Tag Archives: James Ellroy

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: Karim Miské

Karim MiskéLast week we reviewed Karim Miské’s freewheeling novel Arab Jazz, which won France’s top crime fiction award in 2012, the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. Since then his thriller — about the murder of a young woman amid the simmering tensions between faiths in the multicultural 19th arrondissement of Paris — has gained a shocking new aspect in the light of the recent attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher supermarket in Paris. In this absolutely fascinating interview, writer, documentary film-maker and journalist Miské discusses radicalisation, identity, Marcel Proust and the extraordinary success of his debut novel.

Arab Jazz takes its name from the James Ellroy novel ‘White Jazz’ — and despite its obvious lyricism it’s very much a crime novel… have you always wanted to write in the genre?

I’ve always wanted to write. When I was thirteen, I knew that I’d write a book, one day. What kind of book? I didn’t have a clue. Then, in college, I played for some time with the idea of becoming a genre writer. My model was Jean-Patrick Manchette, the best French crime novelist of the 20th century in my opinion. But in my thirties, I read La Recherche and became more or less obsessed with the idea of becoming the new Marcel Proust. After all, he was half Jewish in a strongly antisemitic society, I was half Arab in a very racist society. Like him, I felt like an undercover alien. Then I came to understand that it was a dead end. Marcel Proust was perfect; there was no need for a new one.

It’s not until I turned 41 (I wish it had been 42, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, but no, it was 41) that I began writing a paragraph about a strange guy named Ahmed. For a very long time, I totally refused to admit that I was writing a crime novel, which is quite strange because this Ahmed guy, the main character of the story, was living a studio flat of which the walls had disappeared behind four layers of detective novels piled up in stacks. As if it was not enough, his neighbour had been assassinated and he was the main suspect! But, no no, I was not writing a Noir. I guess I needed to be in denial to be able to make a very personal use of the genre instead of being absorbed by it.

Tell us about your protagonist Ahmed Taroudant…

Ahmed could be seen as a social misfit. He doesn’t talk to anyone, lives on state subsidies because his depression is so deep that the doctors consider him disabled. He is a day dreamer; literally, his dreams are powerful enough to send him hundreds and thousands of miles away, right in the middle of the desert where his ancestors come from. His memories are so horrific and painful that he needs to replace them with invented horrible stories, that’s why he reads and reads and reads all these thrillers.

He is definitely not adapted to the time and place he lives in: although most of the people surrounding him think of them as Jews or Muslims, as Blacks, Arabs or Berbers, Ahmed doesn’t care. Identity or religion are of no importance to him. Once he wakes up from his long nightmare, he’ll understand, at last, that love is what he is looking for.

Arab Jazz addresses the rise of fundamentalism among alienated young men in Paris – do you think the book would be very different if you had written it after the recent terrible events in the city?

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher supermarket where indeed a shock but not really a surprise. After Mohamed Merah murdered French servicemen and Jewish kids in cold blood three years ago, everybody knew that something of the kind would happen again. I think that I would invent the same type of story, were I to write it today. And actually that’s what I did at the time: I got the inspiration for the small Salafist cell in Arab Jazz from the Buttes-Chaumont Jihadi network (the one to which the Kouachi brothers belonged), because it happened in the 19th arrondissement and I read articles about the trial while writing the book. But instead of a Jihadi story, I decided to invent something more personal.

Arab JazzHow have readers reacted to the book in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks?

Some readers have been writing to me through Facebook after the attacks. Here’s what two of them said. (Both of North-African descent):

  • “I plunged back into Arab Jazz … so prescient … Their war is underway. When I see the faces of the Kouachi brother I see exactly the characters in your book.”
  • “In connection with the sad events of yesterday, were you inspired by the “Buttes Chaumont cell?”
  • Yes, indeed! I wrote the book at that time.
  • “In order to explain to my mother, how youngsters are being radicalized, I took the example of the memories that I had of your novel.”

Ahmed is very much a young man who is striving to reconnect with society – do you think that’s a challenge that will very much preoccupy France and Europe in the coming years?

I like to think of Ahmed as a very unique character but, yes, this challenge will preoccupy all of us for some time. Because it’s becoming more and more difficult to develop the feeling of belonging to a society which think of you as a 5th column, an interior enemy. Today, at a newsstand I saw an ad for L’Express, a French news magazine. The title was: “The Republic facing Islam”. Imagine that you are a young French Muslim walking the streets of Paris or Marseille on a sunny afternoon, happy because you’re going to have a coffee with friends, and you suddenly see this poster. How are you supposed to react to that? How can you imagine that there is a future for you in this society?

There’s a playlist of songs mentioned in the narrative in the back of the book – do you listen to music as you write?

It depends. If I’m in a café like today, I put on my headphones and launch my favourite playlist with 24 hours of music. Sometimes, I take a break, add new songs, delete old ones. But if I’m home, it depends on the state of mind I’m in, and it can evolve very quickly. Sometimes, I listen to half a song and stop it, because I just need silence. Sometimes, I can listen to my playlist for hours.

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

I had to write Arab Jazz two times. The first time I finished the book, I knew that something was wrong. The story was simply not working. So I had to write it again, from the beginning. I guess I had learnt a good lesson: don’t go too quickly. Don’t be over-satisfied.

How do you deal with feedback?

It’s always interesting. At the beginning, some reactions can be hard to swallow, but it’s very important to accept to seen by others. It’s necessary if one wants to progress.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

They are so many. Jean-Patrick Manchette, Honoré de Balzac, James Ellroy, Marguerite Yourcenar, Salman Rushdie, Brett Easton-Ellis, Frantz Fanon, George Orwell, Philip Roth… I’m not going to write all their names down, it would be too long. All the writers I admire expose themselves to what Michel Leiris called “The horn of the bull”. Because literature is a dangerous place, not a comfortable one. Writing can give you a lot of pleasure, of course, but no security.

