Hi Paul, thank you very much for agreeing to let me grill you on my blog. I really enjoyed Flare, which I reviewed here. As you generally write crime thrillers (a logical genre for an ex-policeman), what gave you the idea for this apocalyptic science fiction thriller?
Hi Sarah, I’ve always loved Sci-Fi and fantasy. I write crime because I know it so well, but I’ve always wanted to write Sci-Fi, although every novel I started fizzled out until Flare. The idea for it came while watching Blackout on TV last year, which made me wonder how much worse it would be if all the immediate resources (i.e. the supermarkets etc) were destroyed in the initial apocalypse, and how quickly society would fall apart.
Without giving any spoilers away – how much research did you have to do about the Nasty Event that engulfs your poor characters?
I actually did more than I needed to! I’ve always been fascinated by space, stars and anything else that might be out there, but researching solar flares and CME’s and the potential devastation to our way of life was terrifying but incredibly interesting at the same time, particularly when you realise how lucky we are that it hasn’t happened already.
Your backdrop is very well described throughout – those of us who live in on the south coast of England could instantly identify parts of Brighton and the places you mention. How closely did you follow actual places as your characters travel north?
Google maps was my best friend! I charted their path across the UK and each place they visited is exactly where it is in the book. The places I hadn’t actually been to were explored via Streetview, so that anyone reading it who knew any of the areas they travelled would identify with it immediately.
I really liked your protagonist – he seemed entirely believable with his reactions as an ordinary man in the street, yet also quick-thinking and reasonably courageous. Did you base him on anyone in particular?
Not really, but I wanted a real person, with real fears and uncertainties. Having made some huge decisions that affected people’s lives and safety in the past, I know how crippling it can be to make harsh choices, and I wanted that to be reflected in Malc. Anyone can write a protagonist that mows people down by the dozen and is immune to bullets, but how can a reader ever identify with someone like that? I also wanted to balance him out with Emily. Having an average Joe as the protagonist with a strong female as his second seemed much more interesting (and realistic – I know the score, I’m married!)
There is a very good mix of characters your protagonist encounters – I enjoyed the fact that you don’t have ‘evil’ and ‘good’, but a mixture of both.
One thing I learned in the police is that no one is all good or all bad except for a very few unfortunate souls. One person’s evil is another person’s necessity, and that would only be amplified by an event as horrific and unstoppable as the one in Flare.
Given how well balanced the action, characterisation and description are, how carefully do you plan your storyline before you start writing?
Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t! I’m a “seat of the pants” writer. I wrote Flare in four weeks after the seed sprouted in my mind (if that makes any sense at all), and all I knew was that Malc needed to find his daughter and she was in Manchester, and that the flare was going to utterly devastate society. The rest just came out of my dark imagination and a compulsion to get the story onto paper. I loved writing it, but I was even dreaming about the characters by the second week!
As I previously mentioned, you have also written a number of crime thrillers. Can you tell us a bit about those?
I wrote The Follow just after leaving the police and it’s full of vitriol. It revolves around an officer who lives in a moral grey area between the law and doing what’s right. I think it’s flawed, but I’m assured it’s still a good read. When Good Men Do Nothing was my fourth novel but only my second released on Kindle. The main character is Rob Steel, a firearms positioning forensics expert who gets caught up in a double murder, an MI6 investigation and a terrorist threat to Brighton. It was a lot of fun to write and until Flare it was my best seller.
I’m hoping there will be a sequel to Flare – can you tell us what you are now working on and when we can read about Malc’s next slice of adventures?
There is indeed a sequel to Flare being written as we speak. It’s called Winter, and it starts about two months after the end of Flare. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I’m hoping to have it finished by midsummer, and then out on Kindle not too long after!