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Storyteller par excellence.
What, in relation to your writing, are you most proud of?
I am – and have been from the outset of my career – delighted to be able to write books that I and my readers enjoy and are satisfied by.
At what point in your life did you start to describe yourself as an author?
I didn’t start describing myself as an author until my first book was published and I’d signed a contract for my second. Any sooner would have felt like tempting providence. I do recall looking forward to being able to record the occupation on my next passport, but alas the powers that be had deleted the occupation line by the time mine came up for renewal!
What did you buy with your first royalties cheque?
I’m fairly certain the first thing I bought with my first book cheque was a celebratory pint, closely followed by another pint. The biggest reward was in itself free: being able to resign from my other job.
What is the first crime story you remember reading?
I’m pretty sure the first crime story I read was A Study in Scarlet. I moved on to all the other Sherlock Holmes stories right away before discovering Wilkie Collins.
My first novel, Past Caring, was published in 1986. There have been twenty-seven since then – so far. My fourth novel, Into the Blue, won the inaugural
W H Smith Thumping Good Read Award in 1992, and was later filmed for television starring John Thaw. My twenty-first, Long Time Coming, won a US Edgar award in 2011.
I won the CWA Diamond Dagger in 2019.
I’ve often regretted delving into the biographies of writers I’ve admired. The books should speak for themselves. So for myself … least said, I think.
I realised when I started writing my first novel that making a career out of writing was going to be even more difficult than getting that first novel published. Still, I couldn’t see any way to approach the challenge other than one step (or book) at a time. The truth is that where exactly an idea comes from is often mysterious, but if it’s apparent it’s going to work as a story – and to be enjoyable both to write and to read – no writer is going to quibble. We just have to put our trust in the process.
That gets easier as a career develops, because you gain a surer grasp of the craft of writing: structure, pacing, characterisation – all the components of plotting. Beyond the craft, though, is the art of it. Some of the most pleasurable moments in writing are when the story acquires a momentum all of its own. You’ve put the material in place and suddenly there’s so much more there than you thought – than you thought of, in a sense. That really can be magical.
As for the specifics of crime fiction, I was never drawn to writing about a serial character, because I felt that would tie me down to a particular time and place. I’ve found being able to set mostly standalone stories in the past as well as the present and in different parts of the world has helped my writing continue to feel fresh.
Winning the Diamond Dagger told me my fellow writers appreciated the effort I’ve made over the years and that was wonderful to know, because they’re better placed than anyone to understand the demands and difficulties of writing over the long term. Not that I want to make it sound like a struggle, because actually it’s been a lot of fun, it really has.
Writing – like the world around us – has changed hugely in the more than thirty years I’ve been doing it. But a lot has remained the same, notably the intoxicating nature of the writing – and reading – process. Escapism is a dirty word for some. But the infinite variety of the imaginary realms books can take us to is actually one of the joys of life. We should cherish it.
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