What is your genre? Why did you choose it?
Mainly crime so far. And it chose me. I’d written a couple of novels – a black comedy and a stand-alone thriller. My agent sent the thriller to Piatkus who said they liked it but weren’t doing thrillers at that time and asked if I’d written any police procedurals. I hadn’t but you have to grab chances like that so I wrote one and they published it. It turned out to be the first of 5 in the series so far. But I like writing other things so I’d rather resist being stuck in any one genre. The trouble is, readers like to know what to expect when they buy books (fair enough) so I have to be careful to make it clear what sort of book I’m offering.
Do you work on more than one manuscript at a time?
I never have in the past but I find that I have recently because there are 3 novels I want to finish – sequels to The Figurehead and The Sparrow Conundrum, and the 6th (and probably last) in my Jack Carston series. I keep switching between them but I know that when one of them takes off, I’ll concentrate on that and the other 2 will have to wait. That’s the way it works for me – the characters suddenly take over and I need to find out what they do and what the consequences are. It’s a great feeling when that happens.
Do you work with a writing/critique group?
No. I give writing workshops for adults and children but I work on my own. If I get stuck or come across a problem, I sometimes discuss it with friends (not always writers) and often they come up with solutions that might not have occurred to me. I do value the opinions of others but I don’t let anyone else read anything until I’ve finished the first draft. All my books are between me and the characters. Having said all that, I do think it’s important to get the finished article read – by a professional editor if you can afford it or a writer friend if you can’t. But it has to be a friend who’ll be totally honest about it.
Can you remember your first reading book?
Not really, but I can remember the first one that made me realise how wonderful reading was. Unfortunately, I don’t remember its title or the author but it was about a dragon and I got completely lost in it. It made me want to read more and more books. I still get the same sort of feeling with good books but that first revelation (I was very young) was like magic.
Do you nibble on snacks while writing? If so, what is your chosen treat?
I’d never have thought of asking myself that but it’s very interesting. I love chocolate (Double Deckers, Snickers, Whole Nut, Peanut Butter Kit-Kat – just writing their names makes me want one), but I don’t snack when I’m writing. That would be like having two pleasures warring with one another. I don’t want the chocolate to distract me from the time I spend with my characters (or vice versa).
Tidy desk or a bombsite? Describe your writing area with us.
See for yourself. It’s not quite a bomb site because I know where things are in the general chaos but to an outsider it must look horribly disorganised. I write with my feet up on one desk, the monitor on another beside me and the keyboard on my lap.
It looks tidy compared to my study/craft room!
Are you published in the traditional manner or self published? Share your journey.
Well, the answer is both. At first it was Piatkus, then in the USA Bloody Brits Press. After that, still in the USA, came 3 smaller independent publishers, but in the past couple of years, the ease of self-publishing has made that a more attractive option. Nowadays, my non-fiction books on study, work and writing skills have all been commissions for Pearson Education but I publish my fiction in ebook and paperback form myself. In the old days, choice was restricted. You sent your manuscript away, waited for months for a reply and, if it was successful (which, most of the time, it wasn’t), you then waited several more months to get the editor’s suggested changes. More months went by while you waited to get the proofs back. You corrected them, sent them back and, after a few more weeks, at last came the parcel with your first copy which you unwrapped and held like a baby. The process is so much quicker today, and you get a much bigger percentage from it.
Who would you say have been the three most influential authors in your reading/writing life?
I think you’re right to put those two (reading/writing) together in that way because they impact on each other. I used to lecture on French Literature at Aberdeen university so obviously, the first ones that come to mind are French. Flaubert, Stendhal, Zola are all very different but very enjoyable to read and fascinating to study in depth – for different reasons. Each one creates a different relationship with the reader – Flaubert challenges, Stendhal chats as if he were just a friend sharing secrets, and Zola makes you confront the injustices of poverty and class. But Austen, the Brontes, Steinbeck, Beckett and today, David Mitchell, William Boyd – sorry, I’m just making a list, but there are so many and, each time you read them you realise how flexible the medium is and how much you still have to learn about it.
What advice would you like to share with other writers/authors with regard to preparing a manuscript?
I always give the same 3 answers to this sort of question. First, trust your own voice. Writing doesn’t have to be ‘posh’ or ‘literary’. It has to respect the language and not be sloppy but everyday speech can be as powerful as the most carefully crafted prose, so say what you want to say in your own way. Next, read your work aloud. That’s the best way of hearing repetitions, mistakes, awkward bits of style, monotonous sentences, things that need changing. And finally, separate the functions of writer and editor. Write your first draft without bothering too much about spelling, etc. Get it down on paper or screen then take as much time as you can away from it before returning to it as an editor.
If the movie rights to your novels are purchased, who would you like to play your main characters?
I’ve written a crime/spy spoof, a historical novel, a fantasy satire and my police series so it would take several pages to answer this, so I’ll just stick with the crime series. It has the usual double act – Detective Chief Inspector and Detective Sergeant – as well as a regular cast of policemen, but let’s just choose the DCI (who’s English) and the DS (who’s a Scot). How about being self-indulgent and having Alan Rickman and James MacAvoy? In fact, a small film company in Los Angeles has asked if they can adapt one of my short stories for the screen. I’ve said yes but I’m not holding my breath because that sort of thing rarely comes to fruition.
I was on my way to the supermarket, when … Do you have a tale to tell relating to an everyday, boring event?
First, I’m glad to say that my wife doesn’t trust me to do any shopping and positively bans me from going with her, especially when she’s buying clothes. (I hate shopping.) I know that’s not important but it has made me realise how almost every bit of my life is linked somehow with books and writing, so… I was on my way to perform at a book festival in France when the power steering went on my car. I was covered by insurance which meant I could get a hire car free for the trip. The only one available was a brand new Mercedes, so that’s what I took. A few hours later, I got a frantic call from the woman at the rental place asking where I was. I said ‘On the ferry’, whereupon she simply told me that that particular car shouldn’t be taken outside the UK. Too late, of course. But I did spend the whole trip explaining to people that it wasn’t my car and I wasn’t rich, honest, and that most writers, including me, had relatively clapped out cars with dodgy automatic steering. Not all of them believed me.
OOh, I bet you felt so famous!