Tag Archives: Dashiell Hammett

The Intel: Michael Kurland

Kurland-210You’re way too young to remember the Thirties — I mean, look how young and vibrant you are — but you probably know it was a hell of a time for crime fiction in the US. Think Chandler and Hammett, and Cornell Woolwich and James M. Cain. But it was also a time of glamour, of Broadway chorus girls and Jazz Clubs and the Algonquin set.

In his second Alexander Brass novel, The Girls In The High-Heeled Shoes, Michael Kurland’s newspaper columnist protag Alexander Brass and sidekick Morgan Dewitt investigate a series of disappearances in 1930s New York City.

Two-Headed Mary, the philanthropic panhandler is missing. So is Billie Trask, who disappeared from the cashier’s office of hit show Lucky Lady with the weekend take. Could either of them have followed a third Broadway babe, chorus girl Lydia Laurent — whose dead body has been found in Central Park?

Kurland is the author of more than thirty novels, but is best known for his Edgar-nominated mystery series featuring Professor Moriarty, including The Infernal Device and The Great Game. He has also edited several Sherlock Holmes anthologies and written non-fiction titles such as How to Solve a Murder: The Forensic Handbook. He lives in Petaluma, California.

In this intel interview, Kurland discusses the writers who influenced him to write a series set in the Thirties and the hardest lesson he learned about writing…

The Girl In The High-Heeled Shoes sounds like it would make a great Broadway show – what was the inspiration for it?

Well, Alexander Brass was already an established character with the first book, Too Soon Dead, and I liked him, so I wanted to see what other adventures he would share with me. The character Two-Headed Mary is based on a real con-woman of the same name. As for the title, it comes from a 1930s toast my mother told me:

‘Here’s to the girls in the high-helped shoes
Who eat our dinners and drink our booze
And hug and kiss us until we smother –
And then go home to sleep with mother!’

What made you want to write a series set in the 1930s?

The period always seemed both glamorous and innocent to me. And it was full of the most amazing people.

It was a turbulent time, full of glamour and gangsters – how influenced were you by the classic movies and novels of the period?

I think my image of the 30s was developed by the mystery novels of Sayers, Stout, Hammett and Chandler certainly, along with Tiffany Thayer, Robert Benchley, Leslie Charteris, and a lot of early science fiction. As for movies, perhaps the Marx Brothers movies and such films as Boy Meets Girl, My Man Godfrey, Casablanca, M, The Thin Man and its sequels, The 39 Steps, and anything Fred Astaire did.

HighHeelIf you could meet one iconic figure from the 1930s who would it be?

Just one? I would have to roll the dice to pick among George Gershwin, Oscar Levant, Dorothy Parker, Dashiell Hammett, James Thurber, Dorothy Sayers, Robert Benchley, Groucho Marx, Winston Churchill, Gypsy Rose Lee, Rex Stout, and Eleanor Roosevelt. With three dice I could extend the list. Certainly Eleanor’s husband would be fun to chat with.

You’ve written more than thirty novels, including your acclaimed Professor Moriarty series, and you teach mystery writing – what’s the one piece of advice to anybody who wants to write?

Set aside a time to write each day, sit down and don’t do anything else for that period of time, even if the writing doesn’t come. And read my book, “It’s a Mystery to Me” (plug).

How did you start writing?

When I was 12 years old I told my mother I was going to be a writer. I think I was reading Benchley at the time, along with Alexandre Dumas. Then when I got out of the Army I moved to Greenwich Village and fell in with a bad lot – Don Westlake, Randall Garrett, Harlan Ellison, Phil Klass (William Tenn), Terry Southern, full-time writers all. And they made it seem, if not easy, at least possible.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That it never gets any easier. When someone asked Raymond Chandler how he wrote, he said he rolled a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter and stared at it until the blood formed on his forehead. Well, now I use a computer but aside from that I agree.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I’ll stick to defunct ones, so I don’t insult any friends. Mark Twain, because he was brilliant, wrote without clutter, fought the prejudices of his day, and, most difficult of all, was funny. Alexandre Dumas, Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers and Don Westlake for creating characters I would like to meet. Poul Anderson and Jack Vance, for creating worlds I would like to visit. Philip MacDonald, Agatha Christie, and Dashiell Hammett for telling wonderful stories. Phil Klass, Joe Gores, and Richard Condon for making the most difficult job I know look so easy.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a pre-WWII political spy novel tentatively called The Bells Of Hell, as as getting started on the third Alexander Brass: Death Of A Dancer.


