Today I’m pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Shaking Hands With The Devil. I’m sharing my Q&A with the author with thanks to Zoe O’Farrell for inviting me on the tour and to Bryan J Mason for answering my questions!
Have you always wanted to write?
I have, despite less than effusive encouragement from teachers at school. I thought that writing allowed me scope to explain what was going on in my head, and it might help me to understand whether it made sense or not. I wrote SHWTD over 30 years ago and my failure to get it published at the time upset me so much that I decided that I was a failed author and might as well go on and be a failure at something else. Which largely I have been! To get it published at last is a wonderful feeling.
What were your previous jobs? Have they helped you with your writing process?
I have done a wide variety of jobs, including a brush salesman and rent collector, making sound effects for BBC radio and have also been a tax inspector and occasional actor. Not every day has been riotous fun, but all of the jobs have helped enrich my life experience and allowed me to meet a variety of interesting and sometimes challenging people, some of whom may crop up in some form or other in stories.
What was your inspiration for Shaking Hands with the Devil?
I was very interested in the concept of a crazy serial killer who was also confused about why he did it, and what he would do when he decided that enough was enough. I also wanted to make the story funny and didn’t think that there was anything else out there that was like that.
How do you construct your characters? Do they have traits of people you know?
My killer, Clifton Gentle, is slightly based on the real life serial killer Dennis Nilsen, but in many ways he resembles me a little more. Which can worry people when I tell them!
My detective DCI Dave Hicks owes a lot to someone I worked with who was such an incompetent, self-obsessed, clumsy fool, but no one else but me seemed to see it. I think Dave is a little more sympathetic, but he still hacks people off.
What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I had a very rough and ready storyline in my head for SHWTD which allowed a lot of things to develop, but probably meant that ultimately I had to do too many redrafts. My latest novel is much more driven by a story board, but I like to allow characters to do their own thing and am looking forward to swerves in the plot as it takes on a life of its own.
How did you research SHWTD? Did you enjoy it?
It was years of being drawn to the dark side of life, reading gory and grisly stories of murder, visiting real life crime scenes and thinking about how I wanted my characters to behave. At the time I was living in a shabby, squalid London and it was easy to capture that atmosphere. Although the novel is based on a real place at a real time, it is essentially a work of imagination and I prefer to go with that impulse rather than be hung up with reality.
Who are your favourite writers? Are you influenced by them?
I read widely and love many genres, but my current favourite writer is David Peace, author of the Red Riding Quartet and Tokyo Trilogy, who is not only a great storyteller, but has a daring almost confrontational style which stretches the boundaries. I pale into insignificance beside him. Other favourites are Elmore Leonard for his wonderfully flawed characters and snappy dialogue. My all time favourite writer is Robert Caro, author of biographies of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. His writing is so clear and drags you into another world which is never dull. I’d also like to mention John Kennedy O’Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, masterpieces respectively of comedy and humanity.
If you could invite three people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be and why?
They are all American; Raymond Chandler, creator of Philip Marlowe, would be brilliantly clever, Groucho Marx would keep the laughs going throughout the evening and lastly Lizzie Borden, to find out if she actually did commit the murders she was acquitted of.
Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with and why?
I think Jacob Rees-Mogg would be quite hard going, especially if he stretched out across the floor.
Who would play the main character/s in a film version of SHWTD?
When it was written the late Warren Clarke would have been brilliant as DCI Dave Hicks, but I think Daniel Mays could capture the humour and arrogance nicely now. I would rather have an unknown actor play Clifton Gentle to give jobs to a new generation, but Ben Whishaw would do a decent job playing the cold hearted killer who analyses why he does it.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love going to the theatre and am a part time theatre reviewer in Bristol for StageTalk Magazine and Bristol 24/7, and am happiest having laughs with friends over a good meal with wine. I am a born again swimmer and cyclist.
What is next for you?
I’m progressing well with my next novel, An Old Tin Can, based in Belfast during the time of The Troubles. Its very much concerned with identity and delusion about those identities. My Jewish detective loves being an outsider and has to convince others that there is a serial killer in the midst of the sectarian killings. It doesn’t sound it, but is a barrel of laughs.
Book? John Kennedy O’Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces – a comic masterpiece
Film? Alfred Hitchcock’s Pyscho
Band/Singer? Sam Baker – hardly anyone has heard of him. Look up the album Mercy.
TV show? Line of Duty -Ted Hastings is a great character.
Colour? Blue (I’m a longstanding Chelsea fan and it Is The Colour)
Place? The South West coastal path, always changing and unfailingly beautiful.
Biscuit? Garribaldi – fruit, biscuit and a silly name, what’s not to like?
Shaking Hands With The Devil is available from Amazon.
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