10 Questions With… Chris Aggett

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Chris Aggett.

Chris is the co-host of one of my favourite writing podcasts and I was delighted when he allowed me to pick his brains on how he set up the podcast, his writing and his advice for new and unpublished authors (like me!).

Over to you, Chris…

1) Did you always want to be an author? What were your favourite books from your childhood?

I believe my story of becoming an author is rather unique. Unlike others, I never thought about being an author. That was until the death of my grandfather. I had quite a lot of life experience at that point of my life having served in the British Army and thought I was fairly comfortable with my accomplishments.

However, when I sat there listening to the accomplishments of my grandfather, who was a wonderful man, I suddenly felt the burning desire to do more with my life. This was only a few years ago. I had experience of jotting down dodgy song lyrics as a teen but that is as far as my creativity went. There was a story in my mind that had been growing and it was an alien thought in my mind. It didn’t belong there. I can’t tell you why I wrote it, other than wanting to achieve something, I just wrote it and I completely fell in love with writing during the process. I had no outstanding book that was an inspiration for me as a child. I enjoyed the occasional comic book, but I really loved movies. Aliens and Platoon were two I still love and remember hearing as a child. I couldn’t wait to see them after that.

2) Do you have an agent? What was your route into the publishing industry?

I do not have an agent. My route to publishing is still ongoing. If anyone knows me or has listened to my podcast long term, then they will know that I self-published both of my books completely free. I studied, googled, and YouTube everything. As someone on a budget, I could not afford to pay out for my book and that included editing. I didn’t even expect people to read my book, but they received fantastic reviews.

My message is that you don’t need to spend lots to publish, but it helps to take your time. The only criticism my first book received was that there were odd grammar issues, but to be honest, people see grammar issues in professionally published works.

What I plan to do next is to get my current WIP published through an agent. I want to show the world that you can do it yourself, for free, and can get an agent too. I plan to use all the knowledge I gain to educate the writing community, which is what our podcast tries to do, with a lot of humor thrown in of course.

3) Do you write full time? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing?

I do not write full time. In fact, the podcast takes up a lot of my time now. That podcast is called The Writing Community Chat Show, and it is something I created to pay back the help that the writing community gave me on my self publishing journey. So since I created that, my writing has really taken a back seat.

It is difficult to juggle both as I prepare two live shows a week, which often involve interviewing authors. I spent a lot of my time prewriting, working and coaching my son’s rugby team for many years.

4) Which perspective/character voice is your favourite to read?

I enjoy reading first person points of view; I think this is why I naturally wrote Deep, The Climb of Truth that way. Although I threw a curve ball in there and opened it up. That was to match the story’s arc. I wouldn’t say that it is my favourite but felt it is a little easier to get in a character’s head that way.

5) Which perspective/character voice is your favourite to write?

As mentioned before, writing first person works well for me. I think life experience matters in writing. You notice that people who have learned to write academically lean on the facts and structure. I, as someone who has military experience, was comfortable using what I know to enhance the first reader perspective. I think it’s best to do both.

6) How do you judge a book? Is it by the cover, or the author’s writing style?

I am not ashamed to say it, I DO judge a book by its cover. I am not entirely sure why some people don’t. When you look at the self-published world in particular, and at the growing industry of independent publishing companies, you can find covers that don’t really draw you in. You can also find exceptional ones too. But on the odd occasion that they aren’t great, it makes me feel that the work quality may not be that good either. But, I will read the first few pages and decide if I will read it based on that. So openings are just as important.

7) How did the Writing Community Chat Show podcast come about? How did you develop the concept?

Just as the author path appeared before me, the podcasting path was also a surprise. After spending a lot of time figuring out how to self publish my first book, I found the #WritingCommunity on Twitter. I found an amazing group of self-published and traditionally published authors that were always there to offer sound advice. I have made some friends there that I engage with on a daily basis. After I had published that book, I continued to engage with that community and try to promote my work. It is a constant learning process. I just couldn’t believe that some tweets in the community were amazing and got little to no exposure, yet others that were silly or poor had lots of comments and retweets. The analytics blew my mind. That caused the imaginary lightbulb to appear above my head and the gods, once again, placed a crazy idea there. A podcast! That would be a brilliant way for the community to gain a voice. For the self-published authors to form a stronger community and have us to lean on. I reached out to Christopher Hooley, who is my co-host, and asked him about forming it with me. He responded quickly and the next thing I knew; the ball was rolling.