The Alexander Brass Mystery The Girls In The High-Heeled Shows is available in paperback and ebook, published by Titan Books.

The Intel: Tom Callaghan

Tom Callaghan

Earlier in the week we walked the charming streets of Bishkek in Tom Callaghan’s excellent debut, A Killing Winter, which features the debut of Inspector Akyl Borubaev. Callaghan’s brutal post-Soviet noir is brutal and muscular and funny. In a corrupt state full of bad eggs, Borubaev is as hardboiled as they come.

We promised you Tom Callaghan would give you the intel on Borubaev, Kyrgyzstan and his writing, and here at Crime Thriller Fella, we deliver. Born in the North of England, Callaghan is quite the gadabout. An inveterate traveller, he divides his time between London, Prague, Dubai and Bishkek. Me, I get a nose-bleed crossing postcodes.

Tell us about Akyl Borubaev.

Inspector Akyl Borubaev of the Bishkek Murder Squad in Kyrgyzstan is tough, honest and dedicated. Having recently lost his wife to breast cancer, he is in mourning, unsure that he does any good, caught in a deep depression. But the murders continue, and he has to solve them.

Where did you get the inspiration for A Winter Killing?

I’ve always loved crime fiction, hard-boiled noir for preference, and so that was always going to be the kind of book I’d write. But who needs another crime book set in NYC, or LA, or Miami? Kyrgyzstan is an unknown place, with a lot of problems – what more could a crime writer ask for? As for the plot; (whispers) I made it up.

In the novel, Kyrgyzstan is a state engulfed by gangsters, corruption and sleaze – what do you think the good citizens of Bishkek would make of it?

After two revolutions in ten years, it’s clear that the Kyrgyz will put up with a lot as long as there is food on the table, but when corruption becomes too overt, they act.

A Killing WinterWhat’s your own relationship with the country?

I was married to a Kyrgyz woman, I have a Kyrgyz son, and a home in Bishkek. It’s a country I love, for its beauty, for its culture, for its people. It’s a unique place, in an increasingly homogenised world.

It’s a very timely novel, what with many of the post-Soviet satellite countries afraid that Russia is flexing its muscles again. What do you think the future holds for Kyrgyzstan?

Now that the US air base at Manas has closed, following troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, and with Kyrgyzstan signing trade agreements with Russia over import and export tariffs, people are worried about a decline in living standards. Only time will tell. But I don’t see Putin moving eastwards.

How did the spellchecker on your computer cope with some of the more challenging, consonant-heavy names?

I ignore it: I know how to spell, to parse a sentence and the rules of grammar. Orwell’s rules are ones I live by.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Laundry and doing dishes always seems more important when you stare at a blank screen.

How do you deal with feedback?

As a professional writer, I have no problems with other people reading what I’ve written. I like to think I’m reasonable and open-minded to fair comment. At the same time, I’ll defend my work if I think I’m right. If I can improve my work through someone else’s suggestions, I will.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

The Classics: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson. Murder taken out of the drawing room and put down a dark alleyway, where it belongs.

The Hard-Boiled Americans: Lawrence Block, James Lee Burke, Robert Campbell, Michael Connolly, Robert Crais, James Ellroy, Carl Hiassen, Joe R. Lansdale, Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain, George Pelecanos, Peter Spiegelman, Andrew Vachss. Crisp dialogue, more twists and turns than an electric eel, great locations.

The Bold Brits: Mark Billingham, John Connolly (alright, Irish, but I had to list him somewhere), John Harvey, Mo Hayder, Simon Kernick, Val Mcdermid, Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson. Murder doesn’t just happen in the USA, you know.

Foreign Settings: John Burdett (Thailand), Sebastian Fitzek (Germany), Stieg Larrson and Henning Mankell (Sweden), Jo Nesbo (Norway), Mike Nichol (S Africa). Because murder happens to non-English speakers as well.

What’s next for you?

The sequel, A Spring Betrayal, is with my agent and publisher, both of whom are very encouraging, and I’m plotting the third book now. Both of them feature Akyl Borubaev. A Killing Winter is already out in German, UK paperback and US publication is in the autumn, and Spanish and Portuguese editions follow next year.

