Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Conversation with Crime Novelist Alan Jones

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Alan Jones
with Alan Jones

We are delighted to welcome crime novelist Alan Jones to Omnimystery News today.

Alan's debut novel The Cabinetmaker (Ailsa Publishing; December 2013 ebook format) tells of one man's fight for justice when the law fails him.

We asked Alan to give us the backstory to the book, and then we followed that up with a few questions of our own.

— ♦ —

The Cabinetmaker is set in Glasgow from the late 1970s through to the present day. It tells the story of one man's response to his son's murder, and his personal fight to see justice carried out when the law fails him. It combines Glasgow gang culture, sloppy policing and amateur football with fine furniture making and some interesting detective work. The book does contain some strong language, some sleazy police and a smattering of Glasgow slang.

I started writing it about ten years ago. After a few false starts, it was finished just before my fiftieth birthday. I spent the first 23 years of my life in Glasgow, so the choice of location for the book was easy, although I now live on the Clyde Coast. They say that you should write what you know. I have been a keen amateur furniture maker for 30 years, and I've always played football, so they both feature extensively in the book.

My first reader was a Glasgow Police CID sergeant. He loved it, and confirmed that I'd got the policing side of the book just about right. He suggested a few changes and gave me a couple of stories which added flavour to the characters. A retired English teacher edited the book for me. My grown up children, with a few others, proof read the book, and mostly liked it, and my daughter did the cover for me.

I thought that I'd find a publisher eventually, but although I had a couple of close things, it proved more elusive than I'd hoped. One agent advised me to drop the woodwork and the football, but I felt they were both integral to the plot and the characters.

I'd just about given up when a small Scottish publisher asked for the full manuscript. Despite declining the book, they returned my manuscript extensively edited, and said that, with changes, the book would have a good chance of being published.

When another agent declined it, but said he'd liked it, and that it wouldn't surprise him if the book did really well on Kindle Direct Publishing, I decided to publish it myself. I don't think I would have self-published if these two things hadn't happened.

I developed a website — TheCabinetmaker.info — to help promote the book, with stacks of extra content, including an audio slang dictionary, a cabinetmaking glossary, an interactive map and four free chapters to download, along with all my contact information, including Facebook and Twitter.

We officially launched the book during Literary Dundee by staging a performance of Street Cabinetmaking, which went down well, and was covered by STV Dundee reporter Catriona McPhee.

I've had an astonishing amount of friendly and enthusiastic support from book bloggers.I also have had helful and friendly advice from successful Scottish crime author James Oswald, who also tweeted to his followers that The Cabinetmaker was "well worth a look".

In the meantime, I've started my next book, in between trying to get this one noticed, but it is hard to get the time to do both.

— ♦ —

Omnimystery News: Into what genre would you place The Cabinetmaker.

Alan Jones: Crime, Scottish Noir, Mystery.

The advantage of genres is that people who are looking for a particular one can find it easily. The disadvantage is that other readers might be put off, despite it being a slightly unusual crime story that might appeal to a wider audience.

OMN: Give us a synopsis of the book in a tweet.

AJ: #thecabinetmaker Unusual Glasgow Crime story. A murdered son. The cabinetmaker's quest for justice. The detective's search for the truth.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

AJ: I outline the plot, set up a multi-thread timeline and create biographies of my characters, but I also let the story develop as I write. I sometimes add characters as I need them, but the majority are there to start with. For each character, I have a file with personal details, character descriptions and their relationships.I also attach a small photograph of each character. I find photographs of people on the web that look like how I imagine my characters to be — It can be easier to write for a character that you can see in front of you.

OMN: How did you go about researching the plot points of the book? Were any topics particularly challenging or exciting?

AJ: A combination of knowledge I already have, the internet, footwork with a camera for locations, and the Mitchell library for all Glasgow related information and events. It even features in the story.

Most challenging topic: Glasgow pubs. Most exciting topic: Glasgow pubs.

OMN: How much of your own experience have you included in the book?

AJ: I am an amateur furniture maker and I have played a bit of football. No murders though.

OMN: Did you base any of the characters on people you know?

AJ: There are some are amalgamations of people I have come in contact with in the book.

OMN: You mentioned that the storyline takes place in Glasgow. How true are you to the setting?

AJ: There are many real places in the book, but a few are amalgamations of a number of places, and with some I am a little flexible with the geography. One Amazon review pointed out that some of the geography was suspect, and I had to hold my hand up and say fair play, you're right.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author? And what might you say to aspiring writers?

AJ: Know when to take advice, accept criticism, but also know when to trust your own judgement.

The harshest criticism? That the first draft of the book was too long and I was advised to cut 30,000 words that I'd sweated over to write!

And to new writers? Just sit down and write, even if it's not great at first. Getting over that first hurdle is the hardest bit.

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "I am a crime novelist and thus I am also …".

AJ: … a reader, a collector, a note-taker, a watcher and a listener, a deceiver and a twister, but most of all I'm a storyteller.

OMN: Is Alan Jones a pen name?

AJ: In my other life, I have a job with customers who might take offense at some of the content of the book, so until the book is successful enough for me to write full time, I am Alan Jones.

OMN: You mentioned in the introduction that your daughter designed the cover.

AJ: Yes, that's true. It is slightly retro (as in 1978, when the story begins) and shows the foreboding Barlinnie prison with a rack of traditional cabinetmaker's tools in the foreground. The title obviously comes from the main character, and I thought it sounded good as well. The only problem is for people who think the book is a woodworking manual!

OMN: Suppose The Cabinetmaker were to be adapted for television of film. Who do you see playing the key parts?

AJ: The cabinetmaker: perhaps David Hayman. The detective: James McAvoy.

OMN: What's next for you?

AJ: Finish my next book. It's already started.

— ♦ —

The Cabinetmaker by Alan Jones

The Cabinetmaker
Alan Jones

Set in Glasgow from the late nineteen-seventies through to the current day, a cabinetmaker's only son is brutally murdered by a gang of thugs, who walk free after a bungled prosecution.

It's young Glasgow detective John McDaid's first murder case. He forms an unlikely friendship with the cabinetmaker, united by a determination to see the killers punished, their passion for amateur football, and by John's introduction to a lifelong obsession with fine furniture.

This is the story of their friendship, the cabinetmaker's quest for justice, and the detective's search for the truth.

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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