AS A CHILD, WHAT DID YOU WANT TO DO WHEN YOU GREW UP?
I wanted to be a writer from an early age. And not just a writer, but a novelist. At school I loved writing stories, and when I found out my English teacher wrote novels (she wrote crime thrillers), I was intrigued to know a real-life author. I realised novelists were normal people, just like me, and it made me think maybe I could write a book. My first novel wasn’t published until I was in my 40s, so I had a long wait until I achieved my ambition.
HOW DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA AS AN AUTHOR?
I have something of a love/hate relationship with social media. I’m on Twitter – primarily to promote my books – but in reality I seem to spend most of my time ranting about politics, so it probably isn’t doing my mental health any favours. I do, however, try to engage with fellow authors, and Twitter can also be a good way to connect with readers who want to get in touch. I love hearing from readers, and social media definitely helps to enable that. I’m also on Instagram, but I mostly just use that for posting pics of my pets.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS PROFESSIONAL EDITING TO YOUR BOOK’S DEVELOPMENT?
Editing is vitally important. Most of the work in creating a novel is done in the edits. This is where the book is shaped and the flaws (hopefully) ironed out. I’m lucky in that I’ve mostly worked with really good editors who have understood my books and together we’ve made the books as polished as they can be.
IF YOU COULD SPEND A DAY WITH ANOTHER POPULAR AUTHOR, WHOM WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
That’s a difficult one. There are authors that I admire but I’m not sure I’d want to spend any time with them! However, I think someone who is both a brilliant author and comes across as being a really nice guy is Peter James. I think I’d enjoy hanging out with Peter, and I might even pick up a few useful writing tips at the same time.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE SERIES OR SERIES AUTHORS?
The above-mentioned Peter James, whose Roy Grace books are just brilliant. But I also enjoy Marion Todd’s DI Clare Mackay crime series set in St Andrews, and of course Ian Rankin, whose Rebus books are enormously readable. I really liked Sarah Hilary’s DI Marnie Rome books, though I’m not sure if Sarah’s still writing them…
WHAT BOOKS HAVE YOU READ MORE THAN ONCE IN YOUR LIFE?
I’ve read the wonderful Mapp & Lucia books by EF Benson literally dozens of times. I think the books are brilliantly funny and manage to depict all the charm and brittleness of a quaint English town between the wars. The characters are flawed and achingly funny. I’m lucky enough to live near Rye in Sussex where the majority of the books are set, and real-life Rye today isn’t a million miles removed from 1930s Tilling.
WHAT COMES FIRST FOR YOU — THE PLOT OR THE CHARACTERS — AND WHY?
For the Denning and Fisher series, the plot always comes first. I need to know that there’s a story strong enough to justify writing the book, and it helps to know where – and what – all the big twists are. As it’s a series, most of the main characters are already in my head, so I’m usually able to second guess their approach to any situation (though sometimes they still manage to surprise me). I’m currently writing a standalone psychological thriller, and for that the characters very definitely came before the plot. In fact, this is the first time I’ve written a book without plotting it in advance – it’s slightly scary.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO GET INSIDE YOUR CHARACTER’S HEADS?
This is something I’ve never had a problem with. Even from a very young age I was always imagining what it would be like to be other people. Once I know my characters, it’s never hard to think how they think and feel how they feel. A lot of the time I’m writing about people I would secretly quite like to be.
WHAT IS THE MOST VALUABLE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN ABOUT WRITING?
A successful author once told me that the only way I would guarantee that I’d never be published was to stop writing. The advice came at a time when I was going through a bad patch with my writing and was seriously thinking about giving it up. His advice was enough to persuade me to keep trying.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE AND LEAST FAVOURITE PART OF PUBLISHING?
I always look forward to book launch day. My publishers make a big fuss of me and people say nice things about my latest book. It makes me feel appreciated and special. I’m also lucky to have brilliantly supportive publishers in Hera Books. My least favourite part is the whole competitive angle. I know publishing is an industry like any other, and both publishers and authors are looking to make money from books, but obsessing over Amazon rankings, or the number and quality of reviews, etc is something that just depresses me. I’m not a particularly competitive person; I just want to earn a living doing something I enjoy. But I appreciate that means having to play the game, and publishers are inevitably always looking for ‘the next big thing’.