Tag Archives: Martin Amis

The Intel: Sam Christer

9780316181372 (800x532)A game is afoot in the Sherlock Holmes universe – and it’s every bit as wicked and deadly as you’d hope.

Sam Christer is the latest author to soak his bones in the deliciously rich world of the World’s Greatest Detective in his new thriller The House Of Smoke. But this time his protagonist, cold-blooded killer Simeon Lynch, is playing for Team Moriarty!

As Big Ben chimes in the first seconds of 1900 and the start of a new century, preparations are afoot inside Newgate gaol to hang Lynch, England’s deadliest assassin, who’s has spent two decades in the employ of the House of Moriarty – the world’s most feared criminal enterprise. Facing the noose, Simeon reflects on his life, remembering his upbringing as an orphan in the workhouse and how he first joined the employ of Professor Brogan Moriarty.

Then Holmes, his employer’s greatest nemesis, approaches him with a deal – to turn Queen’s Evidence against Moriarty and his brother James in exchange for his freedom. Simeon refuses, but the offer makes him all the more determined to escape the noose, and to seek revenge on those who wronged him.

But the law isn’t alone in wanting him dead. Over the course of a life filled with murder and brutality, Simeon has made enemies, some of whom may be closer than he realises…

Christer, who also writes as Jon Trace and Michael Morley, is the best-selling author of   The Camelot Code, The Turin Shroud Secret and The Stonehenge Legacy, which have been published in thirty-six countries around the world.

In this fascinating Intel interview, Christer – a director of commercials, as well as an author – talks about his love of research, about his discovery of an even more malevolent and wicked Moriarty brother, and how he couldn’t resist a detour into the sinister world of Victorian London…

Tell us about Simeon Lynch…

Lynch is very much a product of his time. Born with nothing, he grows up with nothing and becomes a young man with nothing to lose – but his life. The Victorian age was a desperate epoch. One in which if you had no money, no family, no mentors you inevitably became down-trodden, ground under the polished boots of the well-heeled and privileged classes. Initially, Lynch is swept along by circumstances and the cruelties of fate.

Then an event happens that changes his life. One that empowers and embitters him in equal measures. Hopefully, people will have some sympathy with him as well as detest the person he becomes. He is a highly conflicted individual, and this is most evident as he rots reflectively in jail, counting down the days to his execution at Newgate. It’s at this point that he, and we, see not only who he is, but also who he might have been.

It turns out that James Moriarty – one of the most-iconic villains in literatures – also has a smarter brother…

Not only smarter. I always struggled with the idea that James Moriarty, and he alone, headed up this amazingly cruel and complex criminal network that Holmes spoke fearfully of. Hence my invention of Brogan. A character very different to his brother. James was always cast as brilliant, very Alpha Male, a physical and mental match for Holmes and the best detectives in the world. I wanted Brogan to be more driven, more motivated, more malicious. I wanted him to demonstrate more reason to be wicked, more resolve to be brilliant in his wickedness.

What is it about the Sherlock Holmes universe that makes it such a rich source of inspiration for authors?

It is not just the Holmes universe; it is the Victorian universe.  This was a period of amazing change and fascinating architects of that change.  The century started with horses and ploughs, leeches and candlelight and it finished with trains, electricity, gas, motor cars and massive leaps in medicine. Setting a novel against such a rich backdrop is an irresistible lure. The language of the characters, the voices that you can put into their mouths, the thoughts you can have stir in their brains is also fascinatingly different than contemporary fiction.

Class played an immense part. Media was limited to newspapers, periodicals and the chatter of tongues. Aspirations were simpler and more personal. Then yes, of course there is Holmes himself, a character so powerful than even in cameo appearances he captures the audience and dominates the scene. I thought Anthony Horowitz did an amazing job putting believable words in his mouth and I think that partly inspired me to have him brush shoulders and shape the fortunes of some of the cast of House of Smoke.

House of Smoke coverAs an author you’re well known for your conspiracy thrillers – what made you detour through Victorian London?

A love of both the time and the city. A chance to dramatically romance a great age and I suppose create a different kind of conspiracy novel, one in which the conspirators are both social evils and human manipulators of those evils. Workhouses, prisons and executions were as much opportunities for exploitation as well as pillars of this harsh society and of course the people in charge of them made for fascinatingly flawed characters.

One of the joys of researching this book was walking the locations, reading the historic blue plates on the outside of houses and buildings and then sitting in the magnificent British Library and digging into the history and people of the time.

How did you start writing?


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

Good marketing is infinitely more effective than great writing. 

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Martin Amis for the intoxication of his language. Stephen King for his ability to make me check under the bed and never walk near a storm drain. James Patterson for his simplicity of plotting and ruthlessness of marketing. Dr. Seuss for helping me spread the love of reading to my children.

