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
I caught up with Stav at the popular annual July Bodies in
the Bookshop bash at Heffers in Cambridge and fired my usual questions
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
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
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
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
The Giants' Dance /Harper Collins
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
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
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
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
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
Q:Horns Of The Buffalo is your first novel, but is it your first
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
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
Copyright Chris Adam Smith 2004
THE DEBI GLIORI
Pure Dead Magic/Doubleday 2001
Pure Dead Wicked/Doubleday
Pure Dead Brilliant/Doubleday
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
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?
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.) ?
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?
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?
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
Q.There is suddenly a phenomenal interest in children's books -
mostly by adults it seems - what do you put this down to?
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
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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
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 dAcquin
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
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.
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
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
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
Q:How do you feel about the comparisons with the late Ellis Peters
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
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
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
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
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
Ive 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
Q:How have your immediate family adapted to your status as a collectable
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.
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
ZOË SHARP INTERVIEW
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Copyright Chris Adam
Smith September 2002