08-13-2012 08:16 PM
08-13-2012 08:19 PM
I made several attempts to write while I was at university, but never managed to get beyond a few pages. It wasn't that I couldn't write, it was more a case of not having enough experience to draw on. I found plots difficult, and had no idea how to construct believable and sympathetic characters,
I didn't start writing again until I was in my late twenties and working as journalist. I'd studied biochemistry at the University of Bath, but had decided that I didn't want a career as a scientist. During my third year at university I'd worked as a barman, and one evening had fallen into conversation with a drunken journalist. He made his job sound so much fun that I decided there and then that I was going to be a reporter.
After graduating, I was offered a place on the Daily Mirror Graduate Training Scheme, where I was trained as a journalist. They taught me how to ask questions, how to gather facts, and how to construct a story. In short, they taught me how to write. And once I was in the habit of writing a couple of thousand words a day, I had the confidence to start writing fiction again.
I wrote my first book, Pay Off, while I was working as a journalist in the City office of the Daily Mirror newspaper. Harper Collins bought it, and my next thriller,The Fireman, which I wrote while I was working as Business Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.
Hungry Ghost was my second book to be set in Hong Kong, and then I returned to London to work for The Times as a night news editor. It was at the time of a major IRA bombing campaign and I wrote The Chinaman, the story of a man whose family is killed in a terrorist bombing. I'd left Harper Collins by then and The Chinaman went to auction and was bought by Hodder and Stoughton, who have been my publishers since 1992. It was my first real bestseller and is still selling well. It has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
I started writing full time after I sold The Chinaman, and returned to Hong Kong to write The Vets. It was my biggest book by far - in terms of words written. The first draft was more than 300,000 words and I ended up throwing away 50,000 words. Generally I try to write books between 120,000 and 160,000 words.
After publication of The Birthday Girl I moved to Dublin where I wrote The Double Tap, then I returned to the Far East to write The Solitary Man (Hong Kong and Thailand) and The Tunnel Rats (Thailand and Vietnam).
My publishers were keen for me to start setting my novels back in the UK (I'd had a run of stories set in South East Asia) so I wrote The Bombmaker, which was published in 1999, a kidnapping story set in Dublin and London. It was filmed for Sky One with the marvelous Dervla Kirwan playing the part of Andrea Hayes, an IRA bombmaker who is forced out of retirement by the kidnapping of her young daughter. Mark Womack played the part of Martin Hayes, her husband.
I wrote another TV drama for Sky called The Stretch. It's a two-part London gangster story and featured Eastenders stars Leslie Grantham and Anita Dobson. Hodder and Stoughton were keen to have The Stretch as a book and it was published in 2000. It was the easiest book to write by far as I already the dialogue in the scripts and I'd had the opportunity of seeing Anita and Leslie playing the roles. The book took less than three months to write, much less than the year it usually takes me.
My next book was Tango One, published in February 2002. It's about an undercover police operation to bring down a multi-national drugs dealer, Den Donovan. Donovan has more than the undercover cops to worry about - his wife and accountant have stolen $60 million from him, a Colombian gang is after his blood and he has to bring up his young son alone. All this while he's Tango One - number one on HM Customs and Excise List of most wanted criminals.
The Eyewitness was published in February 2003 and is a dark, gritty, story about a forensic detective working in Sarajevo who tries to track down the only witness to a mass murder in the killing fields of the former Yugoslavia. The hero, Jack Solomon, comes up against corrupt cops, the Albanian mafia and Maltese gangsters as he tries to bring the killers to justice.
The book published in 2004 was Hard Landing, the story of an undercover policeman who is sent into a maximum-security prison in the UK to bring down a drugs baron who is running his organisation from behind bars. As part of the research for Hard Landing I spent a day inside Belmarsh Prison in South London, where best-selling author Jeffrey Archer was a recent guest. I was chuffed to discover that my books were a big hit in the prison library. The hero is SAS-trooper turned undercover cop Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd. I intend to make Spider Shepherd the hero of my next few books. One of my big regrets was killing off Mike ‘Joker’ Cramer who appeared in The Chinaman, The Long Shot and The Double Tap. I won’t make the same mistake with Spider!
