Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Me and a Dalek in Glasgow

I was signing books in Edinburgh and Glasgow today, and got to meet a Dalek. My daughter will be amazed! The signings went really well, though I am exhausted from all the travelling, including an 8.45pm flight from Manchester to Edinburgh. Tomorrow I'll be in Durham and Newcastle. I stayed in the Malmaison Hotel in Glasgow, which is a great hotel, one of my favourites. I keep seeing the Twilight series everywhere and am now seriously thinking about writing a series about a vampire detective, though I guess that the Buffy The Vampire spin-off Angel has already been there. We'll see.....

Oh yes, I saw the Tardis, too!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Signing Books

I'm in the UK doing publicity for Live Fire, which basically means visiting bookshops and signing stock! On Friday I was in Winchester, Bournmouth, Southampton and Poole.... mainly dropping into Borders and Waterstones stores to sign any books they have. Bookshops can return any unsold copies to pubishers, but not if they've been signed - so there's a saying in the business that 'a signed copy is a sold copy'. In fact, if sales are sluggish it would be worth sneaking into shops and signing all their stock without them knowing!

Everywhere I went on Friday I saw the Twilight series, High school vampire erotic fiction I guess you could call it. Twilight seems to be the new Dan Brown, a book that everyone is going to read, sooner or later! The movie has helped push the book, but as with Dan Brown most of the sales are down to word of mouth!

So, on Monday I'm getting the train to Stockport and will be visiting bookshops in the north of England, then on Tuesday I'm flying from Manchester to Edinburgh and will spend the day in Scotland. I get a car down to Newcastle on Wednesday and in the afternoon I'll be in Durham Young Offenders Institution talking to inmates about writing. I'm very well borrowed in prison libraries and over the years I have visited most of the large prisons in the country.

On Thursday I'll be back in London and will probably be exhausted - my publisher works ne very hard during these publicity tours, often more than twelve hours a day, and it always takes me a day or to to recover!

I read a story on the front page of the Daily Mail yesterday, about eight Albanian criminals who have been granted British citizenship and are now living in the UK. The Albanian chief of police is furious, but good old Britain won't extradite them because we have to protect their human rights! I plan to use this as a thread in the new Spider Shepherd book.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Simon Mayo Show

I was on the Simon Mayo show this afternoon, talking about the new book, Live Fire.

His Radio 5 books show is brilliant, with three guest reviewers and two authors. I was on with Nick Brownlee who has written a book called Bait, a great crime story set in Kenya. Nick is a journalist who lives in Cumbria, and it's his first novel. I really enjoyed it, especially the bit where a South African strings up a crocodile and kills it with his bare hands!

Everyone seemed to like Live Fire, which is good news. It was my third time on the Mayo show and I always enjoy it.

Today is the publication date of Live Fire, and Hodder and Stoughton sent me a bottle of champagne, which was good of them!

You should be able to get the podcast at the BBC Radio 5 website:


Sunday, January 18, 2009

First Amazon Review

The first review of Live Fire has just gone up on Amazon.co.uk. It was posted by Joe Haschka, who is one of Amazon's top-rated reviewers. I think Joe is one of the best reviewers in the business and he should be working for a national newspaper or magazine. I'm such a fan that I borrowed his name for one of the mercenaries in Hot Blood!

Anyway, here's what he wrote:

Carrying a torch for Charlie?

In LIVE FIRE, author Stephen Leather's hero of several novels, Dan "Spider" Shepherd, an undercover operative with Her Majesty's Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA), is off to Thailand to infiltrate a Pattaya-based British gang of master bank robbers that periodically returns home to replenish the funds for its exorbitant lifestyle. Meantime in London, a home-grown cell of Muslim jihadists is planning a bloody outrage that'll kill hundreds. Because of Spider's particular karma, the two plots ultimately intersect.

Leather spends much of his time living in Thailand. Therefore, it's no surprise that the storyline of LIVE FIRE puts Shepherd there for most of the narrative, but is somewhat surprising that the author has taken so long in the series to do so. Leather's physical description of Pattaya and its status as "the biggest single prostitution center in the world" suggests a comfortable familiarity with the place. (For a depiction of the Thai sex industry, see Stephen's excellent novel, PRIVATE DANCER.)

For readers whose first encounter with Spider is LIVE FIRE, the plot deserves 5 stars. For one such as me, who's followed his exploits over the years, it rates perhaps 4. The Shepherd character has perhaps become too familiar and/or I've become jaded.

