1. How did you get started writing?
Well, I’ve been a daily newspaper reporter since I was 18 so it wasn’t a new departure for me but, as for writing fiction, it was a midlife crisis. Turning 40 hit me like a train. I was engulfed by the whole “is that it? ” thing. I’d already seen a good pal try the teenage girlfriend, red sports car cure and that was never going to work out well so I found another outlet. I started writing short stories, had some success with that and then, one day I sat down on the train to write another story. After 18 months, I had a novel.
2. What drew you to write a mystery novel ?
Is it a mystery novel? Really? I suppose it’s a mystery novel since it’s about an unsolved crime but that’s why so many people who like crime novels have been disappointed in it. I don’t like crime novels. In fact, I find it hard to think that you can even use the plural when talking about “crime novels”. There is really only one, endlessly repeated. Insert “maverick cop who doesn’t play by the rules”, or “mild mannered little old lady”, or “one legged juggler who won’t stop until he gets the truth”, here. The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne isn’t like that. It’s about the people, not about the crime or the mystery, but about the people involved. That’s what interests me. I grew up knowing this story. All we knew was that this was the big house where the lady was battered to death and nobody was ever caught. That was all that anybody knew. Then, when I stumbled across the police files which were released after a hundred years, I couldn’t believe it. This was my streets, my neighbours and I could hear them speaking, talking about places I knew, people I’d heard of. I just had to write it.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
Everybody I’ve ever read I suppose. I’m a big fan of Conrad, Stevenson, Greene, Chandler, Lampedusa. Anybody who makes it look conversational and easy. That’s the hard part.
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
Next to impossible. I finally set myself a deadline. If nobody wanted to know me after two years, I’d pack it in. Ten days before the deadline, I got a deal.
5. There are many interesting characters in your Novels, do you have a particular favourite one?
I think it would have to be Otto from “If You’re Reading This, I’m already Dead.” He’s just a happy, funny guy who enjoys life.
6. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novels?
The last one was simply a matter of reading through the police file, and a happy afternoon looking through old newspapers. Other than that, nothing. They are all works of imagination.
7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life?
In the latest one they are, obviously, since it’s a true story. “If You’re Reading This” is a mix of real historical figures doing fictional things and fictional characters stolen from other people, doing silly things with fictional characters of my own devising. The Good Mayor and The Love and Death of Caterina are purely imaginary.
8. What do you think makes your novels stand out from all the other Mystery Fiction Novels out there?
There’s only one that would qualify, even slightly, as mystery fiction. That’s where I’ve gone wrong, you see. I’ve written four books when I should have written the same book four times. So what makes Jean Milne stand out is that it doesn’t fit the expectations of people who like that sort of thing. The bad guy doesn’t get caught. The detective fails. That really makes it stand out.
9. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?
I suppose that must be true. I have nothing to mine from but myself so they must be a bit of me, but not consciously so.
10. If you were given the chance to write a book in any other genre, what would you write about and why?
I don’t think I could write in a genre. In genre fiction, there are happy endings, the bad guy gets caught, things are neat and tidy, you don’t have to be scared of the psycho because the troubled cop has taken care of everything for you. Sleep well.
Life isn’t like that. Life is a lot more interesting than genre fiction.
11. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned?
I really don’t think I can be bothered any more. Maybe. We’ll see.
12. Out of all the Novels you have written do you have a favourite one that stands out to you?
I think Caterina.
13. As a up and coming writer do you have words of advice you can share?
I had my first book published nine years ago. I have written four, internationally published novels, I’m out in about 30 countries and I’m still “an up and coming writer.” That’s all the advice you need. Step away from the word processor and go and do something more sensible instead.
The Good Mayor (Black and White) 2008
The Love and Death of Caterina (Quercus) 2011
If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead (Quercus) 2012
The Secret Life And Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne (Black and White) 2015