In the #TwentyQuestions hotseat today is Paul Gitsham, author of The Last Straw: A DCI Warren Jones Novel released earlier this week by Carina (Harlequin UK), so please give him a warm welcome as we get underway...
ACT ONE – all about you…
I started my career as a biologist, pursuing my research in such exotic locales as Toronto and Manchester. Along the way I've also had jobs as a massively over-qualified receptionist in a sports centre and spent 6 months working for a major UK bank ensuring that global terrorists and other international ne'er do wells banned from holding UK bank accounts hadn't managed to circumvent global restrictions and open a Junior Savings Account. This was even less exciting than the job as a receptionist.
Finally I saw the light and decided to pass on my hard-won laboratory skills, bad habits and wilful disregard for Health and Safety (*) to a new generation and retrained as a secondary school science teacher. I now teach science to 11-18 year olds and creative writing to Sixth Form students.
(*) For legal reasons, I should point out that I take the Health and Well-being of my pupils extremely seriously and am proud to say that none of my pupils have ever suffered permanent disfigurement from one of my science lessons.
A keen writer from an early age, my year 6 report on leaving primary school said "Keep up the writing and one day you'll be the next Roald Dahl". For the sake of balance, it should be pointed out that it also said, "you will never get anywhere in life if your hand-writing doesn't improve."
Twenty five years later and my hand-writing has, if anything, deteriorated. On the plus side I am loved by millions of children around the world (*).
(*) This is a lie. Just ask any of the students I've taught.
1) Have you always been a writer or is it something you fell into?
Writing stories was always the best part of any English lesson and I started writing at a very young age. My first memories involve me trying to write the screenplay to E.T., when I was 5 or 6 years old. I was gutted when Mum said I couldn’t because somebody had already written it!
2) Do you have a particular writing style or ritual?
I’m not a great “plotter” – I just “open the bull**** tap and let it pour!”. Because I don’t get to write as often as I’d like, I’m lucky enough to have a headful of scenes all clamouring for my attention, and so I rarely suffer from writer’s block – I typically find myself trying to get down the scene that’s shouting loudest first!
3) Is there a book or an author that has influenced you in your writing?
I love the spare, understated prose of Lee Child. He twists and turns with little warning and isn’t afraid to sit back in the middle of an action scene and let the anticipation build.
4) Is there one piece of writing (or life?) advice that has stuck with you, or that you would like to share?
Join a writers’ circle. Writing is a solo pursuit, but that doesn’t mean it should be done in isolation. Feedback, good and bad, is essential if you ever want your work to be enjoyed by other people.
5) Can you tell us three things about yourself that we probably don’t already know?
I do almost all of my writing in public libraries and have a list of the opening times for all those within 20 miles of my house.
I lost my carefully crafted best-man’s speech 2 days before my mate’s wedding when my laptop died. I had to wing-it using a list of cryptic bullet-points…
I am a proud geek! As a science teacher, it is entirely acceptable to wear a DNA helix tie, use Harry Potter to teach genetics (the wizarding allele is recessive) and slip references to Star Trek into A level biology lessons (Haemoglobin in human blood is red because it contains iron; Mr Spock’s blood is green because Vulcan haemoglobin contains copper).
6) What five luxury items or gadgets would you hate to be without?
My laptop – I hate writing long-hand
My smartphone – I use it to watch TV and surf the web more than my computer
My memory foam mattress cover! It’s soooo comfortable…
Cheese. ‘nuff said.
BBC Radio 4 – I measure the length of long car journeys by the number of times I hear the pips; and nothing sends me to sleep faster than streaming a documentary on the Bank of England’s strategy for Quantitative Easing using iPlayer!
ACT TWO – all about your new release…
A DCI Warren Jones novel - Book 1
When Professor Alan Tunbridge is discovered in his office with his throat slashed, the suspects start queuing up. The brilliant but unpleasant microbiologist had a genius for making enemies.
For Warren Jones, newly appointed Detective Chief Inspector to the Middlesbury force, a high-profile murder is the ideal opportunity. He’s determined to run a thorough and professional investigation but political pressure to resolve the case quickly and tensions in the office and at home make life anything but easy.
