British crime fiction is known for its police procedurals but author Simon
Kernick is making a name for himself with fast-paced, action-packed thrillers.
I recently caught up with Simon at Harrogate Crime Festival and we chatted
about his travels, his plans for the future and why he’s going to owe
me royalties off one of his future books.
What have you been doing to keep yourself so busy?
I’ve been in the process of moving house, writing, and that’s
about it actually.
After writing Relentless, I was very keen to write a thriller with the same
sort of structure, obviously a different story. I felt like having come up
with something like that I felt the follow-on ought to be a similar type of
book, particularly as I’m hopeful that when it comes out in paperback
it will do well. It would be nice to have something that follows on from it
and so I’ve been under a lot of pressure with the new book and it’s
not been anything like as easy to write as Relentless was, so it’s been
a slower process.
I also abandoned a book last year after ten months and wrote Relentless quite
quickly but it sort of put my out of sync anyway. Although I managed to get
it put out in shops this June, my whole writing process had been put back
so I’m running a lot later, so I’ve just been busy with that,
This time of year normally, I would have expected to have finished and delivered
a book and just be slowly preparing for the next, but that’s not the
case. Obviously moving house has been quite a big thing. I’m getting
rid of a lot of my books, unfortunately. I’ve just got so many that
I’ve used up all available loft space at my parents place, I’ve
put as much into my new house as possible and I’ve still got boxes and
boxes I don’t know what to do with. You know what it’s like when
you read a lot, you get too many books. So I’ve been trying to organize
getting rid of them, which is always a sad state.
You’ve mentioned your process (of writing) in terms of scheduling but
how do you structure your day, how do you structure your approach?
I try to structure it as a normal working day. I do the bulk of my work Monday
to Friday and I do 80% of it between the hours of 9 and 5. If I’m in
a hurry I’ll work whatever needs working. If I’m tight on a delivery
I’ll work the evenings as well but in general I work for a couple of
hours in the morning, have some lunch, work for a couple of hours in the afternoon
and then take a break and then maybe do another hour if I can get it in. It’s
quite difficult, especially in the early days of a book where everything is
new, it’s quite hard to work for more than five hours over the course
of a day.
You also did a lot of traveling this year.
I have. I’ve been away quite a bit.
And is that for the next book?
It was, but it’s not anymore. I’ve got to go to Cambodia in November/December
for the seventh book, which will be the return of Dennis Milne, probably,
possibly, for the last time. I was originally going to locate it in Thailand
but I went to Thailand and I had a great time but I think Cambodia’s
a better locale for it. It’s a little bit more off the beaten track
and there’s a bit more of a wild west feel about it.
The traveling should have been work related, but it didn’t turn out
Can you give us any clues about what you plan to do with that book about Milne?
It’s going to start in the present day, whatever that is when the book’s
finished, in Cambodia and something will happen in the first chapter that
will bring back events from Dennis Milne’s past and it will be linked
to a case he was involved in eight or nine years earlier. A large part of
the book will be set in the past, about the time he was becoming corrupt,
and it will involve this old case, which has links into his situation in present-day
Cambodia, and then the book will finish in the present day Cambodia. The case
from the past will finally be tied up, and so, in effect, it will be two mini
books in one, one of almost ten years ago and one now.
So none of it, other than what’s taking place in the past, will be taking
place in England?
No. Only what’s in the past will be taking place in England.
Thing is I can’t move him into England very easily now. He came back
last time. It’s difficult to know, being a fugitive, how much you can
do it and I don’t know how much further I can take him as a character.
I have a pretty good idea in mind as to what this book’s going to be
about, but it might be a good end point for him, although I do like him as
I thought it would be great if you teamed up with somebody and had the book
where Milne actually got caught. You could pick your detective. Would it be
Thorne? Who would you pick, if you were going to team up with somebody and
have Milne get put away behind bars?
God, I don’t know. Writing, as you know, is such a solitary game I’ve
never thought about teaming up with someone. Who would it be? A detective?
I was going to say Mulder and Scully but… I’d have Matt Scudder
catch him somehow. Lawrence Block. I’m a huge fan of his work and if
I teamed up with anyone I’d always want to team up with my hero, so
it would be with him and with Scudder. But how on earth you’d organize
a situation where the two would meet, I do not know, but it is a fantasy,
isn’t it? I would never team up in real life.
