Sunday, 24 October 2010

An interview with crime thriller author, Adrian Magson...

I've been looking forward to picking Adrian's brains (especially since watching Hannibal!), as Mr Magson is one of those writers who's been there, done it 'n' got the T-shirt. He recently showed that hard work and perseverance does pay off with a well-deserved double two-book deal.

Q1) You have a reputation of being one of the nicest and most supportive authors around. Having had the pleasure of meeting you a few times, I can firmly concur. But for the people who haven't had this pleasure, could you give us a potted history of how you got into writing, and your early successes and failures?

You trying to make me blush? Potted history: I started writing short stories when I was in my teens, and sold the first one - a crime caper called 'Hole in One' - to a London newspaper when I was 19. Decided I'd got it made... but it was three years before I sold another one! I think that's what's called a reality check. After that, I spent years writing in my spare time while holding down a variety of day jobs. My early sales were mostly to women's magazines, and that's how I continued. It was the most active market for selling short fiction at the time - and still is - and a really good apprenticeship in learning how to write for a specific market, which was romantic and relationship stories (I even wrote under a female pseudonym for some years). I also wrote several novels which didn't sell, probably for good reason. Apart from shorts, I wrote features for magazines here and abroad, wrote some comedy material for Roy Hudd, a short play which was performed at the Oxford Literary Festival, and in between that wrote slogans for t-shirts and scripts for greetings cards (both for companies in the US). In short, I was a writing tart, picking up work wherever I could while still adding to my world-class collection of rejection slips.

Q2) You do a regular slot called 'Beginners' in Writing Magazine, and another interviewing debut authors ... how did these come about?

Luck and circumstance. My name was put forward by Liz Smith of My Weekly when someone else dropped out. I'd written a lot of different things for Liz by then, so she knew I could turn my hand to it and meet deadlines. By then, I had some insights to share both as a beginner and a more experienced writer, and knew what worked. But I also knew that writing is as much about getting your bum on a seat and doing it, not simply talking about it or having a fluency with the language and grammar. And that's the way it's been ever since. It also led on to me teaching creative writing, which was another string to the bow. The profiling of debut authors came later.

Q3) Before your recent double success, you had a few novels out. How did they do?

That was a series of five books between 2004 and 2008 (the Riley Gavin/Frank Palmer crime novels) based in and around London. The two main leads were a woman reporter and her sidekick, a former Redcap. They did reasonably well (I was described by the publisher as their best-seller), and I got some great reviews here and in the US, where they did well in libraries.

Q4) So how does it feel to get TWO 2-book deals after years of trying?

Even better than one two-book deal! That was down to luck and a good agent (David Headley). I decided in 2008 that I wanted to switch genres to write a contemporary spy series (always supposing I could sell the first book, anyway). That was 'Red Station', featuring MI5 officer, Harry Tate. I completed the book and gave it to David and continued writing, this time a French police thriller - basically to see if I could, as I didn't normally write procedurals. By the time David sold 'Red Station' to Severn House, I'd finished 'Death on the Marais', which features Inspector Lucas Rocco, and he promptly sold that, too, to Allison & Busby - all within 48 hours. It was a lesson I'd learned writing for magazines: don't ever stop writing because you never know if someone will say "What else have you got...?" (see also with an early manuscript below). Fortunately, Severn House have just asked me to sign a contract for two more books in the Harry Tate series, so that takes me into 2012. I was particularly pleased to be with both publishers because Severn House are very strong in the library and trade paperback markets here and in the US, and A&B have a very strong crime list - the best of both worlds for me. And they're both such a pleasure to work with.

Q5) Give us a blurb on Red Station and tell us about Harry Tate?
Red Station is basically a 'what if' thriller. What if a character who usually follows orders is put in a situation where he finds himself at odds with his employers? In this case, Intelligence officer Harry Tate finds himself betrayed and marked down for termination because of departmental expediency. Harry is a former soldier, loyal Security Services (MI5) officer, and when a drugs bust goes bad and two civilians are shot dead, he's hustled out of the country to avoid embarrassing media questions. His new posting is called Red Station in Georgia, and he's under a No Contact Rule, which means he's off the radar and being watched closely. What his bosses haven't told him, though, is that Red Station is a punishment posting for washed-out spooks from MI5 and MI6... and Harry won't be coming home again.
Of course, in the best tradition of thrillers, Harry decides to fight back. While writing this, incidentally (and to show we can't make anything up, no matter how hard we try), I'd just written the scene where Harry arrives at Red Station and asks his new station chief what he's supposed to be doing there (it's a remote spot with little obvious strategic interest). He's told to keep his eyes and ears open because the Russians are coming (well, they're always good for a threat in a spy thriller, aren't they?) Three or four days after writing this scene, I turned on the television to find that the Russians had marched across the border into Georgia. Surprised is putting it mildly, because it threw me into a spin. This was now old news. Do I carry on or junk it? I decided to carry on, mainly because I hate throwing anything away, and just because Vlad Putin was feeling spitty, why should I dump a good story? In the end, it actually helped fasten the story more firmly to a specific place and time, and gave Harry a greater reason for breaking out and having what my wife Ann calls his MacGyver moment.

Q6) Lucas Rocco is a French cop. Cool name, by the way. Why did you choose this location and was there a lot of research involved? Plus, did it conflict with the very different spy novel starring Harry Tate, or were they written years apart?

