Had an interview posted on Indie Books Unbound. Reviews and spotlight article to follow next Saturday.
Aj Davidson has been writing for over 15 years; he has published numerous crime novels, a non-fiction account of kidnapping in Northern Ireland, and even a play. A well-seasoned Indie Author, he has been involved with Large Presses, Small Presses, and Independent Presses. Graciously, AJ offered to be the first in a series of Indie Author Interviews.
IBU: Aj, when did you begin to write fiction?
AJ: I started writing fiction in 1995. My first manuscript was Phoenix, a thriller set in Madeira, Spain and Gibraltar. Unfortunately, the plot was linked to the IRA and political progress in N. Ireland made the story redundant. A bit like spy stories going out of fashion after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the regime changes in Russia. The book sat in a drawer for a year before I rewrote it to allow for the peace talks. No sooner had I finished, than the political background shifted again. So the story went back to the drawer, where it remains – still gathering dust.
IBU: In addition to your fiction, you have written a non-fiction account of kidnappings in Northern Ireland that were well publicized. Can you tell us about that?
AJ: My first book contract was with Gill & Macmillan. The commission was for Kidnapped, a non-fiction book about Irish people caught up in kidnapping. The fact that I knew two of the kidnappers, but only one of the victims, some might say, was a sign of a misspent youth. Several of the kidnaps made headlines around the world; Brian Keenan and Shergar being two such stories.
IBU: You knew the kidnappers? How did that happen?
AJ: Growing up in N. Ireland during the troubles was a very determining experience, in that violence and atrocity became commonplace. With a population of just one-and-half million, it was inevitable that paths would cross. My neighbour was a quiet young man, Dessie O’Hare, who went on to become an enforcer with the INLA, a Republican paramilitary group, killing upwards of thirty people. He was known in the media as the Border Fox. He was finally caught after kidnapping a dentist and cutting off the victim’s fingers when the ransom was delayed. Released from prison in 2009, he has lived a quiet life since.
IBU: And the other kidnapper?
AJ: The other kidnapper I knew well was a police officer with the RUC. After a fellow officer was killed and another abducted by the IRA, he and a colleague kidnapped a priest and threatened that the cleric would be killed if the officer was not freed. Unfortunately, the abducted officer had already been killed; the priest was released unharmed.
IBU: Wow, that must have been quite an experience writing such a book. How did people react?
AJ: Kidnapped was a best seller, and I still receive wonderful letters from people whose lives were so dramatically affected. A year ago I was contacted by the grandchild of one kidnap victim. The unfortunate man was murdered by his IRA kidnappers and his wife, devastated by grief, took her own life some years later when his body was eventually found. As did their eldest daughter who had unwittingly admitted the kidnappers into their house. With no family left to talk with about her grandfather, I was able to put her in contact with people who had known and respected him.
IBU: Many of your novels have very particular details about cultures, locations, or history. How do you research this information?
AJ: With a background in anthropology it was a given that I would incorporate some cultural aspects in my stories, and having always been a bit of a rolling stone I’ve picked up a lot of trivia over the years. My wife claims that I’m a sponge, soaking up information that I will store for years. I tend not to do a lot of research when I’m writing, leaving it to end before checking out the details. I’ve found out that, for me, researching in advance of writing meant too much time was wasted as my story might go off at a tangent and render the research useless.
IBU: How about your characters? Do you take the develop before the plot approach, or the develop as you go approach?
AJ: I develop them as I write. I rarely do much outlining before I start a book, preferring to let the story and the characters decide what direction the story will go. Writing should be an adventure, a journey of discovery. Perhaps it’s for this reason that I have never suffered writer’s block.
IBU: Speaking of writing as an adventure, why have you chosen to be an Indie Author?
AJ: My main motivation for becoming an Indie author was to be involved in such a rapidly evolving industry. Let’s face it, until recently the book business had changed little since the days of William Caxton. But the last few years have seen a revolution, and we’re only scratching the surface. Authors are free to write the books they want to; readers can buy the sort of books they want to read.
IBU: What other changes do you foresee with the advent of popular e-readers?
AJ: I believe the next big change will be the addition of soundtracks to e-books. This has already happened in a limited way. Imagine reading a scene set in a busy city and hearing traffic and street sounds as you read. A scene set near a stream could have the sound of water trickling and bird calls added, even the cicadas.
IBU: That would certainly change the entire production of a novel! Any other changes you can foresee?
AJ: Another possible change is the ability for authors to write alternative endings and receive instant feedback.
IBU: Those are some interesting suggestions. Changing the topic a bit: what books and authors have been the most inspirational to you?
AJ: My two favorite books are The Long Goodbye and The Last Good Kiss. But my most inspirational writers have to James Lee Burke, Michael Connolly, Robert Crais and Harlan Coben. I read voraciously and could easily list thirty or forty writers that I admire greatly. Any writer who finishes a book has to be applauded; it takes determination and dedication.
IBU: Speaking of finishing a book, any new projects we can expect from you soon?
AJ: I’m almost finished Death Sentence. A deputy sheriff finds a young woman who had been abducted ten years previously, one of four women that disappeared at that time. He helps her come to terms with her ordeal and eventually marries her. Then young women start to go missing again. The deputy realizes that his new wife holds the key to finding the victims, but is she as innocent as he believes? The story is set around Clinton, Louisiana, a location that I used in Piwko’s Proof.
Aspen Mountain Press is also publishing Decoys in the fall. This serial killer book is set in the seedy world of Miami’s fidelity testing agencies. A young rookie police officer is asked to go undercover, as the bait in a honey trap, in an attempt to discover how a killer is targeting his victims.
IBU: Fantastic! We look forward to the release of those two novels. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions!