Article published on January 23, 2012.
Simon Kernick is one of Britain’s most exciting new thriller writers. He arrived on the crime writing scene with his highly acclaimed debut novel The Business of Dying, the story of a corrupt cop moonlighting as a hitman. However, Simon’s big breakthrough came with his novel Relentless which was selected by Richard and Judy for their Recommended Summer Reads promotion, and then rapidly went on to become the bestselling thriller of 2007. Simon’s research is what makes his thrillers so authentic. He talks both on and off the record to members of Special Branch, the Anti-Terrorist Branch and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, so he gets to hear first hand what actually happens in the dark and murky underbelly of UK crime.
His latest novel is Siege.
Are you a bookgeek?
I like my books, and read as much as I can, but I’ve never thought that I was a geek about it, but then, maybe I am. I couldn’t live without them.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given (and do you follow it)?
Write something every day, even if it’s just a few lines. And, yes, when I’m working on a book, which is most of the year, I do follow that advice as closely as I can.
Which authors do you find most inspiring as a writer?
Crikey, there are hundreds, but those who’ve been the most influence would almost certainly include Lawrence Block, Agatha Christie, Dennis Lehane and JRR Tolkien.
Do you have an audience in mind when writing, or do you just write for yourself?
Both, I suppose. On the one hand, I try to reach people who enjoy a fast-moving story, which I’m hoping is most of us, but at the same time, I wouldn’t write anything that I didn’t think I’d enjoy.
Where do you write, and why?
I can write anywhere but tend to do it in my office at home. It’s in one of the spare bedrooms with a nice view of a big oak tree out the front, and it’s proved to be a comfortable place to write.
Tell us the book you most wish you had written.
There’s more than one. Every time I read a really brilliant book (particularly a crime thriller), I end up wishing I’d written it myself. I particularly admire great twists and, for that reason, it would probably be The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.
Siege takes place over a very brief time frame, and almost demands to be read in a single sitting. How hard do you find it to step away from the laptop when writing something so pacey?
Well, the thing is, even writing a short, action-packed scene can take the best part of a day, so it’s easier to step away than you might think. Also, the first draft of any of my books is never anywhere near as pacy as the finished article, so a lot of the faster scenes are inserted afterwards. Siege was an exhausting write and, though I largely enjoyed doing it, I used to look forward to finishing for the day.
Like many writers, your route to publication was a long and painful one. What’s been the most rewarding thing about life as published author?
Getting an agent. It was the first time anyone had ever expressed any professional interest in anything I’d written after years of standard letter rejections. I remember being unbelievably excited and truly chuffed. Even getting my first book deal didn’t trump that.
You’ve been bouncing ideas around for your next book on your website in recent months. Can you tell us any more about it now?
Sadly not. I’m still fighting with two or three ideas. I thought I had the book I wanted but in the last few hours, I’ve had second thoughts. That often happens about this stage, although I’m hoping to be writing something within the next week.
A lot of the antagonists in Siege are ex-Forces guys who seem to have fallen through the cracks on their return to civilian life. Have you any thoughts on how the military could better prepare troops for life back home?
Before I read Siege, I saw several TV programmes about soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and undergoing some real hard times when they left the army. I think it’s more up to the government to help veterans when they return to civilian life. They could do this by providing apprenticeships, improved access to public sector jobs and educational courses on the one hand, and ready access to counseling and welfare payments on the other, so that veterans don’t feel like they’re no longer wanted. Also, I think all of us should show pride in the commitment and bravery of our armed forces, who do an extremely tough job for comparatively little financial reward.
Knowing what you know from your research about the criminal underworld and the steps taken to fight it, do you find it easier or tougher to sleep at night?
Tougher. In my experience, criminals by and large don’t fear the British justice system, and as a result, it doesn’t act as anything like the deterrent it should.
Additional questions by Mike Stafford. Photo credit: Johnny Ring.
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