Today is the last day of the blog tour for Roger Bray’s The Picture and I get to end the tour with an interview! I also participated in the cover reveal earlier.
A warehouse in Japan used as an emergency shelter in the aftermath of the 2011 Tsunami. A distraught, young Japanese woman in dishevelled clothes sits on a box, holding her infant daughter. Ben, a US rescue volunteer, kneels in front of her offering comfort. They hug, the baby between them. The moment turns into an hour as the woman sobs into his shoulder; mourning the loss of her husband, her home, the life she knew. A picture is taken, capturing the moment. It becomes a symbol; of help freely given and of the hope of the survivors. The faces in the picture cannot be recognised, and that is how Ben likes it. No celebrity, thanks not required.
But others believe that being identified as the person in the picture is their path to fame and fortune. Ben stands, unknowingly, in their way, but nothing a contract killing cannot fix.
JRR (Jessica’s Reading Room): Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born just north of London but was raised in Blackburn in Lancashire, which I consider my home town. I went to a grammar school there and despite the best efforts of the teachers I was a very mediocre student. School was something I endured rather than embraced and as soon as I could I left and joined the Navy.
It took quite a bit of travel and a couple of career changes before I found myself medically discharged from the police force after being seriously injured at work. Contrary to my previous scholastic efforts I decided to go to university, which I did and thoroughly enjoyed, realising my academic direction 30 years after my peers. It also relit my love of writing which I had had at school but never followed except for a few short stories and magazine articles. I am married to the love of my life for 32 years. We have three children that don’t live at home and an overly cute but needy cat which does.
JRR: I have two cats and one is co-dependent too! He’s about 20 pounds and his sister is 10 pounds. Did you always want to become an author?
I always aspired to write but I cannot say that I always wanted to become an author. I had many ideas which seem to run out of steam during the initial conceptual process. Maybe I was being too critical but I often felt that there were major plot holes which I couldn’t resolve in a satisfactory way. Age I think has mellowed me and given me the experience to understand the realities of plots and definitely the fact that sometimes things I had considered to be ‘far-fetched’ were actually perfectly plausible. Possibly cynicism in an imperfect world has taught me that most things are possible. Except possibly Blackburn Rovers winning the FA cup again in my lifetime.
JRR: Who was the most influential author you read when you were growing up? Did his/her writings influence you to want to become an author?
I was a voracious reader from as early as I can remember. The Famous Five and Secret Seven, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were staples of my pre-teens. I think the first author that influenced me, there have been many others, was Gerald Durrell who gave me a love of inquiry and travel. Some scenes in his books stay with me to this day and still give me a chuckle.
JRR: Who is your favorite author as an adult? Who inspires you?
Robert Harris for a number of reasons. He is not locked into any particular genre so each book he writes is a new take on him as an author, his books are well researched which lends an authenticity to them and, he writes about things that I am interested in. Dreyfus and Enigma to name two.
JRR: What inspires you to write? Where did you get the idea for The Picture?
I was standing on my back veranda, looking out over the courtyard having breakfast, which then consisted of a cup of coffee and a cigarette. It was daylight but overcast and grey. I was thinking of nothing in particular that I recall when there was a crack in the clouds and a beam of sunlight broke through. I didn’t have any sort of epiphanous moment where the whole idea clicked into place, more of a question as to how to use such an event, what it could portray and anyone would be remotely interested in it. I filled in the gaps for the scene which became the title of the book within a few days, and built the plot around it.
JRR: Well, you wrote it and people do want to read it! I love the idea of a simple picture becoming a symbol, which many have. There are many iconic pictures out there that people think of.
Where you there for the 2011 Tsunami? Did you base your protagonist Ben off anyone you know?
No I wasn’t, but I have been involved in a lot of rescue and recovery work after natural disasters.
Ben? Like any character he is a composite, he is definitely not me but my wife can see me in a lot of what he does and says, whereas I had other people in mind for him. I do find it easier to write a character if I have a person in mind, maybe not for the whole character but for some basic concepts – how they might look, walk, talk etc. My doppelgänger for Ben was Russell Crowe who also shares his birthday with my wife, the fact of which she hasn’t stopped banging on about since I told her I used him for Ben.
JRR: I will picture Russell Crowe now once I can get to it! Even better than he shares his birthday with your wife! Now, what does your writing process consist of? Do you research, handwrite vs typing, music or no music?
Research – I do a lot of research, most of which never makes it into the book and my editor tends to cut out a lot of the woffle taking the rest out as well. But it is never wasted as much to realise what cannot be done as what can. Often research revolves around a single word, a medical procedure or single concept. I try to be accurate without spending pages trying to fit my irrelevant research in regardless, just because of the time I spent on it. When reading there is nothing worse than a blatantly wrong fact. It is like a mental speed hump, slowing the flow of the book.
Music – No. I don’t find Led Zeppelin, Floyd or Lynyrd Skynyrd conducive to writing, I get too lost in the music and smack down on the keyboard too hard.
I do all my work on a computer. I have embraced technology since I first bought a ZX81, I had to type a lot as a police officer and find the machines hate me. I have dual screens so I have my manuscript on the left and research / notes / maps on the right. When my wife’s cat isn’t trying to sit on the keyboard I find I can power along quite nicely like that.
My writing process is pretty much sit down and write, I write until I run out of ideas, then keep writing some more. I do find that I am better suited to getting a few days in at a time rather than trying to snatch an hour here or there. By doing that I feel more immersed in the story and better able to see where I am going with it.
JRR: If you could have dinner with three people(living or dead) who would they be and why?
Freddie Mercury – The guy was a genius, talented and brilliant. Taken too soon I think he had a lot more to give.
Max Webber – My academic area is in politics and international relations and although Webber was predominantly a sociologist his influence in politics cannot be understated. He was instrumental in the drafting of the Weimar Constitution in post world war 1 Germany and had he not died of Spanish Flu in 1920 his influence could have meant a completely different, better world to what we see today.
Maggie Smith – A beautifully brilliant, talented actress. She had me in hysterics in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet and even in dramatic roles her sense of humour still manages to show itself.
JRR: Great group! Which book have you always meant to get around to reading, but still not read?
The Silmarillion which I bought, first edition, in 1977. I have tried a few times to read it but just cannot get passed page 50 or so. I’ve tried and failed so many times that it has almost become a badge of honour that I haven’t read the damn thing.
JRR: What’s the best advice you have ever received?
With regard to writing – be professional. Have your work professionally edited, have a professionally developed cover. I bumbled along for a time before I realised the wisdom of that advice. I have a great editor in Emma Mitchell, she is forthright and honest and I take notice of what she advises. At the end of the day I want my readers to enjoy my writing and I would be underselling myself and them if I wasn’t professional.
JRR: Awww, I adore Emma! I worked with her in blog tours when she offered them and she is great to work with! If you are a writer looking for an editor her site is here. Is there anything else you would like to share?
I would like to thank you for inviting me along to your blog.
Above you asked the best advice I had received. To add to that I would add some advice of my own, getting a good editor helps you become a better author, the potholes, most of which I unerringly found I can now avoid while I am working on my third novel.
JRR: Thank you so much for your time with this interview Roger! I look forward to reading The Picture (hopefully soon!).
About the Author:
I have always loved writing; putting words onto a page and bringing characters to life. I can almost feel myself becoming immersed into their lives, living with their fears and triumphs. Thus, my writing process becomes an endless series of questions. What would she or he do, how would they react, is this in keeping with their character? Strange as it sounds, I don’t like leaving characters in cliffhanging situations without giving them an ending, whichever way it develops.
My life to date is what compels me to seek a just outcome, the good will overcome and the bad will be punished. More though, I tend to see my characters as everyday people in extraordinary circumstances, but in which we may all find our selves if the planets align wrongly or for whatever reason you might consider.
Of course, most novels are autobiographical in some way. You must draw on your own experiences of life and from events you have experienced to get the inspiration. My life has been an endless adventure. Serving in the Navy, fighting in wars, serving as a Police officer and the experiences each one of those have brought have all drawn me to this point, but it was a downside to my police service that was the catalyst for my writing.
Medically retired after being seriously injured while protecting a woman in a domestic violence situation I then experienced the other side of life. Depression and rejection. Giving truth to the oft said saying that when one door closes another opens I pulled myself up and enrolled in college gaining bachelor and master degrees, for my own development rather than any professional need. The process of learning, of getting words down onto the page again relit my passion for writing in a way that I hadn’t felt since high school.
So here we are, two books published and another on track.
Where it will take me I have no idea but I am going to enjoy getting there and if my writing can bring some small pleasure into people’s lives along the way, then I consider that I will have succeeded in life.