Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Solitary Man - My Ninth Book

I wrote The Solitary Man while I was living in Bangkok. I'd wanted to do a prison escape story for some time and thought it would be interesting to set it in a Thai prison.

I visited Klong Prem, Bangkok's main prison, several times and spoke to prisoners there to get a feel for the place. It was a fun book to write, but it has never been one of my big sellers, perhaps because of the South East Asian settings. But it remains one of my favourite Stephen Leather novels.

Some years after The Solitary Man was published I received a letter from a guy called David McMillan, the only Westerner to have ever escaped from Klong Prem prison.  We met in London and I was able to advise him on the writing of his own book about the escape. It's a great read and I always wish I'd met him before writing my book as his escape was way better than the one I used in The Solitary Man!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Double Tap - My Eighth Book

As a writer the question I get asked more than any other, pretty much, is "where do you get your ideas from?'

It's a tough question to answer because the ideas come in different ways - from talking to people, from reading newspapers, from watching TV.

But my eighth novel - The Double Tap - came to me all at once. I was flying from London to Baltimore and while I was on the plane I got the whole idea, characters, set-up and plot twists. Everything. And the book is pretty much as I envisaged it on that seven hour flight.

The one thing that did change was the title. I originally wanted to call it The Judas Goat but during the course of the writing I realised that the title wasn't edgy enough.

It's the third book to feature former SAS sergeant Mike Cramer.  Cramer was a terrific character and I do regret killing him off.  It would have been great to have had three continuing Stephen Leather characters - Dan "Spider" Shepherd, Jack Nightingale and Mike Cramer.  But it wasn't to be - the set up of The Double Tap really didn't leave me a way out and Cramer had to die.

The story is about a serial killer who is a professional assassin - an assassin who always kills close up with two shots (hence the title).  The powers that be discover who is next victim is to be and persuade Mike Cramer to take his place even though it's effectively a suicide mission.

The book has had several covers over its life and to be honest I  have never really been happy with any of them.

These days The Double Tap sells more as an eBook than a paperback so I guess the cover isn't as important as it used to be in the days when all sales were through bookshops and you needed shelf appeal to sell.

I do sometimes think about revisiting the Mike Cramer character. There's no getting away from the fact that Cramer is dead, but I could well do a novel or two from his SAS days. I just wish there were more hours in the day!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Birthday Girl - My Seventh Book

The seventh Stephen Leather thriller is a stand-alone novel titled The Birthday Girl. I wrote it while I was living in Baltimore so much of the story takes place in Maryland, though the book opens in the former Yugoslavia.

In the latest paperback edition of the novel, the word "THE" has gone missing. I'm really not sure how that happened!  A few years after the book was published a movie of the same name appeared, starring Nicole Kidman, but the movie storyline had nothing in common with my book!

The story is about a young girl who is involved in the kidnap of an American arms-manufacturer in Sarajevo. He is rescued and the girl's relatives are killed - at which point the American decides to adopt her and give her a new life in the United States. Years later, when gangsters threaten the man's business, the girl tries to help him with devastating results.

Truth be told, it was a difficult book to write plot-wise, and I'm still not one hundred per cent happy with it.  It's a stand-alone book but I would quite like to revisit the main characters again. We'll see!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Long Shot - My Sixth Book

For the sixth Stephen Leather book I revisited some of the characters in The Chinaman, most notably Mike "Joker" Cramer (who makes a very brief appearance at the end of The Chinaman) and Mary Hennessy, who was a minor character in The Chinaman but who steps onto the main stage in The Long Shot.

I was living in Baltimore on the east coast of the United States while I was writing The Long Shot, and that's where the end of the book takes place. I was also learning to fly at the time so aviation plays a big part in the novel, too!

Mary Hennessy is one of my favourite characters - when I first introduced her in The Chinaman she was just going to walk into the garden with a cup of tea for her husband, Liam Hennessy, an IRA lawyer. But she refused to go away and ended up playing a pivotal role in the book.  Once I'd finished, it was as if she was in my head, insisting that I write about her again.

Mike Cramer was always a character who cried out to be written and I went on to feature him in book number eight, The Double Tap.

The Long Shot is basically a sniper story, and as I wrote it before the days of the internet all the research was done at first hand and I'm happy to say that I pretty much got all the technical stuff right.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Vets - My Fifth Book

The Vets was the first book I wrote as a full-time writer. I spent three months in Hong Kong in a hotel in Happy Valley doing the research, and spent several weeks in Vietnam.  At the time there were very few tourists in Vietnam and the only Western hotel was a ship on the river that had been sailed up from the Great Barrier Reef. Once I'd done the research I went to Paris and spent six months there writing the book.

I wrote the first four Stephen Leather thrillers while I was working as a journalist, and when I was able to devote myself to writing full time I was able to produce many more words!  In fact the first draft of The Vets came in at about 230,000 words!  My editor in the US felt it was way too long and I ended up throwing away about 30,000 words but it is still the longest Stephen Leather novel by far.

I think it's one of my best plots and suffers a bit from the title.  The Vets conjures up images of the Vietnam War or animal doctors in Yorkshire whereas it is actually a heist story, with a group of former soldiers being recruited to rob the racetrack in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Chinaman - My Fourth Book

I wrote my first three novels - Pay Off, The Fireman, Hungry Ghost - for Collins, now Harper Collins, while I was working as a journalist. The first Stephen Leather novels sold OK, but they didn't set the world on fire. Then, as now, getting a publishing deal was only the first step on a very long road. Just because a book has been published doesn't mean that it will sell, never mind fly off the shelves, as many writers have discovered.

Having published my first three novels, Collins rejected my fourth.  It was called Dreamer's Cat and is a science fiction mystery set in a world where virtual reality is a way of life. It was very different from the first three and I'm not surprised that they didn't want it. But what Collins didn't do is to ask me what I was working on at the time.  When I approached Gerald Seymour's agent - Michael Sissons at Peters, Fraser and Dunlop - he agreed that Dreamer's Cat wasn't publishable but he did ask what else I was writing. I told him I was writing a novel called The Chinaman, where a former VC assassin starts a new life in London only to have his family killed in an IRA bombing. Michael loved the idea, begged me to finish it, and then sold it for a six-figure sum in the UK and for even more in the US.

Hodder and Stoughton bought the UK rights and they have been my publishers ever since.  The Chinaman has always been in print and is selling well as an eBook.  At the time we signed the deal I was a night news editor on The Times, but the deal was so good that I was able to quit my day job and write full time.  Stephen Leather had become a full time author!

Incidentally, I went to self-publish Dreamer's Cat as an eBook many years later and sold over 100,000 copies.  You can read about my self-published books here -  MY SELF PUBLISHED E-BOOKS

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hungry Ghost - My Third Book

Hungry Ghost was the first of my books written in the third person. The first two - Pay Off and The Fireman - were in the first person.  But my editor at Collins told me that the way to sell more books was to write 'bigger' books and that really requires them to be written in the third person.

I was living in Hong Kong at the time - where I was Business Editor of the South China Morning Post. The book is set in Hong Kong - I've always tried to set my books wherever I'm living. And I used my own flat at the time as the basis for the flat that the main character lives in, complete with noisy neighbours!

Hungry Ghost was the first Stephen Leather true hardback edition, though it was a small print run and they are quite rare these days.  It's still in print and sells well as an eBook.

Here's the latest cover:

I think the story stands up well over the years, though obviously it's set in pre-handover Hong Kong.  And I've often thought of revisiting the main character and his Chinese girlfriend. It's on my to-do list!