I’d like to introduce you to the nineteenth interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. He is mystery writer Christopher D. Abbott.
QUESTION: Hi, Christopher! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer?
ANSWER: Hello Susan! First of all, thank you for this opportunity. As far back as I care to remember, I have always had a fascination with writing, especially short stories. I have always been creative, whether writing, drawing, or as I found out later on in life, music. I’m content to just go where things take me.
I also met and had very positive help from another Author – John Templeton Smith – back in the early 2000s. I helped him to “market” his then newest book entitled “Then A Solider”. I spent a lot of time with John and he cultivated in me a sense of an author’s understanding or view of the world. Some very valuable lessons were learnt – most importantly – to “read, always read, and be well read”. This was drummed into me at every opportunity, and was told to him when he first stepped in the writer’s arena by the late Desmond Bagley. I have since lost contact with John and my attempts to find him again have thus far been unsuccessful. I do hope he is well.
So to answer your question: life’s choices developed my background as a writer. It’s really as simple as that.
You’ve worked in IT, communications, safety and health, and sales, and you have a background in human behavioural studies. How has your experience influenced the type of stories you write?
When I went into IT, I found I had an aptitude for writing technical documentation, and standard operating procedures, especially where steps were needed to be defined or established beyond interpretation. Later, as I developed that skill, I began to understand the real value of research, something that had never really occurred to me prior to that. Working in these areas, which may seem to some as distinctly different, actually have a common theme. People. Interacting with people at any organisational level gives you a valuable source of data.
I am a talker. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that once I start talking, I very rarely pause for breath. In IT support, I cultivated relationships with many people at all levels, from managers, directors, and even cleaning staff. I have no agenda. I just love being around people. When I later started to write my stories, I always had a huge list of people in mind that had piqued my interest in one form or another. Studying Human Behaviours established in me a deep desire to write about people. That is why my stories revolve around dialogue.
QUESTION: Your first book, Sir Laurence Dies, is a murder mystery in the Agatha Christie style, and it was published in January, 2013. Can you tell us a bit about the book? What inspired you to write it? What was unique about the setting of the book and how did it enhance or take away from the story?
ANSWER: Sir Laurence Dies was never meant to be as big as it turned out. In fact, the premise of the book started out as a short story. Some of the characters that eventually made it into the book weren’t even meant to be there. It really started one summer’s evening in a shed in Maidstone, Kent, UK. I spent most Fridays in this shed. It wasn’t an ordinary shed, it was a man-shed. We had music, a fridge, comfortable chairs, and heating (when it was needed). My closest friend, Andy, has an incredible ability, linguistically. He can speak many languages including Italian, French, and Dutch. In fact when I left the UK, he was making headway into Greek!
When I approached the subject of writing a book about a Dutch detective, he was so encouragingly enthusiastic; I dived in. It was his enthusiasm for the project that actually inspired me to write it. With a lot of initial help and support from him, I developed ideas, settings, and characters. I wrote the dialogue first and together we would talk it through. It really was simple – this was back in around 2007. But like most projects that start with good intentions, it fell to the wayside. I didn’t pick it up again until 2010, and then within four months, I had finished the book.
The setting was always meant to be a “closed-room” mystery. I have read and re-read many mystery stories. I was always fond of the Sherlock Holmes and Poirot short stories. I have the entire Jeremy Brett Holmes collection – a man I thought was definitive as the great Detective. I also have the entire (to date) David Suchet Poirot collection – I love David Suchet.
It is these two actors, their interpretations that are in essence the inspiration for Doctor Pieter Straay. I chose the Agatha Christie style, rather than the Doyle style, mainly because I simply love the period and it seemed natural to go “Christie” because of that.
QUESTION: Give us an insight into your main character. What does he do that is so special?
ANSWER: You like to ask difficult questions, don’t you?
Doctor Straay might answer: Are questions really difficult?
I can tell you a lot about Doctor Straay. He is, for example, a refugee. His family lived in Belgium because of his father’s job, and when the War broke, they were caught. With a lot of help and luck, they made it to England, and that is where Straay lived and schooled. Later, he returned back to Holland – but that’s another story.
Straay and I have a lot in common. I love observing people, I enjoy studying behaviour and where that takes an individual. I’m interested in why 2 and 2 makes 4 – and I’m always intrigued when it doesn’t! Straay – over me – however, can form connections. They maybe obscure, irrelevant, possibly even erroneous, but he won’t ever dismiss them. Straay is essentially my Poirot-Holmes hybrid. He is able to form links from psychology, his observation skills “the art of deduction” as it were, are also heightened.
I also imagined actors playing the parts of my characters. I’ll give you an example. Lady Agatha (yes that was deliberate!) Smythe was modelled on the great Dame Maggie Smith. Now when I read her lines, I see Maggie delivering them in my head…
QUESTION: Are you working on a new book? Will you write a sequel to ‘Sir Laurence Dies’? What are your thoughts about writing a series?
ANSWER: Yes I am writing a new book. I’m working on a project right now. It’s autobiographical in nature. The book in essence will be a collection of true short stories, coming from the perspective of a former Connecticut Detective Sergeant. A man who fought in the Korean War and later went into law enforcement, served in Germany in Undercover Narcotics and became one of the most well-known Police Dog Handlers in the State. His stories are hilarious, frightening, and at times very sad. The project is in full swing.
I have also begun writing a rough sketch of the sequel to Sir Laurence Dies. There were a couple of unanswered questions in the last book, which leads me comfortably into the next. My intention from the very start was that this book should be part one of a series of three.
QUESTION: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
ANSWER: Well, as this was my first book and I started it in 2007 and published it in 2013 – mathematically the answer is 6 years. However, I sat down and wrote the actual book in about six weeks. It took a longer time to get it ready for publishing, especially because after I wrote it, I lost confidence in it, and as it was my first, I honestly thought no one would really be interested in reading it.
QUESTION: How do you feel about the “rules” of contemporary writing: no adverbs, no dialogue tags, show don’t tell, etc. In your opinion, how important are they to writing? Are there any that you particularly adhere to?
ANSWER: The honest answer is: I don’t know. I have no formal training, I don’t fully understand the “rules” as you’ve laid them out, and I have never understood the term “show don’t tell”. Look, I went through a period of trying to get published and never really heard anything helpful from anyone, other than – “not our type of book”. I did, however, have a couple of people tell me that “it needed a lot of work”, that “the dialogue came across as unrealistic”, that “there was far too much telling, not enough showing”, yadda, yadda.
When I asked for examples – the silence was deafening.
I don’t mean to suggest that these rules are wrong – I just don’t understand them, and I have really tried to – seriously. I searched for examples of this “show don’t tell” and it was then that I found a massive debate about it, with camps for it and against it. Bottom line is, even then I couldn’t get definitive answers. The first horrific thought was – damn! If my writing leans (without my conscious decision) to telling not showing, how do I correct that, how do I fix a problem I don’t understand? The second was, if there are as many people against it as for it then should I just put it out there and let people decide for themselves? I guess you already know the answer to that!
I really not the best person to answer this question! I have probably shamed my author friends by my lack of understanding here – hehe!
If someone wants to take a look at the MS and advise me where I can “fix” these things – contact me!
QUESTION: Where did you get your book cover? Did you design it yourself? Do you think that a book’s cover plays an important part in the buying process?
ANSWER: My book cover… Isn’t it gorgeous? A very talented man called Richard Sutton designed that cover for me, recommend by Wendy Bertsch (my copy editor). I know that people have bought my book on the strength of that cover. I love it… It captures everything I wanted the book to “say” before a single word was read.
QUESTION: If you could meet the author of any book, who would you choose, and why?
ANSWER: Honestly, I could list a lot of authors, dead and alive. The truth is, I interact with many, many fantastic authors daily. On FB and on other social media sites… If I had to choose, it would be one of these very talented people, not Agatha Christie (as most people would probably expect me to say).
QUESTION: What books or authors have inspired you the most? If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
ANSWER: I guess my mentor would be Author John Templeton Smith – for giving me my first “lessons”.
As to inspirational books, well actually any murder mystery stories really, I have a very eclectic taste in stories and I’m not limited to the Murder Mystery genre. I love Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Horror, Adult-themed, Children’s books. I’m really not that fussy.
QUESTION: Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your book. Thanks!