Today I’m in full on fangirl mode as two of my favouritist(yes its a word if it isnt it should be) people who happen to both currently write for a publisher I hold in high esteem (Faber) have a little bit of a Q/A and gossip (yeah sorry guys it DOES turn into a bit of a gossip) about writing and their newest releases Long Time Lost (Chris Ewan OUT TODAY) and Black Night Falling (Rod Reynolds Out in August at which point this will continue) I’d like to thank them very much for giving up a Friday night to do this for me AND for being so nice about me at the end even after I told them not to. No cake for them. Ok maybe a biscuit. So over to them then – enjoy! Info about the novels and links to my reviews at the end.
RR: Hi Chris, thanks for taking the time to talk about your new thriller, LONG TIME LOST. It’s a truly spectacular read, with one of those hooks that immediately makes you think, ‘Why the hell didn’t I think of that?’ Can you tell us a bit about where the idea came from?
CE: Well, first of all, thank you. And second of all, I guess, as a crime writer, it’s a little odd that the story ideas that most often appeal to me rarely involve murders. I started out writing a series of capers about a burglar. More recently, my books have often featured disappearances of one kind or another. I’m especially drawn to missing person stories, as a reader and a writer. On an instinctive level, they feel to me like story beginnings which offer more possibilities – the story is opened up by a disappearance in a way, whereas a story could be said to start with a kind of closure when it begins with a death. And I particularly love stories about people who go missing in strange circumstances or return against all odds.
Of course, often when people go missing it’s because they have someone else to hide from. I explored that concept in SAFE HOUSE, which grew out of rumours I had heard of the Isle of Man being used to relocate people involved in UK witness protection schemes. When I was researching SAFE HOUSE, I read a bunch of non-fiction titles about people involved in government-operated protection schemes and one day, it just occurred to me to wonder what I would do if I didn’t feel confident in a government run scheme. Where would I turn to? From there, I began to think about whether it would be possible to run and operate a private scheme. And I figured it would be – provided the scheme was secret, discreet and very, very illegal.
CE: Talking of beginnings, BLACK NIGHT FALLING starts with an ending, in a sense, because it unspools from events that take place at the end of THE DARK INSIDE. It also cleverly weaves in and out of plot points from your debut novel while working very well as a standalone mystery. Were you conscious of wanting to return to the events of THE DARK INSIDE in your second novel? (And, by the by, you do know that your second novel is supposed to be tough to get right? You have broken all the rules by delivering a second novel that’s truly outstanding).
RR: That’s very kind of you to say, thank you. If I’m being honest, although the second book I had planned was to be set in the same universe as THE DARK INSIDE, it wasn’t planned as a direct sequel. It was only after conversations with my publisher, talking about the possibility of making Charlie Yates a series character, that I decided to write it as one. However, I had planned for the events of THE DARK INSIDE to impact the plot of book two (it’s a device I’ve always enjoyed as a reader), so it wasn’t too hard to then adapt what I had planned to involve Charlie.
The setting, however, and the actual plot only came out of research I was doing for THE DARK INSIDE. When I visited Texarkana, I learnt of a small town not far away, called Hot Springs, with this incredible history of mobsters, political corruption, violence, etc., and thought it was the perfect place to take the story to. So in some ways, as with your experience with SAFE HOUSE, it was research for a different book that was the starting point for what became BLACK NIGHT FALLING.
RR: On the subject of settings, one of the features of your writing is the variety of locations you’ve set your novels in over the years. LONG TIME LOST takes in Germany, France, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. What influenced your choice of these locales?
CE: You forgot Weston-super-Mare, which obviously, I chose for the glamour! But you’re right, so many story ideas do grow out of research, whether intentional or otherwise. When I sat down to write LONG TIME LOST, I knew I wanted to write a book on a bigger canvas than I had done previously and in my head, I kept coming back to an image of dominoes toppling. My lead character, Nick Miller, is hiding a number of people throughout Europe, but when he steps in to prevent an assassination attempt on Kate Sutherland in the Isle of Man, he triggers a chain of events that jeopardise the security of his entire network. As each link in the network is weakened, it has a ripple effect – hence, dominoes.
As for where Nick’s clients should be located, I spread a map of Europe on the floor and played around with a bunch of ideas. I wanted to balance the locations geographically but also in terms of size and feel, partly to alter the challenges my characters face, partly to change things up for my readers. Some of the locations I’d visited before. Some I went back to. I spent five weeks in Switzerland while I was writing the sections set there, which I can’t pretend was any kind of hardship …
CE: So we’ve both set novels in destinations that are foreign to us, but you make things doubly hard on yourself by going back in time. What was it that drew you to writing about the 1940s?
RR: Five weeks in Switzerland doesn’t sound too bad at all! I managed three days in a rain-soaked Texarkana for my research trip there (and probably could have done what I needed in half a day, as it turned out…)
In the case of both THE DARK INSIDE and BLACK NIGHT FALLING, the story kind of found me – hence the choice of the 1940s. THE DARK INSIDE was based on a real-life serial murder case from 1946. Once I’d decided BLACK NIGHT FALLING was going to be a sequel, it made sense to have it follow on quite soon after, so that the reader can see how the events of the first book continue to haunt Charlie. However, it also turned out that 1946/7 was a pivotal time for the town of Hot Springs, where BLACK NIGHT FALLING is set, as it was then that a group of WW2 veterans formed a political movement to take on the corrupt (and mob-backed) politicians that had controlled the town for years. As you can imagine, it made for a tumultuous time, and seemed a fascinating situation to throw my protagonist into, while everything else in his life is going bad again.
RR: You’ve talked about some of the research you did, and how that influenced LONG TIME LOST, but how did you come up with the character of Nick Miller and, in particular, what research did you have to do in order to bring him to life so credibly?
CE: I love when serendipity plays a role in writing like that. On a small scale, the real magic moments for me are when I find that a crucial turning point in the book I’m working on rests on something that seemed totally innocuous when I first wrote it.
But I digress. Nick Miller. In terms of research, that really goes back to a book I had read called WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program by Pete Earley and Gerald Shur. One thing that struck me about the book was not only the enormous emotional strains placed on anyone inducted into a witness protection scheme but the corresponding demands placed on those federal officers tasked with keeping witnesses safe. Safeguarding someone else is an enormous undertaking, a 24-7 job, and Miller reflects that. He’s determined and steadfast but the reason he excels at his chosen profession is that he is driven by his own internal demons, having failed to keep his wife and daughter safe in a police-backed protection scheme. As for how Nick makes people disappear, a lot of that was guesswork and sleight of hand. Unless I vanish suddenly – in which case it was obviously just good prep.
CE: Let’s talk about process. Reading BLACK NIGHT FALLING is a completely immersive experience. The plot is drum tight and the world of Hot Springs is utterly convincing. I am guessing you achieved that, in part, by immersing yourself in the writing process completely. Did you take a day off from start to end? How do you work?
RR: Re. crucial turning points – YES! Totally agree; it’s only happened to me a handful of times, but I love it when it does. It’s when the writing comes easiest, I find – when it all flows naturally and the plot comes together organically.
In terms of process, I had to work around the demands of my young daughter as I am also a full-time dad – so I’ve had to become quite disciplined about working efficiently whenever I get the chance (nap-times, evenings, etc.) The other major deadline I had was that we were expecting our second child, so I was determined to get the book finished before she arrived (which I managed with about 36 hours to spare). But I find it hard to work seven days a week until I’m right up against a deadline; I tend to work five days a week, with a variable word limit for each day (determined by whether, eg. Toddler is at nursery) and don’t go to bed until that limit is hit. Some days it’s a trivial amount – 200 words maybe – but, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, that’s really just to get me to the computer; once there, I’ll invariably do more. In an ideal world, I’d like to aim for 1500-2000 words a day – but that’s not always possible.
RR: How about you – how do you go about it? The settings you use in LONG TIME LOST are brilliantly evoked and certainly give the feeling of being on an epic, globe-spanning adventure. Did all the travel you undertook impact on your process?
CE: Ah, snap on delivering a book before a baby. With DEAD LINE (ironically enough) I delivered the book to my agent half an hour before my wife went into labour. Recently, I’ve been trying to finish my new book for early July, when we’re expecting our second child, but this time round, I have a feeling the baby might beat me to it.
I tend to work most days. Recently, my wife has tried to get me to take a day off in the week, which sometimes interrupts whatever momentum I’ve managed to build up but (though I have been reluctant to admit it) usually boosts my productivity in the days afterwards. I work to page count, rather than word count, and always try to write 5 pages a day. It encourages me to write more dialogue to get my pages down faster! But once the first draft is together, I tend to work longer hours until the book is finally done.
To be honest, the travel helped with the Swiss sections, but the rest of the time I was writing in my study. I used a lot of guide books, a lot of photographs, and I ransacked my memories.
CE: So what’s next? Are you writing a third Charlie Yates novel? (I am hoping the answer is yes).
RR; The answer is…yes and no. I have planned a third Charlie Yates book, which will pick up directly from the end of BLACK NIGHT FALLING – once again, Charlie is trying to outrun everything he’s been through, but finding it won’t let go of him that easily.
However, I’ve also pitched a standalone to my publishers, something totally different (in setting and time period), which is an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while and am keen to develop. So watch this space.
RR: I’m curious what’s next for you, both specifically and in more general terms. You wrote the successful ‘GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO…’ series, then with SAFE HOUSE, switched to standalone novels. Do you find it hard to build a new world and new set of characters with every book? Do you have a preference for series writing vs. standalones?
CE: Ah, well that is great news on both counts – and I am seriously intrigued to learn more about your standalone.
In terms of series vs. standalone, I think it’s a case of the grass is always greener. When I’m writing a standalone, I pine after a series, and vice versa. I loved writing the GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE books. It’s my sincerest wish to get back to them again if I can because I have plenty more stories to tell about Charlie Howard and plenty more cities I want him to visit. In terms of building a new world and characters for each standalone, it’s not easy, but as you know yourself (or at least I hope you do, help me out here …), each book in a series feels like starting afresh because there is always so much more to explore.
