This time i had the pleasure to interview author James Craig, who is known for his book "London Calling", and is about to release his second book called "Never Apologise, Never Explain", which again features Inspector John Carlyle. James has worked for almost thirty years in London as a consultant and journalist and he resides in Covent Garden with his wife and daughter.
Books & Writing: I understand your new book “Never Apologise, Never Explain” is coming out this month. Can you tell us something about the book?
James Craig: When Agatha Mills is killed in her home, in the shadow of the British Museum, there is only one suspect – her husband Henry. For John Carlyle, it looks like welcome a chance for a quick win. But, much to the Inspector’s annoyance, Henry refuses to confess. Worse, he comes up with an alternative version of events that is almost impossible to investigate.
Distracted by other cases, the Inspector just wants the Mills murder closed. But when a distraught Henry kills himself on the way to prison, doubts begin to surface. Slowly, Carlyle has to face up to the fact that the man may just have been telling the truth.
The trail leads all the way back to the murder of a Catholic priest on the other side of the world and a family’s forty-year fight for justice. Carlyle sets off on an investigation that spirals out of control as he uncovers a killer stalking the streets of London. How much more blood will have to be spilt before the past can be put to rest?
Books & Writing: London Calling was your first book with Inspector Carlyle and he returns again in this book. Are you planning on writing more books with Inspector Carlyle as the main character?
James Craig: Yes. Book number three, Buckingham Palace Blues, which has Carlyle hunting down child traffickers, should be out later in the year.
The pitch to the publisher was “this is the first central London series since Sherlock Holmes”. That might be being a bit cheeky but I feel that London is under-used in crime fiction, certainly when you think of the likes of Morse in Oxford and Rebus in Edinburgh. I know that there are London characters, like Mark Billingham’s Thorne, but Carlyle operates in tourist the London of Trafalgar Square, Downing Street and Buckingham Palace which, hopefully, will appeal to readers internationally.
Books & Writing: If you could name one trait from yourself that Inspector Carlyle also has, which one would that be?
James Craig: Pragmatism. He doesn’t fight battles he can’t win.
Books & Writing: What got you into writing?
James Craig: As a journalist, obviously, I was spending a lot of time in front of a keyboard. A while ago, I published a non-fiction book and then decided to give fiction a go.
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on the internet?
Books & Writing: Which writer(s) inspires you?
James Craig: The original idea for the core plotline in London Calling came from Michele Giuttari’s A Florentine Death. I am a huge, huge fan of Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian detective Salvo Montalbano but, for Carlyle, the closest comparison would be with Donna Leon’s Venetian detective Guido Brunetti. Both Brunetti and Carlyle are professional, generally detached and occasionally jaded. Above all, both are grounded by their family life, which takes them away from the all too familiar ‘loner with a bottle’ stereotype. Donna Leon once said in an interview: "They’re books. It’s make-believe. All I want to do is entertain. I love the funny bits." That sounds like a plan to me.
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
James Craig: Yes, i have a few tips.
1. Write little and often – don’t wait for the perfect time to sit down in front of that keyboard, it will never come. Even if you’re only managing 1,000 words a week, keep pushing the story along.
2. Have a good pitch – thirty words or less.
3. Plan ahead - it’s probably easier to sell a series than a one-off book; a lot of the effort that goes in to Carlyle #1 will be recycled for #2 and #3.
4. Use your contacts – an agent is vital; in the end I got one through a friend.
5. Don’t be precious - make the changes that the agent / publisher wants made to the manuscript; you can tell them to “get lost” when you become the next Lee Child.
Below is an excerpt from the book “London Calling”, so check it out!
Shuffling into the tiny kitchen of his one-bedroom flat in Tufnell Park, north London, George opened a cupboard above his head and pulled out an economy tin of baked beans. After opening it, he poured about half of the contents into a small pan resting on the stove. What was left in the tin went into a small fridge that was otherwise empty apart from a pint of milk and a couple of bottles of Red Stripe beer that had been on special offer in the local mini-mart. Taking a box of matches from the worktop, he lit the gas and began stirring. When he estimated that the beans were on their way to being hot, he fished his last two slices of white bread out of their wrapper, and carefully dropped them into an ancient toaster. Switching it on gingerly, he stepped back quickly, fully expecting the machine to blow up at any moment. Returning his attention to the stove, he also kept half an eye on the bread. George knew that multi-tasking had never been his strong point, and more often than not something got burnt. It was quite stressful, really. Giving the beans another stir, he had a quick taste. They were bubbling away nicely but were still quite cold. He then decided to pop the toast; the bread was barely coloured, but that was, he always thought, better than waiting too long and incinerating it. Err on the side of caution was his motto. Or, at least, it had been for a long time now.
Happier that he could now focus exclusively on the pan, George relaxed. As he stirred the beans, he listened to the background hum of city life. George liked to listen.
Tonight, he could hear the television in the flat downstairs over the ever-present rumble of traffic from the road outside. After a few moments, his ears picked out the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs. He heard them stop outside his front door. After a couple more seconds, the buzzer sounded, harsh, flat and insistent.
George didn’t react. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to ring his bell. When was the last time he'd had a caller? With no intention of answering the door, he carefully speared a bean and dropped it on his tongue - still not quite hot enough.
