I met Steven…
Steve on Goodreads, and have had a wonderful time getting to know him through his various posts and suggestions. I thought it would be fun for others to meet him this young-at-heart gentleman now as well. Steve, thank you so much for stopping by today for your interview.
We’ll start with the common questions, just because I think everyone likes finding out more about an author’s history.
Can you tell us a little about where you are from, and how you grew up?
- I was born in Poole, Dorset on the English south coast, not far from TV’s fictional Broadchurch. Also famous in literature as Thomas Hardy’s Wessex.
- I went to the local Grammar School, joined a bank and have been a banker most of my adult life, working mainly in the City of London. At the peak of my full-time career I was a Senior Vice President at a large global bank, with responsibility for anti-financial crime. A few years on from a dramatic change in career direction, reality kicks in now and again and I return to the real world of work to maintain my knowledge and help balance the budget! I’m married without kids, if you exclude Ella the beagle.
Did this figure into writing your first book?
- I’d have to go back to schooldays to answer that fully but it was something of a mid-life epiphany a few years ago when I really started taking it seriously. I’d always wanted to write but found I was spending too much time using the wrong side of my brain and I came to realise that real change could only happen if I created the vacuum for new opportunities to exist in. So I left the job “to become a writer”.
- As time went by everyone kept saying, “You’re not a writer until you’re published.” Well, that took a little longer than I’d planned, but with Mickey Take now in print I finally feel like an author.
Can you pinpoint the inspiration for your first book, or have you always wanted to be a writer?
- I remember enjoying writing essays at school and I always had my head in a book!
- It was an exercise at one of the creative writing courses I attended which involved a combination of random pictures and objects. I came up with a little story about the young female runner recounting her family crisis as she jogged through an exotic landscape but I ran out of time to introduce the old single-use camera that was sitting on the desk in front of me. A camera with a part-exposed film, placed into a more sinister context became the start of my crime thriller, Mickey Take.
What type of style doe you consider to be your own writing style or “author’s voice”?
- Mickey Take was very intentionally a confrontational style, although some of that was (rightly) toned down in the edit! Being first person, present tense, I was aiming for a very immediate and intimate reader connection with an urgency of pace. Some have likened the style to Mickey Spillane under the direction of Guy Ritchie.
That definitely sounds interesting. I’ve heard that first person can be kind of intimidating. Sounds like you’ve got a handle on it though. Do you have anything from your current work, or activities you can share?
- I self-published Mickey Take, my first novel, in the autumn and now I’m plotting the sequel whilst taking a short break from full time writing with a consulting role back in the City. I’m also building my platform for the future so that subsequent novels have an established landing site.
- The sequel to Mickey Take (title unknown) will bring the story of two or three peripheral characters into centre stage, five years on. I also have an early character sketch for a new series of adventures where the protagonist travels the world discretely fixing problems for the rich and famous.
- I’m working a “proper job” right now but can’t wait to get back to first draft writing again very soon. I love this really creative stage where (within reason) anything goes. In the meantime, here’s the opening two paragraphs in the prologue of Mickey Take…December 1983
Fog hangs in garlands from the sparse trees along an unlit road. The night is frozen, bone- deep. It’s no longer silent. Neither is it holy. B ranches weep from the shudder of impact. Screams of agony splinter the air. And hot metal pings. Two cars have recoiled, face off, astride white lines. Festooned with shards of silver and gold, the tarmac glistens like Christmas.
Minutes later, beyond the next bend, another motor stops abruptly. Seeing the blue flickering trees ahead, the driver’s brain immediately spikes. He kills the engine and snuffs the headlights and, once out of the car, checks all the locks before disappearing into the shadows…
Can you tells about the challenges you have encountered, and what you learned from them?
- Managing the logistics in a thriller can be challenging. Deciding what to reveal and when. Then there’s the tendency for my characters to say and do stuff I wasn’t expecting and take the plot off in a whole different direction. I love the creative freedom of this approach but it certainly makes for a constant struggle to keep things on track.
- Plot, plot, plot! There were so many lessons – probably more than I’m even consciously aware of – that I hope will guide me as I begin the next first draft. But the one thing I will be much more focused on this time is a clear (but not rigid) plan to set the framework for the entire story. Last time, my “big idea” probably only got me 20% of the way into the novel!
- Being my debut, I naively finished the first draft and thought I’d written a novel! The hard part was accepting that was just the start of what was to be a long process. After numerous re-writes, the finished product bears only a passing resemblance to that original story.
With your work, how do you come up with the titles?
- It was always clear that Mickey wasn’t going to be the most reliable narrator and many things wouldn’t quite turn out as they first appeared, so it was a simple play on words given the challenge he’d been set in the opening sequence. I then tried to echo the same approach in the sub-titles that hopefully add further insight into his sense of humour and state of mind throughout the story.
