Friday 25 January 2019


Tess Makovesky, author of the very enjoyable Brummie set crime caper - Gravy Train (on the blog yesterday - here) was kind enough to submit to a bit of gentle questioning about her reading and writing habits

Is the writing full time? If not, what’s the day job? Can you give us a quick biography of yourself?

I don't have a day job at the moment. I used to, but suffered a nasty work injury which still affects me and makes it difficult to do what I used to do. Which gives me the perfect excuse to write instead!

Do you have a typical writing schedule? Do you write every day?

I try to write most days, but it isn't always possible. My Other Half's job is pretty full-on and quite random in terms of hours and destinations, so it's hard to keep to a schedule or make plans. I've got used to that over the years, though, and even if I'm not actually sitting at my desk and typing I'm usually thinking about writing, or listening to my characters holding long conversations inside my head. Hmm, sounds like I should see someone about that...

When you have an idea and you sit down to construct a 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?

Totally make it up as I go along, but I do usually have a good idea of the end point I'm aiming for. Sometimes that changes as I go along - my characters have a rather alarming habit of hijacking their own stories and running off with them - and sometimes it leads to the notorious 'muddle in the middle'. But I tried plotting once and it took up all of my creative energy, so I had nothing left to actually write the book! So seat of the pants it is.

You seem fairly prolific as a short story writer. Your work has appeared in numerous anthologies and the usual list of well-regarded online haunts – Pulp Metal Magazine, Out of the Gutter, Punk Noir, Spelk Fiction and more. Is it a different process writing a short story as opposed to longer works?

Yes, actually, surprisingly so. I really struggle with longer works, having specialised in short stories most of my writing career. I find it much easier to work with the structure of a short story, and it's interesting that my two longer works so far, 'Raise the Blade' and 'Gravy Train', are both quite episodic in nature with lots of short sharp chapters that could almost be short stories in their own right. But now I've experimented with longer books, I do enjoy the wider scope they give me to explore the characters and their stories.

Your latest novella – Gravy Train drops 30th November (I’ll hopefully have my grubby mitts on my copy by the time this piece appears) is published by one of my favourites – All Due Respect. How did you hook up with them?

I have Paul Brazill to thank for that (and for a lot of other writing-related favours, too). He mentioned last year that they were open to submissions, and as I'd just finished translating 'Gravy Train' from a novella into a full-length novel, and it seemed to fit their profile, I decided to send it along. And they liked it, so the rest is history...

Can you pitch the book to potential readers in a short paragraph?

I can do it in one sentence: how far would you go for £80,000?!

But for a little more detail: when Sandra the barmaid overhears details of a betting scam, she thinks all her Christmases have come at once. But when she collects her winnings she reckons without mugger Lenny, lurking outside the betting shop door. And he's reckoned without car thief Justine, and she's reckoned without Lenny's boss Ball, and he's reckoned without Sandra's almost-uncle George. They're all great at nicking the money but terrible at hanging onto it. So when there's a showdown on the banks of the local canal, will any of them get their hands on it, or will their precious gravy train come shuddering to a halt?

It seems slightly less bloody than your previous one Raise the Blade, are you done with serial killers or do you reserve the right to re-visit at a later date?

My natural style is for a slightly more 'comedy noir' approach (think Hot Fuzz or Midnight Run) so 'Raise the Blade' was the exception rather than the rule. Although I enjoyed writing it, I possibly wouldn't do anything quite that dark or grisly again. However, I loved working out what made the various characters act in the way they did and would love to have another go with something more psychological like that.

Both works are set in Birmingham, what’s your connection with “Britain’s second city?” (quoting David Cameron…. whatever happened to him?) 

I deny all knowledge of washed-up politicians, but I can claim to know Birmingham reasonably well having lived there for over twenty years. It's a city that constantly surprises me and that I love very much. Now that I've moved away I find it easier to look at it objectively and use it as a setting for many of my darker tales.

How long from conception to completion did Gravy Train take?