What’s next for me is the standalone I’m currently writing, which is set in Bristol and again features a disappearance — with a twist. I think it has the strongest hook I’ve ever come up with, but then I would say that, because it means I can’t possibly share it yet …
CE: Now, we could finish up by talking about how remarkable Liz is — and she absolutely is, and I know a whole bunch of us can’t thank her enough for all she does and the support she has given our writing — but in the spirit of Liz Loves Books, how about we each recommend one book we’ve enjoyed recently as well as an all-time favourite? You first.
RR: ‘The strongest hook I’ve ever come up with’ – I was going to ask you about hooks and how you come up with such brilliant ones time and again, but I’ll save it for another time. I will say, though, that given your canon of work, that’s a pretty bold claim! But then, if you’d told me you could top your previous books for sheer thriller-brilliance, I’m not sure I’d have believed you – and yet you’ve somehow pulled it off with LONG TIME LOST.
What else can I add about Liz? She’s been my biggest supporter, and I’m not sure anyone would have even noticed THE DARK INSIDE if she hadn’t championed it from so early on. She also happens to be pretty much the best-read person on the planet, and clearly one of the hardest working – so all I can say is keep doing your thing, Liz, because all of us authors would be lost without you.
Okay, books, books, books…this is tricky because there I so many I could name. For a recent one I’ve enjoyed, I’ll go with RED RISING. This is one Liz herself implored me to read, and I’m very glad she did. It’s YA/SciFi/Fantasy, which is not usually my kind of thing (which is why I was quite keen to try it) but is just brilliant. The author, Pierce Brown, excels at setting up the interplay between his characters, so that there are real shades of grey in their relationships, and that fuels the narrative. It’s the first in a trilogy, and I’ll be reading the next two when I get a chance.
For an all-time favourite…I usually go James Ellroy here, but I’ve done him to death, so I’ll go with Joseph Kanon’s THE GOOD GERMAN. If you’ve seen the film, forget it – it doesn’t do the book any justice at all. Set in Berlin immediately after WW2, it sees a German-American journalist searching for his pre-war love – and getting tangled up in a web of murder and intrigue. Kanon is among the best I’ve read when it comes to really using his setting and making it a factor in the story, and, as if that wasn’t enough, he’s an absolute master at dialogue. Definitely in my top 5 all-time.
RR: Your turn…
CE: Well hey, the hook thing could all be a bluff, or I’ve unwittingly cursed myself. Time will tell.
Also, this is great because I am yet to read either RED RISING or THE GOOD GERMAN and now I can add both to my list.
For a recent read, I’ll go with Davis Grubb’s THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. I’ve been writing an article recently on chase novels and while I read and loved a bunch of titles that were new to me, this one stood out. It’s melodramatic, atmospheric and a little rough around the edges, but it completely drew me in and even wormed its way into my dreams. It also features one of the most memorable villains I’ve come across in a long time in the form of Harry “Preacher” Powell who is determined to get his hands on the loot stolen by his former prison cellmate, Ben Harper, in a botched robbery. All that stands in Preacher’s way is Ben’s widow, Willa, and her two children, Pearl and John. It’s an absolute gem of southern noir.
And for an all-time favourite, I’ll go with Dennis Lehane’s GONE BABY GONE (there’s that missing person angle again …). I love Lehane’s writing and the novel is a heartbreaker. It treats the subject of a missing child case so thoughtfully and well, and the plotting and twists are just sublime.
RR: I’m all about southern noir, and I’ve not come across Davis Grubb before – so I’ll definitely be checking that out.
And as for Gone Baby Gone – couldn’t agree more, on all counts. Another one of my all-timers.
Thanks very much for chatting – it’s been great fun! Best of luck with LONG TIME LOST, and look forward to seeing what comes next.
About the books:
Nick Miller and his team provide a unique and highly illegal service, relocating at-risk individuals across Europe with new identities and new lives. Nick excels at what he does for a reason: he’s spent years living in the shadows under an assumed name.
But when Nick steps in to prevent the attempted murder of witness-in-hiding Kate Sutherland on the Isle of Man, he triggers a chain of events with devastating consequences for everyone he protects – because Nick and Kate share a common enemy in Connor Lane, a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means tearing Nick’s entire network apart.
Chris can be found lurking on Twitter HERE
Read my review of Long Time Lost HERE
To purchase clickety click right HERE
And HAPPY PUBLICATION DAY Chris!
And now I stood here, on a desolate airfield in the Arkansas wilderness, a stone’s throw from Texarkana. Darkness drawing in on me. Cross country to see a man I never imagined seeing again. On the strength of one desperate telephone call…’
Having left Texarkana for the safety of the West Coast, reporter Charlie Yates finds himself drawn back to the South, to Hot Springs, Arkansas, as an old acquaintance asks for his help. This time it’s less of a story Charlie’s chasing, more of a desperate attempt to do the right thing before it’s too late.
You can find Rod lurking on Twitter HERE
Read my review of Black Night Falling HERE
To Purchase Clickety Click right HERE