Some of the toughest questions anyone could ask of a novelist allow you, the reader, a chance to get to know your favourite authors even more. Not for the faint-hearted!
Born in Yorkshire, UK, and grew up in the Midlands. He’s been writing since he was thirteen years old in a number of different genres: thriller, espionage, science fiction, literary. He’s the author of seven novels in the Sam Dyke Investigations series, two novels in a new crime series featuring ex-cop Paul Storey, and two other non-crime works, as well as two collections of blog posts on the craft of writing.
When he’s not writing he enjoys reading, learning the guitar, watching movies and binge-inhaling great TV series. He’s currently spending more time in France than is probably good for him.
8. Why do you write?
and now the hard bit:
1. Describe any strange writing habits or a sequence of things you always do before clicking away at the keyboard.
These days I find I need a really quiet mind before I can write. This means I have to have read the newspapers, looked at Facebook, looked at Twitter, done all my email … if there are things that I know are ‘still to be read’ then I feel I’m not prepared, even though the reading has no bearing on what I might be about to write. This has had bad consequences for my latest book, much of which was written after 11.00 o’clock at night! I can do other things like brain-storming and planning earlier, but the writing now demands peace and quiet and a quiet mind.
2. If you could have written any book in the world (old or new) what would it have been and why?
I would like to have written The Great Gatsby. To me, it’s a near-perfect book. It describes a time and a place with wit and brevity, and has strong characters that have contemporary resonance. You recognise the people immediately – Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Myrtle Wilson and the rest – and the language in the book is both poetic and commonplace, not at all airy-fairy or ‘literary’. Plus, it has a thriller plot!
3. What is your least favourite part of the publishing / writing process and why?
For me, the hardest part is organising my marketing and publicity efforts. Many writers complain about *having* to do this work and actually I don’t mind it so much. The problem for me is having too many plates spinning – organising a launch team, keeping my website and blog up to date, trying to get book bloggers to review the book, and so on. I don’t really plan my timetable very effectively and the worst problem is just wanting to see the book published, not having the patience to wait and organise all of the pre-launch efforts first.
4. Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find, and why?
Most of my books are based on real incidents or facts, and sometimes veiled versions of real people. My first book, Altered Life, was based largely on a management consultancy in which I was working and although I changed the name of the town and the descriptions – physical and psychological – of some of the main characters, those in the know would have been able to identify them. Apart from that I tend not to hide ‘secrets’ as such, though people who know me might recognise my own traits or behaviour in the occasional character, or recognise an incident in which I may have been involved. None of the murders, though, as yet.
5. If you could time travel, what would you do differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult?
I would have travelled more. I always wanted to travel but financial circumstances prevented that for a long time. Then, when I became an independent consultant, it was harder to take time off because time was money. Having said that, I spent much of my childhood and teenage years reading, which is always good preparation for a writer, and I wouldn’t have wanted to change any of that.
6. How would you describe your writing style, and why?
I’ve been heavily influenced by American writers, both in general literature and in crime writing. So I tend to write in a direct style without too many flourishes, though I think some still exist in my first Sam Dyke book. I’ve also taken to heart something that Elmore Leonard wrote, to the effect that if anything in his work sounds like writing, he takes it out. I now find myself looking for simpler words and phrases rather than more elaborate ones, and if a metaphor or simile arises naturally – and isn’t a cliché – then I use it, instead of going through the work trying to sprinkle imagery like confetti over the text. When I first started I was very conscious of ‘style’ and worked hard on rhythm and imagery, but now I try to focus on direct, clear language so that it doesn’t get in the way of ‘seeing’ the characters in action.
7. Of all the different aspects of writing, which do you think is the one you concentrate most on and why?
I found that I like writing dialogue and people seem to like the way I write it. Partly it’s because I type really quickly and can type the dialogue out almost as quickly as people can speak it, so it flows quite naturally. Also, I did drama as part of my first degree and read a lot of plays, so I’m aware of what good dialogue looks and sounds like. The other aspect of writing dialogue is that readers are interested in characters so I try to get into the dialogue really quickly, in any scene, and try to find where the conflicts between the characters are. This adds tension and more dimensions to the characters. I love it when a bad guy character starts speaking and I suddenly discover who this person really is.
I started writing when I was about 13, beginning with scripts for TV shows that I liked. Of course they were terrible but I got the taste for putting words on paper and making stuff up. I took it more seriously when I was 19 and dropped out of Law College because I couldn’t stand the law – okay, lawyers … I wrote 7 novels in 2 years before I had to give it up to find gainful employment. I didn’t return to it until many years later, but I realised that many of the jobs I’d had involved writing – I was a copywriter for a while, and I wrote online courses for management development, among other things. But all the time, in the back of my head, was the idea that I’d get back to writing fiction again, which I did eventually. The best way I can describe why I write is to say that I can’t help it. It’s good to finish a book and see it published, and then have a rest. But after a reasonably short period of time, not writing seems like a waste of time … the pressure builds to start writing again, and so I do. They often say that writers have to write because they can’t *not* write. I think that’s true for me.
9. Why do you write crime fiction?
In my teens I read a lot of Agatha Christie (buying that hardback set of 3 AC novels in one volume every month, delivered to your door!) and then I moved on to reading thrillers. Then, when I was teaching serious literature, I learned that my boss returned from his annual US holiday with a suitcase full of American crime novels, and he started to lend them to me. I was knocked over by people like K.C. Constantine, Howard Engel, Arthur Lyons, Jonathan Viner … really interesting protagonists, well-plotted stories and often some kind of social commentary in there as well. So when it came to return to writing myself, I had in mind what it would be like to write a detective story in the very mundane world of suburban Cheshire – rather like Philip Marlowe dealing with clients who lived in a completely different environment to him. So I thought it would be interesting to see what kind of stories a man from a working-class background in Yorkshire would get involved in while working in a much posher environment – and what he would think of it.
Thank you, Keith, for some amazing answers. For readers of fine Crime Thrillers, Keith Dixon's new Paul Storey novel 'One Punch' is out May 8th. My pre-ordered copy was delivered to my Kindle this morning and I'm already hooked! Best wishes for the new book.
Eric @ www.ericjgates.com