Um, pass? I can't actually remember! I do know, though, that I wrote it as a novella first, and was then, er, persuaded by some of my writer friends to turn it into something longer. And I had so much fun with the characters that it seemed to write itself relatively quickly - maybe three or four months until I'd finished it. I did already have the structure and most of the characters in place, though, so that was a huge bonus.

Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?

It was relatively smooth, more so than many of my other works. One of the most complex things was having to rewrite the second most important character, Todd, to fit the All Due Respect house rule of no law enforcement officers. I had a few days of despairing pen-sucking before I struck on the idea of turning him into a grass rather than an undercover cop. Once I'd made that decision I was able to rewrite his chapters relatively easily.

Did it end up being the book you anticipated at the start of the process?

Well, it's a lot longer than I ever thought it would be! It's kept the same overall feel that I wanted, and the humour, and the circular plot-line where each character hands over to the next one in a slightly dizzying chase. But there have been changes. As I mention above, Todd started life as an undercover cop, and most of the characters had very little backstory. In the end, thanks to rewriting, lengthening, and editing, I actually think it's a better book than the one I first anticipated, and I'd like to thank my friends Linda, Jackie and Irene, and the guys at All Due Respect, for that.

What’s the attraction to the darker side of the crime fiction genre? Were you never tempted to aim for more readers by penning work closer to the mainstream?

I don't think 'mainstream' and me have ever gone together all that well! So far my whole writing career, under a number of different pen names, has embraced the less commercial, the more unusual, the 'road less travelled'. In the end my own quirky, unconventional nature seems to transfer itself to my writing, which means I prefer to rebel, make my own rules, and then live by the rather dubious consequences...

What can we look forward to next? Any hints on the current work in progress?

Yes, it's another crime caper set in Birmingham called 'Embers of Bridges'. Where 'Gravy Train' was mostly about greed, this one is about loyalty, or the lack of it, and involves a gang of robbers, a series of heists that go horribly wrong, and a somewhat bizarre getaway on a canal boat. I'm heading towards the latter stages of the first draft, but it'll still need a lot of work after that so it probably won't be seeing the light of day until this time next year at the earliest. Assuming anyone likes it enough to publish it, that is...

What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?

I don't think it's a single moment, but rather a series of small quiet triumphs each time I achieve something new. Getting 'Raise the Blade' and 'Gravy Train' published, organising my own book launch, reading aloud at an open mic night... they've all been significant milestones along the way and I've loved them all.

Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

There's plenty of unpublished stuff in there, but whether any of it qualifies as a 'gem' I'm not sure. I have at least two, perhaps three further works in various states of progress, which I'm hoping to work on once 'Embers of Bridges' has left the building. But that's a fair way off yet... and as for my really early work, the less said about some of that the better!

Any advice for prospective authors out there?

Don't give up. Getting your work published can be a slow, and at times frustrating, process, but you never know what's going to happen when, or when your break or chance will come. And never stop learning, either. I'm still honing my craft after nearly 20 years, and I hope I'll still be honing it in another 20 years time.

What’s the best thing about writing?

For me it's the actual creative process, where I sit down at my desk with all my characters in my head and transfer them via the screen onto a sheet of paper. On a good day, with no distractions and if I'm in the right mood, I can dash off several thousand words that flow without much apparent effort. That's a wonderful feeling, but at the moment what with editing, marketing and (deep joy) shopping for Christmas, those days are too few and far between. Once things settle down in the new year I'm hoping they'll return.

The worst?

Honestly? Writing synopses. It's a challenge that most writers seem to find nearly impossible. Just how do you crystallise 70,000 words or more into a single page of narrative that still manages to be enjoyable and isn't just a dull list of 'then he did this' and 'then she said that'? I'm getting better at it than I used to be, but it's still massively hard work.

What are the last five books you’ve read?

