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INTERVIEWS and COMMENT... talking with authors, commenting on new books, news, observations etc...updated 1st July 2005

Many of the books referred to in these interviews are available and signed - check out the New Releases page for further details:

THE STAV SHEREZ INTERVIEW
The Devil's Playground/Michael Joseph 2004

One would think that after watching the carnage that is Iraq, the seemingly daily death and destruction that is Palistine, the mass killings in the Sudan - not to mention any booze filled Saturday evening in most any town centre, we would have had our fill of violence and turn to the sweeter things of life for our bedtime reading. Not so! Crime novels, murder mysteries and especially serial killers are riding a high wave from either side of the big water and young Stav Sherez has, to quote the blurb on the attractive cover of his debut novel, 'The past is torture - The present is Hell!' come up with the real deal. You will not find this book in every major bookstore such is the way of the business that debut writers do not get to share the spotlight or shelf space with established writers even though their work is often superiour, however independent internet booksellers with an eye and a feeling for a winner, will carry it and you would be wise to snap up a copy even if it is already offered at above cover price!

I caught up with Stav at the popular annual July Bodies in the Bookshop bash at Heffers in Cambridge and fired my usual questions at him…

Q/ The biog notes on the back of the wrapper must be the shortest on record! Tell me a little more about yourself.

A/ Well, believe it or not, I wanted them even shorter! So, okay: grew up in London, Latymer Upper School, several girlfriends, a car, the usual teenage stuff then Art History degree from the university of Leeds. The usual jobs for a while; record shops and book shops. Worked for the last four years as a music journalist for Comes With A Smile, a small, independent magazine. It seems that my whole life has been leading up to having the book published and so, perhaps, that explains why there are so many blank spots.

Q/ As a first time novelist, did you have a great deal of difficulty in getting an agent or a publishing deal?

A/ The short answer: Yes. I think it took me three years to get an agent I was
happy with for Playground. A long, long time. I was with two other agents previous to my current one and we had many arguments and spats over how the book should be. Very different views. Both these agents never showed the book to a publisher. This took two and a half years. I sent a copy of the manuscript
to James Sallis and he more or less saved my life, telling me he thought it was great and that I should persevere. Hearing that from one of your idols gives you the will to continue. My last agent sent back my manuscript telling me he didn't think it was saleable and then, within two weeks, my new agent (Lesley Shaw) had sold it to Michael Joseph. So, really that old cliché rings true - just keep going. It's such a subjective industry that it really comes down a lot of the time to luck, the right agent reading it at the right time.

Q/ Where did Playground spring from?

A/ In the autumn of 1999 I went to Amsterdam with seven South African friends.
It was the first time I'd been in the city for many years. The look and feel of it immediately grabbed me - the canals and neon, of course, but also the curve of the streets, the tall houses, the old museums and modern buildings. I saw the body of a prostitute stretchered out under neon and police lights. The dramatic possibilities ensnared me. It's very atmospheric, very creepy - exactly the kind of setting one needs for a crime novel. My books always start with landscape. Once I know the 'where' then the 'what' and 'who' develop organically out of that. Once I knew I wanted to write about Amsterdam, all the other pieces clicked into place. The memory of WWII is still very present in mainland Europe and I knew the book would have to deal with that - also the sex and drugs industry and the nature of limited freedoms and control. I saw the Charlotte Salomon paintings and I knew they had to go in there as a counterpoint. I also wanted to write about people away from home and how that allows them to see themselves in a different way, as strangers in a strange town. It is Amsterdam as seen through the dark glass of a tourist.

Q/ There's a big concern in the novel with representations of violence and crime.

A/ Yep. The Nazis photographed and documented everything. Charlotte Salomon made paintings. Our whole notion of that era comes from archive film. I wanted to look at the reasons why we (me included) are so fascinated by images of atrocity and by books/novels that deal with murder and crime. It seemed fitting for a crime novel!

Q/ Have you a cupboard filled with unpublished novels or was this really the first book?

A/ Unfortunately not. I'm sure they'd come in useful when the slow periods come! I did write one book previously to Playground, sent it out to a few agents and gave up, knowing, I think, that it wasn't ready yet. I might come back to it one day. But Playground was the first serious full-length novel I wrote.

Q/ Is the next book written and sold.?

A/ Yes and Yes. Centipede cults in the scorch and sizzle of the Aegean sun. It features two crime novelists on holiday who discover dark deeds under the stars, on mountaintop monasteries and amongst the ruins, on a small Greek island.

Q/ How do you view the modern world of publishing - I mean, walk into any big bookstore and you will see a heap a mile high of John Gresham - but where are the James Lee Burkes, the Stav Sherez' or the Robert Carters.I have asked Rob Carter the same question finding it equally difficult to find either of your books in any quantity?

A/ At the moment, I'm just glad my book is even out there. After so many years. I guess it's a business like all business and though we may not like the way it works, or its populist nature, I don't think there's much one can do apart from write the kind of book you want to write and hope that chaos and luck opens a space up for you.

Q/ How do you view the growing trend in investing (speculating) on collectable first editions with the subsequent, sometime massive, hike in price, none of which you actually share?

A/ It doesn't bother me at all. Everything is speculated on these days so why not books? In truth, I'm just grateful that my book is being collected and that people have heard about it enough to think it may be a good investment.
It's nice when someone puts money on you to succeed.

Q/ What do you do when not writing, do you have a 'day job?'.

A/ Luckily, I can spend all my time just thinking of new ways to kill, maim and put through hell, my main characters. As I've mentioned, I also work as a music journalist, reviewing CDs and interviewing bands, but I don't really get paid for it so I don't suppose you can call that a day job.

Q/ What and who do you read for pleasure?

A/ Mainly fiction. My favourite writer is William Burroughs and I always come back to him. Others include: Paul Bowles, Bukowski, Denis Johnson, Thomas Pynchon, Kem Nunn, Jim Thompson, James Sallis, Hubert Selby jr., Hunter Thompson, Glen Duncan, J.G. Ballard, James Ellroy, Barry Gifford, Borges, Dennis Cooper, William T. Vollmann, Paul Auster, Don Delillo, Robert Lowell, Ezra Pound, Sam Shephard, Newton Thornburg, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, Raymond Carver, Berryman, Thom Jones and Cormac McCarthy.....

Q/ Playground is a debut novel and as such has garnered a great deal of interest among crime collectors, were you aware of this?

A/ No, I wasn't. As I said before it's just so nice that people are even taking an interest.

Q/ Are you a moviegoer, and if so, what have you seen of late that was more than little out of the ordinary?

A/ My laziness precludes too much movie going, but I watch DVDs all the time. Recently, Fear X with John Turturro was great, like a cross between Lost Highway and Barton Fink. I also enjoyed Mystic River. Been watching a lot of old Westerns on DVD: Red River, One Eyed Jacks, The Searchers also film noir. I see a lot of new films, but hardly any make an impact these days. Anything with Bogart always works though.

