Thursday, 24 June 2021

Writer leaves his editor on a real cliffhanger

HE’S used to writing about races against time for his characters, but thriller writer Simon Kernick faced a similar challenge

HE’S used to writing about races against time for his characters, but thriller writer Simon Kernick faced a similar challenge himself while completing his latest novel.

The multi-million selling author, who lives in Shiplake, ended up with less than three months to complete Ultimatum, his 12th novel, after scrapping the entire original plot.

The book needed to be with his publisher at the end of October in order to be ready in time for its release at the end of this month — but Kernick admits it didn’t take shape until the fortnight before the deadline.

“It was looking pretty rubbish and my editor and the editor’s assistant were saying, ‘We’re not sure this is going to work’. But we rescued it from the jaws of defeat,” he said.

“It was pretty hairy as it was touch and go even at the beginning of October. There were big worries about how we were going to finish it — but luckily it came together in the last few weeks.”

He hopes the pressure he was under will have rubbed off on his characters.

“You are writing a book which relies on pace and tension so I hope the adrenaline and the fear factor from me flows into the characters,” he joked.

Kernick’s new book is perhaps his most gripping so far.

It begins with an explosion in a café in central London, and with the threat of further destruction, detectives DC Tina Boyd and DI Mike Bolt are left with just 12 hours to find out who the terrorists are — and how to stop them.

The story is told from multiple points of view — including an undercover police officer, DC Boyd and the terrorists themselves — which ramps up the tension even more.

“I’ve always written books set over very short periods of time and it does really help with the pace — or, at least, it’s worked for me so far,” he said.

“The best thing is when people say they read a book in one sitting.

For me, that’s the sign of a fantastic book or, at least, an entertaining one.”

Kernick wrote his first crime story in 1995 after he became hooked on thrillers and crime stories while working as a computer software salesman. He didn’t let more than 300 rejection letters dampen his spirits, and was rewarded with his breakthrough novel, The Business Of Dying.

Since then he’s gone on to write the bestselling thriller of 2007, Relentless, which was named as Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan’s “Summer read”.

As a full-time writer you might expect Kernick, 46, to relax by doing something completely different, but he’s at his happiest curled up with a thriller from one of his rivals.

“If they’re good then I’ve read a good book and if they are bad then I know my competition isn’t doing well — which is satisfying in a horrible way. But I always take apart the plots. I just enjoy that kind of story.”

And when’s he’s not reading other thrillers, he’s watching them on the TV.

“I don’t watch Downton Abbey but I do watch Homeland,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with thrillers, but I never get sick of them.”

But he doesn’t always remember his own plots quite as well as you might think.

Kernick admits to regularly receiving emails from readers asking him to help compile book club questions based on his novels, something he admits to finding tricky.

“I had someone email me recently about book club questions and I said I’d try to think of some, but the truth is they’re probably better placed than I am,” he confessed.

“Once I have finished a book that is the end of it. I don’t think about them any more.”

Although Kernick had such trouble finishing Ultimatum, he’s not yet made a start on his next book, due to be finished later this year.

“It’s quite nervewracking sometimes, but I’ve never missed a deadline in 12 books,” he said.

“I do tend to write better when I am close to deadline, it was the same when I was in school and college. I would work all night to finish an essay. I think it galvanises me much better.”

The plot will involve stumbling across an active crime scene, an idea which came to him while he was kayaking. Often book ideas come to him during conversations in the pub or through reading a newspaper or magazine report — although Relentless begins with an account from a real-life nightmare.

“I could do with more nightmares,” he joked. “I don’t wait around for inspiration because I could be waiting a long time.”

Part of Relentless was set in Hambleden, and Kernick says he’s not ruled out setting a future novel closer to home. “I would do, not specifically in Henley but in the surrounding area, it just depends if the idea would suit around here.”

Ultimatum by Simon Kernick (£12.99) is released by Century on January 31.

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