Give me some advice about writing…

Don’t talk about it  –  nothing diminishes the desire to write as quickly as having told everybody the story. Read a lot. I mean a LOT. Read every day. Write every day. Ask for criticism, not praise; that’s what mirrors are for.

Follow Kingsley Amis’ advice: apply the seat of your trousers to the seat of your chair. Learn to spell and use grammar correctly; if you can’t make yourself clearly understood, how is your reader going to cope? Love one genre, but explore others; everything is an ingredient, to use or not, as you see fit.

Try not to be afraid of the blank page/screen, but don’t be over-confident either.

The Intel: Nicholas Kaufmann

Nicholas KaufmannOne of the joys of being a commissioned writer is that sometimes you get to play in someone else’s sandbox. Nicholas Kaufmann is the author of Hunt At World’s End, one of the popular Gabriel Hunt series.

Created by Charles Ardai, Hunt is a world traveler and man of action, a strapping six-footer who travels with a classic six-shooter in a holster on his hip and has an insatiable hunger for discovery. He’s an old-school Pulp hero, one of those Saturday morning serial guys who travels to far-flung corners to find lost cities and artefacts. All the Gabriel Hunt novels are available right now from Titan Books.

Nick is a Bram Stoker Award-nominated writer and a member of the International Thriller Writers. He’s kindly agreed to give us the intel on Hunt, the importance of persevering  as a writer and how to travel the world from the safety of your office chair…

Tell us about Gabriel Hunt…

I think Gabriel Hunt could best be described as the spiritual offspring of Indiana Jones, Doc Savage, and Allan Quatermain. Maybe with a little James Bond thrown in, given his contacts and almost limitless resources, thanks to the Hunt Foundation that bankrolls his exploits. He’s a two-fisted, shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later adventurer who excels at finding trouble as frequently as he finds exotic artifacts and lost treasure. But he’s not just some dumb bruiser. He’s got a sharp, strategic mind, too, and a great deal of compassion for the underdog. Also, judging from his companions in the six books of the series, he has a way with the ladies.

Why, in this day and age, are we so attracted to devil may care heroes like Gabriel?

That’s an excellent question. I suspect the attraction is less about the devil may care attitude and more about the freedom of Gabriel Hunt’s life. Most of us live very regimented lives. We get up at the same time every day, follow the same morning routine, take the same route to work, do the same things at work that we did yesterday and the day before, then take the same route home, eat dinner, watch some TV, go to bed, and do it all again exactly the same the next day.

Gabriel Hunt’s life is different from ours. If he gets a whim to travel to an exotic location in search of a lost civilization, he does it. For the rest of us that’s just a daydream, but for him it’s within reach. I think that’s why readers are attracted to these kinds of heroes. They live the lives we only dream about. Of course, in the end that’s probably for the best. I don’t think I would personally be very good at swinging on a vine across a bottomless chasm while bad guys shoot at me. I’m much better at sitting at a desk and writing about it. It’s a lot safer, too.

At World’s End is a rollicking action-adventure – what’s the secret of writing action?

Action scenes are my favourite scenes to write. I find them absolutely joyful, even if terrible things are happening, because the momentum speeds up, takes on a life of its own, and keeps going. The days when I write action scenes are the days when my word count impresses me instead of depresses me. But the secret to writing action? I’d have to say the answer would be to plot the scene out first. Even with leaving room for improvisation, which is where the real magic of creativity occurs, you’re going to want to know most of the parameters of the scene before you start. Will it be a long sequence or a short one? Will there be fighting involved, and will it involve weapons or fists? If it’s a chase scene, how much ground do you want them to cover?

But of course the most important consideration of all is this: What do you want the scene to accomplish? A good chase scene is great, but a good chase scene that reveals important plot or character points along the way, or that helps the reader better understand the setting by having your heroes being pursued through it, is even better. For me, it also helps to think of an action scene as a set piece. It’s thrilling to have a shoot out in a dark city alley, but it can be even more thrilling to have it on a swaying rope bridge. Or a speeding train. Or on horseback. Of course, the tone of your story is important in determining all of this, too. If you’re writing a back-alley noir, it’s probably best to avoid rope bridges and trap-filled temples and keep events to shady, urban settings. But even then, set pieces still work great. You’ve got all sorts of seedy locations you can use, from strip joints to dive bars to vacant tenement buildings.