Q/ Any interest yet in the movie rights for Playground?

A/ Not yet but hopefully soon. I can see Jeff Bridges as Van Hijn already.

Q/ And the usual final question, what is the title of the second book and when can we hope to see it in the bookstores.?

A/ It's called The Ruins and, hopefully, it should come out in hardback, July 2005.

July 2005 seems a long way off, but I don't believe for a moment that, in those long months ahead, Stav Sherez and The Devil's Playground will be forgotten - it is that sort of a book!

Copyright Chris Adam Smith 2004

 

THE ROBERT CARTER INTERVIEW

The Language Of The Stones/Harper Collins 2004

The Giants' Dance /Harper Collins 2005

Robert Carter is not a new kid on the block, no one hit wonder he! He has paid his dues with four major titles under his own name and several near misses under pseudonyms. Carter is the author of the epic novels Armada, Talwar, Courage and Barbarians - easily recognisable for their thickness and colourfully graphic dust jackets. Now he has ventured onto a new tack and his first book in a proposed trilogy set around King Arthur THE LANGUAGE OF STONES (legend speaks of Arthur's return...), has already been reprinted and signed first editions, now quite difficult to find, are well over cover price and expected to rise as the magical, mythical story unfolds - remember the first book of a trilogy is always the hardest to find a little further down the line. I spoke with Robert recently in the delightfully cluttered and comfortable lounge of his Shepherds Bush home…

Q: The Language Of Stones is a change of direction for you, what prompted that and why King Arthur?

A: My other novels have been set in far-flung places -- Mexico, India, China -- and reflect my world travels and interest in other cultures. I thought it was about time I came home, so to speak. Why Arthur? The short answer is that he's Britain's great hero. Every age has created a new Arthur to reflect itself, and many different writers have had their say on him -- Geoffrey of Monmouth, Malory, Tennyson, T.H. White ... some people might say that's not bad company to keep.

Q: Are you aware of the following the old King has in the US or the fact that there was a big budget movie in the offing?

A: Well, there WAS no movie in the offing when I started writing 'The Language of Stones'. I started to research the project in 1997. The current movie takes a totally different view of Arthur to the one I do, and I'm not sure how its appearance will affect perceptions of my work. Not much, I shouldn't think.

As for a large Stateside following, yes, I did know that King Arthur was a popular topic in the USA. It shows excellent good taste. Anglo-Americans seem to take our heritage with a seriousness that we can't seem to manage over here. They put us to shame!

Q: Why a trilogy - sharp business sense or a bigger story to tell?

Actually it was originally conceived as a sextet. (I tend to think big!) But I have a great editor in Jane Johnson at HarperCollins, and she showed me why three books would be a better way to present this story. The first book builds characters and themes, the second develops them and the third brings everything to a head. I'm working on the third right now and -- fingers crossed -- the recipe seems to be working.

Q: Were you aware LOS had gone into a reprint so quickly?

A: I asked the publishers not to tell me anything about how well the book was doing. I'm still writing the trilogy and so I was worried that if I heard talk of disappointing sales it might deflate me and affect the quality of the last book so, no, I hadn't heard. It's a nice surprise.

Q: How many novels have you actually written and under which names - I am aware of some early science fiction…

A: I've been writing fiction since I was at university. My first novel was published in 1979, and yes, it was science fiction, although with major thriller elements. A dreadfully bad piece of writing called 'The Dreamkillers'. If I've worked under pseudonyms it's because, for whatever reason and not always shameful ones, I didn't want anyone to know it was me. I'm not going to break cover now. I will say that the second book is dedicated to a pseudonym, though not one of mine.

Q: Have you always been a writer or did you have a 'proper' day job once upon a time?

A: I've always been a writer, and I've been a full-time novelist since 1986. Before that I worked for the BBC, helping to make topical and political programmes. Before that I travelled extensively, visiting some of the more politically interesting places in the world, places which were, or have subsequently become, battlefields. I've always been interested in war and the causes of war, but you can hardly write that on a CV.

Q: Do you use a wp or an old fashioned steam typewriter - surprising how many authors won't shift up to modern-day technology?

A: A bit of each really. I have a very up-to-the-minute computer, but the software I write on is an ancient MS-DOS text editor called Q-Edit written by a guy in Georgia. (Georgia USA, not Georgia, ex-USSR, I hasten to add.) I only insert my text into a Word document right at the end when I have to send the file to the publishers. As for other technology, my car is a ten year-old Daimler Double-six and I own a mobile phone but don't ever carry it. The two 15th and 16th Cent. suits of armour that look at each other across my hall were once the latest thing in personal protection, but I don't think they'd fare too well against an Uzi.

Q: How do you view the modern world of publishing - I mean, walk into any big bookstore and you will see a heap a mile high of John Grisham - but where are the James Lee Burkes, the Stav Sherez' or the Robert Carters…(I have asked Stav the same question finding it equally difficult to find either of you in any quantity!)?

A: No one is immune to the way business is conducted in the modern world. I think capitalism is a great way of getting stuff to people, but it has a terrible downside when the checks and balances are all done away with. It's in everybody's interests, for example, to avoid monopoly situations.

I say good luck to any writer who tries to make a living because it has always been hard to do that. Some people begrudge J. K. Rowling her spectacular success, but I'm not one of them -- that would just be jealousy on my part. It seems contrary to good sense to predicate my sense of self-worth -- as a writer or as a person -- on the size of my income. On the other hand, it's not the money you earn as a writer that's important so much as what that represents -- I'm principally interested in having as many people as possible read what I've written, so I hope my work does well for the publisher.

Q: How do you view the growing trend in investing (speculating) on collectable first editions with the subsequent, sometime massive, hike in price, none of which comes your way?

A: What's wrong with making a profit from collecting? Just about everybody does it, one way or another. Whether it be books or porcelain or whatever, it doesn't make any difference to the principle. I often wondered about how good old JRR would have felt if he'd seen those first editions of 'The Hobbit' selling for six figures recently. Speaking for myself, if that had been my book, I'd have been very flattered.

Q: What and who do you read for pleasure?

A: I necessarily read a lot of non-fiction by way of reading around my subject.

I first got the fiction reading bug from picking up Tolkien. I also liked books such as C.S. Forrester's 'Hornblower' and Richmal Crompton's 'William' books, before I moved on to fantasy and science fiction while a teenager. I liked 'New Worlds' and American authors of the 'Golden Era' of SF, which was the 50's. For about two years I'd take nothing out of the library unless it had a yellow jacket -- not as mad as it sounds, because much of the best SF was published by Gollancz, which was always in a brilliant yellow jacket and so easy to spot on the shelves.

These days I dip into well-written fiction of all kinds. Bad prose fatally affects my enjoyment, no matter how good the tale, but that's an occupational hazard I suppose. That said, at the moment I'm enjoying a venerable old fantasy written in an utterly impenetrable Victorian style by William Morris 'The Well at the World's End'.

Q: Are you a moviegoer, and if so, what have you seen of late that was more than little out of the ordinary?

A: I like film, and almost anything by David Lean or Akira Kurasawa is great. I'm one of those people who prefers a strong, morally interesting narrative and likeable characters to the car chase and gun fight thing. Top movie? Hmmm, Robert Bolt/Fred Zinnemann's 'A Man for All Seasons' is up there.

More recently, I've liked the Harry Potters and the Lord of the Rings films. For films that are structurally interesting, I was intrigued by the Nolans' 'Memento' and 'Pulp Fiction'. And I'm going to see 'Thunderbirds' next week!

Q: Any interest in the movie rights for TLOS?

A: It's with ICM even as we speak. I met the agent who's dealing with it when she was in London. Disney could do it. Until recently novels such as mine would have been impossible to bring to the screen without either compromising the story or being prohibitively expensive to make - 'Talwar' featured 400 war elephants and 'Barbarians' has Chinese armies of a million men -- but now it's just a question of digits.

Q: One final question, what is the title of the second book and when can we hope to see it in the bookstores…?

A: It's now complete and is entitled 'The Giants' Dance'. Look out for it April, 2005.

Well, Mister Carter, I most certainly will look out for it and, according to the advance orders I already have for signed copies of the new book, I will not be standing in line alone!


Copyright Chris Adam Smith July 2004

 

 

An interview with the debut novelist John Wilcox - his new novel set in the Zulu Wars is gaining a good deal of interest, already above cover price and reprinting...

THE JOHN WILCOX INTERVIEW
THE HORNS OF THE BUFFALO Headline 2004

THE ROAD TO KANDAHAR Headline 2005

The Horns Of The Buffalo is yet another entry into the historical fiction genre with a Richard Sharp kind of hero taking the weight of a series on strong, but often weary, young shoulders. However, Simon Fonthill is no Dick Sharp or Matt Hervey he is his own man and fights far from France and Napoleon which makes a pleasant change!
Fonthill's first adventure runs alongside the heroic stand at Rorke's Drift where embattled British soldiers (mostly Welshmen apparently) held off the might of the Zulu Nation with bayonet, black powder, raw guts and, if you are fan of the movie, gusty baritone voices! The book has swiftly gained a bit of a cult following and, due to a smallish first Headline hardcover printing, is already in demand at better than cover price and reprinting. As the series continues, I expect prices of this first book to steadily increase - remember Mallinson's A Close Run Thing…
I spoke with John Wilcox creator of Fonthill shortly after publication, a gentle, kind man but, I thought, a cheerfully bewildered man when presented with 200 copies of his book each awaiting his neat and very readable signature…

Q:Horns Of The Buffalo is your first novel, but is it your first book?

A: No. I have had two non-fiction books published. The first, Playing On The Green, was just a labour of love about cricket and read by about twelve people - the members of my then cricket team and (grudgingly) by my wife. The second, Masters of Battle, was rather more ambitious and was an examination of how certain warriors - not the Napoleons, the Wellingtons the Macarthurs etc, but ordinary men-of-the-line - had changed the course of history. So I analysed the lifestyles (language, pay, social conditions), weapons and great battles of the Vikings, as the greatest marines, the bowmen of Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt as the best artillerymen, the American riflemen of Saratoga as the finest sharpshooters and skirmishers, the Zulus as the most outstanding aboriginal warriors, the Kaiser's U-boat commanders as the nonpareil amongst privateers and the Panzer commanders of the second world war as the choicest of the "armoured ones." The argument still continues.....

Q:Did you have much difficulty in getting the book published?

A: Not really - only twelve thousand re-writes and something like a quarter of a million rejection slips! But thanks to agent Jane Conway-Gordon, we finally found Headline who accepted three books immediately and have been tremendously encouraging and supportive.

Q:Do you have you a military background?

A: No and yes. No, because I served in the army as part of my statutory two-year National Service in peace-time, which was dull and unrewarding and gave me no background of real soldiering. Yes, vicariously, because my father and all of my seven uncles served in the first World War (I'm not quite as old as that makes me sound in that my Dad was the youngest of fourteen children and he was quite old when I was born - as a mistake, of course!). They all served in the front line as rifle and bayonet men and, amazingly, they all survived. One, Alfred Wilcox, won the Victoria Cross, the second won the Military Medal and the third the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The latter became a Regimental Sergeant Major - the highest non-commissioned rank - at the age of 19 - because all the rest were killed! All of them, including my Dad, made me think of bravery and whether I would have had the courage to go "over the top" in that carnage. The thought prompted me to write "Horns of the Buffalo."

Q:What is your day job, assuming you have one that is?

A: I spend one day a week teaching writing at a local university but, other than that, I am a full time writer.

Q: What was it about that particular period that drew you to it when the popular trend seems to be the Napoleonic Wars or Roman Britain…?

A: Two reasons that attracted me. Firstly, I have always admired the huge courage of the Zulus at Isandlwana and the British soldiers who fought there to the death, and also at Rorke's Drift later that day and night. Secondly, although I love reading Forester, O'Brian and Cornwell, I do think that the Napoleonic wars have been rather done to death and I wanted to explore a new era.

Q:Did you enjoy the research and did you visit any of the sites featured in the novel?

A: Loved it - in many ways it's the best part! It is essential in writing a mixture of fact and fiction to get the facts right before you start weaving the fiction round them. This means getting completely immersed in the subject by reading as much as possible. In addition, for the Zulu section of my Masters of Battle, I visited Natal and kwaZulu (formerly Zululand) and trudged over the sites of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift and visited the capital, Ulundi, where I had a long lunch with Chief Buthelezi, the Chief Minister, and his cabinet, during which we discussed the war from the Zulus point of view. The Chief's ancestor was King Cetswayo's Prime Minister during the war and, as a young man, Buthelezi himself played the King in the classic film Zulu.

Q:Did you gain any knowledge or insight from 'the other team' on your visit?

A: Yes, particularly, on whether the Zulus had deliberately lured Chelmsford away, leaving Isandlwana to be attacked by the warriors. (They did.) I also talked to a South African professor of history who had studied the Zulu side of things.

Q:Where did the name of Simon Fonthill come from?

A: Simon was easy - upper middle class sounding and also a bit Victorian. But the surname took ages. Eventually pinched the name of my next village in Wiltshire. Hope they don't sue!

Q:Have you any idea as to how many Fonthill books you have inside of you - can we look forward to a series?

A: Definitely. Headline bought the first two books already written, plus the third on synopsis. I am now half-way through writing the third (set back in South Africa, but this time in the Transvaal). The plan is to write a series. How many? Depends on the public's reaction, but I have tentative plans to have Simon and Jenkins in at the birth of the Mounties in Canada and also attempting to help Wolseley rescue Gordon at Khartoum. It would be good to match Sharpe.

Q:Where is the second novel set?

A: In the second Afghan war. Our two comrades are present when the handful of defenders of the British Residency in Kabul are massacred in 1879 and are up in the hills when Roberts marches on Kandahar. The novel is therefore titled The Road to Kandahar.

Q:When will it be published?

A: It is due to come out in hardback form in January 2005, with the paperback out in September of the same year. The third (working title Fonthill's Diamonds) will follow the same timetable for 2006.

Q:And will you be happy to sign another 200 copies for me?

A: Delighted, of course…and I've followed your advice and kept back a handful of first editions for a possible pension fund!

So there you have it, Simon Fonthill will be with us for some time to come and I for one - as are those of you who have already read Horns Of The Buffalo - am very much looking forward to his next adventure!

Copyright Chris Adam Smith 2004


THE DEBI GLIORI INTERVIEW
Novels…
Pure Dead Magic/Doubleday 2001

Pure Dead Wicked/Doubleday 2002

Pure Dead Brilliant/Doubleday 2003

Deep Troubel /Doubleday 2004

Deep Water/Doubleday 2005

Before turning her undoubted talents to writing, Debi Gliori was primarily known as a gifted illustrator of children's books. PURE DEAD MAGIC changed all of that. Currently changing hands for sums in excess of £100 the purple, velvet boarded novel has been swooped on by children, collectors and Hollywood! PDM was the beginning of an exciting and rewarding new direction for the creative and very attractive Ms Gliori. I wondered if this new string to her bow was acceptable to her given the fact that her already extensive body of work as an illustrator had not garnered her quite the attention the Borgias had…Best ask her I suppose, so I did!

Q: A quick glance at Debi Gliori illustrated titles listed for sale on the internet reveals a whole back catalogue of good work including the probably best known Mr Bear series - yet most book collectors only seem to know you for PDM. Does this irritate you?

A:…Not at all. Irritated, moi? I had no knowledge of internet bookselling before PDM, so the lack of awareness cuts both ways. In my ignorance I thought that picture books wouldn't be collectable until the author/illustrator popped his or her clogs, whereupon they would be acknowledged for the unsung genius that they actually were, and prices would go through the roof. However, I do find it rather bizarre that one's books become a commodity, rather than a thing to read, and have derived many hours of amusement listening to various amounts of horse-trading going on in my signing queues at book festivals - copies I've just signed changing hands for a profit before the ink is even dry on the title page...But to be irritated would be highly disingenuous - anything that gets a buzz going about a book has to be good, right? Viral marketing rules ok.

Q:PDM was an instant success and became collectable almost overnight - what do you put this down to (apart from the fact that it is a magical, wickedly brilliant piece of writing.) ?

A:…Oh you flatterer. I think I would ascribe PDM's success to its totally exquisite purple velvet cover, which is what made people pick up an unknown hardback and buy it. After that, I hope that the story became more important than the cover, and that readers were so intrigued that they recommended the book to their friends. Also, one must give credit to my excellent publicist, Kate Giles at Random House, whose initial review copies were mailed out as the culmination of a serial postage campaign, in which several excerpts were printed on bookmarks and mailed alongside lots of glittery stars, sparkly spiders and other things that annoyed the hell out of librarians the country over, as they opened envelopes and sprayed glitter over several square miles of publicly funded carpeting. Also the reviewers who across the length of the quality press had the kindness to give my first foray into older fiction a unanimous thumbs-up.

Q:Where did the Strega Borgias spring from and had they been lurking in the shadows for some time?

A:…Signor Luciano Strega-Borgia is modelled on every feckless Italian male I've ever known. Drop dead gorgeous, fairly hopeless on the nappy-changing front, the antithesis of a 'New Man', Luciano represents my gentle sideswipe at men who have driven me nuts throughout my life. I have never never never dated one, by the way, preferring to remain sane, but I have listened and taken notes. Thanks Alfredo, Ivan, Dante, Lionello et al - don't expect any mercy whatsoever. Although I claim more than a passing resemblance to Tarantella, spider-extraordinaire, I would like to be Baci Strega-Borgia, ineffectual witch, languid beauty, chatelaine of the 96 rooms of Stregaschloss, wearer of Schiaparelli gowns.....oh sigh. Damp was initially modelled on our youngest daughter, but has now developed out of that initial mould and has become her own person. Pandora and Titus are loosely based on certain children I have had the joy to share my life with and Mrs Flora McLachlan is pure wish fulfilment - f I ever found a nanny as brilliant, I would have proposed marriage instantly. The beasts are the biggest surprise of all, to me as a writer. Where the hell they came from I cannot imagine, but I'm profoundly grateful to be able to document their rich and Byzantine lives.... Multitudina the rat is entirely stolen from a friend's pet free-range rat which introduced itself to me by running up my sleeve, down my jumper and lodged immovably in the middle of my back just out of reach. I used to be afraid of spiders and rats, but after documenting their lives for the past four years, I'm growing very fond of them - not to the extent, however, of buying a pet rat. I think in the writing process, I've learned a lot, and it allowed me to play to an extent I hadn't played since childhood. The Strega-Borgias are a family that I would love to know, which is what fires me with enthusiasm for writing the books - with each one, I become more involved, more drawn into their decidedly weird but oddly comforting values, household and lives.

Q. The design and presentation of the book is quite unique, do you like it? Did you have any say in its production?

A:…I love it/them to bits. Each colour of velvet is better than the next, the typography on the front is exquisite, the whole thing is simply better than my wildest dreams. Tracey Hearst is the genius who came up with the velvet idea and steered it past the production budget-dragons, designed the typography and generally fought in my corner to make sure that the books were totally unique. I drew the silhouettes on the covers and the pencil chapter heads, in which I was determined not to draw the characters or give away anything of the plot.

Q.There is suddenly a phenomenal interest in children's books - mostly by adults it seems - what do you put this down to?

A:…Variously: JK Rowling/Phillip Pullman/a discovery that children's books are actually great reads/ sheer greed at the money that can change hands when you flog your first edition Harry/ the abundance of film interest in children's books/ and lastly, sadly, a mistaken arrogance that makes people think that 'It's only a kids book, I'm sure I could write one of those.'

Q.Rumours abound of a forthcoming Borgia movie, can you tell me about that?

A:…Rights have been optioned for all three titles ( Pure Dead Magic/Wicked/Brilliant) by Universal Studios, Screenplay written by Julian Fellowes ( Gosford Park Oscar winner) Producer/Director team Brian Grazer and Ron Howard who together form a company called Imagine ( recent hit; Eight Mile) writers Mark Burton and Billy Frollick (recent credits include Madagascar) and other glittery dudes who I'm delighted to say are beavering away on the film even as I write.
When I signed the contract, I filled the dining room in our version of StregaSchloss with over 100 candles, lit the wax bedripped chandelier, got our home-spun video camera running, and, dressed in deepest black and draped in furry spiders and bats ( I kid you not) filmed the whole gothic extravagance of the Night I Signed My Books Over To The Machinations Of Hollywood. Watch this space…

Q.The Strega Borgia books started life a trilogy I understand, has that now altered?

