One Eye Open… A Q&A With Paul Finch

Hi everyone, continuing my new interview approach, I’m speaking today to Paul Finch about his upcoming novel, One Eye Open.

Over to you, Paul…

1) Where did the idea come from and how did you first begin to flesh it out?

The idea first came from a discussion I had with my new editors at Orion, and while they were very keen that I stick with the crime thriller format, for my first book at least, they wanted something that differed from the work I’d been doing for Avon at HarperCollins.

So, while I was writing the Heck and Lucy Clayburn books, I produced linear narratives with the emphasis on action and suspense, with this first one for Orion I wanted something that leaned a little bit more towards mystery. And also something that bounced back and forth in time, in other words something that was less linear. Inevitably, it also meant that, for this first Orion title, I wasn’t going to be writing a book involving Mark Heckenburg or Lucy Clayburn.

The discussion ranged far and wide, but I increasingly began to like the idea of putting a Traffic cop at the centre of the story. Road policing services get a terrible press generally because so many non-criminals (i.e. everyday drivers) fall foul of them, and subsequently, they almost never figure as key characters in cop fiction. I reckoned this would be very different from anything I’d seen before, and my editors agreed. I then started to think about the sort of situations that Traffic officers encounter during their work – they deal with more than their fair share of tragedy of course, and though not many realise this, they encounter quite a bit of crime. But the more I pondered it, the more I liked the idea that a Serious Collision Investigator (i.e. from Traffic’s investigative non-uniform branch) could be sent to deal with a car that shouldn’t exist lying utterly smashed alongside the road, after an accident no one saw, containing the half-dead bodies of two people who have no identities, while loaded with illicit cargo for which there is no explanation. The idea really grew on me that first night. I remember lying in bed, wondering how I could expand it. And before morning, a full tapestry had been woven in front of me, involving killers, crime syndicates, the lot.

I should add a footnote to this, by the way. My regular readers shouldn’t worry. Though I penned ONE EYE OPEN consciously trying to avoid the same kind of narrative that you’d find in Heck or Lucy Clayburn, there is still plenty of bone-crunching action. How could there not be? That is my meat and drink.

2) How did you create your main character Lynda? Did you enjoy writing her?

Other police characters of mine, Heck and Lucy Clayburn, are conveniently single, and having nothing and no one to go home to, are free to continue to investigate crime for long hours after they are supposed to have knocked off. With Lynda Hagen, I wanted things to be very, very different.

Lynda, I decided, would not just be a married woman, she’d be a mum as well. That meant she’d have to go home in the evenings and do Mum-type things. Initially when this struck me, I was hesitant. Was there a danger it might lessen the pace or reduce the jeopardy? Well … no, of course not. Because I’d be in charge and I’d make sure that it didn’t. On top of that, it seemed like an increasingly sexy idea to me that Lynda might once have been a top class criminal investigator, a divisional detective who dealt with serious crimes like robbery, rape and murder, but who had made the conscious decision to step back from that unique world in order to raise her family and be certain that she’d be there to make tea for her kids each evening and breakfast each morning. Would she miss that former life? Perhaps not at first, as she settled into her new one and found that raising a family can be as big a challenge as anything, but in due course, because of the kind of person she is, some yearning for what she’d lost might reassert itself. I also like the idea of marrying Lynda to Don, another former top cop, but who is no longer in the job at all – for different reasons, but who deeply misses it and is desperately struggling to make it as a writer. I’m not going to say too much more about that, except that it touches a little on my own experience of so many years ago, so I hope there’s quite a bit of authenticity there.

As all these characters fell into place, I realised that I had a very interesting and very different dynamic, something a world away from Heck and Clayburn, and something I could go at a hundred miles an hour.

3 How is One Eye Open different to your other novels?

Think I may already have answered this one.

4) What was your research process like? Did any of the research surprise you at any point? Did you refer to it during the process of writing?

For years I didn’t worry about research. I didn’t even need to research police protocols. As a former officer myself, I felt I knew what was what. However, time has passed since then, protocols have changed, the law itself has changed, and so I now have to do as much research as the next writer, particularly where road traffic offences are concerned.

All of a sudden, I’d moved away from the world of CID and into the Traffic division, which even when I was a serving copper, I only had limited experience of. But thankfully the law and police procedures are all laid out online, so I could look up what I needed to and, if necessary, make a few phone-calls to old buddies of mine who were still in the job or who had only recently left, without actually having to vacate my desk. More of a challenge was the geographical research required for ONE EYE OPEN.

