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Monday, 18 May 2015

Interview -Stephen Booth

Lynne Patrick talks with Stephen Booth
 
Having narrowly avoided a career in teaching, Stephen Booth worked on the production side of local paper journalism for over twenty-five years, until the publication and success of his first novel allowed him to escape to the life of a crime novelist he had always dreamed of.
Even before that happened, he was shortlisted for the Dundee Book Prize and the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger competition for new writers, and won the £5,000 Lichfield Prize for an unpublished novel.
His series featuring two young detectives, Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, is set  in the Peak District and now runs to fourteen titles.
The latest,
The Corpse Bridge, is newly out in paperback.
Born and raised in Lancashire, Stephen now lives in rural Nottinghamshire with his wife Lesley and three cats.

Lynne:  Words and stories have always been at the centre of your working life. Were you always going to be a writer, or did you expect your life to take another path?
Stephen:  Yes, I was always going to be a writer. I started writing pretty much as soon as I could read, and I finished my first novel when I was 12. From the moment I wrote that novel, I knew it was what I wanted to do when I grew up. But you can’t just leave school and become a novelist, so I went into newspaper journalism because it was a way of earning a living by writing. It was good experience too. But 15 years ago I made the leap and became a full-time crime novelist. So I’ve done nothing else for a living but writing and editing for more than 40 years now. I doubt there’s anything else I could do (certainly not teaching, which was only ever a fallback option).

Lynne:  What made you choose the Peak District as a location for your books? Apart from the obvious perk of an excuse for long walks in beautiful countryside in the name of research, of course?
Stephen:  When I began the first Cooper & Fry novel ‘Black Dog’ I wanted to write about a rural area but with a darker, more contemporary feel – which wasn’t really being done at the time. The Peak District was a perfect choice. It’s full of wonderfully atmospheric locations, along with thousands of years of history, often visible in the landscape. It’s also one of the most visited national parks in the world, because it has cities and large towns right on the doorstep, generating millions of visitors. This creates inherent conflicts and pressures, and allows me to explore the relationship between city and countryside. And I liked the fact that there are two geological halves - the White Peak and the Dark Peak, very different in nature and with their own distinct landscapes. For me, there was an obvious symbolism in the white and dark, representing good and evil right there in the landscape. My fictional town of Edendale sits on the boundary between the two.

Lynne: How do you go about creating a leading character as unsympathetic and unlikeable as Diane Fry? Or do you not see her like that?
Stephen:  I created her in the same way as other characters – by observing real people and using aspects of them to make something new. In the real world, I’ve known individuals just like Diane Fry who, because of what’s happened to them in the past, are afraid of letting anyone get too close in an emotional sense. This makes them behave in an aggressive or obnoxious way to keep people at distance. Obviously, they’re difficult to like. But they’re also psychologically fascinating. So Diane is superficially unsympathetic for good reasons. When I’m talking to audiences about the Cooper & Fry series, there are many readers who react against her very strongly (often they can’t forgive her for the way she treats Ben). But there are always a few readers who take an opposite view and say they really like her. In each book there are one or two moments when you see another side of Diane and realise how vulnerable she is under the surface. Not every reader sees this, but I’m delighted that some do. It also makes Diane Fry very interesting for me to write about, since she’s a deeper and psychologically more complex character than Ben Cooper, for example.

Lynne:  I’ve lived close to the Peak District for most of my adult life, and can only recall a handful of high-profile murders there in several decades. Do you ever wonder if, or even when, the goings-on in your books are going to lose credibility with readers?
Stephen:  I did used to worry about this a bit. I can remember a feature written about me in the Derby Telegraph with a headline which said: This man has single-handedly doubled the murder rate in Derbyshire. I wondered if it might become too unbelievable. But I mentioned my concern to a Derbyshire police officer once, and he pointed out that they had five active murder inquiries under way at the time – which is far more than I would ever use in one of my books! So there are probably more murders than you think, but very few of them become ‘high profile’. The reality is that the majority of real-life murders require very little investigation, since the perpetrator is

immediately obvious when the police arrive. This wouldn’t suit the plot of a crime novel, so I tend to give my detectives the more difficult cases to crack. And of course a murder is most important as a means of putting your characters under pressure and exploring their lives and motivations.

Lynne:  You’re a familiar face at festivals and conventions, in both the UK and the USA, not to mention the odd foray into Europe. How important is it for an author to stay in the public eye?
Stephen:  I think it’s essential now, especially if you’re just starting out. There’s a lot of competition out there, and it’s easy for authors to get overlooked. Contact with readers has always been very important to me, and I try very hard to be available. The internet and social media have made it easier, but it does take a lot of time. I sometimes say that writing is really only half of an author’s job these days.

Lynne:  Do you have a regular writing routine? Take us through a typical day while you’re in mid-novel.
Stephen:  When I gave up the day job to write full-time, I’d been used to working in busy newsrooms for years, with deadlines to meet and teams of people working together. When it was suddenly just me alone in a room with a computer, and a deadline in 12 months’ time, it was quite a shock. I couldn’t get used to having no structure to my day, and nobody expecting me to produce some work by the end of it. I had been writing in the evenings when I came home from work, and I still tend to do that, often late into the night. Much of the daytime is taken up with other aspects of the job – which are many! The evening has fewer distractions, and I think it’s my creative time anyway. So that’s when I do most of my writing. In the early stages of writing a novel, I may not be writing very much. I’m more likely to be out exploring a location, or turning characters over in my mind. It speeds up a lot later on, especially towards the end when a story takes on its own momentum.

