Adrian and I often cross each other’s paths in the Amazon genre charts, but it wasn’t until earlier this year we connected properly through our writing and soon found we had lots more in common – including my old stomping ground of Kent in the UK!
It seemed fitting therefore to invite Adrian over to the blog and have a chat about his writing and influences – and it turns out we have similar reading tastes, too.
Adrian, welcome to the blog. You’ve been self-publishing the Tom Blake thrillers since 2013 – for readers who aren’t familiar with the series or the character of Tom Blake, please could you tell us a bit about him?
Thanks for inviting me, Rachel.
Tom Blake is a former Special Forces psychologist, now working with the British security service, MI5. He’s a guy with a heart and a brain, a loner who operates best on his own, and who stops at nothing to get his own way.
He operates within a covert anti-terror unit, Echo 17, and possesses a unique skill to peer into the minds of men, having developed a technique he calls ‘coercive hypnosis.’
He also has a haunted past, and I’ve hinted in the first three books of a mystery of a great love lost, which will eventually be revealed later in the series.
I wanted a strong, determined hero, but not a carbon copy of Jack Reacher. The two characters possess many similar traits, but are quite different in their outlook on life.
Blake’s first outing is in Deep Sleepers which reflects on the dangers of far right wing politics, and centres around a plot by a radical terror group to plant a bomb on a ferry. But Blake’s also tackled terrorists who’ve stolen a lethal virus, in The Armageddon Virus, and a Russian assassin in The Viper’s Strike.
Why the thriller genre? Which books influenced you growing up, and are there particular favourites that you re-read from time to time?
I’ve always loved reading thrillers, the way they transport you to another world and can have your heart pounding and your eyes skipping over the words in an instant. For me, there is no better form of escapism.
The first thrillers I remember reading were copies of Alistair MacLean and Colin Forbes novels I pinched from my father’s book shelves. I think I’ve been particularly influenced by Forbes’ English hero, Tweed. I loved his character – suave, sophisticated and never in a flap.
Often, authors who are former journalists have a lot of skills they can use when writing stories. Did anything from your past career actually hinder you when you began the series?
I became a newspaper journalist because I thought it would be my best chance of being paid to write – and I was always told you couldn’t make a living from writing books, although the self-publishing revolution has changed all that.
Writing for papers is a peculiar skill. It’s all about finding the most pertinent facts and putting them at the top of the story. It’s the opposite of writing fiction where you don’t want to give everything away too soon.
Switching from that kind of reporting to writing fiction was much harder than I imagined, although it’s given me a very good grounding in spelling, accuracy and grammar. Writing a good news story can be quite formulaic, and once you have grasped it, it becomes pretty straightforward. Writing fiction on the other hand is far from formulaic. It’s nuanced, poetic, and when the details have come from your imagination, there’s nowhere to check your facts.
But now, as a journalist, one of my biggest bugbears is reading imagined newspaper reports in fiction. Even the best authors seem to struggle with the authenticity. The language and style is almost always wrong. But I think that unless you’ve been a journalist, it’s very difficult to recreate accurately.
How do you conduct your research? Is it mostly desktop/book based, or do you have contacts you can turn to or places to go to find out what you need to know?
My greatest friend when researching is Google. I’ve discovered there are very few things in this world you can’t discover with a decent search engine. And Google Earth and Street View can even transport you to most places on earth at the click of a mouse.
Of course, like many thriller authors, my search history is now a little worrying. How do you explain why you’ve typed in “how to kill someone with a poison pellet” or “how many rounds does a magazine of an AK-47 Hold”?
That said, I don’t tend to be too obsessive about details. I want my works to be authentic, but ultimately they are works of fiction. Someone once asked Lee Child how he was able to write so accurately about the US military police. His response was that if he didn’t know something, he made it up.
Another author was once criticised by a reader for an inaccurate description of a gun, and he now deliberately writes those inaccuracies into his books…because he can!
Trying to gain visibility to readers as an indie author can be difficult – what did you find worked for you, and what does/doesn’t work any more?
Finding readers is probably the single most difficult aspect of being a self-published, indie author. When readers have found my books, the response is usually really positive, and I have built up a hard core group of dedicated fans, who also help with reading early drafts. The problem is discovering those readers willing to try the books in the first place.
So, the first book in my Tom Blake thriller series, Deep Sleepers, is widely available as a free download. It’s a full length book and so represents great value for someone wanting to try my work with no financial risk. If they sign up for my Readers’ Group, they’ll also receive a free copy of a Tom Blake novella that’s not available anywhere else.
I’ve found that Facebook advertising is great for finding subscribers for the Readers’ Group – not so great for sales, especially for a small back catalogue like mine. Likewise, I’ve found Instafreebie giveaways have been great for finding new readers.
I’ve had limited success with promotional websites such as Bookbub, FreeBooksy and Ereader News Today – but nothing that has made a significant difference to increasing my readership. I guess I’m still looking for that silver bullet.
In 2017, I’d like to investigate some newsletter swaps with other authors in the same genre, and would love to put together a box set of thrillers of similar reads. But the main ambition for the year is to become more prolific. In short, I need to find the time to write more books. I’m currently pushing my daily word count target with the view to having three novels published this year – the time is has taken me to produce one in the past. So far so good. I’m at 55,000 since the beginning of January.
What’s next for Tom Blake?
Blake is temporarily on hold while I’m tackling a psychological thriller set in my home town here in Kent in the UK. It’s a bit of a departure, but really fun to write. Fewer guns and explosions, but more mystery and intrigue.
I’m aiming to have two Blake thrillers out this year. The plots are still being formulated, but I have some interesting ideas and I’m looking forward to fleshing them out in the Spring.
The world is such an interesting place at the moment with the UK voting to leave the European Union and Donald Trump becoming President of the United States, that I don’t think I’m going to be short of material to explore – especially with the threat of terrorism never far away.