Ahead of author Frank Westworth’s appearance at the BooksOnTyne literary festival, we asked readers of his crime-thrillers what subjects they’d like to discuss on the night. The theme of the evening is ‘True Lies’ and the tactic of telling the truth through fiction, but almost immediately the conversation veered off towards sex, intimacy, witty dialogue, and why Frank’s writing rarely reads like a roadmap…
Where do you draw your character inspiration from? Plucked from thin air? Thinly (or thickly) disguised chums? Or an amalgam of both? What first attracted you to / motivated you to write about the central character of JJ Stoner, and indeed, the coterie of surrounding players?
All the characters are drawn from real people, but exaggerated. Only rarely mixed up, though, as it’s not easy to remember them that way — there are a couple of exceptions to that. Not necessarily chums, though! Stoner? I wanted to write a character who is continually bemused by others, who although superficially dishonest is in fact not. So it’s the classic (yawn here if you like!) conflict. He tries to understand before he reacts, which is unusual in an action hero.
If you could spend an evening (either at the pub, or [ahem] somewhere more private) with one of your characters, then who would it be? And why?
Chastity. I originally wrote Bili the bass as that sympathetic soul, but as I grew to know Chastity better, as she talked more, so I grew to like her more. I think she’ll get an entire story of her own if she survives Charm’s book (book 3)
The dialogue in the Stoner books is somewhat unique and incredibly witty. What inspires you to write dialogue that way? Don’t say, you talk like that at home with friends and family…
Dialogue? You’re *very* kind! I really enjoy writing dialogue; I’m fascinated by how folk interact. And my day job is writing (hopefully witty) magazine features, and if I can I break them up with unusual approaches to it then I do. It is an entertaining challenge to write comedic views of cam timing and engine architecture. And yes, we talk like that at home ALL THE TIME!
Can you talk more about the attraction to the ‘femme fatale’ in your books?
The ‘femme fatale’ is a balance thing. Women bring all human life into the world, I wanted to play with the notion of them doing the other thing too. I thought they’d be better at it.
The world inhabited by your unsavoury characters is astonishingly spare, relying on the imagination of the reader to flesh out the environment. Is this deliberate or do you just have a thing against adjectives?
Correct. I become instantly bored when an author discusses the history of wallpaper or the carpets and chairs and decor in a room. People and their actions and motivations interest me a lot more than street directions. If an author can provoke my imagination to become involved with their world, to visualise what I think it looks, smells, feels like, then I read more of their books. I admire that in authors, so attempted to copy it. Art imitating art.
Call me a romantic fool, Frank, but I would love to see some affection, or indeed some heartfelt intimacy filter into the story. Are you able to offer us a hint that this might be in the offing?
Yes. No. Maybe… There’s plenty, in fact, although I entirely accept that it’s not very obvious. I set up the trilogy with a theme of betrayal, which is what happens. However … in Charm’s story (book 3, at c95k words now) there is a major redemption of sorts. In Chastity’s story, I tried to separate sex from intimacy where the two central characters are concerned. Affection can follow that, maybe, perhaps, were I a romantic fool!
Do you find yourself wanting to go back to the earlier books to insert details to match, or to simply help the plot, or add credibility, to the sequels? It’s difficult to do, once the first of the trilogy is out there while you’re still writing the others.
The only thing I’d change about the first book is the writing style of the first quarter or so. I tried far too hard to write ‘like a novelist’. I’m not (really) a novelist, I’m a journalist, so I gave up after advice and just wrote in the style I use for magazine features. Huge credit here to RJ Ellory for telling me what I was doing wrong. He was entirely correct — and I followed his advice. A real revelation. Writing fiction became fun at that point.
Characters and changing them? No. As in real life, characters change all the time. They also reinvent themselves — as in real life, and especially as they’re all dishonest in many ways. Sometimes they have trouble remembering their lies. Again, art reflecting life if you like.
So… I’d rewrite the first quarter of A Last Act Of Charity, but not the characters.
True Lies is on Monday 23 November, as part of the BooksOnTyne festival
Frank’s new thriller, The Corruption Of Chastity, is available at Amazon as an ebook or paperback
THANKS TO Ieish, Chris, Simon, Nick and Kevin for their nail-on-the-head questions…