Next up for my monthly feature, 10 Minutes With… I sit down for a chat with edgy thriller writer Dominic Piper, to find out about his career, his writing, and his main protagonist, PI Daniel Beckett.
I am about to dive into the first in the series, Kiss Me When I’m Dead, which is currently only 99p on KIndle, so I will share my thoughts with you on that in the coming weeks on my In Review of… feature. In the meantime, as always, I will include links below, if you want to discover more.
Until then, let’s find out a little more about the author, on how he created these highly-rated thrillers, and what his plans are for the future of the series.
10 Minutes With… Dominic Piper, Author
Thanks for taking time out, Dominic, it’s a real pleasure to have you here. For readers not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing projects to date?
I’m the author of four crime thrillers, each featuring the enigmatic, London-based private investigator Daniel Beckett. In order of release, they are Kiss Me When I’m Dead, Death is the New Black and Femme Fatale. I’ve just completed the fourth in the series, which is called Bitter Almonds & Jasmine and is now available for pre-order. I’m aware that these books are markedly different from others in the genre and this may be because I’m not a great reader of crime fiction myself and so am not unduly influenced by crime fiction of the past (or present) and have no desire to emulate it or pay tribute to it. In fact, it’s difficult for me to recall any that I’ve ever read. Someone gave me a copy of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler when I was in school, but that’s about it.
Can you tell us a little about your most recent published novel, ‘Femme Fatale’?
Daniel Beckett is hired to track down a missing Triad enforcer. I wanted three elements to collide in this book: the Triads, the Freemasons and the world of contemporary burlesque. The idea of this being virtually impossible quite appealed to me (I like a challenge). I’d read about freemasonry and the Triads in the past and was struck by the similarities in both set-ups; all-male secret societies, each with lodges, secret signs, symbols, hierarchies, punishments and a sense of their superiority over the rest of society, particularly in the case of freemasonry. The main difference between the two is that freemasonry is essentially pointless, decadent and has always had a huge potential for corruption, despite the crowing about charity work, brothership and the rest. The Triads, on the other hand, make no bones about what they are and what they do. They were once a patriotic society which, for various reasons, drifted into being a criminal one (though steps are being taken now to reverse that). I wanted to unfavourably compare freemasons to triads. In the middle of this is the female empowerment found in burlesque, which is disliked/feared by both of these all-male societies to various degrees and for differing reasons. I thought putting all three elements together would be an explosive combination.
Lockdown has been a different experience for everyone to cope with, how has it impacted your writing?
I had about six chapters to go with my latest novel when it became difficult to work at home. I hired a cottage in the middle of nowhere for eleven days and finished the book there. I’m no stranger to doing this. I started writing for television in the nineties and have either booked myself into a hotel or hired somewhere charming, quiet and rural when home was too chaotic. If you do this out of any holiday season, it’s remarkably cheap. Sometimes, you have to find somewhere to work where there is absolutely no distraction, particularly if you’re working to some sort of deadline. But they must have Wi-Fi and a good mobile signal; I’m not a caveman.
How did the idea form for your series of Daniel Beckett novels?
I had a meeting with a publisher based on my reputation as a television writer. I had never written novels before and it wasn’t really a field I had any experience of. We discussed a number of possibilities for themes and characters and I eventually came up with the idea of a private investigator who had some sort of covert past that the reader is never made fully aware of, as a means of creating some sort of dramatic tension (and, of course, mystery). I went home and wrote a treatment on a single sheet of A4 paper and they went with it. That piece of paper, explaining who Daniel Beckett really is and where he came from is in a locked vault in Switzerland.
Some writers meticulously plot their novels, others like to explore their tale as they write it, to see where it takes them – how do you go about writing your novels?
I do a combination, I think. I write big chunks of plot on A3 cartridge pads with lots of boxes and arrows. Then I write it out as a kind of short story. Then I revise it and alter the plot once more. Then I write more chunks and boxes and arrows. This can go on for months. Once I start writing, however, most of that hard work goes out of the window as the story momentum takes over. I’m always surprised at the way these things end up. There’s a danger of writing too much preparatory stuff, as you have to keep reading it and re-reading it to try and remember it and work out what’s going on and what on earth you were thinking when you wrote it. Most of it gets dumped, though I’m sure there’s some value in doing it. It’s just at the moment, I don’t know what it is. Sometimes you think of great characters who could be in the story and their presence shapes what will happen. With the latest book, right at the beginning I had two fantastic characters who I knew would work on the page and would help to drive the story. Then another popped up who was great fun to write. They kind of take over the book and have no need for you anymore. In Femme Fatale, Caroline Chow was one of those. I couldn’t wait for her to turn up in another scene. By the end, I felt as if I was her sex slave.
