Today I am delighted to welcome author Mike Thomas to my blog.
Mike Thomas was born in Wales in 1971. For more than two decades he served in the police, working some of Cardiff ’s busiest neighbourhoods in uniform, public order units, drugs teams and CID. He left the force in 2015 to write full time.
His debut novel, Pocket Notebook, was published by William Heinemann (Penguin Random House) and longlisted for the Wales Book of the Year. The author was also named as one of Waterstones’ ‘New Voices’ for 2010. His second novel, Ugly Bus, is currently in development for a six part television series with the BBC.
His new novel (the first in the MacReady series), ‘Ash and Bones’, was released August 2016 by Bonnier Zaffre. ‘Splinter’, the second in the series, is ready for release in 2017.
He lives in the wilds of Portugal with his wife, two children and an unstable, futon-eating dog.
Follow the author on Twitter at @ItDaFiveOh. More details can be found on the website http://www.mikethomasauthor.co.uk
Ash and Bones is the first book in a brand new crime series. What made you want to write a series when you’ve previously written two stand alone novels?
It was a case of returning to characters I’d been writing about since 2003. I wrote three crime novels featuring Will MacReady, but they were all rejected. So I put him away for a while and focused on what eventually became my debut, ‘Pocket Notebook’. After my second novel, ‘Ugly Bus’ was published it just seemed like a good time to go back to MacReady, so I tweaked a few things about him – changed him from a detective inspector to a detective constable, for example – and got writing ‘Ash and Bones’. I’m still doing the standalone novels. I like to swap between the two, it keeps me sane.
Did you find it easier or harder writing a book for a new series to an actual stand alone?
I’m not sure if easier or harder, just different. My first two novels were self-contained, with a clear beginning, middle and end for both. With a series it’s not just the important things – plot, twists, theme, if you have one – that you have to make work, there are character arcs and backstories that you need to create and sustain, ensuring they all make sense and ring true as you move through each novel. I’ve recently been doing redrafts for the second in the series, and my editor had to remind me that people might pick up the book having not read ‘Ash and Bones’ so wouldn’t have a clue what was happening. It meant a lot of rewriting in order to bring people up to speed very quickly. This made my head hurt a little bit.
You were actually in the force yourself for many years, why the career change and has writing been something you’ve always wanted to do?
I’ve always written, since I was seven or eight. Stories, comics, opening chapters to never-to-be-touched-again novels. I just put it aside for a long while when I joined the cops. And after about fifteen years I had grown to hate being a police officer. You just never seemed to achieve anything, ever. Most of my time was spent running around like a headless chicken, trying to meet Home Office targets and placating inept upper ranks who’d never walked the street in their entire career. And my body was tired. I’ve broken a lot of bones, seen a lot of things you shouldn’t see, and it felt like I was stuck on this awful merry-go-round of misery. So I planned my escape. It took several failed novels, plenty of rejections and about another ten years but I got there in the end!
Would you ever collaborate with another author on a novel and if so who would you like to work with?
That’s an interesting question. Probably not. I get a bit twitchy when I have an editor making cuts and suggestions to a novel, so to work alongside someone for nine or twelve months while they pore over everything I’m doing as I do it would tip me over the edge. Also it would mean I can’t work in the nude. But seriously, I’d love to hook up with someone to work on a screenplay adaptation – that would be fun, but writing a novel is an intensely personal thing for me. Unless Stephen King wants to put his name to one of my books. That would be quite nice.
Your books so far have all been to do with the police force, would you consider writing a book away from that or even a different genre like a psychological thriller?
Absolutely. I have enough anecdotes, incidents and characters to write dozens of police-related novels, but I’ll try my hand at something different at some point in the future. But I refuse to have ‘Girl’ in the title. Far too many of those doing the rounds now.
What’s been one of the funniest cases you’ve worked on in your time in the force and what was the worst?
I have numerous tales but most are unprintable. Humans do some bizarre things. Funny, but printable? A PC colleague of mine once arrested a shoplifter in Tesco and took him out of the store to put him in the prisoner van, while the sergeant took details from the manager inside. When the sergeant came out and opened the van doors: no prisoner. Next to the police van was a painter and decorator’s van – the sergeant checked in the back and found the shoplifter sitting on a tub of matte white, looking rather confused. The PC didn’t even realise what he’d done. The worst was a guy arrested when I was on a plain clothes team. We brought him in for supplying amphetamine then did a search of his house, where we found lots of video tapes and a stolen camcorder. I had to view the recordings and log anything dodgy. Turns out he was sexually abusing a local teenager who had special needs, and recording everything he – and his friends, and his dogs – did to her. It was horrific to watch and I had to do it for days. Hours of the stuff. Vile. It made me unwell.
