Tag Archives: Stuart Neville

The Intel: Adam Chase/Eve Seymour


We love writers here, and we’re keen to learn from them. Earlier in the week we reviewed Wicked Game by one Adam Chase. Turns out Mr. Chase is actually a pseudonym. EV Seymour, author of the Paul Tallis novels, was recently unmasked as Chase at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

You know the drill with The Intel. We ask crime writers how they go about the business of getting words on a page. But  we also took the opportunity to ask Eve why she chose to go undercover for her new book about Hex, the assassin.

How has your own experience influenced your writing?

From an early age, I’ve been an observer, the typical kid sitting on the sidelines watching others.  Most writers are frustrated psychologists and I’m endlessly intrigued by the way in which human beings tick, particularly at the more extreme ends of the spectrum.  During my teens, I went through a phase of reading tomes on clinical psychology, which now I’ve written it down, makes me sound a bit strange.  I’ve outgrown it, honest!  I’m also a news junkie, always on the lookout for that odd story, the one to which I can apply the ‘What if…’ principle.

I was lucky enough to have an amazing experience a few years ago when I spent an evening at the ‘secret’ headquarters where firearms officers, security services, (UK and foreign) SAS and MOD train.  There, I was taken to a laser suite, handed a specially adapted (unloaded) Glock 17 wired to a computer, and took part in a simulated training exercise. It was scary, extremely demanding, and the debrief afterwards threw me – it’s actually quite hard to remember in exquisite detail the moments leading up to ‘an incident’.

Afterwards, I was escorted to the armoury, (although not allowed inside) and handled just about every variety of weapon I could come up with, including a Desert Eagle, Uzi, MP5, Magnum and, of course, a Walther PPK.  There had been an amnesty for illicitly held weapons just before my visit and, aside from machetes, sub-machine guns and automatics, the array of home-made and adapted weapons were worrying. The experience had a profound effect on me and made me realise the specific demands we place on those who defend us.  Professionals walk an incredibly fine line between life and death.

What comes first – plot or character?

I see these as indivisible.  Only a certain character will behave in a given way, and this will lead the plot down a particular route.  If your main character is an estate agent, he’s hardly likely to have access to weaponry, let alone use it!  This is a long-winded way of saying that character and plot work hand in glove.  However I admit that Hex rates as a complex main protagonist. His blatant moral ambiguity is what really hooked me and created a huge challenge for me as the writer:  how to make an essentially bad guy a hero?  The trick was to put him on the spot right in the opening.  It’s stretching it to say that Hex has a Damascene moment, but I needed to craft in a point where he suddenly has cause to pause and doubt the nature of what he does for a living.  Maybe, character has the edge, after all!

Take us through a typical writing day for you.Eve portrait

I’m an early riser and have been known, although not that often, to sneak out of bed around 3.00 a.m. and write like hell.  I’d add that I don’t get ‘gripped by the Muse.’  I’m a planner and I research.  This often takes the form of reading up on defence and security.  It can take months before I put a story together and write a single line.  Those days are more leisurely, but once I’m happy that I’ve got all my notes sorted, then I’ll have a slightly more disciplined working day when I write a skeleton plot-line and then, big breath, I write.  This is when the long hours kick in and I become fairly anti-social, which is only really a problem for those around me.

A typical day will start around 8.00 a.m.  I won’t eat lunch but I consume water and tea by the bucket-load and my heart-starter coffee is always at noon.  I try not to look at emails, but will usually check in a couple of times during the day and finally emerge bleary-eyed around 6.00 p.m.  It’s not always easy to switch off, but I do my best to pretend!

Who are the authors you love and why?

I’m a sucker for historical fiction and political thrillers.  I particularly admire Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and James McGee for vivid characterization.  Michael Dobbs gets my vote for his Winston Churchill series.  Too many to mention, but I love American writers for their sheer sense of guts, pace and action.  They are the usual suspects:  Robert Crais, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Lee Child (who isn’t American but is based there) John Hart, Robert Ludlum, Greg Hurwitz, Kyle Mills.

For me, and this is sticking my neck out, British writers tend to have what I’d describe as more ‘soul’ in the way in which they write.  To list a few:  Tom Rob Smith, R J Ellory, John Harvey, Stuart Neville (Irish), Stephen Booth, Martyn Waites and I can’t, of course, forget the great spy writers:  Frederick Forsyth and John Le Carre, Gerald Seymour and Henry Porter.  I’ll pretty much read anything that catches my eye.  I’ve just read ‘Alex’ by Pierre Lemaitre and thought it stunning.

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

Rejection.  Nobody likes it or gets used to it, but it’s part of the deal.  If you let it, it can do horrible things to your mental health.

How do you deal with feedback?

Constructively, I hope. Writing a novel is a solitary process, but once you show your work to others then feedback is important because it helps a writer hone the story.  My agent, Broo Doherty, has a keen editorial eye and I always pay attention to her comments.  Once I’ve taken these on board, a discussion follows where we bat about ideas.  The feedback process isn’t really finished because the publisher and any independent editor drafted in will also have their own ideas.  Processing feedback is part of a writer’s life and shouldn’t be something to fear.  The important point is that everyone is working together to make the novel the best it can be.

