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Undercover world of JOHN CONNOR

Written by Ali Karim


The Undercover World of John Connor by Ali Karim
Do you know where Karen Sharpe is?
 Louise Penny, Click for larger image       John Connor burst into print as part of Orions ‘New Blood’ season with his remarkably dark police procedural ‘Phoenix’ which garnered praise from his peers. It introduced troubled DC Karen Sharpe and focused its story in the dark avenues of Yorkshire [England’s biggest county]. Considering most British crime fiction seems centred around London or Edinburgh, it was a pleasant change of locale, and proved the point that many Southerners remark ‘It’s Grim Up North’. Since then, Connor a former barrister involved in some of the biggest drug and gang related cases with the Crown Prosecution Service [CPS] signed an extend book deal [with Orion Publishing] which detailed him continuing the investigations of Karen Sharpe. Last year we had the publication of The Play Room, and now he’s launching the third novel in the series A Child’s Game. Living in Belgium, Connor returned to the UK to research his fourth book in the series and agreed to meet Shots eZine to tell us a little about his world and the undercover world of Karen Sharpe.
Thanks for agreeing to talk to Shots about your latest book.  Pleasures all mine and great to see you again Ali.  
How important was your involvement with Orion’s ‘New Blood’ series?  It was very important in terms of sales, if it hadn’t been for ‘New Blood’ I probably wouldn’t have got as well noticed as I had for my debut ‘Phoenix’ and it did prove to me how important publicity is, because the second book ‘The Playroom’ didn’t have anywhere as much publicity and didn’t sell as well, which was strange as I felt it was a better book.  
In what way?  Because the first ‘Phoenix’ naturally had to set up the Karen Sharpe story, and introduce her, whereas ‘The Playroom’ grew purely as a story and developed her character. But unusually, the feedback I got from readers was that they enjoyed ‘Phoenix’ much more, which I felt strange, because I felt The Playroom was a better book; but what can I say, I’m just the writer….laughing….I still think publicity can do wonders as the bookshelves are very crowded and it is hard to get yourself noticed, I think a book needs the oxygen of publicity when it is released.
Mike Stotter here — More information on Orion’s award-winning New Blood Series is available at Shots :-
That’s interesting as last week it was revealed that in terms of library numbers; crime and thrillers are now our number one genre, knocking off the romance genre into number two position. What do you think is the appeal of crime fiction?  It is strange why people are so interested in crime fiction as opposed to romance, I’m not sure but I think it must because it has a broader appeal, because people do not write crime fiction for a select group of people, because every class, male, female — Crime Fiction readers are spread across society from the professionals, students, manufacturing workers, retail, housewives etc etc and every income bracket.  
A Child's Game, Book Jacket Moving on to the third in your Karen Sharpe Investigations — ‘A Child’s Game’, can you tell us how the plot came to you?  I have to be careful in how I answer this without spoiling the novel for those who haven’t read it yet….Hmmmm….I wanted to tell a story about Karen, going back undercover I guess because that’s how she appeared first in ‘Phoenix’ and I wanted to show what the effect on them both mentally as well as physically has on a person, as I knew many people who worked undercover and believe me it changed them….  
One theme that you explore in ‘A Child’s Game’ is identity, what is it about Identity that interests you so much?  You are right, in fact Identity is something that I have been writing about all the time, bashing away at the same theme as it appeals to me, and I feel that Identity is a theme that appeals to many of us, and in writing you are trying to write books that have the widest appeal in terms of readership, but at the same time explore a theme that appeals to you, and for some reason Identity really appeals to me as a writer and in this book we do get to the heart of Karen Sharpe in terms of her exploring her own identity, because she may not want to be who she really is……  
I hear that you’re writing full time now, so when did you give up your job in the Law?  It wasn’t to do with the writing, but due to personal circumstances, having a wife who is Belgian, and who worked as an interpreter in the UK, but we had to make a choice whether it would be better if she moved over here or if I moved over there. We decided that we would move to Belgium as I had an income stream from my writing, so if it wasn’t for that, I’d be still doing both, writing and working in the legal profession. I had to leave the law because of the move to mainland Europe, but it has allowed me to focus entirely on my writing now.  
So what’s life been like moving away from the M62 and settling in Belgium?  I don’t miss the M62…laughing…..I do miss Yorkshire, but we do live in a lovely part of Belgium, close to the Ardennes where it is generally hilly and we’re not too far from Brussels. In terms of landscape it’s not that different from Yorkshire, but it doesn’t have that gritty industrial side that Yorkshire has.  
Talking about Yorkshire as a landscape for crime fiction, it is interesting that Peter Robinson, who also sets his Inspector Alan Banks mysteries there, also lives away from the UK, in Canada?  I’ve had interesting conversations with Peter Robinson about his career as a writer and you are right, he’s in exactly the same position, writing about Yorkshire from overseas. I love his work, and I really enjoyed AFTERMATH which was a big breakout book for him I guess.  
