Adrian Magson is the author of 13 crime/thriller novels and many short stories and magazine articles. His latest novels are ‘Retribution’(Severn House - Sept 2012), 4th in the Harry Tate spy series, and ‘Death on the Pont Noir’ (A&B - June 2012), 3rd in the Inspector Lucas Rocco series. A regular reviewer for Shots Magazine, he writes the ‘Beginners’ and ‘New Author’ pages for WritingMagazine, and is the author of ‘Write On! - The Writer’s Help Book’ (Accent Press). He is currently working on the 4th in the Insp Lucas Rocco series and about to start the next Harry Tate spy thriller.
Q) Were there books in your home when you were a child? Did either of your parents write?
There were lots of books, among them crime novels and westerns. There were also encyclopaedias and 'useful' reference books, but I much preferred the works of fiction. My parents also allowed me to read comics, which I think helped me decide which kind of stories I liked reading - and gave me a rounded education for making stuff up. It seemed to be a cool way of earning a living (although I doubt 'cool' was a word I'd have used back then). Neither of my parents wrote, but my grandfather was a part-time journalist, so perhaps I got something from him.
Q) Why crime writing?
The first full-length adult books I read were by Leslie Charteris ('The Saint'), Louis L'Amour (westerns) and various other British and American crime novels as I came across them.I think they count as early influences. There was no going back after that!
Q) You write two books a year. Where do you find the energy and inspiration?
Desperation plays a big part - and the knowledge that this is what I always wanted to do, so don't waste the opportunity. The energy comes from the desire to keep doing it, and the inspiration... well, I still don't know where all the ideas come from. They just appear. Some stick, others don't. Long may it last.
Q) Where do you write and how do you organise your writing day?
I write in a small front room at home, looking out onto a quiet road where the last thing of any great significance to happen was two wood pigeons deciding our front fence was a great place to make babies. It took them quite a long time and lots of lost feathers before they got it right. I've been thinking I might write an erotic novel based on the event and call it 'Fifty Shades of Grey' ... or has that title been used already? I organise my day like a day at the office - only a very liberal office with lots of tea breaks. My writing is my business, and I need some kind of routine, otherwise I'd simply mess about and waste time watching TV and eating biscuits.
Q) Why did you set the Rocco novels in France? Will you run out of bridges and rivers? If you do; what then?
After writing five crime novels set in England, and a spy thriller ('Red Station' and the first of the Harry Tate series with Severn House), I wanted to see if I could write a 'Euro-novel', set in France, where I was brought up and went to school for a couple of years. It meant setting the novel in the 1960s, but that was easy for me, and it fitted with the history of France at the time which was a good backdrop to use. There were still echoes of WW2, and their own Indochina war, and a host of changes being brought about by Algerian Independence and influences from elsewhere. This became 'Death on the Marais' featuring Inspector Lucas Rocco, an investigator posted out from Paris as part of a new policing initiative. Luckily for me, my agent (David Headley) managed to sell both this and the spy novel within 24 hours of each other, and both publishers (Allison & Busby took the French one) wanted a series, so my course was set for a while. I doubt I'll run out of rivers or bridges, although I wouldn't want to get predictable. As Rocco soon finds out, there's just as much crime out in the rural stretches of Picardie and the Somme Valley as there is in Paris, so he quickly has his hands full.
Q) What would you do if you couldn’t write?
Absolutely no idea. I always wanted to write and never thought about anything else. I knew I wasn't going to set the business world alight. I used to have a day job in sales and marketing, but that wasn't really fulfilling, just something to pay the mortgage and travel around Europe a lot. In between, ever since I was in my late teens, when I sold my first short story, I was writing and selling short fiction and features - mostly to women's magazines - with a brief foray into comedy gags for radio, a short play, a YA ghost book, greetings cards scripts and compiling slogans to go on American t-shirts (my favourite was 'Even lawyers have fathers -allegedly.') Now I write books for the most part, and a regular slot in Writing Magazine ('Beginners'), which has also produced a writer's help book - 'Write On!', so I've finally been able to do what I always wanted. It took a while, but I count myself very lucky indeed.
Q) Characterisation, plot or place? Which do you think is the most important?
All of the above, but I think readers like characters first - especially in a series, because they like to follow their progress. Plot is essential, too, obviously, and once you've got a good plot, and as long as you're enjoying what you write, the pace should follow naturally. Location is important if it's part of the backdrop. Keeping the story bubbling along is very important. If your writing feels draggy, it probably is.
