Monday, 30 September 2013

Slowwww.... burn

I remember some years ago a gentleman who discovered he was going to be raided, suspected of 'activities incompatible with diplomatic status'. This was bureaucratic long-hand for spying, and the diplomat in question was thought to have been at it for some time before he got careless and attracted the attention of the security authorities.

It was at a time when spies who got caught with their fingers in the Top Secret information jar usually spent only a short term in prison followed by an exchange (one of ours for one of theirs). The logic was that anything they might have learned would be soon out of date, so why hold onto them?

It was also at a time when failure by members of certain intelligence gathering networks further east meant they did not receive a warm welcome on their return home. After being drained of everything they might have retained, they simply disappeared off the radar. If they were lucky.

This spy panicked, no doubt thinking of his next destination being somewhere very cold and inhospitable compared with the delights of London, and began setting fire to every scrap of paper he had amassed during the course of his activities. No proof equals no charge.

Two hours later he was still desperately trying to get rid of them when a knock at the door announced the arrival of Special Branch.

I was reminded of this today, after having a blitz on some 25 years of paperwork, none of which I felt able to consign to the nearest landfill site. There wasn't that much - about 2 boxes - but I duly carted them down to the bottom of the garden, and began to burn the contents. (I didn't use accelerant - a neighbour recently lost his eyebrows doing that - but took the patient route, piling on a few pages at a time.

Two hours later was still at it and wondering if the paper I'd been using had been treated with a fire retardant.

All this made me think about the unhappy spy - and about the films and books where a miscreant burns a ton of paper - usually on the open fire inside the house - in very short order before the heavy mob arrives.

It just ain't possible, people, not unless you have a huge bonfire to increase the burn (I used a standard family-size barbecue) and are prepared to go ballistic with a can of petrol (I wasn't - have you seen the price of the stuff here in the UK?) I also have respect for my neighbours, and didn't want to cover their washing with charred bits of my personal notes and stuff.

Although I suppose if I were a foreign spy, and wanted top get rid at any cost, I'd go all out. I'd burn down the house - it would be a lot quicker.

Still, I learned a lot today. Don't hoard stuff. Choose a non-windy day to burn it. Have the patience of a Bhuddist monk. Torching confidential documents is nowhere near as much fun as incinerating slabs of meat and chicken legs, because all you get to eat is dry ash.


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

I don't mind at all...

... my work being compared to other writers. It's not necessarily that a reader finds similarities in style or content between two authors; nor that a character one has created resembles another. I prefer to think (perhaps fooling myself into the bargain) that the reader has been equally captured by the enjoyment of my book to want to make such a comparison.

Whatever the reason, Karen Kleckner Keefe, posting on Booklist Online, clearly has enormous style and taste, as well as unbounded generosity of spirit, by listing my latest Harry Tate book, 'Execution' as comparable with Lee Child's Jack Reacher books - and a great list of others.

As she says (of the Reacher series): 'In an uncertain world, there is something supremely rewarding about reading this justice-dispensing series.'

I have to say, there's something supremely rewarding about writing them, too! If an author doesn't enjoy writing, I firmly believe it will show in the finished work.

Anyway, thank you, Karen, for this comparison - and for including me in such august company. I'd be delighted to find myself on this list any day!

'Execution' (Seven House Pubs). The 5th in the Harry Tate spy thriller series.

Reviewed here by Emily Melton.

Also discussed in my podcast with Publishers Weekly - listen here.


Friday, 20 September 2013

Guest blogging with Lloyd Paige

I was surprised but delighted when I received an email from Lloyd Paige asking me to contribute a guest interview piece to his blog. You can read this and other blog posts here.

As you'll see, Lloyd gets me talking about my writing, where it comes from and how it began... and also about current projects, such as the Harry Tate contemporary spy thriller series and the 1960s-based Lucas Rocco police series (set in France), and the new series, the first book of which is called 'The Watchman', due out in February, I believe (watch this space, as they say).

