer of all time, so the last thing I wanted to do was to try (and, obviously, fail) to ‘be’ her, or copy her—I was very clear about this from the start. I wanted to stay faithful to the Christie-esque elements that readers love — the irresistible premise, the intricate plot and un-guessable solution — but I’m still writing as me.

How did you come up with the character of Inspector Catchpool? What was it like to create a character as part of such a renowned series? 

Poirot belongs very much to Agatha Christie and I didn’t want to seem to be appropriating him. Catchpool is my middleman. I invented him so that he could kind of represent me in the book: he’s a new person working with, and writing about, Poirot, and so am I! To be honest, I have never seen writing continuation novels as being all that different from writing a non-continuation novel. We use true/already-existing elements in our fiction all the time. The novel I’m writing right now, for example, is completely original and not a continuation novel, but it already contains some real places and some real things in the world. Poirot, though a fictional character, is a very real thing in the world.

Are there any other classic crime fiction series that you’d like to reimagine? 

I’d love to have a go at Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series! I think mystery is the perfect genre to hook in young readers—why would anyone ever want to read a book that wasn’t a gripping page-turner? That’s certainly how I felt as a kid.

Do you prefer writing non-fiction, fiction, or poetry? Is the process different when writing each type of text? 

The process is the same for all of them, really. I don’t have a preference, because whatever I’m writing at any given moment is always the thing I love the most, and the need to satisfy my inner perfectionist means that I have to commit fully to my current project, finish it to the absolute best of my ability and make it as good as it could possibly be. 

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

Mainly and overwhelmingly, it’s crime fiction and thrillers: I re-read my Agatha Christie collection every few years. Ruth Rendell, Nicci French and Tana French are also firm favourites. I’ve just read an amazingly gripping book called The Housewarming by SE Lynes, and now I’m desperate to read the rest of her novels!

Is there anything else that influences your writing (places, people, films etc)? 

Some of my best ideas come from real-life dramas, grudges and weird experiences. I’m absolutely fascinated by psychology and am always trying to understand what might motivate a person towards a particular action or behaviour. I also have a habit of taking something I’ve seen or experienced in the course of my everyday life and asking, ‘What if…?’ to build up that scenario into something dramatic enough to be the subject of a thriller.

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

Cameron Mackintosh. I’ve co-written (with my friend, composer Annette Armitage) two musicals: The Mystery of Mr.E  (a murder mystery musical) and Work Experience (a musical locked room mystery)Very small and local productions of both have been staged in my hometown of Cambridge, and were huge, sell-out successes. The Mystery of Mr. E also did a small, national tour, which was thrilling. The pandemic has put paid to further plans for the moment but watch this space! And my dream would be to have Cameron Mackintosh collaborate with me to stage both at the West End. So, Sir Cameron, if you’re reading this, please get in touch!)

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

My current most exciting projects are, firstly, my online coaching programme for writers, Dream Author, which launched in 2019 and has had the most incredible success so far in terms of the difference it’s made to members’ lives and writing success levels. The programme offers psychological, practical and commercial help (and any/all other help a writer might want or need!) to writers in all genres and at all levels of experience—we have bestselling authors as well unpublished writers just starting out.

I created the programme because I’d noticed that so many writers I knew were creating unnecessary suffering for themselves just by the way they were thinking about their writing, not analysing or challenging the thoughts that were harming both their wellbeing and their ability to work towards their goals. When we learn to think about our writing situations and ambitions in the most helpful way, the positive results can be really dramatic. Anyone who’d like to find out more should visit the Dream Author website: https://dreamauthorcoaching.com/. You can sign up at any time!

I’m also at the moment currently writing Book 11 of my Culver Valley crime series. My detectives Charlie and Simon haven’t had an outing since book 10 in 2016, and I’m hugely exciting about this one coming out later in the year. Details will be available very soon and anyone who’d like to receive news of this latest book, or any of my other projects, can sign up to my newsletter at: https://sophiehannah.com/.

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

There is one in particular I’m very much looking forward to but it’s a top-secret project at the moment so I can’t divulge any details! Once it is officially announced there will be lots of excitement, however.

Do you have anything to add?

In the past couple of years, I’ve discovered how much I love podcasting and my How to Hold a Grudge podcast (based on my self-help book of the same name) now has five seasons available on iTunes, Spotify and all podcasty places! I discuss, with various guests, all things grudge-related. In the latest series we’ve covered apologies, complicity, forgiveness, plus the grudge worthy overlooking of Agatha Christie’s Mary Westmacott novels, the US Election and literary prizes.