8) On the podcast, how do you plan your interview approaches?

Loosely! That’s no joke either. As someone who has a busy life, I knew I couldn’t have something that took over my life, or it wouldn’t last. I once again read up on things. Having an enjoyable, sustainable project is the only way to give it a chance of success. So what began as a chat show/interview podcast grew and develop. All while trying to think of better ways to produce, edit and deliver great content. Not just that, I had to battle with technology that I had no previous experience with. It was a huge gamble. Now we are nearing 2 years in and are a live streaming podcast chat show on YouTube with a brand new panel show concept. We have attended our first literary event for filming and have just passed 600 subscribers on YouTube with 12 thousand podcast listens. It is going well. I had to use my time well. The system I use now relies on good engagement and natural flow. Of course, I research the author and their work, but I let the natural conversation take the lead. This works well and we have never had to take down or delete a show. I strip the audio and tinker with it slightly and upload it into a podcast, with saved intros ready and hit publish. It is that simple now. It results from trial and error.

9) For the unpublished author, do you have any advice on querying agents for publication?

We learn so much from the authors on our show. What I would say is that you need to know what genre you want to be in and where your book fits. There may be an author you love and their work may be similar to yours. If that is the case, then their agent may also be into your work! The other bit of advice would be patience! Everyone gets knocked back and the ones who have debut success, and I mean 7 figure success, often know people in the industry. So you will have to be extremely lucky to get a top agent. But it is possible. Some authors never thought they would get the agent they wanted and have. So, give it a go, find your dream agents and submit, but be prepared to be knocked back. Once that happens, don’t take it personally, ask for feedback, develop, improve and try again. 

10) I find that specific pieces of music help me to engage with my characters. Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a favourite band or artist that you enjoy?

YES, YES, YES! I have announced this many times on the podcast. A Spotify playlist called “Creative Playlist” helped me write my first and second book. In fact, I wrote lyrics from certain songs in the sequel for sure. I believe my characters Daisy and Jade have a romantic dance with one of them. Letley I have found this cool desktop app called Noisil. Google it. It is a free software that gives you option of things to listen to for distraction free writing. I use the same selection each time: rain, thunder, a train on a track, a coffee shop and a fire! It’s a brilliant combination. In real life, I love Mumford and Sons. In fact, I have seen them 3 times and the last time I went was just a few years ago. They had postponed a gig and moved it to a Monday! That sucked! Until, I was sitting in a bar with my wife and outside the window next to me stood Marcus Mumford. We actually met him before the gig and had a nice chat. It was a great day.

Thank you for your time today Chris. It has been a pleasure to interview you. I look forward to listening to the next episode of Writing Community Chat Show! 🙂 Everyone should listen to this – you won’t regret it!

Bio: Christopher Aggett aka Cj Left Chris of The Writing Community Chat Show. Founder and pc host of the writing community chat show. Self published author and supporter of the Writing community.

My ultimate goal for this is to open my own writing/book bar/cafe. A place for readers to drink coffee/beer while browsing published and self published books. A place for students and authors to write and a place for our show to take place and for book launches and parties.
My biggest achievement would be serving in The British Army. Followed by self publishing and creating the podcast. I feel there is a lot more to come.

10 Questions With… Mark Stay

Hi everyone, and this evening on the blog I’m delighted to welcome fantasy/folk horror writer Mark Stay.

He very kindly put together his answers to my questions in the video below. A transcript is below the video.

Over to you, Mark…

1) Did you always want to be an author? What were your favourite books from your childhood?

I always wanted to make things up. Play-acting. I think that’s what a lot of creativity is. Make believe. We didn’t have many books in the home, but we went every week to the library. The Star Wars novelisation was a gateway drug to science fiction. And then it was Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat, and then Douglas Adams, and then Terry Pratchett and Robert Rankin.

