I’m fortunate to be the author of the bestselling nonfiction book CONTACT, which was serialized in a British newspaper and made into an award winning film by BBCTV. That launched my “official” career as a writer and I have never looked back. I write mainly fiction these days, as I am passionate about creating different worlds in which my readers can lose themselves for a few hours – or days! I love to write different genres – politically charged thrillers, suspense and intrigue, humorous satire and books about the challenges of human relationships, all of which draw on my experiences in life and I think reveal my sense of adventure, curiosity about the world and my strong belief in the overwhelming power of love, laughter and of the human spirit.
I’ve lived all over the world, served in the British army, had a near death experience, lost half my insides and recovered from the physical and emotional traumas of war. A proud father of four daughters, screenwriter, pilot, race car driver, I love to sail, listen to opera, cook gourmet meals, drink wine, read good books, have heated discussions and travel off the beaten path.
Books include: Contact, Collisions, An Unquiet American, Dry Tortugas, The Book of Baker Series (Dreams from the Death Age; Armageddon; Genesis Revisited) and my latest book The Orange Moon Affair, the first of the new Thomas Gunn thriller series with more coming soon.
What inspires you to write?
Basically, it’s the desire to excite people’s minds (as well as my own) with new worlds, different perspectives, different ways of thinking. As a person I am intensely curious about everything – about history, the world, human behavior – and I tend to question everything and look at things from different perspectives all the time. I’m not that great at expressing myself verbally but I seem to have much better luck with the written word and so that’s become my medium of expression. I was first inspired to write after leaving the army with half my insides missing and needing to not only make sense of what had happened to me but to try and communicate how absolutely devastating war is to everyone involved for generations to come. And hopefully give politicians a different perspective and make them think twice before committing a country to a path of war as a way of resolving issues.
From that time on I’ve been inspired to challenge thinking and write books that even if they are thrillers, fast-paced and entertaining they are also thought provoking and provide readers with ideas and possibilities to “chew on”. I like books that entertain AND make me think about something a little more deeply or in a different way – so I learn something new or just have a richer mental life while reading them! So I hope I provide my readers with a rich experience in the same way.
Tell us about your writing process.
I never outline my book in detail and then follow the blueprint. Many authors do and write well that way. I am more of a “stream of consciousness” writer, in that although I have a clear idea of a plot and some main characters and a focus for the book, I simply start and then it’s as if the book takes on a life of its own. The characters are, after all, people, and people’s personalities and how they react to different situations determine what happens to them – and so as my characters grow they write themselves, and they and the various threads of the story develop organically and often even surprise me in terms of the direction they take.
I know that sounds incredibly “loose” but it actually isn’t – as I write I have to keep all the characters and the plot and the sublayers in my head all the time and even when I am not writing all that content is running around in my mind and being “processed” in some invisible way until it finds itself on the page.
I feel this gives my writing more immediacy, a greater sense of being “real” even if the book is fanciful, creates more vivid imagery and even a visceral sense of what the characters are feeling and thinking. Anyway – it works for me, though I am a bear to live with while I write as my wife says I am only ever half there, always a little distant as I keep living in my “book world” in order for it work it’s magic on the page. She’s an angel to put up with me!
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Because to a great degree my characters write themselves then I guess you could say I listen to them. I treat them as personalities with their own strengths and weaknesses, fears and emotions and all those things drive how they react to situations that occur in the book. Characters can only come across as real if you let them be real. If I tried to “make” a character do something that was contrary to their nature in order to ensure that my story went the way I wanted it to go, then that wouldn’t work – it would come across as false, clumsy. That’s why I don’t have a detailed blueprint for my stories because imposing that blueprint may actually do the book harm not good.
Every fiction book I have written is always a bit different to my original thought about it, because I DO let the characters have their voice and that often means they take the action in a slightly different direction. It’s more exciting that way, definitely more challenging as an author has to let go of preconceived notions and let go of control to some degree, but I think it’s worth it for the reader.
What advice would you give other writers?
I can’t pretend to be a sage and find it tough to answer this question each time it’s asked. The only thing I know from my own experience is that I have always trusted my own instincts when writing and editing and developed my own style of writing that has worked for me and allowed the words to flow on the page rather than writing to some formula.
I have also tried very hard to step back from my work and pretend I was an objective observer or reader when I go back for the 100th time to read a draft and see what needs to be improved. It’s tough to do and so I rely on my wife as my first editor as her instincts are good and I respect what she says. I could not write by committee and have a group of people read my work and then give feedback as everyone has their own opinion and I find I lose myself, lose my own sense of what works and what doesn’t and then my writing becomes mediocre. So my advice is work with 1 or 2 editors you trust, trust yourself most of all, be disciplined and keep writing even when you feel you are having a bad day as that too will pass.
Don’t fall apart at every negative review or change your book every time someone critiques it unless you absolutely agree with them – this is YOUR book and has to have your voice, your energy, your spirit that comes across. I have read books where the language used flows and is sophisticated but never felt a thing – whereas maybe I’ve read a book where the language was less sophisticated or a little clumsy at times but I have felt what the reader was writing about and so it has touched me – that’s far better than a technically good book that leaves a reader cold.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
My first book CONTACT was a bestseller but got published in the first place only because my mother found it in a bedside table drawer after I had written it and urged me to get it published. It was my memoir of my times as a soldier in combat. It took nearly 3 years and countless rejections before Martin Secker and Warburg in the UK (now Random House) took it on and published it – mainly because it was highly controversial at the time and publishers were afraid they’d literally get a bomb thrown in their window. It was highly successful got made into an award-winning film and so from then on I kept writing and initially went the traditional publishing route.
Since then the digital revolution has changed publishing forever and I personally am glad of that. Last year I got all the rights back to all my published works and now publish them as ebooks on the Amazon Kindle store through my own publishing company Clarke-Books LLC. I feel more in control of my own work and can have a more direct relationship with my readers which is great fun, highly beneficial to me as a writer and hopefully for my readers too.
I do think traditional publishers still have an important role to play and would not be averse to a publishing deal again, but I think the nature of the relationship between an author and publishing house has to change and become more equal and collaborative than it used to be, as the landscape of this industry has changed through technology and social media and publishing needs to reflect that.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think book publishing has a great future because of the advances in technology. I love ebooks and can envision them becoming even more interactive to the point where some day a reader will be able to immerse themselves in a scene in the book or whole book more like being in VR and place themselves in the middle of a movie watching and even affecting the action. I think books will change in nature in how they are written, some being collaborations between people all over the world creating an ongoing saga. There are all sorts of exciting possibilities.
The only thing I hope is that everyone in this industry understands that there is enough to go round and people or companies don’t try to monopolize or place restrictions on things just to favor their own business or own interests. The industry should be more open, more creative, more free, more exciting, not controlled, manipulated and restricted. That’s tough – but I am every hopeful 🙂
What genres do you write?
memoir, thriller, suspense, intrigue, espionage, satire, humor, political thriller, human drama, human relationships, horror, psychological intrigue, historical fiction
What formats are your books in?