Give me some advice about writing…

Read a lot. Choose what you read carefully because it will influence your writing. Be patient, you can’t hurry inspiration. Find a good reader. Don’t expect to earn a living with this activity. If it happens it will be a wonderful surprise, but it seldom happens. And when you’re ready, descend into the arena. Face your inner bull.

How do you follow a book that has already won France’s top crime fiction award?

That is the question. It was really cool to receive this award of course, but very intimidating at the same time. Now, everybody is asking me when the next book is going to be published and I have not yet begun writing it. Well, to be honest, I have almost finished writing an essay on identity (how surprising), so, the next book should actually be published by the end of the year in France. Maybe that’s my way of undermining the challenge: writing an essay instead of a novel. But the novel will be written. I’m beginning to know the story, and it feels good.

The Intel: Luke McCallin

Luke McCallin’s debut novel The Man From Berlin offers a unique take on the World War II conflict – moving away from the Holocaust, D-Day landings and British Home Front and turning to murderous events in Sarajevo, Bosnia.  It follows military Intelligence officer, Captain Gregor Reinhardt, as he investigates the brutal murders of a beautiful socialite and a German officer, threading a careful route through a minefield of political, military and personal agendas.

Published by No Exit, The Man From Berlin has drawn comparison with Philip Kerr, Dan Fesperman, CJ Sansom and Martin Cruz Smith. The first of a planned series about Reinhardt, it’s out now as a paperback, or ready to download to your Device from here.

Luke’s work is imbued with his experience working for the UN as a humanitarian. He’s been incredibly generous with his answers for The Intel. He talks about how Reinhardt walked into his dreams, about the evolution of The Man From Berlin, his writing process and his best-ever moment between the posts…

Luke McCallinTell us about Gregor Reinhardt…

Gregor Reinhardt is a German intelligence officer, a former Berlin detective chased out of the police by the Nazis. When you first find him in The Man From Berlin, he is haunted by what he has seen, tortured by recurring nightmares, wearing the uniform of an army he despises, and has ever fewer reasons to live.

He is a son, a soldier, a husband, a father, a friend, a policeman, a patriot… He is all of those things, and not defined by one of them more than another. He is a man formed by his times. He is a man much like any other. Sometimes strong, sometimes weak. Sometimes able to do the right thing, and sometimes too scared to. Sometimes shaped by events, sometimes able to shape them to him. Sometimes introspective to the point of paralysis, but with the intelligence to see past the veil of illusion and propaganda that has been pulled across his time, and thus perfectly aware of how his inactivity and fear make him complicit in the spiral of chaos around him.

Someone once said they would cross the road to talk to Henry V, or King Lear, but they wouldn’t cross the room to talk to Hamlet. I like to think Reinhardt’s a bit like that. He’s Hamlet. He feels his times very keenly. He feels his own inadequacies more keenly still. What I wanted to do in creating and writing Reinhardt was to find a way to look at a tempestuous and tendentious period of history, to create a character and make people think that he could be you. An ordinary man in extraordinary times, still trying to behave and believe in what makes sense, but so painfully aware of his own fears and limitations, and still knowing what is right and what is wrong. If you give someone like that an opportunity to do something, be someone, what would he do? What would you do…?

So, if you crossed that proverbial room — maybe at a reception or a cocktail party — if you got him to loosen up and talk to you, if he trusted you enough, he’d have quite a bit to say about himself, and his times. I think you would find him interesting. Somewhat taciturn, with a dry sense of humour and very self-deprecating, and I think you would find yourself opening up to him in turn.

Why do we find compromised heroes so compelling?

I suppose at its simplest, a compromised hero is someone who is not where they would otherwise want to be. As readers, we want someone to root for: someone who has something to lose. As an author, I want my character to move, and grow, but if we take ourselves as examples, our growth and development as people — as human beings — is not linear. But what works, or even doesn’t work, in life does not always work on the page. You have to come up with a character and a journey that lets you start at one point, and finish at another, and that allows you to show how the character has grown and changed.

In Reinhardt’s case, he is an officer in an army he detests, and he is a man who has allowed his fear to overcome his sense of wrong and right. He is compromised by his inaction, and by his participation — however unwilling — in the war, but however low he feels or thinks he is, there is always lower to go. He knows that, so the watchwords to Reinhardt’s character and story are probably ‘change’ and ‘consequence.’ Reinhardt’s story is a thread woven into a tapestry of a continent in upheaval. He goes through those times initially just trying to keep his head above water and survive, but he changes. It’s impossible not to. I think you have to make people interested in those changes, interested in the consequences of those changes, and you have to make people believe Reinhardt has something to bring to the table, so to say. You need to make people care about him, and to survive is not enough.

Where did the inspiration for The Man From Berlin come from?

It may sound clichéd, but Gregor Reinhardt walked into my dreams one night, and then sat quietly to one side for months and years, not saying much, not doing much, just waiting for me to find the time and the courage to start writing his story.

I was a political advisor to the United Nations mission in Bosnia when Reinhardt appeared. I worked with people from all walks of Bosnian life. With policemen and judges and lawyers, with mayors and town councilors, with priests and imams, with refugees and people still living in ruins, with war criminals and those who survived them, with those who had lived the war and those who fled from it, with women holding families together, and men who had fallen adrift of life. I began to build up a collage in my mind. I kept wondering, asking myself, what would I have done in their place, and I began weaving that human and historical tapestry, which is one of the most complex and fascinating you can imagine, into a story, and then into a book, albeit into another time, that of the Second World War, and the book had at its heart a man on the edge of despair at what his life had become, and his name was Gregor Reinhardt.

The Man From BerlinYou’ve described the city of Sarajevo as an iconic character in the book – what is it about the city that made you want to write about it?

