A Chat With Kath Middleton, August 2015

I recently had the very great pleasure of meeting up with Kath, and thereupon we discussed many topics, not least of which were books. I know, how strange, right?

Well, Kath had secreted in her bodice some recording equipment – an 8-track reel-to-reel I think it was – and from it she transcribed the following…

My first ‘victim’ is author Andrew Barrett. Now that I’ve got his Sunday name out of the way, I shall call him Andy. For the benefit of anyone who isn’t used to the expression indie author, can you explain it, and also tell us if you’d snap at a contract with a traditional publisher if they offered. 

Hello Kath, and thank you very much for inviting me into your red velvet boudoir for a little chat over a glass of Cinzano.

An indie author is like a free-range chicken. She takes her pleasure eating any genre of food that takes her fancy. She is free to come and go and experience life almost at whim, and she’s free to drop an egg of any colour and of any shape and size as she sees fit. Most free-range chickens are paid peanuts – wait, that’s not right – they’re paid a pittance but have the luxury of freedom over their output and their input. Quality?

A battery hen on the other hand is told what genre of food to eat, when to eat, and how much. She’s told what colour eggs to produce, and what size and shape. She’s constrained by bars, and her life experience is usually only one genre deep – what she can see from behind those bars. She’s fed plenty because her carcass fetches more when slightly plump. Quantity?

What I’m trying to say is the average indie author is master of many skills, from cover design to file preparation, from content to advertising. She has total freedom with advertising, with social media, with ouput, and sales channels. A trad author, in my view, is constrained by the publishing house, their rules, their royalty rates, their advertising ethos, even what they want you to write. Perhaps the biggest fear of mine would be their profit. You are, I believe, an expendable product, and when you fall out of favour, they will terminate your contract.

Happily, there seems to be room enough for both, and the public will eat from two plates.

Despite the above, I’d be very interested to hear from a publishing house. Most of what I think I know is based upon rumour, so I’d be keen to see first-hand if the perceived disadvantages of being with a trad publisher are correct, and if they would outweigh the advantages of literally pleasing yourself.

I’ve been a fan since I read A Long Time Dead – over three years ago. Your latest books have featured Eddie Collins, Scenes of Crime Officer. He’s angry, belligerent; ‘not-a-people-person’ doesn’t even begin to describe him. He’s also meticulous and good at his job, but he’s unsociable and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Come on – be honest. How much of Andy Barrett is there in Eddie Collins? 

Those who know me at work might say Eddie Collins is 100% Barrett. I sometimes wish I were brave enough to be Eddie, but I like my job and so I know when to keep my mouth shut! Doesn’t mean I can’t think it though.

There are so many things that anger me, same as they might anger any average person. And I think most of my anger can be condensed into one sentence: I hate injustice. Whether that’s a traffic light defaulted to red at 3am (it’s so unfair!), or whether it’s the thief who steals from a pensioner, or whether it’s the untruths told by our leaders – it comes down to being unjust.

Correct: I am not a people person. At all. I have half a dozen close friends with whom I share secrets, seek advice from, or offer advice to; the rest are simply people I know. Or tolerate.

There isn’t enough time for me to go through my reasons for being anti-social, except to say I prefer to live inside my own mind with my stories and my characters than I do living amongst most real people. It’s a nasty world out there – stay indoors.

And yes, in case you were thinking I’m egotistical, let me tell you that indeed I am very good at my job. Yes, very good.

Sadly, I’m not perfect. I miss things at crime scenes and I forget things at crime scenes, and even more than the red traffic light, missing things and forgetting things makes me furious with myself. I usually have only one crack at a crime scene, and then any evidence I miss is gone forever – I can’t easily tolerate my failings here because people, victims, are relying on me.

So how much of me is in Eddie Collins? A goodly portion, say 80% And I’d like to add a point here that is often missed when people talk about Eddie Collins and what a bad-tempered bastard he is: he is also full of compassion, and he’s fiercely loyal. Above all, whether he steps outside the law to fulfil a promise or prove a point, he believes in justice. His justice.

All your current output is crime/thriller. Do you think you’ll ever write in a different genre? If so, which calls to you in the pit of the night? 

