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Virtual Book Club: Ian Andrew talks about his latest novel, Face Value

Today I’m delighted to welcome Ian Andrew to Virtual Book Club, a series of interviews in which I put questions to authors about their latest releases and their writing lives.

Born in Northern Ireland, Ian Andrew joined the Royal Air Force at 18 as an aircraft technician. Subsequently Commissioned as an Intelligence Officer he served for twenty years in a variety of roles and locations. Throughout his service he had the pleasure of working alongside some “right eejits” that he still feels lucky to call friends. On leaving the military he relocated to Australia, established a number of business consultancies and is now surrounded by a resident mob of Kangaroos who bounce past his house each day. They remind him of his previous colleagues.

Interested in creative writing since primary school, he produced short stories and poetry throughout his various travels and job changes, but mostly for his own enjoyment. Occasionally, the more light-hearted of his poems got public airings at social events and functions, but the idea of a book was always in his thoughts. Predictably, like most would-be authors, it was an ethereal idea that never seemed to coalesce into reality.

Eventually, in 2009 and finding himself with a weekly ‘train-commute’ that lasted five hours, he began to put down the initial chapters of the manuscript that would become A Time To Every Purpose. An impressive 60,000 words in three months was halted by not so much writer’s block, as writer’s inability to link one part of the plot to another. It wasn’t until 2013 that the obstruction fell away and the rest of the manuscript was finished. Published by Amazon’s Createspace in 2014, the book gained rave reviews in both the Australian and British press.

Buoyed by the confidence that came from those reviews and the knowledge that from Canada to Australia, people were reading and enjoying his book, he decided to fulfil a long-held ambition to write a series of ‘private-eye’ stories. Face Value: A Wright & Tran Novel: Volume 1, the first of the Wright & Tran Novels, was released to positive reviews in May of 2015.

Ian is currently working on the next Wright & Tran story and doing the occasional speaking-engagement for both his books and in his professional facilitator role.

Ina Andrew Every Time to a Purpose

Click on link to look inside or buy (eBook is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers) A Time To Every Purpose

Q: Please tell us how you came to be a writer.

My first memory of someone being a writer was Moyra, a girl in my Primary Five class, who won a BBC competition. I can recall in clarity our whole class, sitting on the floor in a semicircle around the radio, listening to the wonderful diction of the announcer reading Moyra’s story. I remember being so very impressed.

After Moyra’s triumph, I decided I’d give it a go. From then on I produced poems and short stories. However, other than the occasional airing of some light-hearted rhymes being used at social functions, my writing stayed mostly under wraps.

Q: What was your first recognition/success as an author?

Back in 1993 I was a member of a Cambridgeshire-based amateur dramatic group. We were planning a revue evening, but were short a piece to compliment an already selected monologue. As time was running out, I tentatively suggested a poem I had written in 1984. It was performed in front of a few hundred people and the feedback was overwhelmingly good. People, who had no idea I had written it, were emotionally moved by it. It gave me a real confidence boost. From then on I seriously considered writing a novel. It took another sixteen years to begin the first one and a further five to finish it, but that performed poem was the slow-burning fuse.

Q: If you were trying to describe your writing to someone who hasn’t read anything by you before, what would you say?

My first novel was an alternative history that was described by the West Australian Newspaper as a cross-genre thriller. My second is a Private-Investigator crime thriller. Despite the obvious genre differences, both have been described as visually compelling and containing meticulous scientific, historical and location details. As a bit of a theorist and research-nerd I was delighted by that. My aim is to ground the reader, allowing the fiction to play out in as realistic a setting as possible. It is my hope that in blurring the line where fact stops and fiction begins the reader will be completely immersed in the story. With the Private-eye methods and capabilities I want them to finish the book and be left wondering, “Is that really possible?”

Q: The protagonist in Face Value, your latest novel is Kara Wright. What five words best describe her?

Loyal, brave, assured, driven and deadly.

Q: Where is the book set and how did you decide on its setting?

The book is set in Huntingdon Cambridgeshire, Camden London and the area between Waltham Cross and Epping Forest. 

Camden came first. I wanted the main protagonists, Kara and her business partner, Tien, to have a London base of operations for this and what I hope will be the rest of the books in the series. London provides so much in the way of flexibility and options for further stories. I needed somewhere that was affordable yet near enough to the centre of town and it had to be a place that I had a passing familiarity with. Having lived in North London for a few years I decided Camden would be ideal. What was funny was the week or so spent surfing the ‘Net from Australia, looking for an office and an apartment in NW5. I became so involved in the search that when I found the place, I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t actually in the market for it.

I chose Huntingdon because I had lived up in Cambridgeshire for almost a decade and I decided to use it as a location that I could expand upon. The team of Police detectives that would be needed for the book could be used in locations surrounding the town and I would have a good idea of the geography. It was an idea in concept but as soon as I began to research the Police structures within Cambridgeshire it became a dream location that led to a number of plot lines which I hadn’t envisaged at the outset. One of which saw me setting the rest of the action in and around Epping Forest.

Q: What were the major areas you had to research?

Having been an Intelligence Officer in the Royal Air Force and having made Kara and Tien both ex-military Intelligence operators, you would think all the military content would be at my fingertips, but things change so rapidly within the field. Luckily, I could call on a number of ex-colleagues to help me verify some of the newer equipment and methods without revealing anything that was actually classified.  The Police structures, methods and language were a completely blank page for me but, once again, I had access to some very knowledgeable operators who provided invaluable information. The last main research area that I needed expert help with was the gory world of post-mortems and criminal forensics. I tried to contact an old acquaintance who had once been a senior University lecturer in the subject but alas the contact details I had were long expired. Enter the wonderful world of Facebook. I put out a shout and within minutes had a friend of a friend helping me out with some remarkable insights. I did worry a little that if our emails ever got intercepted the authorities would wonder just what on earth we were planning.

