Meet fellow Awesome Indies author Bill Kirton. He’s just had new covers done for some of his books, and I think they’re great. Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics did it. What’s in them is really good too. I haven’t read all his books, but enough to know that whatever he writes is guaranteed to be a good read. Click the cover to find out more about The Darkness and click here to see all his books.
Now read on for a chat we had recently about his writing and what makes it unique:
You’ve written humour and historical fiction but your latest books are murder mysteries, what sent you in that direction?
That’s easy to answer. I used to write mainly plays – for stage and radio – then, one day (and I don’t know why), I started a novel. It was the one which became The Sparrow Conundrum – a spoof crime/spy story. I sent it off to agents and one took me on. I sent her my second attempt, the one that became The Darkness. At that stage it was a stand-alone thriller. She sent it to a publisher, they liked it but were looking for police procedurals. So she asked if I could write one. I did, and it was Material Evidence, the first of my Jack Carston series.
More generally, the reason I like crime is because it’s mainly about asking why people do things. For me motives are more important than methods, so some of my books are whydunits rather than (or as well as) whodunits.
(Incidentally, answering your question has made me realise that the two books of mine that have won awards were the first two I wrote. Admittedly they were rewritten many times before being published, but I wonder if it means I’ve been going downhill ever since.)
Not necessarily; maybe you’ve simply gone away from what is usual in those genres and those judging don’t appreciate that, you certainly have more depth in your mysteries than others in that genre that I’ve read, and though I love it, not everyone wants that.
What are the best and worst things about being an author?
Nowadays, the worst thing is having to promote and market the books myself. They’re special skills which I’m not sure I have. Also (and I don’t know whether this is mainly a British thing), there’s a reluctance to say ‘Hey, I wrote this and it’s pretty good’ – which is daft because it’s no good waiting for the books to be discovered.
It’s the same for an Aussie. Maybe we got it from the Brits.
There’s also the interesting side effect of being cloistered away for days bashing away at the keyboard and finding that, when you answer the phone, your voice (which you haven’t used for hours) doesn’t work as well as usual.
The best thing is when the juices are flowing, when your characters take over, drag you along, surprise you, make you wonder where the hell particular words or plot twists come from. It’s that ‘being in the zone’ thing that golfers and other sportsmen speak about. You stop being yourself, time’s suspended, you’re living totally in your fiction. Sometimes I find getting back to reality – to have a meal or whatever – is a bit of a shock.
Tell me about your latest book?
I have two threads going in my writing life at present. I’m reissuing my five Jack Carston novels in new editions, which means re-reading them, doing a little bit of updating (bloody mobile phones have shifted the goalposts all over the place), and lots of proof-reading. The main focus, though, is on the sequel to my historical novel, The Figurehead. It was meant to be a stand-alone book. It was also meant to be a crime novel but, thanks to the central female character, it became a romance, too. The crime was solved, the book ended on a kiss and several readers wanted to know ‘what happened next?’ Bizarrely, I began to wonder the same thing so I returned to Aberdeen in 1841 and started writing about them all again, without having much of an idea where it would take me. I’m now 80,000+ words into it, I know exactly how the crime was committed and whodunit but I have a major scene still to write which has to resolve what’s going to happen to the lovers, John and Helen. I’m confident they’ll eventually let me know.
Do you like the central character? Why?
I once wrote a blog imagining taking Emma Bovary, one of my favourite literary heroines, out to dinner. Helen Anderson, the central character of the Figurehead sequel (which hasn’t yet got a title) intrigues me. In the 1840s, women sewed samplers, played piano, constricted their breathing with corsets, gave all their possessions over to their husband when they married, endured and died in childbirth – and those were the lucky ones. Conditions for the poor were infinitely worse. Helen, the only child of a wealthy, successful ship owner, is frustrated by the role she’s expected to play and defies convention. She’s funny, clever, and brilliant at outwitting some of the duller men who do business with her father. She’s determined to help him run the business and persuades him to let her find out what it’s like to be a passenger on one of his vessels heading for Boston. I can see why John fell in love with her and in me he has a rival, but one who wishes only the best for the two of them. Whether they get it is up to them.
There are a lot of people writing books these days, what makes your writing unique?
It’s a brave writer who’d answer that question directly. ‘Unique’ is so comprehensively exclusive. All I can do is identify recurring themes or habits that probably characterise my writing but readers might suggest others of which I’m not aware. I value compassion, so there are very few real villains or saints in my books. I try always to make humour part of the mix. I always add a little coda to my crime novels in which somebody performs some action which reminds readers that, while the main crime in the book has been solved, life is never crime-free and nasty things continue to happen. I’m also very aware of an aspect of writing that doesn’t seem to get much attention in the ‘advice to writers’ area – rhythm. I think the rhythms of prose (and poetry, of course) help to influence the reader’s perceptions of the fiction at a subconscious level. I’ve written stuff about this, and just one example of what I mean is the difference between ‘The question is to be or not to be’ and ‘To be or not to be. That is the question’.
Given that there is a huge amount of competition and making sales isn’t easy, why do you write?
Although you’re right – there are an awful lot of books clamouring for readers’ attention – I don’t find writing competitive. In fact, nearly all the writers I know are generous people, willing to share news, outlets, publishers’ and agents’ openings, and other opportunities. Why do I write? Because I always have. I write, and I suspect that most others would say something similar, because it’s who I am. Writing is a conversation with someone. OK, you rarely get a response or disagreement, but you’re shaping your thoughts, making meanings where there aren’t any, connecting. Re-reading my Jack Carston books reminds me of who I was as well as who I am.
What kind of person would like your books best?
Someone who’s interested in people, curious about why things happen. Someone who likes to smile or, better still, laugh, even as they’re taking life seriously. Someone who enjoys finding clues in people’s thought processes as well as in blood spatter patterns and DNA traces. And definitely NOT someone who thinks that, because I write a (necessary) rape scene, I shouldn’t write books for children.
Why did you choose the indie route for publication?
An agent once summed up for me what was wrong with the old, pre-indie system. He said ‘If you approach a publisher saying “This author’s already had 2 books published”, they don’t ask “Were they any good?”, they ask “Did they sell?”’ I was lucky, I had an agent and an editor who liked my stuff and believed it was worth publishing, but different criteria now seem to apply. I prefer to operate outside the profit-driven exclusivity of corporate publishing. I want my books to be judged on their quality.
Well said, and I feel exactly the same.
Over the years, Bill has been a university lecturer, actor, director, TV presenter and RLF Writing Fellow. His radio and stage plays have been produced in the UK, Australia, and the USA and he wrote a prize-winning verse translation of Molière’s Sganarelle. He’s published many novels and two of them have won 3 awards between them. At present he’s the co-ordinator of the Royal Literary Fund’s Bridge scheme in Scotland, putting writers in schools to help students who plan to go on to universities and colleges.
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Visit his blog and website: http://www.billkirton.com
Follow him on Twitter: @carver22