Thursday, 24 June 2021

Writing is 'the best job in the world'

He has to contend with pressure, loneliness and the constant need for new ideas, but for author Simon Kernick, writing is the “best job in the world”.

He has to contend with pressure, loneliness and the constant need for new ideas, but for author Simon Kernick, writing is the “best job in the world”.

From the study of his home in sleepy Shiplake, Kernick, 49, delves into the murky world of mystery, intrigue and, more often than not, grisly murder.

He burst on to the scene in 2002 with The Business of Dying and published his 14th novel this month. The Final Minute follows the story of Matt Barron, who is plagued by dreams of himself in a room full of dead bodies after losing his memory in a car accident.

After his sister is killed, Matt enlists the help of private detective and Kernick veteran Tina Boyd to find out the truth about his accident, and whether he is the hunter or the hunted.

Kernick said, “It’s a very fast paced thriller, it all takes place over three days.

“It’s good to have a hook on the book, the mystery has to be solved by the end but you’re never quite sure if he’s done it and neither is he. I always like writing books where there’s a puzzle.

“It’s difficult for me to judge my books but I rate this one quite highly because of the ambiguity of the central character. You don’t find out if he’s a killer until the last page and I like that.”

Kernick says he came up with the idea to write about a character with amnesia after speaking to a friend whose father was being treated for depression with electroshock therapy.

He said, “I didn’t even know electroshock therapy was still being used until he mentioned it.

“It made me wonder what would happen if during the therapy you brought up memories from the past that they didn’t know about, like being in a room full of dead bodies and not knowing if you killed them.

“It’s unlikely to happen during the treatment but it got me thinking about amnesia. This all came out from one conversation.”

Once the seed was planted, Kernick spoke to real-life therapists to get a taste of how amnesia affects the sufferer. But he says the poorly-understood nature of memory loss gave him a lot of freedom while writing the book.

He said, “There’s always artistic licence in writing but it’s very easy with amnesia because no one really understands it. The memories can all come back at once or bit by bit.

“I spent some time talking to the psychotherapists but like all my books I don’t want real life to get in the way of the plot.”

Research plays an important part in all of Kernick’s writing, and through the years he has built up an impressive collection of law-enforcement contacts from the Metropolitan Police, their anti-terrorist branch and the National Crime Agency.

He once spoke to an officer who was tasked with “turning“ a suspected terrorist several years before the man in question hit the headlines with an attack in Britain.

Kernick said, “I knew a couple of people who were friends of friends and through that you meet someone else. Almost everyone I speak to is in the Met. It’s about building up a network over years and years.

“I use it for things like when I wanted to know how easy it is to access phone records, how quickly it can be done and what procedures they need to go through. I spoke to someone who told me exactly how they would do it.

“If you are a writer you get much better information than a journalist because the source knows their name isn’t going to be printed and it’s all off the record.”

Since his first book was released, Kernick has written at least one novel each year, as well as novellas including the three-part thriller Dead Man’s Gift last year. He says he treats writing as any other job, sitting in his study to write from 9am to 5pm on weekdays and spending the weekends with his two daughters.

He says the most important part of the writing process he has learn throughout the years is having a solid plan to work to.

Kernick said, “I always plan chapter to chapter so when I sit down I know where the book is going to go. You can never wait around for inspiration because you’ll be waiting forever. I have to have a book out every year.

“The hard part of writing is trying not to repeat scenes. There are only so many hostage-takings or kidnaps you can do without repeating yourself. You have to keep it fresh without moving away too much.

“The last two books have been easy to write so I’m hoping the next one is too. I’m already doing the structure and plot of my next novel but I’ve got a digital novella in March so I will have to come back to it after I’ve finished that.

“Writing is the best job in the world if you don’t mind the pressure. It’s the only job I can think of where you’re responsible for absolutely everything.

“If you run out of ideas it’s bad luck and you have to always be on top of things but if you can accept that then it’s brilliant. You work your own hours and meet some brilliant people.”

l Signed copies of The Final Minute are available at the Bell Bookshop in Bell Street, Henley for £12.99.

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