Monday, 30 March 2009

As promised, an interview with Crime Novelist, Chris Simms.

Chris Simms is the author of the DI Jon Spicer crime novels and, in my opinion, soon to be right up there with Simon Kernick and Mark Billingham. I'm in good company with this prediction as when professionals within the book industry announced their 'Top 25 Authors of the Future,' Chris made the list!
I absolutely love his work and I'm so pleased that he's agreed to this interview.

Hi, Chris, and thanks for agreeing to do this Q & A.
So when did you first start writing and what motivated or inspired you to really go for it?

I’ve always enjoyed coming up with stories – and I remember how disappointed I was at school when English began to move away from creative writing toward literary criticism. With the aim of eventually building up to some kind of novel, I wrote various, unpublished, ghost-stories in the tradition of MR James during my twenties. But it wasn’t until turning thirty and becoming a father for the first time that I said to myself, ‘If I don’t start on a novel now, it’s never going to happen.’

Could you please enlighten us as to how you achieved your first book deal? Did you try to acquire an agent? Were you rejected much? And how did you feel about the process of being accepted for publication?

Not knowing a soul in the publishing industry, I found an agent by following the advice laid out in my local library’s copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. I started sending off a covering letter and first few chapters to four agents at a time, waiting for all their rejection letters to come back, then sending off to another four. I was picked up on my fourth round of letters, roughly one year after sending out my first batch. I reworked certain aspects of the book at my agent’s suggestion and she got me a publishing deal within weeks. I thought that was it: I’d reached the summit. Little did I know, I had merely strayed into the foothills of the publishing industry; there were - and still are - many higher hills to climb.

There's a lot of unrealistic talk of huge book deals. Can you provide us (me!) with a reality check, Chris?

Well, they do occasionally happen – but those six figure sums are usually paid in stages dependent on handing in several novels that meet with the publisher’s approval. Therefore, the money is paid over a series of years, and once you account for the endless hours actually writing a novel takes, you’re not earning a lot more than the minimum wage. Sorry to shatter the media-myth. There’s a saying in the industry that makes me smile: everyone makes money in publishing apart from the authors.

Your novels appear to be extremely well researched, Chris. Having four children and a job as a copywriter, it must have been hard to organise and sustain the writing. How did you manage this?

Research is the part of the writing process I love most, along with actually plotting the story out. Writing it all down is just a slog and then typing it up is even worse! Unfortunately, no one else on the planet can read my handwriting. When it comes to writing, I have to be very disciplined – I only get two mornings a week when I’m completely on my own. During that time, I lock myself away in a glorified shed with no internet access, phone or music. I sit facing a blank wall and, generally, get around three and a half thousand words down before hunger forces me back into the house.

I believe that you switched publishers after your second novel was published. Why was that?

Back to those hills I mentioned. My first publisher rejected my idea for a third novel, but only after allowing me to research and plot it out. I knew Orion liked my work, so my agent showed them a synopsis for the third novel and they snapped it up. I was lucky because many writers don’t have the option of jumping to another publisher when asked to place their proposed novel in the circular filing cabinet.

‘Shifting Skin’ is a great read, but very dark. Are all your books as dark as this?

Afraid so. Don’t ask me why – probably something to do with watching films like The Omen and American Werewolf in London at far too young an age. I like to think the odd flash of humour provides some light!

Five of your novels include the dynamic and determined DI, Jon Spicer. What was your thinking when considering the attributes and character traits of your protagonist?

I knew that, in order to cope with the plot lines headed his way, DI Spicer would need a certain cosy familiarity with violence. I didn’t want to go down the well-worn ‘ex-soldier haunted by memories of combat’ route so, instead, I made him a rugby player. The type of one used on the pitch as an enforcer, there to deal with the opponent’s best players by any means necessary. I’ve played the game all my life and I’ve met many people with the mentality and physicality that allows them to punch another person in the face. Several times and with great force.

Why did you opt to use real locations in and around Manchester for your stories as oppose to fictional ones?

Well, what better location for dark and gritty crime novels than Manchester? The city has endless dramatic possibilities. Primarily, there’s the juxtaposition between the shiny re-developed city centre and the narrow backstreets, derelict warehouses and abandoned factories that surround it. Not being born in the area, I find all these details fascinating.

You have seven novels published to date, so what’s next for you, Chris?

Number eight is around two thirds written. Next comes the dreaded typing, but I’m well ahead of my late-summer deadline. After that, I’m not too sure. I have a couple more ideas for DI Spicer novels, but I’ve also got an idea for something completely different. Maybe it will be breaking news on your blog in another year’s time!

What advice would you offer any wannabes out there?

There’s no point pretending that getting published is anything other than a long, hard, lonely slog. Bear in mind my ever-steepening hills analogy. I tell people to treat it like a hobby: don’t aim to have a deal by a certain date, don’t treat it as something your life depends on and don’t, under any circumstances, give up the day job! Having said all that, writing novels is wickedly addictive and I wouldn’t swop it for anything else.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Chris. I look forward to reading more of your gripping work soon, and of course reporting on the exclusive of the 'breaking news' next year!

To learn more about Chris Simms and his top notch crime novels go to:


Matt Hilton said...

HI Col and Chris,
fascinating interview - congatulations to the both of you on a very interesting and entertaining read. Chris, I'm ashamed to say I haven't read any of your books yet, but rest assured I will. All the very best, Matt.

Col Bury said...

Cheers, Matt.
Your comment must have been the fastest in the history of google blog comments!
You'll love Chris's stuff, mate.

Chris Picton said...

A great insight into the publishing world and an interesting read.Thanks Guys.

Paul Brazill said...

very good interview.

comment said...

Hi Matt,
Very well done on your deal. I didn't realise the books are coming out at six-month intervals. Your key-board must be taking a pounding!
Thanks for the interview, Col.

Col Bury said...

Cheers, Chris P. & Paul: glad you enjoyed it.
And if you'd not gathered the last comment was from Chris Simms.

Col Bury said...

Just to let you know that we're getting good comments on Writers News Talkback Forum re' this Q&A.

Clare said...

Another enlightening interview - thanks Col and Chris.

Col Bury said...

Cheers, Clare. Long time, no hear. Good to hear from you.

Matt Hilton said...

Col, don't know if you know yet (now there's amouthful) but The Rap Sheet have linked to this interview again. Well done, mate!
Thanks also to Chris for your kind words.

Col Bury said...

Yeah, Matt. Great news. I've just seen it. You don't miss a trick; you're finger's certainly on the pulse, mate.