Today I am pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for The Pain Of Strangers. I’m sharing my Q&A with the author with thanks to Zoe O’Farrell for inviting me on the tour and to Andrew Barrett for answering my questions!
Have you always wanted to write?
When you ask it like that, and after giving this question a fair bit of thought, I’d have to say yes. I realise how boring that might be, but given all the other things out there that I could have aspired to be, none come to mind. I was good with machines when I was a nipper, and that continued up until adulthood; I would happily rip and engine to bits and rebuild it, and I loved doing it. But I realise now it’s not the engine I loved (if you know what I mean – I’m not that kinky!), it was the building, the creation of something I saw as almost beautiful. So, I never wanted to be an astronaut or a lawyer; I was always good with my hands and my head, in a creative way, so yes, I have always wanted to write.
What were your previous jobs? Have they helped you with your writing process?
I suppose the answer above brings us nicely to my previous jobs.
I was a 16-year-old who forgot to go back to school and sit his O-levels; too busy on the farm I’d been working at since I was 12. I learned one thing: hard work is good for the soul, but it pays shit money, so you’re always going to be fit but skint. I might have learned that lesson, but it didn’t stop me turning my hand to machines not long afterward. I became an HGV mechanic and quickly ruined my back – so now I was unfit and skint – not a great combination.
In my early 20s I went back to college and got my OND in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. This opened a door for me as an Oilfield Services Technician in Kuwait. I lasted 6-months before the heat shrivelled me up, and, prune-like, I returned to the UK and built earthmover engines for Caterpillar.
And then my back went twang!
Luckily, I was able to apply for – and I got – a job with West Yorkshire Police as a CSI. That was in 1996, when I was in my twenties. I’m in my fifties now and I swear someone fast-forwarded my life while I was asleep because no way have I been in this job nearly half my life.
My mechanical background really does help me with my job of understanding crime scenes – points of entry, weapons, all the kinds of things that benefit from a mechanical insight. And of course, this is still my current job and it provides the foundation for my writing, really; it gives me the insight I need to make stories about as real as you’ll get anywhere. Yes, research is good, but nothing beats experience when it comes to writing about crime scenes.
What was your inspiration for The Pain of Strangers?
Well, The Pain of Strangers is the brand new first book in an already written six book series. You might say that the inspiration for writing it was the need for a new first novel. The old one, The Third Rule, is a great story but it has a political backdrop that’s too ingrained in the story to remove. But the rest of the series are pure crime thrillers with no political nonsense at all. So you see, The Third Rule was not an ideal book to begin a series with. And after wondering why promotions didn’t work too well, I realised that the oddity that was The Third Rule had to go (it’ll be coming back out as a standalone in the coming months).
And I needed something to introduce the main character, CSI Eddie Collins, and I needed it to end where book two began – roughly. So there are bits of the story that are similar to those in The Third Rule, just to put Eddie and the other series characters in the right place.
How do you construct your characters? Do they have trait of people you know?
West Yorkshire Police are my employers, and they have a big say in whether I can have a business, and very big say in whether I can be a writer. In order to grant me permission to write, they stipulated that I must not use any victim of crime in my books, and I have stuck to that – I’d be daft not to!
I have written over 300 hundred characters, and only one of them bears any resemblance to a real person. In The Third Rule there is a character, Stuart, who is a real slime-bag. I needed a character who was just like him, and I needed to write this character with something approaching hatred for him (it really does shine through), so I chose the only person I knew and disliked enough to give me that authenticity. Fortunately for me, he’s retired now so I no longer have to see him. But I still haven’t used a real victim of crime.
I construct my main characters with great care. Gender and age are first. Social standing and name come next, and then background. Nature and nurture known, I’m able to bring them to life with a few oddments I might pick up by people-watching. Out of the list above, I find that the name brings a person to life the most in my own head (Roger Conniston – the main character in the first three crime books I wrote, used to be called Jonathan Benedict – I changed the name and I found I could write him better, with a bit more fire in his belly). Once I’m satisfied that the name fits the character, it becomes much easier to slip into the character’s mind and feel the things they feel.
What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I would like to say I’m a bit of both – a plotter and a pantser. But really, I’m not. I’m a pantser and I write like hell until I hit an obstruction or paint myself into a corner. And then I turn into a plotter. I take out a sheet of A3 paper and I construct a flow diagram leading up to where I find myself stuck, and I try out different scenes to get me going again. Sometimes the best scenes are those that aren’t the most logical.
How did you research The Pain of Strangers? Did you enjoy it?
Because of my job and the genre I write in, I’m very lucky in that I don’t have to do a lot of research. I did a little this time on blood poisoning to see how long it might take for someone to die from it, and believe it or not, I also did some research into Leeds’s past – especially when it came to… ah, not saying another word! You almost caught me out, there! But, yes, I found both aspects of research fascinating, and I learned I’m one of those who could follow a topic down the rabbit hole and disappear for hours at a time when I should have been writing!
Who are your favourite authors and are you influenced by them?
I think it would be difficult to say, at least in my early days as a writer, that I was not influenced by Stephen King, and James Herbert, and Bernard Cornwell. But I made a conscious effort – again, back in the early days – to switch them off. I was scared to death of writing something for fear of sounding like one of those authors. But when I began writing Stealing Elgar, I let go of all the fear and the constraints and just wrote how I wanted to write. I’ve often referred to this as a physical happening, and even now I’m convinced it was. I consider that day to be the day I found my voice.
If you could invite three people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be and why?
I’ll put my mum and dad aside for this one – they win this question every time.
I’d invite Granddad Jack. My wife, Sarah, tells some wonderful tales of Jack, and how he could eat a full box of chocolates in half an hour, and how he was a box of giggles from getting up in the morning (or afternoon, because he worked nights) to going to bed. I would have loved to have met him and having him round for a bite to eat would be a real pleasure.
Freddie Mercury. I’d like to have met Freddie. I saw him perform in Leeds in 1982, and Queen blew me away. I’ve seen countless documentaries about him and the band since then and read loads of interviews. But I’d like to bring him to my dinner table and get to know him – I don’t know why, but I think we share a real affinity – the real him, I mean, not the showman.
The last would be a toss-up between Einstein, Steven Hawking, and Brian Cox. I do enjoy physics and the study of the cosmos. I’m no great brain when it comes to quantum mechanics, but I am fascinated by it. I’d like to meet one of these guys to tell me more about it all, to engross me with what’s out there, and what is possible for mankind to achieve. I’ve seen Brian Cox a couple of times and I love his passion, and I like Hawking’s way of getting a point over. I think for ease of arrangement, we should go for Cox, okay?
Who would I least like to be stuck in a lift with?
How long have you got?
We’ll just say politicians and leave it at that 😉
Who would play the main character in a film version of The Pain of Strangers?
Hmm, I’ve asked this before in my Facebook group, and got a variety of answers. My own answer is incredibly unhelpful: “Erm, dunno.” I’m not well up on actors and actresses, I’m afraid. When I watch a film, I really do appreciate fine acting, of course, but I also listen to the script, and the dialogue. Nothing makes me reach of the ‘off’ button quicker than duff dialogue.
I just asked my Facebook group again who they would cast as Eddie, and they said…
Cillian Murphy or Danny Miller or Steve Graham. Probably Danny Miller for me.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I am daddy to a 7-year-old daughter, and a nine-month-old daughter, so I don’t suffer from boredom. We also have a white German shepherd called Boomer and a fox terrier called Basil, so they make sure I get plenty of exercise.
I bought a drone for Christmas the year before last and haven’t flown it yet. I bought it because two years ago, my first drone flew away by itself and hasn’t been seen since. I love to watch the views of North Yorkshire from a couple of hundred feet up – staggering.
I used to have a Ford Capri. I built a 2.9 Cologne motor for it, all polished and painted, and then I built a v8 and constructed a bellhousing to mate it to the Ford Type-9 gearbox… Yep, I love Capris, but a divorce spelled the end for it, and she had to go.
I love pencil drawing, but I haven’t done any for years. Honestly, if I do get any spare time, I write, and I write, and I write.
What is next for you?
I have book number 7 in mind and am a couple of thousand words into it. I also have a stand-alone book called 1977 that needs finishing, I’m about 40k words into that. Of course, because The Pain of Strangers is the replacement first-in-series book, replacing The Third Rule, I need to populate The Third Rule with a new cast of characters, and that’ll take up quite a bit of time, as will pushing forward with incidental changes throughout the series caused by inserting The Pain of Strangers into that number 1 slot. So, lots to do.
Book – I love dozens of King novels but I’m going for The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell. There, that shocked you, didn’t it?
Film – The Martian. Watched it dozens of times, and I’m in awe of the entire thing each time. I’ll never get bored of it. (I also love Heat!)
Band – Cripes, lots to go at here, but beating Pink Floyd into a close second place is the band I grew up with and lived with: Queen.
TV Show – Loved Friends, and now love The Big Bang Theory, but, despite its poor ending, I’d have to go for The Game of Thrones (though I loved Band of Brothers, too!)
Colour – Blue
Place – Italy (but I love Yorkshire, too)
Biscuit – You’ll laugh… I adore malted milk biscuits.
The Pain Of Strangers is available from Amazon.
You can follow the rest of the blog tour here: