Welcome to another of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Roger Hurn. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Roger. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Roger: I live in South East London and I spent quite a few years as a teacher in the inner city. The pupils there can be pretty challenging as anybody who’s ever stood in front of a class of bored teenagers on a wet Thursday will tell you, but I found the best way to survive was by telling stories with cliffhanger endings. These grabbed the kids’ attention and made them eager to hear more. It meant that I could use the stories as a way of keeping order and creating an atmosphere conducive to learning. Believe me, if my stories weren’t up to the mark they didn’t hesitate to let me know, so I soon learned how to tell a lean, mean narrative with colourful characters and an all-action plot. Then, when I’d mastered that, it seemed to be a natural progression to write them down and try and have them published.
Morgen: I’ve just started teaching adults creative writing, two evenings a week (more next term), and love it because, apart from talking about my favourite subject for two hours, they’re there because they want to be, not have to be and they’re so keen. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Roger: I started off writing books for children, particularly for those kids who are classed as “reluctant readers”. I wanted them to discover the joy and pleasure that reading brings so my books for them are like a springboard they can use to dive into the world of their imagination. Judging by the feedback I’ve had, it seems to have worked for an awful lot of children and I’m very proud of that!
However, these days I’m really enjoying working on a series of crime novellas for adults. These feature Ryan Kyd, a hard-nosed, but soft centred ex member of the elite Diplomatic Protection Group. In his time, action man Ryan has guarded Royalty and Prime Ministers and faced down terrorists. Now he’s set up on his own as a Private Investigator on the mean streets of South London.
This may seem like quite a jump from writing for children but I think writing crime thrillers for adults is not so different for writing attention grabbing books for kids. Both have high standards and want crisp no-nonsense writing, sharp dialogue, interesting characters they can believe in and action packed storylines that keep them turning the page. And, above all, the writer has a duty to entertain his audience and leave them demanding more – so that’s what I try to do.
Morgen: Absolutely. No one should write down to children. They’re highly intelligent and won’t thank you for it. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Roger: I have had over eighty books for children published and now I’ve had three Ryan Kyd books published plus a Ryan Kyd Omnibus. I don’t use a pseudonym, for better or for worse I am who I am.
Morgen: 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Roger: The Ryan Kyd books are published by Endeavour Press, who claim to be the UK’s leading independent digital publisher, so they are all available as ebooks. My involvement is in writing the books and then handing them over to my editor at Endeavour. In fact it works in exactly the same way it does when I have a paperback book for children published.
I love reading books but am now downloading the vast majority of the books I read onto my Kindle.
Morgen: Me too. I get a daily email from http://digitalbooktoday.com/free-kindle-books with a list of free ones so apart from collections of short stories for review (and most of those are sent to me by the authors) or I spot an author I like, I don’t have to buy eBooks. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters?
Roger: My favourite book that I’ve written is The Dead of Winter. http://amzn.to/1hHD5nD It features Ryan Kyd and his attempts to track down an amber necklace that Napoleon gave to Josephine.
One reviewer said: “The story continues to develop the author’s trade marks: the fast paced narrative; the sharp, witty characterisation; the moral ambiguities; the crackling dialogue; the comic use of similes and the constant ability to surprise.” Naturally I agree with every word!
Morgen: Reader feedback makes not only our day, but all the hard work worthwhile (as if we didn’t love what we do). If your books were audiobooked, whom would you have as the narrator(s)?
Roger: Actually, because the Ryan Kyd books have proved popular, Amazon bought the audio rights to all three books and they picked me to be the voice of Ryan! I’ve recorded the first two: Business is Murder and Hand of Darkness and I’ll be recording The Dead of Winter in the New Year. Sadly, Humphrey Bogart wasn’t available! Here’s the link to Business is Murder. http://bit.ly/1cunAM9
Morgen: Oh wow. Congratulations. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Roger: I loved all the Raymond Chandler novels and my Ryan Kyd books are my, sadly nowhere near as successful, attempt to emulate the master of the genre.
Morgen: “nowhere near as successful”…yet. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books?
Morgen: That’s the most important thing. I recall horror writer Dean Koontz (who had 500+ rejections, by the way) quoted as saying that there was 9% of his writing left in one of his books. He’s a bestseller so I’d say his editors knew what they were doing, although I’m sure that’s an exaggeration, but it shows strong writing when editors change little of it. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Roger: I’ve been commissioned to write a British version of the Jack Reacher novels. It’s quite a challenge but I’m enjoying it.
Morgen: Wow. That’s fantastic. Jack Reacher’s incredibly popular so it’ll be interesting to see what your US readers make of it. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Roger: I write every day. I always say only very well off people can afford to suffer from writer’s block. However, if I do find myself stuck, I hop on my bike and go for a cycle in the local park. It always seems to get my creative juices flowing.
Morgen: Having a break is the best thing to do; whether it’s moving on to another creative project or something completely different. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Roger: It’s a combination of both really. Though once the story starts to roll, it does gain a momentum all of its own and it often ends up in a place I hadn’t planned on going. For example, I thought I had The Dead of Winter all worked out and finished but something kept nagging at me. I shrugged it off and went to sleep but when I work up the next morning I had a completely new ending in my head which worked far better.
Morgen: I plotted (although loosely) my first one and it went off at so many tangents that I didn’t plot much after that, although on reflection I should have done for a series I’m working on. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Roger: Nearly all the characters in the Ryan Kyd books are based on people I either know or who I’ve met whilst doing my research. South London is a very lively place and I’ve lived and worked in it for long enough to meet more than my fair share of characters and hear their stories. For example, Ryan himself is based on an ex DPG officer that I know personally.
Morgen: I bet he’s chuffed, and a useful contact to have for getting your facts right. We talked about editing a moment ago, do you do a lot of editing before you submit your books to your editor, or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Roger: My writing has become more assured but I think a good editor is worth their weight in gold.
Morgen: I’d agree, but then I’m a freelance editor. 🙂 Do you have to do much research?
Roger: I’ve done lots of research for the Ryan Kyd books and I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon in the company of the Queen’s jeweller, Geoffrey Munn, when researching the backstory for The Dead of Winter. Geoffrey had a fund of fascinating stories to share and he even allowed me into the vaults to look at and touch some priceless artefacts that the general public never gets to see.
Morgen: Ah, the joys of being a writer. Isn’t it great. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Roger: The Ryan Kyd books are all told in the first person. After all, they’re Ryan’s stories.
Morgen: That’s interesting. Most writers go with third person because they can then have several points of view but as you say, they’re Ryan’s stories. I mentioned Dean Koontz’s 500+ rejections, have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Roger: I have had my share of rejections but you have to try and learn from them. However, I recently read the story of how an editor at the BBC turned down John Cleese and Connie Booth’s script for Fawlty Towers saying it was rubbish. As John Cleese said later it just shows that nobody really knows what will be successful and what won’t. It’s all just a matter of opinion. I think it’s helpful to keep that in mind when coping with yet another thumbs down.
Morgen: I tell my students that it’s just the right thing for the wrong person / market. Everything good has its place. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Roger: I used to have an agent but now I represent myself. My agent was great for opening doors and for doing hard bargaining but when she retired I thought I’d go it alone. It’s worked out reasonably well so far.
Morgen: Oh, great. That’s encouraging for those of us without one (but who have tried to get one). Do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Roger: I did an interview about being a writer for the BBC a few months back and they called me a “one man brand” but that was a pun because I’m also a songwriter and they had me playing and singing one of my songs as part of the introduction. http://greenstick.bandcamp.com/track/poison-ivy
Morgen: How funny. The BBC is generally very supportive of new writers and their http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom has some great information / advice. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Roger: My advice is to read as much as you possibly can and also to stop worrying about whether or not you can write and just get on with doing it.
Morgen: Yes, indeed. One of my ladies says everything she writes feels like the stories she’s read but I say unless she’s picking out specific passages, it’s not copying the author but the author’s voice. It takes time for any new author to find their own. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Roger: Raymond Chandler, Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare. If I could conjure up these three, I guess I could also conjure up the shade of Escoffier to do the cooking.
Morgen: Ah, Auguste Escoffier, bon plan. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Roger: I write songs and perform with my song writing partner. We have had some interest from the US over a couple of our songs and we are currently negotiating a deal but it’s a legal minefield.
Morgen: I’d recommend joining the Society of Authors (http://www.societyofauthors.org). I’m sure you’d meet their membership requirement. Once you’ve been offered a contract (as I was for my chick lit novel), you can apply to join, and once accepted, you get free legal advice. It costs about £100 a year to belong but that advice alone is worth it.
I’d love to write songs. If your partner would be interested in writing a guest post about how to do it, I’d love to host him / her. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Thank you, Roger. It’s great chatting with you again.
I then invited Roger to include a synopsis of his latest book, The Dead of Winter…
It’s Christmas Eve and, while the rest of London is celebrating, Private Investigator Ryan Kyd is drowning his sorrows in his local pub. On his way back to his office to crash out on his sofa he sees a woman being mugged in the street. Her handbag has been stolen and it contains a priceless necklace she’s borrowed from the auction house where she works. If she can’t get it back she faces not only losing her job but a jail sentence as well! Gallantly, Ryan agrees to deal with the problem for this damsel in distress but he soon comes to regret his decision as nothing about this case is as it seems.
Then, as Christmas Day unfolds, Ryan is caught up in a conspiracy of passion, lies, theft and murder. Can he unravel the mystery of the missing necklace or will he end up amongst the Dead of Winter?
Roger Hurn is both a writer of crime fiction for adults and a writer of books for reluctant readers. He has had over 90 books published as well as musical plays, CD-Roms and the Oxford English eQuest digital literacy series. His book: The Beast of Hangman’s Hill was selected by The Book Trust for their Bookbuzz List 2012/13 and his collection of folk tales: East of the Sun, West of the Moon was chosen by Scholastic as one of their Great Reads for World Book Day 2009. His first crime book Business is Murder, featuring London based private investigator Ryan Kyd, went to number one on the Amazon Kindle Singles chart. The following two books in the series Hand of Darkness and The Dead of Winter have been equally successful.
Roger is also man who enjoys keeping fit and he has written a book and DVD on fitness and dance for A & C Black, 101 Dance Ideas. He co-authored it with Cush Jumbo a young Olivier Award nominated actress who won the Evening Standard’s Best Newcomer Award 2013. The book is aimed at fighting the obesity epidemic that is plaguing so many of our children but Roger says that even someone with two left feet like himself can use the DVD to have fun and keep in shape!
Back in the dim and distant past, Roger was an actor in the Exploding Trouser Company and he also won The Weakest Link on BBC TV. He was the drummer and chief lyric writer of a band that once had a hit record in Turkey (though sadly nowhere else!) and, on a storytelling trip to West Africa, Roger was given the title Mallam Oga (Wise teacher, Big Boss). Or, at least, that’s what the locals assured him Mallan Oga means!
In his spare time he plays seven-a-side football for a local team and, to the horror of music lovers everywhere – his words – plays guitar in a band.
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