David Evans is another author I met at Harrogate Crime Festival. He was a real gentleman and I’m thrilled that he’s agreed to be my author interviewee this week.
Q. Your book, Tainted, was released earlier in the year. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
A. The main plotline for Tainted was inspired by thoughts during my daughter’s application to join the Police. The whole procedure was a disaster, various elements of the process out of order and large gaps in time between them. My police contacts were appalled at how it was handled. It took over 12 months and they finally said she’d have to withdraw and reapply. Needless to say, she walked away. But one of the things she had to agree to was the taking of her fingerprints and DNA to be kept forever. That prompted me to think about this in an abstract way. I wondered what would happen if her DNA produced a familial match to evidence from an historical case. That could only mean my DNA was the match. But then twist it again, and we discover that my DNA doesn’t actually match and it proves I’m not her real father!
Because of the DNA, it fitted the time period of the Wakefield Series, and so Tainted began to take shape. I also had another plotline of a suspicious death in a public toilet block involving a bungled attempt at blackmail. Slowly, I began to weave these two strands alongside other elements to form the book.
Q. Tainted is the fourth book in The Wakefield series. How hard is it to write a series?
A. The first book, Trophies, was the greatest challenge. When I began that, I wasn’t sure if I could write a full length novel. However, during that process, I began to love the characters of DI Colin Strong and his life-long best friend, journalist Bob Souter. The chemistry seemed to work between them. After that, one of the plotlines for the second in the series, Torment, raised its head. I worked from home at this point (a proper job) and I had an answer machine in the office. On two occasions the same elderly gent left a message thinking he was leaving it for his son. That made me think about what could happen if the wrong message was left on the wrong answer machine – and so the journey began again. Here I introduced two female characters, Susan and Sammy. I loved writing these two. Shortly after I completed the second book, I heard of two situations which I thought would work well in another novel, and Torment began to take shape.
But I think it’s the fact that I love the characters which enables a series to be written rather than separate stand-alone novels. I want to know how they develop and what happens to them. That way, if I get it right, I’m sure the reader will want to know too.
Q. What do you most enjoy about writing in the crime genre?
A. Because I enjoy reading crime fiction, it is the obvious choice for me to write. Everybody’s heard the old mantra, you write what you know, and so it was the decision was made.
As a reader, what I like about this genre is the stimulation it gives and the opportunity to think things through, go with what you read and try and work things out alongside the characters.
Q. Where do you get your ideas from?
A. Ideas can be sparked from anywhere. With the first book, Trophies, I had always wondered who the character Wearside Jack was. When I wrote the first draft, there seemed no possibility of him ever being identified. Having lived in the north of England throughout the events of the Yorkshire Ripper, it was a subject that had always fascinated me. The ideas for the second book, Torment, I’ve mentioned above. With Talisman, I heard of two different situations from different sources which, although totally unconnected, I began to see the possibilities of threading together. The germ of the idea for Tainted, I’ve also mentioned above.
The idea for Disposal – of a light aircraft crashing shortly after take-off, killing the pilot but with the discovery of another body having been dead for several days in the wreckage – just came into my head and I thought it could be worth developing. At that point, I’d finished Talisman and initially considered giving this storyline to Colin Strong and Bob Souter. However, at that point, having lived, eaten, slept and become integral with those characters over the course of fifteen years (Trophies first draft had been completed in 2001), I decided I needed a break from them. I then began to think about some new characters. The first to be developed was my main protagonist, the solid uniformed sergeant who became Cyril Claydon. When I create characters, they don’t take shape until I give them a name. His character in certain aspects reminded me of my father. In short order, I created a backstory for Cyril with him serving in the RAF during the war as a young lad, part of the ground crew. This led to the setting of the book being in the seventies for the ages to work out; and what more memorable year than the long hot summer of 1976. I also thought it would be useful to set a book away from Yorkshire. Having lived in north Essex for a long time, it made perfect sense to write about somewhere I was familiar with. The light aircraft plot lent itself perfectly to the airstrip in Clacton. But I also wanted a strong nemesis for Cyril and so DI John Barton was born. When I mention that he is known as Dick for obvious reasons, this becomes generational. Those of us of an older persuasion immediately get the meaning (and because it’s set in 1976) that it is after the radio and TV series in the late 50s and early 60s. However, younger readers think it’s because he is one!
Q. Which is your favourite book you’ve written and why?
A. I have two favourites so far. Talisman gave me great pleasure, particularly with how the timeline evolved matching in to true life events (I’ll say no more on that).
But Disposal has been extremely satisfying for me. As well as the investigation plotlines, I wanted to give more depth to my main characters and I specifically wanted to demonstrate clear character arcs for both Cyril and Dick as well as show how their relationship develops over the course of the book. From the feedback I have received, that has worked well.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you find about being a writer?
A. Rejection. Bouts of self-doubt. Frustration that not more people are discovering my books, especially when I see the comments the readers send back. That might be the hardest thing, but the most satisfying is when someone I’ve never met and don’t know leaves a review or comment where I can see, yes, they absolutely get what I’ve tried to do as a writer.
Q. How important is it to have an agent?
A. I’ve had two so far and neither of them has done anything for me. The book deal I obtained was through my own independent efforts. Having had a professional career in construction where I was responsible for (amongst other things) contractual arrangements, I was able to review and conduct my own assessment of the publishing contract. With so many publishers now approachable directly, I’m not too sure what added value an agent can give. The obvious exceptions must be when dealing with what I would call the ‘Premier League’ publishers where direct approach is still not possible.
Q. Do you get time to read yourself and if you do, what books do you read?
A. As you would expect, I enjoy mostly crime fiction writing. I also wander into the Thriller areas but I also enjoy railway history too.
Q. When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A. As well as enjoying relaxing time with family and friends, I enjoy travelling when possible, walking and selectively watching TV and films.
Q. Finally, what advice can you give to writers who haven’t yet had the break they’re looking for?
A. Just keep going. You never know when that break might come. People talk to people all the time and you may just be in the right place at the right time. Just because someone has rejected your work, it doesn’t mean it isn’t any good (unless a pattern emerges over time). But what doesn’t float one person’s boat might grab someone else by the lapels. If you consider your tastes as a reader, what some may gush and enthuse about may do absolutely nothing for you. This whole activity is so subjective. But if you believe in your own work, that’s all that really matters.