ARENA Magazine Interview - The Published Version (October 2008 edition)
Your current book is called Justice For All.
Your predominant themes are revenge, betrayal, prejudice, corruption, justice and greed.
You conquer writer's block by locking myself away until things start to flow again.
The most overrated book you've read was The Bible. It’s got far too many characters, the plot is barely coherent, and there’s too much sermonising.
The biggest myth about being a writer is that we’re all paid advances like J.K. Rowling.
You wrote your latest book because I don’t understand how defence lawyers can represent someone they know is guilty of a heinous crime.
Your biggest vice when writing is strong black coffee and the odd glass of Chilean cabernet.
The first book you read was The Island Of Adventure by Enid Blyton. Pretty hardcore, eh? The first crime thriller I can remember reading was Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie.
Being an author gets you chicks, discuss. Something like 70% of crime readers are women, so the odds are in your favour.
The best place to set a modern thriller is in a location that’s thrilling. Throw in some cool characters, then add jeopardy and a ticking clock.
If you weren’t an author you would be the lead singer in a hard rockin’ band.
ARENA Magazine Interview - Director's Cut
For the Arena interview, I was asked to provide punchy, pithy, funny, flippant, answers to a long list of questions. From this list, a number were chosen for publication, and some of them were then edited for brevity (see above). Here follows the full list of answers as initially provided to Arena for your reading pleasure!
Your current book is called Justice For All. It’s my debut novel and it’s released on the 15th August in all good bookshops. It’s US noir, tough as old boots, and dark as a serial killer’s soul. If you like your crime thrillers violent, frenetic, and action packed, then give it a go. Hell, if you like your thrillers, placid, uneventful, and ponderous, give it a go anyhow – some excitement would do you good.
You are from Norwich. Born and raised. Carrot in one hand, sheep bothering appendage in the other. Hit me with your best shot, I’ve heard all the jokes – they interbreed us tough round these parts.
Your predominant themes are revenge, betrayal, prejudice, corruption, justice and greed – all the good stuff, basically.
You write where and for how long
I write at home in my study, and I write for as long as it takes to get a thousand words down on paper in any given day. A thousand words is the absolute bare minimum – I’m really aiming for fifteen hundred plus, but you have to allow for hangovers.
The feeling you get from writing is at best like an adrenalin shot to the heart, and at worst, like having your teeth pulled slowly by a claw-handed sadist suffering from the world’s worst case of the D.T.’s.
You would describe yourself as living the dream. As a kid, I always wanted to be an author, but I never for a moment thought it would happen. I spent ten years of my life doing the corporate ladder thing in the insurance industry before I slipped out under cover of darkness to put pen to paper, and since then, I haven’t looked back.
You conquer writer's block by being stubborn. I lock myself away until things start to flow again. If one thing’s for certain it’s that nothing ever gets written while you’re on a break. It’s all about perseverance. Nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel, you get the picture. And liquid refreshment of a certain proof can also do the trick.
The biggest influence on your desire to write was my dear old ma. She got me into reading at a young age by giving me all the hardbacks that she’d read as a child – mostly Enid Blyton books, Famous Five, Secret Seven, kids against the world type stuff – and my desire to write came directly from my love of reading. That, and the fact that I’d finally found something I was halfway proficient at.
The most overrated book you've read was The Bible. It’s got far too many characters, the plot is barely coherent, and there was too much sermonising for my liking. God knows how it’s sold so many copies.
The biggest myth about being a writer is that we all get paid advances like J.K. Rowling. Even now I’m kicking myself for not writing about a pre-pubescent boy wizard with a scratch on his noggin.
The biggest word you know is ‘swearing’ – and not only is it big, but it’s also clever.
Writing is like playing God. We create entire worlds, and through our characters we get to drive fast cars, fight our way out of tough spots, and have sex with a string of ever-willing nubile nymphets.
At dinner parties you tell people you are a crushing bore, as that way I’m left alone to concentrate on my food/alcohol intake. In reality, I do take pride in revealing that I’m an author nowadays, but back when I was agentless and unpublished, it was more of a badge of shame – I always figured that people had me marked as that weird guy who makes stuff up for his own amusement.
You always write on the Sabbath, as that’s the day I pen my blog ahead of its Monday morning publication on my website, www.stevenhague.com (shameless plug alert).
You wrote your latest book because I don’t understand how defence lawyers can represent someone that they know to be guilty of a heinous crime. How do they look themselves in the mirror when their goal in life is to profit from keeping the dregs of society out on the streets? The seeds of Justice For All sprang from this simple question. Of course, I also had to throw a vigilante, a paedo, a racist, some gangbangers, and a Russian hitman into the mix to spice things up.