You don’t think so?
No. Some writers manage it, obviously, and that was touched upon in the opening
ceremony last night. I don’t think there are very many authors for whom
it would work and I’m certainly not one of them.
What amazes me is these authors that are married to each other and write together –
Oh, Christ, yeah.
I think that would be the death of one of us, for sure. I don’t know
how you’d survive that.
I would hate it. I mean, it is a solitary profession in many ways. Obviously
for them it’s not quite solitary but I sort of like it like that as
well. It works for me, in so far as you discipline yourself to solve the obstacles
and the problems. And if you need to bounce ideas off people you can always
bounce ideas off people within the industry you know, but more likely the
people that are buying your book. Your editor and your agent. Part of their
job is to help you overcome the obstacles.
When you scrapped the book that you’d worked on last year, did you just
trust your instincts on that or did you go to your editor and your agent?
I went to my editor. She was more than happy for me to scrap it. My instincts
were already telling me that that’s what I should do. I just really
When I have a problem and I go to a professional, like my editor, I usually
go to that person with a very strong idea of what I want to do anyway and
I just use it as confirmation. So I follow my instincts, but it’s always
nice to have a little bit of support and help along the way.
But it was a joint decision last year. They were more than happy to see it
When you were at Harrogate last year you actually mentioned – I think
it was in the opening night - when I’d asked a question about plotting
books ahead, you said something about planning your books more than one ahead
at that point.
Yes, that’s why it was easy to write Relentless. I’d already had
a pretty good idea that that was going to be the book that followed the one
I was writing, so therefore it wasn’t a difficult move to switch.
So you’re always thinking a few books ahead of the game.
Usually. One book after the one I’m working. I try to think ahead of,
so obviously I know that Dennis Milne’s is the seventh book. Well, I’ve
got a pretty good idea, but I haven’t gone any further than that.
How much of that do you pre-plot?
More and more, as time goes by. One of the advantages of making a big mistake
and abandoning a book is that it teaches you that pre-planning is very important,
so nowadays I try to write a much much more detailed synopsis before I get
going, than I ever did in the past.
I understand the idea for Relentless came from a dream that you had at a conference.
It did. At Bouchercon 2004. I had a nightmare, which is basically the first
chapter. In the first chapter, obviously the protagonist was me, and I got
the phone call which is that first chapter. So yeah, virtually word for work,
everything in that first chapter is what happened in that nightmare. It actually
scared me something incredible. It was so terrifying I didn’t even think
of it as a plot for about six hours afterwards
You didn’t feel the need to get that down on paper right then?
It was such a terrifying dream. It’s why I had to make the main protagonist
in the book, Tom Meron, such a normal character because I’m a fairly
normal person. It terrified me, so I wanted it to get across how much it terrified
It was such a horrible nightmare, and I don’t normally have nightmares.
In fact, I don’t normally remember my dreams. It blew my head off. I
didn’t even think about writing it down. In fact, and this is deadly
true, I went and started talking about the nightmare I had, first to the author
Dan Fesperman while walking down the street and then secondly I was talking
about it to Mark Billingham and Chris Mooney. It was only when I was going
through it in detail and they started to look really interested that I suddenly
realized, “Ah! Here’s a plot idea.” And then I told them
not to use any of it or I’d kill them.
Thankfully they didn’t, as far as I’m aware.
It wouldn’t help them too much because it still only gives them the
first ten pages. You’ve got to write another 320 on the back of that.
Well, then it ends up being a completely different book after that.
So where do you usually get your ideas from?
It varies. I’d love to be able to say I could get them off nightmares
but I just get these ideas sometimes. For the sixth book I woke up next to
my wife one morning, in bed and I just imagined what it would be like if I
opened my eyes and I was next to a headless corpse.
I didn’t tell her that. And then I just had the idea for the start of
the book. The guy wakes up in the morning and the person next to him has their
head cut off and he knows who it was, he’s met her once before, but
he’s been drugged, and then the phone rings. And someone’s setting
him up, and that’s the beginning of the book.
Which book is that?
I haven’t got a title for it, but that’s the one I’m writing
It’s a similar structure to Relentless in so far as it’s a race
against time thriller -
So you’re moving more into the thriller vein?