A:…They started life as one book, actually. One book that admittedly left a few questions unanswered, but not so much so that the reader would hurl the book across the room yelling - jeez, what a cop-out.... A year later my agent Rosemary Sandberg sold the completed book to Transworld as part of a three book deal. Initially terrified at the prospect of writing another two to make up a trilogy, I found myself falling in love with the family and their beasts and staff, to the extent that when I finished book 3, I was utterly devastated. Four years of living, breathing, sleeping and eating with the Borgias firmly planted in my mind left me wanting to extend my relationship with them to another three books. I've started Book 4 which begins three months after Pure Dead Brilliant finished. Although I answered all the questions I'd raised in Magic and Wicked, I left several doors open within Brilliant, several doors that lead on to the essence of the next three books. She said, mysteriously...

Q.The new book PURE DEAD BRILLIANT appears to be longer than the other two - is there any particular reason for this?

A:…I think I gained a measure of confidence after writing the first two books. A confidence that allowed me to negotiate with my editors as regards the length of the third book. Brilliant needed the extra oomph to finish the story and tie up the many narrative strands. Also, the children who are really enjoying the books did demand more, bigger, longer and, rather alarmingly, sooner. Hurry it up, willya, Gliori?

Q:Would you prefer to be known as an illustrator or as a writer?

A:…I'd prefer to be known as beautiful and intelligent, but, sigh, in the absence of such accolades, I'm happy to be referred to as either illustrator or writer. I trained to be an illustrator, but I sold my soul to become a writer.

Q.Does it worry you that book dealers are selling hard to find copies of PDM at such a high price?

A:…Um. No, not in the least. Keep it up guys. There weren't that many first edition PDMs printed. 3,000 was what I was told. I find it immensely flattering that they have such a high value, but I am also reassured by the fact that it's not so inflated that it has priced itself into the stratosphere currently inhabited by JK and Tolkein firsts.

Q.Do you have a box of them in the cupboard under the stairs?

A:…I do, actually. In an archive with a 24hr dehumidifier running, which is how I have to store artwork for 52 picture books in these damp Northern latitudes. Not a ridiculous quantity, but one for each of my 5 children and a few spares. I have stopped giving them away, after we went through a carton of twenty to friends and relatives and assorted good people.

Q.What do you read for pleasure?

A:…If I'm travelling, detective fiction ( Rankin, LeHane, James Lee Burke, John Sandford, Robert Crais, Harlan Coben etc) at night after the kids have finally stopped fridge-raiding/showering/demanding laundry facilities/maid service/homework support/stories read/hair brushed/loans arranged/chauffeur services etcetera groan...I've recently developed a passion for anything by Phil Rickman, who I know falls into the utter horror genre, but the man is just so damn funny and tells such a good tale that I know he is going to be just as huge as Stephen King and may well be his natural successor, since Mr K appears to have hung up his Mont Blanc. I also do read and reread John Updike, Robertson Davies, C.S. Lewis, Joan Aitken, Gerald Durrell, Garrison Keillor and at present we do not have a single room in our house ( except for the family bathroom) that doesn't have several hundred books lining its walls. Moving house three years ago was a complete logistical nightmare, until my better half took several weeks off work and lined one entire room with bookshelves floor to ceiling.

Q.What do you watch for pleasure?

A:…Oh God, I'm now about to show my complete ignorance of current trends and fascinations. I was at the glitzy star-studded Nibbies ( British Book Awards - 'The Oscars of the book trade' - PDW was short listed) and tv celebrity by tv celebrity was passing our table, and idiot here didn't recognize a single one. The only thing I watch on TV is News at 10, and frankly, that's not exactly pleasurable, is it? Although I love waiting for Andrew Marr to come out with his 'bon mot', and I absolutely crease up at the beeb's clunky links ( government going off the rails/shot of speeding trains and trouble brewing with certain unions/shot of steaming cup of tea) Apart from that, I can be found of an evening with my head in either the fridge or a book. Sad, isn't it?

Q.Are you now, as some other children's writer's seem to be, VERY RICH?

A:…ABSOLUTELY. Although, I must qualify this by saying that all things are relative, and I did spend my first decade of writing and illustrating picture books in serious poo with the bank and eating lentils and spag with monotonous regularity. Eee, times were 'ard. I think because of that decade, plus the student years beforehand, I can never really trust that the money will continue to come in, and consequently I am utterly bowled over when it does. I still work long days and occasional long nights, too. It's bliss to be able to afford to pay the bills, run the car and at my somewhat late age, go out clothes shopping - a pleasure that I missed when I was a single teenage mother, which is totally ironic, since way back then I was rail-thin, wrinkle-free and would have looked so much nicer in decent clothes rather than my then eclectic assortment from charity shops and jumble sales. Now I'm 44, motherly ( sighhhh) wrinkly and older, but, hey, my clothes have not been pre-cherished and I do actually possess a little black number. Could a girl ask for more…?

Well, I can't answer that one but I am sure, had I talked to her much longer, Ms Gliori would have answered it herself! I expressed my appreciation for her taking the time out to sign my stock of Pure Dead Brilliants - this one published in lovely green velvet boards - with that added little snapshot of her skill as an illustrator and hoped that, following this interview, she would not be deluged by hairy book dealer types wanting to read the meter in the cupboard under her stairs while really seeking out that box of Pure Dead Magics…

Copyright Chris Adam Smith 2003

 

THE ALYS CLARE INTERVIEW
Fortune Like The Moon/Hodder 1999
Ashes Of The Elements/Hodder 2000
A Tavern In The Morning/Hodder 2001
A Chatter Of Maidens/Hodder 2001
The Faithful Dead/Hodder 2002

So, here is the inside scoop! Alys Clare is not really Alys Clare at all and neither is she that burly chap and well known writer of medieval fiction, as has been widely rumoured in the book trade. Alys Clare is in fact the delightfully mannered, friendly and attractive Elizabeth Harris, better known perhaps as the author of seven steamy, spooky and quite violent, some would say, novels published by Harper Collins in the Nineties.

Liz, as she is quite happy to be called, lives in the summer shaded, leafy, narrow-laned countryside a good couple of bow shots from Tunbridge Wells, in a friendly house surrounded by scenery not far removed from that which is often so delightfully described in her popular Hawkenlye Mystery Series featuring Josse d’Acquin and Abbess Helewise, the latest of which THE FAITHFUL DEAD has just been published by Hodder & Stoughton. Liz, who has been hiding behind the pseudonym of Alys Clare these last five years has decided to pop out of the closet just in time for this interview and, moreover, she has kindly agreed to sign my books in both names – so get your order in quickly.

My first question of Liz, sitting in her parlour and hiding from the rain which drifted down across her well kept garden is an obvious one…or should it be be three?

Q:Why the pseudonym?

