Tina Pugh: Was writing a sequel easier or harder than your first book?
Neil: It was difficult at first and I wrote plenty of different opening chapters before I got Claire’s voice right in my head again. Once I had that though the writing flowed relatively easily. I had received plenty of reader feedback on what they had enjoyed in When She Was Bad and that was a great motivation for the second book.
The tricky thing was to find a story that would work with the characters but would not feel like just a predictable retread of the first book. I also needed to resolve a few of the unanswered questions from the original story. I hope that the two together make a satisfying whole in the omnibus paperback, Barclay & MacDonald.
Tina: We certainly learn more about some characters in this book, Barclay and TNT in particular. Did you always know their back story or did you have to create this whilst writing book two?
There was a lot of Claire in book one so it was time to look at the others. I had most of Barclay’s back story mapped out when I was writing When She Was Bad. For example, I’d worked out the whole ‘ransomware’ scam he attempts and knew that its failure would almost bankrupt the family and be the reason for the breakdown of his relationship with his father. He’s not the same thoughtless man that we met at the start of book one – Claire has changed him – and his past (as told by Green) is a flashback to the pre-Claire, self-obsessed Barclay and it’s quite shocking.
I had no back story for TNT whatsoever – he was just a throwaway, a one-dimensional character I didn’t really think about. But he was fun to write and subsequently proved to be one of the most popular characters in the book. I wrote three or four different versions of his back story before I was happy with it. The puppy was the clincher.
Tina: Did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
With the second book I was writing for an audience, which is more challenging that writing just for yourself. I had to be more professional; if people are good enough to give me several hours of their time I mustn’t let them down with an ill-conceived story or lazy writing. Rule number one: never let the readers down - they trust you, don’t disappoint them or waste their time.
Tina: What was your hardest scene to write?
Without a doubt, TNT’s back story. It needed it to be amusing rather than comedic, sad but not tragic, and I really wanted the readers to feel a little like Claire, a bit guilty about how they’ve judged him on his appearance alone. It was rewritten dozens of times before I was happy with it.
Tina: You seem to have a lot of knowledge of what happens when a bullet enters a person. Did you go on your own Willoughby firearms training course?
Originally this book was going to be about Barclay quitting the blackmail game and exploiting Claire’s shooting skills by hiring her out as a ‘hitman’. I’m not into guns in the slightest but wanted to get things right and spent hours on a gun range in Bisley with my friend Alan Ward, who is an incredible marksman and top bloke to boot (albeit a little scary at times). Some of things he told me made my blood run cold and changed the story I had for this book completely. I realised that Claire would never willingly fire a gun if she knew the real damage a bullet did and that Barclay’s plan to have her ‘aim to maim’ was a fantasy. She’d never agree to be a hitman, but her reluctance to fire a gun could ultimately prove to be her downfall. It creates a nice tension between the two of them, too.
Tina: You broke your ankle last year and were on crutches for months. Did this impede your research and progress on the book?
It didn’t help! Most of the research was completed before my accident, but I did plan to spend some time on a Bonneville. Sadly, that never happened. Maybe next time.
Tina: What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I find it easy, to be truthful. Readers were complimentary about the female characters in book one so I hope they’re still convincing. My three ‘early readers’ are all women so that acts as a safety net before it goes into print.
Writing young characters is actually more of a challenge as I often make references a 26-year-old wouldn’t know, let alone the teenager Dawn. Fortunately, the editors on both books spotted these and they don’t make the final draft.
Tina: Are some of the characters based on people you know?
Not really, but I do lift certain characteristics or speech patterns. TNT’s physical appearance is an exaggeration of someone I know in New York and Anderson Andersonn is a combination of several people I used to work with. My mum says ‘whatnot’ a lot, and Claire says that a fair bit. I do know a ‘Wardy’ but he’s absolutely nothing like the Owen Ward here. Oh, and I’ve a friend who’s a jogger with a schnauzer and his wife buys far too many shoes!
Tina: How do you feel now you have published two books? And does writing energise or exhaust you?
There’s a sense of achievement but I know I can write better. I think the second is better than the first and the third will top them both. The best feeling is when I write something, have no idea where it has come from and it makes me smile. That’s energising.
The re-drafting and editing processes are necessary but tiring.
Tina: A few general questions now so we can find out about you. What authors give you inspiration to write?
Believe it or not, bad ones. Great writers intimidate me with their skill and imagination but a badly-written best seller is massively inspiring.
Tina: What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove is my absolute favourite novel of all time and has characters who will live in my heart until the day I die. It won the Pulitzer Prize so it’s hardly under-appreciated but it is almost unknown in Britain.
Tina: What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
When I was at school I wasn’t clever enough to appreciate John le Carre and found his novels confusingly obtuse – I wanted my spy novels to all be James Bond - but now I’m in total awe of his writing. I’m re-reading them and they’re wonderful.
J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books left me stone cold but her Cormoran Strike novels are thrilling and beautifully written.
Tina: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad ones?
I do read them, and the good ones help me through the dark times when I have serious doubts that I can write. With a poor one I’ll take it really, really badly and sulk for weeks. To date though, they’ve all been very positive so it’s not something that I’ve really had to deal with yet.
Tina: Do you suffer from writer’s block?
Writing can be hugely frustrating but if you accept that some days the words come far easier than others then stumbling into a ‘block’ isn’t that bad. Once you have the characters you can usually work stuff out.
Tina: Finally, will you go for the trilogy? You left a lot of cliffhangers and I’m sure readers would like to know what happened to Wardy, TNT and Barclay himself.
It’s Claire I’m most worried about…