An avid reader from an early age – his grandfather ran a mobile lending library in Birmingham – he was hooked from the first moment he discovered the treasure trove of books left to his parents. Now, as a full-time writer, his goal is to add to the magic of the wonderful words and stories he discovered back then. He lives in the Wirral, UK.
What is your latest book?
My breakthrough book, TAKE NO MORE, has just been reissued by Canelo, a London- based digital publisher. So this is my latest book and also the first of seven, so far! It’s a privilege to have a dedicated team behind the book and it will be interesting to see how far they will take it.
I’m just putting the finishing touches to my eighth story, a legal-centered thriller, yet to be titled. It should be available in late autumn.
Is your recent book part of a series?
Yes, TAKE NO MORE is the first in a series of three books. The next two are REGRET NO MORE and FORGIVE NO MORE. Both have also just been reissued by Canelo. The series tells the story of James Blake and his struggles to protect his wife and family when they are unwittingly drawn into an international crime conspiracy involving drugs and stolen art. The story unfolds on a worldwide background including London, Venice, Florence, San Diego, Tijuana and Austin Texas.
How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?
I write thrillers. That’s always seemed the natural thing to do since those are the kind of stories I enjoy myself. Having said that, my thrillers take on guises of their own. The three books in the James Blake series could be best described as international thrillers in the mold of Dan Brown or Clive Cussler with a strong touch of Harlan Coben. Since then, I’ve completed and published three psychological thrillers where the emphasis is very different and center on the inner struggle of an individual facing and overcoming life threatening personal dangers. These books are EACH DAY I WAKE, SUGAR FOR SUGAR and HERE THE TRUTH LIES. Though each is a unique story, they share the same locations, London – the South Bank of the Thames and the London East End. And I’ve also published a sci fi / fantasy thriller, DOUBLE BIND, that offers a novel way of talking about the environmental crisis. My latest is a legal thriller. It just goes to show how open and flexible the thriller form is.
Do your books begin with ideas for characters or plots? Something else?
I think plot is most important since so much of authorship is about storytelling, which is something people in all cultures have been involved with as long as anyone can recall. First off, my characters are there to advance the story. Only then do I seek to round them out into the believable, real people I hope they turn out to be. I think this approach is very much defined if you write thrillers. In other genres, like literary fiction and romance, things may be different.
Many times, I’ve actually dreamed plot twists, character names, and other tidbits that I’ve needed for my WIP. Has this ever happened to you?
When I’m working on a story, I don’t get plot developments from dreams – I recall so little of what I must have been dreaming. But I do get the feeling that the ideas I need come along almost by chance, when I’m least concentrating on them. This often takes place early in the morning after I come out of the shower and start to get dry. I make sure I have my iPad ready at hand and jot down the ideas before they’re lost forever. I then work these jottings into fully developed storylines in the days that follow.
Are you easily distracted while writing? If so, what do you do to help yourself focus?
I know writers who like to write in public spaces such as their local coffee bar. I think they like the idea of being away from the distractions of running a home. I’m just the opposite. I do most of my work in my writer’s room. If it’s not quiet enough in the house I close the door. For me it’s all about having enough seclusion to be able concentrate one hundred per cent. I’m with Stephen King on this: write with the door closed, edit with the door open.
How much research was involved in writing your books? How did you go about it?
I think it’s important for a story to have a sense of place. That’s why I’ve visited and spent time in all the places featured in my books. It’s not that I favor extensive descriptions of places (or people for that matter). It’s more that the feel of a place comes through in the writing once you’ve spent time there and absorbed the sights and sounds. Sometimes whole plot lines emerge from a single observation. Like the time I was in a restaurant in Florence when they charged for a dish I hadn’t received. When I went to complain to the manager, a heavy emerged to make sure I knew not to be too insistent and that I should accept that overcharging was more normal here than I’d expected. This formed the germ of the ideas that led to the organized crime elements of TAKE NO MORE and the rest of the James Blake story.
Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?
I haven’t published any non-fiction yet but I have projects in place that are at an early stage. One is a memoir of my upbringing in a working class family in Birmingham, UK. It’s much less about the hardships of those times than about the struggle to understand the meaning of the world and a person’s place in it. I’m also at an early stage on a book on advice to authors on how to write a novel. What gets in the way of both projects is the next story. When it comes along, all else gets pushed to the sidelines.
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
I live on the Wirral, a peninsular in northwest England. Its history reaches back to Saxon and Viking times, preserved in many of the place names. It’s like living on an island in some ways. The area around the Dee Estuary has rugged coastlines, sandy beaches, high winds and is a haven for water sports like sailing and windsurfing. The main cities within easy reach are Chester and Liverpool. The latter is the real draw if you want to step off the ‘island’ and into a unique culture that produces great drama, poetry, music (the Beatles) and sport (Liverpool Football Club). Before I took up writing full time I travelled into Liverpool each day in my role as a professor at Liverpool University. These days I spend most of my time on the ‘island’.
I’m not tempted to move but if I was it would be to Florence in Italy. I visit there at least once each year to soak up its rich cultural heritage.
What music soothes your soul?
Music is a big part of my life. It started when I was still in school and a classmate who was in a band would lend me albums by the likes of Chuck Berry, Little Richard Gene Vincent, and the Everly Brothers as well as blues albums by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Then came the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Kinks who fed off that wonderful music. Bob Dylan became my absorbing interest for many years until a wonderful thing happened. A friend suggested I listen to a recording of a live performance of ‘My Funny Valentine’ by Miles Davis. I was blown away. So jazz is now a major a part of my listening, especially all those who’ve emerged from Miles’ shadow. Somewhere along the way I also picked up an interest in classical music, especially Vivaldi and Bach. One of my ambitions is to see one or more of my books made into a movie or a Netflix drama. Then I’d love to have a say in the musical score.
If you are a TV watcher, would you share the names of your favorite shows with us?
I really rate long form TV drama. I think it’s the closest thing to drama of the same depth as reading a novel. Here are some favorites: Better Call Saul, The Affair, The Handmaid’s Tale, Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Man In The High Castle, Big Little Lies, The Night Of, Borgen, The Bridge, Gomorrah.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Chocolate. 90% dark chocolate.
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James Blake Thrillers at Canelo