Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: Jack Steele
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Hackney, London and now live in Nottinghamshire. I am married with two children who now have lives of their own, leaving me time to indulge in my favourite passions, reading and writing.
At 16 I started a 4 year apprenticeship at the local printers and never looked back. I have been a union rep (a thankless task), Print Manager and Works Manager but it was only when I returned to the shop floor and ran printing presses again that I had enough energy to do other things.
When I was in my twenties I joined the local boxing club which kept me fit and taught me how to look after myself. Another passion was working for a local Hospital Radio Charity. I would gather requests from patients; go fundraising, interview celebrities and present shows which led to a spot on Local Radio. The interaction with patients taught me a key skill to stop and spend time listening to them and try to make their stay a more enjoyable one.
Where do you most like to do your writing?
I sit with my laptop in the dining room looking out onto the garden. I prefer silence rather than background music while typing. I tried listening to Classical music but even that makes my mind wander as I am easily distracted.
Research: do you find it fascinating or laborious? How do you conduct your research?
Fascinating! At school I used to love going to the library and borrow many books to add detail to a project. Now I’ve taken it even further so it’s bordering on obsessive. It’s a personal thing but locations for my novel ‘Loose Cannon’ had to be researched fully by physically being there. It’s important for me to take in the sights and smells around Canary Wharf, ride the London Underground and visit buildings to get a feel for their inside as well as their surroundings outside.
One example was when I used a pub in Canary Wharf called ‘The Gun’. It has an upstairs room where Admiral Nelson and Lady Hamilton are said to have had their private meetings. The staff showed me around the pub so I could get a good feel for the place. Then I used it in my story when Joe was on a date with his neighbour.
I love a great chase sequence and there will always be a couple of them in my books. I will visit and walk through the location taking in various points of interest which I could use if needed.
I don’t have the luxury of knowing anyone in the police force so a lot of my research is spent reading books, magazines and days scouring the internet for the information I need. Maybe that could change in the future.
How do you go about plotting your book?
If a thought comes into my head I have to immediately write it down. There is nothing worse than thinking up a great line or scene and then when eventually you get the chance to write it down its gone! So there are pieces of paper in my writing folder which I sit and sift through at every opportunity. Usually they are prompts which spark ideas about a scenario or location which prevents me sitting in front of my laptop searching for inspiration. I don’t care at this stage about the grammar and spelling it’s all about getting the words down on paper. I will have a short break for a cup of coffee and biscuit/cake then I re-visit the chapters to tidy them up with even more details added should I feel it necessary.
Alongside the writing folder is another which has photos and the characteristics of all my characters. I admire those authors that remember everything about their characters without notes as I am not always able to do that.
I also use a timeline in Excel which details each chapter with key points within it (Characters, Location, Date and Time). This is particularly useful for when I want to add detail to a Chapter. For example when detective Joe Stone is under sniper fire at the Barbican. I know exactly where in the novel this scene is located, saving me time.
How easy/hard was it to get your first break?
The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing. I wish that I had self-published from day one instead of trying to secure an agent or publisher for more than a year. It felt like things were never going to happen despite researching agencies for someone who loves Crime Fiction and/or new authors writing a debut novel. So that was hard.
It was only when I read Facebook posts from authors who had a similar experience to me and they went onto self-publish that I did the same. The online book clubs have been so supportive offering advice and tips on self-publishing.
How has your writing style developed over time? And the way that you approach writing?
Now that I’m writing the sequel to Loose Cannon I will try to write every day for two hours (I would write longer but my other job gets in the way!) The majority of my writing has always been at the weekend. Every day I will think of something to add to the storyline but if I can’t then I leave it for a day or two before the ideas begin to flow once more.
I find this technique suits my lifestyle whereas before I didn’t know this and would worry that I was running out of steam. I used to sit at the laptop and stare at it hoping something would happen. Now I have plenty of ideas on pieces of paper just waiting for me to type them up. I feel more relaxed about the whole process.
What/who are you’re writing influences? Has this changed as your career has developed?
I have always been an avid reader from an early age taking in all genres of fiction as well as poetry. When I got hooked on Crime Fiction I chose books from different authors to find out who I enjoyed the most. James Patterson and the Alex Cross series have become my favourite reads and my main influence, but Martina Cole, Jeff Abbott and Simon Kernick are also influences. The more authors I read then they could influence my writing as my career develops.
If you could be a character in any book, including one of your own, who would you be?
The obvious choice would be my character Joe Stone from Loose Cannon because I have invested a lot of myself into him. I have had career choices thrust upon me, worked alongside colleagues who weren’t team players, been sympathetic to those in need and had to grow up without a father figure in my life.
What scene in your latest book did you most enjoy writing? And why?
The latest book has a scene where I have introduced a new character called Robert Kersey. He is based on people I have known for many years. He isn’t a particularly likeable man mainly due to his constant moaning and a self-centred, bitter attitude. He is a man of habit with a regular routine but this is completely turned upside down when a family member is attacked. The thought processes and ultimate decision he makes to save this person could have dire consequences for everyone.
Which book or character are you most proud of creating, and why?
Loose Cannon is my debut Crime Fiction novel which I am immensely proud of writing. It proves that if you set out to do something without distraction then you can achieve it. The most worrying time was when I sent it out to readers, bloggers and fellow authors to review it. My writing circle, which included friends, had implored me to publish it but it wasn’t until the reviews were coming back with 4 or 5 stars that I punched the air. Then when I was encouraged to write the sequel that was one of my proudest moments. To everyone who took the time to read and review my book, I really can’t thank you enough.
Describe your current work in progress in five words.
Exciting, rewarding and nearly finished!