It was great being asked these questions, because while some called for instinctive answers, many made me think back about everything that has happened since I penned my first story. I can't recall exactly how I felt before I wrote the first one (while at school - got first prize in a competition), but I know it must have seemed like a very, very long reach at the time - and was, unknown to me, the first step in my career as a writer.

Anyway, enough about that. Thank you very much, Lloyd, for this opportunity to blather, and for your carefully considered questions. (And yes, he really did his homework. Stellar stuff!)

Harry Tate spy thriller series (Severn House)
Inspector Lucas Rocco police series (Allison & Busby)

Available here (UK), here (US), here (Can) and all other Amazon sites and good bookshops.

Signed hardback copies (where issued) are available through Goldsboro Books, London.


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Talking about Harry Tate et al with Publishers Weekly...

I was recently delighted to be invited by Publishers Weekly in the US to take part in one of their litcast interviews, where they discuss with authors general writing matters and their latest work (in my case, the 5th Harry Tate novel, 'Execution' (Severn House). There was also mention of comparisons between writing this series and my French-based 1960s police series featuring Inspector Lucas Rocco, when the kind of technology available now to intelligence agencies simply didn't exist.

You can listen here to the interview run by Lenny Picker, PW's gentle Torquemada (and if you listen carefully, hear the faint squeal of the wheels turning on the rack in the cellar). Of course, I jest - he was a real gentleman and coaxed responses from this tongue-tied British author with great ease and no pain.

I was interviewed in a cellar, however, owned by my agent, the urbane David Headley, who helped set up the Skype interview when my own equipment decided to play electronic hookie only minutes before the timed broadcast. Ah, the fun we had - it was like playing spies broadcasting from secret underground locations with seconds to spare before discovery. Not that I would know anything about that, of course...

Anyway, if you have the inclination, please drop by and listen.

"Top-notch for all fans of the spy-action genre and another outstanding effort from an underrated but highly talented author. Fans of Joseph Finder and David Ignatius should start reading Magson right now; he will also appeal to the pure-adrenaline crowd who love Lee Child and Gregg Hurwitz."
Booklist Reviews


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Hush my mouth

I was asked just recently at a book festival whether I was ever required to make changes to a manuscript. I said, 'Hardly ever.' And it's true - other than the normal editing amendments, there has only been an occasional timeline issue or something needing some clarification or expansion, which I've been very happy to do.

Any suggestions for improvement are welcome, in my opinion.

After submitting my latest manuscript - 'The Watchman' - recently to the publishers of the Harry Tate spy thriller series (this one is a new character and storyline, somewhat darker in tone and body-count to Harry), it was pointed out that I'd included a short chapter near the end which slowed down the pace of the narrative.

Wha-? Surely not! Hell on a skateboard, lemme see that...

And you know what? They were absolutely right. I'd put a chapter of blah in the middle of a series of action scenes, which was like taking a pot off the boil at a critical moment. Result: a hiccup in the story and the threat of skimming pages.

I suppose it must have seemed important to me at the time of writing, because I put it in there. But writers can often get too close to a story and need an outside view to point out when something doesn't quite work. Like a hiccup.

And if there's something a thriller can't afford to have, it's a loss of pace. A bit like a ski jumper slowing down just before lift-off: they'll go face down over the lip and drop like a bag of wet spaghetti.

Fortunately, I learned long ago not to get precious about my writing. That's a quick way of annoying people you work with and on whom you rely to bring your work to market. So, if someone comes up with a logical argument for changing something, I'll change it, no problem. (If they don't, of course, I'll fight my corner).

This was one of those times when I'm glad to say they were right. It took me some reading and a day or so to correct (checking that I wasn't causing a domino effect elsewhere in the story), and the job was done.

So, when the next person asks me if I ever change anything, I'll say, 'Yes, sometimes...'

Monday, 9 September 2013

Saintly memories

In a serious nod to the amazingly prolific and successful Leslie Charteris, creator of The Saint back in 1928 (which was almost before my parents were a glimmer, let alone me), Mulholland Books/Hodder have been re-issuing the books in very attractive covers, so that new readers (and those not-so-new) may enjoy the stories.