Hmm, let's see *consults Goodreads*... Ah yes, here you go, most recent first:
1. 'The Saint vs Scotland Yard' by Leslie Charteris
2. 'Rival Sons' by Aidan Thorn

3. 'Cross Purpose' by Claire MacLeary
4. 'Too Many Crooks' by Paul D Brazill
5. 'How to Kill Friends and Implicate People' by Jay Stringer

Who do you read and enjoy? Is there anyone I should be reading who has snuck under my radar?

I doubt it! I suspect (no, make that know) you know far more about crime fiction than I ever could. But I enjoy all sorts of authors from the old classics (Christie, Heyer, Sayers, Marsh) to modern commercial (Peter May, Ann Cleeves) to humorous pulp (Charteris) to some much more unusual books - crime with a hint of the supernatural (John Connolly) or history (Mark Mills). And then there's all the stuff pouring out from authors in my own peer group like Jay Stringer, Nick Quantrill, Aidan Thorn, Paul D Brazill, Jason Beech and literally hundreds of others. I couldn't hope to list them all here, but there's some wonderful books out there now.

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

My biography refers to me as "roaming the fells with a brolly, dreaming up new stories and startling the occasional sheep". It's true that I'm lucky to live in a very scenic area with lots of open countryside and I enjoy taking off on foot with a camera, looking out for wildlife (and those sheep) and taking pictures of the constantly changing weather over the hills.

What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?

This is a toughie since so many recent movies seemed to suffer from disappointing endings (or middles, or even beginnings). I loathed the newest Mission Impossible, for instance, and even some indie crime movies like B&B or City of Tiny Lights didn't live up to their initial hype. For sheer watchability I keep going back to old favourites like Red (Bruce Willis in a daft but hugely entertaining spy movie) or the Bourne series, or Ocean's 11/12/13. And my all-time favourites are Grosse Pointe Blank, Midnight Run and the incomparable Hot Fuzz.

TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Makovesky household?

Yes, definitely. Recent 'must watch' shows have included Brotherhood, Get Shorty, Bodyguard, Innocent, Unforgotten, and I'm now loving The Sinner, which is wonderfully layered and full of tension without resorting to stalk-and-slash. I also love most of the Scandi-noir series like The Bridge and The Killing. However, one of my absolute favourites is the two series (so far, hopefully there's more to come) of Follow the Money - a crime drama without heaps of dead bodies, which features 'backroom boy' style detectives investigating financial crimes. It's won all sorts of awards and is much more gripping than I'm making it sound.

In a couple of years’ time....

People will probably expect me to say I'd like to be rich and famous, but that's not really 'me'. Most of all I'd like to have 3 or 4 books out (hopefully with All Due Respect as they've been so supportive with 'Gravy Train'), all set in Birmingham and all with titles nicked from Pink Floyd.

And a bit less uncertainty, divisiveness and political in-fighting in the country might be nice...

Many thanks to Tess for her time. 


  1. Col, thanks for this engaging interview with Tess Makovesky. I enjoyed all her answers and especially her reasons for being attracted to the darker side of crime fiction and why mainstream writing doesn't appeal to her. Those are the kind of stories I'd like to write, too. Writing off the beaten track.

    1. Prashant, I'm glad you enjoyed at peek into Tess' writing world. Me too!

  2. What a great interview! Thanks, both. I especially like the comments about the difference between writing short stories and writing novels. They really are different. Wishing you much success, Tess!

    1. Margot. thanks. She had lots of interesting things to say.

  3. Great interview and she sounds really nice. The book has a good setup, and would be nice to read something set in Birmingham - a different setting.

    1. Thanks Moira. She's lovely. I'm trying to recall anything else I read with a Birmingham back drop and I'm coming up blank, which is surprising.

  4. What a splendid interview -- many thanks to both.

  5. Very interesting, I like to hear about an author's writing process. And this author has very good taste in movies too.

    1. Tracy, I agree with you. I'm always curious about the process and always very interested in seeing what other people are reading.

  6. Good interview, Col. I will have to check out her book and a couple of the contemporary writers she mentioned.

    1. Elgin thanks. I can vouch for Thorn, Brazill and Stringer. I've not yet read anything from Quantrill or Beech.