He is an excellent writer, but the one book that really launched his name was the award-winning IN A DRY SEASON, I felt as it won the MWA Edgar in 1999.  Yes that was brilliant, but AFTERMATH sticks in my mind especially as it explored a territory that was familiar in terms of the Rosemary and Fred West murder case.  
The Playroom, Book Jacket I also heard talk about Karen Sharpe and your work being developed for a TV series, any news about this?  Yes, the BBC brought the rights to Phoenix and The Playroom quite quickly and they have renewed the option three times, and it is still in development and each year as they renew the options, the series gets closer and closer to being filmed. I am hoping that production starts this year, but you can never tell as the process is very complex. The wait has been for the writer who has been finishing his current project, and they have a team being formed but they are very specific about who they want, hence getting schedules to align is complex but it is very serious, and three weeks ago they had a script which is being revised currently. I was at a meeting last year, with the proposed actress [who would play Karen Sharpe] and she is a fan of the books and really wants the role, so I am hoping it will work out this year.  
Can you tell us a little about your writing process, and do you come back and fro from Belgium to Yorkshire?  I try to get the idea first, and once that has germinated after God knows how long, I then write an outline - chapter by chapter for all fifty chapters or so; so I know exactly where it is going and then I try and write the locations from memory and I use maps, and notes, but I also then go back to Yorkshire to ensure that my locations read right. This weekend for instance I’m back in Yorkshire to check locations for the fourth book.  
Which is a Karen Sharpe book?  Yes it is, Karen’s back.  
Phoenix, Book Jacket As a character, she is very interesting, so where did she spring from? Is she an amalgam for people you knew when you worked as a barrister for the CPS?  The germination of her character sprang for the theme we discussed earlier, this issue with Identity. When I was working in London, for the CPS, a woman was pointed out to me. She was a person who had worked undercover for something like three years. It had really messed up her life, and that she had, had problems in getting the lines blurred between her real life and her undercover persona, and this had resulted in a near breakdown. How Karen manages her life is that she buried her real past, the trauma that happened in ‘Phoenix’ and it was that, that also bleed into me exploring the theme for ‘A Child’s Game’ — looking at how a person who works under deep cover, keeps their sanity, their perspective when they are actually living different lives. We all live that to lesser degrees in so far as we are different people when we’re in work, as well as different people when we’re with our families. What I am exploring is how people cope when they work under deepcover, because you see these people don’t go away for three years and not have any contact with people outside of the operation for those three years…..they go away, but in the evenings they may return to their families so they live these dual roles and sometimes the lines get blurred, because soon they develop two distinct personalities and how do they get their heads around that?  
What I enjoy about your work is the reek of authenticity and I guess that comes from your former life as a prosecuting lawyer for the CPS?  Thank you for that, and yes it does. It is authentic in terms of the law, but I also hope it’s authentic of what I know about the people within the police and government agencies that work undercover. I was prosecuting very complex drug and homicide cases for over fifteen years so I was exposed to the life that I now depict in these Karen Sharpe Investigations, but I am always trying to get them to be even more authentic, and I work on tightening the plot in terms of tension also, so it’s not too absurd or too Hollywood, all my locations are real.  
Like Hartshead Moor service station on the M62?  I feel bad about that as Karen thought it was a dive, not me….laughing….  
What are you working on now as you mentioned that your fourth novel features Karen Sharpe?  That’s right, and it’s tentatively called ‘Falling’ and picks up Karen’s life about a year and half after the turn of events in A Child’s Game, but I don’t really want to talk to much about it, as it is still forming in my mind….  
And finally who do you read?  I often find it very difficult to read when I’m writing, and also I have a new baby in the house, and that limits my time also. At the moment I’m reading THE INNOCENT by Ian McEwan, which is his spy story, and I’m back with Mike Connelly as I’ve just finished The Closers and have his The Lincoln Lawyer on my pile.  
Hey, The Lincoln Lawyer is excellent, a real dazzler and I believe it got onto the Richard and Judy shortist!  Yes it did, and I’ve recently started to read Scandinavian crime fiction, Mankell, Fossom and others as I love the social realism, and I really enjoy the work of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo — an excellent series so like real life.  
I would strongly recommend you look up Arnaldur Indridason who recently won The CWA Gold Dagger for ‘Silence of the Grave’ but a previous novel Tainted Blood [US Title ‘Jar City’] was also remarkable — Anyway Thank you for your time and insight John!  Pleasure’s all mine and it’s been good to see you again, and I appreciate the support from Shots Readers!  
 Photos © 2006 Ali Karim
Article © 2006 Shots Ezine / Shots Mag  Shots eZine would like to thank Gaby Young [Publicity Manager] at Orion Publishing and John Connor’s editor [Sara O’ Keefe] for organising this interview and John Connor for his insight and time.  








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