Kort & Krachtig

(The following interview first appeared in the Kort & Krachtig section of the Dutch books website ezzulia.nl in March 2008.)

What are the ingredients of a good book in your genre? I’m interested in crossing and mixing genres to try to spark a new or different reading experience, more than in following a particular genre. That said, I really enjoy the conventions of the thriller, the religious mystery, the intellectual puzzler or the fantasy story, and try to reflect that enjoyment in my writing. What I enjoy even more, though, is mixing those conventions up with “genres” of a different kind, such as geo-caching, or blogging, or the walking tour, which tell stories too, but in a different, sometimes more physical or experiential way. The best writing in any genre transcends the genre, I think – I’d consider John Le Carre, for example, a fine writer first, and a spy fiction writer second. The most important thing of all? The reader has to want to keep reading!

Is writing your main profession or do you have any other source of income? I have been a professional journalist at Reuters since 1987, so in one sense I have always lived from writing, though in a different way. Writing fiction is quite different to writing terse, factual news reports – I think it uses a different part of the brain. The skills one learns as a reporter, though, are very helpful in doing research for fiction.

How many books do you, approximately, read a year? What’s the latest book you’ve read and what did you think of it? Most of my reading recently has been for research of one kind or another. I’ve probably read 100 books or so in the last year, almost all non-fiction. Most recently I read physicist Lee Smolin’s book “Three Roads to Quantum Gravity”, which I think is a brilliant excursion through the outer reaches of current scientific thought about the nature of the universe.

Who’s your favourite author? Which book would you love to have written yourself and why? There are many, but I’d certainly have Argentine writer Julio Cortázar at the top of my list, especially his novels “Rayuela” (Hopscotch) and “62: A Model Kit”. His work has a way of making you look at the world differently, with fresh eyes. Other authors who have been important to me at different times: Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, JRR Tolkien, William Gibson and Ian Fleming, to name a few.

What’s the nicest, weirdest or most remarkable thing that ever happened to you as a writer? Writing things as fiction and then finding they were true, or having them happen to me subsequently. In addition, it is very nice to hear from readers out of the blue who have read your work and appreciate it.

Did you always want to become a writer? When and why did you decide to become one? I have written fiction, on and off, all my life. The Malice Box (Duister Ultimatum) is my third completed novel, though the first to be published. It’s just something I need to do, in order to find my own balance. We all need something that allows us to transform experience – especially negative experience – into something rich, or harmonious, or life-enhancing.

Which criticism bothers you more, the one from your readers or the one from the professional book reviewers? I just try to do my best. They say a negative review is better than no review at all, though negative ones all hurt, to a degree. It’s important to be unafraid, to follow your own voice, to develop a thick skin, but to be mindful that some criticism of your efforts may be right on the mark. Because I am writing across genres, I am not surprised when some readers get angry at the mix.

What’s more important: the plot or the characters in a story. And why? Each informs and influences the other, I think.

Are any of the characters in your books based on yourself? Which character do you like most? There’s not a single character that is “me”, or speaks for me. In The Malice Box, Adam and Robert both have aspects of me in them, but so do all of the characters, in one way or another, and in a splintered kind of way. All the characters also have traits that are not me at all. I am very fond of Horace, who we get to see more of in The Secret Fire, a prequel and sequel I am currently working on.

Is there anything that keeps you awake these days? Deadlines!

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