Alex Pearl in conversation with Jonathan Peace

Author Alex Pearl took time out to conduct the fantastic interview below with our recent signing, debut author Jonathan Peace. 

It gives me great pleasure to welcome Jonathan Peace onto the website today. Jonathan’s debut novel Dirty Little Secret will be released in July by Crime Publishing Network.

Alex: Tell me a bit about yourself, Jonathan. 

Jonathan: I’m a Yorkshire lad having being born and raised in Ossett by a dad who was a single parent, juggling the raising of a kid with his job as a cinema projectionist in a two screen fleapit of a cinema in Dewsbury.
When he succumbed to cancer in the mid 80’s when I was 12, my aunt and uncle took me in. They became my new parents, and their children, my new brother and sister.
With all that was going on I spent a lot of time on my own by choice, entertaining myself by writing stories or creating tabletop adventures with games like Advanced Heroquest or Dungeons and Dragons, games that had a very strong narrative tone.
I was also a huge film fan and over the years amassed a VHS collection of close to three thousand films, TV shows and stand up comedians like Eddie Murphy or the late, great Robin Williams. From that love of film I started writing screenplays and thought I would be the next Joe Eszterhas or Shane Black.

Over the years as I was growing up I wrote dozens of scripts, short stories and very bad novels, none of which will ever see the light of day.
It was in 2000 when I was going through a particularly bad divorce that I started writing my first serious attempt at a novel.
Alex: How would you describe your writing, and are there particular themes that you like to explore? 

Jonathan: I explore some pretty dark subject matter in Dirty Little Secret, and in all my planned books the themes will examine some uncomfortable truths about topics people generally don’t talk openly about.
Mental health issues, natures versus nurture, family disfunctions, the overreach of religion and the corruption of those in positions of power; these are all subjects that will have strong implications on my books and the characters within.

Alex: Are you a writer that plans a detailed synopsis or do you set out with a vague idea and let the story unfold as you write? 

Jonathan: I never used to plan the book other than a few scribbled notes, if that. I would get an idea, let it settle in my mind for some time, and then when I felt it was time, would sit down and start to write.
Stephen King once said that a notebook is the best way to immortalise bad ideas. Joe Eszterhas never plotted his screenplays, he just got on and wrote them.
For over twenty years I followed their advice – advice that works for THEM – and always got two thirds of the way into projects and then lost momentum. The story and characters became stale and uninspired, and I lost all motivation to finish them.
And then I jotted a few notes down about a potential new novel, a crime book that had some weird supernatural undertones to it. These became bullet-points, maybe one or two sentences about each, which then became the structure of the story. Nothing more than: “this happens, then this. And now this happens…”
Pretty soon I had a framework of the story with a clear beginning, middle and end and I got to writing.
After a few months, the novel that is Dirty Little Secret was finished. 90K words finished. It had changed during the writing, losing a lot of the supernatural stuff, but keeping the crime and the characters.
Some people go into great detail plotting out the entire book, and that works for them, but to me that kills all the creativity. I’m the first person I’m telling this story to and I want to be as surprised as to what happens as the readers.
I’m currently writing the outline for what will be the fourth WDC Louise Miller book and my sixth novel. At the moment all I have is three paragraphs of what happens, but over the course of the next few months I’ll dip into it and flesh it out into short sentences about each chapter. The outline will then be ready for when I plan to start writing the book, which is in April 2022.
That’s as far as I take my outlining which is tied into the research which I’ll talk about later. I’ll let the true story emerge in the writing and the editing/rewriting process.

Alex: Tell us about your latest novel. 

Jonathan: Dirty Little Secret is my debut novel, published by Crime Publishing Network and released in July 2021. It is the first in the WDC Louise Miller books, and set in a fictionalised version of my hometown of Ossett, West Yorkshire in 1987. A crime suspense novel, it starts with the body of a young girl being found dumped in a phone box. Returning to her hometown after being away for six years as a new police officer in Manchester, Louise’s first case as a detective is finding the killer of young Joanna Greene while also battling the sexism and misogyny of the time.
As the investigation continues Louise and her colleague WPC Elizabeth Hines must also handle a case of family abuse but when another girl goes missing they fear they may be dealing with a potential serial killer.
Anyone wanting a sneak peek can do so by subscribing to my newsletter and downloading the opening chapters. I’ll also be releasing a prequel short story in the run up to pre-order day for Dirty Little Secret.

Alex: What was the first book you read? 

Jonathan: The first book I read myself as a kid I think was The Hobbit. I was a big fantasy fan, not so much these days although I still have my Terry Pratchett Discworld collection and try to read The Lord of The Rings every couple of years. The first book I remember reading and then thinking I want to write a book was Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot.

