Writewords Q&A

First of all, I’d like to thank the Writewords community for playing their part in helping me to become a published author.  When I was first starting out, I received a lot of support and encouragement from your members that went some way to convince me that I might be onto something.  Writewords is an excellent resource for both first time and established authors, and I wish each of your members every success in their future endeavours.  Remember – dreams can come true!

Tell us all about your debut novel

My debut novel, Justice For All, was recently released on the 15th August in the UK and Eire.  It’s US noir, tough as old boots, and dark as a serial killer’s soul, and if you like your crime thrillers violent, cinematic, and action packed, then this one’s for you.  It features Zac Hunter, an ex L.A.P.D. detective whose just been kicked out of the department for whaling on the lead suspect in a string of child murders.  When the suspect beats the case against him on a technicality, Hunter turns vigilante to take him down, but his decision ends up putting him bang in the cross hairs of a ruthless Russian assassin, and unless he can work out what he’s stumbled into, Hunter could wind up paying with his life.

How, when, and why did you first start writing?

Apart from writing a lot back when I at school (I was the sort of kid that would turn a two-page story assignment into a full-on novella given half the chance), I started to write professionally when my last job suddenly demanded it of me.  I’d worked in the marketing arm of a large insurance company for eight years when they decided that they needed an investment writer – someone who could translate the fund manager technobabble into something that was vaguely lucid – and I’d been earmarked for the role.  I then wrote stock market report after stock market report for a couple of years and along the way I rediscovered my love of writing, so when the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy came along, I grabbed it with both hands and decided to pursue my boyhood dream of becoming an author.  This all occurred about seven years ago (have I really been out of an office that long?) and I’ve now reached the point where my debut novel has made it on to the high street shelves.

Who are your favourite writers/influences and why?

Well, I’m a sucker for great American crime fiction, and I have been since I was in my early teens (it accounts for something like 80% of all the books that I read), so I have a long list of favourite authors, but for brevities sake 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 his refusal to compromise in anything he does, and for being the man who gave us L.A. Confidential and American Tabloid.

And I also draw inspiration from quality American cop shows – stuff like The Shield and The Wire – which I’m told has helped to give my writing a cinematic quality.

How did you get your first agent/publication?

Well first of all, I got my novel into the very best shape I could – I even hired a professional editor to take a look at it, as I wanted to give myself every chance of getting published.  I then drew up a hit list of agents – ostensibly ones that specialised in crime thrillers and were actively looking for new authors – and I made sure that my submission (the opening two chapters and a synopsis) was professionally presented (typed, double spaced, no typos, etc).

Two days after sending out a handful of submissions, I got a call from Broo Doherty, of the Wade and Doherty Literary Agency, who was keen to read the rest of the novel.  I duly e-mailed it over to her, steeling myself for a long wait, but she was back in contact just two days later with an offer to represent me.  To say I was over the moon doesn’t do it justice - during the course of the conversation I actually started to dance around my spare room.  Broo then set about finding me a publisher, and a few weeks later I’d signed a two-book deal with MIRA books.

What’s the worst thing about writing?

The worst thing about being a writer is the fact that you have to stay positive – you have to constantly live in hope: hope that you’ll find an agent, hope that you’ll find a publisher, and hope that you’ll find an audience - two out of three’s a start and I’m working on the third.

And the best?

The best thing about writing is the sense of achievement I get from it.  Sometimes I’ll read back a passage that I wrote a few days earlier and barely even recognise the words as my own, leaving me to wonder where on earth that they came from.  And of course, being your own boss has its perks!

Tell us what kind of response you get from audiences/readers and if/how this affects/influences your writing

As my debut novel, Justice For All, has only been out a few weeks, I haven’t had a great deal of response from readers as yet, although those that have been in touch (from afar a field as California and New Zealand) have been very supportive.  I take great encouragement from positive feedback such as this, as I figure that if someone has taken the trouble to get in touch with me then I must be doing something right, but I wouldn’t say that it actually influences my writing, as I firmly believe you can only write for yourself and then hope that other people enjoy it.  What it does do, however, is influence my desire to write, as I’ve always responded better to the carrot than the stick.

What was your breakthrough moment?

This would have to be when I secured representation from my agent, Broo Doherty.  As I’m sure your subscribers are aware, no publisher will take you seriously until you have representation, thus agents are deluged with thousands of submissions every year, making it very hard for new authors to stand out from the crowd.  When Broo offered to represent me, I knew that I’d made a real breakthrough, and I felt confident that I’d get a publishing deal, as long as I stayed the course.

What inspires you to write?

Maybe a beautifully written chapter in a novel, a great scene in a movie, or praise from my readers, but it’s always one part inspiration to nine parts perspiration, and anyway, I’m not really sure that ‘inspires’ is the right word, as it’s actually more of a need to write.  This is the only natural talent I’ve been blessed with and to waste it would be a crime, plus when I’m not writing I feel completely worthless – 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.

Do you have a writing routine? A place that’s special?

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 squirrels playing on the lawn.  As for my routine, I start work somewhere between nine and ten a.m. and keep going until I’ve got at least a thousand new words down on the page.  A thousand words is the absolute bare minimum – I’m really aiming for fifteen hundred plus.  I also take a break or two to walk my dog – Murphy the chocolate Labrador – which I find gives me time and space to think through any plot or characterisation issues. 

Do you address particular themes or issues in your writing?

I like to focus on the dark side of human nature, so themes like revenge, betrayal, prejudice, corruption, justice and greed figure highly in my books – all the good stuff, basically.  And where possible, I also like to explore social issues – Justice For All asks the question is vigilantism ever justified, and the follow up, Blood Law, looks at how poverty and despair continues to drive a generation of kids into the arms of L.A.’s murderous gangs.

Where do you get your ideas from?

I get my ideas from anywhere and everywhere.  Sometimes from real life events, sometimes from thoughts I’ve been kicking around in my head (like the one regarding criminal defence lawyers that sparked Justice For All), and sometimes from my desire to learn about a specific subject.  A good example of how this works would be the follow-up to Justice For All, entitled Blood Law, where I initially wanted to learn more about L.A. gangland culture, and in the course of the research, plot ideas began to emerge. 

Any tips for new writers? Things you’ve learned and would like to pass on?
Don’t give up on your dreams.  Stay stubborn, and stay focussed on your goals.  If you truly believe that you have written a book that deserves to be published, then stick at it.  Perseverance is key – you make your own luck in this world.

What would be your dream writing job?

The one that I’ve got now – in the same way that other kids dreamed of being footballers or rocks stars, I always wanted to be an author, so I can honestly say that I’m living the dream!

What’s next for you?

My next book is called Blood Law, and it’s the second in the Zac Hunter series of novels.  When Hunter answers a distress call from a beautiful Latino girl from his past, he finds himself sucked deep into the murky world of L.A. street gangs, where illegal drugs are the major currency and automatic weapons are the main negotiating tool.  With a child’s life at stake, Hunter finds himself in a race against time to discover who’s behind the recent upsurge in violence, and why they’re so keen to see the streets run with blood. Blood Law will be out sometime next year, but in the meantime I’m working hard on my third novel, which is provisionally entitled ‘The Beholder.

Have you got a website/event coming up that we can let our members know about?

My website address is, and I’d love to hear from other Writewords subscribers via the ‘Contact Steven’ link on the bottom of the home page.