A:With the Hawkenlye Novels I was breaking new ground. Writing as Alys Clare helped me to foster the illusion that I was drawing on a fresh aspect of myself. In addition, I wanted to make it clear that the new series would represent a change of genre from the Elizabeth Harris titles. My long-term aim when I first began writing was to have several types of novel on the market simultaneously, each under a different name.

Q:…where did the name Alys Clare come from?

A: I discovered a book in Tunbridge Wells reference library that listed popular Christian names through the ages. Alys was a medieval spelling of our present-day Alice, and I just liked it! Clare is the place in Suffolk from which the early lords of Tonbridge Castle took their title. Also I know one or two very endearing people called Clare.

Q:.. and why have you decided to ‘come clean’ at this particular time?

A: Because you asked so nicely.

Q:Doh!!! Why did you abandon – if indeed you have abandoned - ‘Elizabeth Harris’ and the genre in which she appeared to flourish?

A: At present I see 'Elizabeth Harris' on hold. I believe that the early series of titles had come to the end of its run - it certainly had with that publisher. The basic concept - of plunging a present-day hero and/or heroine into the past with a few ghosts thrown in - was not something that I felt I could go on doing for ever because both the readers and the author would probably become heartily sick of it. However, I still look back on those titles fondly and that style of writing will probably creep back in due course. When I'm not working on Hawkenlye, I have another project on the go to which I constantly return. It's a trilogy (and very long!) and I'll probably offer it (when I eventually complete it) under my own name. There's a good deal of plunging people into the past in it and, when writing, it has the 'feel' for me of my earlier work but progressed one stage on.

Q:What made you choose the particular period you have in which to set your Hawkenlye mystery stories?

A:I have always greatly admired Eleanor of Aquitaine, who must rank as a heck of a woman in any time but particularly the twelfth century., when the role and the lives of most women was so very restricted. Because I wanted to set the novels primarily in England (indeed, in my own back garden, where the fictitious Hawkenlye Abbey once stood) I had to choose a time in Eleanor's life when she was in England. During her marriage to Henry II of England she was busy having children and plotting with them against their father, whereupon he had her put under house arrest. I thought that the time just after Henry's death, when Eleanor came into her own and set about preparing the way for her favourite son, Richard, to become King of England would be a great year in which to set the first Hawkenlye mystery.

Q:How do you set about researching a particular story?

A:I have several excellent history books, including a couple of biographies on Eleanor, to which I refer. The first step is to see what is happening in England and Europe at the time I'm setting the next novel. The research is then governed by what the story deals with - back to the trusty reference library and usually to the book shop as well since I can't resist new books. I usually spend quite a long time reading around whatever the subject is and I find this very valuable in that one thing leads to another and I end up with a hatful of new ideas and directions. Sometimes looking up one thing leads accidentally to a discovery. For example, I was reading through Doreen Valiente's ABC of Witchcraft to see what she had to say about royalty and the Old Religion when I came across an item on a famous talisman that gave me the raw idea for The Faithful Dead. If I can convince myself that it's necessary, I try to visit any place that is mentioned in a novel. Quite a lot of the French locations were discovered on tootles through the landscape looking for a nice place for lunch.

Q:Were Hodder the first to find the Hawkenlye stories of interest or did your agent have to tout them around?

A:I was very lucky in that we didn't have to tout them at all. My agent was lunching with a Hodder & Stoughton editor who wanted to start a new medieval mystery series. She asked him if he had an author who might be interested. As soon as my agent mentioned it to me I was excited by the idea and I supplied a very detailed background for the series and outlines for the first three books. The editor liked them and commissioned me to get started.

Q:How long does it take you to write a Hawkenlye mystery?

A:The actual writing I do very quickly; probably about a month or six weeks (including breaks of a day or two here and there when my back gives out). The reason I can get the words down so quickly is that I do so much preparation beforehand. I'll spend time just thinking about the plot, then I do a page of notes on any new characters, then I work out what's going to happen chapter by chapter. I find I have to keep a note of who knows what when. However, even with so much forward planning I still find that I often think up something new that hopefully strengthens the novel. I have a thick book full of Hawkenlye stuff - locations, history, background, biographies of regular characters, details of their appearance, even, in the case of Josse and Helewise, their birthcharts (he's Libra, she's Leo). I taught myself to cast birthcharts and now do it regularly for both friends and fictional characters.

Q:Do you have any input to the rather attractive jacket designs – I particularly like the numbering of each volume?

A: I agree about the numbering; I like it too. Yes, I do have input. I was asked at the outset if I had any suggestions and I said I liked the illustrations of the Danish artist and fable teller, Kay Nielsen. The Hodder illustration team picked up on that and came up with the style. I usually supply an illustration or two from my library of books on the medieval age, which the artist studies before coming up with his or her own version. Hodder also took up my suggestion of having a map at the start of each book and I supply the rough idea for those too (I always knew A level art would come in useful one day).

Q:How do you feel about the comparisons with the late Ellis Peters…some claim you to be her heir? Is that a burden?

A:It's an enormously flattering comparison and I'm delighted by it. I might find it a burden were I the only author who is lucky enough to be compared to Ellis Peters, but I don't think I am!

Q:Do you think you will ever be tempted to go back to that setting or even, at least, venture away from Hawkenlye and write some stand-alone novels?

A:As I explained in answer to your earlier question, I have a prototype Elizabeth Harris novel on the go but at present it's on the back burner as I want to go to Santorini to research a part of it, then to La Rochelle and various other places and the trip will take quite a bit of planning (and money). I'm also writing a book for older children, for which my two nieces of 13 and 11 are going to be readers and suggestion-makers. A recent trip to Paris has sparked off another idea, and I'm working on that as well. Much as I love writing the Hawkenlye novels, I enjoy the challenge of coming back to the 21st century from time to time. When I was still with HarperCollins I published two contemporary novels under the pseudonym of Lauren Wells, and one day I'd like to do another of those.

Q:How do you write…word processor, typewriter – remember them? – or longhand?

A:My first book (which was later published by Severn House) was written longhand with a Parker fountain pen. The book was originally over 120,000 words long and I developed a bump on my middle finger and turned the barrel of the pen, where one holds it, into a eggtimer shape. Then I went on to a little Boots portable typewriter, then my dear old Dad took pity on me and, realising I was serious about this writing business, bought me one of the early Amstrad word processors. I've had several WPs since then and now I write on a laptop which is small enough to go everywhere with me. I've used it so much that the letters are wearing off the keys.

Q:Do you recall the first thing you ever had published… if so what was it?

A:Yes I do! I sent a short story entitled The Things You Remember to Bella, I think it was, and earned myself £200.Actually there was something before that - I had a piece about an elderly woman visiting St Peters, in Rome, in the Tonbridge Girls' Grammar School magazine in 1968.

Q:Did you have difficulty in getting your first novel published?