Setting Reinhardt’s story in the Balkans was actually a late decision. The novels were originally to be set in Berlin, a city I’ve never visited and about which I know practically nothing. I spent years trying to research it, until I had something of a road to Damascus moment and Sarajevo offered itself up as a location instead.

Immediately, so many things fell into place. The story made more sense, I could say so much more about the themes I wanted to develop, and describe a city and people I have deep, deep affection for. I could entice readers with the promise of adventure in the Balkans — a part of the world known to most as a by-word for intrigue, or treachery — so it was a chance to show readers another side of that region. It was also to make readers more keenly interested in the characters. They’d have to be tough or resourceful to survive the Balkans, right?!

It was also because I think that with mysteries, time and place are almost characters in and of themselves. I spent six years working in Bosnia, and you can’t live there or in Sarajevo for long without it seeping into you. As much as it’s an overused analogy, Bosnia and Sarajevo really are historical and cultural crossroads, and are so contested. They defy any simple explanation, just like the finest puzzle or book or question. No matter the need to reduce and simplify them, there’s no one way to read or play them, and a place and time like that gives you so many options as an author: for drama, action, reflection; for asking big questions and trying out the answers to them.

What’s next for Reinhardt?

My original conception of Reinhardt’s stories was an initial set of three stories, a trilogy, each novel focusing on a particular theme (and I’m pretty sure my (un)conscious choice of a trilogy was influenced by all the fantasy novels I read!) The Man From Berlin was about redemption. The Pale House was about resistance. The third novel, which I’m writing now, will be about reconciliation. That novel will complete the initial Reinhardt trilogy. The fourth novel will be set in Reinhardt’s past, during the First World War, and will tell the story of an investigation in the trenches. I’ve always wanted to write a WWI novel, and I think Reinhardt will let me say some of the things I’ve always wanted to say about it.

I know there are at least half a dozen stories, including the two I’ve written so far, that contain specific things I want to say about Reinhardt the character, and his times and places. Places are very important to me. Like I said, they’re characters in their own right. That comes from my background, growing up in Africa, and my work with the UN. I’m fascinated by places, what they can do to you… I’ve ideas for novels in pre-WWII Paris, in Marseille, in Berlin, and even an idea for a Reinhardt novel in Panama!

You’ve traveled widely in your life – how do you think that has influenced your writing?

More than the travelling, it’s living and working in many places. I was born in Oxford to parents that had a humanitarian vocation. We moved to Africa when I was five. My father worked for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and my mother did work with child soldiers. That upbringing was inspirational, and engendered in me a desire to do something similar. I’ve worked for a range of UN organisations around the world, and now work for the UN based in Geneva. All the places I’ve lived and worked — in Africa, in Russia, in Haiti, in Pakistan, in the Balkans, especially — taught me something, or I saw something, or felt something. About what happens to people — ordinary people — put in extraordinary situations.

I’ve seen a lot of human suffering and violence, but also a lot of human dignity and kindness, and we can too easily forget about the latter when faced with the former. I feel compelled — inspired, if you like — to give voice to those impressions, feelings and observations. That’s not to say my writing’s about those places, although my first two books were set in WWII Sarajevo, but those experiences taught me a lot about how people can act in such situations. There is so much dignity and so much anguish in the human situation when confronted with war or natural disaster. No one really asks to become a war criminal, or to get conscripted, or deny other humans their basic human rights, or to try and raise a family in a refugee camp, but it happens. And at the same time, as we see right now in Ukraine, it does not take much for people to move so far so fast from the paths their lives were taking: for postmen, for bakers, for bank clerks, for miners to become gunmen, to become warlords, for them to turn on their neighbours of decades and believe the worst of them, to expect the worse of them, and so to mete out the worst before it befalls them.

What does it take for a man to turn on his neighbour? What does it take for another man to stand up for someone? Trying to understand the human motivations or conditions in all that, that’s what inspires me to write. I’ve found that no amount of work that we, as humanitarian workers, can ever really do will suffice to overcome those impulses. You are always going to be frustrated in what you achieve, to only get halfway to where you want to be, and often — far too often — the guilty get away with it. I think with my writing I’m trying to find some way of coming to terms with that. I don’t write about white knights on white horses — Gregor Reinhardt is certainly not one of those — but I try to ask those questions that seem to haunt me, and I try to find answers, and a sense of closure.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

If only I had one! I have a full time job and a family so my writing time often ends up being done in the dogwatches. Curtailed, as Dr Maturin said in one of the O’Brien books! I try to do a bit each day, if only an hour, and it’s mostly in the evenings, but I recently started a new job with a lot more responsibilities. I’m finishing each day a lot more mentally fatigued than I used to, so the energy to write is not quite there even if the time is.

I get quite a bit done at weekends, usually when I’ve set up all the props. That would be black tea, by the litre, and some music! I like quiet, but only relative. I work to music a lot. I have a particular soft spot for West African music, especially music from Mali. I used to work in Mali and it’s a musical goldmine, a gift that keeps on giving!

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Harper Lee, Erich Maria Remarque, Vasily Grossman, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Isaac Babel were great influences who found and rendered the human amidst tumultuous backdrops. Cormac McCarthy and Peter Mathiessen are extraordinary modern American writers, with the first volume in the latter’s Shadow Country trilogy a master class in story-telling from multiple viewpoints, replete with ambiguity and with the ‘truth’ held tantalisingly just out of reach, just like real life. Mathiessen is also a writer who exposes the truth of a place, and I admire the way he is able to show many of the realities beneath the American dream, and put in perspective — and to sometimes hold dearer as a result — all that has been built in that country.

