I’m guessing the book writing’s maybe not full time? If not, what’s the day job? Can you give us a quick biography of yourself?
Haha, I wish, Col! By day I’m a Business Development Director in the digital print industry. 26 long years. Originally I’m a chemist but basically I talk too much to work in a lab. I get to work with companies developing printers in all sorts of industries like 3D printing to ceramic tiles.
Do you have a typical writing schedule?
Any spare moment really. But typically early morning before people are up, maybe after they’ve gone to bed depending upon the time (I’m a morning person), seven days a week pretty much 365 days a year.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
I used to, but a lot less now. My debut, The Fix, was a cathartic exercise – I wanted to kill a work colleague, but not go to prison. These days the characters have their own personalities.
When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
Historically I’ve been an evolver – I typically have the kernel of an idea, get a few ideas down and go from there. But I end up wasting a lot of time and rewriting huge chunks. For the four Gray books I’ve been working with the rather brilliant Allan Guthrie and I’ve become a plotter now and won’t change.
Are there any subjects off limits?
A bacon sandwich with tomato ketchup.
Horror stuff, anything to do with kids, needless violence for the sake of it. By mistake I once reviewed a book with all three of these in, I couldn’t finish it.
How important is setting to your work? I’ve read a few of your books set in Margate and they resonate with me. For a number of childhood years, my wife and her family had an annual pilgrimage there for their holidays. Nostalgia won out a few years back and we re-visited the town. Fair to say it’s a little bit different now from when she visited during the 70s. You must have a strong connection with the town.
A sense of place is always really important, I think. The location can be a character in itself. I lived in Thanet (basically Broadstairs, Margate & Ramsgate) for many years. Margate is a great mix of grime, sleaze and wistful fun. I think it’s a great backdrop for crime. And I know the place really well. We still visit regularly & it doesn’t change much. And really, to my knowledge, there wasn’t a crime book set there at the time.
How long from conception to completion did your latest Solomon Gray book, Burn the Evidence take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?
There have been plenty of speed bumps along the way because of my lack of planning at the outset of the series. However, the editing team at Bastei, the publisher, are great and in the end it worked out fine. Interestingly, the ‘cliff hanger’ at the end of Burn The Evidence really exercised some early reviewers, but it was supposed to be an introduction, really.
Did the end result mirror your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you imagined?
Well, if talk about Dig Two Graves, that’s massively different. It was a 50,000 word Nanowrimo entry back from 2008. It went through a vast number of plot, character and title changes. Typically though, what I end up with is never the same as what I expected – some idea always pops up along the way. I believe as a writer you have to be flexible.
What’s been the highlight of your writing career so far?
Working with Allan Guthrie, he’s been a proper mentor.
Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
Unpolished maybe! I’m a third of the way through a crime / black comedy stand-alone and I also have a part-written third instalment in my Caradoc historical fiction series, but they take a year to write because of the detail.
What’s the current project in progress?
I’ve just put in what I hope are the final edits on the third Gray novel quickly followed by submitting the fourth (and final) Gray. Otherwise it’s a few days off then onto the part written black comedy for a bit of fun.
I think Burn the Evidence is about your tenth novel to date, does it get easier with each passing book or is it still a challenging process?
Ninth, I think, Gray three is number ten which is amazing! In my humble opinion it should be a challenging process, otherwise you’ve got a simple book on your hands. As I mentioned above now I’ve become a lot more planned then Gray four (book eleven) was the easiest for a while to write but tough to plan. Really before I worked with Al Guthrie I’d backed myself into a writing cul-de-sac and it wasn’t enjoyable any more.
Do you have a favourite from your canon? If you could press one of your books into the hands of a new reader, which one would you choose?
Wow, that’s a tough choice! Probably Russian Roulette – seven partially interlinked short stories about Konstantin. Quick to read each one.
Regarding your earlier books, any plans to return to Konstantin or Caradoc? (I’m fairly sure I spotted an enigmatic tramp in the pages of one of the Solomon books!)
Yes, Konstantin squeaked in. All of my books have at least one recurring character – the landlord of the English Flag (the last character I based on somebody I knew) usually makes it. I’d like to write both. But Caradoc takes a year to properly research and Konstantin would have to be self-published because nobody is willing to pick up a series somebody else has handled, but I definitely plan to go back to them. One day.
Re Solomon Gray, I think you recently said you are working on the fourth in the series, do you have a finite number planned or is it a series and character which will run and run?
Very good question. The story arc concerns Gray’s missing son, Tom. That will definitely finish with book four. After that it’s up to Bastei, whether Gray has sold enough for them to want him back. If they don’t then, as I mentioned above, other publishers are very unlikely to be interested (it’s a market thing) so I’d have to self-publish. I’d definitely like to write more about Gray, he’s developed nicely over the series and has a dark side.
Regarding the story arc with Gray’s missing son Tom, without spoilers, I’m guessing there might be progress and some sort of resolution achieved at some point…. or maybe not?
Totally right, Col. Finishes in book four. It has to be resolved really. It can’t be Inception – loved the film but the ‘is it, isn’t it’ ending was a pain. The ending for Tom is totally black and white.
What’s the best thing about writing?
No, not really. I love the inventive process. And the feedback from readers, particularly when they enjoy it.
The solo aspect. I’m a social animal, being alone is okay in short bursts. Oh, and editing.
What are the last five books you’ve read?
Not many recently! Just on Christopher Fowler’s latest excellent Bryant & May. Jason Beech’s City of Forts and Paul D Brazill’s new one – both indie mates. And two by MW Craven, his new Poe series – neither of which are published yet, but they are rather brilliant.
Who do you read and enjoy?
I’m stuck on crime novels at the moment. I started writing because of Ian Rankin so I read his when they come out, likewise with Christopher Fowler. Otherwise it’s newer up and comers like Luca Veste, MW Craven, Mason Cross.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Pullman’s Dark Materials, because I’m incapable of being that brilliantly inventive and far reaching.
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
Drinking beer or coffee with friends and family.
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Nixon household?
Once the kids clear off to bed! We tend to binge watch series, Game of Thrones, The Good Place, Star Trek Discovery and Preacher were the most recent. I’m a bit sick of Grand Designs at the moment, though.
Many thanks to Keith for his time. Catch him at the following....
If you've not tried his work, you're missing out - and there's plenty to choose from....
1. The Fix (2013) (thoughts here)
2. Russian Roulette (2014) (thoughts here)
3. I'm Dead Again (2013)
4. Dark Heart, Heavy Soul (2016)
1. Dream Land (2014) (thoughts here)
1. The Eagle's Shadow (2014) (thoughts here)
2. The Eagle's Blood (2015)
Detective Solomon Gray
1. Dig Two Graves (2017) (thoughts here)
2. Burn the Evidence (2017) (thoughts here)
3. Beg for Mercy (2018) - published in June by Bastei Entertainment
The Corpse Role (2015)