Interview with Courtney Cannon – November 2016

Hello everyone. My name is Andrew Barrett, or Andy if you prefer.

Courtney was kind enough to let me mumble on for a while about my writing ‘career’. So here it is, along with snippets from a few interviews I’ve done over the years.

I’ve just crashed through the 50 year-old barrier, completely unscathed! I’ve been a CSI in England for a little over 20 years, and for those 20 years I’ve written crime thrillers with a heavy forensic slant (surprise, huh?). Prior to this I wrote horror, and of the three horror books I wrote, none of them were any good. Okay, they were appalling, but I now see them as kind of an apprenticeship; a good grounding that helped me into my current genre. So, I suppose I actually began writing almost 30 years ago. And the inspiration was a really bad book! I don’t remember the title or the author, but I do remember thinking that I could do a lot better.

And so I tried. Turns out I couldn’t do better at all. It was horrid, and has never seen the light of day, thankfully.

But I’d done something that most people only dream of doing: I’d written a book. I had actually written a book! And once that feeling gets a hold of you, it’s very difficult to get away from it. I wanted more. And so I wrote another, and another. And I could see that they were getting a little better each time.

So I had the bug and a very small pool of experience. All I needed now was something to write. And that’s when I landed the CSI job. I wrote my first crime novel, A Long Time Dead, in my first and second years as a CSI. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. I don’t know how, but I managed to get an agent who made me re-write the damned thing over and over. And then he bailed out on me. It was heart-breaking at the time, but he’d left me with a much better book. So I rewrote it yet again, and it became quite a good book!

Over the next few years I wrote another two books featuring a CSI (termed SOCO back then) called Roger Conniston. They were Stealing Elgar and No More Tears. And they were pretty good.

But I didn’t stop there. I wanted to write something that was multi-character-based. I wanted big; I wanted epic. And I wanted a new, more charismatic, lead character. In walked Eddie Collins.

It was about this time that I became aware of Amazon, and self-publishing.

260k words later (about 1000 pages), I had The Third Rule. It became a book you either loved or hated; it was so big that you could easily immerse yourself in it, and a lot of people loved it. Some didn’t, and their biggest complaint was that it was too big.

Part of being a writer means it’s a good idea to listen to what people say, and enough people were saying it was too big for me to ignore them. So I edited it right back as far as I could, and ended up with 180k words, which was much better, though still way too long to fit into the mainstream genre. And since this book is the first in a new series, the edit proved a wise move, since people will choose to carry on with the others in that series based entirely upon the first one.

Despite him being an angry and abrasive man with a loathing for authority, Eddie turned out to be popular, and so I was inspired to write Black by Rose (my favourite book), and followed it with Sword of Damocles.

And right now, I’m working my way through the edits of his new novel, Ledston Luck (working title), and have written two shorts as well.

There’s so much more to tell but time is short, so I’ll leave it there. What follows are a few excerpts from recent interviews that illustrate my love of writing.

What is your inspiration to write?

Not too sure how to answer this one. But I’ll give it a go. I believe that if you spend your life as nothing but a consumer, it is a life wasted. I believe that creativity – irrespective of form (painting, writing, sculpting, making music, cooking, restoring, whatever…) – is central to human existence and fulfilment. Yes, I realise how deep that sounds, but I could not bear to go through life as a pure consumer (I feel guilty just watching a film!). I like to think that I’m creating something when I write, something that will outlast me, and something that I hope sincerely will bring a little bit of pleasure to someone else. Since I can’t sculpt, cook, or paint (quite like drawing though)), I choose to write. And now I’m afraid I cannot stop!

What drives you to continue writing?

This will sound like a cliché. But I write because I feel empty if I don’t.

But there are many other reasons why I write – even though I’m not exactly commercially successful; but that has never been a reason for me to write (proven by the fact that I’d written six books before Amazon was even born). I write because I enjoy that total immersion in a story, the utter belief that good will always win over bad, even if good is slightly soiled by the end of the tale. There’s no feeling like it when you’re so far into this other world that your fingers cannot keep up with the thoughts coming out of your mind. It’s always a bit of a shock to realise you’re making all this up, and you have to get ready for work.

I also write because I adore the way people interact with each other (study them), and so the way the characters do too. I write because I enjoy the feeling it gives me to know someone else is reading my humble stories, and hopefully, enjoying them a bit.

Do you have any 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.

You can find the interview on Courtney’s site here.

 

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