It will become clear why my guest blogger this week is Dave Sivers. Most of you will recognise him from Crimefest where he hangs around the bar waiting for a Scottish crime writer to buy him a drink - and that never happens of course.
Seriously though, he made a passing visit to Glasgow last week, so I nabbed him and interviewed him for the blog, asking him some serious and some not so serious questions.
He has a very English accent. An accent that I think belongs to spies. So, in my mind, he is a spy. In my universe, he is a master of intelligence. Not the James Bondy spy shooting people but the more Smiley type of spy (as in John Le Carre not somebody of a happy disposition). I would imagine him strolling along beside the pond at St James Park and feeding the ducks. Another man would then walk up and stand beside him... and a conversation will commence.
'Jeffrey looks good in his tutu by the Danube at night.'
'Indeed, and when the night pig flies, EvKa will also be eating risotto'
And that is very Kim Philby etc etc
But Dave Sivers is not a spy, he is a fan of Queen's Park Rangers. One of three I believe.
Here is how he stood up to my interrogation....
Are you a spy?
Err… no. NO! Definitely not.
2) Are you sure you’re not a spy?
I think I’d know, wouldn’t I? I mean unless someone planted a micro-camera on me, like some sort of espionage mule. I think the footage would be a bit dull, to be honest.
This is not an espionage mule, but he had a lovely smiley face...(happt disposition etc)
3) Would you tell me if you were?
I guess I’d have to kill you if I did, which would be a shame. Between us we could probably come up with a nice, grisly method though.
4) Would you ever have a crime writing encounter in the toilets at QPR?
I’m not even sure I want to understand that question! Have you seen those toilets? Thanks for plugging my team, all the same.
QPR's most famous player is Stanley Bowles. During a televised target shooting programme he once shot the table the pistol was resting on by mistake...
5) You’re very well-travelled, what is your favourite place in the world? The blog features writers who write about Scotland, England, Norway, Greece, South America, South Africa, India, Japan, France and others ( that was in no order of importance!!) How many of them have you visited. Was Scotland best?
The Chilterns, right where I live, is pretty hard to beat. Scotland’s good – I had a great time in the Bens and Glens many years ago. Favourite places to travel, though? Tough. New Orleans was unquestionably my favourite city ever, although I went the year before Katrina - going back one day is on the bucket list. New Zealand is probably the one country I’d consider living if I didn’t live here. I loved South Africa too. On your list, South America and Japan are the only ones I’ve yet to visit.
This is photograph of a Chiltern from the Daily Mail. Not very pointy mountains!
6) Tell us about Archer & Baines?
DI Lizzie Archer and DS Dan Baines work out of Aylesbury police station, and cover Aylesbury Vale, the part of Buckinghamshire where I live. Archer transferred in from the Met in the first book, The Scars Beneath the Soul, hoping for a fresh start after a horrific incident left her facially disfigured and shattered her self-confidence. Baines’s wife was murdered and his small son abducted by a serial killer over a decade ago, and he still doesn’t know if his son is alive – but a teenage version of the boy haunts him in dreams and waking visions. Baines is also in love with his dead wife’s identical twin sister. When I planned the series, I wanted two protagonists with powerful back stories that would make readers want to know what happened to them next. So each book has new crimes and mysteries, but also new developments in the characters’ lives.
7) Like me, you have another job as well. Do you have a writing routine?
My other job is part-time and has no set routine, either when I work or where, although I do have quite a bit of notice. I also have an allotment on which things need to be done at certain times of year, and those jobs can be quite weather-sensitive. So I plan from week to week and build in writing sessions where I can. I do try to put in an hour before breakfast most days and also aim for a solid half-day during the week whenever the diary allows. I am able to write on trains and in cafes though, so even otherwise busy weeks can have quite a bit of writing squeezed in.
To be Hank, is rhyming slang for being hungry.
You should be able to work that out yourself.
8) How many languages do you speak? Do you speak cockney rhyming slang?
I speak English moderately well and managed better than I expected with my rusty, failed O Level, schoolboy French in Provence a few years back. I’ve been accused of speaking double Dutch and rubbish. I know quite a few cockney rhyming slang phrases, but doesn’t feature much in my everyday dialogue. I don’t want to be mistaken for an extra from My Fair Lady or, even worse, a Dick Van Dyke fanboy.
9) Why do you independently publish?
I’m a lifelong scribbler. When I took early retirement from the day job, I’d been seriously trying to get a novel published for an awfully long time. Feedback from agents, publishers and readers whose critical opinion I trusted was very good, but the traditional deal wasn’t happening. I originally dipped my toe in the indie ebook water just because I needed to try something different. Five books on, with the sixth almost here, I love the control that having my own business and brand gives me. The process that gets the book to market, in terms of editing (I now use a professional copy-editor as well as four trusted readers), putting together the book ‘package’, and drawing up a launch plan – but all the ultimate decisions are mine, including price and marketing strategies. I now publish in paperback as well as ebook. I think if you’re professional, put the work in to offer the best product you possibly can, and – most important of all – write a good book, readers won’t know or care how it was published – they just want a good read. I’d never say never about anything, but I’m more than happy with my writing job as it is.
10) The artwork for your covers is some of the best I have ever seen. Can you tell us how you achieve that?
Thank you! But the simple answer is, I got lucky. The original Archer and Baines ebook covers I made myself, photoshopping relevant local scenes with fancy filters and adding text – and the response was quite complimentary. But when I decided to branch out into paperback, I knew I didn’t have the technical skills to get the dimensions just right, do the spine etc. I belong to the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), which has a vibrant online forum. So I asked for recommendations for a cover designer, and the name that kept coming up was Jessica Bell. A glance at her website showed that she was exactly what I wanted, and it’s amazing having such a talented, professional artist on my team. She understands the brief and works with the author to get the cover just right. The Archer and Baines covers have drawn a huge number of admiring glances, and a number of other authors have used her services on the strength of them.
Reading Tolkien is a bad hobbit to get into.
11) What is the book you wish you had written?
That’s simple. The Lord of the Rings. Maybe with a side bet on any one of a number of Stephen Kings – Salem’s Lot, The Shining or Christine would do nicely.
12) Any advice for the up and coming novelist?
Before you worry about your route to publication, really learn your writing craft. Read, read, read, especially the sort of stuff you want to write; do courses, but check out who’s teaching – I’ve seen courses on how to write a novel advertised with tutors who haven’t a published novel to their name; go to festivals and start networking and being exposed to panels and speakers on books and writing – you’ll come away inspired, with lots of buzzy new ideas. The surest way to disappoint yourself is to submit something to an agent, or self-publish it, before it’s really good to go.
It’s also never too soon to start building your online presence – a website, a blog, social media. Ideally, you need to have all this in place at least three years before your first book is published, because these days you’ll need those platforms, whether you’re traditionally or independently published. The online crime fiction community is incredibly friendly and generous in its support, and you’ll be able to see how experienced authors go about promoting their work before it’s your turn.
Dave Sivers 15 01 2016