Give me some advice about writing.

  1. Read as widely as possible and try not to talk too much about your ideas to others because you may lose the original magic that made you want to write the story in the first place.
  2. You can only discover your own voice if you sing, so just get on and write!
  3. Don’t let anyone rain on your parade.  Be tenacious.  Be courageous.

What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the market place?

Don’t rush into it.  You only have one shot, so make sure it’s a good one.  If you can afford it, use a reputable editorial consultancy to look at your work and give you an honest and constructive appraisal.  This comes with a word of caution:  do your research beforehand.  If you can’t afford it, let someone you trust (not your best friend, or your best friend’s auntie) read the work and give you straight, down the line, criticism.  Once you’ve made revisions, do everything in your power to seek representation by an agent.

The market place has never been tougher.  If an agent is prepared to represent your work, you stand a half decent chance of it being placed with a publisher.

Why did you choose to use a pseudonym for Wicked Game?

Among certain quarters, there is a perception that women cannot write convincingly and authentically about contract killers, guns, weapons, biological, or otherwise, explosions, flying off in helicopters, tearing off on motorbikes and security service issues.

Admittedly, there is a long tradition of female writers creating male detectives – P.D. James and Adam Dalgleish – but there are far fewer female writers who have male action adventure heroes as their main leads.  Added to this, I wanted to write a first person narrative because it gave me more of an opportunity to allow readers to get inside Hex’s head – important when you bear in mind that he starts the novel as a really bad guy.  At times, I felt from initial feedback that we (me and Hex) would be an impossible sell.  Hence, I reckoned, that if I couldn’t beat my male counterparts, I’d join them.

What’s next for you?

‘Game Over’: the second in the Hex series.  I’m just about to put it through its final edits.  Suffice to say, Hex’s life takes an interesting turn…

Crime Thriller Book Log: Mina, Mackay, Dunne & Slaughter

It may not surprise you to know that there were some books published this week. Some crime thriller books. I’m going to tell you about four of them and then you can go.

Unknown-2Red Road is the latest Alex Morrow novel from Denise Mina.

The blurb is very dramatic, as blurb tends to be:

31st August 1997: Rose Wilson is fourteen, but looks sixteen. Pimped out by her ‘boyfriend’ and let down by a person she thought she loved, she has seen more of the darkness in life than someone twice her age. On the night of Princess Diana’s death – a night everyone will remember – Rose snaps and commits two terrible crimes. Her life seems effectively over. But then a defence lawyer takes pity and sets out to do what he can to save her, regardless of the consequences.

Now: DI Alex Morrow is a witness in the case of Michael Brown – a vicious, nasty arms dealer, more brutal and damaged than most of the criminals she meets. During the trial, while he is held in custody, Brown’s fingerprints are found at the scene of a murder in the Red Road flats. It was impossible that he could have been there and it’s a mystery that Morrow just can’t let go.

Meanwhile, a privileged Scottish lawyer sits in a castle on Mull, waiting for an assassin to kill him. He has sold out his own father, something that will bring the wrath of the powerful down upon him.

A playwright and graphic novelist – she’s written for the acclaimed comic Hellblazer – Mina is on a roll. Her Morrow novel Gods And Beasts is on the shortlist for the 2013 Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year. She won the award only last year with The End Of The Wasp Season. Among the other books in the shortlist are Stav Sherez’s A Dark Redemption, and Peter May’s The Lewis Man.

*Warning: segue reversing… segue reversing…*

Malcolm Mackay lives on Lewis. He’s the author of How A Gunman Says Goodbye, the second in in his Glasgow trilogy.

Lock ’n ’load the blurb:

Unknown-3How does a gunman retire? Frank MacLeod was the best at what he does. Thoughtful. Efficient. Ruthless. But is he still the best? A new job. A target. But something is about to go horribly wrong. Someone is going to end up dead. Most gunmen say goodbye to the world with a bang. Frank’s still here. He’s lasted longer than he should have …

The final book The Sudden Arrival Of Violence follows next year. The first book was written, he says, as a ‘secret little project on his computer.’

There’s a really interesting article right here about how an author who lives in the placid environment of the Outer Hebrides, and has no intention of leaving, projects himself into the mind of a ruthless Glaswegian hitman.

Last time I looked, Derby was a long way south of Lewis and indeed of Glasgow. It’s the setting for another of Steven Dunne’s serial killer novels featuring DI Damen Brook. This one is called The Unquiet Grave.

Dust to dust, blurb to blurb:

The Cold Case crime department of Derby Constabulary feels like a morgue

imagesto DI Damen Brook. As a maverick cop, his bosses think it’s the best place for him.

But Brook isn’t going to go down without a fight. Applying his instincts and razor sharp intelligence, he sees a pattern in a series of murders that seem to begin in 1963. How could a killer go undetected for so long? And why are his superiors so keen to drive him down blind alleys?