Ian Andrew Face Value Cover Email

Click on link to look inside or buy  (eBook is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers) Face Value: A Wright & Tran Novel: Volume 1

Q: At what point in writing the book did you come up with its title?

I really struggled with the title. Principally because my first novel had great feedback from the competitions it was entered for, but some of the judges had literally slaughtered my choice of title. I wanted this one to be more fitting. However, knowing it was going to be the first in a series I also went down all sorts of false paths trying to get a series-appropriate theme. It must have had twenty alternatives along the way. Eventually I took myself off for a long drive, which is where I tend to have a lot of my ideas. Sure enough, two hours later, I had it. It was two words, related to a number of themes within the book and allowed a range of design concepts for the cover. In the end, I was really pleased with it.

Q: Where does this story fit in with the rest of your work?

Face Value is the first in a series of novels following Kara and Tien. After my first book, a completely standalone story was finished, I found myself regretting that I couldn’t revisit some of the characters. They had become such a part of my psyche that in a strange way, I missed them. I wanted to explore and develop them further but they were gone. Combine that with a love of detective stories and an idea that it was about time some female characters proved that they could be more than either the corpse or the secretary in a Private-Eye novel and you have the Kara Wright & Tien Tran Novels.

Q: What is it about your novel that you feel makes it particularly suitable for book clubs?

I think the extremely strong female characters, their background and their current activities will challenge a number of stereotypes when people think about women veterans. I also hope that the strategies used within the novel to investigate and exploit information will challenge people to consider what data of theirs is out there and what it could be used for. Ultimately however, the book examines some distressing international criminal activities and I believe would make for a very good debate on how individuals and their actions facilitate the misery.

Q: How does your home and its environment influence your writing?

I am blessed. I live on a ridgeline that looks out over an estuary. There really is a mob of kangaroos hopping about and they are serenaded by a collection of magpies and honey-eaters. How could I not write?

Q: John Irving says that you can’t teach writing. You can only recognise what’s good and say ‘keep doing that.’ Do you think that’s true?

Yes, I’ll definitely agree with that. I know that the reviews from my first book have aided me in my second. If the same point was made three or more times, I figured I should listen to it. I simply stopped doing what was criticised and kept doing what was praised. Seemed logical.

Q: ‘I’ve always said there are two kinds of writers. There are architects and gardeners. Architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail, they design the entire house, where the pipes are running and how many rooms there are going to be, how high the roof will be. But the gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up.’ (George R R Martin) Which are you?

I’m a gardener but with a detailed and encyclopaedic knowledge of the seed I have dropped in to the hole. I know where the seed came from, the discoverer of it, what its Latin name is and what the chemical composition of the soil is. However, what the plant ends up looking like is down to nature.

Q: What were the key factors that influenced your decision to become an indie author?

When I had completed my first manuscript, I realised the writing and editing were likely to have been the easy bit. The publishing nightmare was facing me and I was probably looking at five or more years going cap in hand to agents and publishers trying to get signed. My goal was to get published. To have a book available for others to read. My goal was not to please the handful of literary gatekeepers around the world who pick and choose who gets published. They have managed this world for ever and the tales of authors being overlooked for years are widespread and commonplace. I thought that was to be my lot.

Then a contact of mine told me about Publish on Demand technology being promoted through the likes of Amazon. A simple, nil cost, yet effective way to get your writing out to the world without having to placate the gatekeepers or buy hundreds or thousands of copies of your own book in the old way of vanity publishing. It required a semblance of IT knowledge, which I had, and so I set about getting covers designed and a further set of edits. After all of that I had a surge of panic and then “pressed go”.

Q: In an interview about self-publishing, asked about advice he has for fellow authors, Hugh Howey says that you can’t lose if you combine happiness with low expectations. How do react to that? Is there any advice you would add?

I agree with the thrust of his happiness remark. Enjoying what you are doing is key. I look upon it as my professional hobby. I want to be read and be appreciated so I can’t be an amateur in my writing, but I also need to have a realisation that it may take time to get the word out, to be discovered and lavished with riches… In the meantime, just keep writing and don’t forget to keep reading.

Want to find out more about Ian and his writing?

Visit his website, subscribe to his blog, discover his Amazon Author Page , like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter . If your book club reads Face Value, Ian is happy to connect with you by Skype.

Remember, if you enjoyed this post please share it. If there’s anything else you’d like to ask Ian, leave a comment.

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  1. I read the opening to Face Value. Great hooking beginning that would impel a reader to follow. Just wondered about the very exact details of the anatomical damage at that point? Congratulations.

    Comment by Philippa Rees on August 11, 2015 at 3:27 pm
  2. Hi Philippa,
    Thanks for taking the time to read the opening of Face Value and I’m glad you felt it was a good hook. As for the anatomical detail, it is indeed exact thanks to input from a real-life mortician! I hope it reveals what a very precise and coldly logical person Kara is. Her ability to know exactly what “damage” was being done and to concentrate on it rather than the emotional impact was important in establishing an insight to her personality. Hope that explains… come follow me on Facebook and let me know what you think once you have finished the whole book 🙂

    Comment by Ian Andrew on August 13, 2015 at 1:56 pm