A:Not compared to the huge hurdle it seems to be for first-time novelists today. I had completed the aforementioned 120,000 word novel, which was picked up by an editor from the old publishers MacDonalds. He liked it enough to ask me out to lunch and tell me how to cut it and make it commercial. I spent a long time rewriting it, only to find that the wretched man had since retired and gone to farm llamas in the Shetlands. I put the long novel aside and studied what appeared to be meant by 'commercial fiction', reading through the bestsellers of the time (this was the late 1980s) whether I liked them or not. Then I wrote The Herb Gatherers, which HarperCollins picked up on after I had won a short story prize.

Q:Bearing in mind how difficult the Harris books are to find – I’ve been on the look out for them constantly – is there any chance that Harper will reissue them given your newfound and well-deserved status as a collectable writer of historical fiction?

A:Thank you, but I can't imagine that HarperCollins would do that, although to be fair I haven't asked them. The rights for all seven have reverted to me and I do indeed live in hope of someone picking up on them. At one time I understood that The Quiet Earth was being turned into a screenplay. My aforementioned Dad often asks when someone is going to republish that one, which is his favourite, and I'd love to be able to present it to him in a new guise (and a better jacket!). However, since Dad is now 87and a half, whoever it is had better get their skates on. (He is the Geoffrey to whom The Faithful Dead is dedicated - I called Josse's father Geoffroi and there are certain similarities.)

Q:How have your immediate family adapted to your status as a collectable writer?

A:I'm not sure that they know I am one! They've all been hugely supportive of my writing, however. My sons, now aged 23 and 21, have grown up with it - I started writing seriously when the younger one was just about to start at primary school - and it doesn't embarrass them any more. They have read quite a few of the novels and they sometimes stun me by how accurately they assess which real life friends, relations and acquaintances have been translated into the fiction. My parents have always been greatly encouraging and my Mum, who reads for England, always races through each new novel and reports back with very pleasing flattery. My husband reads through at manuscript stage, before anyone else sees the work, and is very good at tactfully pointing out the bits that don't make sense.

Q:What do you watch for pleasure….

A:Timeteam, Timewatch, Horizon, Casualty, The Bill (till Chandler pushed his way to the front), Ruth Rendell and P.D. James adaptations, Silent Witness, Ab Fab, old films, new films, War Walks, Father Ted, anything about old civilisations, anything about history unless it's post-Tudor, anything to do with the old religion (not that there's much of that), anything on medieval architecture, adaptations of novels I've enjoyed, Waking the Dead, the Simpsons.

Q:…and what do you read for pleasure?

A:Murder mysteries, especially P.D. James and Ruth Rendell; Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Nikki French, Robert Goddard, Tolkien (again and again), Philip Pullman, Harry Potter, C.S. Lewis, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Jean M. Auel, Clare Francis, books on Fung Shui, space clearing, crystals, bells & smells, etc.

Q:Do you have any great literary ambitions…The Booker, The Whitbread or, perhaps a CWA Dagger or two…?

A:I wish! The latter certainly, me and every other crime writer!

I left those leafy lanes to Elizabeth and Alys and the wagtails that were exploring the early winter puddles that would, no doubt, eventually flood the high-banked byways and make access difficult. I left with a warm picture of a charming woman happy in her work and her surroundings still reaching out, still growing, but most of all of a talented writer, a real storyteller with a deserved 'dagger' well within her reach and a writer who actually appeared to quite enjoy talking to a bookseller about her craft, the industry and the price of books.

Copyright Chris Adam Smith November 2002

 

 

THE ZOË SHARP INTERVIEW
Killer Instinct/Piatkus 2001
Riot Act/Piakus 2002

I have spoken on the telephone with Zoë Sharp on several occasions, emailed her often and, in Cambridge recently as guests of Heffers Bookstore, I actually met her, albeit very briefly. Not being bitchy here but, she was the only woman writer in the room who actually looked like her photograph. Some of those pics on the inside back flaps must have been taken a decade or two back now! Vanity and the written word eh? I wonder how much attention readers pay to that photograph, the book is the thing and all of the women writers in the room had written crackers at one time or another, but Zoë seemed to have scored all around - great first book, photograph and charm. I met her again recently in Brighton where she spirited away some coffee and happily signed copies of her new book RIOT ACT for me. Her first novel, a debut for self defence instructor cum private eye type Charlie Fox, was KILLER INSTINCT and I sold out of that almost before publication (I kept a copy for myself for a while but someone eventually even wangled that off of me!) Ah well, everything and everyone has a price even Charlie Fox I would bet. So how come a Lancastrian VI Warshawski? Seemed like a fair enough question so I asked her.


So, Zoë, how come a Lancastrian VI Warshawski?

A: I've had the character of Charlie Fox hanging around in my subconscious for years. I'm not even entirely sure where the name came from. She's just always been who she is. All the early crime I read or watched on TV had women as peripheral characters only, ones who screamed a lot and inevitably had to be rescued at some point by the men. Charlie was the result of my desire to read about a female character who could take care of herself, who didn't need anyone to fight her battles for her.

When I first set about writing a crime novel, Charlie fitted the bill perfectly as the central character. I didn't want someone who was in the police, and she's not a private eye in the strict sense of the words, either. I know there are limits to the gifted amateur sleuth who trips over bodies every time they turn around - you'd never want to be friends with these people for fear of ending up as the next corpse - but I have plans for the direction Charlie's career is about to take. By the end of 'Riot Act' you should have an inkling.

Why Lancaster, it seems so unlikely enough setting until you read the book?

A: Lancaster is a fascinating place, a kind of Bath of the north, with lots of beautiful Georgian sandstone buildings, a historic castle that's still in use as a prison, and a thriving university. It's a very split-personality city - attractive by day, but by night it takes on an altogether darker flavour. A quick glance through a typical week's local paper tells quite a story about the level of crime there. There are a couple of estates you wouldn't want to walk through at night, that's for sure, which is where the idea for 'Riot Act' came from.

How much of Charlie Fox is in you - I write westerns and I am all of my
heroes.?

A: Oh, I'd love to be able to say I am her, absolutely, so don't mess with me! But the truth is, I'm not sure I'd really want to be. Of course there are going to be elements of me in there somewhere. After all, she came out of my head, and I'm the one who lives in there - most of the time, at any rate.

But Charlie's put up with experiences that would crush a lesser spirit, and in among her natural compassion she's discovered a capacity for violence within herself that would frighten most people to death. And in the first two books she hasn't really found a direction for her life, a purpose. I admire her courage, but she would not be an easy person to be.

Was Judy Piatkus the first publisher to show an interest in your work?

A: No, my agent, Steve Calcutt at the Anubis Literary Agency had a lot of interest in 'Killer Instinct' from another publisher before Piatkus, but the book didn't quite make it through the final selection process. Piatkus bought 'Killer Instinct' and the second book, which they knew nothing about. When I delivered the manuscript for 'Riot Act' they then signed me up straight away for another three in the Charlie Fox series. I can only assume they quite like her.

Was Killer Instinct your first novel?

A: Again, no. I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen. I was very into horses at the time and so it was a pony-related story. It went round most of the major publishers, who all said very nice things about it while at the same time declining to actually put it into print. I still have their letters somewhere. Much more kindly that the usual standard 'Unsuitable for our list' rejections!

