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Adrian Magson

31 May 11 words: Robin Lewis
The second of eight nominees for the East Midlands Book Award discusses 'Death on the Marais'
"I'm absolutely delighted that someone saw something in the book which made it go forward for nomination. Being nominated is an honour."

Adrian Magson is the writer of 9 novels and far too many short stories to count.  His latest novel, Death on the Marais, is published by Allison & Busby, and has been nominated for the East Midlands Book Award.  It sees Detective Lucas Rocco, a veteran of the war in Indochina, chase the murderer of a young girl in rural France against a backdrop of heady days in the 1960’s.  Look for a review of the book and a feature on the East Midlands Book Award in our June issue of Leftlion.

Why set the novel in rural France in the sixties?
I'd previously written a series of five crime novels set in and around London, with a young female investigative reporter protagonist, and I decided I wanted to try something different. One was to write a spy novel. The other was to write a French police thriller. I was partly educated in France from the age of 10, so I knew the area, the people and had a feel for the place, which I felt was important for atmosphere. I suppose this was very much a part of 'write what you know' or in my case, what you remember. The main draw to do it, however, was the rising popularity here of European-based crime fiction, rather than UK or US-based, and I wanted to tap into that market if I could. Placing it in the sixties was a challenge - how many times did I have Lucas reaching for his mobile!, but it also made the research and fact-checking interesting, because France, like the UK, was going through very interesting changes at the time. 
Creating an involving and intriguing new detective can't be easy in such a crowded crime market.  How did Lucas Rocco come about?
It sounds odd to say, but he didn't take much work; suddenly he was there. He's not based on anyone I know, either by temperament or physique, yet he seemed to evolve almost on the spot. I should explain that the main series character, Lucas Rocco, is a Parisian cop who is transferred from his Clichy base to a rural beat centred on Amiens in Picardie. Rather than make him town-based, which is where he might have stopped, I placed him in a small village, which immediately made him stand out from the norm - and having done that as an English boy aged 10, I knew what that felt like!

He also stands out because he's from Paris and well above 6ft tall. And, just so he didn't disappear into the woodwork, I gave him a taste for English shoes and other imported clothes; not snappy, exactly, but well dressed and different (again) to anyone around him. I also cheated a little with the command structure of Rocco's job. The police force in France has a very different structure to ours, so I brought in a 'nationwide initiative', transferring investigators like Rocco from the cities to the countryside, to spread their skills more effectively to keep up with the changing times, and reporting to a uniformed commissaire. In Rocco's case, I made his new police CO a man named Massin, who was Rocco's army CO in Indochina (France's own Vietnam) and a man he'd last seen cowering in a foxhole during a communist Viet Minh attack. For Rocco, having Massin resenting his presence and looking for a way to get rid of a potential embarrassment, it's not good news. The other surprise waiting for him is that crime in the sticks is every bit as dangerous as it was in Paris.
You've been nominated for the East Midlands Book Award this year, which must feel pretty good.  Why do you think they chose your book?
I truly have no idea why it was chosen... but I'm absolutely delighted that someone saw something in the book which made it go forward for nomination. I'd like to think it was different enough, interesting enough - and most of all that they found it a good read. Being nominated is an honour.
The cover of Death on the Marais says it's the 'First Lucas Rocco Thriller' story.  Have you started on the second?
The second is actually done and dusted. It's called Death on the Rive Nord, and whereas 'Marais', has echoes of the Resistance, SOE, the war in Indochina, the emerging drug culture of the early 60s, and high-level official corruption, 'Rive Nord' is set against the newly-awarded Algerian independence, and the problems it brought - criminal gangs, smuggling, the spread of big business to the provinces and the search for cheap labour which followed. I like to use a reality-based backdrop, not to make it the main part of the story, but to give a sense of real colour to the place and the characters. 
You write a regular column for beginners in Writing Magazine.  How did that come about, and what's the best part of running such an advice column?
 It came out of the blue. I'd been writing for many years (part-time) for women's magazines, selling short stories and features. I got a call from Liz Smith of My Weekly one day, asking if I'd be interested in pitching to write a column for Writing Magazine. It was to be called 'Beginners', and was aimed at... well, beginners. I decided to call on my own experience, and rather than trying to teach people the mechanics of word-structure, syntax and punctuation, I'd take a 'get yer bum on yer seat and write' approach, which is where most people have a problem. Most would-be writers know how to put a sentence together; what they often need is guidance and tips on such varied things as how to find the time, getting and building ideas, improving their writing and keeping themselves motivated in what is a very solitary pursuit.
The best part of running this column is hearing from people that something I've written has helped them. That's really worthwhile, because I know how tough it is. An edited compilation of the 'Beginners' articles is coming out in book form in August through Accent Press, called Write On! The Writer's Help Book, and I hope that will help people who haven't read the originals.
Tell us about the other series you're writing at the moment: the Harry Tate spy novels.
I've always loved spy novels. For a while they seemed to go out of fashion, and crime seemed to take over. But then I noticed a couple of years ago that they seemed to be gaining in popularity again, so I decided to have a crack, but with a small difference. I wanted to use a realistic backdrop, so I decided to have an MI5 officer (Harry Tate) as my main character. MI5 now tracks drug runners and major criminals as well as spies, so their area of operations is a lot wider than it used to be. In Red Station, our intro to Harry Tate, he is running a drugs bust that goes horribly wrong, resulting in the deaths of two innocent people. Harking back to the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting, I asked myself what would MI5 do now with someone who, while not responsible for the actual deaths, would be torn apart by the press if they ever found out who was in control at the time? My answer was, they'd ship him out of the way to a remote outpost in central Europe while the fuss died down. Unfortunately for Harry Tate, a loyal servant of the state who does what he's told without question, what they haven't told him is that Red Station is a dumping ground for MI5 and MI6 misfits, and he is never coming back.

Of course, he does come back, and in Tracers, the sequel, which came out this February, he's 'distanced' from MI5 but still working in the same arena. I've just completed No 3, called 'The Protectory.
Who do you read?
A lot of American thriller writers, such as Harlen Coben, Robert Crais, John Sandford and Lee Child - British, but US-based... but also some of our own top writers such as Matt Hilton, Tony Black and Peter James. For sheer storytelling, however, and away from the crime/thriller scene, I've always enjoyed Leslie Thomas. 
You've sold more than 300 short stories, written jokes for Roy Hudd and messages for greeting cards.  It's safe to say your work is diverse.  What have been the most enjoyable writing jobs you've had?
Anything that sells! I'm a working writer, and it took me a while to find what I felt I was good at. I always knew I wanted to write crime and spy thrillers, but along the trail of what I call my apprenticeship, I tried all manner of other things, simply to see if I could do it. I wrote a short play which was great fun seeing performed, wrote slogans for t-shirts, even wrote (and sold) poetry once... but the magazine which bought it wrote and said, 'Please don't feel you have to submit any more!' I took that as a sign and concentrated my attentions away from poetry! Whatever I did, however, I always came back to wanting to write novels. It's where I could immerse myself, and that's where I finally managed to settle, when I got my first book deal in 2004. Generally, though, the enjoyment of writing is getting something right, of working the nub of an idea into something bigger. And maybe that's reflected in my enjoyment of writing 'Beginners' for Writing Magazine; it's telling others what I've found that works in practice.

 The winner of the East Midlands Book Award will be announced at the Lowdham Book Festival on 20 June. For more information on other events, please see the Lowdham website. 



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