What about your covers? Do you do those yourself, or have someone else do them?
- I produced the cover for Mickey Take, having promised myself that if I couldn’t come up with three viable options that didn’t look like amateur DIY artwork, I’d look to commission the work from a pro. My designs all received good feedback from people whose opinions I trust and in the end I was happy that the one I chose captured the essence of the story and set the right tone.
It sounds like you are really a DIY type of person. Do you draw from your own experiences then for your writing?
- It’s fiction, first and foremost but inevitably there are shades of real life.
- I had to steer Mickey’s character almost to the extreme opposite of my own given our similar backgrounds (apart from the criminal bits!) but several of the anecdotes are based loosely on actual events.
With the experience you gained writing your book, is there anything you would change given a chance to start the process over again with your current knowledge?
- I’d probably try to achieve a better balance between the Stephen King approach of pitching some well-defined characters into a challenging situation and watching what develops, with some tighter plotting in the interests of maintaining a less stressful life!
Do you have any favorite authors? If so, what makes their work stand out to you?
- I would have to say Val McDermid. The way that the good guys are always so vulnerable and often damaged and yet they have no choice but to do battle with baddies who always seem so strong and resolute in their evilness. Good has to win out, against all the odds, but often at a very high price.
Did McDermid influence what you wanted to accomplish in your writing and your life?
- I suppose, growing up, it was Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland and Huckleberry Finn. It was probably when I graduated to King, Patterson, Cornwell and McDermid that I was influenced to write crime thrillers.
Would you consider McDermid a mentor for you, or was there someone else?
- I was particularly influenced by Simon Spurrier, a British graphic novelist who also wrote Contract and A Serpent Uncoiled. I was fortunate to meet Simon when Mickey Take was in its first draft.
Did you have any support from outside your immediate friends and family members?
- I belong to two writers groups that have been a source of fantastic support over the last few years. I would encourage all new writers to join a small group with shared enthusiasm and similar goals.
When you’re not writing, I’m sure you are reading. Which book(s) have the place of honor in your reading list right now?
- The Sea Witch by Alexander Laing as recently revised by his son David Bennett Laing. I have a rule to read something outside my usual sphere for every contemporary thriller, and whilst this was written in the 20th century it reads like a classic so it feels like I’m learning from one of the old masters.
That’s a nice way to experiment, and explore new work. Do mind sharing some of the new authors (to you) that have caught your attention?
- There’s an exciting new South London author of spoof spy comedies called Dominic Canty whose first novel in his Bristo Trabant trilogy is Dead Men Should Know Better. I also recently enjoyed reading Polygraph, a novella by American Cy Wyss that I thought was very sharply written and a promising start to the Lukas Richter series. Michael Tappenden is another local author whose first novel, Pegasus to Paradise, is a very poignant dramatisation of the life and times of his remarkable parents. And for me, the most exciting new novel to be published this year will be Eastbound by Jacqueline Andrews. I’m convinced it’s going to be huge!
When you are writing, do you insert a message for your readers to find?
- If there is a single message it’s that you have to take responsibility for your own decisions in life rather than always avoiding confrontation and doing what others want you to. What may seem like the path of least resistance can often lead to much bigger problems down the line.
Looking towards the future now, here’s the question I’m sure everyone loves hearing the answer to, and writers dread almost as much as edits: Do you see writing as your career?
- Yes, absolutely! Will it pay the bills? Unlikely. But if you didn’t believe in the possibility that one day there will be a lot of people reading your stories, you’d have to reassess why you were writing them.
For the new writers, and aspiring authors, do you have any words of advice to pass along?
- Write every day and never give up. If it was easy everyone would write novels. And find two other people who share your writing goals – they don’t have to be the same age or writing the same genres, in fact it’s probably better if you’re all quite different – and start meeting every month to review and critique each other’s work. With a dash of good fortune, you’ll develop into strong and trusting mutual mentors and become lifelong friends. I don’t know what I would do without the support I continue to get from mine.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
- Read every day and try new writers. Enjoy Mickey Take and support other indie authors. The book world has changed forever and self-publishing is now an accepted choice for all authors – debutants like me and the big established names. There’s no point saying don’t judge a book by its cover because we all do that. But there’s certainly no reason any more to judge a book by its publisher.
Where do you hang out on the web? Do you have a website?
Steve, thank you so much for stopping by today. It was great getting a chance to chat some with you, and I know you’ll be back soon with a guest?
- Yes, Michael Field will be returning with me next time.
I look forward to chatting with him as well.
There you have it folks, Steve Hayward. We’ll be back again in a couple of days to meet his characters, so stay tuned!