Whatever works for what you’re writing. Just make sure you know 1) where the action scene is going so you don’t write yourself into a corner, and 2) what, besides simple excitement, it is intended to accomplish.

Hunt At World's EndGabriel travels the globe in his adventures – how do you get the spirit of a place that perhaps you yourself have never visited?

Well, I’ve never been to Borneo, but a good chunk of the novel takes place there. Same with Turkey. The best thing to do, short of spending your savings on a plane ticket, is research it. Research is your friend. Research will tell you a lot more than the population size and major exports of a place. It’ll tell you about the culture, what people do and eat and wear and believe.

The best thing about research, though, is discovering the little gems you never knew about your topic but that work perfectly for the story, or add just the right dash of authenticity to sell the rest of it. It also helps enormously to look at pictures of the place you’re writing about. Technology like Google Image Search makes it easier than ever before to see pictures of far away lands that can give you a real feel for the place.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I don’t write all day like some other authors I know, nor do I do much writing in the morning. I can barely write an email before three cups of coffee, let alone a chapter. My best writing is done in the afternoon, or in the evening if I can, though that’s rare these days. I write from home occasionally, but I’ve found it can be very distracting to be home all day. I start thinking about errands that need to get done, or washing the dishes, or cleaning the litter box. Also, when I’m by myself there’s no one around to keep me honest, so I’m likely to spend more time than usual surfing the Internet or sneaking in an episode or two of a TV show on Netflix.

So a few years ago I decided to start leaving my apartment to do my writing in the main branch of the New York Public Library. It’s such a beautiful building, so inspiring and breathtaking and stimulating that I really love working there. I love that lots of other people go there to work as well, because that keeps me honest. I can’t slack off in front of other people! So I’ll write at the library for between four and six hours, then come back home in the evening. I’m one of the only full-time writers I know with a commute, but I’m really enjoying having the brain-adjustment time between home and work. The commute also gives me more reading time, which I appreciate.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

There are so many it’s almost impossible for me to narrow it down to the single hardest! If pressed, though, I’d say the hardest lesson about writing is just how often your work will get rejected. You can’t go into this business with a thin skin because rejection is part of the game. It’s not just a rite of passage; it happens continually throughout a writer’s career. Even the best writers still get their work rejected from time to time. It can be hard, though. I don’t know of any other business except maybe acting where rejection is such a constant cost of doing business. Some writers can’t handle it; they give up and stop writing. Others start making really bad business decisions out of a fear of rejection, such as signing with terrible micropresses that accept anything or just throwing their book up onto Kindle and hoping someone will notice it.

The key to success in this business is perseverance, plain and simple. Just keep writing. I believe that every word you write makes you a better writer, so if you keep writing, keep working at it, you get better and better until finally your work isn’t being rejected nearly as much. Just keep in mind that to be a writer you will have to deal with rejection throughout your career. It’s best you know that up front so there won’t be any surprises.

How do you deal with feedback?

I love feedback, but only from people whose opinions I respect. I’m not going to pay attention to a snotty, one-star review on Amazon, for instance. I wouldn’t even call something like that feedback, really. And that goes double for snotty, one-star reviews where the author can’t spell or doesn’t have even a passing knowledge of grammar. But good feedback—which isn’t necessarily the same as positive feedback—is something I relish. I’ve been workshopping my fiction with a group of other authors in the New York City area for over ten years now. They’re all accomplished authors who work I admire and whose opinions I respect. Without them, I’m convinced I wouldn’t be half as good a writer as I am today.

I highly, highly recommend authors put together their own workshops with other authors they like and respect, or at the very least that they get a first reader or two. Other eyes on your work will reveal plot holes and character issues that your own eyes can’t see. When we write something, our brains tend to think everything important is on the page when in fact it may not be. That’s why first readers are so important. They catch all the missing stuff and the bits that don’t make sense.

In terms of reviews, well, my philosophy is to believe the good reviews and call the very act of reviewing into question for the bad ones. I think I’m like pretty much every other writer that way.

Who are the pulp authors you admire, and why?