In Soft Target, published in 2005, I have Shepherd investigating a rogue armed police unit, a woman who wants her gangster husband murdered, and terrorists planning a major bombing campaign on the Tube. The events I wrote about became horribly true on July 7 when four ‘British’ Muslim suicide bombers killed more than fifty people in London. In the book, Shepherd shoots a suspected terrorist in the back of the head seven times, another event that was dramatically mirrored by a real-life incident. A lot of so-called terrorism experts are now claiming to be wise after the event, but Soft Target was on the shelves five months before the bombs went off.
The third book to feature Shepherd was Cold Kill, published in February 2006. In Cold Kill he is up against terrorists who want to blow up the Eurostar as it passes underneath the English Channel. I just hope that I am not overtaken by events. Part of the new book is set in Sydney, Australia, another city which I fear will be hit by terrorists sooner rather than later. We’ll see. Cold Kill was nominated for the Best Novel category in the 2007 Thrillerfest in New York and for Best Thriller in the 11th Annual Barry Awards at Bouchercon in Anchorage, Alaska.
The fourth Spider Shepherd book was Hot Blood, published in February 2007, in which Shepherd has to decide how far he can go to save the life of a former SAS colleague. Geordie Mitchell is kidnapped by terrorists in Iraq, thrown into a basement and the world is told that he’ll be beheaded within fourteen days. The British Government is powerless to help so it’s up to Shepherd and his friends to do what they can to get Mitchell out. But the only way of rescuing Mitchell is to be as merciless as the terrorists themselves.
The Dan Shepherd book for 2009 was Live Fire in which Spider has to infiltrate a team of bank robbers who are hiding out in Thailand. The mission puts him on a collision course with a group of Islamic fundamentalists who are planning to shoot down an airliner at Heathrow Airport.
In January 2010 Hodder and Stoughton published my book Nightfall, the first in a new series featuring a detective called Jack Nightingale. Nightingale is a former Met hostage negotiator turned private eye whose life is turned upside down when he discovers that he was adopted at birth and that his real father was a Satanic devil-worshiper who has just killed himself. I hope it will become a long-running series. It means I’ll be writing two books a year from now on. The Nightingale books will be published in January each year and the Dan Shepherd books will be out in July.
I have set up a website for the Nightingale books at at www.jacknightingale.com.The second Nightingale book, Midnight, published in January 2011, was about Nightingale’s hunt for his sister, whose soul has also been promised to a demon from Hell. In 2012 Hodder published the third Jack Nightingale book, Nightmare, which has a shocking ending and sets the scene for him becoming a continuing character in a series of supernatural mysteries.
The second Nightingale book, Midnight, published in January 2011, was about Nightingale’s hunt for his sister, whose soul has also been promised to a demon from Hell. In 2012 Hodder published the third Jack Nightingale book, Nightmare, which has a shocking ending and sets the scene for him becoming a continuing character in a series of supernatural mysteries.
Dan Shepherd appeared again in the summer of 2010 in a book called Rough Justice, in which he comes up against a group of vigilante cops. I had great fun doing the research with members of the Met’s Territorial Support Group. They do a tough job under very difficult conditions and I have a huge amount of respect for them.
In July 2011, Hodder and Stoughton published Fair Game, in which Spider Shepherd goes undercover on one of the world’s largest container ships which is about to be seized by Somali pirates. Spider also has problems on the home front, with an IRA assassin on his tail. It’s one of my most violent books and I think it’s one of my best. I spent more than two weeks on a container ship sailing from Malaysia to Southampton doing the research.
The book for 2012 is False Friends, which begins with the assassination of Osama Bin Laden (yes, Spider was involved!) and ends with a terrorist outrage in a London shopping mall. The Spider book for 2013 is provisionally called True Colours. I’m keeping the plot close to my chest.
