By Ethan Cross
Steve Attridge’s work has been described as “Brilliant…thought-provoking, dark, and very, very funny.”With THE NATURAL LAW, his fifteenth book, the bestselling and award-winning author continues the string of success with another exceptional book, this one featuring protagonist Paul Rook.
Rook is a philosopher and a crime investigator, but he only works for criminals. He finds them more interesting and he has a secret agenda. When a criminal client of his is brutally murdered his investigations take him into a murky world of government conspiracies and a bizarre community of lost souls living rough beneath a London Bridge.
Tell us about THE NATURAL LAW in one line.
The murder of a petty criminal leads Paul Rook, investigator and philosopher, into a world of murky politics, violence, personal crisis and strange friendships.
What kind of research did you conduct for THE NATURAL LAW?
I read and re-read key philosophical works which are important to the main character, the way he sees the world, and the crimes he deals with. The main one was Aquinas’s Natural Law, hence the title. I read a fair bit online and in newspapers about the abuse of arms and military security trades, especially in a political context. I revisited parliament to get the sensory detail. I also got out my Prague maps, holiday photos and diary to get a bit of local detail. I try to use background reading to inform character, not to impress the reader. As a reader, I like well chosen telling detail rather than pages of exposition and description, so I try to practice that in my own work. Less is usually more.
Describe your typical writing day. How do you balance your writing with marketing, editing, plotting, and all other commitments?
I follow Graham Greene’s advice—get up and write at least 300 words before you do anything else, though I do make a cup of tea first! I much prefer mornings, before the day clutters your head. When I had a dog, the early morning walk was great for plotting. Afternoons for the business side of writing—trying to get interest and publicity, paperwork, e mails. Evenings for wine and wondering what tomorrow will be like. If I’m doing any teaching or lecturing then obviously that routine gets disrupted and I get a bit grumpy—mostly with myself.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
In a sense, I’m always working. I do have a strong sense of vocation—take the writer out of me and I’m not sure there’s anything left. But I love tennis, walking, reading, playing guitar. Since I gave up smoking I’ve become a sports freak and I find the adrenalin of sport is a good wake up for writing—whatever it does to the brain is fine by me.
As a reader, what are some of your personal pet-peeves? In other words, what’s your list of writing dos and don’ts?
Respect words, learn to play with plot structures, daydream, beat up your characters to see what they are made of.
Be naïve, be curious, be enthusiastic about your work—even if no one else is! Don’t over egg, learn to cope with disappointments because everyone has them, beware of writing courses unless you’re sure of the Tutor, do learn from other writers but don’t try to be them. Always take your work seriously but yourself hardly at all.
Do you have any marketing advice for your fellow authors? Any techniques that you feel have worked especially well for you?
I’m very bad at marketing but the world has changed so much since I started that you have to engage with it. You need to have a plan and ask yourself—who is my ideal reader and where might they look? Anything that gets your name and work out there: twitter, targeted websites.
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books/authors and who has had the greatest influence upon your own work?
I’m reading Cormac McCarthy’s OUTER DARK, a biography of Nietzsche and some Charles Bukowski poetry. Influence is a tricky word—I think you read people and feel an affinity with them, an excitement about the way they inhabit language, or it inhabits them, and that enthusiasm then becomes part of who you are as a writer. Kipling, Dickens, the language of the Old Testament, William Golding, Cormac McCarthy, Ted Hughes, are some of the names that immediately come to mind as having affected me in some way. I’m astonished how little some writers read. As Stephen King said, you can’t be a writer unless you’re a reader.
What’s something that you’ve learned about the publishing business that you weren’t expecting?
By and large the publishing business is better mannered than the broadcasting industries. People are mostly polite, which is important. What few could foresee, and certainly I couldn’t, is how monumentally publishing has changed in the last few years with digital books, e reading etc. Everything has been thrown in the air and no knows what it will look like when the dust settles. What is a book these days?
Do you have any advice for aspiring (or struggling) writers out there?
Listen to everyone but ignore most. Be tough. Be resilient. If you want to be rich choose another profession.
What’s next for you?
Am working on another thriller with the same protagonist, Paul Rook, as in THE NATURAL LAW. Am also plotting a play about Shakespeare and a chapter for a book on ideas about War and Sacrifice.
Steve Attridge has won RTS Awards, Writers Guild Awards and BAFTA nominations. His work includes stage and radio plays, TV series, individual TV dramas, and feature films, including the award winning GUY X. He wrote a book about the Boer War, and won an Eric Gregory award for poetry. His latest novel, his 15th book, published in July 2014 is called THE NATURAL LAW, the second about philosopher detective Paul Rook. The first, Philosophical Investigations, reached number 4 in the Amazon Kindle Singles bestsellers. Last year his play, CHAOS CARNAGE AND KULTURE, had a successful run at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
To learn more about Steve, please visit his website.