10 Questions with Peter Murphy
Who is Peter Murphy?
Peter Murphy was born in 1946. After graduating from Cambridge University he spent a career in the law, as an advocate and teacher, both in England and the United States. His legal work included a number of years in The Hague as defense counsel at the Yugoslavian War Crimes Tribunal. He lives with his wife, Chris, in Cambridgeshire.
10 Questions with Peter Murphy
1. Mr. Murphy, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your thriller, Removal, came out in 2011. Tell us a bit more about this work.
The idea for ‘Removal’ came from the attempted impeachment of President Clinton. I found myself wondering what would happen if a president refused to be ‘removed’ as the Constitution requires. I realized that this would only be an issue if the president had the loyalty of some serious people who were determined to keep him in power – and then civil war would be a real possibility. The idea of an ‘unreliable’ vice president and a power-hungry and ruthless military commander followed. The rest was developing the story piece by piece as the crisis developed.
2. Who is FBI Agent Kelly Smith and how did you go about creating his character?
I think Kelly is actually a blend of several women, but I’m not sure I know them all personally. She is strong and very bright, but also quite vulnerable, a combination which is not often portrayed in this genre. She is also, surprisingly, committed to doing things by the book, which I did not expect when I first started working with her. I learned quite a bit about her for the first time while I was writing, which is typical for me. But this did take me aback a bit. She likes the i’s dotted and t’s crossed and gets anxious about proper procedure. But she can be very decisive when necessary. She is also very honest about herself and what she wants.
3. What was your experience like while working as a defense counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia?
In a word, amazing. It was like no other experience of the law. The facts of the cases are obviously distressing and difficult to deal with. But the legal challenges are extraordinary. You have no jury; instead the case is in the hands of judges from countries with totally different legal systems. There was not much law to start with, so the judges built it on the precedent of Nuremburg. Trial practice was totally different from any previous experience. You also had to deal frequently with the “how can you represent these people?” thing. The answer to that is another question: “what people?” Alleged or actual war criminals look and sound the same as anyone else, and you can’t pick one out walking down the street. Many (though not all) of those indicted in The Hague were quite ordinary people thrown into unimaginably horrific situations who made bad decisions – sometimes because there were no good ones to make. There were also, of course, some who consciously and deliberately did wicked things. One of the most fascinating things was working with new colleagues from the Former Yugoslavia, building teams in The Hague with people who had experienced the war and sometimes had been on opposing sides. I could speak for hours about that. The overriding thing was that there was a very special sense about being involved in the first such tribunal of its kind since Nuremburg.
4. Why do you write?
I have always loved writing, ever since I was a child. It’s a compulsion, really. As a lawyer I wrote a great deal for professional reasons, and I have published a number of legal books and articles. But fiction is different. I do it because I love it. The excitement of getting an idea and working it into a novel is very real for me.
5. A word of advice for new writers?
You need an idea to start with, and you should be prepared to reject any idea if you can’t see a novel coming from it.
Once you have an idea, make lots of notes about characters, structure, plot, etc, but don’t expect to map out the whole book. You don’t even have to know how it ends or how it continues from any given point. Listen to the characters. They will tell you what happens next.
When it’s time to write, don’t sit around waiting for the muse to descend. You only need the muse occasionally. At least 90% of the time, you know what the scene is about and your job is to write it well, which calls for technique, not inspiration. Technique comes from practice, not from waiting for the muse. Some days it will be a struggle, other days the novel will write itself. In any case, keep on going.
Read a lot, especially in your genre. Don’t skim the text, but notice the language and the way the author uses it. This is not to copy anything, obviously, but to build your appreciation of what you can do with language and how a novel can be structured.
Don’t be discouraged by rejection letters.
6. What is your typical writing day?
I don’t have one really. I’m not a full-time writer, so I discipline myself to write whenever I can.
7. What are your favorite pastimes?
I love theatre. I am avid rugby fan (Harlequins and Wales). I am a keen, but not very good, snooker player. Eating and drinking well are also important.
8. What other books are you working on at the moment?
I have just signed off on a new novel, ‘A Higher Duty’, which will be published by No Exit Press around Christmas in e-book and February in paperback. It is rather different from ‘Removal’ and is a dark tale of hypocrisy, deception, cover-ups, blackmail and general nastiness set at the English Bar in the early 1960’s.
Next is a sequel to ‘Removal’ featuring some of the same characters, including Kelly Smith, set in both the US and the UK, a very fast-moving thriller. This should be out in late 2013.
Next will be another barrister tale, based on a character in ‘A Higher Duty’, which I hope will become a crime series. Should be out late 2014.
9. What do you like to read and what are you reading now?
I love novels. In my genre, I think the undisputed master is John Le Carre. I have read every word he has written several times. No one can put a complex story together and hold you with language the way he does. But I read a lot of crime novels and thrillers. I also like older novels. Henry James and Thomas Hardy are favourites. I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to get into Dickens much, even though he is obviously a great writer. I very much admire James Joyce and John Steinbeck, for different reasons, of course! In terms of more contemporary novels, I have recently enjoyed ‘The Sense of an Ending’ and I really like Hilary Mantell’s historical novels about Thomas Cromwell.
10. What can readers expect to find in Removal?
I would like to say, a well-written novel with a good structure and characters, one with a fast pace and an interesting plot. In short, a book you can’t put down, and I’m very pleased that many people who have read it have found that to be true!
Thanks for asking such good questions!