I admire Sebastian Barry for the lyricism of his writing, such that I’m sure he has to be the reincarnation of an Irish bard! Rosemary Sutcliffe’s books (she always said she wrote for children aged eight to eighty!) about Roman Britain were magical, almost fairy tales, and her descriptions of Britain’s beauty and wildness were and are inspiring. Hilary Mantel, Patrick O’Brien and Alexander Fullerton I love for the sheer depth of their historical research and, particularly for O’Brien, the sheer beauty of his writing and the creation, in Aubrey and Maturin, of one of the best fictional double-acts ever.

Growing up, it was science fiction and fantasy I read most. Tolkien, CS Lewis, and Stephen Donaldson, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, then Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Scott Lynch and R. Scott Bakker. I love all the world-building that goes into science fiction and fantasy, the intricacy of it. As much as I read a lot of history and current affairs, I don’t have a particular favourite writer of it — I tend to focus on periods or themes, more than authors — but AJP Taylor was, and remains, immensely readable. Joe Sacco’s graphic novels about Palestine, Goražde, and WWI are works of art as well as works of political analysis and conscience. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel changed the way I look at the world, as did Mike Hulme’s Why We Disagree About Climate Change. Hew Strachan’s work on the First World War is magisterial. The Washing of the Spears and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee are classics that look at different instances of the imperial experience. The Isles is the single best book I know about Britain.

I’m reading a lot of crime, espionage and mystery, partly to familiarise myself as this was never the genre I thought I would write in! There are the giants like Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, Len Deighton and John Le Carré. Then the contemporary authors I’ve discovered are Philip Kerr (of course!), William Ryan, Alan Furst, and David Downing. Seeing as I’m fascinated by what places and times can do to you, I especially like James McClure’s Kramer and Zondi series about a pair of detectives in apartheid South Africa.

Give me some advice about writing…

There’s a suitably acerbic anecdote from Ernest Hemingway that fits this question. Once asked what the best training for an aspiring writer would be, he replied: “Let’s say that he should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of the hanging to commence with.

Write, and don’t be afraid to write badly, or with difficulty because, as someone once told me, there are no good writers, there are only good re-writers. Just write. Don’t wait for the perfect idea, or the most ingenious plot. Don’t be afraid to show what you’ve done, and show it widely. Writing is a lonely business, so it’s important that you as a writer get out and about, and that you show your work to people, as many people as you can. You want criticism, and you want that exposure of yourself and your work. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are all kinds of resources out there: workshops, writers’ groups, online courses and coaches, some of them right in your neighbourhood. Make friends with writers so that you have a community. I benefitted enormously from an online coach, who taught a great course on plot development.

What else…? Read outside your genre and comfort zone, and read widely and voraciously because you’ll never know what you might find, and where you’ll find it. Observe what’s going on around you. When you’re out and about, watch people. Watch them having conversations, watch them walking down the street, eating, laughing. Watch the sky, watch the play of light on water or glass, watch the street’s reflection wash over the yellow chassis of a New York taxi. Watch how water flows, what it flows around, how it flows around.

Take time to plan, but remember there’s a fine line between planning, and planning as prevarication. I used to just dive in and write, but what I’d end up with were lots of disconnected scenes and ideas. Sometimes I’d be able to join them up, often not. Planning — research, plotting, a synopsis, knowing the ending before you begin — can really help.

You play in goal for the UN football team – what’s the best save you ever made?

What a great question! There are so many great saves I made (tongue firmly in cheek), how to chose one… Well, there was one I’m particularly proud of because it was, I think, a sort of amalgam of all the goalkeeper’s arts — anticipation, observation, positioning, technique, reflexes and a spot of bravery. We were playing in a semi-final, and we needed a win. About five minutes from the end, we were leading 3-2, and the other teams two forwards made a clean break through into our half. There were no defenders with them, just me. The striker with the ball had already scored twice, so he was on a hat trick. I figured he’d want that third goal for himself more than for the team, so I made it ‘easy’ for him, and gave him plenty of space away from the other striker, who was screaming for the ball. Sure enough, the one with the ball tried to go round me, but I managed to close him down and went down at his feet, got a hand to the ball and knocked it away, and then got up for the rebound and saved that one too!

The Intel: Paul Gadsby

Chasing The GameCrime Thriller Fella this week reviewed Paul Gadsby’s novel Chasing The Game, about the true-life disappearance of the World Cup trophy – and it knocked our socks off. As a result, Paul has earned himself another free kick from a dangerous position. We immediately dug out the Intel Interview he did about the intriguing unsolved mystery surrounding the theft of the Jules Rimet Cup, and about his writing regime, and present it here for your enjoyment one more time.

Paul is a journalist and writer. Having worked in sports, news and trade journalism for 14 years, he’s the co-author of the seminal snooker book Masters of the Baize. Chasing The Game is his first crime novel, and you can buy it right here.

Chasing The Game is based on the true story of the disappearance of the World Cup trophy in 1966 – what happened?

It’s a fascinating story – one that has a dose of crime, shame, desperation and intrigue in roughly equal measures. The World Cup, or Jules Rimet Trophy as it was known, was on display in Westminster Central Hall in March 1966, three months before the World Cup tournament was due to begin. The stakes were high because the Football Association (FA) wanted the event to go very smoothly, it being the first – and so far only – time England have hosted the World Cup.

But one Sunday lunchtime the trophy was stolen from its display case. A few days later a ransom demand was made to the FA, and a note later delivered setting up a rendezvous where the trophy would be exchanged for the cash. But the plan fell apart, the switch never took place (despite coming tantalizingly close) and the thieves were never identified. The trophy, for reasons unknown, ended up under a bush in a London street where it was discovered by a dog named Pickles a week after the theft. Pickles briefly became a national hero, praised for sparing England’s blushes and saving the reputation of the World Cup tournament as a brand.

How closely is your novel based on true events?

