Author Interview: Steven Dunne

Wednesday 6 May 2015
Today I am really excited to be sharing a Q&A with Steven Dunne. Steven's latest book A Killing Moon is released May 7th and my review can be read here.

I hope you enjoy reading the Q&A, as a relatively new 'feature' on the blog it's difficult trying to think of interesting questions. Lots more planned over the coming weeks though so keep an eye out for them.

1. A Killing Moon is your 5th novel. What can you tell us about it that we won't find out from the blurb?

That's a tough one because I don't like to give too much away but I can tell you that Brook and his squad are in as much physical danger as they've ever been in from a single-minded band of fanatics who have managed to stay under the radar for a long time. Religion features strongly.

2. I would describe A Killing Moon as a brilliant mystery, one that certainly kept me guessing. Did you know the beginning, middle and end when you started writing or did things change as you wrote?

That's very kind, Shaun. In all my work to date I've tried to emphasis the mystery element of the police procedural because the thrillers I like to read are ones where, like Brook, sometimes you're not sure what's going on. In A Killing Moon, Brook and his sergeant, John Noble, aren't even sure crimes have been committed but through their usual process of dogged persistence and brilliant detection, they close in on the truth, hopefully in time to save lives. I like my mysteries fiendish which is difficult to plan ahead so at the outset I have a clear idea of the themes of the novel as well as how to set things in motion. I'll also have some notion of how things will end but this can change depending on how things are going in the story.

3. It can be difficult for authors to create a detective that stands out in this very busy genre, DI Damen Brook is an intriguing character to say the least. Did you purposely set out to try and make him 'different'? Even though he does have some of those traits you find in most detectives...

I did set out to make him different, yes. I didn't want too much self-indulgent weeping and wailing which I find a huge turn-off. I'm wary of the run-of-the-mill damaged detective tropes but having said that, the often terrible things they see must have some impact on them. Brook is a brilliant detective and his major flaw is that he can't let go of, or stop thinking about, cases that he hasn't solved and early in his career this caused him to have a mental breakdown followed by a speedy transfer out of London to Derby. That allowed me to make him very self-contained and controlled because he is very aware of giving too much of himself to an investigation in case it causes him problems. He does go the extra mile, of course, but to compensate he shuts himself off from most of his colleagues and any private life he might wish to enjoy. In the series so far, I've enjoyed allowing Brook to gradually come out of his shell as he builds relationships with colleagues in his new posting.

4. I know it's an impossible question to answer but do you have a particular favourite out of all your novels? And did you find any of them more difficult to write than the others?

They're all difficult to write, Shaun, and in the pursuit of excellence I wouldn't want it any other way. Like Brook, I try to go the extra mile to make the mystery credible but I also expend a lot of energy hopefully making the characterisation right. My philosophy is that readers won't invest in characters that don't convince. I know I don't. Not wishing to sound arrogant, but I really think I'm at the top of my game at the moment and my last three books, including A Killing Moon, have been as good as I can get them. Thankfully the reviews have reflected that, I'm glad to say. Having said all that, my favourite of the five is The Unquiet Grave because it was a delight to conceive and write. Brook is in disgrace and on his own investigating cold cases and it was an enjoyable break from my usual procedural. It showed me a possible future for Brook as a private detective, when I run out of serial killers to populate the streets of Derby, that is.

5. I'm intrigued by your road to publishing: from self-publishing to Avon to Headline. Did the publishers approach you or you them? And was it always your aim to be published 'properly' given how successful self-publishing is now?

In my pre-self-publishing days I did a lot of approaching, Shaun. I went through the Writer's and Artist's Yearbook and back again looking for a publisher and an agent, offering them the manuscript of The Reaper. It's a tough business to crack even with an idea you believe is original and interesting. Publishers and agents have already got clients and they're doing very nicely so any submission has to be truly exciting to get their attention. It's important to believe in yourself and your work and be persistent. In the end, I self-published Reaper simply because I didn't think I could make it any better and that to continue flogging it was a waste of time.

I had 2000 published and set about selling them successfully around Derby and this is what started to get me noticed. Avon made me an offer and the rest is history. But you're right, I did think long and hard before entering traditional publishing. Perhaps, if I was starting now, I'd be looking into the excellent opportunities offered by Amazon but back in 2008, Avon offered me a chance to reach markets that were closed off to me at that point. When Headline approached me with an offer, it wasn't a difficult decision to move on after two books with Avon.

6. You are active on Twitter with both readers and the many brilliant crime authors on there. Do you take inspiration from any authors? And what books do you enjoy reading yourself?

I'd say I'm about average where Twitter is concerned and not all of that is book-related. Twitter has been great because it's offered me a chance to connect with other writers, some of whom I can now call friends but clearly, when you have a book to publicise it's important to have a presence on social media.

As a semi-retired English teacher, my first love is literature, especially American. Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Mailer and Jonathan Franzen spring immediately to mind. I'm also a terrible armchair tourist as well and there's something exciting about starting a book that not only entertains but takes you around foreign climes and customs. That explains why I enjoy Henning Mankell's work so much. That and the fact that it's very well written. I also loved the Larsson trilogy for the same reason. On home shores the crime writers I admire are those who have built a career on sustained quality and great writing because that's what it's all about for me. Mark Billingham, Val McDermid and RJ Ellory spring to mind. They've been an inspiration to a new generation of upcoming crime writers committed to quality. I'm thinking of names like David Mark, Sarah Hilary, Luca Veste, Mari Hannah and others who've entered the genre with a commitment to great writing as well as great entertainment.

7. What does a typical writing day look like for you? I often picture sitting at a computer with a nice view, relaxing and writing... I imagine real-life writing is not at all like that?

It can be like that, Shaun, but of course professional writing is a job, perhaps not like any other, but it has to be treated as such and like all jobs, it's sometimes an effort to drag yourself to the workplace especially if the sun is shining. I try to start early, if I'm not teaching, but after the usual fiddling about - Twitter, Facebook, email, checking the league tables and whether San Francisco Giants have won - it's usually nine o'clock before I put fingers to keys. I'll try and write until a light lunch then write on until mid-afternoon, ending around three for a visit to the swimming pool - essential as writing is frighteningly sedentary.

8. Do publication day nerves get better or worse with each book that you release? And do you do anything to celebrate the day itself?

I can honestly say I don't get nervous about an impending release. I've already done all I can to make the book as good as I can and once it's in the public domain, the only things I'm interested in is the opening trickle of feedback to see if readers think my work is as good as the last. If I've done my job, I'll be reasonably confident and look forward to that. Naturally I take more than a passing interest in sales but as that's largely beyond my influence, I don't get nervous or excited about it. Frustrated maybe, if a book doesn't get the attention I think it deserves but, hey, it's a crowded marketplace out there. I suppose if A Killing Moon got rave notices from the press and plenty of attention, that might change things a little.

9. Readers usually finish the latest in the series and want more straightaway, can you tell us anything about what you are working on at the minute?

I'm currently working on DI Brook's 6th installment entitled Death Do Us Part about a serial killer murdering married couples.

Thanks to Steven Dunne for answering my questions! 

About Steven Dunne

Steven Dunne was born in Bradford, Yorkshire but moved to London after attending Kent University and St Mary's College in Twickenham. He became a freelance journalist writing for The Times and the Independent and, after co-writing a comedy pilot, wrote the book for The Latchmere Theatre's award-winning pantomime Hansel and Gretel.

Since moving to Derby he has written four highly acclaimed thrillers - THE REAPER, THE DISCIPLE, DEITY and THE UNQUIET GRAVE, all featuring DI Damen Brook of Derby CID. He is also a part-time teacher in the city.

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