Tenacity is your debut, can you say a little about the story – what’s your elevator pitch?
Elevator pitch huh? Well, it’s Girl Gone from a Train meets The Bourne for Red October!!!
Or, a trifle more accurately, it’s about a female investigator from the Royal Navy, Dan Lewis, who’s called in to investigate a murder-suicide onboard a nuclear submarine. She’s an ultimate outsider – female in a very male dominated environment, a crusher (military police) – and when the submarine hatch closes, I don’t think there’s a locked room environment quite like it.
How have you found the process of getting your book published?
Getting published is a hard old slog, no question about that. I know some very talented, or very lucky, people just write the one book and it becomes a phenomena and fair play to them, but they’re few and far between. For the rest of us it’s about learning how stories work, writing some very bad novels as we start to hone our skill, and then submitting and hoping we get picked up by an agent.
And really, when you get picked up by an agent, that’s not the end of the road, but it is the point at which you get really great, market-savvy advice from someone who is invested in you and your book, and that is a huge help.
I was fortunate enough to be picked up by Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown, and this led to a three month re-working of Tenacity before we sent it out to publishers. Tenacity then sold at auction to Vicki Mellor at Headline and I was delighted, but that again led to another round of heavy re-writes. So it’s a long journey, but very, very worth it.
What drew you to crime fiction as a genre?
I tried a few genres and have completed novels that are horror (really, really awful!), Fantasy (I think I was being pretentious at the time and called it a Phantasy – it was terrible), Erotica (Oh hell yeah, I went there, and it was before 50 Shades – truly dreadful) and then hit upon thrillers and crime. I think my writing started to improve when I began writing in this genre and I really started to enjoy it more too. Once I started going to events like Crimefest and Harrogate, and met other authors in the genre, I was hooked. It should have been obvious really, as the vast majority of my reading is in Crime Thrillers, so I think I’ll be happy here for a long time to come.
Your investigator is a Royal Navy Special Investigator, have you ever crossed paths with one yourself?
Errr, I’ve crossed the Regulators on several occasions as young sailor – stories for the bar maybe?
What facts were you surprised to find yourself researching?
You know what!! I dread someone looking at my search history, I really do – I think all authors must be the same. The things I Google about decomposing bodies and how people look when they’ve been suffocated and stuff…
Fortunately I do have some great friends in the medical profession who spare my search history sometimes and humour me by answering my odd questions.
The things that surprise me the most though are things I should know and have forgotten. I spent years walking on and off submarines and then have to Google pictures on the web because I can’t remember what the ship’s name boards look like or some such thing. You use it or lose it, definitely
What have your former submarine colleagues made of the book – do they think they can spot themselves?
You know, this made me more nervous than anything else – how would the submarine community react to the book – but it’s been hugely positive so far and several of the guys have read and enjoyed Tenacity, which is a huge relief. It’s also worth noting that it was only in my last few years of service that people found out that I wrote at all, as I’d kept it secret for many years (I don’t know why) so for them, this all seems to have happened very quickly and they’re very much behind me.
In regards to spotting themselves – they aren’t in there and I’ll never say otherwise ;-)
Have you found the writing process differs for the second book?
Definitely! When you write your first book you have carte blanche and can do as you please. You can twist and turn, add or remove characters at will, and stop and write something completely different if you choose. For me, I found getting the second book flowing much more difficult. All of a sudden I had markers laid down – a main character who already had a forming background and personality – supporting characters who we wanted to see more or less of – a location and a theme (the Royal Navy) that we wanted to stick with – and my new story had to fit within these markers, and comfortably engulf them.
I started book 2 twice, each time writing around 35 thousand words before I abandoned it. But, with help from Jonny and Vicki, (and this is where excellent agents and editors really are worth their weight in gold) we were able to locate the problem and I’m now off and running on book 2 and feeling much happier about it. In fact, I’m very excited about it.
Who are the writers who have inspired you?
So many, but to list a very few – Cormac McCarthy’s use of language is just phenomenal; William McIlvanney’s ability to present a ‘sense of place’ is second to none; Thomas Harris has a rare ability to create tension that you can actually feel through the pages. But there are so many others who have also helped to inspire me – Mark Billingham, Peter James, Val McDermid, Stav Sherez the list just goes on and on and I could wax lyrical about each of them, what they do brilliantly, and what it is that really helped me to develop as a writer.
I think the thing is, when you want to be a writer, you need to read books from these authors, as well as newer authors in your genre, and alternate between reading for fun and just enjoying it, and then reading to understand what these authors are doing, how they drive the story forward, how they foreshadow events and bring about amazing plot twists. Read it to study, slowly, take notes if you need to, and try to learn your craft from their work.
What are you reading at the moment?
Just finished The Dying Place by Luca Veste – Very, very good!
Next up is The Defence by Steve Cavanagh – really excited, reviews have been amazing!
After that on the TBR pile are
I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh – top ten bestseller by an amazing author – I can’t wait to get to this one.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl and Dark Places were excellent – so really looking forward to this one.
But…. I don’t really read fiction when I’m writing my first draft, so it’ll be The Grudge by Tom English and other rugby related non-fic until mid-October, I’m guessing.
Thank you very much for having me on the blog ☺ see you at the launch xx
Thank you to James for taking the time to answer my questions – you can find out more about him and Tenacity at www.jslawbooks.com