Pretty closely in many ways, which is why I didn’t go into too much detail above! I always wanted this project to be a work of fiction, though, so certain elements – the nature of the theft in particular – were dramatised in order to drive the narrative. I kept certain characters such as the chairman of the FA (although I changed his name and created my own persona for him) while the gang of thieves was entirely down to my imagination. I’ve always felt the theft had an organised criminal element behind it, but not a large scale one, so it was fun creating a ‘firm’ who could carry out the raid but were under real pressure to collect the ransom because they desperately needed the cash.

Pickles is the only character that maintains his real-life name. In 1966 there was also a replica of the trophy made, commissioned by the FA but against FIFA’s wishes, and I exploit this conflict in the story. I’m a big fan of blending fact with fiction (David Peace and James Ellroy being the masters at this) and have always felt authors should be encouraged to use fiction as a vehicle to enhance intriguing factual narratives and sharpen the motivations of characters or historical figures.

What drew you to the story?

The curious nature of the theft, the bizarre discovery of the trophy, and the fact that the crime remains unsolved. Who were the gang of thieves? What went wrong between them to result in the trophy, worth a significant amount of money, ending up under a suburban hedge? I was surprised that no one had taken the Pickles story and done something exciting with it, so I thought I’d jump in there and weave my own narrative.

I also tied this in with a theme I’d been toying with basing a crime novel on for a while – leadership, and the pressures that come with fronting a criminal enterprise or firm. I’ve always been fascinated with the internal struggles and conflicts that crop up within a systemised criminal set-up, and seeing people try to take on the skillsets required to fill certain roles. So the tense and complex professional relationships that exist between members of the gang make up a central theme of the book.

Paul GadsbyTake us through a typical writing day for you?

I wish I had more of them! I write around a day job (I write copy for a marketing company) and am married with a three-year-old son, so my blocks of time for creative writing can be varied and unpredictable. On the occasions when I have a few hours to write, I begin by (and most writing guides advise against this) doing a light edit of what I’d written previously. I trained and worked in journalism for a few years and the editor in me just can’t resist, but I do enjoy ploughing on with a first draft knowing that the product behind me is a strong one.

Obviously the second draft stage is always an extensive one, but I don’t want a major re-structuring job at that point; I’d rather fix problems and enhance areas as I go along. I’m also a big fan of Stephen King’s theory of ‘write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open’ so I’m very much in my own head when unleashing a first draft, then liaising with friends and fellow writers for feedback on the second draft.

Chasing the Game is my first published novel but I wrote three crime thrillers before that; I’ve been writing seriously since about 2005 when I had a non-fiction book published and got the bug for writing full-length works.

Who are the authors you love, and why?

I adore Elmore Leonard’s dialogue, Adrian McKinty’s action sequences, Ken Bruen’s humour, the powerful prose of James Sallis, Jake Arnott’s deep characterisation, Patricia Highsmith’s ability to build drama, James Crumley’s sense of time and place and Graham Greene’s story structure. James Ellroy, David Peace and Don DeLillo do a glorious job of mixing fact with fiction while I also love Ian Fleming’s Bond books. As remarkable standout thrillers I really enjoyed Eddie Bunker’s No Beast So Fierce (which apparently inspired Tarantino to write Reservoir Dogs) and The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips.

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

Probably the fact that it’s incredibly difficult – and increasingly rare – to make a full-time career out of it. At a recent writing event I had a chat with an established, award-winning author who’s terrifically talented but told me how many copies her last book had sold and how many other things she had to do in order to supplement her time to write, and I thought that was a shame. The less time an author has to write, the fewer chances we have to enjoy them.

On a technical point, I like writing a synopsis but find it bizarre, frustrating and amusing that every agent and publisher appears to have a different idea about what they want to see in one. It’s an area that takes subjectivity to a new level!

How do you deal with feedback?

I embrace it during the editing stages of my writing. An interesting point is what to do with all the feedback you collectively receive. I know some writers who literally change everything that is recommended from all sources, but the danger of this is that the focus of the manuscript can then fragment and before you know it you have several half-realised themes and sub-plots going on.

I don’t think an author should ever lose sight of the initial purpose they had at the onset of the project. I think it’s best to take all feedback on board, apply a great deal of it if necessary, but to always consider that this is your book and the reader has to be convinced that it has come from one soul.

As for feedback from the industry, rejections are a familiar tale and for me have always been tempered by the fact that you know thousands upon thousands of writers are going through the same thing. Many writers collect their rejection letters but I’ve never really gone in for that. Positive responses from the trade, meanwhile, are obviously fantastic; it’s great to spend time speaking with agents, publishers and authors, and when you’ve had your work praised by such people it comes as a relief as well as a joy.

Give me some advice about writing…

Tough one. Any advice given by writers is obviously going to be very personal to them, but I’d say the most valuable way to spend your time is to focus on both finding your own distinctive voice (there’s no better way to make an impression on your first page) while at the same time reading as much of other writers as you can. If you’re writing a full-length novel you need prose worming through your brain pretty much all the time. The passion to write can only be driven by the passion to read.

What’s next for you?

I’ve written a first draft of another crime novel, which I’d like to polish and edit in the near future. It has another sports link, and is about the physical and mental struggles of a recently retired boxer who gets dragged by his former manager into a murky world of crime and an underground bare-knuckle fighting circuit, while also struggling to deal with his Alzheimer’s-stricken father. It’s called When the Roar Fades.

Who’s going to win the World Cup this summer?

All World Cups previously held in South America have been won by a nation from that continent, and I can’t see that pattern changing. It’s hard to see past the hosts, Brazil, but Argentina could be handy. I think England might sneak through their tough group but I’d be surprised to see them go beyond the quarter-finals.