I think so. I’d always like to think of my books as having a thriller
element in so far as they tend to be fast moving and with a fair degree of
action. But yeah, I’m moving more and more down that route.
I find, current book excepted, them easier to write, in general. When you’re
writing a really fast-paced book, sometimes it lends itself to actually writing
it fast as well and certainly that was the case with Relentless. It’s
less this time around but it’s certainly an entertaining way of putting
together a book and I think there’s a shortage of thrillers like that,
which take place in Britain and are written by British authors. It seems to
be more of a North American genre.
Actually, I was just going to say that.
You look at the new blood coming through, the new books coming out and they
do tend to be more police procedural in this country. Not so much private
detectives. I suppose I saw a bit of a gap in the market. Some of the big
North American authors – Harlan Coben would be the prime example – have
been very, very successful writing these very very quick, pacey, twisty thrillers.
And there doesn’t seem to be much equivalent here.
Why do you think that is?
You know what? I have no idea. I cannot understand it. I’m at a loss.
Maybe, potentially, one of the reasons is that traditionally there’s
been less gun crime in this country than perhaps there has been in other places,
most notably American, and because there’s a lack of gun ownership and
we operate with a comparatively unarmed police force, it maybe doesn’t
lend itself to thriller writing. I don’t know. That’s the only
reason I can give. It’s a constant surprise to me.
And yet I’m seeing that there is gun crime here.
Well, there is. There’s plenty of it now. Maybe, like a lot of things,
it takes a while to filter through into the writing.
That could be. There’s also a lot of knife violence.
Oh yeah. Violent crime in Britain is higher than anywhere else in the western
world, excluding murder, but that doesn’t lend itself particularly to
good crime books. A lot of it is senseless knife violence or mugging or whatever
and people like to read an interesting book with a few twists and turns. A
lot of crime is very blunt, unpleasant and in your face and doesn’t
really provide you with a feeling of anything other than mild disgust that
this sort of thing goes on.
So, what is it about Milne that appeals to people? What is it about that character?
I think it’s because he wants to do the right thing. And I think he
knows his limitations and he knows what is wrong with him and he isn’t
satisfied with what he is. I think it’s because he has a guilty conscience.
So therefore it makes him more human, more believable. If not sympathetic,
at least people are more able to understand him. Also, the fact that he tries
wherever possible to only hurt those people who truly deserve it makes him
better than obviously someone who would just be involved in more random violence.
To say he means well is not quite right, but I do think he’s honest.
He’s more misguided.
Very misguided. He’s not a nice person, particularly. He’s a very
selfish person but he still believes in something. He’s quite a tragic
character as well, because you can see that he’s ruined his life by
the path he’s taken but perhaps the path he’s taken wasn’t
all his fault. A lot of things conspired against him. He’s got… not
excuses, but some justification for how he turned out. Life, the police force,
his career were against him, in some ways.
He’s quite an entertaining character as well. He’s got a deadpan
Is that why you like writing him?
I like writing him because he’s a very easy character to write. Although
I hesitate to talk about getting inside your characters’ heads too much,
I always feel very natural writing him. In a way, perhaps more so than any
of my other characters. He sort of almost writes himself on the page. So that’s
the reason I like writing him. I don’t know if it’s that I empathize
with him or what but he’s certainly by far the easiest character.
Or maybe he’s a character that it’s easier to hand issues over
to him and let him deal with them in a different way?
Yeah. And he’s quite a deep thinker and he’s quite a philosophical
character in many ways and that’s quite nice as well. Some of his views
on life I find a bit harsh but I do sympathize with others and his sort of
natural quest for justice. He’s a character I do feel quite strongly
If anybody was going to make a movie out of those two books, who would you
want to see play him?
I always used to say Clive Owen and I’d still stick with that. Clive
He’s really made it big in the last three or four years, but he’s
not that famous. Anyone really famous? I don’t know.
I don’t think you want somebody really famous because then it’s
about them. It’s not about the character.
You write a lot in the first person narrative. Now, I haven’t read Relentless
That’s half and half.
What do you see as the advantage of writing in first person as opposed to
third and why do you do the first and third mix?
