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Coffee – Cake And Crime Event With Michael J Shanks

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Everyone wants to do the right thing. Sometimes doing the right thing can lead you down a path from which there is no return. Follow Galston McGee and James Bisset as they journey through 1970s Glasgow, white-collar fraud and organised crime. As their lives intersect, the consequences are deadly and catastrophic. Dark Orchid is a fast-paced story of love, greed, resurrection and revenge.

How did you get started writing

I have always written stuff. It’s not something I have recently started. Whether it was letters to family during my time in the Royal Navy or short stories at school. Writing is something I have always enjoyed. It helps me to relax and is the perfect foil to my other life which is jam packed with work, and normal day to day stuff. Some people watch telly, some work out, some play computer games – I write. I started more ‘formal’ writing, if you can call it that, a few years ago with my blog and a couple of years ago I just decided to give writing a novel a try -just to see if I could.

What drew you to write a crime novel

I like all genres of writing. I read everything from horror to thrillers to crime. I don’t read much romance though. This particular novel is a crime novel just because the story lead me down that route. Before starting I had a couple of scenes in my head and the fraud at the base of the story. Beyond that, it just came out as a crime novel as I worked through it. I didn’t really have a master plan at the beginning, I just wrote it and it became a crime thriller of sorts. My blog is a forum where I write about anything and everything.

Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing

Very hard to single out any particular writer who has influenced my style of writing. It would also be very arrogant of me to even think my style is similar to some of the great writers out there. I still have a long way to go I believe. I think the first time I read Trainspotting was a crystallising moment for me though. It had just been released and I was kicking my heels around at the Fringe festival in Edinburgh. I remember carrying it with me everywhere that weekend, reading whenever I was sober enough or not at some show or other. Apart from thinking at the time it was the best book I had ever read I also remembered thinking ‘I could do that’. I didn’t (and not sure I could) but it certainly inspired me to do something.

I love lots of authors from lots of genres though, from Sebastian Faulks right through to Lee Child. In short I just enjoy reading.

What was the inspiration behind Dark Orchid?

If anything inspired Dark Orchid it would be the insights I have as to how company financial processes work. By day I am a Finance Director and thus have a good oversight into the day to day financial processes of companies.

The opening scene which is fairly gruesome was inspired by a sentence in Mario Puzo’s the Godfather. I read it many many years ago and it stuck with me. Most likely because of how horrible it is.

When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest My experience of searching for a publisher was interesting. I was very well prepared for a Tsunami of rejection letters. Once I felt I had the manuscript in a reasonable shape, I took the approach of blanket bombing publishers -with zero response. I didn’t even get the expected rejection letters – I got silence. A friend recommended her publisher John Hunt as perhaps someone who might take it on, so I contacted them and they came back positively.

John Hunt is a small UK publisher who are willing to take a risk to showcase new and unknown authors so it was a good match. The downside to a small publisher is the lack of resources they have to devote to individual titles so the author is very much closely involved in the whole process from copy editing, design and ultimately marketing. I do, however, quite enjoy the challenge of marketing myself, an unknown author, in what is a saturated marketplace. One fun thing I have started doing is an ‘anonymous book’ drop. I leave copies of the book in certain locations bookmarked on a page where something gruesome or interesting happens -with a personalised note inside. I have received several positive responses from people who have ‘discovered’ it. Total strangers emailing me is very nice indeed.

Book writing and now book marketing is fun and I intend to keep it this way. I am always looking for new and imaginative ways to market Dark Orchid.

There are many interesting characters in Dark Orchid, do you have a particular favourite

Without a doubt Galston is my favourite character. You can get away with so much when writing about a character with such a skewed moral compass. You can do things you would never think of doing in real life and use language which would normally make your eyes water.

Having said that Sabine was also a very interesting character and I very much enjoyed writing about her. I know lots of people named ‘Sabine’ so this did raise a few eyebrows-especially given her occupation. Without wanting to give too much away, I knew very early on she would be the one to bring everything to what I considered a satisfying end.

Why did you decide to set Dark Orchird in the 1970`s

Purely because this worked out as the time of Galston’s early years. I really wanted him to be a man in his 60s having lived a life of violent crime and starting to get tired and jaded by it all. The maths worked out perfectly. Setting scenes in the 70s also allows for smoky bars, flares and I think it’s generally a period in history when things were less ‘clean’ or antiseptic. Smoking bans, health and safety, cctv and a generally healthier or cleaner lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to gritty violent crime. It seems to work better in a looser and less well controlled society.

Why did you decide to set your books in Glasgow

I own a flat in Glasgow and travel there once a month to visit my son who lives in the city with his mother so I know the city well. I grew up in Inverness and, even though I am sure it occurred, the capital of the Highlands doesn’t lend itself to stories about organised crime and violence. Its seems much more fitting to set it in the central belt. The places and locations I have used are places I know very well in the city.

What kind of research did you have to undertake for your book

There is very little in the book which required detailed knowledge of elements outside what I already know through my job. I did have to spend some time getting dates and some facts for the real life events which occur within the book correct. I also tried wherever possible to get the geography and landmarks accurate although there are one or two inconsistencies. One example of this is the Limmat river which flows through Zurich, the town I live in. I described it as flowing into the lake of Zurich when in fact it flows out of the lake. A good friend of mine took great pleasure in pointing this out after he finished reading it.

Are the characters in your books based on any real life

Most of the characters are a mix of people I know for real. Attitudes and mannerisms are based on real people, including myself. I would say Galston’s political views are my own. Beyond that, everything else is my own imagination. Thankfully I don’t mix in circles which would normally bring me into contact with real life versions of the characters. Meeting them in the interests of research was something well beyond what I was willing to do.

Since you have started writing have any well-known authors given you any advice

I was very fortunate enough to have Christopher Brookmyre read through Dark Orchid and he kindly gave me an endorsement for the back cover. He also took the time to email me advice on areas for improvement in the book which was very good of him. In particular he, as a native, pointed out errors in my depiction of the Glaswegian dialect. I think for my next book I am going to ‘employ’ some Glaswegian friends as ‘Weegie’ consultants to avoid these errors in the future. Not sure how well that will work but will definitely be fun.

Additionally I had the opportunity for Lee Weatherly to review a very early draft of my second book and she gave me some invaluable feedback.

Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa As I said, the personalities of James, Ewan, Craig and Galston all take some elements of my own personality mixed in with people I know, or have known.

If you can, would you be able to share with us any future novels you have planned I have just finished the first draft of my second novel ‘True & Fair’ and have sent it out to friends for a first read through. I am some way from finishing it but happy with the general story line. Given how my first book ends there is little left for a follow on novel, which in retrospect might have been a little foolish.

This new novel is set in London and Marseille but with similar themes of white collar crime and a hidden past being revealed throughout the text. I would imagine if my publisher is as excited as I am with it it will be released some point later in 2014.

You have been compared in your writing to some of the big names in Scottish Crime Fiction already, how does that make you feel?

Of course I am very flattered. I think these comparisons are much more flattery than real though. I aspire to one day be able to do what they do but until that time I am happy with being published and will continue enjoying my hobby regardless of its success or otherwise.

As a blossoming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share

If you enjoy writing, write. Write as much as you can, seek advice and listen to it. Don’t believe in writers block, that’s just procrastination and recognise it as such. It also doesn’t matter if you are published or not. Write because you enjoy it and that’s good enough. I play football for fun, I knew from a very early age it wasn’t a career option for me but I still do it. I don’t see why writing should be any different.

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http://mikeshanks.blogspot.co.uk/

Amazon Author Page

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Michael-J-Shanks/e/B00E3FYK0Y/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

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