Lynne:  How do you get started? Detailed synopsis first? Just plunge in? Do you know how it’s going to end before you begin?
Stephen:  No, I have no plan, no synopsis, and no plot. I don’t know how a book is going to end, and I don’t even know ‘who did it’. I start with characters in a particular place, and I put them into a situation where they’re under pressure (often involving a dead body). Then I turn them loose and watch what they do, so the story arises out of the characters. It’s a more interesting way of writing, because I don’t know myself what’s going to happen. Readers don’t always believe this, especially when I can’t quite explain to them how it works! I do need to have complete faith in Ben Cooper and Diane Fry and their colleagues to do their part of the job – after all, they’re the detectives, so it’s their role to find out what’s going on, not mine.

Lynne:  How does each new book in the series start in your mind? Is there a lightbulb moment, or do you just pick up where you left off at the end of the last one? Or...?
Stephen:  There’s always something happening in the lives of Ben Cooper and Diane Fry at the end of a book, which gives me an impetus into the next one and means I’m not starting totally from scratch. The gap in fictional time between books is only three or four months usually, so I’m picking up fairly close to the end of the last story.

Lynne:  Apart from the novelist’s desire to tell a good story, what are you aiming for in a novel? Do you set out to open eyes and minds? Or just to entertain?
Stephen:  One of the great attractions of crime fiction is that it allows readers to explore their own darker emotions (which of us hasn’t thought of murdering someone at some time?), but they can do it in a safe way by reading about how other people deal with similar situations. So it’s very healthy to read crime novels! I think we actually develop empathy for other people through reading fiction. So it’s wonderful when a reader tells me they’ve started to think about something differently. I’m also aware that I’m introducing the beautiful Peak District to readers around the world who’ve never heard of it before, which I’m very pleased to do. I’m often writing about quite difficult subjects, and it’s great to be able to do that within an entertaining story that will keep people reading to the end.

Lynne:  Who do you write for? Who is the reader in your mind when you embark on a new novel?
Stephen:  One thing I’ve learned is that every reader is different, and will have a different response to a book. We all bring our individual experiences, emotions, beliefs and opinions to a novel when we’re reading. It’s one of the most fascinating aspects of writing fiction – I’m aware that the story will exist in a slightly different form in the imagination of each reader. I deliberately allow space for interpretation, which means the author and reader create the story together. So I can’t write for any specific reader, and I wouldn’t want to. I think it’s best to write what feels right for me, and hope that readers will come along for the ride. That sense of an emotional connection with the author is what many readers want above everything else.

Lynne:  Is there anything you wouldn’t write, any line you wouldn’t cross?
Stephen:  I’m not interested in writing about the abuse of children, or about torture. I don’t like reading about those things, and I don’t think I could write them. In fact, I rarely describe the violence in my books in any graphic way. Readers can picture it for themselves, if they want to. 
Lynne:  What’s next for Cooper and Fry? Are you working on a new novel at the moment?
Stephen:  Yes, I’m in the early stages of the 16th Cooper & Fry novel, which involves working on ideas, developing characters, and deciding on a place to set the story in.

Lynne:  Any plans for a sideways move away from your series characters?
Stephen:  Whenever I come to the end of a contract (which I will with Book 16), I spend time thinking about what to do next. As a reader, I’m aware that there comes a time when even a successful series should stop. I hope I know when that time comes for me. Because I have two series characters, there are a number of possibilities for me consider. Also, one or two of the secondary characters have become important in their own right, and I’d like the opportunity to explore them further. Not to mention all the other ideas that have been piling up, without any time to work on them. So many choices... Perhaps you should ask me again in a few months’ time when Book 16 is finished!

Lynne:  And the big one: when are we going to see Cooper and Fry on TV?
Stephen:  I know this is a big one for readers – I’m asked the question at every event I do, and all the time online. But I’m fairly relaxed about it personally. We’ve been in development for a Cooper & Fry TV series for some time now. A top-notch production company has the rights on all the books, and even a finished script, and there’s consistent interest from the TV networks. I think it will happen when the time is right – I just don’t know when that will be.

Stephen is the author of the award-winning Ben Cooper and Diane Fry series, set in the Peak District:

Black Dog
Dancing With Virgins
Blood on the Tongue
Blind to the Bones
One Last Breath
The Dead Place
Scared to Live
Dying to Sin
The Kill Call
Lost River
The Devil's Edge
Dead and Buried
Already Dead
The Corpse Bridge
The Murder Road will be published in July 2015



Claws, a chapbook published by Westlea Books, also features Ben Cooper.

Top Hard, also published by Westlea Books, is a standalone.


http://www.stephen-booth.com



Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.



Stephen Booth - The Murder Road


For the tiny Peak District hamlet of Shawhead, there's only one road in and one road out. Its residents are accustomed to being cut off from the world by snow or floods. But when a lorry delivering animal feed is found jammed in the narrow lane, with no sign of the driver except for a blood-stained cab, it's the beginning of something much more sinister. Detective Inspector Ben Cooper must attempt to unravel the history of secrets, lies and loyalties that will lead to the truth behind the missing lorry driver. But the residents of Shawhead are not used to having strangers in their midst and, while getting to grips with staff changes in E Division, Ben's way forward is far from clear. Will he turn to Detective Sergeant Diane Fry, now working in Special Operations at Nottingham's Major Crimes Unit, for help when the case takes a dramatic turn? A truly outstanding mystery that's packed with foreboding Peak District atmosphere, The Murder Road is a suspense-filled read that reaches a stunningly clever conclusion.

Published by  Little, Brown Book Group
July 2015





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