In order to introduce the new reader to Dan's career path with SOCA, the narrative inevitably begins with the end game of a crime caper from which Spider must extract himself as the cops close in but before his cover is blown. Then, he immediately gets new marching orders to follow for the duration of the story from his boss, Charlotte "Charlie" Button. Subsequently, there are a couple pages in which Dan, a single father, has a guilt trip when he tells his young son, Liam, and his dead wife's parents that he's off on another job and won't be around to spend quality time. (While I know this digression establishes Spider's just-a-regular-bloke humanity to newbies, perhaps next time we could move forward a decade when Liam is interested in girls and won't miss Dad so much.)

It's in LIVE FIRE that Dan is first inferred to be carrying a torch for his boss, Charlie Button, for which felling evidence surfaces during a visit to one of Pattaya's bars:

"There were two pneumatic blondes dancing topless and a stunning redhead in a red thong and high heels doing a solo on the second podium ... Two more girls joined the redhead. One was a blonde with wavy hair, green eyes and milk-white flawless skin, the other a brunette with a pageboy hair-cut and dark brown eyes. She was like Charlotte Button, Shepherd thought, disconcerted.

'You like her?' asked Sergei.

Shepherd reddened like a schoolboy who'd been caught looking at a pornographic magazine. 'She's fit,' he said."

Now, I bring this up because I think Button one of the more intriguing characters of the Spider series. Plus, I suspect that she's hot. So I'd like to take the cheeky liberty of suggesting to the author the emphasis of a future book, i.e. that the narrative focus be on Charlie with Spider as an ancillary character. Thus, the saga of the latter can continue, albeit through the perspective of someone else, while a different facet of Dan's world can be developed and the repetitive mold of the series as a whole broken. Thinking outside the box.

Alternatively, some act of violence by one of the jihadist groups fermenting in the U.K. might seriously cripple or kill Liam. The emotional devastation could transform Shepherd into an agent of vengeance. One of Leather's first books, THE CHINAMAN, took that general approach, and it was one of his best reads.

Are you with me on this, Stephen?

All of this said, I'll keep reading installments of the Spider series for as long as they continue to be penned; I'll even put them ahead of any of Andy McNab's thrillers in the unread queue on my bookshelf.

As always, Joe makes a lot of good points. That's one of the reasons I enjoy his reviews so much, he doesn't just say what the book is about and whether or not he liked it, he digs deeper and raises issues about the book that give the writer and reader alike something to think about.

He's quite right that I haven't written too many thrillers set in Thailand, despite being very familiar with the country. Private Dancer and Confessions Of A Bangkok Private Eye were both published in Thailand, but the only thrillers to be set there prior to Live Fire were The Solitary Man and The Tunnel Rats. Both were great thrillers (I think The Tunnel Rats is one of my all-time best works) but neither sold as well as books like Tango One or the Spider Shepherd series. Books set in Asia simply don't sell as well as books set in the UK. We'll see how Live Fire does!

Joe has also hit the nail on head re the familiarity factor with the Spider Shepherd stories - and neatly outlines what might be described as the formula.... there is a big bang opening, then we meet Spider undercover, then he gets his new mission, then he goes and meets his son who is upset at Spider being away. There is no getting away from it, that's the structure! Maybe I should try changing it this time.... I'm not sure. Part of the reason the series is so successful is that it is a tried and tested formula, but I wouldn't want anyone to get jaded!

I smiled at Joe's suggestion that I should do a book with Charlotte Button as the central character - I have been planning that for some time. And I have already started on a novel with Richard Yokely as the main character, in which Spider Shepherd makes a minor appearance!

And I laughed out loud at his suggestion that Shepherd's son, Liam, should be crippled or killed. I have thought about that so many times! I did go to see an agent in New York who said that he liked the books but thought that Liam should be sent off to boarding school as he got in the way of the plots! I guess the reason I haven't killed off Liam is that he does humanise Shepherd. And once I get rid of Liam, it's irrevocable.... there's no going back. I am still thinking about removing Liam, but if I did decide to go ahead and do something, I'd have to check it with my editor first. I do like the idea of Shepherd being on a mission of vengeance to avenge his dead son, but I do worry about where I would go from there.... Joe is absolutely right about The Chinaman - my first big bestseller - but the problem with The Chinaman was that I really had no choice but to kill him off at the end!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Live Fire Paperback

Live Fire is out in hardback and large format paperback this week, but already Hodder and Stoughton are working on the mass market paperback, which will be out in September. They've just sent me the cover design, which Ithink works really well.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The New Spider Book

So with the Nightingale book done, it's time to start the new Spider Shepherd book. It'll be the seventh in the series, following HARD LANDING, SOFT TARGET, COLD KILL, HOT BLOOD, DEAD MEN and LIVE FIRE. I think the new book should be called BIG BOYS. It comes from the SAS expression in Northern Ireland – Big Boys’ Games, Big Boys’ Rules. But when I suggested this to my editor she thought it sounded a bit like a porn title so it could well change!