I don’t read a lot of pulp, actually. I certainly admire groundbreaking authors like H. Rider Haggard, Robert E. Howard, Mickey Spillane, Ian Fleming, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler—especially Raymond Chandler—all of whom were called pulp at one time, but I feel like the term “pulp” has qualitative connotations, as if it is somehow lesser than other kinds of writing. Disposable and unimportant. It’s not. Honestly, I’m just as happy reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita as I am reading Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, and though there are obvious differences between the two, I don’t subscribe to the theory that the authors deserve different labels.

Give me some advice about writing…

I’ll start by repeating what I said above: Perseverance, perseverance, perseverance! Keep writing. Keep working at becoming a better writer. Creativity is like any other muscle, it gets stronger the more you use it. And don’t be afraid to submit your work. Agents and publishers aren’t going to come knocking on your door asking if you have anything for them. You need to send it to them. Every agent and publisher wants to find the next big thing. It could be you, but how will they know if they don’t get to see your work?

What’s next for you?

The second book of an urban fantasy-noir series I’m writing for St. Martin’s is out. It’s called Die and Stay Dead, the sequel to last year’s Dying Is My Business. It’s about a thief for a Brooklyn crime syndicate who discovers he can’t stay dead, although every time he cheats death someone else has to die in his place. I’m very excited about the series. I’m working on book three now. If the first two books do well enough, you should see book three, which is tentatively titled Only the Dead Sleep, out in 2015.

As for Gabriel Hunt books, I don’t know if Charles Ardai, the mad genius behind the series, is planning to produce more than the six novels already out there, but if he does I hope he’ll give me a call again. I loved spending time in Gabriel Hunt’s world and I would visit it again.

Nicholas has got a terrific blog full of news and scary stuff. You can check it out right here.

The Intel: M.P. Wright

M.P. Wright

M.P. Wright’s crime novel Heartman is published in a few short days – we reviewed it earlier in the week, of course. You can see that by scrolling down, or if that’s too much effort, click here. I’m happy to say that Mark’s been kind enough to give us the Intel on where the inspiration for the book came from, and on his writing regime. He’s got some really interesting things to say about the hanging in there during the submissions process, and the importance of literary agents. So check this out…

Tell us about JT Ellington…

Joseph Tremaine Ellington is 42 year old Barbadian, who has recently emigrated from his home island in the Caribbean, and has reluctantly settled in the St Pauls district of Bristol. Ellington had been a serving police Sargeant with the Barbados Police Force; he’s a widower and a man with closely guarded secrets. It’s the winter of 1965 and JT finds himself out of work, broke and about to be thrown out on the street by his landlord. The word around St Pauls is the Ellington is an ex copper and that he’s generally bad luck to be around, he’s distrusted by many in his own community and he doesn’t enamour himself with the Bristol police force when he goes head to head with them either.

He’s not your traditional private investigator. JT’s not looking to become a detective, far from it. He just wants work. The job is forced upon him by necessity. He needs food in his belly and a roof over his head, its as simple as that. When we first meet him on a snowy evening, he’s nursing an empty beer glass in a local back street pub searching for work along the ‘job’ columns of the Bristol Evening Post. Desperation forces Ellington to undertake a missing person’s inquiry for local Jamaican Alderman, Earl Linney; it’s not long before JT soon finds himself being dragged into a murky underworld of local vice, corruption and kidnapping.

Where did the inspiration for Heartman come from? 

The origins for Heartman and my Bajan detective, J T Ellington have been hanging around at the back of my head for a good ten years. I’d written for twenty years and done nothing with it. I wrote all kinds of stuff, plays, poetry, screenplays. Heartman was originally titled, ‘Rock a Bye Blues’ and from the beginning I’d got a three book story arc that I had mapped out very clearly in my mind I knew I wanted to create a character that had not been seen too much in the UK crime fiction arena. Reginald Hill had created a series of novels in the early 1990’s which featured Joe Sixsmith, a black private detective who walks the mean streets of Luton. I loved the humour of those books but I wanted to put my own mark by showing a grittier and very much flawed character.

Ellington is certainly a close cousin to many of the US noir detectives of the 40’s, 50’s & 60’s and my admiration of characters such as Lew Archer, Phillip Marlowe and Travis McGee is evident in my writing. My own writing has certainly found a degree of inspiration from the crime writers who I’ve been reading for the past 35 years or more; writer’s such as Ross MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Chester Himes, James M Cain and Walter Mosley, James Lee Burke, Ted Lewis, Phillip Kerr and Phillip Kerr to name but a few.