Most of the books I write are big international thrillers, but I like to stretch myself by writing in other genres. The problem is that they are not the type of books that my publisher, Hodder and Stoughton, wants to publish. Three of the unpublished works are: Once Bitten, (a British psychologist tracks down vampires in Los Angeles); The Basement (a serial killer story with a great twist) and Dreamer’s Cat (a virtual reality murder mystery). I think they are among the best things I’ve written. Read them and judge for yourself! They’re all available now on Kindle or other eBook devices and have all been eBook bestsellers since they were released in November 2010.
Private Dancer, the story of a doomed relationship between a travel writer and a Thai bargirl, was an unpublished on-line work for many years but it is now available in bookstores throughout Southeast Asia and on Amazon, and it’s available on Kindle.
I have also collaborated with Warren Olson, a Kiwi who was a private detective in Bangkok for ten years. Together we have produced Confessions Of A Bangkok Private Eye, based on more than two dozen of his cases. It’s different from my regular thrillers but it’s fun and gives you an idea of what a crazy place Thailand can be. The book is published by Monsoon Books in Singapore by my good friend Phil Tatham, who also publishes Private Dancer outside Thailand.
I’ve finally written the first Bangkok Bob novel – Bangkok Bob and the Missing Mormon and I hope it will become a continuing series. It’s published by Monsoon Books in Singapore and is also available as an eBook.
I’ve also written several short stories including several stories about a Singapore detective, Inspector Zhang. They’re locked room mysteries which are great fun to write! I’m planning to do at least eight, which will make a complete book. I have already put four of them on sale as eBooks and they are available on Kindle. I have also started writing short erotic short stories – so far Banging Bill’s Wife, The Alphabet Game and The Pregnant Wife are available as eBooks. I’ll be doing more!
I’ve also published an eBook modestly called The Bestseller, about a writer who is prepared to kill to write a best-selling book. If I get any spare time I’ll be working on a new thriller set in the United States, using Richard Yokely, who appears in several of the Spider Shepherd books. And I really want to do a sequel to Private Dancer. I just wish there were more hours in the day.
08-13-2012 08:55 PM
08-13-2012 09:06 PM
Stephen's website is here: www.stephenleather.com
Stephen Leather is one of the UK's most successful thriller writers. He was a journalist for more than ten years on newspapers such as The Times, the Daily Mail and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Before that, he was employed as a biochemist for ICI, shovelled limestone in a quarry, worked as a baker, a petrol pump attendant, a barman, and worked for the Inland Revenue. He began writing full time in 1992. His bestsellers have been translated into more than ten languages. He has also written for television shows such as London's Burning, The Knock and the BBC's Murder in Mind series.Read more...
08-13-2012 09:09 PM
When Osama Bin Laden is tracked down and killed by the Navy Seal operation in a highly protected compound in Pakistan, it's obvious there was a leak from within. After the source is revealed to be students Malik and Chaudhry—ex-Islamic fundamentalists recruited by MI5 to disguise themselves as British terrorists—they are immediately under threat from al-Qaeda, who have sent an assassin to torture and kill anyone they suspect to be the traitor.
With the assassin closing in, Shepherd is drafted in to teach the pair how to survive undercover, but it's a major challenge. Spider is used to playing undercover cop, not the handler. And when Malik and Chaudhry are recruited to stop a Muslim extremist group's terrorist attack on a London shopping center, he is forced to lie to them about the danger they are in. With his loyalties split, can he protect them before it's too late?
08-13-2012 09:10 PM
By STEPHEN LEATHER
Research plays a crucial part of the creation of any book, but especially with mysteries. A mystery writer has to get the details right. Readers these days are technically savvy and are quick to get in touch to point out mistakes.
I’ve made a few mistakes in my twenty-odd years as a professional novelist and it’s usually weapons that have let me down. I once made the basic mistake of saying that a Glock has a safety switch. In fact it doesn’t, it has a special trigger that acts as its own safety device.
And I once had one of my characters fire an automatic with several blank cartridges in the clip. A reader got in touch to tell me that there isn’t enough blowback from a blank cartridge to move the slide back, eject the spent cartridge and slot in a fresh one. Basically, if you have blanks in an automatic, you can only fire once.