Your biggest vice when writing is strong black coffee in the a.m. and the odd glass of Chilean cabernet in the p.m. Everything in moderation, especially moderation itself.
Your editing process is essential as it helps me to become a better writer. When you hand over a first draft to your publisher, all you really want to hear is how perfect it is, but things don’t work that way in the real world (at least not for me). The editing process is both challenging and stimulating, but as long as the book comes out the other side in better shape then everyone’s a winner.
You can recognise an author when they open their mouth as they can turn any conversation around to their latest opus. When you spend most of your life off in a fantasy world, it’s always a relief to spout on about your ‘craft’ to anyone that’s polite enough to listen.
The first book you read was The Island Of Adventure by Enid Blyton. Pretty hardcore stuff, eh? The roots of my urban noir novels were laid here. The first crime thriller I can remember reading was Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie.
Authors tend to be friendly, generous people, or at least that’s been my experience with those I’ve met thus far. Every author I’ve met has been approachable, giving of their time, and happy to offer advice on the perks and pitfalls of the publishing industry.
When you're trying to avoid writing you procrastinate like crazy – the book needs more research, the book needs more plotting, the lawn needs mowing, the test match is on…
Your main writing ritual is to sacrifice a pig at dawn. Does eating a bacon roll count as pig sacrifice? Bacon rolls – who am I kidding? My wife’s a veggie and the only way I can smuggle bacon into the house is if it’s already residing somewhere in my digestive tract.
The reality of being an author is having to live your life in hope – hope that you’ll find an agent, hope that you’ll find a publisher, hope that you’ll find an audience - two out of three’s a start and I’m working on the third.
Being an author gets you chicks, discuss
Something like 70% of crime readers are women, so the odds are in your favour. I however am a happily married man, so I couldn’t possibly comment any further.
You write in order to purge my soul, or vent my inner demons, or something like that. I write because I have to. It’s the only natural talent I’ve been blessed with (unless you count the ability to grow an impressive quiff) and to waste it would be a crime.
If you don't write I feel completely worthless. The fact that I don’t have a ‘proper job’ is bad enough for my self-esteem, but when I’m not writing I feel like the laziest guy on the face of the planet. And all the other vital parts of being a writer, stuff like research, plotting, and publicity, doesn’t count either – the only thing that does is words on the page.
When you don't write you become short-tempered, irritable, and guilt ridden – in general a joy to be around.
Obviously you get author groupies Every night, there’s a multitude of girls beating non-stop on my bedroom door. Sometimes, I get up and let them out.
When it’s going well you thank your lucky stars and try not to listen to the little voice in my head that says the next clusterfuck is just around the corner.
If you haven't written for a few days then I’ve probably been slacking off at a music festival. Reading’s the best. I’ve been going since 1992 and I’ll still be there when I’m old, infirm, and the proud owner of my very own colostomy bag. Come to think of it, that would eradicate the need for festival toilets…
The best place to set a modern thriller is in modern day, in a location that’s thrilling. It’s not rocket science, is it? Pick somewhere that’s exotic (and I don’t mean palm fringed beaches – anywhere they’re not familiar with will do, or even somewhere they are familiar with as long as you show a different side to it), throw in a bunch of cool characters, add some jeopardy and a ticking clock, then stand back and see what develops. I set my books in the States as it has a widescreen, cinematic appeal. Everything there is writ large, and the fact that half the population are tooled up gives me plenty of scope for action!
Thriller writers hang out in the shadowy back streets of urban hellholes, bravely putting their lives at risk in the name of gathering that one crucial piece of authentic research that will guarantee reader satisfaction. What they definitely do not do is hang out in hotel bars…
Your guilty literary pleasure is I don’t do guilty pleasures – if I’m being pleasured, there’s no room for guilt.
If you weren’t an author you would be the lead singer in a hard rockin’ band – have you not witnessed my karaoke?
Thriller writers rarely win the Booker Prize because they’re not seen as highbrow. There’s just not enough literary merit in their work to impress the learned judges. And to top it all, some of them even have the audacity to sell shed loads of books. Well I say screw literary merit – when I buy a book I want to be entertained.
A great thriller should have great characters. It all comes down to characters in the end. Plots are all well and good, but lets face it, there’s not much scope for original thought. Everything’s been done before, and we’re all a product of our influences. So characters are key. If you like spending time with the protagonist, chances are you’ll come back for more – at least that’s what I’m hoping, as my main man, Zac Hunter, will return in a sequel to Justice For All in 2009.
The biggest influence on your writing is my local bookseller. I’ve been immersing myself in American crime fiction since my teens, and I find writers like Robert Crais, James Lee Burke, and Andrew Vachss inspirational. I’m also influenced by the great U.S. cop shows – stuff like The Shield and The Wire – which help give my novels a cinematic quality.