I visited the book club at Priscilla’s Tea Rooms in Sanderstead, Surrey on 10 October 2017 to discuss my first book, The Weight of Shadows, with the members. We had a fantastic discussion about the book and some of the subjects within. It was a very open and honest chat where the members were free to say exactly what they thought (shown in some questions below). The members quizzed me on various elements and I thought it might be interesting to cover some of these Q&As here.
If you read on, you might find some of the questions and answers have spoilers, which I’ve noted where they are obvious. This is inevitable when you do a proper Q&A. However, as I told the members on the evening, I won’t tell you anything that spoils the remainder of the series so I won’t answer ‘those’ questions. Certain answers below will explain a bit more about characters/story arcs within this book so you may not want to read these until you’ve read the book.
Sorry it’s taken a while to write this … The second book, The Wait for Shadows got in the way.
Thank you, Tim and Mandy, for hosting the event.
Q1 > The book has a lot of characters added very quickly in the first set of chapters. It made the book complex to understand and it felt like we needed a ‘List of Characters’. If this was done deliberately, why was it done?
Well firstly, that ‘List of Characters’ is a great idea and one I will certainly adopt from the next book.
Yes, the book was not written as a ‘cozy mystery’; it certainly isn’t one of those. The book has many story arcs and some may be difficult to follow. This is part of the reason why I deliberately introduce so many characters very quickly. I want to get these story arcs going and you need the relevant characters introduced to achieve it.
Another reason for the quick character introduction is because this book is number one of a series where many of these characters will continue. Therefore I decided to make sure you get to see them quickly so I can begin developing them with the reader. This ensures I can start to build the long-term story arcs for the series, especially through the interaction of the characters.
Q2 > So the feeling that some questions remain unanswered would be right?
Most definitely and again that is deliberate on my part.
Some story arcs are obviously completed within the book; others are deliberately left for later. If you look carefully you might see some that just raise questions in your mind. Then there are those that I’ve merely hinted at through a phrase … you’ll do well to spot these but if you read the whole series one day these may become clear.
Q3 > An example is what we know about Benedict, who we do like as a character in a book, not necessarily as a person. We don’t yet know enough about him; for example, what happened with his father?
Yes, as yet I have only started to introduce Benedict as a character. There will be many things to learn about him as the series develops. This is just one of those things you need to do in a series. You need to get the timing right.
The relationship with his father and the circumstances of his father’s death are important. You will learn more about this in book 2 in the series.
Q4 > Pip is a very strong female character … how old is she? Did you have someone in mind when you wrote the character?
She is a certainly a powerful character. As a possible head of Interpol she is very able, experienced and confident. In terms of how old she is I can tell you exactly as this is the sort of thing I have in my notebook. In 2016, when you meet her, she’s 54. She was born in 1962.
I don’t really want to reveal who I see in my head for each character but as you’ve asked I’ll tell you this one … I see Helen Mirren close to the end of the Prime Suspect series.
Q5 > There is very little by way of character physical descriptions in your writing; is this deliberate? … although you do seem to write more about the women than the men?
[Laugh] The primary reason I write a very little description of characters is that I want the reader to create their version of both the scene and the characters. I think this works far better for the reader so I don’t want to dictate (too much) what you see in your mind. I only really mention physical things that are a necessary part of their character. A good example is Wallace’s blonde hair, which she will play with at certain moments.
The other reason I don’t ‘describe’ characters or locations too much is that I really don’t like writing that wastes words on what I see as ‘unnecessary filling’. I hope, where I do it, there’s a reason and it benefits the reader.
Q6 > The book reads as if you have spent a lot of time researching the detail so you got this right. How true is this?
Well I certainly did spend time on the things that needed research. You cannot include ‘detail’ if it doesn’t stand up because you’ll just have somebody telling you that it’s wrong. I’m also keen on getting little things right because it helps me create the chapter in my mind before I write it. So, details such as getting the food right in a restaurant are important for me.
[SPOILER ALERT] A really good example of more complex detail is the shooting into the US Embassy car when Alice is abducted. I researched which car might be used by them and whether it could or couldn’t take a bullet from that assault rifle from a given distance. I did all of this before writing the scene.
Q7 > Given the hints you’ve provided to the background of Benedict, it feels like you could write at least a few novels about what happened leading up to this book. Would you consider it?
Yes I think that might work and if people find Benedict interesting it might be good to build on his character with them … but I need to write this series first.
Q8 > Hanson is an interesting character. It’s hard to decide what to think about him. Is this deliberate?
Yes, very much so. As the writer/narrator I want to just tell you the story and let you decide what you think about a character. I want to remain neutral. Someone like Hanson will not be easy to assess and so he’s going to challenge you. Some people will think he’s ok and others will think he’s deplorable.
The basic question of ‘right and wrong’ is a strong theme in the book and through the series. A character like Hanson allows us to consider this and see how that might be tested. Then, when you add in Benedict, we can delve into this further and consider it philosophically.
Q9 > A straight question … is the sniper who shot the deer in Chapter 1, Raske?
[SPOILER ALERT] Yes.
Q10 > Does Raske play a part later in the series?
[SPOILER ALERT] You will have to read the rest of the series.
Q11 > We did notice the reference to the book code. Can you give us some clues?
Not really because I’m going to make an announcement about this at some point in the future. But it’s not something you’ll spot on the off-chance … it’s much more complicated than that.
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