Everything seems to point to one vengeful man but the financial potential of the professor’s pioneering research takes the inquiry in an intriguing and, for Jones and his team, dangerous direction.
Well first of all, I would just like to state categorically, for the record, so there can be no mistake… the story about murdering a university Professor, was not inspired by my own experience as a PhD student – my professor was lovely! That being said, during my years in academia I both witnessed and heard about some pretty shocking behaviour and so it perhaps isn’t entirely surprising that my first novel takes place in such an environment! Add to that the fact that I’d always dreamt of writing a mystery novel ever since I started reading Enid Blyton and The Hardy Boys as a young child and it was almost inevitable!
8) Did the story flow from your finger tips or did some scenes take a bit of cajoling?
The great thing about detective stories is you can write yourself into a corner and then spend ages banging your head against the wall trying to find a plausible way back out – to date I have yet to find a situation that I’ve had to give up on, but I’m sure it will happen!
9) I see The Last Straw is your debut, how long did it take for the initial spark of the story to make it onto the page and then onto the publisher’s desk?
I started writing it Easter 2011. I finished the first draft November of that year. I then wrote another complete book in the series whilst I drafted and re-drafted book one, before taking the plunge. My best friend bought me the Artists & Writers’ Handbook for my birthday and I started submitting to agents – still no luck by the way, if anybody is interested… - finally CarinaUK picked me up in June 2013.
10) Do you have a favourite paragraph or sentence from your story that you would like to tantalise us with?
Everywhere. Across the walls, over the desk, even splattered on the glowing laptop computer. The human heart is a powerful, muscular pump and a cut artery bleeds out in seconds, spraying red, freshly oxygenated blood across the room like a fire hose.
Tom Spencer removes his gloved hands from the dead man’s throat and rubs them down the front of his lab coat, leaving bloody trails across his chest. Hands shaking, he picks up the blood- covered telephone and presses 9 for an outside line, followed by another three 9s.
“You are through to the emergency services. Which service do you require?”
Spencer’s voice is shaky, his breathing rapid. “Police. There’s been a murder.”11) Over to you, what can you tell us about The Last Straw, to make us rush out and buy it?
If you like a detective who is as human as the rest of us; who sometimes feels out of his depth and who favours bad 80s music over high-brow classical or existential jazz, then DCI Warren Jones is your man. If you like your mystery stories with a satisfyingly complex plot, interesting and quirky characters and procedural authenticity, then the DCI Warren Jones series will be for you. If you want an insight into the sexual jealousy, treachery and skulduggery that boils beneath the genteel surface of a university department, then The Last Straw is the book for you.
12) What can we expect from you next? Is there something you are working on right now?
The second title in the series is with the editors as we speak and number three is well under way. DCI Warren Jones has plenty more tales in him yet!
QUICK FIRE ROUND – it’s pop quiz time…
13) Plotter or pantser?
14) Digital books or print books?
Print mostly, but I am enjoying the convenience of my Kindle and the ability to sync to my phone for when I find myself with nothing to do and I’m too far away from my bedside table.
15) Tea or coffee?
Decaff coffee – milk no sugar, thanks. Any chance of a custard cream?
16) Extrovert or introvert?
*I* think I can be a bit of an introvert – anybody stuck in close proximity to me would probably disagree.
17) Facebook or Twitter?
18) Christmas or birthday?
Christmas – everybody’s celebrating, not just you!
19) Morning person or night owl?
Night Owl – even though my alarm clock goes off at 5:30 and I have to leave for school at 6:30 L
20) Sweet or savoury?
And that’s a wrap!
Thank you so much for taking part, Paul, I wish you every success with your new release.
To discover even more about Paul Gitsham, and to keep up with his latest projects and shenanigans, you can visit him at: www.paulgitsham.com , follow him on twitter @dcijoneswriter or like his Facebook page www.facebook.com/dcijones
Buy it now…
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Release date: 24 March 2014
Amazon UK / US
Nook UK / B&N