Richard Stephenson interview, August 2012

THURSDAY, AUGUST 2, 2012
AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Andrew Barrett

Book: A Long Time Dead, Stealing Elgar, No More Tears; The Third Rule – parts 1, 2, and 3

Genre: Crime/Thriller

1. Tell us about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do (besides writing)?

I’m from Wakefield in West Yorkshire, northern England. Apart from a brief spell working in Kuwait in the early 90s, I have lived and worked in West Yorkshire all my life. So far, I have worked as a CSI (we call them SOCOs), or Crime Scene Examiner for West Yorkshire Police for sixteen years, but before this I built engines for Caterpillar. My pass-times include drawing – just pencil drawing, things that I find stuck up on the dusty shelves in my mind, that’s all, nothing ‘real life’; and I’m learning to play the guitar. I promised myself after I finished my first book, A Long Time Dead, that I would do this and fifteen years later I have stuck to my promise!

2. Tell us about your book. What is it about?

A Long Time Dead, Stealing Elgar, and No More Tears are three books (The Dead Trilogy), unsurprisingly, written about a SOCO who is forced into making some life-changing decisions when confronted by devious people who care little for natural justice. Roger Conniston is our hero in A Long Time Dead, and he battles firstly with the deceit of his colleagues and then with forensic evidence planted in order to incriminate him in the murder of a young lady. The series continues with Stealing Elgar, and Roger is drawn into combat against a nasty piece of work who is intent on committing Britain’s worst atrocities during an audacious bank robbery. In conclusion, No More Tears sees Roger exploring retribution against the gang that took his life back to the foundations. But he doesn’t know that others want the gang too – and they also want him out of the way.

The latest trilogy I’m working on is called The Third Rule. This series is about a new government in England who bring back the death penalty for habitual criminals. Theirs is a production-line type justice system that is supposed to be infallible; and let’s face it, if you’re going down the capital punishment path, you’d better make sure it cannot go wrong. But things do go wrong. The Third Rule features a new SOCO, Eddie Collins, as he uncovers police and government blunders that see him and others threatened with death. This is a harrowing series and perhaps not for the squeamish.

3. What inspired you to write it?

I wrote A Long Time Dead when I was new to the job, and excited by it. Until then I had written horror (see Charlotte’s Lodge), but crime was the way forward with so many new story ideas popping into my head all the time. Stealing Elgar and No More Tears were an extension of Dead, but with new elements – Mafia types and terrorists too that took my writing to a whole new level.

The Third Rule was the result of a conversation with a colleague. We marvelled at how a criminal on our patch was still walking around a free man after having being convicted for numerous crimes. My colleague remarked that ‘People like that should be shot.” In The Third Rule, they are.

4. What do you think is the greatest challenge about being an independent author?

For me, there are two great challenges. Firstly, publicity. No one knows about you, no one knows about your work or how good or bad you are as a writer. And with thousands of writers already out there, how could they? You have to make yourself known and that, for someone like me who isn’t naturally outgoing, is very tough. It takes up a lot of time and a lot of energy, and takes me away from what should be my primary aim: to write. And this is challenge number two for me.

Writing. Or rather, everything that surrounds it. I can become so absorbed by writing that everything else suffers. My wife told me maybe ten years ago, that if I didn’t ease up on the writing and begin spending more time with her and the family, then I would eventually lose them. Ten years later, turns out she was right.

I’m still writing though. Everything gets in the way of writing: eating, going to work, going to the supermarket, housework. So the biggest challenge for me aside from publicity, is clearing away as many obstacles as I can so I can write.

5. What advice would you give to aspiring indie authors?

I began marketing myself by joining forums and groups with the aim of gently pushing my work onto them. It doesn’t work like that; people know what you’re trying to do – they just know and they turn away from you. So I gave up on it to large extent, and let the publicising aspect of things take care of itself.

I reduced the groups to those I was actually interested in, to those I had an affinity with if you like. I made some very good friends on those groups, genuine friends I mean, with whom I can be myself, and surprisingly, it was those friends who have helped me with publicity more than I ever could have done by myself. Simple advice: don’t force yourself on people, and just be yourself.

Enjoy it. What’s the point of doing something which is so incredibly time consuming if you don’t enjoy it? Okay, you’re bound to suffer frustrations and set-backs, but those aside, you have to enjoy it.

Believe in yourself. I’ve written for many years but I bet you don’t have my books on your shelf. That’s okay, don’t feel bad. I would write for the sheer pleasure it gave me and for the hope that I might one day share that pleasure with a wider audience. Who would have dreamed Kindle would be invented for me! Even though I enjoyed writing, I never really thought I was much good at it until someone I didn’t know, someone who had handed over money to buy my books, told me so. What a wonderful feeling that was.

6. What have you done to promote your book?

I consider myself very lucky here because I have a friend who designed my website, and takes care of all the flashy things on it, the blogs and the links; I let him know of a new way of promoting the books and he’ll investigate it. He’s absolutely fantastic. His wife equally is wonderful too; she edits my books (I am in awe at her), and between them they have encouraged me to engage with Twitter, and have suggested several other outlets too.

7. What do you enjoy most about writing?

I enjoy spending time with my characters; I love living inside their heads and feeling what they are feeling. I enjoy inventing scrapes and scenarios for them. I also enjoy very much writing myself into a corner. Rarely do I plan an ending for example; but I know who will wind up dead and who will have a smile on their face. It’s my job to engineer that ending as best as I can without it seeming contrived and while placing as many obstacles in the characters’ path as I can. It gives me a buzz.

8. What do enjoy least about writing?

Realising that the chapter I just wrote isn’t progressing the story or the character at all and it has to go. You might argue that with sufficient planning, I could avoid it; but that’s not always true since I often give freedom to the little guys in my head to take charge because I feel their actions are more natural then. I have to live with throwing away the odd chapter in order to have realistic characters.

9. What authors have inspired your writing?

I enjoy a healthy rainbow of writers from Stephen King, to Bernard Cornwell, from Chuck Hogan to Jeffery Deaver, and many others.

10. Anything specific you want the readers to know about you and/or your book?

I began watching Amazon to see how many books I was selling, became quite obsessive about it really. But even on a good month, the feeling I got was nothing – absolutely nothing – compared to the feeling I got when I read some good reviews of my books. That might sound strange, but it is true. There’s no feeling on earth like someone reading your stuff and enjoying it enough to write and tell the world about it.

Many thanks to Richard for allowing me to reproduce his interview here.

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Crime and thriller writing by a CSI