STUART ARCHER COHEN, DAVID CORBETT, DENISE HAMILTON, STEVE MOSBY,
NEW BLOOD LAUNCH 13TH JAN GALLERY, NEW BLOOD PARTY 15TH JAN GALLERY
JOHN CONNOR [Interviewed by Ali Karim]
Can you give us some background as to how your book ‘Phoenix’ came about?
The plot which lies under the main narrative, is really an amalgamation of a series of cases that I either prosecuted or worked on. These were drug related and got quite nasty in terms of violence. That is really the background and all derived from my legal experience.
Can you tell us about your characters and where they came from?
DC Karen Sharpe is not based on anyone I know. In a way her character has arisen from has happened to her in her past. So what I started out with was my wanting to write a female character who was different to the ones I had read myself, and she is in a couple of ways, she needed to be strong, with none of the female vulnerability and I wanted her strength to be carried right through to the end. The second aspect was that I didn’t want her to be confused about who she was as opposed to who she is. The main driving feature of the book relates to what has happened to her in her past, and how that comes to haunt her present making her re-confront who she is. In terms of Karen and her undercover past, I did meet a woman when I was working in London, someone who had suffered a considerable amount of trauma during her undercover work, and that could have been the spark that started my train of thought towards Karen, my lead character.
What made you chose crime as your book's subject?
Like most writers I started writing many years ago, mainly general fiction hacking plots around what I knew. My day job is a criminal prosecutor where our team of lawyers prosecute serious criminals around the Leeds/Bradford area, and prior to that I worked in London for eight years doing similar work, so my working life has been in the field of crime. So crime-fiction I guess was a natural progression when it came to work with fiction. Also it was a process in which I was writing something that would entertain me, so I decided to write the type of book that I would be interested in reading.
What do you consider is the most important element in crime writing?
Well, it would be nice to say it was one thing, but there are two critical things that appear in a crime novel - plot has to be engaging and this I find the hardest element as it takes me ages to plot a novel from my initial idea. I need to plot the whole book from beginning to end before I start the actual writing process, for me the plot must be worked out so that every chapter advances the plot in some way. But this method is not for all crime writers, taking James Lee Burke for example, he doesn’t appear to plot rigidly, but lets the tale tell itself, as he seems to devote a great deal of time on character and atmosphere. So I have to say that one of things that makes me want to read a crime novels is the characters as well as the plot. So you need both.
What does it mean to you to be included in the Orion New Blood series?
I am delighted to have some publicity and some kind of launch platform for ‘Phoenix’ instead of just being released without any momentum. I hope that by being one of Orion’s New Blood list, will give the book a little extra push.
What do you think of the current trends in the genre?
I feel that from what I have read, the British work is tending towards the harder boiled, while the US work is getting softer, but that is only from the sample of work that I have read in the last year or so. For the last two months I have been almost exclusively steeped in Michael Connelly and James Lee-Burke.
What novels were the early books that you read, that either influenced you, or made you take up the pen?
I started off reading science-fantasy as it’s now called, and my childhood reading I guess was heavily influenced by Lord of the Rings, which is now very topical and popular. So my early writing was in that genre, really escapism, but as I got older I read more general fiction, and I discovered a Spanish writers such as Antonia Munoz-Molina, especially ‘Winter in Lisbon’ which is a spectacular crime/spy novel - a really cinematic work that fired my imagination. When it comes to comparing ‘literary work’ against ‘genre work’ I think that in the end, it boils down to a book having to entertain the reader. People have hard lives and when they spend their time and money on books they need to be entertained.
What are you working on currently?
The Karen Sharpe sequel entitled ‘The Playroom’ is currently out with the copy editors so it’s done and dusted and to my mind a much more exciting story than ‘Phoenix’, but it can’t take place without the background that was explored in the first book. It moves the story on, and is much more explosive in terms of action. I am currently plotting the third book which has a working title of ‘A Childish Game’. I like the idea of working on the series as I want to see how Karen gets on. I like to explore the issue of identity, how people change from who they were over time, and this a theme that interests me not only in my writing but also in my reading. But I also like to entertain and to be entertained, and work that moves at a fast pace is also interesting.
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