I love writing in the crime/thriller genre. It seems to me that fate gave me an overwhelming desire to write, and then furnished me with a job as a CSI. I threw a double six there, didn’t I? And don’t you think I’d be silly not to exploit it? I do, so I don’t.

However, I do appreciate horror, and I also appreciate some fantasy. I’ve always shied away from writing them since I figured I would get better results from writing what I know about (that bit is not true of everyone, though). But I’ve begun many a story in a creepy, cobweb-filled room, and some might be surprised to learn I’ve also experimented with fantasy on a fundamental level. I need to spend more time on these genres than I have available. I know how silly that sounds, but I like to keep up a steady flow of books, which means writing crime. If I were to take a break from crime, I would happily attempt a fantasy horror.

Are you planning any more Eddie Collins novels? Can you give us any ideas? 

Yes. I love writing Eddie Collins; he’s so easy to write that it’s as natural as breathing. Nothing is firmed up yet but the last time I saw him, Eddie was pulling a body from a canal. Very near a village called Ledston Luck… it might just be the title for the next instalment.

Do you have any sage advice for new writers? 

We’re all new writers, aren’t we? Each time we begin another project, we’re on a journey of discovery, not only within the story, but within ourselves too. My, how deep was that?

Forget writing what you know (it’s the one piece of advice almost every How to Write a Book book tells you (unless it’s non-fiction of course!)), and write the kind of stories you enjoy reading. There’s a good reason for this: any reader will see straight through your attempts to enthral them with knitting pattern plots or accounting woes. If you enjoy Westerns, write one. Even if you’ve never been to a saloon in Hic County.

Forget writing for money. If you deliberately set out to earn cash as a fiction writer*, you will fail as surely as your plans to win the lottery. Unless you’re very lucky of course.

Write because you enjoy it, because you can’t live without it. Write because it makes you happy, and above all, write because of the chance to make other people happy.

A reader wants to disappear from their own world where the washing up and the vacuuming are waiting; they want to see if Wild Bob Hiccup is gonna get a belly full of lead when Jenny-Lou Stetson sees him stealing getaway horses.

Your plot will be thin and your characters shadows; you’ll think it’s just enough to get you to the finishing line but it won’t be because the finishing line is when you leave a reader satisfied.

And finally, which of your babies is the favourite? If you could only be remembered for one of your books, which would it be – and why? 

Oooh, that’s an evil question! I see that glint in your eye, madam.

I wrote A Long Time Dead 18 years ago, and considering it was my first attempt and many people enjoyed it, it should be this one, eh? Well, no it’s not, actually. It’s a good story, but it’s not my best.

I have very fond memories of Stealing Elgar. I poured everything I had into that book: love, friendship, action, crime, guns, bombs, and all the police work I could muster. And it worked (for me) as a great all-round crime book. So it’s this one, right? Nope.

The Third Rule is massive and it’s not just padding. I was pleased as punch to have completed a 1000 page novel; an epic where I allowed the stories from numerous characters to develop and add to the central premise until it was so strong that to many people it seemed real – within the realms of fiction, I mean. If I could have a second place, The Third Rule would be it.

The latest book, Sword of Damocles, has been described as my page-turniest page turner (I love that!) because it sets a cracking pace, has a good balance of crime scene work, of Eddie’s personal life, and his work life. The story is strong, the conclusion fairly decent. And it slips easily into the Top Spot, a hair’s breadth from the Very Top Spot.

The Very Top Spot, and the book I’d most like to be remembered by, is probably one of the weakest sellers (see * above). It’s a weak seller, not because the story is rubbish (allow me to blow my own bugle here), but because I’m a rubbish salesman. Black by Rose is in places as deep as The Third Rule, it has the action of Stealing Elgar, and it has the pace of Sword of Damocles, with a terrifically satisfying ending. It most of all shows Eddie off at his best and at his worst, and if there’s one thing about story-telling that is more important than the story, it’s the lead character. It’s taken me 20 years to get the lead character exactly how I want him, and Black by Rose gave him legs and a real heartbeat.

Many thanks to Kath for allowing me to reproduce the interview here; this is the link to the original one on Kath’s site.  And please do visit her site: http://www.kathmiddletonbooks.com/

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