Wednesday, October 02, 2013
Andrew Taylor
By OFW Editor: Michael Keyton
Published: May 25, 2013

Accomplishment: Andrew Taylor has been a full-time writer since 1981, and has written over twenty books. He has been described by The Times as 'One of Britain's best writers of psychological suspense.' His novels include the Dougal and Lydmouth crime series, the psychological thriller The Barred Window and his ground-breaking Roth Trilogy, now published in one volume as Requiem for an Angel. He also reviews and writes about crime fiction, particularly in the Independent Awards received for his books include the John Creasey Memorial award from the Crime Writer's Association and an Edgar Scroll from the Mystery Writers of America, both for Caroline Minuscule, and the CWA's Ellis Peters Historical Dagger.

What was the first story that ever made you afraid?

It was one of Alison Uttley's Little Grey Rabbit books. It may have been Little Grey Rabbit and the Weasels. The weasels were quite incredibly sinister. In memory, there's a scene when foppish, foolish Hare is captured by them. Little Grey Rabbit rescues him and - can this really be true? - shuts a particularly nasty weasel into the oven in which he was planning to roast Hare. I am still terrified.

Elmore Leonard listed ten rules, one of which is: 'Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel.' What rule or piece of advice would you add to the list, and if you know his ten rules, which one would you break?

Writers write. That's the only 'rule' that matters. If you're good enough, you can break all the other so-called rules and get away with it. But the one thing you really must do is write. If you don't do that, you do nothing.
As for Elmore Leonard's rules, he very cannily allows for exceptions to most of them. Most of them I totally agree with - eg about avoiding too many exclamation marks or too much regional dialect. I think he's a bit unkind to adverbs. Sometimes they have their place...

Is self publishing the new 'slush-pile’?

Most publishers are certainly keeping an eye on self-published books - or at least on those that sell well. But it's still the case that most future bestsellers reach publishers from agents, who act as a sort of coarse filtration system in the publishing process. A good agent only sends out a book to an editor whom s/he knows might possibly want to see it.

Is there a well trodden meme you’re tired of reading?

Inspector iPod: that's my private term for a certain sort of police procedural series, with a maverick inspector with an unhealthy interest in his music collection (curiously like his creators). He usually has a tempestuous private life which has left him a loner with a drink problem. His superiors try in vain to make him play by the rules. He lives a British city with an extraordinary murder rate. Some of these self-consciously gritty series, though formulaic, are at least well done. But many are just drearily repetitive.

What trap do writers of historical fiction often fall into?

The trap of writing what are essentially costume dramas rather than historical fiction, of giving painfully modern attitudes to characters who allegedly live in other times. I think a good historical novel should do more than get right the physical trappings of a period - the carriages, weapons, clothes, houses, etc. It should try to give at least a flavour of how people thought and felt - what they believed in. This can sometimes make uncomfortable reading - and writing. Part of the process can be a matter of historically plausible dialogue - because that can be a shortcut to how people actually thought. The world 'plausible' is important here. The further back you go in time, the more you need to find a way of writing dialogue that's neither jarringly modern or unreadably archaic.

What makes you decide on a particular period of history?

I don't make a conscious choice: it's more a matter of a subject or a setting seizing my imagination; and the historical period comes from that.

Do you have a favourite technique to generate fear or suspense in a novel?

I think there are two main elements to fear and suspense: try to make the reader care what happens to a character and (as David Mitchell once remarked) have bad things happen to them; and leave as much as possible to your readers' imagination - everyone has their own private nightmares, and if you can hint at something that will liberate them, then your job is done...

I nodded. The guy made sense, but I wanted more than that. Sheri had given me his name for a reason. I waited with the patience of a priest in a distillery. Then Andrew coughed. Gave me some books, and  I knew I'd struck gold: The American Boy. Bleeding Heart Square. and The Scent Of Death. There were more. Book followed book, but I was staring at the first three. The American Boy - that was me, striped and starred and proud. Bleeding Heart Square, my next destination but one. The last book gave me the clue. The Scent of Death. Sheri's scent, one I'd llast smelled in a run down bar in Jackson Heights. She'd left something behind. I was convinced of it - a pointer to where I'd find Bleeding Heart Square - Bo Chi Sing - and, who knows,  Jake's missing leg. Andrew brushed himself down. I offered him a bourbon, but he demurred, leaving me with another word to figure out. Demurred.

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