10 Questions with Stephen Leather
My guest today is Mr. Stephen Leather, author of the renowned Dan Shepherd thriller series. His newest book, WHITE LIES, comes out today. Please scroll down to enjoy his interview, where we talk among others about his greatest satisfaction as a writer, self-publishing, and his favorite pastimes.
1. Mr. Leather, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. WHITE LIES, your newest novel, comes out today. Tell us a bit more about this book.
The blub pretty much says it all! Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd is used to putting his life on the line – for his friends and for his job with MI5. So when one of his former apprentices is kidnapped in the badlands of Pakistan, Shepherd doesn’t hesitate to join a rescue mission. But when the plan goes horribly wrong, Shepherd ends up in the hands of al-Qaeda terrorists. His SAS training is of little help as his captors beat and torture him. Shepherd’s MI5 controller Charlotte Button is determined to get her man out of harm’s way, but to do that she’s going to have to break all the rules. Her only hope is to bring in America’s finest – the elite SEALs who carried out Operation Neptune Spear – in a do-or-die operation to rescue the captives.
It’s a book about responsibility, and loyalty. And as always Spider has to do what is right. Or at least what he thinks is right.
2. Who is Dan Shepherd, and how did you come up with his character?
Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd was an SAS trooper who is persuaded by his wife Sue to quit and become a policeman. His job as an undercover cop proves to be even more dangerous than his life in the SAS but his world is turned upside down when his wife dies in a road accident and he is left to bring up his young son alone. By the time we get to White Lies, Shepherd is working for MI5. How did I come up with the character? Difficult to say. He is based partly on an undercover Customs agent I know, but I have added characteristics from several other people. He is a real straight-shooter, a man who believes in doing the right thing. He has a strong moral compass, and I enjoy testing that from time to time. I don’t describe him too much physically – brown hair, average height, average build – and I have difficulty picturing his face. That’s partly deliberate, the less you describe a character, the easier it is for the reader to identify with him.
3. How is WHITE LIES different from other thrillers in the genre?
The setting, rural Pakistan, is very different. And the plot is as up-to-date as it’s possible to be, the story could easily have come from the pages of a newspaper.
4. What kind of research did you do for this book?
I spent a lot of time hanging out with guys in the SAS, picking their brains. I also talked to several British-born Pakistanis about their lives. I also had an up-close look at a Predator unmanned drone, which was very helpful.
5. What is your greatest satisfaction as a writer? What is your greatest disappointment?
Finishing a book is always very satisfying. I’m always thrilled when one of my books gets into the Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller list. Probably my most satisfying moment was when my book The Basement topped the Kindle bestseller lists in both the US and the UK. I was the first British writer to do that. I was also the first British writer to have the top three places in the UK Kindle bestseller list with my three self-published books The Basement, Once Bitten and Dreamer’s Cat.
6. Why do you write?
I’m a writer, and writer’s write. It’s what I do. I would write even if I didn’t have a publishing deal, I write because I enjoy it but it’s more than that. I HAVE to tell stories. No ifs or buts. I’ve heard some writers say that writing is akin to pulling teeth. They find it painful. They find it difficult. That’s not how real writers feel. Real writers live to write, it’s as much a part of their life as breathing. Asking why I write is like asking why I eat. I just do. I’m very lucky in that I’ve been able to earn a living from my writing for more than twenty years, and for ten years as a journalist before that. But even if I didn’t earn enough to support myself, I’d still write.
7. What are your thoughts on the latest publishing industry developments, mainly the rise of the self-publishing?
It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. It means that any writer can reach and grow an audience and a fan base without having to go through the filters of agents and editors. A writer can produce a novel, offer it for sale on various platforms, and within weeks start receiving money for it. That is a serious game-changer. When I started writing you needed an agent and you needed to persuade an editor to give you a publishing contract. Those days have gone.
8. What are your favorite pastimes?
Writing. Watching TV. Drinking wine and whisky. Horse riding. Flying small planes. Watching people. Plotting books.
9. What are your writing habits? Outlines or not?
I rarely use outlines. I generally have a theme – assassination, betrayal, serial killer – and then tend to write from start to finish. I usually have a rough idea what I want to happen but generally the characters decide their own fates and often the ending is a complete surprise to me. I tend to write late into the night, and usually with the TV on. I’ve always worked that way. I used to write one book a year. Since the eBook revolution, I have tended to write three novels a year, plus several short stories.
10. What is your next book going to be about?
I’m working on two books featuring my supernatural detective Jack Nightingale. I’m also getting ready to start the 12th Spider Shepherd novel, Black Ops. Spider will discover that his boss, Charlotte Button, has been less than honest with him as he works to prevent the assassination of a Russian politician visiting London.