Brook delves deep into the past of both suspects and colleagues unsure where the hunt will lead him. What he does know for sure is that a significant date is approaching fast and the killer is certain to strike again…

Dunne’s a bit of an inspiration. His first book The Reaper was turned down all over the shop, but he had faith in himself, and he self-published it. It sold well – and as a result was picked up by Harper Collins. More proof that writers who believe in themselves can get published.

UnknownAnd finally, if ever there was a terrific name for an crime author, it’s Karin Slaughter. She’s sold 17 million books. One of her continuing series features her dyslexic special agent Will Trent from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Will has huge hands.

Put the gun down and step away from the blurb:

Special Agent Will Trent has something to hide. Something he doesn’t want Dr Sara Linton – the woman he loves – to find out. He’s gone undercover in Macon, Georgia and put his life at risk. And he knows Sara will never forgive him if she discovers the truth.

But when a young patrolman is shot and left for dead Sara is forced to confront the past and a woman she hoped never to see again. And without even knowing it, she becomes involved in the same case Will is working on. Soon both of their lives are in danger.

Like most successful authors, Slaughter is prolific. She finishes a book a year, but is always making notes for future novels.

Right, off you toddle. No, wait —

Before you go, here’s that 2013 Theakstons Crime Novel If The Year list in full –because you haven’t seen it on, like, a thousand other blogs already, this week.

Rush Of Blood – Mark Billingham (Little Brown)

Safe House –  Chris Ewan (Faber and Faber)

The Lewis Man – Peter May (Quercus)

Gods And Beasts – Denise Mina (Orion)

Stolen Souls – Stuart Neville (Vintage)

A Dark Redemption– Stav Sherez (Faber and Faber)

I know which one I’d like to see win — granted, I’ve only read four on the list. But what about you – what’s your pick?

The Twelve – Stuart Neville

images-1When Stuart Neville’s terrific first-novel The Twelve came out many reviewers emphasised on his savage dissection of the  Irish Peace Process, and the way that  paramilitary politicians on both sides white-washed their violent pasts, muzzling the pitbull murderers they controlled, to reinvent themselves as upstanding politicians.

Reading it now, a few years later, the Troubles seem even further away, and The Twelve plays out as a simple existential tale, a modern-day Western, in which a man of out time – former IRA hitman Gerry Fegan, an alcoholic mental-case –  attempts to atone for the dozen men, women and children he killed by hunting down the men he holds responsible for making him pull the trigger. For me, The Twelve evokes Donald Westlake/Richard Stark, James Ellroy and Clint Eastwood’s troubled Will Munny in Unforgiven.

Haunted by the mute ghosts of the people he killed, Fegan attempts to atone the only way he knows how — by killing. But when Fegan begins his vendetta, he threatens to bring the fragile peace process to its knees and he becomes hunted by all sides. Fegan’s bloody trail, for example, brings him into the orbit of undercover policeman Davy Campbell, a man who also has no future – he’s been playing a duplicitous double-game so long that he knows nothing else.

It’s a novel full of  compromised, morally-reprehensible men wrestling with redundancy in a shifting world. Like all good Westerns, The Twelve comes to a chilling and violent end at a remote homestead, the home and fortress of Bull O’Kane a former IRA kingpin and gangster, and perhaps the only man in the entire novel who has stuck steadfastly to his old ideals: looking after Bull O’ Kane.

The Twelve has got a narrative that pumps remorsefully like blood from a wound. It’s terrifically violent, and the device of the mute ghosts is a nifty shorthand for Fegan’s mental torment. As a result, The Twelve’s remorseless progress never creaks to a halt under the weight of Fegan’s self-pity.

And at its heart, there’s just a tiny glint of the supernatural, a slight suggestion that Fegan’s  ghostly tormentors may not be just figments of his tortured imagination – in the US the title of the novel is Ghosts of Belfast.

Neville followed-up this novel with two sequels, Collusion and Stolen Souls, where the emphasis shifts to Belfast copper DI Jack Lennon, and I certainly look forward to reading those. It’s always nutritious when writers discuss how they got published, and Neville tells his own story at his website here — check it out, it’s worth a read.

What I Liked: Neville mentioned in an interview that Fegan evokes more interest among his readers than his more sympathetic protagonist Lennon. It makes me wonder again how bad your protagonist can be. Writers, agents and publishers seem to have pretty strong opinions on the matter one way or the other.

However, there’s such a strong sense of yearning for redemption in Fegan. He’s a bad man desperately trying to do good, in the only way he knows how – by doing bad. Fegan’s turbulent emotions drive the narrative forward. He’s vulnerable and sad and a stone-cold killer. It’s proof once again that your protagonist – if written well – doesn’t have to conform to rigid ideas of good and bad. If his or her motivation is strong enough, if their very soul is at stake, then you can understand their needs, if not necessarily like what they do.

And what about you — who are you favourite killers and assassins in crime thriller fiction?