My special guest today is Peter Rowlands. He’s chatting with me about his debut novel, Alternative Outcome. It’s a mystery drama with a romantic thread.
Peter Rowlands was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, but has lived nearly all his adult life in London. He spent many years editing and contributing to UK business magazines covering logistics, transport and home delivery, but novel writing was always where he wanted to be, and he finally published his first novel, the mystery drama Alternative Outcome, in 2016.
Peter is an avid reader of mystery dramas and thrillers, and always planned to write books that distilled what he considers the most appealing aspects of such works: vivid characters, naturalistic dialogue, plenty of pace, and intricate but coherent plots.
Welcome, Peter. Please tell us about Alternative Outcome.
What if you self-published a novel based on real events and people, and some of those people and events started to intrude into your life? Alternative Outcome starts with that premise, partly turning the mirror on itself.
Mike Stanhope, unfulfilled by his job as a freelance journalist working in London and depressed following his divorce, hopes that publishing a book will help him re-focus his life, but when friends urge him to track down one of the real-life characters he has hijacked for it, a girl he knew long ago as a teenager, disturbing events follow: a website hack, a theft, a kidnap attempt.
Mike’s search takes him to Cornwall, where a new relationship beckons, but fact and fiction become increasingly entangled as he struggles to work out what really happened in the story behind his book. The pressure mounts as he deals with increasingly aggressive confrontations with people who seem convinced he has information they need.
What inspired you to write this book?
Getting a book published is a big challenge (that’s an understatement if ever there was one), so in Alternative Outcome I decided to work some of my own experience of this into the plot line. I was also fascinated by the power of the internet to track down people who previously might have found it much easier to stay hidden; and I was intrigued by the parallels and contrasts between remembered experience and the hard evidence that is now so often preserved online. Combining these ingredients offered a rich mix, presenting opportunities for a multi-layered drama.
Beyond all this, I also wanted to celebrate the joys and setbacks of an emerging relationship played out in difficult circumstances. I wanted to create a convincing world populated by vivid, three-dimensional characters – everyday people facing unexpected challenges.
Excerpt from Alternative Outcome:
We progressed to a restaurant down the street. I ended up sitting diagonally opposite Ashley, facing a Londoner called Joe who proceeded to spend an inordinately long time telling me about the delights of surfing. “That’s why I moved to Cornwall,” he told me. “Fantastic to have it all there on tap. Lovely lifestyle, too. I’d never come back here to London now.”
The meal ran its course. I couldn’t easily converse with Ashley on her own, but I was strongly aware of her voice and personality, and this evening she seemed more animated than I remembered. I was aware of her colleagues teasing her from time to time, but I could tell it was teasing borne out of respect, and she parried it with self-deprecating grace.
Eventually Joe disappeared to the men’s room, and Ashley shuffled into his place opposite me and leaned forward. Though we’d had so little direct conversation, in a strange way it felt as if we’d spent the entire evening in unspoken dialogue.
She grinned at me. “Is that what people call you? Michael?”
“Not really. When I’m good I’m just Mike.”
She nodded to herself several times.
“Michael, I have intelligence for you. Brought to you courtesy of Patrick.” Unthinking, she took a sip of Joe’s beer. “Aarrggh! What’s this stuff?” She thrust it down, reached over for her own glass and took a sip from that. “Patrick is my older brother.”
“Thing is, I was telling him about you.” She broke off. “Not that I want you to get the impression that I was thinking about you. No way.”
“But somehow you came up in conversation. And he remembered Trina Markham quite well. I think he probably fancied her, stupid prat. He always fancied all the girls at the Fairmile.”
“Yes, and he says she was from Altrincham. Her father was an accountant or something, and they had a posh house up there.” She looked at me in triumph. “What do you think of that?”
“Is that it?”
She smiled at me with her eyes. “That’s gold-plated information there! Normally I charge for this kind of thing.”
“It’s greatly valued, I assure you.”
“Yes, I believe you.”
We continued to smile at each other for a moment, perhaps unsure where to take the conversation next.
“How’s Jack?” I asked finally. I hated myself for bringing him into the conversation, but somehow couldn’t help myself.
“Jack is fine, thank you.” She looked away from me for a moment, then back. “We’ve known each other forever.” She took another sip of beer.
“When are you planning on getting married?”
“Oh, no date yet. Probably next year.” An airy shake of the head. “It’s a moveable feast.” She pondered this for a moment. “It’s a virtual engagement – that’s what it is. Virtual.”
What exciting story are you working on next?
Prior to writing my first published mystery drama, I wrote an earlier one, Escape Sequence, in which memory loss was one of the main themes. This a well-trodden path, but for good reasons in my view; it opens up so many dramatic possibilities. That book also drew on my own long experience of working with people in the world of public relations.
I felt that the earlier book wasn’t quite ready for publication, but now I’m revising and paring it down, and I think it will make a convincing follow-up to Alternative Outcome. I also have ideas for my third novel, which again will have a logistics / business publishing background, and will include photo editing as one of its themes. I aim to write this during 2016.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I was already inventing story extracts and typing them out on my father’s pre-war Remington portable typewriter when I was about ten. Did I think I was a writer? Well, I wanted to be! Then I spent a career in business journalism, which of course involved writing of a kind, but all along I knew I could write compelling fiction too. So I guess I’ve always considered myself a writer – but I’ve taken a very long time to demonstrate it to the world.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I still have to pay bills, so I can’t afford to write fiction full-time, though I spend as much time on it as I can. The rest of the time I write journalistic stuff about logistics and computing, including some promotional material; I write about and photograph buses (yes, including London’s red double-deckers); and I build web sites. But increasingly I’m forcing these day jobs to the side to ensure that the fiction doesn’t get neglected.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I wouldn’t say it’s a quirk exactly, but I’m fanatical about the way presentation can influence the way readers take in the rhythm and flow of prose, especially when direct speech is involved. For instance, a new line for a new speaker might be enough to indicate the pace of a conversation, but sometimes you might have to be more explicit by breaking a quote mid-way with “He hesitated” or some such device. But not too often! I’m also pretty fanatical about getting the punctuation right – and the grammar, of course. When you’ve been a journalist, a sub-editor and an editor yourself, you realize that when it comes to the fine detail, the buck stops somewhere. I feel strongly that I need to take that responsibility on myself.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was about seven, I told my parents I wanted to be a BBC producer. They were amazed that I even knew what this meant. For the record, a BBC producer was then the equivalent of a director in the film world, and that’s what I had in mind. I loved the idea of managing a cast of characters and developing a story. In a way, that’s what I’ve finally been able to do with my fiction – but I don’t have to rely on actors, set-builders, sound staff and a lighting crew. I can do it on my own!
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
For every writer you hear about and consider reading, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, who are toiling in isolation, struggling to make their voices heard. The internet revolution has opened the door for anyone to jump on the publishing ladder, but it’s a steep ascent, and from the bottom it can appear that most of the rungs are missing. So when you do find a writer you like, share your good fortune – tell your friends and the world! It might seem a small thing, but it can give an enormous boost to the author. Self-published writers are especially reliant readers to celebrate their successes; they have no promotional machine to keep them in the public eye.
Thanks, Peter. Happy writing!