Thriller writer Seb Kirby wants his stories to thrill, entertain and inform. Sounds ambitious, I know. I want to give readers an intriguing story, of course. But I want to to leave behind themes that people will relate to after they've finished the book.
I don't write like Stephen King, but I work on a story the same way that he does. It's a high risk game. A high wire act. You write with no pre-prepared plan, no pre-planned plot lines, you let it happen. You do this by identifying your main character or characters and placing them in an unfamiliar situation. Then you make that situation worse. And then you make it worse again. Then, as you write, it's the characters that tell you where the plot needs to go. As Stephen King says, "If you don't surprise yourself in what you write, how are you going to surprise your readers?" And surprise yourself is exactly what you do. That plot line works out to be tighter than if you'd tried to pre-plan it because the logic of what the characters need to do demands that.
So, how to identify the characters to start with? In Take No More I wanted to place an ordinary person – James Blake – in an impossible situation. I admire thriller writers like Harlan Coben who have done this and, from an earlier generation, Eric Ambler. So Blake is not a supersleuth like James Bond nor an expert police detective or forensic scientist as in CSI, he's an ordinary guy. He has few resources to call on. How bad does it get for him? Well, he comes home to find his wife, Julia, dying from gunshot wounds. And how does it get worse? As he tries to make sense of what has happened, the police don't believe what he says has happened to him and try to pin the crime on him. Oh,and for some reason he knows nothing about, someone is trying to kill him. That bad.
Extract from Take No More
On the main concourse, a monolithic, artless statue of two embracing World War II lovers stood in sharp contrast to the smaller, more human statue of John Betjeman - trenchcoat blowing in the wind, suitcase in hand - that graced platform 4C. The recently rebuilt overarching roof gave the whole station a feeling of grandeur, but I could not remain interested in such things for long. My mind was set on the short trip downstairs, the walk past the new designer store outlets and whatever awaited me as I attempted to book in for the cross-channel train to Paris.
I also wanted to write about Julia. So, I do this in two flashback sections. I wanted her to be a strong, motivated character, but, of course, as a male writer, I had to work quite hard at imagining myself inside her skin. Perhaps it's a measure of my male-ness that I write the James sections from a first person point-of-view and the Julia sections from a third person point-of-view. Maybe I was insecure in my woman's skin. But I also chose to do the flashback sections in a more film-like way, as a series of short visual bursts told from the point-of-view of characters other than Julia and the third person point-of-view works best for them all.
As to locations, I have been lucky enough to travel and stay in some wonderful places around the world. When you do that you build up a list of the places that you go back to whenever you can. For me, three of those places are the South Bank in London, Florence, and Venice in Italy. Those are the three locations for Take No More. Not that I favour a great deal of description of character, appearance, or places. I'm aiming to be minimalist in these respects. After all, what I'm aiming for in writing a thriller is action and event and a satisfying pager-turner. But I'm hoping that the intimate knowledge of the places where the action takes place comes through.
I've been taking my trusty Lumix camera with me on my visits and I'm in the process of producing a Novel on my website and linking some of the locations to the text from the book. It's still a work-in-progress, and I haven't quite got all the photos I want from Florence. Darn it, I'll have to use my hard earned holiday time this year to go back there for a few more days….'