THIS INTERVIEW FIRST APPEARED ON THE WEBSITE AND BLOG OF AUTHOR S.J. LOMAS. YOU CAN REACH THE SITE BY FOLLOWING THIS LINK
SJ: What was your inspiration for The Hand of Ronan Hawke?
BL: I can’t remember. Isn’t that terrible? Sometimes, all I have to do, to develop a narrative, is to work out on a cycle trainer, close my eyes, and wait for the ideas to flood in. Certainly, the contrasting settings – the city, and the wild landscape of the Highlands – were at the heart of it. They were my first two characters, if you like. The narrative I envisaged had to involve the protagonist, Cyrus, forced to move from one to the other, in search of resolution and justice, and a rebalancing of a world fractured by one terrible event. The horror he left behind had to be severe so that his journey into and out of darkness would be all the more compelling. I will say no more for fear of adding spoilers.
Sometimes, my novels start their lives as short stories which are later extended and developed, Waves Break on Unknown Shores is one such novel. Turbulence came into being after I read a newspaper article about inter-racial conflict in an inner city. An early book, The Walled Garden was based on an idea which came to me as I was walking in the grounds at the Castle of Mey, although I had to move the entire building to the west coast and change its ownership. (Don’t tell HRH Prince Charles!)
I rarely have the full story clear in my head when I start to write but I do know the beginning, the ending, and the key characters. My stories evolve as I write and I have to keep a tight rein on my imagination so the narrative doesn’t escape me. I have never had a problem with writer’s block. I have more ideas than I will ever have time to use. My wife tells me I could create a story while reading the back of a cereal box.
SJ: You’ve written a crime thriller. Do you think setting it in Scotland is an advantage or a unique factor in this genre?
BL: I set Ronan Hawke in contrasting localities for very specific reasons. I wanted to shift the narrative of violence and inhumanity from the city to a location where it feels particularly alien and shocking. The novel sets the values of compassion, understanding and empathy against the encroaching city violence like antibodies against an infection. I also use the landscape of mountains and seas as an impassive backdrop to the transient world of human life. I think of my mountains as important characters in the novel. I also love using the wild and remote seas in the same way. In other novels, I’ve used a seaside town as the setting. I was brought up and lived in the coastal resort of Blackpool until I was eighteen and it’s fun to use the casual jollity and the seediness of the setting as a place to locate someone who, like Jack Munro (in Ronan Hawke), has strong moral values. In Waves Break and Shifting Sands my protagonist works on a newspaper in a seaside town, and is assailed by all sorts of dilemmas and crises, which permit a high level of sardonic humor.
SJ: Did you have to do a lot of research for the book, police procedure, criminal activity, all the sorts of things that writers’ joke will make them a target for law enforcement? Did you discover anything particularly interesting?
BL: No. I keep as far as possible away from procedures in case they incriminate me. I like the freedom to explore characters and situations without too much restraint. I allowed myself the luxury of creating a remote police force - a strong and independent team with an antipathy for centralized decision making and a skill set which allowed them some room for maneouvre. The detective team is, I think, one of my best creations, especially the Detective Inspector, Jack Munro. He has featured in earlier novels and readers tell me he is particularly enjoyable. I like rebels, rule breakers, people with a strong moral sense and great integrity. Jack Munro is one of those. I also like people who share my motto: Find where the wind blows and sail as close to it as possible. He definitely fits that category.
SJ: There are lots of options for authors these days. How did you come to the decision to join the ranks of indie authors?
BL: Age and stubbornness! I don’t want to wait until next year or the year after to find a publisher. Once the books are as good as I can get them, and they’ve been tried and tested by independent beta-readers, I want to make them available. Also, I write the books I want to write, books that have appealing (and appalling!) characters and a satisfying, well thought out story. I write for readers like myself who like skillful prose and a story with some depth. I don’t want to adapt myself to a particular genre or be tied to a particular style of writing. I like to vary my writing style and to experiment. Two novels, written in the first person present – ‘Waves Break’ and ‘Shifting Sands’ - are fast-paced, full of suspense, drama and humor. Two others are deeply atmospheric, paranormal thrillers. Another, ‘Turbulence’, is set a few years hence and follows a family caught in a conflict between white supremacists and a group of fundamentalists. ‘Ronan Hawke’ is a tense, dramatic crime thriller. I have even written two novels for children. Not all of these books are published yet, but they will be over the next few months.
SJ: Who are some of your favorite authors?
BL: I don’t really have favorite authors – perhaps Joseph Conrad is an exception - but I have a lost of favorite books. My major claims to fame are that I’ve read Ulysses three times, Moby Dick twice, and Remembrance of Lost Time once. I’ve the complete works of Dickens, Jane Austen, Dostoyevsky, Virginia Woolf, Graham Greene, George Elliot and many more. Recently I’ve read a lot of literary fiction from the latter half of the 20thC and more recent Booker Prize nominees. I particularly like Kazuo Ishiguro. I also enjoy historical novels. You would be hard pressed to find a day when I don’t have a book to hand. When I can, I read Indie authors too. I’ve found some real gems among them, and made some good friends among their authors.
SJ: Are you a full-time writer or do you balance writing with a day job? IF you have one, does your job compliment your writing at all, or are they in completely different spheres of your life?