What have your family made of your change of career?
My parents worried at first. They probably still do. Giving up a solid, respectable career as a police officer to sit in my underpants making up stories that might not even sell? It’s totally alien to them, but they’ve been incredibly supportive. And my wife never had any doubts. I lean on her a lot; she’s the one person I write for and I’d be lost without her input and backing.
How would you feel about your own children following in your footsteps either into writing or the police force?
I would never advise my children to join the police. Certainly not in the UK. It’s a thankless, dirty job, the government and media constantly fuck you over, and the public really don’t know what – in the main – a fantastic job the men and women on the ground really do, especially now after all the disgraceful cuts. Certain journalists and so-called ‘opinion writers’ (I won’t mention names here) should be ashamed with how they constantly vilify the police. Anyway, I would love to see one or both of my kids make it as a writer, or with some other creative endeavour. But as long as they’re happy doing what they end up doing, then I’ll be happy for them.
Are you much of a reader yourself and would love to know which authors you enjoy reading or some of your favourite books so far?
Avid reader, but a very slow one. I make notes, underline passages and so on. You can’t be a writer if you don’t read, and read a lot. I love Cormac McCarthy, early Chuck Palahniuk, Tobias Wolff and Denis Johnson. For crime and thrillers it’s Don Winslow, George Pelecanos, Michael Connelly, John Sandford, Dennis Lehane. I’m catching up with a lot of UK crime fiction at the moment, after two decades of consciously avoiding it while I was in the police. The best novel I’ve read this year is Chris Whitaker’s debut, ‘Tall Oaks’.
What’s a typical working day as a writer like for you?
After all the mundanities like shouting at my zombie-like children to hurry up and then doing the school run, mornings are mostly spent answering emails, keeping up with social media, and – for my ‘other job’ as a writer for hire – knocking out articles about, say, bartending schools in Toronto or farming in the Portuguese mountains. It just gets my brain working for the afternoon, when I sit down with the novel in progress. I can lose myself for many hours then. I have been known to write through the night, skipping food unless someone thinks to dangle a piece of chicken in front of my face.
Whats been the highlight of your writing career so far?
Getting that email, from an industry heavyweight at a major publishing house, telling me he loved my novel ‘Pocket Notebook’ and wanted to publish it. I was in work at the time. I almost passed out. Now it’s finishing the first draft of a book. That overwhelming sense of relief…
Facebook or Twitter?
Twitter. Short, to the point, then move on. I enjoy social media and have made lots of new friends, particularly among the book blogging community, but it can be a real time-suck. I’d rather be tormenting my kids or setting fire to my garden. Or was it setting fire to my kids in the garden? I can never remember.
Kindle or physical book?
Physical book. Every time. I love the smell, the heft of a real book. Kindles and e-readers are fabulous for cramming all your books into one device, but I find if I read via a tablet at night – typically in bed – I’m wide awake in the dark for about four hours afterwards. Usually planning ways to murder the inventors of Kindle.
Favourite comfort food?
I love all the food. I will eat anything. I adore Marmite. Every morning, sometimes in the evening, on the toast it goes. So probably that: warm, buttery Marmite-slathered toast.
Whisky. Far too much of it, probably. Ice, healthy dose of Scotch, sit down, eat snacks, drink lots more whisky, finish snacks, pass out.
Lastly, obviously I can’t let you go without asking you what you’re currently working on and if you can tell us a bit about it?
Book two of the MacReady series – called ‘Splinter’ – is finished and pretty much ready to go, and is published in August 2017. I’m writing book three but don’t have a title for it yet, so let’s just call it ‘Dying of Death’ or something. And one of those standalones you mentioned is half done – it’s a dark comedy about a Special Constable who is a bit of a fantasist, and who becomes caught up in a serial killer’s spree, thinking he can solve the crimes before the real cops do. And, obviously, there’s those farming articles…