Q1: Why do you write?
When I was much younger, in my early school days, I was always making up stories and drawing pictures. Later, for various reasons, I leant more towards science subjects and on leaving University I went into the oil industry. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and deep down I retained a yearning to tell tales. It dawned on me a few years ago that now, with the opportunities offered by self-publishing, it might be possible to see my books on sale and being enjoyed by readers.
Q2: Where do you get your ideas?
Ah, the classic author question. I can get ideas from almost anywhere: news stories, other books, something I just happen to have witnessed in the street… For someone writing in a particular genre, as I do, some bounds are set on what you can or can’t do, but otherwise I believe you can work almost any idea—even the most mundane-sounding—into a great novel.
I’ve heard some authors talk about taking a long time to find the very best idea, rejecting many others along the way, but I look at it a different way. I think it’s how you adapt your idea and put your own slant on it, the process involved, that makes writing shine. So, in terms of ideas, I’d emphasise the how and the why over the what.
Q3: How about the Lucas Gedge Series specifically—how did you dream that up?
Before I started writing in earnest, I planned a series in which the protagonist was a Victorian plant hunter. This was an attempt to “write what you know,” as my day job involves horticulture. After a while, I realised that this was going to be just too niche and would lead me up a blind alley.
Probably the biggest influence in readjusting to focus on an ex-soldier fighting crime in late Victorian London was the television series Ripper Street (five seasons, screened 2013-2016, BBC/BBC America/Amazon). I still believe that was a brilliant show, and I often think of it when visualising what East London must have been like back in those days. If you like the Gedge stories, and haven’t seen Ripper Street, track it down!
Q4: Can you briefly describe your writing process?
In the early stages, I use trusty Moleskine notebooks to jot down my initial thoughts and questions to myself. Later, I might move to Google Docs when I get a bit more organised, and then, when I’m ready to start outlining, I’ll start in on a new project in the Scrivener writing software.
I’m the sort of writer who really needs to make a plan in advance, and some of the problems I’ve had with my first few books have been because I started writing scenes too quickly. That led to me junking 20,000 words of Blood Tribute as I decided I’d taken the wrong path.
While I’m writing I will contact a cover designer to produce an arresting and appropriate cover image. I like to get this done quite early, as it provides a jolt of inspiration.
After several drafts and revisions, I export the book to Microsoft Word and hand it over to a copy editor. It’s vital to get your work professionally edited. After I get it back and apply the corrections, it’s time to send it off again, this time to a proofreader. Back it comes and there are a few, hopefully final, corrections to be made. Then I bring the Word file into the excellent formatting software Vellum, which prepares the book to be uploaded to Amazon, and makes it look great to boot. After that, it’s only a few short steps to making the book available for sale.
Q5: Where and when do you write?
My “basecamp” is the iMac in my study at home. Lots of high-resolution screen real estate and where I also work on the website, image manipulation etc. I frequently use my small MacBook Air elsewhere in the house or on my travels. Scrivener syncs between the computers so I can work seamlessly in different places. Like many writers, I often use the facilities at coffee shops, and I’m writing this in one of them now!
I’m probably the most productive in the mornings. However, having a full-time job means fitting in the writing whenever possible, and I don’t have a problem writing at any time of day.
Q6: Do you agree with the statement “Now is the best time to be a writer”?
In one respect, I wouldn’t know, as I didn’t try to get published via the traditional route. My dad did, and saw several of his efforts at detective novels go through the submission-rejection process.
What I can say is that today the process, the tools and the network are there for anybody, on any budget, to get their work out there in front of readers. Once you do that, it’s up to those readers to judge your books for good or ill. Note that to succeed you will have to be smart in marketing as well, but here too, thanks to the wonderful independent author community, help is at hand.
Q7: Could you tell us about your favorite thriller authors and their books?
Currently I have two favorite authors, whose writing is influencing my upcoming contemporary thriller series.
The Orphan X books by Gregg Hurwitz are great. The protagonist, Evan Smoak, was an orphan recruited to a secret assassination squad, and the books describe his life after he leaves the team, intent on making amends for the crimes he has committed by helping those in dire need. He now goes under another alias: “The Nowhere Man.” He is being hunted by other former members of the Orphan Program, so has that to deal with as well as helping out his clients. The books are fast-paced and difficult to put down.
The other series I’m really enjoying is by Nick Petrie. His Peter Ash novels focus on an ex-marine who suffers from PTSD, in his case manifesting as “white noise” whenever he enters confined spaces. He’s a likable but deadly guy, who for various reasons has to help out in different scenarios that tend to call for extreme action.
The two series are different in many ways. The Orphan X series is cooler and more concerned with technology. Smoak is, due to his background, not an emotional person, despite his regular on/off relationship with a neighbor and her young son. He is a very clearly-drawn character who favors minimalism and efficiency, and has a penchant for rare and very unusual vodkas. Peter Ash is much more relatable, and his series feels warmer as a result. His struggles with the “white noise” are handled well. I’d recommend both series to the discerning thriller reader. At the time of writing there are four books in each series, with more on the way in both cases.
Q8: What is the biggest mistake you have made so far?
In trying to make a career of writing, the biggest problem so far is my lack of speed. The first Lucas Gedge book came out in July 2016, and the third has only just been released, over three years later. Not good enough!
I’m aiming to remedy this in several ways. First, I’m stopping myself getting into the first draft until I have a decent outline written out, at least covering the major scenes. Second, I will be more disciplined at writing whenever time allows, even if I’m not fully in the mood, as well as using tricks such as writing in short sprints and leaving scenes hanging between sessions, so I can get back into the swing of things immediately. I’m also starting to experiment with dictation, which can increase word count by a lot.