You’ve stated that the book owes a debt to the American crime writer James Lee Burke – what is it about his books that you really like? 

Jim Burke’s writing has been a great inspiration to me and his books have been constant literary companions of mine for over twenty years. If I had to condense the reasons why I adore his work so much I’d have to say that it’s foremost the sense of compassion that he injects into his writing. Burke’s much more than a crime writer and his novels say so much both about the American way of life now, in the 21st century and in its historical past. He’s a true master at evocating strong emotions in the reader and there’s no one like him for offering up a solid sense of ‘real’ time & place.

Louisiana State belongs to Jim Burke, and there is a passion represented in the crime novels for both the fading Cajun and Creole lifestyles that he grew up with and the emergence of a new, modern Southern state that is far removed from his own childhood. Burke voices such important social issues and fears in his detective Dave Robicheaux, surely one of the truly great fictional US detectives.

Why did you choose to set Heartman in 1960s Bristol?

Heartman was originally set out as a TV script, set within the Caribbean community, here in my home city of Leicester. Whilst I love both the city and county I was born in; there simply wasn’t the vastness of scope both logistically and historically – Bristol however hit all the markers. My Partner, Jen, is from Bristol, I fell in love with the city. It’s a port city and even though you are not to near it, you feel close to the sea when you walk its streets. The city has strong ties historically to the West Indies, trade and commerce being one of them and for a long time, sadly, slavery. It was those factual and historical dynamics that drew me to the city and importantly,

Ellington’s new home in St Pauls. The city, beautiful and vibrant as it is today also has a strong historical feeling of the mysterious and slightly dangerous. I like to think of the place as I set it in the 1960’s being a kin to the West Country version of the ‘City of Angels’.

You’re the Writer in Residence at your local pub – how did that come about?

The simple answer is my love of beer, or real ale, to be exact. I’d always written ideas whilst partaking in a pint at the local pub – and as Colin Dexter wrote of, Morse: “When I drink, I think. And when I have to think, I have to drink.”

That’s not to say I write an entire book down the boozer, far from it. The Salmon is a three-times CAMRA award winning pub. It’s atmospheric and it’s also the perfect place to note down ideas. Later this year, after Heartman’s sequel is in the bag, I intend to start creative writing workshops at the pub, get writers in and combine good real ale with good writing. As a note, the pubs in Heartman are all still about and I’ve drank in all of them.

Heartman - M.P. WrightTake us through a typical writing day for you…

I start early, around 7.30am. Once our dogs are walked across the fields and home is spotless, I’m good to go. Heartman is a 60’s set novel and I find I need to be in a certain mindset to work in that defined era. I need to be there whilst I’m writing, walk those streets and hear the characters talk to me. So mobile phones are a no-no and I see and speak to no one whilst I write. I also act out the dialogue, (crazy, I know – but it’s a writers thing, honest). I find that I don’t need an audience to be doing that, so I’m grateful that home is ‘empty’, but for the dogs whilst I work.

Music is important to me. I play the tracks I’m using in the book whilst I write. I’ve also collected film music for 30 years. Soundtracks make good working companions, I find them very inspiring. I make notes, plotlines, story arcs and character descriptions in my faithful Moleskine journal and write at my laptop, often until late into the night. 

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

I know it’s said that there is a ‘book in everyone.’ Perhaps there is, but I don’t believe writing’s for everyone. Being an author a solitary existence at times and can be all consuming whilst you are working. That said, it’s also a real privilege to write ‘full time’ and I truly wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I do think the need to write is something that’s in your soul. You just have to do it. Can it be taught? Personally, I don’t think so. Creative writing classes have there merits, critiquing your work with fellow writers being probably the most important one and just being around others creatively is another. But for me true writing is both a discipline and strangely enough, a gift. It’s my job and I’m lucky to do it.

That said, I’m very self critical and will write and rewrite a line till my head throbs and my fingers are numb. I think that’s true of most writers, but I also think those of us that are writing professionally, for a living as it were, realise that your work impacts greatly on others. If I don’t commit to producing my very best writing then that has a direct impact on both the financial and commercial reputations of my publisher, literary agent, my editor, the press and PR department etc.

