Tom Bale has written many slick thrillers but his latest is certain to leave you wiping the sweat from your brow. Childhood friendships, treachery and bizarre crimes, this one has as many oil slicked chicanes as a racing track. And the ending will leave you gasping for more. I interviewed him for the ITW.
Tell us about THE CATCH.
It’s a standalone thriller that examines how a childhood friendship can go sour in adulthood. Dan and Robbie are two young men who haven’t yet acknowledged that they no longer have much in common, so they’re together the night that one of Robbie’s business deals goes horribly wrong. A tragic mistake is compounded by their attempts to cover it up, setting off a chain of events that ends with a remorseless predator on their trail…
Who are your literary influences?
The first was Enid Blyton, an immensely prolific and popular children’s author. In my teens, Stephen King was a huge influence: not just because he’s a fabulous storyteller but because he makes the reader care deeply about his characters: that made a big impression on me. As I moved into reading more and more crime fiction, my influences were predominantly American writers: people like John Sandford, Michael Connelly, Martin Cruz Smith, Carol O’Connell, David Lindsey.
How important is location to you as a writer?
Very important. As I see it, just as a book is more compelling when you care about the characters, so it is when you feel the story is rooted in a particular landscape. It can be either a real or a fictional setting, just so long as it’s vividly described. The landscapes of the Sussex coast and the South Downs have always had a powerful impact on me. In fact, a book I’m working on now was inspired simply by the atmosphere of a quiet little village on a perfect summer’s morning…
To what extent is revenge lawless justice?
For me that’s one area where there is a vast difference between fiction and reality. In fiction there are few things more satisfying than to see the good guys mete out their own form of justice on the bad guys – usually people whom we know are unequivocally deserving of their fate. In real life, with its messy (but not fifty) shades of grey, the act of taking revenge is usually far more painful and tragic for all of those involved.
How much do you think readers want to be disturbed?
Within our genre, a lot – and the success of the grislier end of the market suggests that it’s a growing appetite. I think that’s understandable in a world where we’re bombarded with bad news, and the media seem intent on keeping us perpetually afraid. Fiction is a place where we can play out our deepest fears in a safe and controllable environment. But the limits of that desire to be disturbed are evident in the fact that most books still end with a positive resolution – suggesting that readers also seek reassurance that ultimately justice will prevail.
Is there a particular incident that has changed your life and influenced your writing?
Not really – certainly not in terms of any traumatic events, I’m glad to say. But I do have a very powerful memory of being driven home from school when I was seven, and I think in class we must have discussed what we might do when we grew up, because I asked my mum about books and she confirmed that yes, there were people whose job was to write stories. They actually got paid for making things up! It was like a light going on in my brain: That’s what I want to do! From that moment on I never had any other career ambitions whatsoever.
Graham Greene wrote, “There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer.” What do you make of his observation?
It’s a very resonant phrase, and I think it might have been particularly true in his case, judging by various biographies I’ve read. I think it’s a powerful way of describing a unique and – to non-writers – probably quite unappealing characteristic that writers have, namely that no matter what happens in your life, however terrible, there’s always a tiny part of your brain that stays removed from the experience, asking: Can I use this in my writing?
What advice would you give to yourself as a younger man?
Work harder at school. Enjoy more, worry less. I doubt if I’d have listened, though.
Tom Bale is the author of four thrillers. THE CATCH and SKIN AND BONES are standalone stories about ordinary people whose lives are pitched into chaos by their proximity to crime. TERROR’S REACH and BLOOD FALLS feature a series character, former undercover cop Joe Clayton.
Visit his website at www.tombale.net for full details and extracts of all the books.