I sort of do what comes naturally. I, in may ways, prefer first person. I
did The Murder Exchange in two first-person narratives. That worked well for
The Murder Exchange but I don’t think that’s a method that you
can continue using. It’s a little bit too unusual. It works once. Some
characters just work in the third person. In The Crime Trade I started writing
the undercover cop, Jenner, in the first person. He didn’t work. He
was a classic third person and I don’t know why.
I go with what comes naturally. The first and third is increasingly being
used by other writers at the moment and I always wanted to use it but I was
always a bit scared to use it. The advantage is it lets you use the most natural
voice you want and you can sort of pick and choose and it also allows you
to get closer to the character, obviously, in the third person but it’s
quite nice to be able to see other things that are happening that the first
person character can’t see, hence stick in the third person as well.
If you can get it right, it seems to marry the best of both worlds.
It’s almost an acquired taste. You’ve sort of got to go over the
barrier of doing it but you’ve got to go with what you feel natural
in. It’s always felt natural to write like that, like it’s always
felt natural to write just the first person narrative with Dennis Milne. I
never have any third person in his, except the first few pages in A Good Day
to Die. In general, he’s always first person.
Is there any scene that you’ve written that you regret now or something
you decided not to publish because you weren’t comfortable with it?
Obviously the book I wrote that I abandoned, The Last Ten Seconds. It was
a thriller that, in the words of my editor, wasn’t thrilling. I can
see her point. It was too long. I’ll cannibalize the best bits of it
at some point, I’m sure, in the future when and where applicable but
in general I would never let it see the light of day I don’t think.
I don’t regret that.
In terms of scenes I’ve written that have been published, only one would
I change, I think, and that would be the third person piece in the middle
of The Murder Exchange where there’s a torture scene.
The power tools scene?
Yeah. Where the guy gets drilled through the knee-cap… Although I thought
it was amusing and I played it for laughs, which was probably totally the
wrong thing to do, it takes a little bit out of the book, I think. In a way,
it looks unnatural in there and I didn’t think so at the time, but now
I look back on it. People would read the book and not be perturbed particularly
by anything else in the book probably would be perturbed by that scene and
it’s one you could easily just remove from the book and you wouldn’t
lose anything out of the book itself.
So maybe in hindsight that was too explicit and some of the comment and feedback
I got back on it, it was too nasty and graphic and because it was played for
laughs it deliberately lessened the actual violence taking place and that
wasn’t such a nice idea.
How much responsibility do you think writers have for how they handle violence?
There are fairly broad limits. I don’t think you’ve got that much
responsibility. The first answer I was going to give was none, but then, when
it’s violence against children or something really gruesome… I
think you’ve got to rely on self-censorship. I think you’ve got
a bit of a responsibility not to be too extreme if you can help it.
In the end market forces will decide whether or not you’ve been too
extreme because if people think that’s really unpleasant they won’t
buy your book. It’s like saying is Hollywood action in violent films
responsible for violent crime, or video games…
There’s so many factors involved. You responsibility really lies in
giving a good service and a good read to your readers.
It’s a question I’ve not actually thought about all that often,
to be honest, because I don’t rate my books as extremely violent. But
maybe the more cartoonish violence I’ve had in some of the books where
it’s been action scenes with people getting killed, maybe that is -
People seem to be picking up on not even what’s put on camera, but what’s
inferred, that doesn’t even happen on the pages.
If you’re inferring things happened, if you have background stories
whereby something very very unpleasant is happening, where you have a back
story attached to a book but where you don’t actually see anything and
you know very little about it, I don’t think that’s a problem.
Inferring stuff… you’re not like slapping it in people’s
faces. I’m not sure there is a problem inferring indirect violence off
I think it’s interesting because Val said this morning that she just
about lost her breakfast reading a scene from Stuart MacBride’s book
and Stuart and I discussed that before and he said everything’s off
camera. You create it in your mind. It’s all in your head where it happens.
Then people blame the author and say it’s too graphic.
Then don’t read it. That would be my argument.
So you don’t consider that when you’re writing?
You do, but that’s the sort of self-censorship I’m talking about.
I feel my responsibility is to give readers a good read. And if you think
you’re doing something that’s really, really extreme, I would
take it out. I’m not going out of my way to shock.
Do you lean more to character-driven or plot-driven? Your Milne stuff seems
very character driven and your plots… Sometimes, people who write character-driven,
their plots are a little bit lacking, but people keep going back to the stories
because they love the character, but I wouldn’t say that about you.
