It makes me chuckle when I see a writer who’s been toiling away for years lauded as an ‘overnight success’ when they get a best-seller. I know they’ve spent years of hard work getting to that point, just the same as people in the other creative industries.
Dominic Adler – 6 June 2017
The Back Flap
Cal Winter: Junkie. Murderer. Winner of the Military Cross for Gallantry.
Penniless and desperate, Cal Winter is coerced into working for a band of freelance paramilitaries known as The Firm. After a decade of deniable killing, he plots revenge. Armed with a secret file of The Firm’s dirtiest secrets, Winter returns to London. There he discovers the organisation has evolved into something even worse…
Winter assembles a careworn team of The Firm’s cast-offs and misfits. Their enemy: a ruthless warrior elite, information warfare specialists battle-honed in the West’s ‘Forever Wars’.
From Iceland to the City of London, to the lonely marshes of England’s southern coast, Winter must stop The Firm. Not just to save the country he once scorned, but to fulfil his vow to be a better man.
About the book
What is the book about?
In 2007, Iraq veteran Cal Winter is coerced into working for a secret guild of mercenaries and assassins. Ten years later, he finally gets the chance to take revenge on them, but discovers the organization has morphed into something else – and that something could lead to War.
When did you start writing the book?
Actually, it shares at lot of DNA with the first novel I ever wrote. So, the first draft, technically, went down seven years ago.
How long did it take you to write it?
The rewrite that became The Saint Jude Rules took me about eighteen months.
Where did you get the idea from?
I’m geekily interested in technology and information warfare, and have been since the advent of the Internet. In the late 80s – early 90s I was a reservist in army intelligence, where we were taught to watch for discreet signs of enemy activity (which back then was the USSR) as a precursor to war. Deception plans and political unrest was all part of that – and now it’s turbocharged by the Internet. Those were the ideas caroming around my brain when I thought up the plot.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
The Prologue was tricky, as The Saint Jude Rules is the third part of a trilogy. As I like my books to standalone too, I needed to give enough background without info-dumping. I think I squared that circle, I’m sure my readers will let me know if I didn’t!
What came easily?
Dialogue. I’ve always enjoyed writing it, and I’m pretty familiar with my characters after three books. I particularly enjoy snark, slang, argot and one-liners.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
Aha, always a tricky question. I’ve met several combat veterans who’ve aspects of Cal Winter about them, but happily not the killing people for money bit. Marcus, Cal’s sometime MI6 ally, is based on a real person (I’m not saying who) and Cal’s handler, Harry, definitely looks like an old acquaintance of mine (Harry’s ex-SAS, the person he’s based on was in the marine equivalent, the SBS).
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
The first serious thriller I read, aged eleven or twelve, was The Eagle has Landed by Jack Higgins. I still think it’s one of the best action thrillers – an ensemble cast of characters, intriguing plot, plenty of action and genuine edge-of-your-seat thrills. My other inspirations are probably Len Deighton, Michael Moorcock (I’m a big SF / Fantasy fan) and Philip Kerr (among others).
Do you have a target reader?
To begin with, I thought I did – after all writing is a business, and I was looking at the male military-thriller market. Turned out lots of women read my books too, which is cool. I’ve worked on my female characters a lot, in fact my second book had several who were pivotal to the action (one of whom is in my new book too). So no, I don’t think I have a target reader anymore. As long as you like action / mystery stories with dark humor and an espionage theme, then you’ll enjoy my stuff. I recently saw John Wick and thought – ‘that’s the sort of vibe I want to achieve.’
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
I reckon all writers go through their own special process-wringer, where you try all the different ways of writing a novel. Planning. Making-it-up-as-you-go-along. A bit of both. Now I have a fair idea where my books are going plot-wise, but am prepared to change it if a better idea develops through the characters. I also make copious notes in long-hand, especially about the characters.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
Beginning, ending and key sequences, yes. Not slavishly, maybe a quick paragraph.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
I used to edit as I went (apparently that’s how Kurt Vonnegut did it, he presented one draft to the publisher ready to go). Then I just zoomed through a first draft and started refining later, which I think works better for me.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
What a great question. I’ve got a Spotify writing playlist – right now I’ve got Thirty Seconds to Mars in the background. I’m a big Foo Fighters fan, along with The Stones, Oasis, Florence + The Machine, Bjork, Squeeze, The Pretenders, Johnny Cash… I think I might even have some Kanye hiding in there somewhere on Estelle’s ‘American Boy.’ THERE ARE LITERALLY NO LIMITS to my musical proclivities.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
Yes, I’m represented by David Haviland at the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency. They run their own indie imprint, Thistle publishing. They front all sorts of amazing stuff, it’s a treasure trove of indie fiction and non-fiction.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
As the Big Five publishers get (even) more risk-averse when it comes to new or mid-list writers, it made sense to take up the offer from Thistle. I’d certainly consider a traditional publishing deal, but the industry is so diverse now. I know some extremely successful, traditionally published, authors who have gone hybrid and self-pub the stuff they can’t get released otherwise.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
I’m lucky, Thistle do my covers. And they give me a say, too, which I think is very kind. What I’ve learnt is the importance of a cover as a thumbnail as opposed to a physical book in a store. For eBooks it’s a crucial distinction.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
There’s a plan based on social media and Facebook ads, which to be honest my brilliant wife looks after for me. Thistle also help out. I don’t think the average person in the street realizes how long it takes to establish a reader base and a writer’s platform (I’m not enamored with the whole ‘platform’ folderol, but it’s A Thing and there’s no getting around it). It’s why writing is a labor of love, and all about the long-haul. It makes me chuckle when I see a writer who’s been toiling away for years lauded as an ‘overnight success’ when they get a best-seller. I know they’ve spent years of hard work getting to that point, just the same as people in the other creative industries.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
Do it, but have realistic expectations. Get basics like formatting and covers right. You might end up with a hobby that makes you some extra money, or you might end up making a living. The days of lifestyle-supporting advances are more or less dead for genre writers. You’ll only find out what your writing journey will be by trying, but you have to write, read, write, read… (rinse and repeat!).
Where did you grow up?
The UK. I was brought up in the South London badlands, which is like Mordor but with worse public transport. London features in all my books to date. It’s a character in and of itself. I love it and I hate it.
Where do you live now?
West of London, which is like the Shire but with less hairy feet.
What would you like readers to know about you?
That my retirement plan rests in their hands, and they should buy all of my books immediately. I also play too much Grim Dawn and Fallout. If anyone wants to chat or ask questions about my stuff (or play Grim Dawn), I’m on Facebook and Goodreads.
What are you working on now?
Cal Winter 4 is slowly gestating in my brain, while I’m re-writing a post-Apocalyptic detective thriller (set in Mordor South London). I have another American-based military / espionage story that needs some re-writing love too (I might self-publish that one), and I’d like to write a fantasy book at some point. I definitely want to write cross-genre when I feel like it, which is another great thing about being an indie.
End of Interview: