I’m delighted to welcome to my blog this week Bill Todd, author of the Danny Lancaster series of crime thrillers.
I came across Bill as one of the contributors to the anthology Criminal Shorts which I have featured in previous blog posts. I was interested in featuring him in my Ideas Store column in Writers’ Forum as I knew my readers would be interested in learning how a writer of a series manages to keep coming up with ideas.
I was, therefore, delighted when he agreed to be featured both in my column and here on my blog.
Welcome, Bill and thank you for agreeing to sit in the hot seat and answer that question all writers are said to dread.
Where do you get your ideas from?
The old quote ‘Write drunk, edit sober,’ wrongly attributed to Ernest Hemingway, is not a reliable path to ideas although the odd glass or two can liberate the imagination.
Sometimes it’s like lightening from a clear sky but in my experience ideas have three sources – news, travel and ‘what if…’ moments.
Plot ideas can come from anywhere, anytime. When they do I push them away, ignore them. If they keep muscling back into my consciousness then I think I might be on to something.
I’m a journalist and travel writer and have written seven crime thrillers featuring wounded soldier turned investigator Danny Lancaster.
My first book came from a shipwreck. I remember watching TV news of the container ship Napoli damaged by wind and waves in Storm Kyrill in the English Channel.
When shipping containers washed ashore hundreds of people ignored police and scavenged the cargo. Booty included nappies, perfume and even motorbikes. My peculiar brain asked, what would happen if something dangerous washed ashore? The answers are in THE WRECK OF THE MARGHERITA.
When I was a kid I was a huge fan of rock bands, going to Zeppelin and Deep Purple gigs. The crazy lifestyle of drugs, groupies and trashing hotel rooms was admired back then but would raise a hashtag Twitter storm today. I wondered if consequences from those wild days might come back to haunt the aged rockers and so DEATH SQUAD was born.
I’ve always loved travelling, Interrailing in my teens and later visiting more than 40 countries as a travel writer. One favourite is Namibia, south west Africa. It’s like another planet, ancient deserts, multi-coloured cliffs, centuries-old trees preserved by fierce dry heat.
This inspired a plot that became ROUGH DIAMOND.
The same principle applied using Gibraltar as a character in ROCK HARD. This tiny spec at the entrance to the Med is dripping in history and just shouts stories.
Focusing on a plot can be a very single-minded activity so next I decided to challenge myself with something shorter. Brighton is a party city but it has a dark side. Homelessness, drugs and violence are real issues. I wanted to explore this and met many wonderful people while researching. The result was a novella and six short stories, GARGOYLE PIXIE DOG.
Then I had the urge to write something that needed an isolated, tranquil setting before the storm hits. The Seven Sisters and Cuckmere Haven on the Sussex coast was the perfect place and I loved writing GODLEFE’S CUCKOO.
I’ve had a passionate lifelong affair with the great British pub. Few things match the rush of tiny bubbles rising up a freshly-poured pint of real ale, impatient to bathe your waiting tastebuds. A locked pub murder mystery seemed an obvious move and, after much dedicated research, this became LAST ORDERS.
There’s no rhyme or reason to the birth of ideas. It’s just a case of keeping eyes, ears and mind open. And a notebook handy.
Great answers, Bill – and I’ll certainly remember the tip about keeping a notebook handy. Thank you so much. As space in the magazine is limited, this blog now gives us the chance to go into your writing career in a little more detail.
How would you describe your genre? And do you write a series or can your books be read and standalone?
I describe my books as crime thrillers, a mix of detection and action. All seven feature wounded ex-soldier turned investigator for hire Danny Lancaster but all are self-contained. They can all be read as standalones and you can dib in anywhere.
What inspires you most? Is it characters, settings or maybe books you have read?
I think it’s a cocktail of characters and settings. Each element affects the other and, using my experiences as a travel writer, the settings are often characters in their own right as they influence characters and drive the action.
I’m always pleased with one of my characters when they abandon their carefully-plotted path and go off at a tangent. It’s as if they’ve developed a life of their own which has to be a good thing.
Books I have read had an influence in the early days. I was a big fan of Frederick Forsyth, Len Deighton and Jack Higgins.
And how did your writing journey start? Have you always written? And what was your first published piece?
When I was very young my grandfather Bill, a countryman living in town, wrote a series of short stories about the adventures of cave boys Wilto and Johto, based on me and my brother John.
It’s very un-PC, featuring hunting and trapping, but I treasure the yellowed and cracked notepaper it’s written on.
Grandad’s stories were an inspiration and I’ve written for as long as I can remember.
Working on newspapers and family life has filled much of my time, although I still wrote, so my first published work was probably my first Danny Lancaster novel.
That’s wonderful! I’m sure your grandfather would have been thrilled and delighted by your successful writing career.
What are your future plans? More Danny Lancaster, I hope!
I have a number of irons in the fire. Some are glowing gently, others are red hot. There are ideas for a new Danny Lancaster and a standalone thriller as well as a book of my travel diaries and, perhaps, editing my grandfather’s Wilto and Johto stories. Not sure yet which way I’ll go. I’m still waiting for the muse to decide.
Exciting times! I look forward to seeing which the muse decides for you.
Finally, Bill, how about telling us three things we might not know about you?
- My spiritual home is a small place on Crete but I’m not saying where.
- I am addicted to steamed apple pudding but no one makes it like my late lamented grandmother Jean.
- I’ve been tear gassed twice. Once by Greek riot police and once by the United States Air Force. In both cases I was an innocent bystander.
Ouch! But at least you can write with confidence about how it feels to be tear gassed. Nothing is ever wasted to a writer, is it?
Thank you so much for answering my questions for fully and so patiently. And the very best of luck wherever your muse agrees to take you.
Social Media Links, blog, website etc.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/williamjtodd – @williamjtodd
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/billtodd_writer/ – @billtodd_writer
The all important buy links.
THE WRECK OF THE MARGHERITA http://mybook.to/WreckOfTheMargherita – Free ebook
DEATH SQUAD http://mybook.to/DeathSquad – 99p/99c
ROUGH DIAMOND http://mybook.to/roughdiamond – 99p/99c
ROCK HARD http://mybook.to/rockhard – 99p/99c
GARGOYLE PIXIE DOG http://mybook.to/GargoylePixieDog – 99p/99c
GODLEFE’S CUCKOO http://mybook.to/GodlefesCuckoo – 99p/99c
LAST ORDERS http://mybook.to/LastOrders – 99p/99c
As I kid I lay in bed at night making up stories in my head. Soon they transferred to paper and then screen. I’ve always written.
My career has been in journalism and travel writing but I have wound that down a little now so I can write more for myself.
In addition to my seven Danny Lancaster crime thrillers I’ve written three brief military histories.
GUNNER is based on my father’s World War Two diary. A CROCUS FROM JERUSALEM is an account of a great uncle serving as an infantryman in Palestine in 1917. PIGTAIL PILOT is the story of a young girl, passionate about flying, killed in an RAF training accident.
Running in joint second place after writing are passions for real ale, interesting cheese, photography and Crete.
However, much of my time now is occupied by three-year-old grandson Theo, a dinosaur fan and keen adventurer, and his baby brother Jack who enjoys staring and smiling.