Stephen Booth was born in 1952 and is an English crime fiction writer. He is the author of the Derbyshire-set Cooper and Fry series.
For over 27 years, he was a journalist for various newspapers and magazines including the Wilmslow Advertiser, Huddersfield Examiner, and the Worksop Guardian. He also worked as a sub-editor for the Daily Express and The Guardian. He was at various times Production Editor of the Farming Guardian magazine, Regional Secretary of the British Guild of Editors, and one of the UK’s first qualified assessors for the NVQ in Production Journalism. In 2001 he gave this all this up to be a full-time novelist.
In 2000, Stephen’s first published novel, Black Dog, marked the arrival in print of his best known creations – two young Derbyshire police detectives, DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry. Black Dog was the named by the London Evening Standard as one of the six best crime novels of the year – the only book on their list written by a British author. In the USA, it won the Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel and was nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Mystery. The second Cooper & Fry novel, Dancing with the Virgins, was shortlisted for the UK’s top crime writing award, the Gold Dagger, and went on to win Stephen a Barry Award for the second year running.
In 2003, Detective Constable Ben Cooper was a finalist for the Sherlock Award for the Best Detective created by a British author, thanks to his exploits in the third book of the series, Blood on the Tongue. The publication of Blind to the Bones that year resulted in Stephen winning the Crime Writers’ Association ‘Dagger in the Library’ Award, presented to the author whose books have given readers most pleasure. The same book was nominated for the Theakston’s UK Crime Novel of the Year award in 2005. Subsequent titles have been One Last Breath, The Dead Place (both finalists for the UK Crime Novel of the Year in 2006 and 2007), Scared to Live, Dying to Sin, The Kill Call, Lost River, The Devil’s Edge, Dead and Buried, Already Dead, The Corpse Bridge and The Murder Road. The 16th novel Secrets of Death was published in 2016, and a new Cooper & Fry title Dead in the Dark is due in the summer of 2017.
So that’s my Introduction and here’s my Interview:
Do you have any rules for writing which you think have served you well?
Write every day. If you treat writing as a job (which it always has been for me), then you can never suffer from this thing called “writer’s block”. For me, the act of starting to type on the keyboard or writing in a notebook is what sparks the creative process.
What attracted you to writing crime fiction?
I was a fan of crime fiction as a reader, and it seemed to make sense to write the kind of book I enjoyed reading myself. Fortunately, crime fiction is always popular, so it was commercially a good choice too.
Can you think of a few tips of the top of your head for writing the perfect antagonist/protagonist?
I’d say you should try to make them real, believable people. Readers empathise with a character and enter more fully into their story if they can believe the person might be real. I’ve always wanted my readers to feel they could walk into a police station in Derbyshire and meet Ben Cooper.
What problems did you encounter when you first started writing crime fiction?It’s hard to come up with something completely new, of course. But when I started my series, I tried to do a couple of things which were different at the time. You’ve got to be distinctive in some way. Also, I’m writing about the police, and it’s difficult to keep up with the constant changes in the law, procedure, organisation and technology – especially when you’re writing a book which will be published in 12 months’ time. You end up trying to predict the future!
Do your prefer your work to be faced paced or build towards a conclusion?
I think there should be changes in pace through a book. Much of what I write reflects the steady pace of a police investigation (and perhaps life in the countryside too), but marked by moments of faster-paced action and drama. Every book should be building towards a conclusion, whatever the pace.
How much research do you do in preparation for writing a novel?
Lots! The Peak District locations play a significant part in all my books, and a I do a lot of location research, since I need to know exactly where I’m writing about, and the place my characters belong to. I also reflect the history of a place, and that can need detailed research. During the writing of a novel, I often myself writing about a background subject I don’t know much about, and I need to do some reading or ask people questions to get it right. I was a newspaper journalist for many years, and I still find the research side of the job interesting. Sometimes aspiring are writers are told to “write what you know”. I think it’s much more exciting to discover a subject you didn’t know anything about, and write about that.
Can you give me some tips for crafting an intimidating criminal?
Again, I think should be as believable as possible. Larger-than-life characters are fun, but it’s much scarier if the villain seems the sort of person who could be your colleague or next-door neighbour, or the person you’ve just met in the bar.
Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?
I don’t get as much time to read now as I used to. In fact I find it quite hard to read other people’s novels when I’m in the middle of writing my own (which I usually am). But I’ve read a huge amount over the years, and I think that’s an important part of learning to be a writer. I still have favourite crime authors, such as Peter Robinson, John Harvey, Ruth Rendell – and among the Americans, Michael Connelly.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
The relationship between the author and publisher has constantly surprised me. You give up a lot of control over your book when you sign a publishing contract. For readers, the author seems to be the only person involved in producing a book. But actually there are many others who play an important part. And when decisions are made, it’s often the author who’s the last person to know!
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
I sometimes recommend the three ‘P’s – passion, professionalism and persistence. Firstly, you have to really care about what you’re writing for it to work. Secondly, you should always be professional in your presentation and approach – editors and agents are professional people, and they much prefer to deal with writers who have a professional attitude too. Thirdly, and very importantly, you should keep trying and never give up. Don’t be discouraged by rejections (we all get them). It’s a question of getting the right piece of work in front of the right editor at the right time, and that will only happen if you’re persistent.
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