Mike Gerrard is a successful and award-winning travel writer, who has written for such names as National Geographic, American Express, Fodor’s, AAA, and The Times in London. He recently published a collection of his travel writing, Snakes Alive, has written over 40 guidebooks, and publishes several travel websites including www.Pacific-Coast-Highway-Travel.com. However, earlier this year he published his first crime novel, Strip till Dead, set in the sleazy world of London’s strip-tease pubs and clubs.
I never imagined I would ever write a crime novel. It wasn’t one of my ambitions. But a few years ago I began reading more and more crime fiction, and admired the work of writers such as Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Walter Mosley, James Lee Burke, and many more. To me their novels were every bit as good as the work of so-called literary novelists. In fact I would say they were better, as they added the strongly-plotted traditional story structure that many literary novels lack.
At the same time I wanted a new challenge. There are fewer outlets now for creative travel writing, and guidebooks are more of a logistical challenge than a creative one. Once you know how to do something, some of the fun goes out of it. Two story ideas that had been floating around in the back of my mind began to come to the front of my mind, and I decided to combine them into a crime novel.
Many years ago when I was living in London I did go out for a long time with a stripper. I got to know her as a person before I knew what she did for a living, and that was important. I didn’t pre-judge her as a person because of her job. Around that time I also worked for a while myself on a men’s magazine in London, Mayfair, as an editorial assistant. One of the guys on the magazine had once been under suspicion by the police when a model was murdered, as he had given her a lift home after she’d called in at the magazine to be interviewed. Later that night she was murdered. He was totally innocent, but it was a scary position to be in while it lasted.
I was still busy as a travel writer when I started work on the novel, and when I moved from the planning to the writing stage I simply got up earlier every morning, about 6am, and wrote for a few hours before switching to ‘the day job’. Until you’ve tried it, you’ve no idea how hard that is, day after day, month after month. I had to keep telling myself that if I could write a 1,000-word article, or a 35,000-word guidebook, I could write a 70,000-word novel.
Of course, whether you can write a good 70,000-word novel is a completely different matter. It was a liberating discovery, though, to realise that in fiction you can just make things up. That bit of it felt wonderful, after years of guidebook writing where you have to be nit-picky about facts, and sometimes mundane facts at that.
I think my years of guidebook writing did mean that I had to plan the book out, work out the plot in full before I started writing. Crime writers tend to be in one camp or the other – plot it all out beforehand, or work it out as you go along. I am definitely a plotter, although that must also be because I’d never done this before. I knew who the villain was, from the start, although I didn’t know what was going to happen in the final chapter. That took me by surprise, but it was a sign that the characters had really come alive and were telling me what was happening. I was simply writing it down, as quickly and as well as I could.
Having finished the first draft, I then had to do something else I never did with travel writing – show it to a few people I trusted, to get their opinion. Writing a travel piece, I knew whether I’d done a good job or not. With this I had no idea – and still don’t, although it has picked up a couple of nice and very fair reviews on Amazon. And not from friends, either!
I now have terrific respect for anyone who has written a novel of any kind – no matter the genre, no matter how good or bad you might think it is. The sheer effort of producing 70,000 words or more, often while holding down a day job or bringing up a family, is monumental. It requires months if not years of single-minded determination, in most cases without knowing whether anyone will ever even read it. I take my hat off to novelists everywhere, whether published or not.
And now I’m thinking of the next one. Strip till Dead was going to be a one-off, a stand-alone, and I already had a series character in mind for a new crime novel. Indeed, I’d even started writing it. However, once Strip till Dead had been through several drafts and was actually out there, I did begin to wonder what would happen next to the two main characters. I’d better set the alarm for 6am again, if I’m ever going to find out.
Strip till Dead
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