I’ve also created a private weekly podcast for Dream Author members only, which covers all of the programme’s core topics. There’s a bonus episode on the Dream Author homepage all about building resilience, which anyone can access and you can find How to Hold a Grudge on iTunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/how-to-hold-a-grudge/id1439465411

Huge thanks to Sophie for answering my questions! As a huge fan of your work it’s amazing to find out more about your writing process.

Tess Makovesky Interview: “I like to focus on the psychology of human behaviour”

For my final interview of January 2021, I speak to Tess Makovesky about her crime fiction writing and how it’s evolved over the years.

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

I’ve always loved crime fiction. My grandmother had a stash of it in a cupboard under her dressing table, which introduced me to the likes of Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L Sayers at a young age, and I also loved gritty TV series like The Professionals. When I started writing, those influences, plus a natural tendency towards gallows humour, seemed to steer me towards gritty but also darkly comic work. I like to focus on the psychology of human behaviour and what makes people make the choices they do, even if those choices lead to disaster. And my short, sharp, even breathless style seems to suit thrillers and comedy noir.

What is your career background and how did you become a published writer?

I don’t know that I’ve ever had a “career background” as such but I did have a whole series of jobs to pay the bills. All I ever really wanted was to be a writer, though, and I’m so lucky my dream has come true. I wrote under another pen name for many years, and when I started to write crime fiction as Tess I had a lot of short stories published in magazines and anthologies. However, when it comes to having books published, I’m very much indebted to the Crime & Publishment writing courses organised by fellow crime writer Graham Smith. I attended one a few years ago and met Darren Laws, the head of publishing company Caffeine Nights, who expressed interest in my books. He rejected the first novella I submitted but accepted my second offering which went on to become Raise the Blade. Since then, my darkly comic novel Gravy Train has been published by All Due Respect and I have at least one other book in the works.

Tell me all about your books. What was your inspiration?

I have two main sources of inspiration for my crime books: the city of Birmingham (the original one in the UK), and the occasional, wonderfully macabre news items that float to the surface in the local press. In the case of Raise the Blade, this involved a body being fished out of one of the city’s many canals (it famously has more miles of canal than Venice). A conversation with Graham Smith (again) also helped to crystallise the idea of a series of murders, all linked in some way and all leading back to the murderer. Gravy Train was inspired by another news headline, this time of someone finding a bag of money in a different bit of the canal. I also wanted to emulate the format of the movie La Ronde, which I’ve read about but never actually seen. In the movie, ten separate stories are linked as each one features a character from the previous scene. I used a similar format to weave together a whole series of apparently disparate characters, all of them chasing around the city streets after the same bag of money!

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

I’ve collaborated with many authors on anthologies and on running an online magazine (under my other pen name). However, I think I’d struggle to write an entire book with another author because I’m quite possessive about my work – I suspect there would be blood shed at the end of the day! Although I’ve always fancied doing one of those ‛round robin’ type stories, where one person writes a sentence or scene and you have to continue it. That always sounds like fun.

What books do you read yourself and how do they inspire you?

To be honest I’ll read almost anything as long as it’s well written, with engaging but realistic characters and a good or interesting plot. In terms of crime fiction that means well-known names like Peter May and Ann Cleeves, but also relative unknowns such as Joel Lane. I like to think I learn something about the art of writing from every book I read, whether it’s about pacing or using sentence structure to enhance tension, or even just about what makes a ‛good story’.

What does the future have in store for you? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

Like many other people I’ve struggled to cope with the pandemic. So far I’ve been relatively lucky in terms of the immediate impact on me, but I’ve found it really hard to read, watch, or write about crime for most of the year and that doesn’t look like changing any time soon. I managed to write one short noir story last year, and have been working on and off (but mostly off) on edits of my next book, a blackly comic noir with a working title of Embers of Bridges, which is set around (and even in) the canals of Birmingham. If we start getting some better news I’ll hopefully find myself in a happy enough place to finish that and if so, then I’d like to self-publish it at some point during the year. So hopefully my readers can look forward to that, but obviously I can’t make any promises while this virus is still raging.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to, moving forward?

At the last count, Crime & Publishment had helped launch the careers of nine different writers including Amit Dhand, Mike Craven, Lucy Cameron, Les Morris, Graham Smith, Sharon Bairden, Noelle Holton, and Angela King. They’re all fantastic writers and I’m really looking forward to more great books by all of them in the months and years ahead. I’ve also just discovered the Elsie and Ethelred series by L C Tyler and would love to read more of those.