A lot of authors are obsessed by them and their daily tally – but do you even consider word counts when writing a novel?
Nope. I just start and hope for the best. The first two novels were about the same length, though Femme Fatale turned out to be much longer. The new one looked as if it wasn’t going to be that long, as the storyline is quite linear, but it turned out to be the longest one yet. I’m sure there are lots of rules for these things, but I have no idea what they are. How long should a book be? How many hours a day are you meant to write? When do you take a break?
What’s the thing you enjoy most about your writing process?
Those moments when the thing starts to write itself and you suddenly find you’ve just written a dozen pages without realising it. Also giving the chapters titles when the whole thing is finished. That’s quite fun. Sometimes I’ll think of a chapter title while I’m writing the chapter, though that doesn’t happen often. Sometimes I’ll think of great chapter titles while I’m making preparatory notes, but those often end up not being used. Sometimes a chapter doesn’t really lend itself to a really good, witty chapter title, but you can’t have everything. I quite like reading the finished thing through to see if it makes sense. Bits that are a drag for me to read have to be re-written. I’ve edited scripts in the past and know when to dump stuff.
What’s the thing you dislike?
Grinding through the whole thing so it’s more than eleven pages long or something. Wondering if I’ve explained everything clearly or if I’ve made things too complicated. I’m always conscious of how big these things are and roughly how long they should be to be a satisfying read and if the pace is OK. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with short novels or novellas. Checking back for inconsistencies can be a bit of a pain. Like when a character says something and you think ‘Hang on – how can he possibly know about that? That doesn’t happen for another five chapters!’
If there was one piece of advice you would pass on to someone starting out on their writing journey, what would be?
Hard to say. It always sounds a bit condescending if you give advice like that. My gut reaction is to say ‘Dump everything else, even if it causes you personal or financial harm. Make absolutely sure you have nothing to fall back on. Spit on normality. Reject your family. Mock your friends. Renounce God.’
Can you tell us about your favourite character from your novels, if you can choose one?
It’s difficult as they’re so varied. Daniel Beckett is the main character in all of these novels, so everything revolves around him and he has all the best lines, so it’s probably him. Some subsidiary characters are fun to write, mainly because they often don’t have the storyline pressure that the main character has to bear, so their personalities can blossom a little more. From Kiss Me When I’m Dead, I’d choose the retired call girl/madame Sakura Bianchi. From Death is the New Black, the fashion PA Isolda Jennison and from Femme Fatale, as I’ve already mentioned, it would have to be Caroline Chow (occupation and real name withheld – spoilers, you see). At the moment, my favourite in the fourth book has to be Liva Søndergaard, who I didn’t see coming as such a big personality until it was too late to stop her.
Authors are always thinking about their next work? What’s next for you?
Well, as I said, I’ve just finished the fourth in the series, so now I’m doing various assorted reading in preparation for the fifth. Like planning the plot for these books, the topics I’m considering may well fall by the wayside as time goes on, but something usually pops out of the ether, so I’m living in hope.
When you are not writing, what do you like to do most?
Listen to experimental black metal band Sun O))) at deafening volume (particularly while driving), drink excessively, insult the Royal Family and blaspheme.
Eggs – Hard or soft boiled?
Final question for now. If you had to choose one, which of your novels are you the most proud of, and why?
Another difficult one. Each one is quite different from the others. I don’t know for sure, but it must be tempting to keep series like this in the same kind of ‘world’, but I’ve tried to avoid that if I can. For that reason, I’m equally proud of them all, but as Van Dyke Parks said, ‘My best work is the work that lays ahead’.
If you enjoyed this interview and would like to find out more about Dominic’s work, you can follow the links below, and stay tuned in the coming weeks for my thoughts on the first book in the series, Kiss Me When I am Dead which is currently 99p on Kindle.
Find out about Dominic and the PI Daniel Beckett Series here.