I was very fortunate to have a Q & A session with Humphrey Hawksley. Humphrey is a journalist and foreign correspondent for the BBC and a best-selling author of international political thrillers with emphasis on the Far East. Links for him appear below.
Humphrey: Hard Place runs with the international drugs trade from Afghanistan to the Caribbean. It involves high finance and organised crime. To what extent are you writing what you know?
Douglas: I was fortunate to be tipped off to an amazing true story about drugs from Afghanistan. Whilst not wishing to turn my information into a true story or even directly to fictionalise it, the truth provided the inspiration that enabled me to research the gaps in my knowledge. I have not been to Afghanistan but have been to the locations in the UK, Spain and am very familiar with the Bahamas and Washington DC. I have also, (in my professional role, I hasten to add), been inside quite a number of police stations including Scotland Yard. I am also familiar with the work of international financial centres like Gibraltar, the Isle of Man and Jersey so that, all told, with support from senior police officers, I was pretty well equipped to write this.
Humphrey: Why did you choose this backdrop and the locations?
Douglas: My readers expect me to sweep them away to international locations. I like to write about places I know and, like you, I am widely travelled.. Only one of my books has been set entirely in the UK. Typically the action crosses borders all the time. I enjoy recreating local colour on the printed page and having been tipped off about a major international drugs bust, it really lent itself to the type of book I like to write. .Additionally, the real crime involved shipping about which I have written two previous books.
Hard Place is being published in June 2015 to fit in with my July appearance at Thrillerfest Thrillerfest.com in New York where I first met you back in 2007. This my first book involving a London detective although my central characters have always had the authority or status to ask questions – a pivotal aspect of my work.
Humphrey: Do you think thriller readers prefer topics that are grabbed from the headlines or those that give them an escape from the headlines and why?
Douglas: A reviewer of one of my previous books wrote: “He makes us think but entertains us.” I took that as meaning that I was striking a happy balance between writing escapism and yet with a foot in reality. It is difficult to generalise about the vast reading public. Some people like to read about a place with which they are familiar but others will want to be transported to places they could only dream of visiting.
Hard Place was inspired by a headline-grabbing story. Having had significant background input from detectives, I hope also that I’ve been able to capture the atmosphere at the heart of an intense police investigation.. If my books entertain yet provide a mind-broadening escape from readers’ daily routines, that’s great by me!
Terror at Sea is also being published in June 2015. This is True Crime involving insight into audacious crimes at sea. Most readers will be shocked to read by what happens at sea – murders, piracy, frauds that never make the headlines. The book covering around a dozen major sea and shipping crimes – ranging from the Salem scuttling (often called the maritime crime of the century) to the tragic sinking of the ferry Estonia with nearly 900 lives lost (a sinking that I argue may have been mass murder). True Crime is a valuable market for millions of readers who want their eyes opened by the disturbing and audacious details behind the headlines. I am an avid fan of Lee Child www.leechild.com with his character Jack Reacher. His hugely successful thrillers are grounded in reality and yet they are also larger-than-life in the action where Jack Reacher, like James Bond, seems to be able to achieve almost anything – an escape from reality!
Humphrey: You have named your lead character ‘Ratso’. How did you come to this decision and how important are unusual names for thriller characters.
Douglas: The lead character is Det. Inspector Todd “Ratso” Holtom. I guess his nickname was a bit chicken and egg! For example when Hercule Poirot was first invented, the name probably did not roll off the tongue but Agatha Christie’s phenomenal success led to the name becoming a byword for a certain character. Peter James www.peterjames.com has achieved international success with his detective character Roy Grace. To his fans, Grace’s name will be immediately familiar without being especially catchy. Nicknames and the Met. Police go hand in hand. I wanted my main character to have a nickname that was memorable. I think nicknames have a great advantage in life and in fiction. Even someone as famous as legendary cricketer Sir Ian Botham benefited from being nicknamed Beefy. “Ratso,” as is revealed in Hard Place, got the nickname following an incident in his career. It fitted the character as I had devised him – shrewd and relentless and, as one of the other characters remarks – “he looks like a bleedin’ rodent an’ all.”
Humphrey: Social media and tablets have given us all a lesser attention span with the need for higher octane issues to hold us. How much have you changed your writing style to allow for this?
Douglas: Changes over the years have been subtle rather than fundamental with editors being very aware of changing markets. I accept without hesitation that in a fast-moving world, forms of instant gratification play an increasingly important part but there are many works of fiction still emerging that are much longer than anything that I am writing. No question, there is a place for high octane, larger-than-life published material but there still remains a solid market for books like mine which have been described by reviewers as “racy and pacy” without necessarily drifting into James Bond or Spiderman territory.
Additionally, the advent of e-books and audiobooks and the ability to duck and dive between the two is helping authors and publishers by making it easier to access the written or spoken word. The eleven book deal that I signed with my publishers suggests that they regard my backlist as valuable as e-books and, in some cases, as books to be rebranded both in print and as e-books as well. Let alone not involving social media, my early books predate the internet, mobile phones and fax machines! My publishing deal shows the publishers’ confidence that even in today’s market, there are huge opportunities for well-written mystery thrillers, some of them dating back over 20 years.
Humphrey: How does Hard Place differ from or is it complimented by Terror at Sea?
Douglas: Terror at Sea started life in 2001 when I was commissioned by German publishers to write a non-fiction book which they published as Piraten in Germany. The English language version was published as The Brutal Seas and was hailed as the benchmark book on crime at sea. It reached number 4 in the True Crime listings on Amazon. Its success prompted my present publishers to want me to update it and to take more account of the type of terrorism that has been in the news around Somalia and West Africa.
There is no direct link between this book and Hard Place except that a significant part of my novel did involve the sea and ships, something that attracted me. However, Terror at Sea came about through my fiction because when I was asked to write Piraten it was because of my thriller called Undercurrent. That had been rooted in the murky world of ship-scuttling, insurance scams, international politics and a coup in West Africa. I researched that with considerable input from the pirate-busters (as they were dubbed by the media) at the ICC – International Maritime Bureau https://www.icc-ccs.org/icc/imb. That led to the German publishers commissioning me and now leading to the arrival of Terror at Sea..
Humphrey: What are you working on now?
Douglas: I have just finished working with my editor on Tables Turned which is a thriller about casino crime mainly set in the UK, Panama and Las Vegas where I used to live. This will be published in December 2015. I am also just finishing a 10,000 word contribution to an anthology with a working title of London Thrills & Kills. My contribution is called Inscrutable and involves Ratso. The anthology is being compiled by Alex Shaw, www.alexwshaw.com who is a fellow member of the International Thriller Writers.
Next month, I’m starting the next Ratso thriller. Busy days ahead!
www.humphreyhawksley.com; @hwhawksley @hhbooks1
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