What inspired you to create Jack Barclay?
I began reading at a fairly young age and soon became a huge fan of American crime fiction. My authors of choice included, George Pelecanos, Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais and Ed Mc Bain.
I also learned about some of the neighbourhoods used in their novels and how they played their part in creating atmosphere and tension. Although I have never copied any author’s style, I have been influenced by them. My first attempt at crime fiction writing was based in Los Angeles. A visiting author to our writing group asked me how well I knew that City. I told her, ‘Not very well’ and she advised to change it to a location I knew. L.A became London and so began Smile of the Viper with Jack Barclay as the principal character.
His name came about from a trip to London as a young man from my home city of Aberdeen in the North East of Scotland. Walking up Park Lane in Mayfair, I came across a showroom full of Rolls- Royce’s and I was impressed. The name of the luxury car business was ‘Jack Barclay.’ I never forgot that and so the name of my intrepid London P.I. was born.
I wanted him to be tall, attractive and a man with strong principles, however he would not be averse to bending the rules if he thought the situation warranted it. A bit of attitude when required and a determined person who demanded respect.
Jack’s background although not unusual was pivotal to his success as a P.I. He is a Londoner born and bred and before setting up his own investigating business was with the London Metropolitan Police reaching detective level. He left because of conflicts with some of his superiors. The reader can be in no doubt that Jack is a cool character and seldom needs to raise his voice.
The Jack Barclay series takes readers on thrilling international adventures. Can you share some of the real-life locations and experiences that influenced the settings and plot lines in the books?
Many of Jack’s assignments take him overseas and here a writer has to take extra care. Accuracy is vital and any gaffes on locations, cultures etc. will be picked up by readers. I have been fortunate to travel a fair bit myself and although not essential, is an advantage when it comes to describing people and places not to mention the experience of passing through airports and ferry ports etc.
In one of the plot lines of my short story, ‘One Night in Andalucia’ a couple exit Sinatra’s Bar in Puerto Banus and a few minutes later confusion and panic erupt in the Port. Having visited the place and seen the excesses going on everywhere, I knew I had to use the location in a story. I am sometimes asked by readers if I would consider expanding it into a full- length novel. Maybe something for the future.
I also adapt true crime situations and use them in my books. I have included some shocking crimes over the years but although the scene in the book is almost identical to the original, the events, people and places are totally different. There would be no association between the real happening and the scene in the book.
I make notes as I travel around and incorporate many things I see into my books. Sometimes I make notes in the middle of the night but invariably I can’t make head nor tail of them in the morning!
Smile of the Viper, Forever Evil and Death Run each have unique and intense storylines. How do you approach crafting intricate plots that keep readers engaged from start to finish?
I never have a detailed outline for my books so that makes me a ‘pantster.’ However, I know the type of crime(s) that are going to be committed and I begin to invent the characters to fill the roles. I find this a satisfying time and the story begins to take shape. On a good writing day/night, the characters almost take over and I find myself typing quickly to keep up!
Care is needed with credibility and a reader once wrote to me to question the manner of some one’s violent death in a story. I quoted from a real-life event when, tragically, a man died instantly in identical circumstances. It all checked out.
Engaging the reader is of paramount importance and I usually end a chapter with a hook for the next. My main character, Jack Barclay, attracts a lot of favourable reviews from women so I always make sure he is in real trouble. I also know how he will be extricated – eventually.
In your crime thrillers, readers encounter a wide range of compelling and sometimes sinister characters. How do you ensure that each character feels authentic and contributes to the overall narrative?
These are two of the most important elements in a novel. The simple answer is, research. International criminal organisations have changed dramatically in the past few years and the participants too. Crime syndicates have to be savvy when it comes to the use of today’s technology and the dark web features prominently in the distribution of class A drugs. More traditional ways of getting product to the dealers is still very much in evidence. Only a small percentage of drugs are caught at ports and airports and those involved could be any nationality from South American to European.
The characters in the book must reflect the ways of doing business and this includes how they operate across borders, how they mete out gang revenge and how they protect themselves from the constant threat from those wishing to take a cut of their business or even take over their massively lucrative activities.
The bigger the ‘player’ the bigger the part he/she must have in the story. There will be those who have little regard for anyone who gets in their way and retribution can be brutal. That is the way it works and the threat of execution holds many criminal gangs together. There will be sub-plots with lesser players but these too contribute to the story and are important in conveying the tension and authenticity for the reader. It’s all about atmosphere and holding the reader’s attention. It’s not the actual murder that is the key to a thriller, it’s why it was committed.
The Jack Barclay series delves into complex themes such as drug trafficking and organised crime. How do you conduct research for these topics to maintain accuracy to maintain realism in your writing?
The opioid crisis and the organised crime orchestrating it, is a constantly changing scene. My last novel, ’Death Run, had the mis-use of fentanyl as it’s main theme. Over 100,000 people in the US and Canada are dying each year from drug overdoses and with the seemingly endless supply, no-one has yet found a way to stem the tide of synthetic opioids coming from China, Mexico and other countries. The only way to convey writing accuracy is to keep up with developments in this dark world. I regularly scan online the likes of the LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the Vancouver Sun amongst others to keep abreast of developments in the ongoing tragedy and alas there seems little improvement on the death rate from opioids. Some of the video reports I have watched are harrowing to say the least but it is reality and the only way to help stop those thinking of dabbling in drugs is to show the appalling consequences that could happen to them. Death from an overdose of class A drugs is a cruel end.
Jack Barclay is a dynamic protagonist facing dangerous adversities. How to you balance his vulnerability and strengths to make him a relatable and captivating character for readers throughout the series?
Jack has built up a good reputation for getting results and takes on cold cases as well as current ones. He finds people even if they don’t want to be found! He is not brutal in any way but knows how to look after himself if confronted and has attitude when required. His wish to see justice done is a big motivator for him. He understands the dangers he faces and the vicious nature of the criminals he often has to chase but he accepts this and usually feels confident in outwitting them to achieve his objective. Jack is a cool guy and this comes across in his dealings with people, friend or foe.
I asked a great friend and early mentor, Author Judy Bryan, how she saw Jack and her thoughts were exactly as I’d hoped.
“He is definitely tall, broad and attractive to ladies. One of life’s good guys but has an edge he’s not afraid to use. He’s often quiet and thoughtful when trying to crack a case and he does sometimes get things wrong but we like this. He obviously has a past which makes him attractively vulnerable and the fact that women leave him because of his job makes us feel empathy for him. He is fearless and brave.”
That is Jack Barclay summed up as I would wish him to be.
His strengths out way his vulnerabilities and those who cross his path seldom forget him.