I have a few good ideas (I think!) for plot threads. The bad guys as always are grey.... a group of policemen (two former army) who are in the Territorial Support Group, what used to be the SPG, the heavy guys who go in with shields and batons and body armour. Like a lot of cops these days, they are fed up with all the paperwork and the fact that the system is geared to helping the criminals rather than the victims. They start to operate as vigilantes, planting forensic evidence to frame known criminals but quickly moving to more drastic methods, beating up foreign criminals and forcing them to leave the country, targeting paedophiles, getting more and more aggressive.

Shepherd is far from happy about investigating cops again (as he did in Soft Target) especially when his boss, Charlie Button, tells him that the crime rate in the areas that these guys operate in has dropped markedly.

I am thinking of tying this in with a British National Party investigation. Remember the recent furore over the BNP membership list which was posted on-line and found to include several police officers? I love the idea of Jimmy Sharpe having to go undercover to infiltrate some sort of racist organisation and having to face his own prejudices. I think I can tie the two investigations together.

At the same I want to put Shepherd under pressure at home. Liam has a mobile phone and on it Shepherd finds a ‘happy slapping’ video, a group of older kids beating up a young boy. Shepherd takes the video to the local police who investigate. The parents of one of the boys doing the beating is foreign, maybe an asylum seeker, and he is furious that Shepherd has gone to the police. He threatens Shepherd, and Liam, and when Shepherd reports these threats to the police, he is told that until the father actually does something, there is nothing the police can do. The aggression mounts (car set on fire, brick through the window etc) and Shepherd realises that he is going to have to take matters into his own hands to deal with the angry father – but in doing so, he’s becoming exactly like the cops that he’s investigating.

Those are the bare bones, and from there I have to put together a plot. It's actually the fun part of writing a book, compared with the boring drudgery of writing a thousand words a day! I've a fair bit of research to do, especially with the way that the TSG operates.

Writing books with a continuing character is in some ways easier than starting from scratch. I know there have to be scenes with Shepherd and his son, with Shepherd and his boss, and with his psychiatrist. But there are also constraints in that I have to stick with the sort of investigations that woud be performed by a SOCA operative. And I have to be careful that I don't repeat myself - the more Shepherd books I write, the harder that becomes!

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Whew, the Nightingale book is finished. 85,431 words. I think it works really well. I've heard back from one friend who liked it and I'm waiting to hear what my two other friends think! Over the next few days I'll print it out and check it, tidy up and polish it. Then work out what I'm going to do with it! In the meantime, I'm working on the plot of the new Spider Shepherd book. I have to finish the book by the end of May so there's no time to lose!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

An Elephant In Soi Cowboy

You see the strangest things in Thailand.... you can be sitting outside a bar in the middle of the night and an elephant walks by... If you can hear a guy in the background talking about video pens, that's the famous Bangkok Bob. He has recently closed down his website, http://www.bangkokbob.net/ , and I was drinking with him and trying to persuade him to either put it back up or let me have the content! I'm still working on my Bangkok Bob (no relation) book and I thought it might be fun to use his website to promote the book. Bob says he might put the website back up but if he doesn't, I'll keep nagging him....

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Nightingale - almost done

I'm just about to hit the 80,000 word mark on the Jack Nightingale book and if all goes to plan it should be done by the end of the week. It's the best part of writing, where the characters are in place and the piece is rushing headlong towards a conclusion. It's the point where the characters take on lives of their own and all I have to do is to record what they say and do! I've actually written the last chapter already, but I have two big scenes to write. They're actually the most important scenes in the book, where Nightingale comes face to face with his nemisis... I already have them straight in my head, all I have to do is to write them!

I got an email last night from a production company in Los Angeles that is interested in turning my book The Stretch into a movie. They have done some major projects so fingers crossed it might come to something. The Stretch was filmed by Sky for their Sky One channel in the UK, as a two-parter with Anita Dobson and Leslie Grantham. I think it worked really well on TV but it would be magic to see it on the big screen. We'll see.....