The Intel: Paul Gadsby

Chasing The GameWe love writers with synchronicity. Paul Gadsby’s novel about the true-life disappearance of the World Cup trophy is released with the 2014 tournament just round the corner. Paul is a journalist and writer. Having worked in sports, news and trade journalism for 14 years, he’s the co-author of the seminal snooker book Masters of the Baize. Chasing The Game is his first crime novel, and you can buy it right here. Paul gives us the lowdown on an intriguing unsolved mystery – and, of course, his writing regime.

Chasing The Game is based on the true story of the disappearance of the World Cup trophy in 1966 – what happened?

It’s a fascinating story – one that has a dose of crime, shame, desperation and intrigue in roughly equal measures. The World Cup, or Jules Rimet Trophy as it was known, was on display in Westminster Central Hall in March 1966, three months before the World Cup tournament was due to begin. The stakes were high because the Football Association (FA) wanted the event to go very smoothly, it being the first – and so far only – time England have hosted the World Cup.

But one Sunday lunchtime the trophy was stolen from its display case. A few days later a ransom demand was made to the FA, and a note later delivered setting up a rendezvous where the trophy would be exchanged for the cash. But the plan fell apart, the switch never took place (despite coming tantalizingly close) and the thieves were never identified. The trophy, for reasons unknown, ended up under a bush in a London street where it was discovered by a dog named Pickles a week after the theft. Pickles briefly became a national hero, praised for sparing England’s blushes and saving the reputation of the World Cup tournament as a brand.

How closely is your novel based on true events?

Pretty closely in many ways, which is why I didn’t go into too much detail above! I always wanted this project to be a work of fiction, though, so certain elements – the nature of the theft in particular – were dramatised in order to drive the narrative. I kept certain characters such as the chairman of the FA (although I changed his name and created my own persona for him) while the gang of thieves was entirely down to my imagination. I’ve always felt the theft had an organised criminal element behind it, but not a large scale one, so it was fun creating a ‘firm’ who could carry out the raid but were under real pressure to collect the ransom because they desperately needed the cash.

Pickles is the only character that maintains his real-life name. In 1966 there was also a replica of the trophy made, commissioned by the FA but against FIFA’s wishes, and I exploit this conflict in the story. I’m a big fan of blending fact with fiction (David Peace and James Ellroy being the masters at this) and have always felt authors should be encouraged to use fiction as a vehicle to enhance intriguing factual narratives and sharpen the motivations of characters or historical figures.

What drew you to the story?

The curious nature of the theft, the bizarre discovery of the trophy, and the fact that the crime remains unsolved. Who were the gang of thieves? What went wrong between them to result in the trophy, worth a significant amount of money, ending up under a suburban hedge? I was surprised that no one had taken the Pickles story and done something exciting with it, so I thought I’d jump in there and weave my own narrative.

I also tied this in with a theme I’d been toying with basing a crime novel on for a while – leadership, and the pressures that come with fronting a criminal enterprise or firm. I’ve always been fascinated with the internal struggles and conflicts that crop up within a systemised criminal set-up, and seeing people try to take on the skillsets required to fill certain roles. So the tense and complex professional relationships that exist between members of the gang make up a central theme of the book.

Paul GadsbyTake us through a typical writing day for you?

I wish I had more of them! I write around a day job (I write copy for a marketing company) and am married with a three-year-old son, so my blocks of time for creative writing can be varied and unpredictable. On the occasions when I have a few hours to write, I begin by (and most writing guides advise against this) doing a light edit of what I’d written previously. I trained and worked in journalism for a few years and the editor in me just can’t resist, but I do enjoy ploughing on with a first draft knowing that the product behind me is a strong one.

Obviously the second draft stage is always an extensive one, but I don’t want a major re-structuring job at that point; I’d rather fix problems and enhance areas as I go along. I’m also a big fan of Stephen King’s theory of ‘write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open’ so I’m very much in my own head when unleashing a first draft, then liaising with friends and fellow writers for feedback on the second draft.

Chasing the Game is my first published novel but I wrote three crime thrillers before that; I’ve been writing seriously since about 2005 when I had a non-fiction book published and got the bug for writing full-length works.

Who are the authors you love, and why?

I adore Elmore Leonard’s dialogue, Adrian McKinty’s action sequences, Ken Bruen’s humour, the powerful prose of James Sallis, Jake Arnott’s deep characterisation, Patricia Highsmith’s ability to build drama, James Crumley’s sense of time and place and Graham Greene’s story structure. James Ellroy, David Peace and Don DeLillo do a glorious job of mixing fact with fiction while I also love Ian Fleming’s Bond books. As remarkable standout thrillers I really enjoyed Eddie Bunker’s No Beast So Fierce (which apparently inspired Tarantino to write Reservoir Dogs) and The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips.

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

Probably the fact that it’s incredibly difficult – and increasingly rare – to make a full-time career out of it. At a recent writing event I had a chat with an established, award-winning author who’s terrifically talented but told me how many copies her last book had sold and how many other things she had to do in order to supplement her time to write, and I thought that was a shame. The less time an author has to write, the fewer chances we have to enjoy them.

On a technical point, I like writing a synopsis but find it bizarre, frustrating and amusing that every agent and publisher appears to have a different idea about what they want to see in one. It’s an area that takes subjectivity to a new level!

How do you deal with feedback?

I embrace it during the editing stages of my writing. An interesting point is what to do with all the feedback you collectively receive. I know some writers who literally change everything that is recommended from all sources, but the danger of this is that the focus of the manuscript can then fragment and before you know it you have several half-realised themes and sub-plots going on.

I don’t think an author should ever lose sight of the initial purpose they had at the onset of the project. I think it’s best to take all feedback on board, apply a great deal of it if necessary, but to always consider that this is your book and the reader has to be convinced that it has come from one soul.