Give me some advice about writing…

Don’t do it unless you love it. If you love it, keep doing it.

What’s next for you?

My first book is currently being adapted for television in the US and I am very happily involved in the development process. I am also busy working with a UK production company on a TV adaption of another novel. I am just in the middle of directing some commercials for Euro 16 and after that, I hope to be lucky enough to write another thriller.


The House of Smoke by Sam Christer is published by Sphere, price £7.99 in paperback original.

The Intel: Saul Black/Glen Duncan

Glen Duncan & Saul Black

©HACQUARD et LOISON/Opale/Leemage

In these times of austerity we know you’re always looking for more bangs for your buck. Which is why Crime Thriller Fella is bringing you two intel interviews for the price of one, sort of thing.

The other day we reviewed Saul Black’s The Killing Lessons, and you can see that by clicking here, or scrolling down. It’s a rollercoaster of a novel about the hunt for a pair of serial murderers, alpha killer Xander and his beta buddy, Paulie, and it’s intense, brutal and urgent.

Saul Black is, of course, the nom de plume of critically-acclaimed author Glen Duncan. It’s his first foray into the crime genre. We’re delighted to say that Glen and Saul are here to give us the intel about alter egos, how writing is like probing a wobbly tooth, and why his protag is such a mess…

Tell us about Saul Black

As ‘Glen Duncan’ my writing style has been ironic, digressive, oblique, parenthetical – and my previous books (werewolves excepted) have not been particularly ‘plot-driven’. I knew that if I was going to attempt a thriller I was going to have to develop a more economical style and concentrate a lot more on pushing the story forward in a dramatic, suspenseful way. So I decided to give myself a new identity, to pretend to myself that I was a different kind of writer and see if that helped. Psychologically, it did. Of course the boundary between two writerly selves is permeable: Granted ‘Saul Black’ has no patience with essayistic asides, jokes and literary allusions, but for all that ‘Glen Duncan’ doesn’t quite manage keep his trap shut. The chase is still cut to, but not, I hope, at the expense of psychological depth, decent sentences and fresh metaphors.

It turns out I rather like having an alter-ego. It’s a bit like being in disguise, which has always appealed. What worries me, now that Saul Black is up and running with serial killers, is the potential discovery that he has even worse habits than Glen Duncan… 

What was the inspiration for The Killing Lessons? 

I’m very rarely ‘inspired’, since that suggests either a specific trigger or a mysterious epiphanic moment. It’s much more a process of gradually (and indeed grudgingly) working around a few ideas, the mental equivalent of being unable to stop prodding a wobbly tooth with one’s tongue. WithThe Killing Lessons it was just a case of deciding to write a thriller (see answer to next question) and then sort of mooching about in my imagination for something that would at least get the story off the ground. I had no confidence that it would turn out to be anything more than a false start when I wrote the first five thousand words – but I sent it to my agent and he was very encouraging, so I persisted with it. 

What made you want to write a crime novel? 

The practical part of the answer is that crime is one of the few markets in fiction that’s actually thriving. The nobler part is that it occurred to me (with a laughable belatedness) that although I’d always been writing about ‘good’ and ‘evil’ – along with extremes of deviant behaviour and the ordinary human sacraments of friendship and humour and love set against it – I’d never written a straight murder story. So I thought I’d have a go. These days, I’m so old and knackered that nothing gets written unless I set it as a piece of self-imposed homework. I really didn’t know (and in a way still don’t) the first thing about the ‘crime thriller’ genre. It was an experiment. Time will tell if readers think it was a success.

The Killing LessonsHow is your serial killer Xander different from other literary wrong ‘uns?

There are two approaches to writing psychopathic serial killers. One is to invite the reader in to psychological speculation, to suggest toxic seeds or traumatic antecedents such that, given enough shrinks and enough time, we might begin to understand what’s going on in the homicidal head. The other is to present the subject as a closed book, a finished product, a psychology that renders any prospective analysis pointless. (Imagine a globe of impenetrable metal, with the strange consciousness trapped forever beyond view or reach within it.) In Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, this is the way Harris presents Hannibal Lecter. (I understand that later writing delves into the doctor’s past, but for most readers, I suspect, the definitive version is the one found in the first two novels.) My guy, Xander (and his sidekick, Paulie) fall into the former category, which yields, I hope, a believable past feeding into a believable present. There’s nothing wrong with erudite, charming serial killers (I wrote one, in a way, for The Last Werewolf) but I was after something a bit grittier this time around. I haven’t answered your question. I don’t know that there’s that much new or ‘different’ to say about serial killers – but there are new and different ways of saying it, which is always a writing goal, no matter the subject.

Your detective Valerie Hart is a mess what attracts us to such damaged protagonists?