Anything you’d like to add?

First of all, many thanks to Hannah for letting me witter on about myself to this extent. Second, if anyone’s interest has been piqued, you can find out more about my books, stories and works in progress at my website, www.tessmakovesky.com. Thanks for listening!

Huge thanks to Tess for answering my questions; it’s been amazing to hear from you!

Andrew James Graham: “I want the reader to be taken on a journey”

Andrew James Graham talks me through his writing and the techniques he uses in his work.

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

I feel my writing style is quite descriptive. I want the reader to be taken on a journey into the world I’ve created. To not only tell them what the characters are doing but also feel, taste and smell the situations they are in. I want the reader to think, almost act like the detective in trying to work out who the killer is, making them laugh along the way. I got into crime fiction writing mainly by watching crime shows on TV. I’ve always been a fan and thought I’d try writing a crime novel myself.

Please tell me about your career background and how you draw on it in your writing.

I worked for many years as a Housing Officer in some of the most economically and socially deprived areas of North Tyneside. I worked closely with Probation Services, Drug and alcohol treatment centres and Homeless charities. I’ve always found that real life people and situations are always far more interesting.

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 inspiration is often the wonderful characters that I have come into contact with over the years, be it through work situations, or on public transport or even the local supermarket. When it comes to writers block I try to think of subplots for my characters. I think about a particular incident or character that I have had to deal with in the past. How would they react to that situation? What would they do? How would it affect their life?

What books do you read yourself and how do they influence your writing?

I love British Crime fiction, in particular, Ian Rankin, Peter James, Martina Cole, Mark Billingham and Peter Robinson. I love the way their characters interact with each other with workplace banter. Ian Rankin is especially good at this in his Rebus Novels.

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

I would love to work on a screenplay with Quentin Tarrantino. I just love his dark humour and how he writes the dialogue between his characters. It would also help me get an insight into how he successfully gets his ideas from paper onto the big screen. Pure genius.

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

I have started writing my next novel, so finishing that would be good.  I’m also really hoping to improve my website as well as putting together a newsletter and increasing my mailing list. I also hope to be more active on twitter and in the creative writing groups on Facebook.

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

I would like to get my hands on any new book from my favourite authors. But there is always a new book to read as the first time you pick it up it’s new to you, even though it could have been 20 years since it was first published. I’m also always looking for new authors from my part of the world, as I find Tyneside an excellent backdrop for crime thrillers. Trevor Wood’s new novel, One Way Street is one I would like to read.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I think 2020 has been an awful year for a lot of people, but one positive thing to come from 2020 is that more people have had time to rediscover their love of reading, whether it be through Kindle eBooks or the good old fashioned paperbacks. I hope that as the New Year progresses and this COVID virus is finally controlled, people continue to read, and they will hopefully give my book a try.

It’s been a pleasure Andrew, and thank you very much for answering my questions.

John Dean Interview: “As a writer, I am usually inspired by a sense of place”

Following the recent publication of his 20th printed crime novel, I interview revered mystery writer John Dean.

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

I had always written and children’s fiction and humour were my first loves but without much success, so I followed the old adage of ‘write about what you know’. Since my career as a journalist saw me specialise in crime, the synergy was an obvious one.

Please tell me more about your background. How did you become a professional writer?


I worked on newspapers all over the UK for 19 years then spent 21 years as a freelancer, all the time learning from skilled colleagues about the way that words work. At the same time, I was writing novels without being accepted by a publisher. Then I saw that a journalist had secured a crime fiction deal with Robert Hale. Like all writers, I had a novel lying around but one on which I had given up (a DCI John Blizzard story). I sent it off and it did not come back.  I kept having crime novels published then, when Hale ceased publishing a number of years ago, I was picked up by The Book Folks, who have published me ever since. In March 2020, I took retirement from journalism and now focus on my novels.

Talk me through your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular?


I think that what success I have enjoyed is down to a mixture of strong plots, realistic characters, well-drawn landscapes and a pace which keeps the story moving. For me, they are the key pillars of successful writing and I also think it is crucial to keep learning and seek to continually improve. I try to learn from everyone, ranging from my editors to readers’ reviews if they make valid points in a constructive manner.

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


Fortunately, I do not experience writer’s block. As a writer, I am usually inspired by a sense of place. Let me take you back a few years to a hillside in the North Pennines in an attempt to show you what I mean.

