Welcome to my blog Owen. It seems to me that we have some similarities – into music, played in bands, some success with short stories that we failed to move on, then turned to writing novels later in life. Your bio suggests turning to writing was a means to an end, but to stick at it and turn out successful novels people want to read takes more than that, right? So tell me, what do you enjoy most about the writing life and what do you enjoy least.
Hi Tony and thanks for having me here today. You’re quite right, when I first put pen to paper I had no idea that I was about to embark on the biggest, most fulfilling venture of my life. The call to write came late – I wish that hadn’t been the case.
Writing, of course, is a process. The process has many parts, some more enjoyable than others. Watching a character come to life on the page is an amazing thing; they become a part of you. You find yourself discussing them as though they actually exist. Take Charlie Cameron for instance; when I walk through the streets of Glasgow I’ll see a new restaurant and think, Charlie would like that. Or I pass by the spot that NYB is on and clearly see Charlie and the gang hanging out there. They have become friends. On the flip side, the part I least enjoy is about halfway through a book. I’m always convinced I won’t get the story to work.
Charlie Cameron is a PI rather than a DI – what was your reason for setting your lead character outside of the police service framework?
A friend of mine is a detective with Police Scotland CID, so, with access to that knowledge it would have been easy to make Charlie a policeman. But I didn’t. I find the idea of a private investigator – a maverick not fettered by the constraints of police procedure more appealing. And I also wanted to get away from the broken down, alcoholic at odds with his superiors stereotype.
Delaney – another PI – is set in the US. What was the lure of taking on a fresh setting and a brand new character?
With Charlie in Scotland and Vincent Delaney in New Orleans, I was able to explore very different lives and challenges in very different places. American crime fiction has always fascinated me. I’ve been reading it since I was a teenager and it’s never lost its appeal. To find myself, even geographically, beside a master like James Lee Burke is an inspiration.
Readers like to know how books get shaped. Whether you’re a plotter or pantster, what is your usual routine when completing a new novel?
Most definitely a plotter at the outset of each book, but I believe in letting the story develop naturally. As the writing progresses it comes alive and leads you down some very exciting routes that you may miss if you try to map it all at once. I believe this method for me creates the most interesting outcomes.
Do you enjoy research or is it just part of the job?
Apart from the essential value of research, it’s such an interesting aspect of the job. The trick, for me, is to use what I learn sparingly. There’s nothing worse than turning a page and finding an information dump.
Do you write in bursts or are you a steady x number of words per day man?
I’m a steady turn up every day and see what develops man. It keeps me connected to the story, the characters and the work ethic required to finish any book. Of course life gets in the way, but most days you’ll find me at my desk from around 10am to 4pm.
Which current authors do you admire most, and why?
Stephen King epitomises the writing life for me – almost fifty years and still going strong; and I particularly like James Lee Burke’s prose.
I’ve often thought that anybody can be taught to write, but that the imagination required to create a story is something you either have or don’t have. Would you agree or disagree, and why?
Absolutely agree. You can’t teach flair, imagination or talent.
Do you take bad reviews (we all get the odd one or two) to heart, or have you become inured to them?
I made a decision early on to accept the truth: that all reviews, favourable or unfavourable, are only other people’s opinions. Having said that, like every writer, I prefer to believe the 5star reviews are right on the money (joke!).
Do you still get a buzz out of wandering into a book shop and finding your novels on the shelves?
Always. Can’t imagine you would ever get tired of that. And of course when no one is looking sneaking yours to the front.
When you write a new main character, do you already know them well as you start writing or do they develop as you go along?
I know the traits they will have. Their personalities unfold as the story develops.
Do you find it easier writing protagonists or antagonists, or is there no difference for you?
Both are enjoyable as long as they’re characters I can believe in.
Thanks for taking part Owen. My final question to you is this: what common traps would you advise aspiring authors to avoid?
Thank you very much Tony, It’s been a pleasure. My advice would be; be sure what story you’re telling and don’t stray far from it, no matter how tempting it may be. And, oh yes, be lucky!
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