Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: John Bowen
Tell us about yourself.
My name is John Bowen and I'm a Birmingham based bestselling multi genre thriller writer, dad, husband and all round fiction fan. I love books, audiobooks, movies, video games, television... If there’s a narrative medium where made up people are getting up to made up stuff then I’m usually interested.
I'm approaching my third anniversary as an independent author, with over 50,000 books sold and 15,000 downloads of my free short story collection. My first novel, supernatural suspense thriller WHERE THE DEAD WALK was released in 2014, my action adventure thriller, VESSEL, in late 2014, my shorts collection, COLD SWEATS & VIGNETTES, in early 2015, and my cozy murder mystery crime thriller, DEATH STALKS KETTLE STREET, late last year.
How long does your first draft take you?
Always longer than I'd like... but usually around a year. I start with a loose outline, which I build out and restructure as I go. By the time I reach the half way point every forthcoming scene is usually sketched out. This helps identify any possible structural or pacing issues and gauge if the plot, core character arcs and theme are working nicely together so I don’t get bogged down rewriting huge sections near the end.
Where do you most like to do your writing?
In the dining room, early in the morning, when just me and the cat are awake. I do all the writing though.
Research: do you find it fascinating or laborious? How do you conduct your research?
Both those words, fascinating and laborious, kind of sum research up for me. A good part of my second novel VESSEL takes place during the Crusades, and called for more than I had probably anticipated. I look to a mixture of books and the internet. The net is fast, but the information can be quite shallow. Books generally deliver the depth. Proper research is work, but when it can contribute so much towards supporting the reader’s suspension of disbelief, especially when marrying historical fact with more fantastical elements as with VESSEL, constructing a secret history behind the established history, it’s always worth the effort. I try to be open to any resources available, though. The central character in DEATH STALKS KETTLE STREET has OCD, so together with reading up on the disorder, I spent quite a
lot of time on YouTube, viewing personal accounts of real people with OCD talking about how it impacts their lives, their feelings, and how they deal with it.
How has your writing style developed over time? And the way that you approach writing?
It’s developed in the sense I’m keener than ever to push myself somewhere new with each book, to put myself in a position where I’ve no option but to learn more about the craft. It’s why I’m happy to hop genre the way I do. Different genres present different challenges. A suspense novel calls for restraint and a carefully managed slow burn, an action adventure has to hit the ground running and keep delivering high octane thrills two hundred or three hundred pages in, a murder mystery has to dangle the truth in front of the reader’s face the whole time, but still surprise when that final reveal comes…
What is the best writing tip you have ever been given? How has it influenced you?
Not so much a tip, I suppose, as a philosophy. I like Robert McKee’s stance, his principles over formulas approach to story. I think there are real rewards in unearthing why certain elements are effective in fiction rather than just accepting they are and employing them in a top down fashion. I’ve occasionally seen Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey stuff presented in that way, an almost tick box approach to plot and character building.
What/who are you’re writing influences? Has this changed as your career has developed?
I used to read comic books to destruction as a kid, so Alan Moore almost definitely deserves a mention. In my late teens Stephen King had a huge impact. I think I probably acquired a love of supernatural mythology from Anne Rice around the same time. Both William Boyd and John Irving were writers who broadened my tastes to literary fiction, demonstrating just how amazing a page of writing, even if torn out and read in isolation, could be.
How much do your own life experiences appear in your writing?
It’s almost impossible to keep them out. To some extent every single character you write is you, so in that sense you’re searching for emotional touchstones you can connect with to write them honestly. You’ll take very personal experiences and twist them, tweak or amplify them. You know that saying, ‘the best place to hide a lie is between two truths’? Well I think that's what good fiction writers try to do, only the other way around.
Do you ever surprise yourself with what you’ve written?
Constantly. There are always things that cause you do think, now where did THAT come from?
What’s the best and worst thing about being an author?
Having finished the book you’re working on.
Having finished the book you’re working on.
Describe your current work in progress in five words.
Going back to move forward…