What’s your favorite food? A simple dish of shaved mozzarella cheese with sliced tomatoes, basil, generously sprinkled with olive oil with a little salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. It’s what I lived on (accompanied by a good Italian red wine) when I sat down to write my first book and that turned out really well, so it’s been a favorite ever since and kind of my lucky dish.
When did you first realize that you wanted to become an author? I devoured books from the time I could read, but wanting to be an author and becoming one are two very different things. What “made me” into an author was unexpectedly finding myself using words to “get my life back” after the traumas of war. In the 1970’s I joined the British Army – The Parachute Regiment – and served in different parts of the world. It was being in combat and the subsequent years of recovery having lost my entire large bowel from service in Northern Ireland that dramatically changed my life. I came out as a very “weathered” 30 year old wanting to make sense of all that had happened to me. So I starting writing and that outpouring of my soul became my first book Contact. It was a bestseller and I’ve never looked back. Now I prefer writing fiction and the different worlds I can create that way.
What inspired you to write your first book? My first book Contact started out as a way of coming to terms with the world after returning from combat physically and emotionally wounded. I was lost, angry, sad, wanted the average person to know what a soldier went through day after day waiting for a stray bullet or an explosive device to shatter their life or end it; wanted families of veterans to understand why their loved ones seemed different, distant, and burdened.
It took 2 years and countless rejections before Contact was published. It became a bestseller and was made into an award-winning film. But my inspiration was always the experience with my men and the communities we patrolled and witnessing the strength of the human spirit to survive against all odds. My motivation was the desire to ensure those lives lost and lives torn apart meant something. Much like vets of Iraq and Afghanistan I wanted those lives to count for something – their voices be heard and not forgotten in the noise of political and religious rhetoric.
Was your second book as successful as your first? No. You see, I made a rookie mistake back then, I did not have another book to follow my first book Contact quickly enough and so I lost some of the momentum I had gained. When Collisions came out it did OK but not nearly as well as it could have. It’s an important lesson for any author – while you’re basking in the glow of success you need to take your ego, box it up and nail down the lid – then quietly put your head down and get back to work. The limelight dies quickly but you want your memory to linger and have new works to build a strong base of readers. But setbacks are just an opportunity to learn something new – I spent a few years writing screenplays for Hollywood, but I’ve always preferred novels – and so now I’ve “written my way back” to being a fulltime novelist, writing fiction of many different genres and loving every minute.
Was it easier to write other books after your first book was published? Yes and no. Yes in that the passion for writing had been ignited and has never been extinguished – I feel more alive, happier, more satisfied when I write than when I don’t. But no, not always easier in that the first book for me came more from instinct without much self-editing initially. Once you’ve written a book though, the danger is you start to second-guess yourself – you over analyze what you write, question your style, content, whether the pace is right, whether the characters have enough depth, whether there’s enough dramatic tension, intrigue, genuine emotion and so on. So I have to stop that kind of thinking while writing and allow the spontaneity and instinct to take over.
Who or what influenced your writing over the years? Reading great authors, my first editor John Blackwell, the film director Alan Clarke and my family have all been significant influences on my writing. Great authors inspire me with their sheer mastery. John Blackwell reached into my soul and drew out the writer in me without ever forcing his opinion. The film director Alan Clarke (no relation) brought my first book “Contact” to life on the screen and influenced how I’ve written books and screenplays ever since, by heightening my sensibility to imagery and its emotional effect. My wife Krystyna has been a huge influence. And it’s not just her tireless editing and valuable feedback in the face of my often loud defensiveness, but her insight into human behavior and willingness to help me understand and face my own demons and human frailties that have enabled me to transfer that sensitivity and insight to my characters and onto the page. Only by facing myself, have I matured as a writer as well.
Have you considered anyone as a mentor? I consider my first editor John Blackwell at Martin Secker & Warburg, who published my first book, as my mentor. A quiet humble man, we became good friends and I respected him as an editor, a book lover and publisher. There was so much to learn from him and yet he always thought authors were the most important people in the publishing process, although I am sure that even his Nobel Prize winning authors would think that he was the most important person in the process. It was a great loss when he died suddenly of a heart attack.
Do you intend to make writing a career? Absolutely – writing IS my career and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I certainly don’t want to do anything else, put it that way! Though one can never know for sure what life has in store just around the corner. From the time I published my first book, writing has been a significant part of my life, either as a novelist or screenwriter. I’ve had the ups and downs that all writers have financially, have made tons of money and then had to do other things to put food on the table, but I’ve never given up and now I am truly lucky to be writing fulltime and be making a living at it. I consider it a career in the sense of it being a life long activity, focus and passion that I aim to develop, expand and master a little more each time I put pen to paper.
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Genre – Thriller
Rating – PG13