The easy answer is actually the truthful answer. I think they’re both
as important. I think you can have a great plot but if you have flimsy characters
it’s going to show through. And if you’ve got great characters
and crap plot… Again, you’ve got to try and marry the two. It’s
hard to do it. When I don’t like a character, I kill them off. I didn’t
like John Gallan, the detective in The Crime Trade and The Murder Exchange
and that’s why he’s no longer about. I’ll never write him
again. He’s dead, off-camera, before Relentless has even begun, so that’s
the end of him.
I actually like writing my characters. And when I don’t, I get rid of
them. If you like writing them, then they do come naturally to you, in a way.
If you like them and want to write them, I think that comes off the page.
You get to know them in your own head and then they come off better but at
the same time, plot is massively important to my books, because I try to write
fast-paced, relatively high-octane thrillers, so the plot is of paramount
What’s the hardest thing for you to write?
Descriptions. If I described this building here, this hotel, it would take
me half an hour to write three lines. And it still wouldn’t be anything
like as good as some other writers I know. A description of a person’s
face, I find it very very difficult to write. One of the reasons why I try
to keep the descriptions more to a minimum. In some ways, too much description
interferes with the narrative pace, but at the same time if I was really really
good at it and I found it easy, then I’d probably do more of it.
I can do it. I did it in The Philippines scenes in A Good Day To Die but my
God it was hard work to do it. A half page would take me hours and hours and
hours whereas a scene of dialogue between two people, I can do three or four
pages in an hour sometimes.
Everyone’s got strengths and weaknesses. That’s the hardest part,
by a distance. It always has been for me. And I don’t suppose it will
ever get easier.
Probably not. Everybody tells me everything gets harder.
It does. Well, it does with me. You get stints where suddenly it gets easy
briefly. Relentless was a supremely easy book to write, and thank God, because
I’d wasted ten months of work having killed myself on a book that was
hard to write and actually turned out shit.
Having followed Relentless I actually had this sort of thought that the next
one would be easy as well and it’s been anything but.
It always gets that little bit harder because if you do well, then you’ve
got to keep it up. If you’re not doing well, then you’ve got to
get to a point where you’re doing well. Even the big writers, the Michael
Connelly’s, the Ian Rankin’s, you don’t catch them resting
on their laurels. They’re always looking to improve themselves so in
that respect, a lot of people are never entirely satisfied and I think writers
are particularly that way and therefore that is one of the main reasons why
it does become more difficult, because we let it.
You’re a fan of Sci Fi, aren’t you?
I read a lot of sci fi/fantasy when I was a teenager. I wrote more fantasy
than sci fi when I was a teenager. I do hanker after writing it again. A lot
really depends, obviously, on how I do in crime but you know I would like
to write it again. But I’m a fan more of writing it than I am of reading
it these days, although I still read fantasy books by David Gemmell. That’s
the only genre outside of crime that I’ll read.
So, what’s the appeal, for you?
Well, I’ve always had quite a vivid imagination. Most writers do. But
I used to imagine, when I was a kid, fantasy worlds where whole civilizations
grew up and I could picture the cities and how they looked and the main streets,
and I knew the names of the cities and I knew the people and the histories
and because it was a made-up world I found it very interesting and I still… I’ve
got a trilogy in my head, for a fantasy book. One of the things I like about
it, in it’s own way it’s a look at our own world and what’s
happening. You can’t write anything without impinging on your experiences
in the real world. The joy of writing fantasy is that you’ve got no
limits. There’s no research and you can make up what you want to. I’ve
always quite liked that.
So research isn’t one of your favourite things?
Well, it is, but it can be quite hard work and often when you’re writing
you hit a point and you’ve come to a technical bit on a police procedural
and you’re stopping and having to look it all up. Particularly in the
thriller genre that can be quite a pain because there are lots of things you
need to know like how police bug conversations and do surveillance and things
like that, which is quite interesting sometimes to read and to learn about,
but it can just slow you down. I don’t mind research but the thing about
it is I’ve found is sometimes you do one hell of a lot of it and it’s
not the big, broad questions, it’s the bloody nitty gritty the whole
the time. So it would be nice not to have to bother about that but just to
make it whatever the hell you wanted.
Do you think you might do that?
I’d like to think before I die that I’d write that trilogy. The
thing is I enjoy writing crime books one hell of a lot. Obviously it pays
my wages and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, so I’m not
going to do anything that’s going to take me out of the genre that is
making me a living.
What was the first book that you read that had a significant influence on
you and how did it affect you?
It’s a good question. Now I’m really trying to think. I loved
The Hobbit. It was read to me when I was seven years old and I read it for
myself, I think, when I was eight years old. It gave me the impetus to want
to write stories because it was such a good yarn, a good story. The fantasy
worlds had obviously been the product of a really fertile imagination and
I really loved that book. I still remember it very very well.
Who read it to you?
A teacher at my school read it over three separate story times.
In terms of crime books, I was trying to think of the first crime book I ever
read. I always found, from a very early stage in my crime writing career,
I discovered Lawrence Block in the mid 1990s and the Matt Scudder books and
I was getting close to thirty then, but I found they had a very profound effect.
Beautifully written and a real sense of atmosphere. And I suppose that was
following in the tradition of obviously Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett,
the way they could create the mean streets and I wanted to be able to do something
like that as well
So there was something about that that really appealed to you, that influenced
Particularly the Dennis Milne character. Obviously The Business of Dying ,
if I looked at author influences it would be Lawrence Block, Raymond Chandler,
for that particular book.
That wasn’t the first book you wrote, though, was it? Didn’t you
have some before that didn’t sell?
I had two. One was a gangster-thriller and one was a really unpleasant little
thriller. A main character I thought was really good at the time, but actually
he was such a nasty piece of work he was horrible, but there was a good twist
in the tale. It wasn’t good enough to be published, I don’t think,
and the character was so unsympathetic that nobody would like him.
The gangster thriller was too big. Years later I transferred it into word
and did a word count on it and it was 200,000 words long. It worked out to
800 pages. But when I wrote it, because I wrote it in a really small font
and without big line spaces it came to about 300 pages but actually it was
a huge, great tome.
A friend of mine read it and it took him months, and I could never understand
why it took him so long. Obviously, now I realize, and it wasn’t good
enough. You’d have to cut 400 pages off it. It would have ruined it.
Well, with what you like to write, why not pick America as a setting?
I would do, because obviously it opens doors in America, but the thing is
I think you’ve got to write, to a certain degree, about what you know.
I don’t know enough about America. I haven’t spent enough time
in America to write, I think, a really good, authentic America-set book.
Don’t you think this would be an excuse for you to do some traveling
I did at one point think about making a fourth Dennis Milne book, set in America.
You might change your mind before the end of the next one.
I might change my mind before the end of the next one. If anyone did go there
it would be him. It’s crossed my mind. But I’ve held back for
that reason, not knowing enough to make a good book out of it. Worth a thought.
I have a whole idea for a plot line for Dennis in North American.
You’ll have to tell me over a couple of drinks, and then you’ll
want royalties when I use it.
No, no. (I wouldn’t want the royalties, just the chance to read the
book.) So, what’s the one talent in others that you envy and wish that
In anything?Sandra Ruttan
Well, I tell you what. It actually does come to writing and I know it sounds
sort of pedantic but I really wish I could write descriptions. I wish I could
write really flowing descriptive scenes without having to kill myself and
that’s something I envy in some other writers that I think do it very
beautifully. I sometimes wish I could do that. Other than that I’m not
envious, actually. I have quite a good life. It’s not a bad one.
As for talents, I wish I could play football better. I’m 40 now anyways,
so I’m past all that.
When is your birthday?
It was January 25th. I was 40. Old man I am now.
Oh, yes. You’re ancient.
I’m 35. I’m not that far off.
You’re a few years off. Don’t worry.
I don’t know. You’re 40, you’ve got five books out. That’s
That is good news. It’s brilliant. I’m pleased about that, I must
admit. I only ever wanted to be a writer, so to have had that dream come true
is a massive thing. That’s why I’m not envious.
Wanting to be a writer, does that go back to The Hobbit?
From a very, very young age I wanted to.
So even before that?
I started writing stories when I was six or seven. They’d be three or
four line stories, but I wrote them very young. I think it was always in me
Was that instilled by your parents?