BL: I spent my working life in education, as a teacher and then head teacher in schools for 5-11-year-old children. Latterly, I also spent some time as a Development Officer, working across a whole range of primary schools. I tried to write, I really did, but it wasn’t easy to develop the consistency which makes for real improvement and I was, (my wife will tell you) overly committed to the children I worked with and the schools I managed. I retired three years early and suddenly found the space and time to do something I’d always wanted to do -WRITE! Since then, the quality of my writing and the structure of my novels has taken great leaps forward. It’s been good, like having a second career, a chance to succeed in a different field. My experiences as a teacher have certainly informed my writing. Several novels include children as minor characters (Turbulence and Waves Break in particular) and I do, I think, write particularly well about child characters. I also encountered some tragedies and awful abuses in my work which color my writing at times, and give me insight into a range of less savory characters. Working with children has also given me cause for endless optimism. It has fostered an unquenchable a sense of humor and a quick wit, which is reflected in my books – especially Waves Break and Shifting Sands. I vowed never to write a novel for children but, seven years on and with a different perspective, I finally relented and wrote two novels in quick succession, aimed at 8-12-year-olds. The first will be published in late 2020 on a traditional contract.
SJ: What do you think is the most challenging aspect of being an indie author?
BL: Without a doubt, remaining optimistic. I read somewhere that there are more books published in a week nowadays than in the whole of the eighteenth century. Gaining any sort of traction in that context is like asking people to find your tiny diamond on a vast, sandy beach. You do your best to make it visible – you write an exciting narrative, you populate that narrative with real character with whom readers will engage, you edit, rewrite, gather opinions, redraft and polish. You pay an editor to cast a professional eye over it. And then you try your hand at marketing - A website, a Facebook Page, a Twitter account, Instagram - goodness knows what else. You hope to find some eager beachcombers - readers and reviewers – who will find your diamond among the grains of sand and reveal it to an admiring public. Yes, remaining cheerful and hopeful and fighting off despair and frustration are qualities the Indie author has to develop and nurture.
SJ: We all have various interests. In addition to writing, what do you do to recharge and replenish your creative energy? What other activities do you enjoy?
BL: I enjoy photography at a very amateur level. I occasionally post my pictures on my website – an indulgence I permit myself. My wife and I like walking and cycling, watching the birds and mammals along our coast, and developing our ‘wild-flower’ garden. Every couple of months we head south to England in a small motorhome, visiting places we particularly like and meeting old friends. We don’t have a television, a decision we took when we moved here ten years ago and have never regretted, so we read a lot, listen to the radio and watch occasional DVD series on a computer screen. We are also proud owners of two springer spaniels, Daisy and Ziggy. Their photographs are on my website. As any spring spaniel owner will tell you, they are tireless and will happily fill you day. Daisy, in particular, will chase a ball from dawn till dusk. And I read, read, read. The days are very full.
SJ: This book just came out in June. (Congratulations!) Are you in full marketing mode right now or are you already working on your next book?
BL: I spend half my work time on marketing and half on writing. I probably should spend more on marketing but I guess I’m a writer, first and foremost. I’ve recently (August 16th) published ‘Waves Break on Unknown Shores’, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it is received. It received over 60 five-star reviews on Inkitt during a brief stay on that platform, and a lot of high praise. I’m also 55,000 words into a second paranormal / psychological thriller which is veering towards horror at times. It’s fun and it’s given me a chance to try out a few new techniques – some chapters written in the second person, and the use close-clipped, tight, phrasing to accentuate imagery. There are very strong themes running though it too. Interestingly, the story occurred to me after I completed my novel for children. While I was writing I became aware of a second narrative, an alternative, adult story lurking underneath it. It started from there and took on a life of its own.
Ronan Hawke was a particularly pleasing novel. It has a strong and consistent narrative and a very good ending. The characters are very convincing and initial responses suggest readers really engage with them. I’m hoping that the work I’m putting in to promoting it will yield a few reads and reviews. They are, after all, the life-blood of an indie author. I have a number of books available free to reviewers and bloggers.
SJ: I love the UK. My favorite self-indulgent question is to ask my interviewees to describe what it’s like where they live. Would you mind painting a little picture for us of what your area of Scotland is like?
BL: I’m sitting here in the sun lounge of my house near Mey on the north coast of Scotland. From my window I can see, about four miles away, the most northerly point of mainland UK – the cliffs of Dunnet Head. I can also see, almost directly out, the island of Hoy in Orkney. The Old Man of Hoy, a huge stone stack, is just visible on its NE corner. The sea, a slice of silver, along which the occasional cruise liner or cargo ship passes, lies beyond the heather moor behind the house. It is unusually calm today and the sun is shining intermittently though deep, white clouds. It is very quiet up here, despite the increased popularity of the area for tourists, and it is still possible to submerge oneself in a sea of silence. Seven miles to the east of our home lies John O’Groats, twelve miles to the west, the town of Thurso. Our city, the site of our nearest large hospital and only significant shopping center, is Inverness, 120 miles south. This is the flat area of Northern Scotland – the Flow Country. The ‘bumpy bit’ – the mountains - are seventy miles west. The conclusion of Ronan Hawke takes place there.
One interesting fact: the tiny patch of land on which we built our home was once owned by the Queen Mother (who lived at the Castle of Mey). We bought it from the Mey Estate. Her ownership had to be transferred to the Estate from the deeds before the sale could go through. Prince Charles, who I met once during my teaching career, still visits the castle every year in August.