Today I’m delighted to welcome author P D Viner – author of the recently published Summer of Ghosts – to the CTG blog.
So, to the questions …
Your latest book – Summer of Ghosts – came out a few weeks ago. Can you tell us a bit about it?
August was an incredibly busy month as on August 1st my second novella, The Ugly Man was released as a free download and on August 14th the paperback of my first novel, The Last winter of Dani Lancing, came out as well as the hardback of Summer of Ghosts.
So, I want to start by telling you that The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is the story of three people who have been traumatised by violence and left damaged and untethered from life as something happened to the girl they loved. In 1989 Dani Lancing went missing and for 22 years her parents, and the man who loves her, are frozen in their pain and loss. Her mother, Patty, was a crime journalist and she gave up her work to devote all her time to investigating the crime. Jim Lancing, Dani’s father, is left alone except for the spirit (if that is what it is) of his daughter who lives with him – and Dani’s boyfriend, Tom Bevans becomes a policeman as he needs to make up for the fact that he could not protect her. Tom Bevans, who rises to the rank of Detective Superintendent, but who is known to all his colleagues as The Sad Man due to the incredible loss he bears with him, heads up a serious crimes unit that deals with sexually motivated murders of young women. These three characters, the trinity of the pained, are all haunted by what happened to Dani in some way, they are all paralysed by their grief for 22 years. Then, out of the blue, a clue is revealed – something that could reveal what happened to her all those years ago. But it leads all three of them back down into the hell of Dani’s death… they will discover the truth of her death but it is at a great cost.
Summer of Ghosts (Hardback out Aug 14 2014) continues the story six months after the first novel. Jim and Patty are dealing with the truth of Dani’s final days (spoilers) but Tom has had a kind of breakdown. For six months he has wallowed in his self-pity and sense of loss – but he has to get back to work as the beautiful skin murderer has returned. Four years before, Tom swore to three mothers he would solve the murders of their daughters… but he failed. Now there may be a fourth victim – the daughter of the man who helped Tom try to find Dani all those years ago. A man called Franco, who also heads London’s biggest drugs gang – a man who is ruthless and cruel, a killer. Together he and Tom must track down the most dangerous man in Europe. Oh and Tom needs the best investigator he knows to help him: Patty Lancing.
Together they follow a train of events that take them from Greenwich to death inside a royal palace in Brighton, to the heart of darkness inside a war in Africa and finally to a showdown with a corrupt policeman and a man who has killed hundreds if not thousands. And, heartbreakingly, there is more about the death of Dani Lancing for her parents to uncover. For them the nightmare will not end.
So, Summer of Ghosts carries the story begun in The Last Winter of Dani Lancing, on a step further but it can be read as a stand-alone thriller without the sense that you are missing something. The plot twists and it is a real page turner, but the intention is also to drag you into the emotional lives of Tom, Patty and Jim. Reviewer and crime writer Stav Sherez said: Summer of Ghosts is strong, assured and with a plot that will poke your heart. I always love fiction that draws you into the lives of the characters – and that is always my intention.
And does Summer of Ghosts end the story for Tom Bevans and Patty and Jim lancing?
No, I have always planned the mystery of Dani Lancing to emerge over three books and there are also four novellas that deepen the understanding of the characters. Two of those novellas are already available as FREE downloads from all good ebook stockists. They are The Sad Man, which is a 110 page book that details the case in 1999 that made Tom Bevans’ career and allowed him to set-up operation Ares – his serious crimes unit that investigates sexually motivated, multiple murders. The second is The Ugly Man (120 pages) and is set in the heatwave of 1976 and has Patty dispatched by her newspaper to a sleepy Derbyshire village to investigate a brutal murder – and it leads to her uncovering thirty years of secrets and lies.
Next year the cycle of stories will be concluded by a third novel and two more novellas. It will not be the end of the line for Patty or Tom but will conclude this story. I have always loved linked books and while each one can be read alone, if you do read them as a set, then the tension does build and build. I hope when they are all done that my publisher will release a box set or a single volume collection with the novellas fitted in between the novels as I intend them to be read… that will be very exciting.
Summer of Ghosts examines some strong themes including loss and grief. What was it that sparked the inception of the story – the characters or the plot (or something else)?
When I began writing The Last Winter of Dani Lancing (then titled Three Drops of Blood), I had not thought about going beyond that story. TLWODL is dark and full of rage and pain – all the resentment I felt about my business being destroyed (I had a small audiobook company with my sister and we produced audio books of Shakespeare and the classics for GCSE and A level students) in the financial meltdown and the fear I had surrounding being the father to a two-year old when I was unemployed and in my forties… well, all of that was channeled into the book. Grief and just what we will do for love and to revenge ourselves on those who hurt our family – that was the touchstone that set the tone for the first book. As I wrote that story there was a tipping point, and I became so engrossed in the character’s lives that I began to imagine further – where they could go after the big reveal in Durham cathedral – the point where they finally know the truth of Dani’s disappearance and what happened to her. Then I thought: okay, what would happen to Jim and Patty after the truth was finally revealed. Could they stay together now? How did you cope with knowing the truth after twenty-two years of being in the darkness? How would they cope… that was the question, and the same was true for Tom; for him the finale of TLWODL is like a bomb exploding. I had to know more!
And that is one of the things that I often find series of books (and especially crime) gets wrong. The character just resets for the next book and is fine again… and I didn’t want that. I wanted the weight of the truth to sit heavily on my characters (especially as book three is going to beat them down to the essentials of their humanity) because that is life, human beings dwell in bad news, they get depressed and resentful and petty and angry and let stuff fester for months and years.
Summer of Ghosts keeps the sense of loss from the first books, though it becomes skewed as the world view shifts. Firstly we have three girls who have been murdered. We meet them in TLWODL as a background case – in fact we see Tom visiting the murder scene of the third victim – but in this book Tom is haunted by the fact that he failed these girls. We also have a major new character: Franco. Well I say new – actually we did meet him in the first book but he was a minor (though interesting) character then. Now he is the head of a large drugs ring and he wants out. He is a man who has killed many, created destruction everywhere he has gone… but… can he have a good heart? Could he, in some way, have a sense of morality, even if it is skewed and hard for us to see? That was what fascinated me about his life and the world he operated in – a world where violence is everywhere and life is cheap. It is the opposite of the world of the first book where one life is everything and one act of violence has destroyed the lives of Dani, Tom, Patty and Jim.
As a highly successful audio and film-maker, what was it that attracted you about writing fiction?
Success? Ha. As a film-maker I had some early success but after three years trying to make two projects I had written, I gave up and ran away to join the circus. The world of film is so tough and I just folded. I wrote two novels then and they lie under my bed like two deformed children. I feed them raw meat once in a while – but nobody was interested in them. Setting up my audio business was a way of being creative and making a living and working with actors and musicians with achievable budgets. I could direct hamlet with 21 actors and afford to make it and then sell it. They also won awards and got great reviews… but the business relied on library sales and after the financial crisis all libraries slashed their budgets and I was out of a job. I turned back to fiction writing as a way to salve my soul. Also I had a two year old and she needed me to pick her up from pre-school and have her two days a week (my remarkable wife has a real job) and so writing fitted the lifestyle I had. It was crazy to think that this time could get published – and so I didn’t think like that, I just wrote for me and I loved the puzzle of solving this mystery in my head. As it became more complex I had to get cleverer – writing crime is quite addictive you know. So that was that – I fell into an old love due to circumstance and (fingers crossed) this time it worked… as long as I keep killing.
Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?
It is somewhere between the two. Of course when I began TLWODL it was all fragmented as I learned how to craft a story over 100,000 words. With Summer of Ghosts, I had an idea of where I was going and I knew the ending – but it was the research process that filled out the bare bones. I spent a few days with the Sussex police – including a night out in a first response unit and with the 999 team – and that propelled areas of the story forward. The truth about being a professional writer as opposed to a part-time hopeful, is that you have deadlines to meet. I had less than 6 months to write Summer of Ghosts and so you have to be better prepared and plan more. That being said, every time I sat down to write the story would take me be surprise in so many ways. With the third book (in my head I am calling it The Fall of Hope) I have spent a day in a Victorian prison and spoken to a charity for victims. I know the broad outline of the book and have two notebooks full of ideas, but over the next 4 months I will write the first draft and it will take on life of its own.
What advice would you give to new writers aspiring to publication?
Write. I did a two-year creative writing course that was excellent and it didn’t teach me to write but it challenged me to flex my writing muscle and try different styles and think about who I was and what I wanted to say. During the course I began the book and at the end of the course I had 67,000 words and I had shared almost all of it with ten people who had helped me grow my characters. Having people you trust to take the journey with you is great – but we all have different circumstances. If you want to get published you have to write a book. Judge your own efforts with a critical eye and don’t be afraid to throw out large swathes. Write and re-write and discover what makes you tick as a writer. Don’t be afraid.
And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?
Well there are only 4 months left and mostly I will use that to write the first draft of my third novel. As I said earlier the Dani Lancing mystery is 3 novels and 4 novellas, so I also have a novella to edit and a novella to write.
The other creative project, pinging about in my head, is a TV show I have written an extended outline for. This year I sold TV rights for TLWODL to Warner TV. It will almost certainly come to nothing but has been exciting (I do like a conference call with Hollywood) – but during the process I was thinking a lot about crime TV and was approached by a UK production team who also wanted to option Dani. I turned them down, but pitched them a new idea, written specifically for TV. They liked it, so I have written the 5 episode break-down and will make that into a script (in my spare time). It will probably never get made (I find it much easier to be pessimistic about TV and movies) – but I have really enjoyed writing it and I think it is bloody good. Anyway I shouldn’t get bored over the next six months.
A huge thank you to P D Viner for popping over to see us at the CTG blog and letting us grill him. It sounds like he’s going to be busy for good while yet!
To find out more about P D Viner and his books, hop on over to his website at: http://pdviner.com/