As for feedback from the industry, rejections are a familiar tale and for me have always been tempered by the fact that you know thousands upon thousands of writers are going through the same thing. Many writers collect their rejection letters but I’ve never really gone in for that. Positive responses from the trade, meanwhile, are obviously fantastic; it’s great to spend time speaking with agents, publishers and authors, and when you’ve had your work praised by such people it comes as a relief as well as a joy.

Give me some advice about writing…

Tough one. Any advice given by writers is obviously going to be very personal to them, but I’d say the most valuable way to spend your time is to focus on both finding your own distinctive voice (there’s no better way to make an impression on your first page) while at the same time reading as much of other writers as you can. If you’re writing a full-length novel you need prose worming through your brain pretty much all the time. The passion to write can only be driven by the passion to read.

What’s next for you?

I’ve written a first draft of another crime novel, which I’d like to polish and edit in the near future. It has another sports link, and is about the physical and mental struggles of a recently retired boxer who gets dragged by his former manager into a murky world of crime and an underground bare-knuckle fighting circuit, while also struggling to deal with his Alzheimer’s-stricken father. It’s called When the Roar Fades.

Who’s going to win the World Cup this summer?

All World Cups previously held in South America have been won by a nation from that continent, and I can’t see that pattern changing. It’s hard to see past the hosts, Brazil, but Argentina could be handy. I think England might sneak through their tough group but I’d be surprised to see them go beyond the quarter-finals.

Irene – Pierre Lemaitre

51EZo357u5L._SY445_Pierre Lemaitre’s new novel Irene comes with the burden of expectation on its shoulders. Its predecessor Alex won the CWA International Dagger Award last year. I certainly enjoyed it – you can see that review from way, way back, right here. Alex was a breathless exercise in plotting, full of hair pin twists and turns.

Turns out, though, that in its native France, Alex was a follow-up book. Now Lemaitre’s first book in his Camille Verhoeven series, Irene, has been translated, allowing readers in the UK to discover the tragic events alluded to in Alex. So, basically we’re getting everything backwards. Needless to say, if you’ve already read Alex, you’ll have possibly experienced the same feeling of dread that I did reading this first, er, second book.

You may want to stand on a Yellow Pages to reach the blurb:

For Commandant Verhoeven life is beautiful: he’s happily married, and expecting his first child with the lovely Irene. But his blissful existence is punctured by a murder so savage that even the most hardened officers on the force are shaken to the core. In the face of the seemingly motiveless horror, only Verhoeven makes the vital connection – the crime scene resembles one described in a James Ellroy novel too closely for there to be any coincidence.

As the stylised murders continue, Verhoeven traces the crimes’ literary inspirations, and risks his superiors’ ire by taking out adverts to inform the killer of his progress. Before long, the case develops into a personal duel, with each man hell-bent on outsmarting his opponent. There can only be one winner – whoever has the least to lose…

As with Alex, there’s a playful quality to Irene, and a twisty duh-duh-DAH moment towards the end, which makes it difficult to  talk about it in detail without giving too much away but, look, we’ll give it a go.

Irene is meta, darling. It’s all about itself and it’s all about crime-fiction. It’s kind of French in that respect. They love all that shit over there. There’s even a quote at the beginning by Roland Barthes, the only philosopher to have died, as I understand it, by getting knocked over by a milk float. Which is by the by. He wrote about just this kind of thing, the third meaning, and all that. So, as readers, we are invited to make a few assumptions about Camille Verhoeven and about the  hunt for the killer dubbed the Novelist – and then Lemaitre pulls the rug from under our feet.

I’m in danger of boring myself here, so, without getting all airy-fairy about it – and hideously out of my depth – Irene is basically Lemaitre’s love-letter to crime fiction, and Irene is all about how we take what we read – you know, as readers of fiction – for granted.

I’ll stop vainly trying to impress, and tell you that there are gruesome murders. Very gruesome murders. There’s an investigation by an eclectic and loveable team of detectives. There’s a powerfully gripping race against time at the end, and some nice character work. Lemaitre’s characters are always good.

Except if you’re a woman. If you’re a woman you’re usually slaughtered in an unpleasant way – which is kind of tiresome. Even the titular Irene remains something of an enigma character, an ideal for the vertically challenged Camille.

In Alex he shared top-billing, but in Irene Camille is front and centre. We experience everything through him – or so we think. Poor old Camille Verhoeven. He’s a proud man who stands four foot nine or thereabouts, which is enough of a burden to bear in life, and then Lemaitre really puts his miniature protagonist through the wringer.

I like Camille as a character very much. He’s a singular, old-school detective, and his dependable nature and his tantrums, and his love of sitting at home with the wife reading books on classical painting, contrasts sharply with the grotesque slaughter that he investigates.

This contrast always struck me as curious in Alex, another bloodthirsty novel. Camille is such a dazzlingly aristocratic little creature, and there he was surrounded by all this grim stuff. it was almost as if Poirot had somehow wandered by mistake into the pages of LA Confidential. In this novel, Ellroy’s universe literally does invade Camille’s world when the Novelist recreates the murder of The Black Dahlia.

Anyway, Irene is an enjoyable read. But not as successful a piece of work, perhaps, as Alex – there’s no shame in that, not many novels are. It’s more of a slow-burn, and there’s a lot to enjoy here – unless you’re squeamish, then you may not like it all, oh boy, no. What really shines through is Lemaitre’s love of the genre. If you know your classic crime-fiction you’ll really like this book, and all its sly and bloodythirsty references.

Oh, hold on. It wasn’t a milk-float. It was a laundry van. My mistake.

The Intel: JR Carroll

Carroll_JRWe love writers here – east, west, north and south. JR Carroll was born and raised in Melbourne, where he still lives. He worked as a teacher before turning to full-time fiction writing. His first book, about the Vietnam War, was Token Soldiers. This was followed by a series of crime thrillers, including Catspaw, No Way Back, Out of the Blue, The Clan, Cheaters, and Blindside. His latest crime novel, 8 Hours to Die, was released by Momentum last month. JR kindly gives us the Intel on his writing regime.

