Do you think of the twists first then the story, or does this change every time?
I have completed five books now. One will never see the light of day, but two are due for publication this year, one next year, whilst the other I hope to have Bloodhound Books publish as well. On each of those five occasions the process was entirely different. Degrees of Darkness, due in September, came to me fully formed. I knew the beginning, middle and end. The ending of Bad to the Bone only came to me two-thirds of the way through, and even then I had not fully made my mind up as to who the main culprits would be.
I think if I can get the storyline clear in my head, I can live with the fact that along the way I have to sow seeds of doubt, I have to inject pace and conflict at the right times, I have to have one or two red herrings, and if I can throw in a twist so much the better. Yes, it leads to re-writes. But as a writer you do them anyway when you edit, and I would much rather do it that way than plot the book chapter by chapter before writing word one of the actual book. I've tried that, but I am far too impatient and just want to get on with the writing. What I have come to learn along the way is that there is no right or wrong way to approach this – only the end result counts.
If you've spent time researching for your book, how difficult is it to not overload the reader?
It can be difficult omitting material you have lovingly (or not!!) spent so much time researching. On the other hand, I think you need to approach research in full knowledge that only a fraction should ever reach the page. For both Bad to the Bone and Degrees of Darkness I did a lot of research, and given the subject matter of each I was fortunate enough to be able to include a fair amount of what I learned about both taxidermy and the transformation a body's skeletal structure goes through as it ages.
Much of my research is about police procedure and it is vital. For instance, I recently completed a first draft of a book featuring the National Crime Agency, and were it not for research would have made a complete hash of the basic premise of the entire book. Oddly enough, both the NCA and Met were brilliant in answering my questions, whereas my local police service…not so much.
What advice would you give someone who was just starting their writing career?
Believe in yourself. I did, and then I didn't, before I did again. That middle part cost me a lof of years where I wrote without conviction and failed to complete a single thing. Also, don't just assume that raw talent will get the job done. It's arrogant to think that you can write something without having to work at it and learn the craft. Finally, read as much as you can. If you enjoy a book, read it again, only the second time around decide what about it made you enjoy it so much; disassemble it and figure out what worked and what didn't.
Can you tell us about your work in progress/next book idea?
I am a chapter or so short of completing my follow up to Bad to the Bone, which takes the main characters from Peterborough to California and Ireland this time around. I have also started sketching out a third book in the series, which will edge into espionage territory, and it is already starting to have a nice feel about it.
Another book, a fast-paced action thriller, is awaiting me in first-draft form, and I will shortly move that on through its first major edit. In the back of my head I am toying with ideas for a potential follow up to Degrees of Darkness, my psychological crime thriller due out later in 2017, which features ex-detective Frank Rogers. I have already written a sequel, which I decided I didn't like, but I feel I want to extend Frank's story.
Has a character ever surprised you as to where they want to take the story? And if so, tell us about it.
Yes. In the action thriller mentioned in a previous question my main character took me in directions I had not expected to take. I had the germ of an idea, the first few chapters of which I wrote a while back, but when I started writing it for real the lead took over and pretty much dictated what I should write. I felt as if he was dragging me along for the ride rather than me telling him where to go and what to do. He took on a life all of this own. That's the first time I have not been in control of the storyline, and I have to say it felt great to write that way. It felt liberating.
I had read of this phenomenon, and must admit to having been sceptical about it. Not now, though. I wonder if perhaps the specifics of the story allowed me that greater flexibility, allowed me to cast off the shackles. Whatever the reason, I would not be at all anxious about experiencing it again in the future.
Thank you for taking part in my Questionnaire, can I please ask one final question?
Do you read other crime fiction books, if so who is your favourite author and why?
Michael Connelly is, for me, the best modern crime writer. Harry Bosch is just such a wonderful creation, but I also rate Micky Haller very highly. He is about to present us with a brand new lead character, and I am so eager to read that. His style is so fluid, and he makes even the most complex plots so easy to read. Bosch is a deceptive character, who observes the rules when he has to but is equally happy to break them if it gets his man.
Connelly just writes such great prose, his dialogue is spot on, and he brings LA to life on the page. He also happens to have written one of my top 3 favourite books, The Poet, which is a real tour-de-force of character and plot-driven crime writing at its best.
So that's it – thank you so very much for your interest in my work.