Who knew? Well, of course, lots of people know. So as a writer you have to do everything you can to make sure that you get your facts right.
A mistake that I’ve never made but have seen in a few books – and in the occasional movie – is to have a suppressor (never to be called a silencer) on a revolver. They only work on automatics.
These days any decent search engine will get the information you need from the Internet. But I’ve been writing professionally for more than twenty years, and when I started there was no Internet. Every fact had to be obtained and checked the old-fashioned way, by speaking to people. In my book The Long Shot I wrote about a sniper who used a special long-range gun to take out his targets. I had to track down the manufacturer in the States and persuade them to post me a manual and video tape.
In my book The Vets I wrote in great detail about a group of Vietnam War vets who refurbish an old Huey helicopter for an audacious robbery in Hong Kong. I found a National Guard team in Maryland who had a Huey and they were gracious enough to spend hours showing me around.
As I’m based in the United Kingdom, which has almost no private ownership of guns, it’s difficult for me to get to see real weapons. I have good contacts within the armed police in London and have been in their armoury, but that doesn’t help me to describe what it feels like to fire a weapon.
I’ve travelled to the States many times and always take the opportunity to visit gun clubs and fire a selection of weapons. For the larger weapons, like mortars and machine guns, I go to Cambodia, where for a few dollars you can pretty much fire any weapon that the army has on one of their ranges. I’ve fired large machine guns and mortars, and once threw a hand grenade. If you pay enough money I’m told you can even fire an RPG.
There is no doubt that the Internet has made research much easier for writers. The Internet allows us to do research without ever having to leave our desks. If you need to know about a hotel in Moscow, the chances are it’ll have a website. If you want to set in a scene in a square on the other side of the world, you can do it courtesy of Google Earth. Pretty much any information you might need to write your book is out there.
But I’m still a big fan of getting out there and seeing for myself what a place is like before I write about it. To research my book Fair Game I spent more than two weeks on a cargo ship sailing from Malaysia to the UK. The book is about Somali pirates seizing ships off the coast of Africa and I needed to know what life was like on a container ship the size of several football fields. Reading all the manuals in the world or trawling the Internet would never have given me the sights, sounds and smells that I experienced by making the voyage.
My latest book, False Friends, is about a group of home-grown terrorists who set out to commit a terrorist atrocity in a London shopping mall. It’s set in a part of London I wasn’t familiar with so I spent several days walking the streets, visiting shops and restaurants, and just watching what went on. I spent a full day walking around the mall featured in the book, notebook in hand, thinking like a terrorist. Then I talked through the plot with two police contacts. Coincidentally one of them, an armed officer, was in the very same mall a few weeks later doing a security assessment and he confirmed that all my details were bang on.
A larger part of the new book involves covert surveillance. Dan “Spider” Shepherd, a former SAS soldier who now works for MI5, has to babysit two British Muslim students who have infiltrated an al-Qaeda cell. He briefs them on surveillance and counter-surveillance and to get that background information I spent a lot of time with a Metropolitan Police surveillance expert. It was from long conversations with him that I got the details necessary to make the book as realistic as it is.
The Internet is a great tool for research, there’s no question about that. But there’s no substitute for pulling on a pair of comfortable shoes and walking around a city soaking up the atmosphere and talking to people. Because at the end of the day books are about characters and the only way to meet characters is to get away from your desk and out into the real world.
08-14-2012 08:20 AM
08-14-2012 11:11 AM
Welcome Stephen: your books look very intriguing - I will have to check them out - enjoy your visit with us!
Ditto. Enjoyed reading your blog, Stephen.Loved that picture which looked like you sitting, with GW Bush and Colin Powell standing! Did you actually get to the Oval Office, or were those look-alike actors?
08-14-2012 11:14 AM
Hi, Stephen, wonderful blog! Though I have not read any of your books, I intend to. Thanks for being on the Forum today.
08-15-2012 11:09 AM
08-15-2012 11:28 AM - edited 08-15-2012 11:35 AM