Today, I am honored to feature an interview with author Nick Stephenson, author of Panic: A Leopold Blake Thriller, to be released in March.
Nick Stephenson was born and raised in Cambridgeshire, England and will now refer to himself in the first person. My approach to writing is to hit hard, hit fast, and leave as few spelling errors as possible. I write thrillers and suspense novels, and the occasional witty postcard, all of which are designed to get your pulse pounding. Don’t let my headshot fool you – I’m actually full colour, on most days.
Tell us something about yourself?
Okay, I’ll resist the temptation to go down the David Copperfield route. My name is Nick Stephenson. I’m a thriller writer, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the several million pixels it’s taken to get me this far. I live in Cambridgeshire, England, and – in between rain showers – I rather enjoy it.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve always been a writer, in one way or another, since the first time I let loose with a ballpoint pen in junior school. Since then, it’s been a long journey of thinking I’d be better suited at other things, until I decided it was about time I penned something a little more substantial than a CV. Becoming an actual author, I’ve found, requires significantly more effort – and it’s been a journey of mixed metaphors that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed treading since.
The first book that ever made my spine tingle was Orwell’s 1984, which I read in my early teens, and I’ve been devouring books ever since. All the way from your ancient Roman classics, to modern thrillers, and the occasional witty postcard in between. I’d have to say, my biggest inspiration has probably been the Kindle movement – the emergence of previously unknown authors who now have the opportunity to share their amazing work with the world. It’s definitely brought both reading and writing into a new era.
Tell us a little about your novel, Panic, and what inspired the concept?
Panic is book number one of the Leopold Blake series of thrillers, with at least two more under development at the moment. The book has been described as “Sherlock Holmes meets Die Hard” and I think this sums up what I wanted to achieve perfectly – a blend of classic mystery and procedural, with the butt-kicking action and edge-of-your-seat tension of your typical action thriller.
The basic premise [from the back cover] – Leopold Blake, expert criminology consultant for the FBI, had his weekend all planned out – and it didn’t involve dealing with a murdered senator, a high-profile kidnapping, and at least three near-death experiences. Three politicians have been murdered in as many weeks, all expertly dispatched by someone who knew their business well, and only Leopold can get to the bottom of it. Unfortunately, as all hell breaks loose on the streets of New York City, he soon finds himself the next target of a powerful enemy who wants him silenced. Permanently. Against the backdrop of political corruption and murder, Leopold and his team must fight for their lives to uncover the truth before it’s too late.
Like most thrillers, what you see isn’t always what you get. Leopold, while undeniably brilliant, is also inherently flawed. Behind that big brain, he’s still trying to prove himself, and it takes him some time (and a fair number of bruises) to realize he can’t do everything by himself.
The idea for the book came from a single plot point – finding a dead body, clearly murdered, locked inside a sealed apartment with no signs of forced entry. From this humble concept, an entire story branched out and I sat down at my desk and the words never stopped flowing. Several revisions, edits, rewrites and proofreads later – the book was complete.
I wrote Panic to best capture the essence of books I enjoy reading the most. Namely; flat-out pacing, plot twists a-plenty, pulse-pounding action, and a central mystery that will keep you guessing. I wanted to combine the brain-twists of a classic mystery with the excitement of an action thriller, and I’m very pleased with the results. To top it all off, I’m currently offering advance preview copies free to anyone who wants to get hold of the book before the official March release date. All your lovely readers have to do is visit the “books” section of my site and let me know where to send it.
Which character from Panic did you enjoy writing about the most? Could you tell us a little about them?
There are three main protagonists within the series; Leopold Blake, Mary Jordan and Jerome. Leopold is definitely the brains of the operation, with Jerome and Mary providing the brawn and heart, respectively. Jerome is Leopold’s loyal bodyguard, expertly trained and there to get him out of some of the stickier situations. Mary is a police sergeant with the NYPD and generally has a skeptical view of Leopold’s approach to crime-solving, but sticks by his side nonetheless. There’s definitely a spark between them, but you’ll have to read on to see where it goes…
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed writing all these characters, as well as the myriad supporting cast, but Leopold provided the biggest challenge, and was therefore the most satisfying to get right. After all, how many of us know what it’s like to be a millionaire, crime-solving man of action? Well, of course I do – but that would be telling…
Having set up Leopold with all his advantages, I also thoroughly enjoyed exercising my slightly sadistic side by taking them all away, one by one. By book three, the reader gets to see what he’s really made of, once all the money and connections are stripped away. The result won’t be pretty, but it’ll make for a darn good read!
What is your overall writing process, from start to finish (e.g. do you start by plot an outline, or write character summaries)?
