Stephen joins us today to discuss his new novel, New York Night.
Q. What inspired you to write the Jack Nightingale series?
A. I always loved the Black Magic books of Dennis Wheatley when I was a kid and I’m a huge fan of the Constantine character in the Hellblazer comics (graphic novels as they prefer to be called these days). And I just love supernatural films, especially haunted houses and things that go bump in the night. With the Nightingale series I wanted to explore the supernatural world but with a hero who is very much grounded in reality. The first three books – Nightfall, Midnight and Nightmare – really explain his backstory, how he became the man he is. The next two – Nightshade and Lastnight – explain why he had to leave the UK and the subsequent books will be set mainly in the United States, hence San Francisco Night and New York Night.
Q. Do you have a specific writing style?
A. I try not to have a style. Like most journalists-turned-writers I try to tell my stories simply with uncluttered prose. If I find myself over-writing I tend to hit the delete key and start again. I try to write my books as if I was writing for a newspaper, where it’s the information that is being conveyed that’s important, not the style in which it’s written. I do like to write fast-paced books, with lots of dialogue and not too much descriptions. For me, the story is everything.
Q. How did you come up with the title?
A. As Jack Nightingale is the hero, I decided it would be neat to have the word ‘Night’ in all the titles, though after Nightfall, Midnight, Nightmare, Nightshade and Lastnight I have to confess I was running out of options. I don’t think Nightdress was going to cut it as a title! The rest of the titles will be the name of a city, plus Night. So I have already published San Francisco Night and New York Night, and later this year I hope to publish Miami Night.
Q. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
A. The knee-jerk answer is that my books are to entertain and that I’m not trying to teach my readers anything, I just want to tell them a good story. But on reflection I do think most writers want their readers to put down a book having at least learned something. With my Spider Shepherd thrillers I do try to point out the way the world is changing, how it is becoming a more uncertain and dangerous place and how the authorities are trying to deal with that. With the Jack Nightingale books that mission to explain is less pronounced and really I am trying to tell a good story, though there is of course an underlying moral that good always triumphs over evil. The problem with that moral, of course, is that it isn’t true – evil often wins, which is sad.
Q. What books have most influenced your life most?
A. The book I have read the most in my life is One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I love the way it’s such a small story but with such depth. It’s a book about character but through that character you understand an entire political system. I read Harry’s Game by Gerald Seymour several times before I wrote my IRA thriller The Chinaman. Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre was an inspiring book but it is so good that after I read it I gave up thinking I could be writer for several years.
Q. Do you have any advice for other writers?
A. Read. Read a lot. Read good books and bad books and learn from them both. Write every day if you can. I think though that real writers don’t need advice, not about writing. Real writers will be constantly reading because they love books. And they will be constantly writing because they love to write. You need to find your own voice, you need to write the books that you want to write, or that you feel you have to write, and I don’t believe anyone else should be telling you what sort of books to write or how to write them. I don’t think real writers need advice because real writers are self-motivated to improve their craft. They know what needs to be done! Self-publishing is a different matter, there you do need advice because you have to take care of covers, blurbs, marketing and so on. Google self-publishing guru Joe Konrath and read everything he has to say about self-public
Q. What genre do you consider your book(s)?
A. The books published by Hodder and Stoughton are thrillers, pure and simple. The Jack Nightingale series – which Hodder and Stoughton originally published but which I now publish myself – are supernatural thrillers, though they sometimes get labelled as occult thrillers, which is fine.
Q. Do you ever experience writer’s block?
A. You know, I don’t think there is such a thing, not if you mean a writer who simply cannot write. Like all writers I sometimes have trouble with a storyline or a section I’m writing, but if that happens I simply switch to writing something else, either a different part of the same work or even a separate piece. I always have half a dozen or so short stories in mind so if a book starts to give me problems I might take a few days off and write one of those instead. But as I’m writing a book I usually have several sections already planned out so blocking doesn’t become an issue. My advice to anyone who does feel that they are blocked is to start trying to write something else, anything, just to start the words flowing again!
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A. Actually New York Night was an easy book to write, partly because Nightingale is such a great character to work with and partly because I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen. It took about two months, from start to finish, and at no point did I hit any real problems. The ending didn’t come to me until the last week or so and I think that was probably the hardest part, coming up with a satisfying ending.
Q. What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
A. I just love the Jack Nightingale character. When Hodder and Stoughton decided they didn’t want to continue to publish the series, there was no question that the books would stop. Jack just wouldn’t allow it. I love his sarcasm, his slight air of pessimism, and the fact that he just takes whatever life throws at him. He’s smart and thinks on his feet, yet because the supernatural world is so alien to him it’s constantly catching him off-balance. Having the books set in the United States is fun, because he’s always a fish out of water. It gives me the chance to explore different cities, too, which I enjoy enormously. This one was good fun because I know New York well, it’s one of my favourite cities. The next one will be set in Miami which is also a fun city.
Q. What are you working on at the minute?
A. I’m writing the 13th Dan “Spider” Shepherd novel for Hodder and Stoughton. It’s called Dark Forces and is about an Islamic State sniper who is sent to London to carry out a terrorist atrocity. It’s hard work (40,000 words done with 80,000 still to go) but I’m enjoying it. Once that’s done I’ll be writing a stand-alone novel about an arson investigator and then I’ll start Miami Night.
Q. What’s is your latest book about?
A. The latest book I’ve self-published is New York Night, where teenagers are being possessed and turning into sadistic murderers. Priests can’t help, nor can psychiatrists. So who is behind the demonic possessions? Jack Nightingale is called in to investigate, and finds his own soul is on the line.
Hodder and Stoughton are publishing my thriller First Response on February 25, though I will be self-publishing it in the United States. In First Response, London is under siege. Nine men in suicide vests primed to explode hold hostages in nine different locations around the city, and are ready to die for their cause. Their mission: to force the government to release jihadist prisoners from Belmarsh Prison. Their deadline: 6 p.m. Today. But the bombers are cleanskins, terrorists with no obvious link to any group, and who do not appear on any anti-terror watch list. What has brought them together on this one day to act in this way? Mo Kamran is the Superintendent in charge of the Special Crime and Operations branch of the Met. As the disaster unfolds and the SAS, armed police, and other emergency services rush to the scenes, he is tasked with preventing the biggest terrorist outrage the capital has ever known. But nothing is what it seems. And only Kamran has the big picture. Will anyone believe him?