I was on a family holiday and we were staying in a village on the Durham/Cumbrian border.  There was a play area in the middle of the village and every evening my two children would go for a swing and I would wander out to keep an eye on them – they had gone past the ‘Dad, give me a push’ stage but had not quite reached the stage where they could be left alone. In such circumstances, a person has a lot of time to think and, as they swung, I found myself staring at the hillside opposite.

Something about the hill’s slopes and its late evening shadows, the way the buzzards hunted across the ridge, the sound of the sheep bleating and the distant barking of a farm dog, worked their magic on me. By the end of the week, an idea was born, blending landscape and its effect on the people who live within it with the theme of wildlife crime, something on which I had reported extensively as a journalist. Then came the character; I had been toying with the idea of a disillusioned detective finding his senses re-awakened by the northern hills. Eventually, it turned into Dead Hill, the first in my DCI Jack Harris series, which is published by The Book Folks.

Oh, and the children are both grown-up now!

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

The two writing groups of which I am a member – the Inkerman Writers in Darlington, County Durham, and the Gallery Writers in Kirkcudbright in South West Scotland. Previous collaborations have been very happy ones and both groups are packed with talent.

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

I have been developing my online crime fiction writing courses. I have already taught several aspiring writers from the UK and abroad and it has been a joy to be exposed to their enthusiasm and talent. I also run weekend courses from my 19th Century hillside home in South West Scotland – Covid wiped out the entire 2020 programme but I hope we can run them again in 2021. Oh, and I’ve had this idea for a novel…!

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

I am looking forward to the careers of the excellent Ian Patrick and Jackie Baldwin continuing to develop (both have strong connections with the area in southern Scotland where I live) Also looking forward to the next steps in the career of new names who have been signed up by the Book Folks – people like Bud Craig with his private detective stories and David Pearson and his popular series of novels set in Ireland.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

The latest DCI Jack Harris book Kill Shot (The Book Folks, published October 25, 2020) is my twentieth crime novel to make it into print.

Thanks John for answering my questions, I’m excited to check out your 20th printed crime fiction novel!

John Ryder Interview: “I think that having a variety of experiences through life has given me lots of material to draw upon”

Today I talk to former joiner and farmer John Ryder about how he draws on his experience to write intriguing crime fiction stories.

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

I’ve always been a fan of crime fiction and thrillers, so it was natural that when I started writing my own stories, they would be in the genres I love the most. I couldn’t write a sci-fi or romance novel for all the money in the world as having not read them, I wouldn’t have a clue how to write them.

How does your background as a farmer and joiner influence your work?

I think that having a variety of experiences through life has given me lots of material to draw upon. Final Second happens in a rural setting so it was easy for me to put myself into the mindset of certain characters. As a joiner, I used many different power tools that were extremely dangerous, so it won’t be a big leap for me to imagine someone using them for nefarious purposes.

Often farmers and construction workers can be looked down upon because their jobs aren’t seen as technical, or requiring much intelligence, but that’s far from the case as anyone who has tried to work out how to get an exact spread of fertiliser onto a field. Joiners make intricate shapes on a regular basis and when it comes to casting concrete, they have to design and build moulds that are the exact opposite of the finished shape.

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

My only real ritual is to make sure I have coffee and at least a half hour to write without interruption. I take inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. A half-overheard conversation can spark an idea, as can a news story, or a “what if” proposition that nags at my mind.

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

I love authors who can make their words seem like honey for the eyes and yet write a gripping story that entertains and educates me. There are far too many authors I admire to list them all but books by the following authors always jump to the top of Mount To Be Read. Craig Russell, Zoe Sharp, A.A. Dhand, M.W. Craven, Stuart MacBride and many many others.

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

I’d choose Alistair MacLean as I believe he’s possibly the greatest thriller writer who ever lived. Admittedly his later books weren’t as strong as his early ones, but following stories like HMS Ulysses, Fear is the Key and Ice Station Zebra would find almost any author wanting.

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

Grant Fletcher 2, Final Second comes out on Monday 5th October, which is always a thrill and I have just completed the first draft of Grant Fletcher 3, and I feel it’s got the bones of a great story hidden beneath all the typos. I’ve also got a book out on submission, which I have high hopes for.

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

Hyde by Craig Russell is one book I’m hugely looking forward to and I read an early draft of Sins of the Father by Sharon Bairden, which is a book, and author I’m tipping for stardom.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’d just like to say thank you for hosting me, and to also thank those who’ve stuck with this interview to the bitter end. As a reward to you all, I’d suggest signing up to my newsletter on www.johnryderauthor.com as that will gain you automatic entry into every competition I run.

Thanks to John for answering my questions; it’s been great to find out more about your work.