Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Interview with Author James Steel

Today it is my privilege and pleasure to welcome and introduce you all, to the UK author James Steel. Can I begin our interview by asking how would you describe yourself?

Hi Calum, many thanks for taking the time to interview me. As a bit of background I think the best way to describe myself is as a news junkie, I am always fascinated by what is going on in the world and my books are really a way of indulging that hobby and working out why things happen as they do.

What sort of books did you enjoy reading during your childhood?

I remember getting into Tolkien quite early on. I liked big epics that you could lose yourself in. I enjoyed the feel of books like ‘Shardik’ by Richard Adams, they were huge imaginative creations.

Do you think the books that you read during your early years influenced your writing in any way?

Yes, very much so. As a teenager I got into reading thrillers, mainly Alistair Maclean, Frederick Forsythe, Desmond Bagley, that sort of thing. The simple strong narrative drive has stayed with me. However, after University I wanted a new intellectual challenge and really got into Russian writers: Tolstoy, Chekov, Sholokov, Gogol, Zemyatin and Grossman – they are all genius, way better than western stuff. My novel ‘December’ is dedicated to all Russian writers and is about the relationship between them and Russian history. I like to try to mix some decent ideas like that with the drive of a thriller, into a style that I call ‘mindful violence.’

Did you always want to become a writer?

No. I had never really thought about it, I certainly admired writers but I had never met one and so it was something I never thought of, rather like becoming an astronaut. I rather fell into it by starting out as a hobby and then gradually beginning to take it more seriously, getting an agent and finally having the good luck to get published.

Where do you do your writing best?

I write at home so that I have got all the basic support structures around me and can just focus on the work i.e. shops, gym, people to talk to, so you can get out of the world inside your head at the end of the day. If I went off to a nice part of the world I would spend my time seeing that nice part of the world not cooped up in a room hunched over my laptop.

Can you tell us a bit about the books you have written?

Well I got the idea for the Alex Devereux character from a series of people I knew with very mixed up family backgrounds, a lot of his details are actually based on a girl. However, as a grumpy disaffected mercenary he was an ideal vehicle to put in a number of foreign policy situations that I was interested in writing about. I was going to kill him off after the first book but then realised he was too useful and kept him on.

The first Alex book is ‘Legacy’ which mixes up a lot about issues in German history. ‘December’ was the next one, which is about contemporary Russia and its links with its history.

How did you first think of and then develop the story for your latest book ‘Warlord’ that just recently has been released by your publisher Avon?

I get a lot of my big plot ideas from ‘The Economist’. They reported on these huge land deals that are going through in Africa at the moment, where cash rich countries buy huge tracts of land, plus I was fascinated by the rise of China and the problems in Kivu after the Rwandan genocide. So I decided to put them all together with the idea of China leasing Kivu off the Congolese government and using Alex and a mercenary army to sort out the FDLR and pacify the place.

Do you have a set routine when you are working on a new novel?

I have three distinct phases to writing a book: researching, organising and writing. I spend a lot of time reading into the topic, interviewing people and going to places if I can get there. That gets the ideas going and then you have to organise them and work out the overall plot and get your notes down in a skeleton framework, so that when you come to the final stage you know what you are going to say and can just focus on getting the language right. Each area uses a different part of your brain and it is important to go for specialisation of function and do one thing at a time, I sometimes think that writer’s block is just disorganisation because you are trying to do very contradictory tasks at the same time i.e. generate and organise ideas.

What is your favourite book and why?

Hmm, tricky. Possibly ‘December’ because I am so enthused about Russian writing and was able to bring that into the book. It is great to see that the BBC is doing a version of ‘Life and Fate’ by Vassily Grossman, the book that was the inspiration behind a lot of my novel. It is the best book ever written.

Are you currently reading a book at the moment, and if so what is it?

Have just finished ‘Lonesome Dove’ by Larry McMurtry – I know cowboy epics do not have a great reputation but this is genius, a really compelling read and he just gets people and human relationships so well. Finishing it felt like losing a friend.

Have you any another series of books in the making at the moment?

I have just finished a slight departure from my usual current affairs based thrillers, in fact a slight departure from most books. It’s a high-octane, satirical, thriller-fairytale called ‘The Adventures of Mr Wolf and the White Princess’. Set in a distorted version of modern London, it combines action and lunacy in equal measures and was certainly a lot of fun to write.

James, I would like to thank-you again for taking the time to speak to us today. It is very much appreciated by us all here at The Secret Writer. For further information about James and his work you can visit his website at:  www.jamessteel.info

You can find James latest book ‘Warlord’ by clicking on  the appropriate link below:

USA: http://www.amazon.com/Warlord-ebook/dp/B005E8830M/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316468045&sr=1-1

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