How torturous was your road to publication? I know mine was paved with tears and tantrums – was it all plain sailing or did you have a meltdown or two?
My family refer to it as the decade of misery and that may not be too far from the truth. Of course, they only put up with it for a decade – I had 33 years of banging my head against a wall trying to be the person I felt destined to become. From the age of about five, my whole life was about stories. Throughout my life I have felt compelled to be one thing and one thing only – a novelist. But as we all see from X-Factor, just because you really, really want to be something, it doesn’t mean you’re any good at it. I found that out the hard way – spending my twenties sending off endless manuscripts about depressed, bleak-souled journalists stumbling blindly through a miasma of whisky and sin (it’s important to write what you know). The books may have been well drawn but they were miserable as hell to read and that was why I didn’t get an agent or a deal for years – even though I felt sure I was the victim of a conspiracy at the time. It all went right for me about five years back when I amicably parted ways with my then agent and buddied up with Oli Munson. By then I was a bit more savvy about the business and had started writing for the reader rather than for myself and the book we were hawking had more light at its heart than anything I’d written - even if it was still darker than the inside of a pig. Within a fortnight of signing with Oli, a load of different publishing houses were competing for the rights and after that everything went a bit mental. I still haven’t quite come to terms with it all.
What made you move on from the exciting world of crime journalism into novel writing – did it just seem like a natural progression?
I only wanted to be a journalist because it was within kissing distance of writing books and it seemed like something I could do while waiting for my dreams to come true. Unfortunately I spent 15 years doing it! But those years gave me the experiences I needed in order to write the kind of books that I felt I should be writing. If I’d never been a journalist I could never write crime fiction or any other kind of fiction for that matter. I had to meet a lot of people and get close to them; to understand people and find out how they were wired. I still do that to this day and it’s crucial if you want to write rounded, believable characters.
What’s the highlight of your career as a published author to date? Surely Richard and Judy must feature quite highly?!
That was pretty amazing, especially given that it was my first book. In truth, it was being picked by Val McDermid as somebody with the potential to go far – I felt like I had been tickled behind the ear by the queen.
My tip for new writers would be to just keep on keeping on – write every day and never give up – do you have any words of wisdom that you can pass on to aspiring writers?
Bloody good advice! You can’t moan about not being a writer if you don’t write. And give yourself time – nobody’s perfect straight away and this whole business is about opinion. Read a lot, try not to steal anybody else’s ideas and try not to self-publish until you’ve exhausted all other options. Above all, think of life as material. View the world through the filter of a writer and absorb the interesting bits every day.
Where did your first novel come from? Was it inspired by anything in particular (Like something HUGELY exciting that you witnessed in your career?)?
The central idea for my first book, Dark Winter, involved somebody bumping off the sole survivors of various atrocities. I used to work in a nasty little regional newspaper office in central Hull and there was a framed front page hanging in the wall about the only man who escaped the triple trawler tragedy of 1968. Perhaps it started there. It just kind of came to me but there is a big different between an idea for a book, and a book. Turning one Post-it note of scribbles into 100,000 words is where the hard work starts.
How did you know that your first book was THE ONE – I know that I suffered huge, monster sized doubts about my novel before I sent it out, but deep down I DID believe that it was THE ONE – Did you feel the same?
McAvoy helped. Before that my characters were all equally dark and vile and morally bankrupt. Having a decent man wading through this sea of bleakness made a huge difference. He helped me find the voice I’d been looking for.
What’s next up on the agenda?
Dead Pretty is out on the 28th so I have lots of promotions and publicity to get through, then all the hard work starts again on the next Mcavoy bok, which might just be taking Aector out of Hull for the first time. He’ll be more out of his comfort zone than a panda on a motorbike and I can’t wait. There’s also my first historical novel, which will be out next year. And in a moment I may go and have a banana and peanut butter muffin, so I can scratch it off my to-do list ….
Dead Pretty is out on now and you can get it here: