This October sees the publication of the second Joe Clayton thriller: Blood Falls. It’s a crime! invited Tom Bale to write a guest blog to satisfy the curiosity of where such a character and set of circumstances came from. Here, Tom provides just that answer and also enlightens us on the genesis of the creation. A review of the novel will follow tomorrow. Now, it’s over to Tom Bale:
‘Where do you get your ideas?’ is a question that fascinates readers as much as it sometimes frustrates writers, particularly those who are hearing it for the umpteenth time. In my case I gave a brief answer on my website Q&A, which basically says that ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere.
Since that isn’t a very satisfactory response, I thought I’d look at the question in a bit more detail. When discussing the inspiration for a novel, it’s common to focus on the one central idea that forms the main storyline. But of course a novel is comprised of many ideas, with important decisions that have to be made about each character, each scene, each development in the story.
To take an example, Terror’s Reach was the novel that introduced Joe Clayton, a former undercover cop. The book was published in 2010, but the very first spark of an idea came three or four years before. Taking a bus to Eastbourne, I passed a layby with one of those mobile catering vans and was struck by what a lonely and rather reclusive job that could be, serving coffee and hot dogs to passing strangers. ‘A job that might suit someone on the run from the world?’ my helpful inner voice piped up…
Some months later I went to a friend’s wedding and met his brother, who was best man. He was a hearty, larger-than-life individual with a very close and loving family. I already knew he was a detective in the Met, but I hadn’t realised until then that he’d often worked in undercover roles over the years. Watching him celebrate with his wife and four teenage children, I tried to imagine how hard it must be to reconcile the two sides of his life: to kiss his family goodbye in the morning before taking on the guise of a drug dealer or an armed robber, spending his day with people who would kill him if they knew who he really was.
With that, I knew I had the makings of a lead character. Joe Clayton would also be a dedicated family man, until an undercover operation went so disastrously wrong that he was forced to live apart from his wife and daughters. Now I needed a story for him.
By this time I had finished writing Skin and Bones, much of which takes place in a small Sussex village. I’d enjoyed creating the tense, claustrophobic atmosphere necessary for the story to work, so I set myself the challenge of confining the next book to an even more enclosed setting and a shorter timescale.
‘A bit like a Die Hard movie?’ said that helpful inner voice. Exactly! I love the Die Hard movies, and thought it would be fun to write a novel with the same basic structure.
Then I happened to see a newspaper article about property values in the exclusive beachfront resort of Sandbanks, on the edge of Poole harbour. Some quick research revealed homes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Malibu or Beverly Hills. I decided to create a similar resort, locate it a few miles further east in the equally beautiful Chichester harbour, and stick Joe Clayton in amongst the super-rich residents as a bodyguard who gets caught up in an audacious robbery.
From those various strands, over a period of many months, the book that became Terror’s Reach was born. Even the title popped up during the location research – a happy accident – when I discovered that a nineteenth century sailing boat used in the Emsworth oyster trade had been restored and re-launched for tourist trips. Its name? The Terror.
Now Joe Clayton returns in Blood Falls, and already I have several ideas bubbling away for future adventures, as we follow him on a quest to be reunited with his loved ones…
Many thanks to Tom Bale (David Harrison) for this interesting article. If you can’t wait for the review tomorrow, you can find the novels here on Amazon, including this month’s published novel, Blood Falls.