Q) Do you plot beforehand?
No. I've tried plenty of times, but I always go off at a tangent after a few pages and end up junking it. I think it's the 'goldfish' mentality (anyone familiar with Gary Larson's 'The Far Side' cartoons will recognise that, where knights are attacking a castle over a moat and one of them looks down and shouts 'Ooh, look - goldfish!' ) I start out with a few ideas, maybe some scenes I think will fit - even an ending sometimes before anything else. Then I begin to write and see where it goes. It sounds haphazard - and probably is, for some people - a bit like jumping off a high board. But it works for me. Anyway, I enjoy the goldfish moments.
Q What made you decide on the characters of Rocco and Tate? Is there something of you in them? Which one is more like you?
I wanted Harry Tate to be something of an everyman, with more grit and bloodymindedness rather than being any kind of superman. He's an MI5 man and former soldier (but not special forces - there are writers who do that better than me), and a reliable, loyal servant of the state...until the state (in the form of a rogue MI5 man) tries to terminate him. It immediately puts him on the outside, yet continuing to work in the intelligence/security field, and used by MI6 and others to do their odd jobs.
Lucas Rocco is a concoction, a sort of Jean Reno character in appearance. I wanted him to stand apart from his surroundings, so made him tall (which I'm not) dark, (ditto - well, not now, but I used to be once), and dressed in expensive dark clothes from England. Plonk a character like this in rural Picardie (in northern France), and he would immediately stand out. Neither Harry nor Lucas are me in any sense, although I suppose there are bits of them that I'd like to be in my dreams. The humour, perhaps, is the only thing we share.
Q) What books are you reading at the moment?
Jason Webster's 'A Death in Valencia', which I'm really enjoying. He paints a vivid picture of hot, sweaty Spain and the levels of corruption. I have a long list of reviews to catch up with after judging the CWA Short Story Dagger Awards entries, so that's my leisure reading at the moment.
Q) What do you do to relax?
Watch TV, walk, read, daydream... write. It sounds a bit banal, doesn't it? I'd like to say I do exciting things like climbing mountains or going white-water rafting, but that would be untrue. I have done 'stuff', like skiing, going down the Olympic bobsleigh run in Lillehammer, hot-air ballooning, a go at rally driving and swimming with sharks (small ones... well, they looked bloody huge through the lens of a dive mask) and one insane trip in a microlight which still makes me shiver; the 'pilot' - I use the word loosely - turned off the engine at one point to show me how we would glide. We didn't. I don't really like heights and don't ever get in a boat with me, as I have a habit of falling out.
Q) What part of writing do you enjoy the most? And least?
Apart from seeing a fresh copy of the latest book, you mean? That still gives me a buzz. But finding myself getting past the first 10,000 words and still going strong - that gives me a great feeling of optimism. The research can be fun, too (I just got back from a few days research in France, which was nice). On the other hand, the final read-through of the proofs is probably my least favourite. By then I've seen the book so many times I start to see what I expect to see, which doesn't help much. But it has to be done, so no use moaning about it. And if I wasn't doing it, it would mean I wasn't being published.
Q) Two very different series; What sort of research do you do?
With the French series I have to check detail and historical facts - but simple stuff. What car models were out at the time, the popular singers and films of the 1960s, what the French backdrop was like - any of these can trip you up. What I don't have to worry about so much is technology - there wasn't much! With the Harry Tate series, I do have to put an eye to technology, weaponry - and the world of acronyms we now live in. And because Harry travels (which Rocco doesn't do so much) I have to make sure I check details of maps, flight details and make sure he can move from place to place correctly, because I have a publisher who has an encyclopedic knowledge of flight schedules and tells me if I get it wrong. But switching from one series to the other (and thus one era to another) is actually very refreshing, because I can in turn forget about each separate world and put on my Lucas Rocco hat or my Harry Tate hat. I have to say, for the spy series, Street View and Google maps are great for checking locations, but they're huge time-wasters, too.
Q) Do you think that you will you write any ‘stand alone’ crime novels?
Never say never. The idea of writing standalones has never really drawn me, but who knows? While someone still wants my series characters, I think I'll keep going with those.
Q) You do some teaching. What advice can you give new aspiring writers?