Alex: How much research do you do and what does it usually entail? 

Jonathan: As I mentioned earlier, my outline’s are quite brief, nothing more than bullet points of what happens.
I give myself a month to research and outline a book, usually while I am writing the first draft of another novel. I’ll make some notes as I jot the story down, little scratching like: “exactly how long is the Mad Mile?” or “how does someone buy a hotel?”
When I’m actually writing there will be elements that spring up that I have no idea if I’m being accurate or not, such as the name of a car, or song that was playing. I’ll put these in bold in the manuscript to remind me to check on these during the rewrite and editing process. It’s a case of write it down, move on and check it later.
In a documentary about his own writing process, I was pleased to see that Ian Rankin, creator of the hugely successful Rebus series, does the exact same thing.

Alex: Do you ever base your characters on people you have encountered in real life? 

Jonathan: Several characters have names that are eerily similar to people I’ve known. I vaguely remember going to school with someone called Louise Miller but she is not based on her in any way. DI Manby’s last name is that of my best friend from school, Craig Manby, who I’ve not heard or seen in over twenty years.
There are a couple of characters in upcoming books who are based on people I’ve known or known of, and who will meet especially gruesome endings; such is the beauty of being an author, but in the most part these are all fictional people.
There’s a great quote I’ve stuck on my wall: Dedicated to all those wondering if I am writing about them. I am.

Alex: Which was the last book you read that blew you away?

Jonathan: Totally different to everything we’d talked about, but the first novel in The Expanse series, Leviathan Wakes by S. A. Corey, was an eye opener for me. I am not normally a sci-fi fan – I’ve not read anything outside the Star Wars novels, but I enjoyed the Expanse show and a previous work colleague called Gareth was a huge fan of the books and on a long journey to Essen told me all about them. I’ve got the entire series waiting on my shelves to be read and have only read the first book so far, but I plan on getting to them shortly.

Alex: How do you market your books? 

Jonathan: I am still wrapping my head around this. I’m lucky in that I have a traditional publishing deal with Crime Publishing Network. Cat and Adam have been great in organising blog tours, potential bookstore signings for when this pandemic is truly over and online interviews but I know I’ve a lot of heavy lifting to do myself. These days it can seem like you’re screaming into the social media void; it seems everyone has something they are pushing be it a book, service or whatever. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of screaming louder than everyone else, constantly pushing people to go buy your book, or click this link to subscribe. I know I’ve fallen into that trap as I get my head around letting people know I’ve a book coming out.
Luckily, Cat and the CPN team are helping me steer these waters.
I used to be a real Twitter-addict ten or so years ago, following everyone and their dog, tweeting every single aspect of my day. Stupid stuff. I don’t know if it’s because I’m nearing my 50th birthday, but those days are long past. I think social media can be a great thing, but it can also turn on you in an instant if you’re not careful.
And that will be the topic for another series of books I have planned – but that’s a story for another day.

Alex: What are your interests aside from writing? And what do you do to unwind? 

Jonathan: Reading through the pandemic has been a great stress relief and my love of reading has certainly grown.
I’m well into the Rebus series as I’ve mentioned, but I’ve also started looking at other crime writers such as Peter James, Martina Cole and Lin Anderson. I’ve also got Roz Watkins DI Meg Dalton books patiently waiting – somehow they keep getting pushed back because I’m finding Rebus to be extremely moorish.
I used to be heavily involved with tabletop gaming and having worked in the industry most of my life, and so I do enjoy painting tabletop miniatures.
My wife is a big D&D fan and we occasionally play. My current project is a nostalgic one: recreating an old boardgame called Advanced Heroquest from the late 80s. Anyone following either my social media or website will see the occasional post about it.
Other than that, I could watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe films every day back to back for the rest of my life no problem, as well as FailArmy videos on YouTube.

Alex: Which authors do you particularly admire and why?

Jonathan: I’m a huge Stephen King fan. I’ve read all his books and consider On Writing to be the must have book for anyone wanting to write fiction. Out of everyone I have ever read, I would say his writing is the biggest influence, with the story being all about character as opposed to plot.
I’m currently reading through the entire Ian Rankin Rebus series for the first time and have just started book 8, Black & Blue. The way Rankin writes place is mesmerising and something I hope to capture in my own writing. I’ve also got all of Peter James’ Roy Grace books to go through.

Alex: Thank you so much for sharing your writing journey with us Jonathan. And best of luck with the book. Dirty Little Secret is published by Crime Publishing Network and can be preordered in June, with the book released in July 2021.

Jonathan: Thanks Alex.

You can find out more about Alex Pearl by clicking here to visit his website.

To find out more about Jonathan Peace, click here – you will also get access to a FREE short story – One Night in Manchester.  

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