For an author who writes about the past, Gordon Ferris has taken a very 21st century route towards success.
When his publisher Corvus, part of the Atlantic book group, decided to publish his third 1940s set thriller, “The Hanging Shed”, a couple of years ago, the company originally decided to go the conventional route of limited hardback release followed by mass market paperback.
However, noticing Kindles and other e-readers were growing in popularity, the though occurred that there would be thousands of such devices being opened on Christmas Day, but with nothing to download onto them.
Atlantic decided to provide something by releasing a number of their titles on Christmas, among them “The Hanging Shed”.
Readers responded by lauding Ferris’ Glasgow crime story on on-line review sites and it became a runaway success, climbing to the top of the e-book charts and becoming a bestseller even before the print version was released with over 200,000 electronic copies sold in just over six months, making Ferris Kindle UK’s bestselling author to date.
Ferris, who turned to writing after a successful career with leading accountancy company Price Waterhouse, was more than happy to see his period thriller released initially electronically rather than on paper.
“I began life as a computer programmer and I’ve always worked in technology, so the notion of going out as an e-book was highly appealing,” he explained.
“My first two books came out in 2007 from a very small publishing house and rose without trace, so the bigger opportunity to reach people afforded by electronic publishing was right up my street.”
However, as Ferris points out, the “e” in e-book is only about the method of delivery to the reader and success in that format relies on the same things provided by print bestsellers.
“You can’t get away with rubbish. Unless the story’s good and the writing appeals, it’s going to go nowhere,” he stated.
Having bought back his electronic sales rights from his original publisher for his first novels, which are also set in post-war Britain but feature SOE agent turned private investigator Danny McRae, they also climbed quickly up the e-book charts. Corvus have also taken on the books and re-published them in hardback.
However, Ferris is quick to point out that his is no overnight success story.
“I’ve been at this for 12 years and it was only in 2007 that I was published for the first time,” pointed out Ferris, who calculates he must have written around a million words to learn his craft.
“Interestingly, I was interviewed by Edi Stark on Radio Scotland’s ‘Book Cafe’. She suggested it was almost a shame that I’d left it so late and asked if I didn’t think I should have been writing years ago.
“In truth I’m not sure I would have had anything to say 20 or 30 years ago. I’ve now got a bit of experience and have read voraciously. I now know where I’m going with characters and plots and what I want to say and have enough worldly experience to bring to bear on my writing. I may never catch up with the sheer mountains of books produced by someone like Ian Rankin, but what I’m doing now I’m very happy with. I don’t regret not going down this path earlier.”
Equally he is happy to stay in the 1940s with his crime novels.
“It’s partly a forgotten point in time,” he said.
“The men coming back from the war, dropping their uniforms and slipping into pinstripes and re-appearing at their front door, their wives and kids hardly knowing them and in the middle of this was this extraordinary social upheaval with the rise of the welfare state and the great British social experiment.
“I found what was going on then absolutely fascinating, Britain being bankrupt and a nation generally struggling to its feet again. It just seemed a very rich background to work some stories around.”
In doing so he has drawn on the experiences of his own family. Though his father was too young to have fought in the war, he was called up and served as a paratrooper in British occupied Palestine soon afterwards while his mother, then still a teenager, joined her own parents in searching for work in bomb ravaged London.
“I’m keen to tell a bit of their story through other people’s stories. There was certainly enough discussion in the family for me to want to recreate it in a way,” he explained,
There is another advantage for the crime writer in setting his stories in the past.
“I didn’t have to get involved in all this CSI stuff or worryabout mobile phones,” Ferris revealed.
“It’s the relationships between the characters and how they react that’s important and not the technology or forensic science.”
BITTER WATER published 1 April 2012, Corvus £12.99 HBK
Photo© Jerry Bauer