I was delighted to be able to interview Alan McDermott, author of the fast-paced thriller Gray Justice. I read Alan’s book some time ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It has been receiving amazing reviews, and his responses to my interview questions give a real insight into his thinking.
Gray Justice is Alan’s debut novel, and tells the story of Tom Gray, an ex-soldier running a successful business until his world falls apart. His young son is killed by a joy rider and his wife, overcome with grief, takes her own life months later. When his son’s killer walks free from court, Gray decides that the current justice system needs an overhaul, and kidnaps five serial offenders. Parading them on the internet, he lets the people of Britain decide if they should live or die, and the government are powerless to stop him. Gray believes he has the perfect plan, right down to the last detail, but one man travels four thousand miles to prove him wrong in an explosive climax.
Who is Alan McDermott – in his own words?
I am a husband, father to beautiful twin girls (they are 5 ½ years old) and a software developer for the NHS. When I’m not building patient-critical applications I am either spending time with my family or writing. I have tried a few things over the years to bring in a little extra money but selling my stories seems to be working the best. I’m not making huge piles of cash and I can’t see myself retiring to write full-time in the near future, but I wanted to build a legacy that I could leave to my family once I’m gone, and I thought a series of novels would be a good idea. Gray Justice has been well received, which has encouraged me to continue down this path.
Gray Justice is a fast paced thriller. What motivated you to write in this genre?
When I pick up a book I want it to keep me gripped from start to finish and be something I can relate to. I couldn’t see myself delivering that with a science-fiction or romance novel. I could try, but I know I would soon get bored with it. If the subject matter doesn’t interest me, I can hardly expect my readers to become engrossed. I think it is important that you write about what you know.
Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Gray Justice, it seemed to me that a huge amount of research would have been necessary. Either that, or the book is based on your own knowledge and experience. Can you tell us which it was?
Sadly, it was the huge amount of research. The closest I came to the SAS was watching them on television as they ended the siege at the Iranian Embassy, Princes Gate on May 5th 1980. From that moment on I was fascinated by their mystique and spent hours with my head stuck in books from the local library (there was no internet back then). I read everything from their beginnings in the deserts actions of WW2, through to the campaign in Aden and beyond. I also read a lot of books by Andy McNab and Chris Ryan (two of the survivors of the Brave-Two-Zero patrol during the Gulf war). So there you have it: I have never been in the SAS, and I have never (knowingly, at least) met anyone from The Regiment. It was all Wikipedia and the local library, folks!
What was your inspiration for the story?
I was watching a cop series on the television and saw a car thief lead the police on a 30 minute chase, endangering life as he went. When he was caught it was revealed that he’d had countless previous convictions, and for his latest escapade he received a driving ban and a fine. I had to wonder what kind of deterrent that was likely to be, and I started to imagine some of the things that could be done to deter these criminals at an early stage in their career.
Gray Justice is no ordinary tale of retribution. How much of the book reflects your own views?
Carrying on from the previous question, I simply imagined some of the things that could be done to discourage recidivism. The ideas I came up with seemed not too radical and were a lot more captivating than having the protagonist waving a placard outside Number 10. I wanted Tom to propose a Justice Bill that would get people thinking, and the reviews show that I have done that. Opinion is split between ‘Britain needs a real Tom Gray’ and ‘I think that the reasons for crime are deeper than the punishments for them’. From my own personal point of view, I believe we are too soft on career criminals and not enough is done to protect the public from them. I do, however, think Tom’s Justice Bill goes a bit too far.
Tom Gray chooses his victims with care. But there are many other criminals who have potentially committed far more heinous crimes – so what made you choose this particular type of offence?
I don’t think it really matters which offence was committed. This is the story of a man who suffered deep, personal loss because of a criminal’s actions. Whether he be a car thief or a drug dealer, a murderer or a rapist, the ensuing storyline would have been the same. I chose car thief because, as I said, I got the idea from a police chase show, and secondly because I don’t know of any other books where this particular crime has been highlighted. Okay, rape and murder get all the newspaper headlines, but you try telling a burglary victim that they are not really affected because they’ve only lost their possessions and had their privacy invaded. I wanted all victims of crime to be able to relate to this story, not just victims of high profile killings.
What was your process for writing this book – and do you follow the same writing pattern for all your books?
For Gray Justice I just started out with the event that kicked Tom Gray into gear. After that, I wrote out brief notes for all subsequent chapters and promptly ignored them as I went. The story evolved with every page, and the finished product bore no resemblance to the initial idea. It has been the same with the sequel, which I finished today. I had the opening chapter laid out in my mind and have constantly revised the story with every passing day. I guess it will be the same with the next book I write: initial idea, and see where it takes me.
I’ve written a short story, called Recidivist, which is available free from Smashwords and anywhere else that sells ebooks (except for Amazon – I’m not going to charge someone 99c for a 5000 word short story). This also deals with young offenders, but at a much earlier stage in their career. I wrote it because I had an idea for a twist, and I feel that is important in a book. I wrote back in 1990 and recently revised it.
What sort of books do you read, and is there a specific book that stands out in your mind as your “best ever” read?
I love to read the works of Tom Clancy and Rainbow Six is his stand-out novel in my mind.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
The reviews, definitely. To know that someone has read my work and really enjoyed it is what keeps me writing. In fact, we write books to entertain and no other reason. No-one goes out with the intention of writing a stinker, and I’m sadly one of those insecure people who constantly needs to be told I’m doing a good job, whatever I turn my hand to. If I’m not doing something well, I stop doing it, plain and simple. I’ve never been one to blow my own trumpet, so I’m happy to let others do that for me with their reviews. I realise that one day someone is going to hate one of my books and leave some horrible feedback, and I honestly don’t know how I’ll react when that happens (cry, un-publish my books and deactivate my social network accounts, who knows), but until that day comes I will continue to be grateful for all the 4 and 5 star reviews I’ve been getting.
The launch of e-readers and the ease of publishing has resulting in a huge upsurge in the number of aspiring authors who now feel they have a chance to publish. What advice would you give them?
Don’t get into writing with the idea that you are going to be a number 1 bestseller. It happened for Amanda Hocking and John Locke, but they are just two out of a million authors on Amazon. It takes a long time to write a novel, and that requires dedication and sacrifice, and once you’ve written it the easy part is over. You now have to get it into the hands of readers, and that means every spare second of the day plugging it on every social networking site in the universe. Now that you’re spending 28 hours a day doing that, you have to find time to write the second book, because your readers are going to want more and more of your work. No-one is going to retire on one book.
Still want to write a novel? Then make it original. I have had lots of praise for Gray Justice because they liked the twist at the end. None of the readers see it coming and that kind of thing sticks in the mind.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
To be honest I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t writing. It must be over two years ago, and I used to enjoy watching TV. I loved the Spooks series as well as 24 and Boardwalk Empire, but since I started Gray Justice I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t sitting in front of the television without the laptop open. I also love to read, but just cannot seem to find the time these days.
Where can readers buy your books?
You can get Gray Justice from any of these sites for around the 99c mark. The sequel, Gray Resurrection, will be available in March 2012.
What is your next project?
I am taking a week off before starting on the third part of the Tom Gray trilogy. It ends here!
You can find Alan McDermott’s blog here : http://www.jambalian.blogspot.com