While readers get to grips with his new collection of quick thrillers, author Frank Westworth pauses in between projects to chat about what he writes, and why. And what he reads, and where his characters come from, and which kinds of Kevlar can actually stop bullets…
What made you want to write?
Vanity. Pure, simple, undiluted vanity. Back in antiquity I wrote long insane letters to my insane friends and they wrote long insane letters back. That was good. Then I write long insane features for motoring magazines and that was fun too – still is. Then I started to earn a living by writing long insane motoring and motorcycling features. There’s more fiction than fact in a lot of that … so why not try writing something that’s entirely and honestly fiction?
Why did you pick the genre you did?
Crime / noir? Dark and entirely adult (be warned) violent thriller writing? It’s what I enjoy reading, so I reasoned that writing it would be at least as much fun. It is. Maybe more.
Do you use events from your own life in your books? If so, how close to the real life event is the event in the book? Do you change the outcome to one you would’ve preferred?
Yes. Real life is the only life we have. Interpreting it and reinterpreting it, exaggerating and distorting and embellishing and making it occasionally outrageous – that’s fiction. I did try vampires and space aliens, but have met so very few of them that it never seemed real to me. And if I can’t believe it, what hope anyone else? That said, all the events based on genuine first-hand experience are as close to the spirit of the original as I can manage. And the outcome? We are talking fiction, yes? So the outcome needs to be both entertaining and in context. Just … exaggerated there and here.
Are your characters based on people you know / people you see walking down the street, etc, or are they all just a part of the story?
Both. All the major characters are based on *parts* of real genuine people, the way they do what they do, the way they act and react, the way they walk, the way they talk. And one of the close-to-central characters in all the novels is modelled on a waitress in a central London Pizza Hut. I never spoke to her, I just stared. She ignored me. A star character was born. But yes, if you take parts of real people away from the pudding of the whole person, you get the individual flavours and can manipulate, exaggerate.
Do you use family and friends as sounding boards for your ideas?
Only very rarely. My wife, who never suffers me or other fools for very long, often instructs me not to tell her what’s going on so she can – hopefully – be surprised when she reads the result. But then … at the moment she and I are throwing around ideas for the next novel and a couple of preceding short stories, so both. Other folk occasionally ask for previews, and I always send them. Something.
How do you do research when writing a new book?
Travel. Talk to people. Read the webs a lot. Look and listen. Everything is out there if your eyes are open. Write a draft of a scene, then check whether the action is actually possible. Did you know that the Kevlar in a motorcycle jacket is not the same as the Kevlar in a bulletproof vest? I do. Now I do. I didn’t before I looked it up.
If you could collaborate with any one author, who would it be?
Only one? That’s a challenge. Walter Mosley. But there are so many brilliant dark writers. Here’s another couple for you: James Crumley and Derek Raymond. They’re both dead, so any collaboration would be seriously interesting.
Do you set an amount each day for writing?
No. I write non-fiction for a living, so writing fiction for fun is always second to that.
Do you have any superstitions, particularly surrounding your writing?
Yes. I set a stage, a comfort farm. So I write fiction on an old Dell netbook I don’t use for anything else, carry it around in the luggage of my motorcycle and set it up in lodges for the night. Along with a lot of coffee (Thai Srimcup if I can find some) and if I’m lucky, flame-grilled crisps for a balanced diet to inspire me. And the whole sorry performance is watched over by a rubber Tasmanian Devil, which is also the USB stick I keep all the copy stored on. One of them. Paranoia is its own writer’s reward.
Do you have music in the background or does it have to be silent?
Either. I like writing loud scenes to loud music, and when I write at home I always keep at least one loud guitar nearby. But when I write something which demands thinking or maybe a few smarts, then I prefer quiet.
How important do you find reviews, and what do you make of negative ones?
I’m never sure, to be honest. Good reviews are great, but like lots of scribblers I’ve suffered a few glowing reviews from guys who’ve plainly not read the book they’re reviewing. That is … mysterious. I can’t understand it. And I’ve only had one negative review (so far!). That guy described my first novel as ‘a repulsive read,’ and it was not meant kindly. In fact, I was aiming for a little repulsion in parts of the book – you can’t do dark without darkness – so was unbothered. Amused, mainly.
Other than writing and reading, what hobbies do you have?
Oh! Motorcycling – I have a lot of bikes and always appreciate riding and building them. Music. I’ve been demonstrating the lost art of Stratocaster battering at great volume and with much energy since I was a youth. Also travel, near and far. Make every day a journey, fill it with music, and wrap up warm on the bike.
What are you currently reading?
Everything by John Connolly. I’ve read eleven of his novels one after the other and am well into the twelfth.
THE STONER STORIES anthology collects the first five JJ Stoner quick thrillers and includes an all-new, previously unpublished story, SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP.
This collection reveals the shadowy secrets of covert operative JJ Stoner, who uses sharp blades, blunt instruments and his innate persuasiveness to discreetly resolve tricky situations for the British government.
The six self-contained stories in this collection follow Stoner’s progress, from his final days as a serving soldier to his first private contract, and into the shadow land of the deniable asset.
Only one thing is absolutely inevitable: eventually, everybody dies.
And there’s more exclusive material in this anthology – an insight into the author’s inventive methods of dealing with death, and an intimate encounter with an ice cold killer…
THE STONER STORIES is available in ebook and paperback