In my Heck books, you may recall, my hero is part of the National Crime Group, which have a remit to cover all the police force areas of England and Wales, a kind of British FBI if you like. This meant that I could pick and choose where he went, and so was always careful to select districts I already knew. Lucy Clayburn, on the other hand, was part of the Greater Manchester Police, which was my old force, and on top of that she worked the fictional November Division, Crowley, so once again I was on home turf and had free rein. To get right away from both of those concepts, I had to shop around for a new part of the country in which to set ONE EYE OPEN. Again though, I didn’t want to venture too far away from familiar ground.

In the end, I put Lynda in the Essex Police and placed her on the Suffolk/Essex border. Those who know this area – Dedham Vale and the like – will recognise it as a very different region from anywhere I’ve covered before. This is Constable Country, a rolling pastoral landscape crisscrossed by bridleways and sleepy lanes, dotted here and there with ancient churches and picturesque villages. But the urban darkness is never far away anywhere in England these days, and even this scenic realm is now becoming known as the weekend getaway or even retirement land for older gangsters looking to lie low or go straight (and who, inevitably, find this latter very difficult).

Fortunately for me, I have in-laws in this area, and so made several delightful trips, weekend breaks mainly, to look around the country pubs and village greens, to check out the wooded paths and overgrown graveyards, to stand at high points and gaze down on Tudor manor houses that don’t look as if they’ve changed since Henry VIII’s day, and absorb the deep rural stillness. Each time, I came back to Lancashire with pages and pages of notes referencing the geography and culture of this most tranquil corner of Britain, but it was great fun gathering them. I can hardly complain about these research trips, can I?

5) How did your writing process for the Lucy Clayburn and Mark Heckenburg novels differ from the writing process for One Eye Open?

Because there are different timelines in this one, I think it required a lot of careful assessment at each new stage. Though separate, these timelines are parallel and need to marry up closely. So, particularly when I was editing and proofing, I had to be very careful indeed. Aside from that, I’m not sure there was a great deal of difference. My first draft is always dictated into a Dictaphone when I’m either walking my dogs or simply pacing around the exterior of my house. Back in the old days, I’m sure my neighbours thought I’d gone mad, but now they just assume I’m on the phone.

There’ve been all kinds of positive offshoots from this. It’s helped me keep my weight down while I work, and I have two of the fittest springer spaniels in the north of England. But on a more serious note, I find it much easier to concentrate once I’m out and about. I hate being cooped up in a stuffy office, particularly in summer. In contrast, when I’m out in the fresh air, even if I’m walking the roads of our town rather than country trails, even if it’s raining, I find the thought processes flow a lot better. I don’t use an app to type it up afterwards, I should add. That would be a disaster because my dictated draft is often a stream of consciousness, composed of broken sentences, most of them not even organised in the correct order. The actual first draft comes when I type them up myself and knock them into shape.

After that, the second draft is the one I enjoy the most, because by then I’ve already got a book on the written page and consider that I’ve broken the back of the physical work. I can then edit my way through it, nipping, tucking, tightening, changing, adjusting, prettifying everything. I usually play mood music in the background for this draft, to boost my creativity. The third draft, the last one before I send the book off to my editors is always the toughest. That’s when you go in line-for-line, word-for-word, doing everything in your power to iron out every last little error.

With ONE EYE OPEN, this was a particularly demanding exercise because, as I say, I had to ensure that everything matched, that every shared nuance between the timelines balanced neatly. Aside from that, though, as I say, I don’t think the time-honoured process varied very much.

6) Lastly, do you use Scrivener or MS Word? Which do you prefer and why?

I’ve always used MS Word and have no complaints about it.

Thank you for your time Paul, and for stopping by the blog to discuss your latest novel.

Bio:

A former cop and journalist, Paul was a writer for British TV crime drama, The Bill.

His next stand-alone thriller, ONE EYE OPEN will be published by Orion in 2020.

Paul wrote two series for Avon (HarperCollins). The ‘Heck’ series has so far reached combined sales of nearly half a million, and the Lucy Clayburn series shot him into the Sunday Times bestseller list.

Winner of the British Fantasy Award 2002 & 2007, and the International Horror Guild Award 2007, he has also written four Doctor Who audio dramas and his Doctor Who novel, HUNTER’S MOON, was published by Woodland Books in 2011.

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