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.
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.
- 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.
- You can only discover your own voice if you sing, so just get on and write!
- 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…