Sunday, February 22, 2009


A reader posted a comment on my blog recently in which he commented on the typos and errors he’d found in Live Fire. As always, I’m grateful for any mistakes that get pointed out to me because the books are reprinted regularly so it’s always possible to get them corrected at some point.

One of the great mysteries of publishing is why there are still so many typos in books when the technology has become so much more advanced. I can’t remember any in my first book, Pay Off. And I think there were less than a handful in The Chinaman, all of which, I think, were caught before publication. In recent years, however, I don’t think a year goes by without a reader pointing out a mistake in one of my books. One that makes me cringe was when I was asked to read out an few paragraphs on a live radio show and heard myself say ‘the car pulled away from the crib’.

By the time I’ve finished writing and polishing my manuscript, and it’s been checked over by my good mate Denis who is a sub-editor on The Times, I think it’s close to perfect, at least typo-wise. It then gets edited at Hodder and Stoughton, and an editor goes through it making changes and marking punctuation on a hard copy with a pencil. Now, in the old days the edited manuscript would be given to a typesetter, often in Scotland, and it would all be retyped into another computer, and because the guys who did the typesetting were pros who took pride in their work, they made very few mistakes. The typeset copy was then checked by the editor and a proof-reader and by me, but mistakes were few and far between. (I have to confess that I messed up my typing in this paragraph in my first draft - see the posted comments!)

I’m not quite sure when things changed, I think it was five or six years ago when I first noticed that the proofs I was getting had far more typesetting errors than I was used to. Not just one or two or even ten or twelve, but hundreds. Literally, hundreds. Sometimes two or three on a page, sometimes completely different words had been substituted for words that I had written. I remember ‘further’ instead of ‘father’ was an example that I found particularly annoying. And complete miss-spellings of a character’s name that any Spellcheck programme should have shown up. I can’t explain how frustrating it is to have a manuscript that I have slaved over for almost nine months handed back to me riddled with mistakes! I would correct as many mistakes as I could find, but with so many being made it is hardly surprising that some make it into the final printed book.

I finally found out what had happened, and I’m afraid it’s down to out-sourcing. In the same way that many companies have outsourced their phone centres to India, a lot of typesetting firms now send their work out to India. I was told (and it sounds crazy enough to be true) that two copies of the manuscript are now given to two Indian typesetters, each of whom types the whole manuscript into separate computers. A ‘sophisticated computer programme’ then compares the two versions, and highlights any differences. The theory is that the two typesetters won’t both make the same mistake! A supervisor then checks all the differences and decides which is correct. Apparently this is cheaper than one experienced British typesetter doing the job. It might be cheaper, but it certainly doesn’t produce quality work.

So, next time you do spot a typo in one of my books (and you will!) then please don’t blame me. It’s not my fault! But do let me know. I don’t mind, really, and I pass them on to the editor at Hodder who handles my books and they will be dealt with.

You might ask why the file that I have so lovingly slaved over and which has been checked by one of the best sub-editors in the country isn’t used, and why it all has to be retyped anyway. That’s a good question, and one that I have never received a satisfactory answer to!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

52-year-old Wine

I drank a bottle of 52-year-old wine today. My friend Barbara bought it for me for my 50th birthday two years ago so I thought that I should drink it with her. It was a Rioja, and it was possibly the best wine I have ever drunk. Barbara also had a bottle of wine that was laid down the year she was born, also a Rioja, so we drank both. We were lucky in that both wines were perfect, though we decanted both several hours before drinking and the cork in mine had almost perished. I am writing this feeling slightly drunk....

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Nick Brownlee’s publishers have just got in touch with me about providing a quote for the covers of his books. I met Nick on the Simon Mayo show where we were talking about Live Fire, and Nick’s first novel, Bait. Bait is set in Kenya and is a cracking thriller. His second novel, Burn, will be out in the summer. I said on the show that Nick’s writing was ‘Alexander McCall Smith with teeth’ and Nick’s editor is keen to use that, but wanted to know if I had any other useable quotes. I said I’d put my thinking cap on!

My own editor was also very keen about one of the comments made about Live Fire on the Simon Mayo Show. My hero Spider Shepherd was described as ‘Jeremy Clarkson with a gun’ which is a striking quote and there’s every chance that it will be used on the paperback.

Getting a good quote from a well-known author is a good way of boosting sales at the start of a writer’s career. My first book, Pay Off, was published by Collins and they wrote to Jack Higgins to ask him if he’d give us a quote. He sent it straight back with a note saying that he was too busy to read it. I thought that we should use that as the quote on the cover - “I was too busy to read it – Jack Higgins” but Collins didn’t think that was a good idea.

A few years later, when Hodder and Stoughton were publishing The Chinaman, they asked Jack for a quote and this time he graciously gave us one which we used for many years and which I’m sure helped sell the book.

