Over the last few
years I have received e-mails from readers asking me about my writing. Here
are some of the most common questions they ask. I enjoy receiving these e-mails,
so please do ask any further questions I haven't covered here.
1. Why have you stopped writing financial thrillers?
They say that you should write about what you know. It's good advice, especially when you are starting out, and it's why I decided to write financial thrillers. After publishing eight novels, I felt I had learned a lot, but I wanted to test myself in the wider world beyond my little domain of financial fiction. I found I wanted to write about what I didn't know – subjects and locations about which I knew very little, but which would be fun to learn about. I have enjoyed reinventing myself, and I think the new challenges have prevented me becoming stale.
2. Why Iceland?
After some thought and perusing the shelves of the local WH Smith’s,
I decided I wanted to write a series of crime novels rather than one-off
thrillers. I needed a distinctive detective. And I wanted to write about
Two ideas came to mind: an honest cop in a corrupt regime, in this case
Saudi Arabia, and an Icelandic detective. I had visited Iceland on a
book tour in 1995 and found it an extraordinary place. The landscape,
the society, the individuals constantly surprise the visitor. I tried
out these two ideas on friends, and while most were wary about Saudi Arabia,
almost everyone was curious about Iceland and wanted to find out more.
As did I.
Fortunately, the more I find out about Iceland, the more I find to write
3. How long does it take you to write a book?
The whole process seems to take me eighteen months. That breaks down
3-6 months research and planning, 4-6 months for the first draft and
6-9 months for the subsequent drafts. I would have hoped that with experience
I would be able to write books faster. In fact, while I can write more
quickly, the planning seems to take longer. The reason is that I have
become much better at identifying the problems with what I have written,
but not much better at finding the solutions.
I could write books more quickly than this, but the quality would be lower,
so I don’t.
4. Do you plan?
I tend to plan; perhaps over-plan. I like to write a synopsis with a
paragraph on each character, and a paragraph for each scene in the
book. There are usually 150-200 of these by the time I have finished,
so the synopsis can run to more than 20 pages. I also do more thorough
notes on each of the main characters. When I get stuck, I take a large
piece of A3 paper and a pad of yellow post-its, each with a scene written
on it. I shuffle them around until they “fit”, in other words
the story flows at the right pace.
5. How does a first-time novelist get a book published?
I'm not quite sure how most people get published. I fought my way through
the “slush pile”, that heap of unsolicited manuscripts on every
agent’s or publisher's desk. I think I was lucky. I'm sure it helps
if you know someone in publishing who can recommend you, or if you
have written anything in the past (perhaps a non-fiction book or as
a journalist). Signs of professionalism also help.
I think it is best to send a manuscript to agents before publishers, perhaps
two to three at a time.
The most important advice I can give is not to send a book off to an agent
as soon as you have finished it. It is actually a “first draft” and
will look like one. It will therefore get rejected. If the book has promise,
it is up to you to polish it before you send it in. This will take months
or years (it took me three). Then, if it is a good book, it has the best
chance of being published. Also, you will learn more from rewriting than
from writing another first draft.
Carole Blake’s book From Pitch To Publication has some excellent advice
on this topic. My own experiences are recounted in the section Writing
My First Novel.
6. Where can I buy copies of your financial thrillers?
Unfortunately as soon as I left Penguin, my previous publisher, they let all my books go out of print. This makes them difficult to find, especially in physical form.
There are two sources that work: "New and Used" at Amazon and abe books.
My first four books were published in the US, but are now out of print. However they are published in a number of other countries such as Germany, Russia, Poland, China and several others.
However, the good news for readers with a Kindle is that I am republishing all the titles electronically (only on Kindle, though).