Peter Church, author of Crackerjack which was enjoyed last month and which is published today, answers a few questions on the blog.....
Is the writing full-time? If not what’s the day job? Can you give us a quick biography of yourself?
I wish it was full time. I studied Computer Science at University then worked in the IT industry for 20 years. I still do some IT consulting work. I live in Cape Town, South Africa with my wife and 3 children.
Have you always written?
As a kid I typed novellas on a Royal typewriter that my mother brought home from the States. In those times, we were all keen readers of mystery and adventure stories - I read the whole series of Franklin W Dixon’s Hardy Boy series. I have always enjoyed the imagination involved in designing a thriller. But only when I decided to take a less active role in IT business did I find the time to actually sit down and write a full novel.
Your latest work is titled Crackerjack. I believe it’s your fourth published novel. Can you pitch it to potential readers in a short paragraph?
I wrote two thrillers Dark Video (2008) and Bitter Pill (2011), which are about to be republished in the US. Then I tried my hand at humour and wrote Blue Cow Sky, inspired by one of my favourite authors Charles Bukowski. Crackerjack is the third in the thriller trilogy. It’s set in Cape Town. A determined young woman enlists the help of a reclusive hacker to track down a missing businessman whose car is discovered at the bottom of Chapman’s Peak Drive.
How long from conception to completion did Crackerjack take? What was the spark or germ of imagination that set you on the road with this particular tale?
The idea for Crackerjack was conceived in 2010. In that year, there had been a mysterious incident of a businessman who fell to his death from a fourth floor parking garage in Cape Town. The cause was never resolved. It was definitely a seed for Crackerjack.
Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?
I thought I had a complete manuscript in 2014, but I didn’t get the interest from my previous publishers, Random House or Two Dogs/Mercury. So I basically rewrote it. The breakthrough came from California-based Catalyst Press. I had previously discussed South African crime writing with Jessica Powers of Catalyst. I sent her the new Crackerjack for review and one thing led to another. I see Jessica as a key partner and she has played a major role in sharpening and improving the read of the text.
Did it end up being the book you anticipated at the start of the process?
The story remained the same but, through the process with Catalyst, we developed deeper insights into the thoughts and motivations of the main characters, and also tightened the plot. The ending changed a few times before it finally stuck.
Prior to Crackerjack, you’ve written Dark Video, Bitter Pill and Blue Cow Sky.
Is there one of your books which you are most proud of? Which would you press into the hands of a new reader first?
I think I would press Dark Video in first. It was published in Australia as well as South Africa, Ant Colony bought the film rights (though they haven’t made the movie yet!) and my alma mater listed it as one of 7 must-reads before graduation. It will be interesting to see how Dark Video and Bitter Pill work with an American readership. Although they are set in South Africa, I always had an international audience in mind. I loved writing the novella Blue Cow Sky (the publisher wanted to call it The Dirty Business and it may have sold better under this title) especially the freedom in working with a loose and rambling plot. Blue Cow Sky has a very personal connection for me, but lots of readers didn’t ‘get’ the boozing, womanising main character, Leo.
On your writing in general, do you have a typical writing schedule? Do you write every day?
I am not very disciplined. There are times when I can work throughout an entire day and deep into the night, and there are other times when I don’t write for weeks. I am always thinking about my story though. I find that the best inspiration comes with, and after, exercise. I carry a little book to the gym and I jot down thoughts after a session.
When you have an idea and you sit down to construct a story – do you know what the end result is going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
I am a careful plotter and I think I have developed a useful design methodology. I was a computer programmer and there are many similarities between the logic of developing a software program and that of creating a novel. I try to articulate my plot in a single document with one sentence (row) describing the action in each chapter. It helps to ensure that the story is moving forward at the correct pace. Then associated with each chapter description is a series of columns representing the characters and backgrounds involved in that scene. I find this method an important reference as the body of text develops.
What can we look forward to next? Any hints on the current work in progress?
If all goes to plan it will be another crime thriller, this time set in Mauritius. I have 35,000 words but no title yet. My aim was to publish five crime thrillers, each titled with one of the senses. There was dark (see), bitter (taste), cracker (sound). So the new title will have something to do with touch or smell...
Ever tried your hand at short stories? Have any been published?
A short story, The One, about compulsive love, featured in a compilation of South African crime fiction called Bad Company. Lee Child wrote the primer for this compilation stating “They told me there were gold mines in South Africa – and look what just came out.” 😊 Another shortie, My Side, was selected for the annual Short Sharp Story collection Bloody Satisfied which is sponsored by the National Arts Festival.
What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?
It would have to be the first time I held a physical copy of my first novel. I don’t think a writer ever forgets that. It’s like an immortality moment – the book is in print and its existence will outlast its creator. But every interaction with an interesting reader, whether their feedback is positive or negative, is a highlight.
Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
Haha. There are a few unpublished, but I am not sure I would call them gems. My first novel was A Strike of Lightning, an adult fairy tale about a middle aged man who started to run faster, instead of slower, with each passing day. It didn’t get a great reception from reviewers. Then I have a completed novel called Waiting for Porcupines. One reviewer called it ‘mundane misogyny’ which kind of ended its chance of life beyond the hard drive.
Any advice for prospective authors out there?
If you can tell a story, then you are halfway there. Lots of people have a story, but don’t know how to tell it. Don’t worry if you are not the best writer. An editor can help you. There is only one way to find out if you can do it. Sit down and start writing.
What’s the best thing about writing?
Building a story with imagination. That’s why I like fiction. I avidly read non-fiction, but writing it is work rather than pleasure. I often consider the difficulties faced by writers of old before the Internet. Perhaps that is why we have such a proliferation of published works today.
Self doubt is an enemy that must be conquered. Writing can be a lonely and isolated pastime. Then finding a publisher who understands, and is enthusiastic, about your work can be a mission.
What are the last five books you’ve read?
Clean Cut by Lynda Le Plante
The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan
Good Me, Bad me by Ali Land
Arnhem by Antony Beever
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Who do you read and enjoy? Is there anyone I should be reading who has snuck under my radar?
I have a diverse reading list and focus on crime thrillers when I am actively writing one. Dean Koontz, James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Peter Temple, Tami Hoag, Lynda La Plante, Stephen King, would all feature multiple times on this list. I notice South African crime writers Deon Meyer, Mike Nicol and Roger Smith feature prominently on your site. I would be interested in your views on Peter Temple’s In the Evil Day or South African writer Andrew Brown’s award winning Coldsleep Lullaby.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
There are so many! But definitely I would choose Catcher in the Rye first. Patricia Highsmith’s Deep Water would be high on the list. I would also love to have written Stieg Larssen’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy.
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
Swimming, hiking, watching sport/news on TV, socialising with friends.
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
The Scent of Rain & Lightning for its riveting plot and dramatic atmosphere. I watched it with subtitles because the dialogue was difficult to follow.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Church household?
I watch a reasonable amount of TV, mostly sport and news. I am not a big TV series enthusiast. My all time favourite is Larry David’s Curb your Enthusiasm. On the crime scene, season 1 of The Sinner with Jessica Biel had a stunning debut, but didn’t quite maintain the intrigue. I found Big Little Lies a bit predictable. Strike, based on the book written by J. K. Rowling under pseudonym, was pretty watchable. The plots were a little far-fetched but the character interaction was excellent.
In a couple of years’ time.....
We are allowed to dream here? OK. A maven will read one of my books and his/her praise will catch the attention of the New York Times and I will be invited to the USA to a fabulous gala dinner, meet with glamorous and amazing people, then travel the country visiting bookstores.
Many thanks to Peter for his time.
You can catch him at the following haunts.....
Sunday Times Books LIVE http://peterchurch.bookslive.co.za/
Peter Church – Writer of Thrillers https://www.facebook.com/BitterPillChurch/
Crackerjack is published today
Young, bright and sexy, Carla Vitale has been handpicked to run Supertech, Africa’s leading independent Engineering firm. Then one Friday afternoon in Cape Town, her dream is shattered. Her boss and mentor, Nial Townley, disappears, his luxury vehicle is found in a crevice at the bottom of Chapman’s Peak and $USD 20m is missing from the Supertech’s overseas accounts. Three months later and the police are no closer to solving the riddle.
No job, no car, no phone, Carla turns to the one person she believes can help: software hacker turned day-trader, Daniel Le Fleur. But Le Fleur’s maintaining a low profile in Bantry Bay and he’s in no mood to ruin the serendipity.
AMAZON links ........
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As always, an interesting interview, for which thanks, both. I learned to type on the sort of typewrite you mentioned, and I'm still glad I know how to touch-type. It makes it so much easier, doesn't it? Wishing you much success.ReplyDelete
Thanks Margot, I'm glad you enjoyed the interview.Delete
Another thoroughly enjoyable interview -- many thanks to both.ReplyDelete
Now to sneak off and check out The Scent of Rain & Lightning, which is one that I've managed to miss.
Cheers, not a film I had heard of either....Delete
Good interview, Col. Interesting comparison between computer work and plotting a novel. I will have to catch up with his books. Never heard of the film “The Scent of Rain & Lightning,” but it sounds good.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Elgin. I hope you find one of his you enjoy.Delete
Col, thanks for another lively author interview. I liked Peter Church's approach to writing, the way he plots and develops the outline for his stories, as well his advice for prospective authors.ReplyDelete
Cheers, Prashant. He does some to have almost a scientific approach to his craft. Unusual maybe, but it works for him and the reader!Delete