I was partly educated in France (my parents lived there for 20 years from the late 50s), so a lot of the research was more in the way of cross-checking and reminding myself of facts. 'Death on the Marais' - the first book in the series - is set in the 1960s, which was a period of huge upheaval and change in France, so a volatile pot for me to write about. The central character, Lucas Rocco, is a French police inspector. I chose the name because I wanted one that English-speaking readers could relate to, and one which fitted the character. Rocco has a tough sound and Lucas is a French-sounding name, too, although mostly pronounced locally without the 's'. As a character, he's tall and dark, dresses impeccably in imported clothes and for all sorts of reasons stands out from the pack. The Plot: As part of a new nationwide policing initiative to spread investigative resources throughout the regions, Rocco is sent from his base in Paris to Picardie in rural northern France. He has to cope with totally different circumstances, different procedures and people, and his new boss, Commissaire Massin, was his former commanding officer in Indochina (France's own Vietnam), whom he last saw having an attack of cowardice and cowering in a foxhole, and had to drag to safety. This places Rocco in an awkward position with plenty of potential conflict between them, but that's part of the plot. Rocco is not only dealing with new situations, but is now faced with the worst one - that of a boss who'd rather see the back of him. And when he finds the body of woman in a British military cemetery, and she turns out to be the daughter of a highly-placed industrialist and former SOE officer with a big secret to hide, his situation worsens because Rocco is not one to back down when it comes to solving a case. It's a very different book to and was written straight after I'd finished 'Red Station'. I simply put on another head and got on with it. That sounds a little glib, maybe, but after years of writing all manner of different things, I've got used to compartmentalising and focussing on the current job in hand.
For various reasons 'Death on the Marais' involved more research and fact-checking than 'Red Station', but maybe that helped me NOT get the two confused. Mind you, I'm not saying I didn't wake up now and then and wonder who the hell I was writing about.

Q7) Akin to our mutual friend Matt Hilton, it seems your best successes to date have sprung from your creation of 'series characters'. Did you have this in mind from the outset, or was it a conscious change of tack?

A: Absolutely. I like writing series characters, because if it works well, it's a great way to build a core of readers. As you know first-hand, Matt Hilton can certainly attest to that, and he's building a very extensive and loyal following for his Joe Hunter series. I like reading series novels, anyway (Lee Child, Robert Crais, John Sandford, Matt H, Tony Black, to name a few) so I understand the pleasure in getting the latest instalment, to see where the characters go next. I still have people asking when the next Riley Gavin will be out, which is very flattering (the answer is, they're on an extended break) and now have readers asking when the next Lucas Rocco or Harry Tate book is due. That is a real buzz.

Q8) Clearly persistence has paid off in your case, but have you any advice for all the wannabe authors out there?

A: KEEP WRITING. That's the main one. You never know when something will happen, so don't sit on your laurels and wait for your one writing project to be bought, whether it's a short story, feature or book. The moment the completed one hits the mailbox, start another. I once sent off a thriller many many years ago to a big publisher and got a 'Not this one - but what else have you written?' rejection letter. Trouble was, I was away from home a huge amount at the time, and when I was able to write, was working on a typewriter (that's a mechanical device rather like a PC but without electricity or memory) and hadn't got anything else to show them. By the time I did have, the editor had retired. That was really tough, because what he'd been saying was, 'I quite like your style and would like to see something else'. A lost opportunity? Possibly. I certainly thought so. So I got working. Before I got my first novel published (2004) I wrote all those others things, and often had up to 40 short stories circulating in the market here and overseas, as well as trying out comedy scripts, plays, gags - even drawing cartoons. It probably comes from my sales background, where I learned the art of accepting rejection as a 'not this time' rather than a 'never', and worked on the basis that the more I did, the more likely I'd be successful one day. For me, that still holds true . Luck is a core ingredient in any creative job, but someone - I forget who - was right on the button when they said "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

Q9) So what's next for Adrian Magson?

A: I'm currently writing what I call 'Rocco 2', as well as thinking hard about 'Harry Tate 3' (Harry 2, called 'Tracers', comes out in March). I also have some short stories on the boil and a non-fiction book in mind. That sounds like a recipe for mental implosion, I know, but it's the way I work. Coffee helps.
In the meantime, thank you, Col, for kindly giving me this opportunity.

Adrian, it was an absolute pleasure, and thank YOU for providing us with your inspirational words of wisdom.

Adrian's website.

11 comments:

jrlindermuth said...

Great interview. Much to be learned from this man. Thanks for alerting me, Col.

Clare said...

Fascinating interview, Col - illustrating yet again that HARD WORK and PERSEVERANCE are the keys to success. Good luck to Adrian (and still got fingers crossed for you! :) ) x

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Sounds like a great guy, particularly with all his help for new writers. Will check his work out

Lily Childs said...

An insightful interview with some really valuable advice. Thank you Col, and congratulations and much success to Adrian with both series.

Susie said...

Informative and interesting interview. Adrian's articles in WM always raise a smile with his wry humour. Good choice of questions as well, Col.

Matt Hilton said...

Couldn't happen to a nicer fella.
Congrats to you both for an insightful, and helpful interview.

BTW, I've read RED STATION and it's great.

David Barber said...

A very fine and interesting interview guys. I met Adrian earlier this year at Matt Hiltons book launch and he's a great bloke with plenty of sound advice, and he's backed up by a lovely wife.

All the very best to you, Adrian!

Great job, Col!

Sue H said...

A really good interview - well done, Col and Mr Magson!

I've yet to read 'Red Station' but I've greatly enjoyed the Gavin & Palmer books I've read so far!

Jeanette Cheezum said...

Excellent and congrats to each of you.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Smashing interview. the real deal. And he 'wrote some comedy material for Roy Hudd'!!!

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