Earlier this year, Belfast-born Ian Andrew (who in the real world is known as Ian Hooper) released his second novel, Face Value, which is the first in a new series following two female Private Investigators, Kara Wright & Tien Tran.
These days Ian resides in Western Australia and took time out of writing the follow-up to Face Value to answer a few questions.
Tell me about Face Value, what’s it all about?
It’s about two women who are ex-military intelligence and use those specialist skills in investigating their cases. Siblings Zoe and Michael Sterling insist that their middle-aged parents have gone missing, and Kara and Tien are at first sceptical, then quickly intrigued; the father, ex-intelligence analyst Chris Sterling, appears to be involved with an enigmatic Russian thug. To have two women as the central characters provides an insight that has not been explored thoroughly before.
Who is your favourite character in the novel and why?
The two title characters are of course my favourites. Kara is cold, ruthless and clever. Yet her titanium outer shields a very vulnerable centre. Her temper is short and her expressions are, ‘colourful’. Tien is a gentle soul, calm and restrained but she has a diamond-hard centre and an intriguing backstory. Aside from them, if we were to focus on a minor character, I really like Anatoly. He’s a giant of a man, a former Russian Airborne Guard, damaged by his experiences but his true strength is in being honourable.
How did you become an author?
I’ve always written poems and stories as a hobby. I knew I would get around to writing a book, “one day” but that day just never seemed to arrive. Then, a few years ago, presented with a weekly train commute of 5-hours, I decided it was now or never. Much like London buses, once the first novel arrived, the second followed hard on its heels.
Tell me about the difficulties and rewards of being an author.
The difficulties are finding the time while still doing a “day-job” and my main bugbear is the marketing. No-one sells your book for you and the world of agents and publishers is often hard to penetrate. Without their assistance the reaching out to literary reviewers and publications is that much more difficult. Luckily, if the marketing can be done one-on-one or at presentations and events then my day-job of professional facilitator and presenter makes that a lot more manageable.
The other difficulty is keeping up with what’s out there. For example, my characters Tien and Kara are veterans. Tien lost her hand in Afghanistan. My book was written and available through Amazon before I ever heard of Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling) and the Cormorant Strike series of novels. When I did learn of them it was a bit off-putting. Her lead character is a male PI who lost a leg in Afghanistan. Part of me cringed with the coincidences. Luckily there are enough character differences and plot differences, not to mention the fact that she is J.K Rowling, to make the two sufficiently separate and appealing.
As for the rewards, well, they are many and various but the simple satisfaction of seeing my novels available worldwide, being read by people who enjoy them, comment favourably on them and are looking forward to the next one, is more than compensation for any negatives.
As a self-published author, what do you think of publishing houses, and how hard is it to become published these days?
I do appreciate that they are probably getting tens of thousands of queries a day and that would try the patience of a saint, but automated responses with a modicum of politeness are not that difficult to setup. The main reason my interactions have been minimal is that back when I finished my first novel, A Time To Every Purpose, a stand-alone alternative history thriller, I determined not to spend the next set of years trying to get a publishing house to come to the table. I decided rather, to use my time and the power of Publish-on-Demand technology to get it released worldwide almost immediately and for nil cost. I could control the process and readers would decide if it was worthwhile reading, as opposed to one person in a publishing house. Luckily the readers decided it was.
Why do you write in the genres you do? Is that what you usually read?
My first novel was alternative history, a genre I love and have always been attracted to. I’m fascinated by those “what-if” moments in history when the future path of the world was determined, more or less, by the actions of one person.
Being a devotee of Michael Connolly and his creation, Harry Bosch, following the likes of Lee Child and his Jack Reacher and always having loved mystery stories, probably since my Enid Blyton days, it seemed natural to invent a crime thriller series. I loved the old film-noir style of Raymond Chandler, but all the female characters in detective stories of that era seemed to either be the secretary or the corpse, or both. As some of the best Intelligence people I ever met were female, I determined that a modern Private Investigator story with female leads and using intelligence techniques in the civilian world would be a good starting point.
With that in mind, what is your favourite book?
My favourite book is quite the conservative and probably clichéd choice that is Lord of the Rings. I have read it multiple times since my teens and loved every aspect. But my favourite bits are the detail and background that never found its way into the main body of the book. The plethora of ideas and stories that Tolkien saved to put into later annexes.
How do you get past writers block?
I drive. I get in my car and drive and think. With an iPhone on hands-free to record the ideas and the potential solutions I let my mind freewheel through the problem. If not solved that time round, I divert myself to writing flash fiction, or poems, or anything else. My first novel was delayed, not by writer’s block but by not being able to solve a particular plot twist. I could still write the rest of it but just couldn’t solve that conundrum. Eventually it solved itself as I drove nearly 200-kilometres, which sounds a lot but in Australia can be the distance to the next town.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write. Write anything and everything. Don’t be limited. And read. Read what you like and write as you like. The industry dictates too much, so find your own voice. Above all, enjoy it. This isn’t meant to be a 9 to 5 ‘working in the mill’ downtrodden job. It’s meant to be your love and passion. So enjoy it. Ultimately my advice is this; write for yourself. If you enjoy your story then others will.
Do you think creative writing is something that can be taught – what is bad or good writing to you?
I am sure it can. Like leadership and presentation skills and painting and how to wire a plug. Everything can be taught. The difference is whether the student has the aptitude to learn and the attitude to make it more than a series of steps to be completed.
One thing I have discovered is no matter how good you are at the basics, in a 90,000 word manuscript you will make mistakes. Kindergarten mistakes, like misusing discrete instead of discreet because, as you wrote it, the word processor decided to correct it for you. It is something I discovered after seeing the first proof of my first book. My old English teacher would have clipped me round the ear.
As to what is “bad” writing, well I would rather say there is writing I don’t like. Bad or good, if it doesn’t grip my imagination and hold it, then it’s not for me. It requires a subject that appeals to me, the construction of it needs to engage me and the pace needs to vary enough to keep me enthralled. I have tried some classics that I can’t finish and wonder how they became classics and I have read Young Adult Fiction that got a bad press which I found to be fantastic. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then writing quality is in the mind of the reader.
What do you have planned for the future?
Obviously, I continue to wait by the phone for Reese Witherspoon’s Pacific Standard Production company to contact me about turning my female-led novels into female-led movies and TV shows. Fingers crossed she finds my phone number. Until then, I’m currently in the middle of the second of the Wright & Tran novels. In fact I have spent most of the last month ‘virtually’ meandering around Amsterdam with Kara and Tien. I hope to have it finished and released prior to next Easter. I have also established a company, ‘The Book Reality Experience’ to assist other authors achieve the dream of seeing their own books independently published.
What does it feel like to finish writing a book? Does it ever feel finished?
Finishing A Time to Every Purpose felt like the realisation of a lifelong dream, because it was. But the downer that came from not having more to write was akin to the feeling of grief and loss. There was no more opportunity to build and explore the characters, no requirement to meet them in the pages and follow their adventures. No need to spend hours wondering what they would do if confronted by this or that. It was very, very surreal. It also led, as I’ve said, to the need to write a series.
Ian’s books are available in E-format and Paperback through Amazon and other on-line retailers. This interview was conducted in conjunction with BAM Magazine: https://bammag.wordpress.com/
Jessikah Hope Stenson