How would you describe 8 Hours To Die to a potential reader?

8 Hours to Die is a ‘siege thriller’, a well-established sub-genre in which potential victims are attacked by outlaws in their own home. This is everyone’s nightmare: how safe am I in my own house? It is a gritty, ultra-violent story in which the home invaders are ruthless killers hell-bent on breaking in and wreaking havoc, told more or less in real time, to heighten the tension.

What’s the secret to writing a gripping thriller?

I think the secret to a gripping thriller is being able to produce a plot that moves along quickly and credibly and which shocks the reader with each twist and turn. And the characters – even the bad guys – have to be fleshed out and believable; we have to be able to get inside their skins as well as those of the victims. In a way, it’s classic battle between good and evil, and the reader can never be sure which way it’s going to go until the final page. Even when it’s over, it really isn’t over …

What’s your writing process? What comes first – plot or character?

I usually begin with a single idea, which is enough to get the ball rolling … a particular scenario, or a character who seems to me interesting or disturbing. After that, I make it all up as I go along. This approach always involves a lot more thinking than actual writing. I like to see the ending at about the halfway point, and work steadily towards out. Sometimes I write out the last paragraph well in advance. In the case of 8 Hours to Die, the plot definitely came first.

What are the themes you always return to in your writing?

I guess every writer returns to certain themes, and I’m no different. I like the idea of events that occurred in the distant past coming back with devastating effect. An unsolved crime, a secret that won’t go away … A character who returns after a long absence. I also like the idea of flawed heroes – or anti-heroes – as that makes for a much more complicated and interesting protagonist. My fictional world is one in which nothing is black and white.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I’m a late starter – maybe 10.30 or 11am, for an hour or so, then another hour in the afternoon. But as I say, I do a lot of thinking, and I can jump back on the computer any time if I come up with a good idea. I spend a lot of time trying to work out how a particular character can develop, and how I can move the plot along through a difficult patch. I’m always trying to think up ways of ratcheting up the tension.

Who are the authors or you love, and why?

I’ve always loved fiction, but when I got into the crime business I had little experience with the famous crime writers other than Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. But as time went on I got interested in Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke, Patricia Cornwell, Ruth Rendell, James Crumley, Michael Connelly, Michael Dibdin, Robert Crais. There are many more – but I suppose I owe more to contemporary American writers than anyone else. They seemed to be more visceral and stylish; a lot more of the noir qualities and the ability to place a story in a time and place that is absolutely convincing.

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

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learnt about writing is that with each novel, you have to start from scratch and invent something worthwhile out of nothing. It can be daunting, especially given that you can’t please everyone. So, with that in mind, you just have to push on and persevere with your own agenda. I’ve been rejected plenty of times early on, and I know how discouraging that can be. But if you believe in yourself enough, you’ll get there with hard work, persistence, and above all, a talent that sets you apart. I think Frederick Forsythe’s The Day of the Jackal was rejected by 27 publishers, so there’s a lesson right there!

9781760080648_8 Hours to Die_cover 2How do you deal with feedback?

Feedback is very important, when it comes from editors or people who are involved in the business and know what they are talking about. You have to listen to feedback, including negative criticism, as no book is perfect. I have always been willing to make changes at the suggestion of an editor, even major ones. Nothing is precious in the book – I’ve cut out whole chapters, completely re-arranged the structure, deleted characters, etc, and it’s all turned out for the better. Uninformed criticism I take no notice of. The advent of the Internet has created a whole universe of online experts, some of them quite feral, so you have to be wary of that.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?

I studied English Literature at University, was an English teacher for years, so I’m well-grounded as far as that goes. The writers who inspired me initially were Robert Penn Warren and Graham Greene, both of whom have very dark qualities to their writing … I think the idea of crime, with a strong element of romance and escapism that is associated with, came from All The Kings Men, The Power and the Glory, Brighton Rock etc. There is something about mystery, the loner trying to right wrongs, that is bewitching and very seductive. I’d also include Colin Wilson in that – some of his psychological thrillers are absolutely superb, but he’s out of fashion now.

My own life bears no relation to the brutal world of crime fiction that I write about. Friends say, ” How in the hell can you come up with stuff like that?” because really, there’s nothing of me in those stories. It’s all fantasy.

Give me some advice about writing…

The best advice I can give about writing – crime writing – is that first, you have to read a power of books, good and bad. Get familiar with the genre you’re working in. You can’t suddenly become a successful writer in a vacuum. Read voraciously, and don’t start writing a novel until you have a damned good idea, one that will go the distance. Remember: action is character. Cut back on description, which can kill interest. Avoid purple prose. Keep the plot rolling. Try not to be a ‘stylist’ – your own style will evolve in time, if you persist. I copied F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway initially, before realising that was going nowhere. Don’t do what’s been done before if you can help it. When I’m stuck, I often read great authors to get some inspiration. That can work wonders.

What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…

That’s the tough part. So many people are writing novels now, it’s hard to break in. If you can, get an agent. That’s not easy either. Otherwise, make sure your book is as good as you can get it, then send it to numerous publishers simultaneously. Have a short synopsis prepared, and a sample chapter if that’s what the publisher asks for. Don’t take rejection to heart. Everyone’s been rejected. If you’re good enough, you’ll get there in the end with persistence. That can take a long time. Overnight success stories are few and far between. And, as I said earlier, be prepared to make changes.

What’s next for you?

Following 8 Hours to Die, I’m currently working on a crime story about some cold murder cases involving a detective who has his own demons from the past to contend with … he is a compromised character but utterly determined to get the job done. It’s an interesting project, and while I have a few ideas left at the half-way point, I’m not sure how it’s going to end. But then, that’s half the fun. And if it isn’t fun, why do it?