Write the best story you can - and something you would like to read yourself. You have to enjoy your writing otherwise it can sound strained. And don't do in-depth edits as you go. Write the story, then go back and work on it, otherwise you'll never see what it will look like in the round. Oh, and read websites like SHOTS and the CRA (Crime Readers Association) and go to conventions like Crimefest. Mixing with the writing community is very helpful and great fun, and others writers, supports and reviewers are very welcoming. But you have to develop a tolerance for drink and late nights. Well, it's not mandatory, but it certainly helps. I used to be a good boy once, a tea drinker and in bed by ten - until I got published.
Q) Are you currently writing another book? Could you tell us a bit about it?
I've just finished writing the fourth Lucas Rocco book ('Death at the Clos du Lac'), a conspiracy novel involving a rogue element within the French Interior Ministry. This is set against a backdrop of French trade negotiations with China, a high-level kidnapping by agents of the state to derail the trade talks, and the discovery by Rocco of a 'safe house' that holds, among others, people who are supposed to be dead. I'm about to embark on the fifth Harry Tate novel (no title yet), which will involve... well, even I'll have to wait and see!
Books by Adrian Magson
Book 1 - Introducing Inspector Lucas Rocco
France, 1963. It 's a time of change. As part of a nationwide initiative to broaden police operations, Inspector Lucas Rocco finds himself moved from Paris to the small village of Poissons-Les-Marais. A woman wearing a Gestapo uniform has been murdered, found in a British military cemetery. The body is removed by order of a magistrate from the police mortuary before Rocco can finish his investigation. Soon, Rocco realises that he is up against an enemy who will go to any lengths, even murder to stop his investigation.
This is an eloquent and persuasive novel that introduces us to interesting and believable characters. Set in an obscure part of France, the novel is atmospheric, well plotted and executed with a plausible ending.
Death on the Rive Nord
Book 2 – Lucas Rocco
A truck drops a group of illegal workers by a deserted stretch of canal - days later, one of them is found stabbed to death and Inspector Lucas Rocco has a new case to solve. Investigating the Algerian community is a touchy activity. Rocco’s superiors are wary, they want Rocco to be diplomatic. Amongst the illegal immigrants is a young woman on the run from her brutal gangster husband, Samir Farek– who is single-minded in his mission to take over as the main gang boss in Paris.
Death on the Pont Noir
Book 3 – Inspector Lucas Rocco
Following an inexplicable ramming and gun attack on a Citroen DS in the middle of open countryside, and a bar brawl involving a group of drunken Englishmen, Inspector Lucas Rocco finds himself drawn into what has all the hallmarks of yet another plot to assassinate President Charles de Gaulle. But why are Englishmen working for a well-known pair of London gangland twins involved? And who has set fire to an ex-army truck with a body inside? Rocco finds himself once more pulled several ways while attempting to investigate events. But he is accused of taking bribes and suspected of being part of the plot. Suspended from duty, he has little time to stop what could be a disastrous event for France and for his own freedom.
Book 1 - introducing Harry Tate
Having been made the scapegoat for a botched drugs intercept operation, MI5 officer Harry Tate is dispatched to Red Station, a remote outpost in the Balkans. Soon Tate discovers the real, truly shocking, purpose behind Red Station--and decides to fight back.
Book 2 - Harry Tate
Former M15 agent Harry Tate has been hired by a government fixer to find two runaways, but then both are assassinated. Despite his misgivings, he is persuaded into a third assignment. But when he tracks down the supposed Israeli professor, things start to go very wrong.
Book 3 – Harry Tate
Former MI5 officer Harry Tate's skill at tracking down runaways is second to none--and the Security Services need his help. When MI6 ask him to trace Vanessa Tan, a lieutenant with the Royal Logistics Corps who failed to report for her return flight to Afghanistan, Harry agrees to take the job and events soon take an unexpected turn.
Book 3 – Harry Tate
"Harry. Plse make Grosvenor Square tomorrow 18.30. Urgent. Remember Mirovica." An atrocity that allegedly took place under Harry's watch in Kosovo in 1999 returns to haunt him when he receives a summons from an old UN contact. A lone assassin is tracking down all those who were present that fateful night, despatching his victims with cold, skilful efficiency. Who is he and why does he want revenge? If he is to uncover the identity of this ruthless killer and stay alive in the process, Harry must uncover what really happened in Mirovica back in 1999.
Out in September 2012