“Kernick is a master of the well paced plot and his observant depictions of recognisable character types in unexpected or dangerous circumstances are a vital part of his story telling technique.”
You get your inspiration from plenty of different sources: a conversation in a pub, an article in a magazine, an interview with a cop or a crook… Only once have I ever got mine from a nightmare. That’s what happened with my new paperback, Relentless, and I was at a crime convention, which I suppose has a perverse irony about it.
It was Toronto, in early October 2004, at Bouchercon, the US crimewriting fraternity’s annual shindig. I’d been out for a few drinks the evening before with a number of fellow authors, and after a very late night, I’d staggered back to my hotel room and fallen into a near coma. Like a lot of drunken sleeps, it was disturbed and shallow, and I remember waking up about six am with a roaring hangover. I tossed and turned for a few minutes before slipping under again.
And then it began.
It was so vivid that I’ll never forget it until the day I die. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon. I was at home, playing with my two young kids in the garden when the phone rang from inside the house. Leaving them there, I went back inside and picked it up. It was an old friend of mine, but a guy I hadn’t heard from in years, and straight away I could tell something was wrong. He was gasping, and it sounded like he was running. ‘You’ve got to help me,’ he was saying, desperation in his voice. ‘Please.’ I kept asking him what was wrong, but all he did was repeat that I had to help him. Then he screamed, and I heard a violent commotion at the other end of the line. There was a pause. It seemed to last a long time. And when he finally spoke, his voice little more than a gasp, it was clear he was addressing someone else. And what he was saying filled me with dread, because it was the first two lines of my address.
There was a choking sound and then the line went dead.
For a long moment, I simply didn’t know what to do. Was it a hoax? Had I misheard him? But then the fear began to kick in as I realized that, unless I was very much mistaken- and I was damn sure I wasn’t- what I’d just heard was my friend being murdered, and that for some bizarre reason his last act on this earth was to tell his killers where I lived. I had no idea what they could possibly want from me, but there was no way I was hanging round to find out. Telling myself I was being ridiculously paranoid, I grabbed my kids, put them in the car, and took them to my mother’s house. Making an excuse to her as to why I had to leave them there, I immediately drove back home, hoping to confirm to myself that I was just being an idiot.
But as I turned the corner into my estate, I saw a car with tinted windows pull up and three men I didn’t recognize jump out and walk purposefully up my drive.
I wasn’t being paranoid. Not at all. For some reason I simply couldn’t comprehend, I was being hunted.
That was the end of the dream. I woke up in a cold sweat, absolutely petrified, and it took me a good few minutes to realize that what I’d just been witnessing wasn’t reality, and I was so relieved I almost laughed out loud.
Two hours later, refreshed and still relieved, I was at the convention having coffee with two fellow authors. I told them about my dream, and as I spoke, both their eyes lit up. Amazingly, up to this point, I’d not even thought about using it as a book, but now I suddenly realized that I had a really good idea here.
I looked both authors firmly in the eye, and told them simply that if they pinched my plot, I’d kill them. They both assured me they would. I told them I could write faster. And I did.
The result was Relentless. And I’ve been waiting in vain for another nightmare ever since.
Luckily, with my new hardback, Severed, released in the UK in June, it’s somebody else’s nightmare as ex-soldier, Dan Tyler, wakes up in a strange room next to the headless body of his new lover with no idea how he, or indeed she, got there. Unfortunately for him, other people do, and what’s worse is they have film footage which appears to show Tyler killing her. Unless he does exactly what they say, the footage is going straight into the hands of the police.
Tyler’s task is to take a briefcase containing a hundred and fifty thousand pounds to an address in East London and exchange it for another briefcase. Tyler doesn’t know what this new briefcase contains, and no one wants to tell him either. All he knows is that it’s booby trapped and will explode if anyone attempts to open it without the security code.
But things go wrong at the exchange. The man Tyler’s collecting the case from dies before revealing the code and Tyler himself only just gets out alive. Now he’s on the run with the police after him on suspicion of murder, and his unseen tormentors desperate to get their hands on the case.
And Tyler knows that if he continues to comply with their demands, then there’s no way they’re going to let him live. So, calling on the services of an old army friend, he decides to turn the tables. He’s not going to deliver the case to them. If they want it, they’re going to have to come to him.
But it’s a high risk strategy and for Tyler time’s running out. In the next twelve hours, he’s got to avoid the police, stay alive in the face of unseen and deadly assassins, including a mysterious killer known only as The Vampire, and find out who’s pulling the strings, and why they’ve targeted him.
And the clock’s ticking fast.
Murder, mayhem, headless bodies of pretty women lying next to you in bed…
I’m not even going to begin to tell you how I got the inspiration for that particular story…
Relentless (Mass Market Paperback) Corgi £6.99
Severed (Hardback) Bantam Press £16.99 June 2007