You may remember we reviewed Paddy Magrane’s first Sam Keddie thriller Disorder a while back. My goodness, it was a month ago – how time flies! The chase thriller featured Keddie, his therapist protag, going on the run to unravel the mystery behind the death of a top politician. You can refresh your brain jelly by checking it out here.
Point is, Paddy’s kindly agreed to give us the intel on his inspiration for Disorder, his writing process – and how to cope with that most constant melancholy companion of all writers… Disappointment. As a psychotherapist, you’d expect Paddy to have some pretty interesting thoughts on writing – and you’d be dead right.
Where did the idea for Disorder come from?
As a psychotherapist, you are given privileged access to your clients’ inner worlds – ideas, fantasies and secrets that they may not share with anyone else. And sometimes they share these thoughts without even being aware that they’re divulging. The contents of a dream, for example, are often very telling, as is the body language a client displays. It’s this conscious and unconscious revealing that got me thinking. What if the person doing the revealing was a politician with a whopping big secret?
The scenes set in Marrakesh are very evocative – was your intention always to write about the city?
Those scenes were originally set in Damascus, which I visited in 2006. With its maze of narrow alleyways and ancient crumbling buildings, the Old City seemed tailor-made for a thriller about dark secrets. But then the Arab Spring took hold in increasingly violent and distressing ways and it quickly became apparent that a book set there was completely inappropriate. Which was when I decided to switch the action to Marrakesh which, in look and feel, is remarkably similar.
How did you draw on your own experiences as a psychotherapist to write Disorder?
It’s in Sam’s interactions with Charles Scott and Aidan Stirling that I drew on my experience most. With Scott, he does things by the book – reflecting, paraphrasing, remaining non-judgmental. With Aidan, he is deeply prejudiced and forced to employ more cunning tactics. While I’ve never chosen to goad a client like Sam does Aidan, there are moments when you need to be a little inventive if you’re to help them move forward.
As a writer, I’m all too aware of the importance of writing every day – of exercising the muscle and getting words down. But sadly, what with childcare and work demands, that’s not always possible. However, on a really good day, I will sit down at the computer at 9am, waste at least half an hour reading the BBC and Guardian websites, or tweeting (aka ‘promoting’ my book), before finally settling down to the task. I can normally write for about three hours if I’m lucky, after which my brain hurts and I need to do something completely different.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
I’ve been close to a publishing deal about three times and had it whipped away, once at the last minute. That’s been really tough. It took me a while to get back in the saddle after that particular disappointment. The stars can be aligned perfectly but landing a deal is incredibly difficult – now more than ever before.
But, you know, despite misery-inducing setbacks, there’s nothing I’d rather do. I want and need to write. That helps.
How do you deal with feedback?
Pretty well. As Disorder was developing, I received feedback from my (then) literary agent and The Writers’ Workshop and acted on more or less every bit of advice they gave me. My thinking was really simple: as seasoned professionals in the industry, they knew best.
Who are the authors you admire, and why?
In my pre-parenting days, when I had more energy and hours in the day, I read a lot of John Updike. What I love about him is his ability to turn a banal life – that of a not-desperately-nice car dealer from Pennsylvania, for example – into a gripping and moving everyman tale. I also learned that I wasn’t – and never will be – a literary writer. And that’s fine.
As for thriller writers, I love Robert Harris. The Dreyfus Affair, though a massive miscarriage of justice, is essentially one long series of trials, re-trials and appeals, yet his fictional account of it, An Officer and a Spy, is as engaging as anything by Harlan Coben or Thomas Harris. He’s a maestro.
What’s been your experience of self-publishing Disorder?
Extremely mixed. I feel like I’ve finally achieved a huge personal goal – getting published – and I’ve been touched and flattered by the reception the book has enjoyed. I now feel like a writer. But the marketing and promotion is tough and I’m convinced that you can’t really start shifting books as a self-published author until you’ve got two, maybe three, titles out there. Without sounding like a marketing ‘guru’, you need brand and collateral. People need to know what to expect of you – and to want more.
And I think author Mel Sherratt is right when she says that you should say ‘yes’ to every opportunity to promote and market your books. Hence my forthcoming book signing at a farm shop!
Give me some advice about writing…
The hackneyed advice about reading and writing loads is true, but don’t give yourself a hard time if you can’t manage both all the time. The most important thing to remember is that, even if you’re on a bus or walking the dog, if you’re thinking about your book you are, in effect, shaping it – and therefore driving it forward. Oh, and if a literary agent you like offers some editorial advice, take it. First of all, it’s free. Second, they know what they’re talking about. Third, they will be much more inclined to work with a writer who’s able to accept and act on feedback.
What’s next for you?
Denial is what’s next. Not in the Freudian sense of the word, but a sequel to Disorder. I’m about half-way through the manuscript and, while I know the ending, the journey is proving more of a challenge!