A few years ago I was approached by Kate Lyall-Grant to give a cover quote for an American writer, Vince Flynn. Kate edited my book The Stretch before she went to work for Simon and Schuster in their London office. Kate was trying to break Vince into the UK and thought a quote from me might help. Vince writes great action thrillers and I was more than happy to give her a quote. ‘Vince Flynn is Tom Clancy on speed’. It’s only seven words long but it’s a great quote, so great in fact that they have used it on his last three UK editions. The latest, Extreme Measures, was published last month, and there’s my quote on the front.

It’s funny but I actually get more of a kick seeing my name on the front of Vince’s books than seeing my own books!

Nick Brownlee already has a quote on the front of his book, Bait. It’s from crime writer Mark Billingham and it says ‘Bait will have you hooked’ which is quite clever. Now his editor wants a quote that has more to do with his writing style than any particular book. That way it can obviously be used on several titles.

Here’s a few thoughts I’ve had about quotes for Nick:

‘Nick Brownlee writes tough, uncompromising thrillers’

‘Torture, murder and an explosion – and that’s just the first chapter’

‘Dialogue that cuts like a machete’

‘Sun, sea sand – and murder most foul. A cracking thriller in an exotic setting’

‘More twists and turns than a boa constrictor’

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Business Card

I was having dinner with a couple of ITV staffers this week and I gave them my business card. I had the cards made up in Pattaya and I guess with hindsight they are a little cheesy. I thought I'd post it here for your amusement. The back has my address, phone numbers and website details. I'm going to revamp the Nightingale story.... make it more menacing and put my hero under more pressure. It won't be an easy rewrite but I think it needs to be done. Rejigging a book that you've already written is a bit like playing with a jigsaw, and at times it can make your head spin! But it'll be worth the effort. The new Spider Shepherd is bowling along....just hit 7,000 words and it feels really good.

Monday, February 2, 2009


I was supposed to be flying to Dublin today to continue promoting Live Fire, but heavy snow has closed Heathrow Airport so I won't be going anywhere! Here's the view from my London apartment! I've rescheduled to go next week.... At least it gives me time to get stuck into the new book!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dan Shepherd Books

Live Fire is my twentieth book, which I think is fairly good going! It's also the sixth book in the Dan "Spider" Shepherd series, and my publisher has asked for three more which I'll have to deliver this year, in 2010 and 2011.

Prior to writing the first Spider Shepherd book, Hard Landing, most of my books were stand-alone individual books, though I did have the occassional character reappearing - Mike "Joker" Cramer for instance, who was in The Chinaman (albeit briefly), The Long Shot and The Double Tap. And I know that some readers are keen for me to gop back to writing stand-alone stories. Nick, for instance, posted the following on my blog yesterday:

Love the books, espcially The Tunnel Rats, The Chinaman, The Vets and The Double Tap.I like the Dan Shepherd novels but think that it might be time for a change now? Not sure what others readers think about this?

He has a good point - and the four books he mentions are four of my favourites. I do enjoy writing stand-alone books, but I also enjoy writing the Spider Shepherd books. The problem is, I'm not sure how I can do both. My publisher, Hodder and Stoughton, takes the view that readers prefer a continuing character, and that a continuing character results in increased sales. They believe that readers enjoy following a character from book to book...

Certainly it's easier to write a continuing character because I don't have to reinvent the wheel each time I start. I know what Spider looks like, how he thinks, and I know all the details that go to make up his character. I know what car he drives, what he drinks, where he lives, and how he talks. If I were to write a new novel with new characters, I'd have to create totally new characters and that takes time and effort. And there's a formula for that Spider books that means I start knowing what the structure is going to be - for instance, there have to be scenes with his boss, Charlotte Button, with his son Liam and with his psychiatrist. He also generally interacts with other continuing characters, such as Jimmy "Razor" Sharpe and Major Allan Gannon.

The problem is, I guess, that a series can be predictable. But here's the rub - there are some readers who prefer a book to be predictable. That's not to say they want to read the same book over and over again, but there is something comforting about reading a book that follows a formula that you are familiar with. Dick Francis made a career from writing very similar books, and Robert Ludlum's thrillers do seem to follow a set pattern! And it certainly paid dividends for JK Rowling!

I'm still not sure what to do. With twenty books in print, I guess I'm about halfway through my writing career. I wouldn't like to think that all my future books will be Spider Shepherd stories, but I have to accept that Hodder and Stoughton wants me to continue writing them for the forseeable future. They have spent a lot of time and money establishing my name as a brand, so they do deserve a say in what sort of books I write.

One possibility is to change the structure of the books, perhaps by changing Spider. It has been suggested to me a couple of times that Liam should die tragically, pushing Spider into taking revenge and turning him into a much harder character. The problem with that is that once I've done it, there's no going back. It's definitely something that I'd have to discuss with Hodder and Stoughton before doing it!

There is another possibility. Hodder and Stoughton are keen for me to start writing two books a year, ie to work twice as hard! At the moment they would like another continuing series, with either an American hero or an American setting. But I might be able to write stand-alone books instead, ie two write one original story and one Spider Shepherd book every year. But that would be a lot of work, and I'm not sure if I'm up to it. But I guess the only way to find out is to give it a go and see how it works out. I shall keep you posted!