I was probably also the only kid who regularly checked out books on what to do in a nuclear war. It was the early 80s and it was disturbing.

2) Do you have an agent? What was your route into the publishing industry?

I have had many agents. I currently have two: Ed Wilson for books, Matt Dench for scripts. My road into the industry was a temporary Christmas job at Waterstones in Dorking. That was when Tim Waterstone ran the company and insisted that everyone who worked there had a degree. I didn’t. Shh. Don’t tell anyone.

3) Do you write full time? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing?

I do write full time, very lucky to be able to do that. I worked in bookselling publishing for over twenty five years, as a bookseller at Waterstones, then a sales rep for a couple of publishers, and then looking after Amazon for Orion.

4) Which perspective/character voice is your favourite to read?

Not sure I have one, so long as the voice feels honest and true and suits the story. I’m not someone who gets their knickers in a twist if I see something in first person, present tense, or second person. “You open the door, you see a dragon.” Just tell me your story in your voice. That’s the most important thing.

5) Which perspective/character voice is your favourite to write?

I like writing in a fairly close third person. I love the present tense dynamism of screenplays, too, which is two very different ways of telling a story. I did write a children’s book, still unpublished, in third person, and then completely rewrote it all in first person, which was fun. Still hasn’t been published, though.

6) How do you judge a book? Is it by the cover, or the authors writing style?

That’s two things there, really. I mean, the cover is what draws you in and makes you want to pick the thing up, and I am a sucker for a great cover, which is why I’m blessed with the covers I’ve got from the wonderful Harry Goldhawk.

The author’s writing style will ultimately be what you judge a story by, I guess. I mean, I don’t like to get too judgey, as long as it’s written truthfully and you don’t bore the reader. I think it’s healthy for an author to live in fear of boring the reader.

7) For the unpublished author, do you have any advice on querying agents for publication? How does an author know when their manuscript is ready?

Agents ask two questions: Do I love it? Can I sell it? And if you can answer both those, you’re fine. Finding the right agent is like dating. Only the odds are more stacked against you.

Just persist and remind yourself of how many times people have been rejected before finding success. Persistence is so important in this business and I really, really, really mean that. In my case we’re talking decades of persistence. You really have to want this. As for querying, keep it short, sweet and honest and be patient. Especially now. Agents are still playing catch up after lockdown and there’s no magic combination of words that will get you repped in a covering letter.

It’s all about your writing. And when is it ready? It’s ready when you feel you could give it to anyone to read. Your worst enemy. Truthfully, that day may never come. So don’t go chasing perfection because it doesn’t exist. Get it as good as you can possibly make it. I know my stuff is ready when I go word blind. I can’t tell good from bad anymore. Then I send it to beta readers and get some feedback and perspective.

8) How did the concept for the Bestseller Experiment come about? How did you develop the concept?

The Bestseller Experiment came about… I’d written a movie called Robot Overlords and did the tie-in novelisation as well, and a guy I knew… We didn’t go to the same school, but we went to schools in the same area, had lots of mutual friends… a guy called Mark Desvaux got in touch. And he said, this is amazing, you’ve written a book, you’ve written a film. He said he’d always tried to write a novel, but he never got beyond 20,000 words. And we got talking.

One thing led to another. We both both have very similar interests, both like podcasts. So we challenged ourselves to co-write write a novel and get it self-published and top some Amazon charts within 12 months. But the important thing was that we asked our listeners to beat us to it. We said to people, if you’ve got a half-written book in a drawer or you’ve got something that’s been sitting in your trunk for years… Get it out, dust it off, polish it. Listen to the guests that we have on the podcast.

And we’ve had people like Sarah Pinborough, Joe Hill, Joanne Harris, major best selling authors, Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin giving fantastic, fantastic writing advice… And beat us to it. And the great thing is loads of them did. I can show you. I’ll show you now. Hang on. See the shelf here. These are all the people that have listened to the podcast and, because of some advice they heard on the podcast, they got published. And that’s the best thing we… that ever could have come … Just the fact that all these people have managed to get their books out there because of something they heard on the podcast is… It’s just amazing to me.

And it’s why we keep going. We’re nearly five years old now. Five years old in October of 2021.

