Short story writer Frank Westworth joins me today to chat about his new collection of shorts, The Stoner Stories. These are crime, thriller, mystery, intrigue hardboiled, and noir stories.
Frank Westworth shares several characteristics with his literary anti-hero, JJ Stoner: they both play mean blues guitar and ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Unlike Stoner, Frank hasn't deliberately killed anyone. Frank lives in Cornwall in the UK, with his guitars, motorcycles, partner and cat.
Welcome, Frank. What do you enjoy most about writing short stories?
The freedom they offer for a writer to take a single idea, or a character, or a situation and then develop it in a single sitting. No monster planning sessions, no real need to remember all the intricacies of a big plot arc or the entire history of the characters and their relationships. You can just have an idea (‘Hey! What if Deep Water Horizon was actually sabotage, huh?’) and run along with it, see where it goes. And if it turns out that the idea’s silly or impossible or just plain bad, then … well, you’ve only lost a day.
Can you give us a little insight into a few of your short stories – perhaps some of your favorites?
My own? Of course; every writer’s dream. The very first to appear – though not the first to get written – is ‘First Contract’, which is an introduction to the central character in all my fiction attempts, JJ Stoner, showing how the transition from regular army grunt to governmental spook happened. When I wrote the first novel, which came out a couple of years before the short story, I had only a vague idea of Stoner’s roots. And I was happy with that. I wanted to present the stories as being part of a continuing process, without an obvious start and without an obvious end. Life – real life – is like that. One of many big surprises was that The Reader wanted to know more about Stoner’s origins, so First Contract is a prequel, if you like.
I used all the other shorts – six so far with another couple written and another under way – to highlight characters from the novels, which is always fun, especially as in a couple of cases I’ve introduced characters who won’t appear again – in a novel – for quite a long time. And they are really entertaining to write. You can share humour with The Reader. So, Third Person is written entirely in the first person, from a woman’s perspective, which is a challenge. But I wanted to try that, as several of my favourite authors who write male characters are actually women.
What genre are you inspired to write in the most? Why?
Thrillers. I always wanted to write thrillers. I’ve had a bash at writing fantasy and science fiction, but as what I enjoy the most is considering situations which have at least one foot in reality I found it too difficult. I read monster amounts of crime / thriller fiction, and perhaps the most interesting part of the best novels is their recognition that we all have both heroes and villains inside us, and that a dastardly act from one perspective could be seen as selfless heroism from another. Exploring that is the best bit.
What exciting story are you working on next?
The problem with writing a trilogy – which is what I set out to do, basing the three books around three sisters rather than the central character – is that the story never actually ends Unless you kill everybody off, which is not entirely a high note to end on. So at the moment I’m writing the fourth book in the series of three. It’s intended as a standalone, not as part of a set, which means that I can present an entirely different situation, location and indeed most of the characters those who’ve read the earlier books and shorts, or to anyone who’s not.
It’s exciting – possibly – because the characters have closed old doors and opened new ones. Old and honest personal friendships have survived, while ‘professional’ friendships have not. Worlds have been realigned, loyalties have been transferred, personal relationships have become untenable or the opposite.
It also takes place in the present day, which with the current political volatility is providing excellent opportunities for ‘what-if’ situations. And a lot of murder, mayhem, that kind of thing.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve been a full-time non-fiction professional writer since 1988. It pays the bills! Writing fiction, however, has long been a hobby – a passion, if you prefer. I wrote my first full-length novel in 1990 or so, but didn’t publish it because I didn’t like it.
How do you research markets for your work, perhaps as some advice for writers?
Market research? I look at what sells, and at what I enjoy reading, then try to write in a way which interesting to The Reader. I can’t offer any commercial advice, but will repeat what stunningly successful author RJ Ellory, who is also a good friend, told me: write what you want to write, he said, and several times. Never be discouraged. Knuckle down and do it. Don’t stop.
The crime/thriller market is very big, but there is only a tiny number of authors who succeed commercially. That’s life.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I love writing dialogue. I totally enjoy getting inside the heads of characters – who are all based on real people, by the way – and imagining them having fast and witty conversations in tense conversations. I also like to shock, so allow the characters to rush off and find fun in their own ways. Physically fit women and men do what they do, and describing it could probably be described as a quirk!
And I write masses of dialogue.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had no plans. I grew up through the 1960s and 70s; I just wanted to have enough of everything to have a really good time. I worked as a musician for a long while and thought that would be great. But it wasn’t…
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Tiny advice, not original, but passed on as encouragement. If you want to write – to write anything – just do it. Do not wait for inspiration. Think of characters, put them in situations and see how they work together. If that doesn’t work, save the file to a disc and start afresh. Do that until you have characters doing stuff that you enjoy writing. If you enjoy writing it, there is at least a chance that others will enjoy reading it!
Thanks for being here today, Frank. Happy writing!