No. No one from my family’s ever written. My aunt used to write a little.
Even just a love of books and stories?
I just liked telling stories. For the first formative years I was particularly
interested in fantasy because I could create my own worlds and I found that
My mom used to warn me against writing as a living. She said no writers ever
make any money. She was dead right but it hasn’t stopped me.
And you’ve sort of proven her wrong.
Going in a completely different direction… Worst, weirdest, wildest,
strangest fan moment. You have anything really bizarre happen?
Nothing really bizarre. I wrote in The Murder Exchange about a Glock 17 handgun
and I suggested in it that the guy released the safety catch. A guy from the
police firearms unit wrote to me and said the Glock 17 handgun doesn’t
have an external safety catch. It has three internal safety mechanisms. He
went into a lot of detail. He said he used these weapons every day of his
life and felt duty-bound to tell me. I just thought that was really strange
that, a) he picked up on it, and b) he’d gone to that sort of length.
It was a weird thing.
So, if you were going to be stuck on a deserted island and could have an unlimited
supply of one alcoholic beverage, one series of books to read and one character
from any of your work brought to life to keep you company, which beverage,
which series and which character?
Red wine, I’d take as the beverage, because it is my typical choice
when I’m at home. And I’m getting to that age when beer puts the
Series of books? I’d take Lawrence Block, the Scudder books. I can always
re-read them. Although they’re good plots, they are probably more character-driven
than plot-driven because there are such interesting nuances in the Matt Scudder
character because he’s such an interesting character but not a nice
guy but certainly one you empathize with and I feel I can read them time and
time again, so I’d take those.
And Dennis Milne. It’s always been my favourite character and he’s
the person I’d bring to life as long as he didn’t shoot me.
Even though you don’t think he’s a particularly nice character?
I think he’d be nice to talk to. And I think I share quite a few traits,
apart from a predilection for solving my problems by killing people. He’s
like me enough that I think we’d have some interesting conversations.
Do you find it harder to write women?
Because I’m not one? I don’t know. It’s harder. It is harder.
I like women. I like women’s company, but I think if you ask a lot of
male writers, most find it harder. Just because they’re not one, really.
But then look at how many women write men.
I think women understand men much, much better than men understand women,
in real life, in general. They’re more cunning and manipulative. You
notice it when you see children. The boys are more easily led and a little
bit more upfront. What you see is what you get. With the women, from a very
young age, they’re cleverer and they seem to understand which buttons
to press with men. So I think they just know a bit more about men then perhaps
we know about them, so that’s why they can do it.
So you experience that with your girls?
They know which buttons to push?
They certainly do. From a very young age. My three-year-old, she was like
that when she was two, and my older one was like that very young. They learn
very young. They’re much more intelligent, at an early age, than boys.
It evens out, but at a young age they mature much quicker. You can really
spot it, because my brother’s got three boys. You see the difference
and it’s quite amazing.
So, a fun one for you. The last five books that you read that you wished you’d
Mystic River, Dennis Lehane. Gone Baby Gone, Dennis Lehane. I’m going
to have to think about this because I’m going to miss ones out. Laura
Lippman, Every Secret Thing.
I’m trying to think of ones this year but it goes out of your head.
A book called Trails of the Dead* by a guy called Jon Evans. Canadian guy,
actually. That was a really good book. Backpacker serial killer. I really
liked that and I thought he described things very very well. I wish I’d
* In North America, this book is titled Dark Places
Do you find you read while you’re writing, you can do that?
Not very often. But I was in Egypt in May and I read three or four books there.
You’ve been traveling a lot.
I have. I’ve done really well this year. Oh, Harlan Coben, Just One
Look. Blew my head off, the plot in that. I like to think I can do good twists,
but I couldn’t twist it that much and get away with it. It was a fine
line but he just got away with it with that book. To me, it’s his best
So what it is about traveling?
I like to get away and see things and I think when you work from home and
spend a lot of time sat at a desk on your own it’s quite nice to get
out and about. I like warm weather, I like blue sea and there’s plenty
of places in the world to see. You’ve got years to miss out, you can
easily miss out on these things and live to regret it and I really don’t
want to think that I could have traveled and I didn’t.
How many countries have you been to?
Twenty-six. There you go. I remembered that one.