9) On the podcast, how do you plan your interview approaches?

For interviews, I usually have five or so bullet points, which is good for 20 minutes, we have a really good idea of what our listeners want. So they like writing habits, writing tips, that sort of thing. I try not to get too hung up on sticking to the list. It’s important to listen. Your guest will take you to places you never imagined if you let them.

10) I find that specific pieces of music help me to engage with my characters. Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a favourite band or artist that you enjoy?

I used to listen to music a lot, I used to have specific playlists. I’m too old now. I need silence. I wrote Back to Reality with Disney Pixar scores and the score to La La Land. The End of Magic I wrote mostly with Jeremy Soule’s score for Skyrim, which was handy. Robot Overlords, I wrote largely to Daft Punk’s Tron soundtrack. And when I hear those now, they make me think of those books, which is a lovely thing. But yeah, at my age I need the sound of silence.

Thank you for your time this evening Mark – it has been a pleasure to interview you! All the best with your writing. 🙂

The Bestseller Experiment is available on the Podcasts app for iPhone. Have a listen – you won’t regret it!

An Interview With… Louise Cullen

Hi everyone, and this morning on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Louise Cullen.

Louise is a publishing director for Canelo, a London based independent publisher. I was intrigued by the role so was delighted to have the opportunity to speak to her.

Over to you, Louise…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Was it something you wanted to do when you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I worked in a number of different roles before I started in the publishing industry, including jobs in travel, project management and administration. A career as an editor wasn’t something I realised was a possibility in my school days. Once I decided it was the career I wanted, I studied part time for a BA in English and applied for internships when I graduated. My first internship was in an editorial department, and it resulted in my first permanent job in trade publishing as an editorial assistant. That was around ten years ago.

2) What books grab you instantly when you’re in Waterstones, WHSmiths or browsing Amazon online? What is it about them that makes you think ‘I’ll buy that!’?

Despite the adage about never judging books by their covers, it is often the look of a book that first captures my attention. I think the quality of designs is better than ever! My taste is varied, so I find things that appeal to me in many sections of a bookshop. That said, I frequently gravitate towards the crime fiction section and may be drawn in by the design, a clever tagline on the front cover or a description of the contents that sound compelling.

I may seek out titles from publishers that I admire, or have heard of from prize nominations or publicity. It’s nice to revisit authors whose work I have enjoyed, however, my reading time is precious so I often try new voices. Amazon, and shopping online in general, is a less instinctive experience. I check reader reviews but aim to keep a balanced view; poor reviews can be down to personal taste rather than the quality of a book. The algorithms do work as I often look at the suggestions of books that are similar, and have discovered some interesting authors as a result.

3) On the other hand, what book doesn’t grab you? Are there any genres that you wouldn’t read? If so, why?

There isn’t a specific genre that I would not read, but it is less likely that I’d pick up science fiction or fantasy novels. I am also not a huge fan of children’s voices in fiction aimed at adults, so I don’t often read novels with a very young protagonist. I do not read many biographies – they’re usually a little too long-winded for my liking – though I like memoirs that tell a story of an ordinary person who overcame something unimaginable, or found themselves in a situation that they did not imagine and had to rise to the challenge.

4) What makes Canelo stand out as a publisher? What is the package that you offer prospective authors? Do you offer advances?

I hope what makes us stand out is our focus on readers rather than trends. Though we do publish books that reflect the zeitgeist, we also publish a lot of novels that may be considered ‘dated’ or less relevant, but we believe that good stories ought to be readily available to all who may enjoy them.

Canelo is proud of the fact that we have made successes of books in under-represented genres, whether that be sea-faring adventures, or crypto thrillers that other publishers may view as unfashionable. We aim to be a broad church with the genres we offer. We also seek to provide a fair, transparent and collaborative experience for our authors and to work with them in a meaningful way.

We do not offer advances, and that is irrespective of whether you are a debut or already a bestselling author. Our model is to offer an industry-leading ebook royalty rate that comes into force from the moment the book is published, and very fair terms on matters such as royalties for other formats, and rights. We are a small company, but with a lot of experience in the industry and a track record of working with successful authors. We are great at spotting opportunities and reacting to them, and we put a lot of work into aspects of publication that we believe make a key difference to an author’s sales and readership.

I absolutely love working directly with the authors to shape their novels and ensure they have the best likelihood of success, and growing their audience over time. There is always more to learn and a lot more for us to do as a company, but I’m proud of the team we have and how many authors we have been able to put on the path to becoming established novelists with career longevity.

5) How do you find your current role as Canelo’s Publishing Director? Can you tell me a little about your role in the publishing process for the manuscript?

As publishing director, I have a range of responsibilities and my days are rather varied. One aspect of the role is to work closely with commissioning editors who acquire books in the genres under my remit. This includes psychological thriller, romance, saga, contemporary fiction and crime.

Making the success of a book is always a team effort, so I attend various meetings with Canelo colleagues throughout the day to discuss new opportunities to acquire books, or perhaps the cover design for books we have rights to publish. There are frequent reviews of sales, marketing and publicity plans.

I am part of Canelo’s senior management team and that involves working closely with the other senior managers to consider matters that impact on our short, medium and long term plans, our ways of working and ensuring we’re heading in the right direction as a company. The other major aspect of my role is to steer the Canelo Crime list. That means looking closely at the crime fiction market and bringing focus to plans for the imprint.

I consider whether we have done everything possible to make a success of the books on that list, what sort of new books or authors we should seek. I also represent the imprint to the wider industry. A significant amount of my time is spent working directly with Canelo Crime authors to edit their books, and make plans for their next book, and the next, and the next!

I love that part of my job, and communicating with agents about new authors they think may suit my taste and our list.

6) What advice would you give to a writer who is just starting out? Would you recommend a creative writing course?

I wouldn’t feel able to recommend a creative writing course one way or another, because I have not undertaken one. I know some authors seem to benefit from them a great deal, and as an observer it seems that being introduced to other writers and a supportive group is a key benefit.

Potentially, that element is as attractive to attendees as the content of the course itself. Without a direct contact within the industry, it may be hard to work out what is to be expected of you as an author, or how best to ensure your work is handled with care and you are treated fairly.

Literary agents do a huge amount to advocate for their authors, but not every author is going to be able to work with an agent, especially when they are starting out. It seems the shared experience of those on a creative writing course may be useful. Also, some agents or editors have links to courses so will be predisposed to consider authors who take part in them.

For what it is worth, I would not in any way overlook an author because they had not done a creative writing course, but I may note that someone who had done a course could be more likely to grasp the requirements of delivering books to a deadline, and potentially be more familiar with taking feedback on board.

The courses can be expensive and I would not by any means suggest that anyone ought to consider that such a course is a ‘must have’. Without a doubt, the key overriding factor in whether I would seek to work with an author is the quality of the novel. My advice to any author would be to write the novel you want to read, and look at those who are successful in your chosen genre. Try to understand why they have succeeded and apply this to your own work as much as you can. Be aware that publishing is a busy, bustling industry and to gain attention for your work it would be useful to have worked out a ‘hook’ – a short phrase or proposition that immediately engages the reader’s attention and explains who the book is for.

Also pay careful attention to any feedback you receive; whether you choose to act on it is your decision, but if you hear the same thing numerous times that may suggest you should take it on board.

7) What are your views on the crime and thriller market currently? In your view, is there a sub genre you think is in need of more representation?

I think the crime and thriller market is a really interesting and dynamic area for authors and readers. The overarching theme is giving readers a mystery to solve, and that trait is rather resistant to trends. There are cultural moments, and often tropes and devices that for a while may seem to crop up everywhere, but they always have their roots in something long lasting. Right now, there are any number of novels being published as a new spin on Agatha Christie, and female-led detective series have been extremely popular in British crime fiction for a while now.

It pleases me that many recent crime books offer a broader view of where crimes happen (everywhere), who commits them, and who can solve them. In my teens, I read authors like Jeffery Deaver, Harlan Coben and Dennis Lehane. Now, rather than recognition for quality crime fiction being dominated by American, often male, authors, there are different voices telling varied stories.