Anyway, here's chapter three of the Nightingale book:


Jack Nightingale didn’t like doing divorce work. He didn’t like following unfaithful husbands or wayward wives, and he didn’t like breaking bad news to women who cried or men who threatened violence. He didn’t like doing divorce work but it paid the bills and Nightingale had a lot of bills that needed paying.
‘Can I get you a coffee or a tea, Mrs Brierley?’ he asked.
Joan Brierley was in her early fifties, a heavy-set women with dyed blonde hair and too much make-up and lines around her mouth from years of smoking. She shook her head and held up a pack of Benson and Hedges. ‘Do you mind if I…?’ she said.
Nightingale lifted up his own pack of Marlboro. ‘I’m a smoker too,’ he said.
‘There aren’t many of us left,’ she said.
‘Strictly speaking this is my workplace so I should fine myself a thousand pounds every time I light up,’ said Nightingale. He reached over and lit her cigarette with a disposable lighter and then lit his own.
‘You said you had bad news,’ said Mrs Brierley. ‘So he’s been cheating, has he?’
‘I’m afraid so,’ said Nightingale.
‘I knew it,’ she said, her voice shaking. ‘When money started disappearing from our joint account, I knew it.’
‘I took a video,’ said Nightingale. ‘So you could see for yourself. I followed them to a hotel but he has also visited her house when her husband is away.’
‘She’s married?’
Nightingale nodded.
‘Why would a married woman want to steal another woman’s husband?’ said Mrs Brierley.
It wasn’t a question that Nightingale could answer. ‘I’ve got his mobile phone records. He calls her three or four times a day and sends her text messages.’ He slid over a stack of photocopied sheets. ‘The messages say it all, pretty much.’
Mrs Brierley picked up the phone records. She sneered as she scanned them. ‘He loves her?’ she hissed. ‘He’s been married to me for twenty-four years and he loves her?’
Nightingale went over to his DVD player and slotted in a disc. He sat down again as Mrs Brierley turned to look at the screen. The camerawork wasn’t great but Nightingale had been hired to do surveillance, not produce a Hollywood movie. He’d taken the first shot from behind a tree. Brierley arrived in his dark blue Ford Mondeo, a nondescript man in a nondescript car. Brierley had a spring in his step as he walked into the hotel’s reception and was holding a carrier bag from a local off-licence. Nightingale had managed to get closer to the hotel entrance and had filmed Brierley signing in and being given a key.
The next shot was of the woman arriving. Nightingale had managed to get a good shot of her parking her VW Golf and had followed her to the entrance of the hotel. Like Brierley, she didn’t look around and clearly wasn’t worried about being followed.
Mrs Brierley stared at the screen, her mouth a tight line.
The final shot was of Mr Brierley and the woman leaving the hotel together. He walked her to her car, kissed her, and then went over to his Mondeo.
Nightingale pressed the remote control to switch off the DVD player. ‘Your husband paid in cash but I have a copy of the receipt.’ He slid a photocopied sheet of paper across the desk towards Mrs Brierley but she was still staring at the blank television screen, the cigarette burning between her fingers. ‘The woman’s name is Brenda Lynch, she is…’
‘I know who she is,’ said Mrs Brierley, her voice a dull monotone.
‘You know her?’
‘She’s my sister.’
‘Your sister?’
‘My sister,’ said Mrs Brierley. ‘Lynch was my maiden name.’ She took a long drag on her cigarette, held it deep in her lungs and then exhaled slowly.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Nightingale.
She waved away his apology as if it was an annoying insect. ‘How much do I owe you, Mr Nightingale?’
‘Miss McLean outside has your bill,’ said Nightingale.
Mrs Brierley leaned over his desk and stubbed out what remained of her cigarette.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Nightingale.
‘There’s nothing for you to be sorry about,’ she said. She stood up. ‘You did a very professional job, Mr Nightingale.’ There were tears in her eyes but she forced a smile. ‘Thank you.’
Nightingale opened his door for her. His secretary was sitting at her desk and she smiled brightly at him. ‘Mrs Brierley would like her bill, Jenny,’ said Nightingale.
‘I have it here,’ she said, handing a sheet of paper to Mrs Brierley. Mrs Brierley took out her cheque book and wrote a cheque while Nightingale went back into his office. He flopped down into his chair, pulled open the bottom drawer of his desk and took out a bottle of whiskey. He poured a generous slug into his coffee mug and swung his feet up onto the desk. He didn’t enjoy breaking bad news to people, but that was part of the job. If a husband or a wife suspected that their spouse was up to no good, ninety-nine times out of a hundred they were right. In Mrs Brierley’s case it had been unexpected withdrawals from their current account, late nights supposedly at the office and a new brands of aftershave in the bathroom. He saw the phone records by his feet and the photocopy of the hotel receipt and realised that Mrs Brierley had left them behind. He thought about going after her but decided against it, figuring that she had deliberately not taken them with her. He wondered what she would do now that she knew the truth. She’s almost certainly divorce her husband, and probably split up her sister’s family as well. She had three children and two of them still lived at home so she’d almost certainly keep the house and Mr Brierley would end up in a rented flat somewhere either with or without his sister-in-law for company.
There was a soft knock on his door and Jenny McLean pushed it open. Jenny was in her early twenties, with short blonde hair and blue eyes that almost reminded Nightingale of Cameron Diaz. Jenny was shorter than the actress and smarter, educated at Cheltenham Ladies College and Cambridge and fluent in German, French and Japanese. Her family owned a country pile with five hundred bedrooms and twelve acres, or vice versa, and chased foxes and shot wild birds at the weekend. Nightingale had absolutely no idea why she worked for him. He’d placed an advert in the local paper and she’d walked off the street with her CV and told him that she’d always wanted to work for a private investigator and that she could type and knew her way around Microsoft Office. He’d wondered at first if she was an undercover agent for the Inland Revenue checking on his tax returns but she’d worked for him for more than a year and now he didn’t know how he’d manage without her. She was holding a full pot of coffee. ‘I thought you might like some coffee in your whiskey,’ she said. She poured coffee into his mug. ‘She took it quite well, didn’t she?’
Nightingale shrugged. ‘She cried, which is a good sign. It’s when they go quiet that I start thinking about knives and hammers and things that go bump in the night.’
‘I gave her the card of a good divorce lawyer.’
‘Very thoughtful of you.’ Nightingale sipped his coffee and whiskey. Jenny made great coffee. She brought the beans from a shop in Mayfair and ground them herself.
‘I felt sorry for her,’ said Jenny, sitting on the edge of his desk.
‘There are two sides to every case,’ said Nightingale. ‘We only get to hear the side that pays us.’
‘Even so…’ said Jenny.
Nightingale sipped his coffee again. ‘Maybe she made his life a misery. Maybe the sister was kind to him. Maybe she let him wear her stockings and the wife wouldn’t.’
‘Jack…’ said Jenny, shaking her head.
‘I’m just saying, you can’t go feeling sorry for the clients. They’re just jobs.’
‘Speaking of which, a solicitor down in Surry wants to see you.’ She handed him a scribbled note.
Nightingale frowned as he studied the piece of paper. ‘Can’t he just email us the info?’
‘He said he wants to see you in his office. He’s got gout so he has trouble getting about. I figured you wouldn’t mind as you don’t have much on at the moment.’
Nightingale flashed her a tight smile. He didn’t need reminding how light his caseload was. ‘This place, Hamdale. Never heard of it.’
‘I’ve got the postcode, you can use the GPS on your phone.’
‘You know I can never get it to work.’
Jenny grinned and held out her hand. ‘I’ll do it for you, you luddite.’ Nightingale gave her his Nokia and she programmed in the location. ‘You’ll be fine,’ she said.
‘And how do I get back?’
‘Leave a trail of breadcrumbs,’ she said, sliding off the desk. ‘If you leave now you should be there by two o’clock.’