The buzzer sounded again; another short, authoritative burst. George hesitated. Maybe he should see who it was. Would he have time to answer the door without the beans getting burnt? He remonstrated with himself for even thinking about it. Why should he bother? It would only be some door-to-door salesman, a cold caller, wanting him to change his electricity supplier, or something similar.
Dropping the toast on a nearly clean plate, he wondered if he should have any butter. The buzzer sounded again, longer this time, as if the person outside knew for sure that he was there. "Go away!" George hissed, under his breath, as he gave the beans one last stir. Turning off the gas, he decided against the butter and poured the beans directly over the toast. Sticking the pan under the tap, he half filled it with water and dropped it in the sink.
He was hunting for a knife and fork when the buzzer went again, a series of short staccato bursts that said: Come on, answer the bloody door.I'm not taking no for an answer.
"All right, all right, I'm coming." George turned away from his dinner and shuffled into the tiny hallway. As a matter of routine, he put his eye to the spy hole. There was no-one there. Typical, he thought, bloody kids. They'll be hiding on the next floor, thinking this is hilarious. With a sigh, he turned back to his dinner. Before he’d even taken a step, the doorbell went again, much louder this time, the buzzer right above the door drilling harshly into his skull.
"You little sods ..." turning on his heel, he swung the door open and stepped onto the landing, his chin making perfect contact with the fist that had been waiting for him all this time.
Waking up, George had a nasty taste in his mouth and a throbbing headache that made him want to cry. He was sitting in the living room, his hands and legs tied to the only chair in his flat. His upper chest had also been taped to the back of the chair, to ensure that he was totally immobile. There was another strip taped across his mouth. Realising that even utility companies would probably not go this far in order to convince customers to switch their accounts, he started to panic, gnawing at the tape with his teeth and trying desperately to push himself out of the chair.
"Relax, relax.” The voice was quiet, soothing. “Just try and keep breathing." But the hand on his shoulder did nothing to help calm him down. It was wearing a rubber glove like the kind doctors wear, or those you see killers snapping on, in movies, just before they butcher their victims.
Forcing himself to draw in a few deep breaths, George noticed the plate on the coffee table in front of him, empty now save for a few breadcrumbs and a couple of stray baked beans. His stomach rumbled in protest, even though dinner was the least of his worries right now. Next to the plate was a large kitchen knife with an evil-looking serrated edge. George knew that the knife had not come from his kitchen. In a moment of bowel-freezing clarity, he realised that you wouldn’t bring along a knife like that if you weren't intending to use it.
Shaking his head, George started to sob. Big, fat tears rolled down his cheeks and over the tape covering his mouth. Surely this couldn’t be the end? The time had gone so quickly. He had squandered it so badly. There hadn’t been enough that had happened in his life for anything exciting to flash in front of his eyes. What he saw was more of a short loop that kept repeating, like the trailer for a film that you know is going to be really quite disappointing.
"Compose yourself," said the voice.
George sniffed. He could hear the banging of pans in next-door's kitchen. A young Asian couple. There were voices, laughter. He didn’t know their names, but he had nodded to them on the stairs once or twice. A couple of times, he'd overheard them having sex through the paper-thin walls. Once he’d even jerked himself off to the rhythm of the woman’s cautious groans. That was the best sex he’d had in a long time. The memory of it caused a twinge of arousal in his groin, sparking a flicker of fight in his belly. Rocking backwards and forwards on his chair, he started screaming through the tape. All that came out, however, was a cautious moan, not unlike that of the careful lovemaking he'd liked to listen to whenever he’d had the chance.
“Enough.” Again, there was the hand on his shoulder. "Don't wear yourself out."
Head bowed, George nodded.
For a moment, there was silence. Then the voice continued: "You have a very modest abode here, don’t you, George? All that education. All that money. All those opportunities. All that ... privilege. How did you end up like this?"
George shrugged. He badly wanted to blow his nose. It was a question he himself had pondered many times.
The hand reached over a picked up the knife. George felt himself gag. The tip of the blade tickled the back of his neck. "You know why I'm here?"
"You know what I'm going to do?"
Again, George tried to scream.
The blade appeared at his left cheek, reflecting the light from the sixty watt light bulb overhead. "It can happen either when you’re dead, or when you're alive, but I would suggest the former." His guest finally stepped in front of him and brought the point of the blade to the tip of his nose. George felt himself go cross eyed as he tried to keep it in focus. The blade was moved a few inches back to give him a better look. "You have a choice. I’m not a sadist. Not like you."
George vigorously shook his head, eyes wide. Along with the rubber gloves, the visitor was wearing a thin, clear, plastic raincoat, the kind that tourists bought when caught out by the weather. It hung all the way down to the floor and looked ridiculous.
"Oh, you’d say that now. But then ... when you had the chance."
George felt something press into his flesh, then a burning sensation, then the agony of the knife chiselling into one of his ribs. He reached deep into his lungs and bellowed. The sound that emerged was like a constipated man trying to pass a cricket ball.
"The harder you make it for me, the worse it will be for you. I'm no expert in this kind of thing, but I should be able to make a decent effort at cutting your throat. Sit still now ..."
George was trying for one last deep breath as he watched the knife disappear under his chin. Looking down, he was distracted by the sound of something splattering off his killer's raincoat. The knife flashed in front of him for a second time but by now, his head was slumped on his chest, as if he was mesmerised by the blood that had filled his dinner plate to overflowing.
Thank you James for answering my questions! I wish you all the best and success with the John Carlyle series!