Closer to home, I love how popular it has become to set a novel in a rural community or a smaller city or town; at one time it seemed London was the only place crimes occured! Not to say that I dislike novels by American authors, male authors or set in London – many that fit that bracket are among my favourite books and highly deserving of their success. Greater representation of characters and stories from a variety of cultures, backgrounds and places is crucial in order to connect with readers. It is no secret that a lot of work remains to be done to ensure that readers and authors from a whole host of different communities see that books, and publishing, are for them, about them, and by them.

Regarding subgenre, I would love to see a greater appreciation for mystery fiction series that involve an amateur sleuth. By this I mean things such as private investigators, journalists, or generally nosey and clever characters! Though police procedurals are a subgenre I adore there is less immediate recognition of novels that don’t feature a police detective, and I think that is a shame. Working to solve a mystery or pursue justice can be brilliantly told with characters who are not constrained by upholding the law. Gristly detail is something I rather like, so I’d be interested in more books featuring characters in forensic pathology, which are less common at the moment. Also books with a pair of detectives working closely together – it’s fascinating to me when this dynamic is explored, and the resulting bonds, tension and dependence on one another that can result.

8) Do you have a genre that you read for pleasure? Is there any genre of book that you wouldn’t read?

Despite the vast amount of crime fiction that I read for work, I do love to read crime novels for pleasure. There are just so many incredible authors and I cannot get enough of mysteries to solve, or flawed characters, and I like being scared! Anything to get my heart pounding is fun, and I am not averse to gore or violence. The other books I tend to read for pleasure would probably be broadly categorised as literary fiction, though I am not a fan of that term. For me, this probably means a standalone novel, offering a unique character perspective and tackling complex relationships against the backdrop of a moment of change.

That’s not the most eloquent answer but it’s quite hard to define – perhaps that is why ‘literary’ fiction is used! Some stories don’t sit easily in a genre, but I don’t like any implication that ‘genre’ or ‘commercial’ fiction is easier to write, or a poorer standard or in any way less skilful or meaningful. This is far from the case, and labels like ‘literary’ don’t help readers, they’re industry terms. I don’t read as many romance books these days but I have enjoyed many a good rom com.

I sometimes seek out books published long ago that come highly recommended. As mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t rule out any genre, but I don’t think I’d read YA fiction without a very compelling reason, and not much sci-fi or fantasy.

9) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you finding that your reading habits are changing at all?

As a commissioning editor, I am constantly reading manuscripts. That may be the new novels my existing authors have completed, or ones on offer from the literary agents I am in touch with. This means I read a lot of crime fiction, though I do also read the things my team are keen to acquire too, so I dip into all sorts of genres as a result. I always take a break from work reading at Christmas and was able to read a lot of fantastic books this time – the silver lining of a festive break when we weren’t able to spend the occasion with friends and family. I enjoyed We Begin at the End by Chris Whittaker a great deal, also The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, which is non-fiction but explores the aftermath of a crime, and Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell for something moving and highly absorbing.

My reading-for-pleasure opportunities are usually from audiobooks, and I download these via the BorrowBox and Libby library apps. It’s a brilliant way to read while doing something else, such as walking or commuting. Due to working from home now, I have fewer hours in the day to listen so my main change in habit is that I read more slowly. Most recently in audiobook I enjoyed The Survivors by Jane Harper. It is wonderfully tense, as well as being tightly plotted and moving. I felt transported to Tasmania, which was rather nice!

Also recently I listened to Girl A by Abigail Dean, which was wonderfully narrated by Holliday Grainger, and Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore; not an easy tale with it’s exploration of violence against women, mysogyny, racism and neglect, but a powerful story.

10) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Are you finding that your habits are changing? Do you have a favourite drama that you enjoy religiously?

I’m sporadic with my television viewing and not very good at committing to a recurring series. Like many people, I find streaming works well so I can watch at a time that suits me.

I enjoy gritty dramas, often crime (a theme is emerging with these answers), and true crime series. I also like documentaries about things I know little about, such as the financial crash. The most recent series that I have watched are The Queen’s Gambit, The Fall, Line of Duty and It’s a Sin. In documentaries and true crime, I have watched The Night Stalker (it is terrifying but very well made) and Dirty Money.