Friday, January 2, 2009

Names and Death

New lists have just come out for the most popular names for children born in 2008, and Jack headed the boys list for the 14th year running! I'll definitely keep my hero's name as Jack Nightingale. I have just hit 76,000 words and have done what I often do when I'm writing a book - I've written the end. I did it today, a scene in a basment where Jack is using a Ouija board to talk to his recently-deceased friend. As I said before, it's very different from the usual books I write!

For anyone interested, the top ten favourite names for boys were: Jack, Oliver, Harry, Alfie, Charlie, Thomas, Joshua, Daniel, James and William.

The ten most popular names for girls were: Olivia, Ruby, Grace, Emily, Jessica, Sophie, Chloe, Lily, Mia and Lucy.

One of the main themes of the book I'm writing is death, and I had a sense of how precarious life is on New Year's Eve. I saw in the New Year with my daughter, watching a fireworks display from the window of our apartment. There was a big display in Soi Ekkamai, one of the main roads off Sukhumvit and we had a great view from our apartment. The display started at midnight and it was amazing. A few minutes later and we heard ambulance sirens heading down the road to Ekkamai. Lots of sirens. A nightclub in Ekkamai had gone up in flames and more than sixty people, mainly young Thais, had died and many more were taken to hospital. They were wrapping bodies in sheets and laying them on the pavement. A lot of the kids were under-age, the fire sprinkle system wasn't working, there was no emergency lighting and only one exit. There are many wonderful things about Thailand, but health and safety regulations aren't high up their list of priorities.