Waterstones Q&A

What was your favourite childhood book?

If I go right back to my early days it would have to be one of the ‘Famous Five’ books by Enid Blyton, but don’t ask me which one as my memory isn’t that good. I’ve also got a soft spot for Kenneth Graham’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’ as I played Toad in a school play when I was twelve.

Which book has made you laugh?

‘American Scream’, the biography of comic genius Bill Hicks, which includes numerous extracts from his magnificent stand-up material.

Which book has made you cry?

I can honestly say that I can’t remember ever crying while reading a book, although that probably has something to do with my reading habits, as hardboiled crime dramas don’t tend to have too many weepy moments. That’s not to stay I’m a stiff upper lip kinda guy though – as I get older I frequently find myself moved to tears, the last time being when the Gaslight Anthem blasted out ‘The ’59 Sound’ at the Latitude music festival.

Which book would you never have on your bookshelf?

Anything penned by the literary genius, Katie Price, as I fear it would be too advanced for a mere mortal such as I. Maybe when I’m older and have a better grasp of vocabulary and the human condition.

Which book are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just started ‘The Mephisto Threat’ by E.V. Seymour, which is the follow up to her first novel, ‘The Last Exile’, which I enjoyed immensely. I love the way she’s able to give her UK-set books a hardboiled feel, and her lead character, off-the-books MI5 operative Paul Tallis, is a very interesting guy.

Which book would you give to a friend as a present?

That would very much depend on the friend, but in the interests of getting someone else to share a journey with me, I’d hand over ‘Flood’ by Andrew Vachss, the first in his superb series of Burke novels, of which I’m now about a third of the way through (the series, not the opener).

Which other writers do you admire?

I’m a sucker for great American crime fiction, so I have a long list of favourite authors, but for the sake of brevity I’ll mention just three:

  • First, Robert Crais, for his excellent plotting and strong dynamic between his two principal characters, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.
  • Second, Andrew Vachss, for his tough protagonist, the urban survivalist, Burke, his unsurpassed knowledge of the gutter (both urban and human), and his razor sharp black humour.
  • And third, James Ellroy, the demon dog himself, for being the man who gave us L.A. Confidential and American Tabloid.

Which classic have you always meant to read and never got round to it?

That’s a really long list, as much to my eternal shame I’ve barely dipped my toes in the waters of the classic novel, but given the genre I write in I guess I ought to start with anything by Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett.

What are your top five books of all time, in order or otherwise?

In no particular order (and yes, I know there’s six, but I couldn’t make the last cut!)

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien Green
River Rising – by Tim Willocks
Every Dead Thing – by John Connolly
Point of Impact – by Steven Hunter
It – by Steven King American Tabloid by James Ellroy

What is the worst book you have ever read?

When it comes to my fellow authors I’m a firm believer in the old adage, say something nice, or don’t say anything at all, so I’ll keep my thoughts on this one to myself. I’m just trying to spread positive vibes, maaan…

Is there a particular book or author that inspired you to be a writer?

I’m not sure that there was one book or author in particular, but my love of reading, and by association writing, all started with Enid Blyton. My mum had kept the hardback copies of most (if not all) of the Famous Five novels that she’d read during her own childhood, then passed them on to me once I came of age. ‘Five On A Treasure Island’ was the first in the series, and it was the book that really gave me the reading bug.

What is your favourite time of day to write?

I’m generally more of a morning person, so the 9 a.m. to midday slot tends to be my most productive, although its fair to say that it usually takes me half an hour or so to get into the flow of things.

And favourite place?

I work from my study overlooking my back garden, which in turn backs onto some woodland, so I constantly have to fight the urge to watch the squirrels that are playing on the lawn.

Longhand or word processor?

Word processor for me I’m afraid, sorry to disappoint any bluff old traditionalists out there. I tend to write in fits and starts, constantly going back to change lines and move sections around, and if I tried to do that with a pen I’d end up with a page of illegible scrawls, directional arrows, and crossing outs. On the plus side, I have become a pretty good typist though.

Which fictional character would you most like to have met?

I nice glass of Chianti and a bowl of fava beans with Hannibal Lecter would be an interesting night out.

Who, in your opinion, is the greatest writer of all time?

Given my limited reading experience outside the crime genre (about 80% of everything I’ve read since my teens has been US crime fiction), I’d have to go for J.R.R. Tolkien, as I marvel at his achievement at having created a whole world, history, and mythology in The Lord of the Rings. If I were to go for my current favourite writer, it would probably be Andrew Vachss.

Which book have you found yourself unable to finish?

That’s a very select list of one, as once I start a book I feel duty bound to finish it, even if I’m not enjoying it. The only book I can remember starting and not finishing was The Silmarillion by Tolkien, as I tried to read it when I was a little too young. You’ll be pleased to know that I conquered my demons and returned to complete the job in my twenties.

What is your favourite word?

I do get a great amount of enjoyment from the word Beelzebub, although I’ve yet to work it into any of my novels, but if I had to pick one word it would probably be euphemism, as I find that the question ‘Is that a euphemism?’ can follow a wide variety of statements to comedic effect.

Other than writing, what other jobs or professions have you undertaken or considered?

I stacked fruit and veg on the shelves at ASDA while I was a student, but my first ‘proper’ job was working for Norwich Union in their investment marketing division, where I ended up writing reports on fluctuations in the world’s fixed income markets – an almost perfect way to prepare for writing hardboiled American crime thrillers!

What was the first piece you ever had in print?

That would have been an article I penned on the long term prospects for the UK gilt market, which was published by Investment Week back when I was working for Norwich Union – a rip roaring tale of falling yields, government borrowing, and rampant demand driven by large, institutional investors.

What are you working on at the moment?

As my second novel, Blood Law, has just been released, I’m currently doing anything I can think of to garner some much-needed publicity (this interview included!). On the writing front, the third novel in the Zac Hunter series is now with my publishers, and in this one Hunter’s investigation draws him into the shocking world of people smuggling across the Mexican border.