Ultimately our writing pays the wages and mortgages of others as well as our own. It’s something creative writing students need to recognise when they are looking to get published and wanting to ‘Live The Dream’. Publishing is still very much a ‘Team’ industry. Loose cannons need not apply. It’s all about working together to bring in the best book possible to the reader. That for me is the ultimate goal.

How do you deal with feedback?

As I wrote previously, critiquing your work is vital. Writing commercially is all about hard knocks. I’m not precious about my work. You find that when you get yourself an editor, being precious about your writing won’t help you with what should be you’re most important ‘shared’ creative process. My editor, Karyn Millar, at Black & White was a star. I have nothing but admiration for her skill and talent. She has such a keen eye. She was so precise in her methods of editing and suggestions on Heartman. As soon as I started working with her, I just knew it was right. I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else editorially. Hopefully Karyn’s stuck with me for a while yet.

My only other advice is to ‘Get a Thick Skin’ real quick, especially if you get to the submissions stage, which can be soul destroying if you allow it to be.

I have a number of personal submission stories that could put some blossoming writers from putting pen to paper ever again. Those stories are best not for print.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing? 

I think that all writers draw from personal experiences and from their daily lives. Professionally, I’ve worked within the kind of dark environments that have certainly had an impact on my own writing. I’ve been around a fair few ‘unusual characters’ in my time. None of those characters will ever enter my books, I know that for sure. Truth in my case has always been stranger and sadder than fiction. Imagination is all important. I take facets of a personality, nothing more.

That said one of the characters in Heartman is named after my old boss. He’s a man whom I admire greatly and who taught me so much. In that case using his name was more a dedication than anything else. They say, ‘Write about What You Know’ and that’s very true, it must though be metered out with a strong sense of ones one imagination and creativity.

Give me some advice about writing…

I think all writers need to start off at one very important point…

Tell the world, “I Am a Writer”, then and most importantly, have the courage of your vocal convictions and believe in your words. As I wrote early, writing is a discipline and to achieve any commercial success takes time, sometimes a very long time. I can honestly say, that I didn’t not wish to write to become ‘famous’ or to sign autographs. I never gave it a thought. I just had to write.

The worst thing I did was not to tell anyone, as I have just advised. I hid my writing for many years. The best thing I ever did was to say simply when asked what I did for a living was to simply reply, “I’m a writer’ It was a very liberating feeling, I can tell you.

It’s not easy to get noticed in the publishing world, so what you write has to be different, you need an individual voice and that’s very important. It’s no good looking at ‘what’s flavour of the day’ in the industry. Times change very quickly in publishing, be aware of that as a writer. Editors and publishing houses want a number of very simple things when looking at new writers, can they tell a good story that’s well written and can they sell your work out in the big wide world. It may be harsh, but it’s true. If you are gonna sit at a desk for 8 hours or more each day, writing your book then my advice is to make sure that your work is both original and attention grabbing.

Patience is another factor. Publishers take time to make decisions on a new writer. Their commitment to you in the future costs them cash. Their investment has to be spot on. Get used to rejection. All writers get it. It’s all very much part of the writing process. What don’t kill you… etc.

Lastly, and this is only my opinion, is the importance of having a literary agent to represent you. I can only speak from a personal perspective here. My agent, the wonderful, Phil Patterson at Marjacq Scripts has been integral to my finding the right home for Heartman. A literary agent can do so much for a writer and Phil has been so important in my early career. I’m sure they’ll be many writers reading this that will say, “I don’t need a literary agent to get my book out there.” Those writers are welcome to their opinions, but as far as I’m concerned my agent paved the way for me. He made the journey to becoming a published writer so much easier.

What’s next for you?

At the moment, I’m just finishing the final edits to Heartman’s sequel, All Through the Night. My editor has just received the first 20 Chapters to dip into. Always a nervous time waiting to hear back. Heartman’s publishing on July 1st, so it’s a busy time with PR and future arrangements for signings and launches.

This Autumn I’ll be writing a script for a new TV drama followed by the third J T Ellington novel in the winter of this year and early spring of 2015. It’s an exciting time, I’m very lucky and I still have to pinch myself to believe it’s all really happening to me…