12 Days of Crime…

Thanks to Nadine, otherwise known as JT Baptiste for hosting me as a guest blogger in her series… post… Via: http://www.JTBaptiste.com

12 Days of Crime Writers – Interview Questions

1. Tell me about your latest book?

‘Defending Elton’ – A suspect is arrested near to the scene of a murder on the Sussex coast. He has the victim’s blood on his clothing, as well as fibres from her clothes. Indeed everything points to his guilt, including his own confession – but nothing is quite what it seems.

Elton is a ‘care in the community’ patient who, like many with serious mental health issues, is vulnerable to abuse. The story is pegged around his Old Bailey murder trial, with two narrative paths. One deals with the immediate lead up to the trial and the proceedings at court, whilst the other delves back into the life of the enigmatic victim Sarena. We soon learn the shocking truth – that Elton has been fitted up for the crime, but when the real murderer reveals himself the shock is multiplied.

It’s not a ‘whodunit’; it’s a ‘will he get away with it’. As the narrative paths unfold the tension mounts as we wonder whether a) Elton will be wrongly convicted and b) the real murderer will be caught. The book takes a peek behind the curtains of the criminal justice system, and catches some with their pants down. It exposes our adversarial trial system as frighteningly malleable; some might say a ‘puppet theatre’, where lawyers and judges hold all the strings.

2. What was the inspiration behind your book?

Some years ago I worked in the criminal justice system, and saw at first-hand how it can let people down. Whether they be victims, witnesses, or even the accused on occasions, justice can be hard to achieve. The recent Dewani case in South Africa suggests that this may be a universal malaise.

There is often a clash between the truth and the way it is, or can be, presented in court, leaving many dismayed. ‘Defending Elton’ was initially inspired by the real life story of a man with severe mental health issues who was used and abused to bump up police statistics on ‘unsolved’ crime. I used the basic premise to show how the criminal justice system can be manipulated by both prosecution and defence alike.

3. What inspired you to write crime fiction?

Reading crime fiction where good always seemed to conquer evil… where police caught their serial killer and convicted him… where justice was winning out in the end… because it clashed with my real life experience, where victims and witnesses were sometimes treated disrespectfully, where the guilty were sometimes getting off, and where innocent people were occasionally being convicted.

It motivated me to approach crime fiction from a different angle – ‘crime friction’ I call it, where things don’t always go to plan… Such issues tend to give rise to compelling stories, and these are the stories I want to tell.

4. What do you think makes a good crime novel?

A number of ingredients, in an enticing recipe. I like a story I can get into quickly and wonder where it might be going. I like surprises and moments that break conventions. I love good old fashioned whodunits too and well told murder stories, but it can be disappointing to discover that you’re reading something that someone else has written a hundred times before.

My favourite reads are those which feature original and interesting stories – the crime element often raises the stakes, but it’s the story which should keep you engrossed. All the minutia of life, and character, are just as important in crime fiction stories.

There is often humour in the darkest of places too, something I don’t think crime fiction writers should be scared of!

5. Who is your favourite fictional character?

I was fascinated by the characters of Exley and White in Ellroy’s LA Confidential. Their different backgrounds and approaches to their profession really drive the story and deliver a constant intrigue.

I think my favourite character is probably Tom Ripley. I admire Patricia Highsmith’s work and her studies of good and evil. Much of the intrigue comes from the moral ambiguities within her characters, who are endlessly fascinating.

6. Which three crime fictional characters would you invite for Christmas dinner?

Well Tom Ripley of course, but I probably wouldn’t ask him to pass the carving knife. Clarice Starling might be there, so too Philip Marlowe… and Scooby Doo could have the leftovers.

7. Who has most influenced you as a writer?

Probably Highsmith the most… but also Ellroy and Leonard too.

8. Which book do you wish you had written?

I’ve been asked that before and it always makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. I wouldn’t want to have written anybody else’s work. Still, having said that, if I’d woken up one morning and written Strangers On A Train in my sleep I’d be pretty happy!

9. James Ellroy wrote a 700-page outline before he sat down to write his last book. What type of writer are you? A ‘plotter’ or ‘lets just see what happens’?

I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that Ellroy’s ‘700 page outline’ was in essence a first draft of the book, which he used as his template. Anyway, much as I admire his work, his stories perhaps more than his style, it has to be each to their own! I can’t imagine not having a general arc of a plot, and an ending to work towards, but apart from that I’m pretty liberal in letting the characters shape the journey.

10. Tell me about your publishing journey?

To be honest it’s been five years or so of trauma. I’ve been lifted up to some big heights and dropped down again, so I’ve learned that not only do you need a thick skin, you need to learn to bounce!

I’ve had some fabulous feedback for my books, and some of the UK’s most respected literary agents backing me for success, yet none of them quite got the timing right by hitting the right publisher at the right time. Not their fault I hasten to add, but just the way things worked out.

When literary agent Peter Straus tells you he wants you on his list because Jill Shadow [the lead character in ‘Kiss and Tell’] is a ‘most bankable franchise’, and then Broo Doherty tells you that you’ve written one of the most inventive crime fiction novels she’s read in ‘Defending Elton’, you could be forgiven for thinking it would all happen from there. It didn’t quite work out like that though, so meantime I’ve put the books up on Amazon – and thanks to all those who’ve taken the time to read them and put up reviews!

Much as I support Indie writers, and I know some have had great success on their own, I still feel that with publishing house backing I could achieve a lot more – we’ll see what happens next year – I think I’ve got one bounce in me left!

11. What has been the most important lesson you’ve learnt as a writer? First and foremost, write what you want to write and in your own voice. Take influence yes, but don’t try and be like someone else.

12. What can we expect from you in 2015?

I will finish my follow up to ‘Kiss and Tell’, where battler for the underdog Jill Shadow investigates a ‘cold case’ murder mystery, with a shocking twist. I’ve got two further story outlines for her as well, so if things work out there might be a series…

DEFENDING ELTON http://amzn.to/1ytQnxb

KISS AND TELL http://amzn.to/WZbNPp

http://www.tjcooke.com

twitter: @timscribe

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