I was delighted to be invited by Ian Dickerson, the series editor, to write a foreword to one of the books - 'Follow the Saint' - which I remember well, even though I was about 8 or 9 when I first stumbled on it. Like the others, it got thumbed to bits with re-reading.

At that age, I have to admit most of the longer words, along with a few of the concepts in the storylines, like war, honour, politics and the beastly activities of the criminal element so ruthlessly roughed up by Simon Templar - aka 'the Saint' - went right over my head or flew by my ears without settling, and disappeared into the ether. But the idea of this modern-ish Robin Hood fighting criminals (or the ungodly, as he used to refer to them), with a band of like-minded souls, caught my imagination, and I hoovered the books up as rapidly as my parents could get them.

They were only trying to get me to read, while no doubt hoping I'd become too absorbed to get into trouble outside. Well, it worked after a fashion, but perhaps not as they intended; I soon began to fantasise about what a brilliant job it must be to write books for a living, and make up stuff involving guns and crooks and mayhem.

It took me many years to get my own first book into print, although I wrote a great deal over the years in between (mostly short fiction and features), and the dream never died.

And that was all thanks to my parents... and Leslie Charteris.

The story styles have changed a little, as have the times. But they were so brilliantly written then and are still great reads, chock full of characters who jump right off the page.

Available in paperback and ebook formats. (I wonder what Leslie Charteris would have thought about ebooks?)

There are two great sites devoted to the books and Leslie Charteris here and here.

There are far worse characters to follow than the Saint...

Friday, 6 September 2013

Story... house. House... story

House hunting this week. Exciting, nerve-wracking, tiring, interesting... and reminded me a lot of writing a new book, in a weird kind of way. Come up with an interesting idea (property), check it out, see if it hangs together and if not, look at ways of improving, amending, making it different. Framework a little spongy? Groundwork creaky? Location not quite right? Overall structure sagging in the middle like an old carthorse?

With a house, you can call in a gang of men with hammers to put it right. With a storyline, not quite so much.

Decide the (lengthy) job of re-working will be (a) doubtful in outcome (b) dangerous to pocket, life, relationship and pride, and (c) likely to end in disaster on so many levels. So suck in cheeks and shake head. Walk away, uncork a bottle and think of something else.

Just like writing. Except that deciding why I'm not happy with a story idea before completion is my decision alone. There's a certain pride in doing that.

On the house side, saw some interesting properties;  some good, one scary, one beyond salvation... and most lacking the indefinable wow factor that makes you salivate and reach for the chequebook and oxygen.

But there was one... now that's a keeper. Lost sleep over that.

A little like the idea that eventually makes it past all the doubts and pitfalls to fruition and lands on my agent's desk as a completed project with a 'hope you like this!' message attached.

Just have to hope nobody along the line decides to play wrecker's ball and smash it to pieces.


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Guest blogging

I was recently invited by Pauline Rendall of Wivenhoe Writers to guest blog on the subject of writing crime and thriller novels and the different approach I take to the two - currently the Inspector Lucas Rocco and Harry Tate series. It made me think a bit, because like most working writers, I just do it, without necessarily considering the nuts and bolts of the process in detail. But that's not a bad thing, so my thanks to Pauline and her kind invitation for making me ruminate on the whys and wherefores of the job I do.

Essentially - for me, at least - It all comes down to pace, and the explanation is through the link above or here.


Before I forget, this is the final day for getting your hands on 'Death on the Pont Noir' (Lucas Rocco No 3) for a paltry £0.99 or $1.53 - or Euro 1.09 in Rocco money (or whatever the  francs and centimes equivalents would have been back in his day). It's a steal in any money, be honest.

It'll be a nice warm-up for 'Death at the Clos du Lac' - which is out.......................................... ......................... now. Signed copies are available through Goldsboro Books, who ship wherever readers read.