For a new book, I’ll write a few paragraphs for each character that summarizes their key personality traits, background, etc, and get a picture of them in my head. Then I’ll usually spend some time imagining what it would be like to spend time with them, and get a feel for how they would interact with others. Other than that, I try to get inside their heads while writing their scenes, so that the action unfolds naturally.
When plotting out a novel, I’ll generally start out with a premise and then I’ll write three or four pages that outline the key plot points. After that, I take it one chapter at a time and tie it all together as I go. The end result is that I can pound out a couple thousand words a day, and it all ends up making sense. For me, if I did much more planning than this, I’d end up going round in circles. I like to think of it as organic growth!
Where do you like to write and think?
Life is pretty busy. When I get time alone, it’s usually while out walking, so that’s where I do most of my book planning; in my head. If I come up with anything good, I’ll make a note of it when I next get to a computer. Similarly, I write whenever I can, and can usually get roughly a thousand words an hour down on paper when I get into the zone. Currently, I can probably manage two or three productive hours a day, so I’d like to increase that if I can.
Whether I’m typing away on the desktop PC in the study, or on a laptop somewhere, I find there’s always enough time to get a chapter or two out each day, when I put my mind to it. Like most things in my life, it’s terribly unorganized. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How do you like to write: longhand in a journal or typing on a laptop?
Always, always, always a computer, with a decent keyboard. I can’t write particularly well with a pen, and I’ve never even attempted a typewriter. For me, the speed, accuracy, and ability to save backups is the reason I’ll stick with a PC for now.
Do you have any other books in the works? Any future goals?
At least two more Leopold Blake books, hopefully both out by the end of the year, and then I have another project in mind. I’ve got the premise down, it just needs some flesh on the bones, but the style will be very much what readers will come to expect. As for future goals, I’m aiming for three books a year, and I’m looking forward to seeing where that takes me!
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
If you want to sell books, and I mean sell books, not just write for yourself, you absolutely have to treat it like a business. That means you need to invest your time – and your money – on getting the best product to market that you can. You’ll need professional cover design, professional editing and a marketing strategy to make sure your books don’t accumulate digital dust on the virtual bookshelf. At the end of the day, your book is not just a story – it’s a product, and you should respect your readers enough to offer them the best product that you possibly can. Above all, never stop learning from others who have trodden the same path as you, and take that advice whenever you can.
Oh, and have fun. It’s probably the most rewarding thing you can do with your life, if you can get it right.
Who is your favorite author?
That’s a tough one! I would have to say it would be a toss-up between Robert Ludlum, Ian McEwan, Frederick Forsythe, Isaac Asimov, and Dan Brown. There’s probably not a single book of theirs I haven’t enjoyed. I don’t think I could pin it down to just one, to be honest – and you can find these guys’ influence in almost everything I write. I enjoy their pacing, intelligence, and humor.
What’s your favorite novel or movie? Your favorite genre?
Again, this changes depending on the kind of place I’m in at the time. Right now, I’m reading The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov, and the Eden Plague by David VanDyke – both of which are polar opposites in terms of style and subject matter, but they’re both keep me wanting to stay up all night to find out what happens next. In terms of genre, I like anything that urges you to turn the page, has a flash of humor to it, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Are you a cat-person or a dog-person?
I love all animals – I would have a barnyard full of them, if I could. I think dogs just about take the win though, you can’t find that level of loyalty, love, and all-round joy of life in any other animal that I’ve met so far. Though I’ve not met all the animals, admittedly, so feel free to suggest some. Maybe a penguin?
Which would you choice: ice cream or cake?
I like to have my cake and eat it. So, both. But if that’s against the rules, I’d probably say ice cream. That way, the penguin could enjoy some dessert too. Preferably with chocolate chunky bits.
What is the best thing that ever happened to you?
That’s easy – the birth of my son. Nothing quite prepares you for the sudden re-arrangement of priorities that being a parent brings. In tandem with our somewhat iffy decision to get a new puppy at roughly the same time, if you catch any semi-lucid sleep-deprived ramblings toward the end of the novel, you’ll know where that came from.
Thanks for having me over to your site for a chat – it’s been an absolute pleasure!
Panic: A Leopold Blake Thriller
Leopold Blake, expert criminology consultant for the FBI, had his weekend all planned out – and it didn’t involve dealing with a murdered senator, a high-profile kidnapping, and at least three near-death experiences.
Three politicians have been murdered in as many weeks, all expertly dispatched by someone who knew their business well, and only Leopold can get to the bottom of it. Unfortunately, as all hell breaks loose on the streets of New York City, he soon finds himself the next target of a powerful enemy who wants him silenced. Permanently.
Against the backdrop of political corruption and murder, Leopold and his team must fight for their lives to uncover the truth before it’s too late.