Perfect people are boring. All but inveterate narcissists feel flawed and not-up-to-the-job most of the time, so why should cops be any different? It’s more sympathetic to be dealing not only with someone who has a hellishly tough job to do, but who must do it in a state of emotional frailty or psychological disrepair.

The violence in The Killing Lessons is brutal and twisted why are we so fascinated by dark and horrific stories? 

Because we’re all too often a dark and horrific species. We’re fascinated by our potential, and we crave the false comfort of stories in which virtue is rewarded and vice punished. It’s not quite so straightforward in The Killing Lessons, which I’m sure some readers won’t like. Similarly, some readers will throw up their hands at the starkness of the violence. To which I’m afraid I have no reply. I don’t think I have what it takes to write a delicate or decaf serial killer novel, and I would consider it an act of imaginative bankruptcy if I did.

 Who are the authors you admire, and why?

How far back do you want me to go? Milton. Robert Browning. Thomas Hardy. W. H. Auden. D. H. Lawrence, Graham Greene. Of more modern (or slightly less dead) writers, Anthony Burgess, Paul Bowles, Mervyn Peake, John Updike, J G Ballard. Among the actually living, Martin Amis, Susanna Moore, Mary Gaitskill. I’m drawn to writers who are first and foremost stylists, whose work relies as much (if not more) on the quality of the prose as it does on plot.

 Give me some advice about writing

Make every sentence the definitive version of itself. Never use figurative language you’ve heard or read before. Treat most adjectives like lice. Don’t write completely drunk. Don’t kid yourself that quality equates with success.

What’s next for Saul?

I’m just about to deliver a second thriller, featuring the same detective, Valerie Hart, from The Killing Lessons. If anything, this novel is darker than its predecessor. What I’ll do after that I’m not sure. With any luck, go on a vacation and catch up on some reading.

The Intel: Jim Ford

We’re never sick of saying it: we love writers here, and we’re keen to learn from them.

Jim Ford2Jim Ford is the author of The Bug House series, featuring DCI Theo Vos and his Tyneside-based team of detectives. The trilogy is due for publication by Constable & Robinson in 2014.

Born and bred in Newcastle, Jim worked on local and national newspapers before turning freelance. Under another name he has published a four-book crime series set in Kenya as well as over a dozen non-fiction titles. He now lives in the north of England with his wife, daughter and ageing dog.

Jim has kindly agreed to answer some questions about his writing process.

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

It’s usually the first scene! As a young journalist I was schooled in the art of writing an attention-grabbing opening paragraph, and I’ve stuck with it in my fiction work. Obviously I’ve got a pretty good idea of the plot in my head going into the book, but that opening scene tends to set things off on a path of their own.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I’m very much a night owl. During the day there are too many distractions – and in my other life I still work as a freelance journalist –  but after 7pm the email, Facebook and Twitter interactions tend to die down and I can get on with it. Trouble is, next thing I know it’s 2.30am and I’ve got to be up in four hours for the school run.

Bug HouseWho are the authors or you love, and why?

For my forthcoming Bug House series I have leaned heavily on Ed McBain for inspiration, but I can happily spend a couple of hours in the company of any of those stripped-down, hard-boiled American writers from the 1950s and 60s. Elmore Leonard said he left out the bits that readers skim through, and that’s become my motto too. I’m a big fan of Jake Arnott – I like the way he combines fact and fiction, and Harry Starks is a great recurring character in his novels. Like most teenage boys I began a love affair with Martin Amis’s tour de force Money which has endured to this day, and once or twice a year I always dip into my dog-eared Woody Allen anthology for a good laugh.

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

The beauty of writing is that you’re always learning, and I’ve been lucky that my career has been largely pain free largely because I love what I do. The blank page is always a challenge, but in a good way.

How do you deal with feedback?

I thrive on it. There comes a time in the course of every novel when a fresh pair of eyes is required, and for me the editor’s notes are an essential part of the creative process. I’ve also got an ace copy editor who is a whizz at untangling strangulated prose and making me sound better. In the past I’ve had some great reviews and some stinkers, but then in the past I’ve been a reviewer myself so I know how subjective it is. As long as they’re not all stinkers I don’t lose sleep over it.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?

The Bug House series is set in Newcastle, where I grew up and worked for the local newspaper for many years – so I know the city, its people and its stories very well. But the journalistic discipline of being able to fill the empty page continues to prove invaluable.

Punch Drunk cover1Give me some advice about writing…

It should always be a pleasure, never a chore. And, in the words of Faulkner “In writing, you must kill your darlings” – in other words, if you’re stuck don’t be afraid to scrap it and start again.

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

Don’t take no for an answer. 

What’s next for you?

Crossing my fingers that the Bug House series is a success – and in the meantime  writing a stand-alone to keep me out of mischief.

Jim’s website is www.bughousefiles.com and he Twitters at @JimFordBooks