That’s about the same number that I’ve been to. And which ones
are one your list that you want to go to that you haven’t been to?
Cambodia, for the research for the next trip. Mozambique. South Africa, for
scuba diving. And I plan to do that in the next six months if I’ve got
For scuba diving?
Yeah. Scuba diving with big sharks. Particularly in Mozambique. Those are
the three countries that I really want to get to and those are the ones that
I haven’t been to so far. I’ve never traveled in Africa and I’d
like to. I’ve been to Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula but that’s
not really Africa.
Not sub-Sahara. What did you think of Dubai when you went?
I didn’t like it that much. It’s very nice, it’s very clean,
but I don’t like the desert. That’s one landscape I don’t
like. The only reason I go to the desert, like in Egypt, is to go scuba diving.
Dubai is flat, sand and lots of buildings. The beaches aren’t that great.
It’s very clean, very nice, it doesn’t feel like the Middle East.
It feels like the west. It looks a lot like American. Big, big high buildings.
Some real architectural feats. Hotels done the shape of sails, but it’s
just too man-made.
Do you prefer to travel for setting, for history or for activities then?
Setting, but with a bit of activities. I always like to be near the sea, or
never too far from the sea. And hot. I like it hot.
Do you sail?
No. I just dive and swim. I dive a lot. That’s my big outside interest.
Now, before we wrap this up here, at the beginning of The Murder Exchange – it’s
one of my favourite openings ever in a book.
There is no feeling in the world more hopeless, more desperate, more frightening,
than when you are standing looking at the end of a gun that’s held steadily
and calmly by someone you know is going to kill you.
- The Murder Exchange
Did you have some sort of near-death experience? That whole scene, for me,
has you right there. You can imagine exactly what this person is feeling as
they’re about to die.
Yes is the answer. And I can’t talk about it.
Great! I finally hit on the one thing you won’t talk about.
I’m really sorry about that as well. But yes. I did. But I never talk
Why don’t you talk about it? Can you say that?
Because sometimes I forget about it. It’s something that happened to
me a long, long time ago. Things like that, maybe they have a more profound
effect on you than you thought they did at the time or maybe you just push
it away. But I don’t think about it very much any more. In fact, it
wouldn’t even have crossed my mind, I might not have thought about it
again for another year or two unless you’d mentioned it.
Now it’s a real pisser for you because you want to know what it is and
you’d be extremely hard-pressed to find anyone that knows. Sorry.
Now you’re going to blame me.
That’s right, since you’re the only person I’ve mentioned
I can’t believe nobody’s ever asked you that before.
No, they haven’t. No.
That’s very sloppy.
There you go. You’re a supreme interviewer.
To date, Simon Kernick has released The Business of Dying, The Murder Exchange,
The Crime Trade, A Good Day to Die and Relentless.
For more information
about Simon, his books and his latest competitions, visit www.simonkernick.com
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Sandra Ruttan’s debut suspense novel, Suspicious Circumstances,
will be released in January 2007.
Praise for Suspicious Circumstances:
“A gripping adventure, a large cast of marvelous characters, and twists
that follow turns. Read it. You’ll love it too.””
Robert Fate, author of Baby Shark
“Sandra Ruttan has graced the world of psychological thrillers
with this fast-paced, absorbing tale, fraught with corruption, murder,
mistrust, a number of unconscionable villains and two exceptionally
likable protagonists, all craftily entangled in a delightfully twisted
plot. Sit back and be prepared to get lost in this riveting story,
because you won’t want to put it down until you’ve turned
the very last page.”
JB Thompson, author of The Mozart Murders
"Suspicious Circumstances is a plot with endless twists and turns,
lots of unexpected heroes and villains, and enough unanswered questions
to keep you reading to the very end!"
Julia Buckley, author of
The Dark Backward
“Suspicious Circumstances twists and turns and twists again,
leaving the reader breathless and unsure which end is up. And that's
the beginning. Ruttan's deft touch intrigues and satisfies, making
her a powerful new force in the mystery field.”
JT Ellison, author of All The Pretty Girls, MIRA 2007
“A well executed procedural with a spark between our protagonists,
an excellent feel for political machinations on a small town scale
and a plot that twists and turns like a bad tempered rattlesnake.”
D. McLean, Crime Scene Scotland
Return to Fall 2006 Table of Contents
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