Frequently Asked Questions
Where I grew up in South Wales: the sea, beaches and dunes, the valleys; the people and how they spoke, their humour; my wider family – uncles and aunties (everybody in Wales is related or knows someone you know); and an overwhelming sense of belonging and community – a Six Nations match day in Cardiff is an experience everyone should try at least once!
My career in business (perhaps not ‘inspiring’ but a source of material) – I travelled a lot and went all over the world – and how people behaved in unnatural circumstances (because business is unnatural), good and bad, greed, delusion and egos or those just caught up in it and trying to get by.
From books and great writers.
Listening and watching down the pub and conversation with interesting people who can be found anywhere and everywhere.
I think you have to want to write so that you can’t stop yourself or won’t be stopped and, for me, a desire to write was always there.
My father read me Mathew Arnold’s poetry as bedtime stories when I was two or three (he read me other things too), but I can still remember the images and the rhythm of the verse. I absorbed the words, so that helped.
Reading, I was always reading. When I was sent up to my room for being naughty, that was no hardship as I read. Getting me back down again wasn’t so easy.
I started writing when I was small. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I remember writing a poem about a fire (that’s all I remember).
Writers: Ed McBain, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Joseph Conrad, Patrick O’Brian, VS Naipaul, James Salter, John Steinbeck. Books and writers: Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy; Germinal – Emile Zola; The Outsider – Albert Camus; Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte; The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot; And Quiet Flows the Don – Mikhail Sholokhov; Hard Times – Charles Dickens; To the Ends of The Earth – William Golding; Wasa Wasa – MacFie and Westerlund. Poetry: Dylan Thomas, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes; The Prelude – William Wordsworth; The Shropshire Lad – AE Housman; Paradise Lost – John Milton; The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Non-fiction: Robert Caro (his multi volume biography of LBJ and The Power Broker, his biography of Robert Moses). And many more.
On sheets of A3, with a pencil, starting with bullet points joined up with arrows trying to create a pattern. Then lists which might become sections or even chapters, interspersed with notes or fragments of complete passages. Then a running order. Finally, the writing itself, during which the plot will continue to evolve but the sweep of the story doesn’t change much – unless it gets abandoned (which happens more often than I’d like). I used to do my strategic planning in business the same way.
Sometimes with a title or a single thought that gathers more ideas and grows into a story (I wrote an unpublished novel about a man who dies and is made to judge souls from a title that came to me out of nowhere, The Harbour Master of Souls) so I don’t think it’s a process or a discipline that can be applied.
Or the desire to write about a time and a place (such as Wales in the 1960s).
Or things that interest you (in my case, psychological suspense at the margin between reality and illusion).
Or combining all three, as in Aden to Zanzibar and the other novels in the series.
It takes a while to find a groove and a style and the same with subject matter. It’s good to experiment, but jumping from one style, subject matter or genre to another doesn’t help to establish direction or your recognisability as a writer, but being formulaic isn’t the answer either. Why write if it’s to a formula because then it’s a job?
Persist, believe in yourself and work hard.
They’re usually composites of real people but never facsimiles. They have recognisable traits or are exaggerations of people I’ve known or sometimes types of people. But I don’t ‘use’ people I know in an obvious way, except perhaps, as a tribute to them and, even then, not overtly. Writing can be very selfish and I’m not sure we have the right (no, I do not believe the ‘art’ justifies it; we have a responsibility too). But characters do acquire ‘lives’ of their own and behave in ways that are distinctive to the personalities I’m trying to portray. How convincing they are is up to the reader. I don’t mind killing characters off (I miss them afterwards though), but I’m surprised how ruthless I can be in that respect.
Yes. And sleepless nights. But it passes. There are good days and bad days.
I’ve written other, unpublished novels which have been satires, attempts at wit, and fantasy. But I think I’m likely to stick to the broad theme of ‘thrillers and psychological suspense at the margin between reality and illusion,’ with surreal elements. It’s pretty broad and it’s what interests me.
Yes. I write first by longhand using the same pen (a Cross roller ball), then type it out (on a Microsoft Surface), then more longhand edits of the printed version, repeat and repeat until something emerges that I’m happy with.
I work in a shed with views west over rolling countryside, starting at about 11.30 for a couple of hours then a break, gym or a walk, then writing again for another couple of hours and, finally, into the evening when I’m doing other stuff to promote my work too (usually with a beer, or a glass of wine, often a few of).
I listen to rock, baroque choral music (as I write this, I’m listening Monteverdi, which is heart breaking and sublime) and opera and Test Match Special (when it’s on).
Watching rugby (Wales and Cardiff Blues) with my daughter, cricket, sea fishing and 20th Century American politics, which I find fascinating because it’s so raw, inspiring, noble and corrupt (Robert Caro’s masterpiece lays it all bare).