Still, it took some years and a very roundabout route before I wrote another novel. This time crime had replaced horses as my primary literary subject of choice. 'Killer Instinct' was the result, although this is version 2.1. Version 1.0 had the same main character, one or two similar side characters, and the same ending, although with a completely different killer!

Are you into 'self defence' or is that character driven?

A: I do have a definite interest in self defence and feel that everyone should know the basics at the very least. I took classes with a pair of exceptionally talented instructors - Ian Cottam and Lee Watkin at Lancaster University - who taught me many of the techniques that I went on to describe in 'Killer Instinct' and in 'Riot Act'. I wouldn't feel happy walking down a street in the dark without knowing I could defend myself if necessary.

How difficult is it to avoid the stereotyped relationships with men Charlie is
bound to have?

A: Ah, I'm not sure I should answer that question before you've read 'Riot Act', because there's a major development in that direction! Charlie's had relationships with men, obviously, as she does in 'Killer Instinct', but she's only been in love with one, and it all went horribly wrong. Sorting out the mess that left behind is taking some time. Some things are resolved in 'Riot Act', and some more in book three, 'Hard Knocks', which I'm working on at the moment, but other questions are not going to be answered until books four and five. You'll just have to keep reading.

Does panic ever set in when writing?

A: Hell, yes. I should say so. More often than not, really. I go through horrible 'oh-my-god-this-is-such-rubbish-that-nobody's-ever-going-to-want-to-read' phases that I thought would have subsided by book three, but they currently show no signs of doing so.

Mind you, my day job is as a photographer, which I've been doing it for fourteen years and I still get stressed on every shoot. I worry that the day I don't get stressed is the day I'll turn out less than my best work. I suppose it's the same with writing a book, except that the feeling lasts for months instead of hours. I'm lucky because my husband, Andy, reads each chapter as I go along. Without his encouragement I may never have finished the first one, never mind be on the third.

PC or typewriter?

A: PC. Definitely. I learned to touch-type years ago and I'm pretty quick now, plus I don't have to look at my hands so I can just watch the words forming on the screen. I use one of these curved keyboards because I've still got wrist problems courtesy of my first motorbike. The rest of the time I make notes on an A4 pad in pencil - I don't think well in biro. If I'm stuck on a particular bit, a long car journey - as passenger rather than driver - usually gives me the time to think it through. I never travel without that notebook.

Motorcycles. Do you still feel safe on the roads?

A: No, but then if you ride a motorbike on the road today, you're never safe. I work on the theory that I'm invisible and everyone else is an idiot, and that usually works. Car drivers can be too insulated from the elements and too divorced from what's going on around them. Having said that, some born-again bikers take risks in traffic that makes my hair stand on end.

What kind of shooting. Air, clay pigeon, smallbore or long barrelled pistol?

A: These days I just do target air pistol, although we go to the States a couple of times a year through work and we usually take the opportunity to find a gun range. The last time out I fired the Sig Sauer P226 9mm, in preparation for 'Hard Knocks'. In the past I've fired pump-action shotguns, 7.62mm self-loading rifles, .22 target rifles, and 9mm submachine guns as well as a selection of pistols. I used to competition shoot with rifles, although I'm a fair shot with a handgun and I prefer a 9mm to anything bigger.

Are you happy signing books and meeting the fans?

A: Yes, of course. It still feels strange that someone wants me to deface a perfectly good book by scrawling my name in the front of it, but I'm more than happy to do so. People keep e-mailing me at my website to say they've enjoyed the first book and when is the second one out, which is lovely. I even had a mail from someone in Melbourne, Australia, so Charlie's getting out there, slowly. I'm always interested to find out what people make of her.

What movies do you enjoy?

A: Oh dear, I'm going to sound very lowbrow now, I'm afraid. Actioners mainly, I think. I get so into watching a film that weepy ones make me cry buckets, no matter how corny they are. I can't watch horror because they give me nightmares. As a kid I even used to hide behind the sofa when Doctor Who was on.

What do you read for pleasure as opposed to research?

A: Actually, I enjoy my research most of the time, so I don't make much of a distinction. I'm just reading 'Maggots, Murder and Men' - memories and reflections of a forensic entomologist by Dr Zakaria Erzinclioglu. Waiting after that is 'Last Man Down', the story of fire chief Richard 'Pitch' Picciotto, who survived the collapse of the twin towers.

Given free range in the fiction aisles of a bookshop, I'd go for Robert B Parker, whose writing style just grips me from the outset; or JD Robb's 'In Death' series. Along with the rest of the planet I loved the Harry Potter books, I dip into Stephen King and Clive Barker on occasions, and although I wouldn't class myself as a sci-fi fan I read my copy of Peter F Hamilton's 'Mindstar Rising' until it fell apart at the seams.

Apart from that, I read Quentin Jardine's Bob Skinner series, Christopher Brookmyre, classic Dick Francis, and anything by Terry Pratchett that involves the men and women (and others) of the Ankh-Morpork city watch, so I suppose that counts as crime. Sort of.

I also have an entire collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, but the writer who really introduced me to crime and hooked me from the start was Leslie Charteris and Simon Templar, the Saint. None of the TV series have remotely done justice to the style and charm of the original books.

And the big one. Will you stick with Charlie and a book a year or might you
try another character or even another genre.?

A: At the moment I have ideas for the first sixteen books in the Charlie Fox series, so she's going to be around for a while yet! I also have four other series characters - two male and two female - and a filing cabinet full of notes and ideas for stand-alone books, including one supernatural, and three science-fiction. I think at last count there were forty in all.

But, if I don't pick up the pace somewhat I'm going to be retired before I finish what I have now, so I'm going to have to start doing two a year at least! Ideally, I'd like to do one Charlie Fox and one other, be it in another series or a stand-alone.

I thanked Zoe for her time, and lugged my book boxes down to the boot of my sedate, green, automatic Renault Laguna all the while wishing I still had my old black and white Triumph Tiger 110, my red corduroy Ivy League flat cap and slim-waisted Wrangler jeans with the one inch turnup. Maybe I could have overtaken Charlie Fox on the straightway of the A3 just down from the old Ace Of Spades cafe. But I doubt I was ever that good!

Copyright Chris Adam Smith September 2002


 

ish what I have now, so I'm going to have to start doing two a year at least! Ideally, I'd like to do one Charlie Fox and one other, be it in another series or a stand-alone.

I thanked Zoe for her time, and lugged my book boxes down to the boot of my sedate, green, automatic Renault Laguna all the while wishing I still had my old black and white Triumph Tiger 110, my red corduroy Ivy League flat cap and slim-waisted Wrangler jeans with the one inch turnup. Maybe I could have overtaken Charlie Fox on the straightway of the A3 just down from the old Ace Of Spades cafe. But I doubt I was ever that good!

Copyright Chris Adam Smith September 2002