Thursday, May 2, 2019

New interview with mystery author Peter Rowlands

A big welcome back to mystery author Peter Rowlands. We’re catching up today and chatting about his newest thriller novel, The Concrete Ceiling.

Peter was a guest when he debuted his first novel. You can read that interview here.

Peter Rowlands has published five mystery thrillers. The first, Alternative Outcome, has attracted over a hundred positive reader reviews worldwide, and has been compared in style and content to the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (the pen-name of JK Rowling). According to Peter, “The most flattering review I’ve ever received for any of my books is from a reader who said she wished the story would go on forever.”

Peter was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in north-east England, but has spent most of his adult life in London, and has travelled widely in Europe and America. His mysteries tend to feature ordinary people thrust into challenging situations, and they usually have a strong romantic thread. “But they’re by no means romances as such,” he says. “My characters have their feet firmly on the ground.”

For many years Peter published, edited and contributed to UK business magazines. He was one of the first editors to cover the mechanics of home shopping deliveries during the e-commerce revolution. “I haven’t featured that theme in my books yet,” he comments, “but watch this space!”

Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews, Peter, what inspired you to write this book?
That’s an easy question to answer. For my own writing I chose the self-publishing route, and I quickly learned just how difficult it is it get noticed in such a crowded market. So in The Concrete Ceiling I decided to build a plot round the challenge faced by writers like me. The leading character has self-published his own mystery thriller, and he pays a book promotion specialist much more than he can afford to get it some exposure. Things start to go very wrong from there. His love life is pulling him in several directions at once, and he’s accused of a serious crime he didn’t commit. And he hasn’t even sold any more books!

Excerpt from chapter 16 of The Concrete Ceiling:
Mike meets the book promoter

I took the Tube to Angel station, then set off on foot along Upper Street, the broad bustling heart of Islington’s commercial centre.
The walk took fifteen minutes. As I arrived at the short flight of steps up to the front door it was snatched open and a girl appeared. She had shortish dark hair and a slightly shiny complexion, and looked about fifteen, but could have been younger. She was wearing studiedly scruffy jeans with splits and tears at the knees, and was tapping urgently on a mobile phone. The white wires from her ear buds dangled over her shoulders. She slammed the door behind her, then glanced at me and gave me a hostile stare. “What are you looking at?” The accent sounded American.
“Nothing. I’m trying to find Rob Openshaw. Is this the right place?”
“Who wants to know?”
“My name is Mike.”
“Is that right?” She continued to stare malevolently at me. I tried to meet her gaze without flinching, and after a moment she said, “Right.” She turned back to the house, gave an exaggerated press on the large bell push, then swivelled round and trotted down the steps. “Knock yourself out, Mike.” She gave my name sarcastic emphasis. She almost barged against me as she headed off airily down the street.
There was a long pause, then the door opened again and a man looked out warily at me. He was slim in build and quite tall, and had a narrow face and soft mid-brown hair. His black jeans and smart loose-fitting grey linen jacket gave him a youthful aura that probably belied his age.
“Can I help you?”
“Rob Openshaw? I’m here about The Magic Bookseller.”
“What?” He stared at me with what I could only read as shock. After a moment he said, “Who are you?”
“I’m a client – an author. I’m wondering when my promotional campaign is going to run.”
“A client?” He continued to stare at me as if he could scarcely comprehend what I was saying. Finally he shook his head. “Look, I’m sorry you’ve wasted your trip, but this isn’t an office. We don’t meet clients here. We’re a virtual operation …”
I could almost hear the thought processes whirring in his head. He wanted to close the door on the conversation, but he could see that this wouldn’t make me disappear, or prevent me from knowing where he lived.
Before he could come to any conclusion I said, “All I want to know is when my campaign is going to start. I’ve paid up-front and you’ve had my money, but I haven’t seen any evidence of any promotional activity.”
He was shaking his head. “How on earth did you find me here? We don’t publish a UK address. We operate from California.”
“I know that, but you don’t answer messages, so what else was I to do?”
“All the same …” Abruptly he switched to another tack. “Can I ask who you are?”
“My name is Mike Stanhope.

What’s the next writing project?
I have two possible ideas – another book in the series about Mike Stanhope, in which he finds himself doing some genuine detecting, and a stand-alone thriller about a man who thinks he’s bumped into his ideal woman in a shopping mall. I haven’t decided yet which I’ll work on first.

What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book?
I guess the biggest challenge for me with every book is sorting out the detail of the plot. I don’t mind coincidences in stories, but I hate implausible developments, or people acting out of character, so I spend ages checking that whatever happens, it seems convincing and believable, and fits in logically with everything that comes before and after.

If your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
I try to write within areas that I already know, so mostly I only have to brush up my knowledge, not start from scratch. If there are key plot points that I’m not familiar with (a type of injury, for instance), I research it before building the plot round it, but if it’s more of an incidental point (US visa requirements, for instance), I sometimes just check the details when the issue arises.

What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
I usually work in the south-facing front room of my apartment, which often has lots of sunlight to give me a positive outlook. But so long as I’m in front of my keyboard, I’m happy. I connect my laptop to a big monitor with a really clear resolution, and use an add-on keyboard with laptop-type keys that have a nice springiness to them. I find that details like this really can help speed up the writing process.

What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
I love CJ Box’s series about Joe Pickett, the game warden in Wyoming, and I’ve become an even bigger fan of Paul Doiron, who also writes about a game warden, but in New England. Recently I’ve become a particular fan of the Strike series by JK Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith), which features a downbeat private eye working in central London. My all-time favourite thriller writer was Dick Francis in his prime. I love his confident, economical prose.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
Mike, the leading character in my new book, is right about the challenges facing self-published authors. It can be a hard and lonely road. What we writers crave most (apart from sales!) is reviews – even if they’re just a line long. They really do help attract other readers … as well as giving us a sense of validation! Another challenge is deciding whether books should form part of a series or be stand-alone. I’ve mostly chosen the series approach (except for my fourth book, Never Going to Happen, which I wrote under the pen-name Anders Teller). But I try to make each book work as a self-contained story, so that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the history. It’s a constant juggling act!

Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!

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