Bloodlands is also good so far, and I watched Schitt’s Creekthough – controversially – I didn’t like the latter series as much. I tend to find characters less interesting when they achieve their goals of happiness or redemption!

Thank you very much for your time today Louise. It has been a pleasure to interview you and find out more about your job role! I wish Canelo all the best!

Bio: Louise Cullen is publishing director at Canelo, a London-based independent publisher founded in 2015 and nominated for Independent Publisher of the Year by the British Book Awards in 2021.

She heads the Canelo Crime imprint, and publishes bestselling authors including Rachel Lynch and Marion Todd. In the past, she has worked with authors including C. D. Major, Michael Ridpath, Anne Holt, Holly Seddon and Mario Reading. Louise is originally from the Wirral, and now lives in Walthamstow, London.

An Interview With…. Alastair Natkiel

Hi everyone! Today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Alastair Natkiel. Alastair is an actor and singer and has most recently been on screen in BBC’s Line of Duty as OCG member Lee Banks.

I was very pleased that he was able to accommodate an interview. Read on for how he started out in the industry and his advice for aspiring creatives (actors and writers).

Over to you, Alastair…

1) How did you first become involved in the industry? Was it something that you always wanted to do? Did you have any other career plans?

I either wanted to be a cricketer or an actor. I wasn’t good enough at cricket so acting it was. Clearly I never considered a “proper” job!
I had been performing from a young age and both my parents were involved in the industry (Dad was a theatre/tv director and producer and Mum trained as an actress) so it was always in the family. I saw Les Miserables in the West End when I was 8 in the and thought “I’d like to be up there doing that”.

2) When you read a script, what do you pay attention to in particular? Does the character leap off the page for you? What makes you think ‘Yes, I want to play this role!’

Yes there are definitely characters you quickly connect with, which can be for a number of reasons. Maybe they feel close to you or have similar experiences. Or it might be you just know they will be great fun and/or a wonderful challenge to play.

I like delving into dark and difficult roles that allow me to move far away from myself, ie playing a vicious criminal like Lee Banks in Line of Duty, or Simon – my character from the play Muswell Hill – who was affected by severe Aspergers.

3) Your career has varied between film, television and theatre. Which of the three would you say is your favourite and why?

They are all rewarding in their own way. I love screen work – the subtlety that the proximity and strength of the camera allows. And being in such a hyped show as Line of Duty is incredible, especially with how it’s gripped the nation.

But then there’s something very special in the immediacy of theatre – being part of a company of actors and experiencing the audience’s reaction there and then. For example, at the end of Standing at the Sky’s Edge (a very special show I did at the Sheffield Crucible) we had 1000 people on their feet, giving us a standing ovation every night. There’s not a lot that can beat that.

4) You run an acting workshop for up and coming actors. Where did the idea for this start and what does the process involve?

I love teaching and have taught group classes for years.

I had been thinking of starting 1-1 sessions for some time and when Covid hit, it was the perfect incentive to get them off the ground.

Everything is done on Zoom and actors of all experience come to me to work on screen acting and audition skills/preparations. I’ve really got a lot out of it myself and is a venture that has kept me busy (and sane!) through lockdown.

It’s going to be something I continue over Zoom but will also be introducing in-person sessions when I’m allowed to.

5) How did you find your current agent? Would you say that the process is the same for a writer seeking representation? For example, a submission reel and cover letter or show invite is the equivalent of sample chapters from a manuscript?

I have known my agent for a long time and when it wasn’t going well with my previous representation, we went out for lunch and chatted about me making a move to her.

However that’s not necessarily a normal process and I’m sure it’s very much the same as for a writer. You email with your Spotlight profile (which includes headshots and showreel etc) and hope you might be what they’re looking for.

I’ve had times where I’ve written out and had absolutely nothing back, then other times when I’ve had lots of interest. You need a bit of luck for your submission to land in their inbox at the right time.

6) How have you been coping during lockdown? As an actor, how has lockdown affected you?

Well as I said, The Actor’s Coach venture I set up has kept me busy.

And I’ve kept up with partaking in acting classes myself – a weekly screen workshop with Mixing Networks (who I also teach for) and more recently restarting sessions with Scott Williams at The Impulse Company, who teaches the Meisner Technique, and is someone I love working with and have done so for the last 15 years.

And I was lucky to have a couple of acting jobs, including Line of Duty, and some voiceover work through the lockdown period too.
I also run a Saturday stage school for kids where we took the lessons online and had the idea for “Gig in the Garden” where I went directly to people’s homes to sing and entertain. I launched that over Christmas and am doing so again for the summer.

So I’ve definitely kept myself occupied!

7) I am currently really enjoying Line of Duty. You play Lee Banks, one of the OCG members. How did your part in LoD come about?

I did a casting director workshop with Gordon Cowell – one of the casting associates for the show – who encouraged me to write to Jed Mercurio, who created the show. I had recently done a police based feature film so had some very relevant footage.

Jed very kindly replied and said they’d bear me in mind. My agent then submitted me for Lee, pushed for me be to considered, and got me a self tape. I sent that in and the rest is history! I actually heard back two days after I’d submitted my tape, which was a much quicker outcome than I expected. I was subsequently told I was very quickly everyone’s first choice for the role, which was lovely to hear.

8) During the pandemic, what have you missed most about the day to day routine of your job?

I’ve missed the variety it brings. I’ve loved keeping busy with online ventures, but my work is normally so different from week to week that it’s been hard to not have that element to it.

And I miss being part of a company. I was due to do a big theatre job from November last year through to April this year, in a theatre I’ve always dreamed of working at, so to have not been able to do that was gut-wrenching. Hopefully it will still happen at some point soon.

9) Are you currently reading any books? Between fiction and non fiction, do you have a favourite? Do you have a favourite genre?

I’m terrible for reading fiction. I should be much better but start novels and never finish them.

I read plays, books on acting and both actors’ and sporting autobiographies. I also read a lot of personal development books to keep working on a positive mindset, which I find key to the development of my career and my overall mental health.

10) In preparation for a role, do you sometimes listen to music to get you in your character’s mindset? I find certain pieces of music very helpful. Have you been missing live music during lockdown? Do you have a favourite band or artist you like to listen to?

Yeah sometimes. I do a lot of visualisation work to really get into the world of the character and music is often a part of that.

I actually don’t go to that many live music gigs but that’s one of those things that I’m keen to rectify once life gets back to normal.

My brother has been a huge influence on my musical taste. He used to be a full time DJ and music producer and still writes tunes along side his “proper” job (he eventually got one, whereas I didn’t!).

So anything from techno to Oasis, to swing music (Frank Sinatra is one of my idols) and whatever else in between. I’ll kind of listen to anything!

Thank you for your time this afternoon Alastair, it has been a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: Alastair trained at the Manchester School of Theatre and continues in further training with the Impulse Theatre Company.He is best known for his role as Lee Banks in the BBC’s hit drama, Line of Duty.

Other television credits include: Casualty, Hollyoaks, Coronation Street, Machines That Built American, Basil Brush and The Marchioness Disaster.

Theatre credits include: The Merchant of Venice (Stafford Shakespeare Festival), Standing At The Sky’s Edge (Crucible Theatre), Our Boys (Edinburgh Fringe 2018), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Playhouse, West End), Strangers on a Train (Gielgud Theatre), Shrek the Musical (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), The Go-Between (Trafalgar Studios).

After the Blue (Jermyn St Theatre), Muswell Hill (White Bear – nominated for Best Actor, 2014 Off West End Awards), Laughter in the Rain – The Neil Sedaka Story (UK No.1 Tour), What Every Woman Knows (Manchester Royal Exchange), The Importance of Being Earnest (Baron’s Court Theatre), Dangerous Corner (Landor Theatre).

Films include: Mad To Be Normal (Gizmo Films), The Innocent (White Jacket Productions), Make Aliens Dance(Annex Films), and Two Sides (Mixing Networks Productions).

Alastair also works regularly as a voice over artist, including recording a number of episodes of Silver Street – a radio soap opera for the BBC, and as a singer, which has led to him performing in prestigious venues all over the UK and Europe.

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