Friday, October 4, 2013

Interview with mystery/thriller author Huw Thomas

Mystery author Huw Thomas is here today to talk about himself and his new novel, The Vault.

Welcome, Huw. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Born in 1965, I grew up in a small town in southern England and wrote my first ‘book’ while at primary school. I pretended to be a newspaper journalist for a while and then moved into PR before getting fed up with office life and throwing it all in to retrain as an teacher of English as a foreign language.

My wife, Carolyn, and I have just resettled in Bournemouth after several years teaching in Portugal. As well as writing, I now juggle several other part-time jobs - gardening, teaching at a language school and working as a sub-editor for a local newspaper.

I had my first writing success in 2005 when The Tale of Findo Gask won a UK contest for new authors. I was over the moon to get a publishing contract but sadly - although I did get to see my book in print and got one royalty cheque - the company involved went bust not long after.

Subsequently, along with Findo and The Vault, I've published one other novel - Thin Ice - and a collection of short stories - Fractured Lives - under my own name. I've also written an adventure novel called Pagan's Sphinx under the pen name William Webster. At the moment - slightly annoyingly - this is selling a lot more copies than my other books.

I've just completed the first draft of my next novel - Church of the White Rabbits - which is a bit more quirky than anything I've written before. This is currently in the hands of my beta readers but I hope it will be out by the end of the year or early in 2014.

Please tell us about your current release.
The Vault is a mystery thriller set in a small town in southern England. The book revolves around young schoolboy Adam Strong and his battles with a gang of local yobs. Woven around Adam's story are three other strands - an armed raid on the home of a reclusive billionaire, the discovery of three dead bodies in a local pond and a sex offender who goes on the run after breaking his parole.

The different stories - and timelines - all gradually come together as the significance of the vault and its contents finally become clear.

Aimed at adults or young adults, The Vault explores questions of trust and loyalty from a range of perspectives.

The Vault is published in aid of the disaster relief charity ShelterBox, which gets half of all royalties. I was once in charge of the charity’s communications and fundraising and I know how much it does to help families who - through no fault of their own - have lost their homes to disasters like earthquakes, floods etc

In 2010, my wife and I undertook a year-long tandem cycle ride in aid of the charity - clocking up nearly 11,000 miles across 10 countries and raising almost £50,000.

What inspired you to write this book?
It all started with an idea for short story that began with a group of black-clad intruders breaking into castle to kidnap a young boy.

That mutated into a more contemporary story about armed raiders forcing their way into a mansion and I then started to weave several other strands around that initial scenario.

The main part of the resulting novel is about a young boy growing up in a small English town, who spends a lot of time roaming the local woods. There’s a lot of me in that part - although much of what Adam gets up to is purely from my imagination. He’s far braver than I ever was.

Excerpt from The Vault:
Chapter 4
By mid-afternoon the entire area around the lake was cordoned off with blue and white tape. One police car was parked across the track leading up from the main car park. A line of vehicles stood where the council van had been. The team of workmen were gone; apart from having discovered the bodies, their statements had offered nothing more of obvious significance.

The pumps brought in to empty the lake had been busy for hours. Thousands of gallons of water had been sucked up over the bank and poured down into the fields beyond. A bed of fine wire mesh was spread across the ground where the last of the lake water was still emptying out, in the chance of catching any stray bits of floating evidence. Another pump was on the far side of the lake, diverting the flow coming from the culvert that fed the ornamental pool.

A few pools of water still glistened here and there but otherwise the lake was pretty much now drained. Instead of the usual wide pool, all that could be seen were thick layers of mud – silt and rotting vegetation that had built up over the best part of a century. Some parts of the lakebed were already starting to dry out, the surface of the mud thickening and cracking in the sunlight. Elsewhere, in the damper hollows, sunlight and oxygen were combining with the remaining moisture to create pungent aromas.

A churned-up track led out through the stinking mud to where police officers in thigh-length waders stepped cautiously through the ooze. One of the scene-of-crime officers (known as SOCOs) photographed the three black shapes. A number of colleagues crouched around him. Their oversuits now coated with mud, they were sieving through the surrounding muck, looking for any clues before they attempted to disturb the objects that had lain hidden underneath the lake and its lilies.

Esther Green stood and watched the SOCOs from the edge of the bank. She had ventured out into the lake once and had no desire to spend any more time in the mud than necessary. A pallid, tattooed arm was all that was to be seen of the first body, revealed where the council worker’s billhook had caught in the chain and then sliced through the corpse’s heavy-duty plastic wrapping. Esther had gone close enough to show solidarity with her junior officers. She would leave the detailed examination to the experts.

There were two similar bundles lying on the lake bed only a few feet from the first one. The actual details would not be confirmed until some time later and, for the time being, there was little else she could do.   Without answers to at least some of the more fundamental questions – such as how and when – it would be hard for her to start any kind of meaningful investigation. What she had seen with her own eyes, however, was enough to give her imagination plenty to work on.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’ve just finished the first draft of Church of the White Rabbits. This is now in the hands of a small team of beta readers - and I’m really hoping they don’t pull it apart too much.

This book is a bit different from my others. It’s set on a remote Atlantic island, featuring a cast of eccentric characters, including a ‘mad’ old family matriarch, drunken fishermen, young surfers… and lots of white rabbits.

It’s a bit quirky and I hope it works because I had a lot of fun writing it and have plans for at least one sequel.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember. My mother tells me that I wrote my first book while I was still at primary school - sadly I don’t have a copy.

My life as a writer has gone in fits and bursts as I’ve tried to combine it with all the other parts of life but it’s never gone away.

I’m now 48 and still writing but I’m also still learning.

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 used to have a full-time job but gave that up as it didn’t give me enough time to write (or enjoy life).

At the moment I’ve got several part time jobs - as a teacher, gardener and newspaper sub-editor. I earn a lot less than I used to but I’m much happier… and I’ve also got a lot more freedom.

Every day is different and though there’s no security I’m no longer worried about it. I generally have at least one day a week that I devote to my writing - and marketing my books. I also write several evenings a week.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Having no real plan! My books have all started life in different ways - Findo Gask came from a road sign, Thin Ice was based on a strange dream and The Vault spent some time as a screenplay.

I generally have a pretty good idea of where I’m going when I write but all kinds of things happen along the way that I never expected.

I think having a detailed plan before I start would take away a lot of the spontaneity of writing. Inconsistencies and plot holes can be ironed out in the editing stage.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
That varied - farmer, fireman, and astronaut were popular at different times.

Being an author has always been a dream though. I can spend huge amounts of time creating imaginary worlds, lives and situations. I get a huge amount of entertainment out of my writing - if I can share that pleasure with other people then so much the better.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
My main aim is to entertain. I want to take people out of their own worlds and transport them somewhere different.

If I can make them gasp, smile, sigh or laugh (in the right places) then I’m happy.

There’s often an underlying theme to my stories - about issues like justice, trust or equality - but I don’t want to preach. I’m happy to take people a little way out of their comfort zones and invite them to look at things from a new perspective but that’s not a crucial part of my writing. Most of all, I want readers to lose themselves in the places and relationships that I’ve created.

Ways to connect:

Thanks, Huw, for sharing a bit about yourself and your writing.

No comments: