The Interview: Bookbag Talks To K J Lawrence

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To K J Lawrence

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Summary: Sue was delighted when she read The Cossack as it restored her faith in the thriller genre. When the author, K J Lawrence, popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us, Sue had quite a few questions ready!
Date: #
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Sue was delighted when she read The Cossack as it restored her faith in the thriller genre. When the author, K J Lawrence, popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us, Sue had quite a few questions ready!

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

K J Lawrence: Every single man and woman on the planet. Too ambitious? OK, every second man and woman on the planet.

  • BB: OK, we'll go with that! What inspired you to write The Cossack? What was your starting point? Which authors had an influence on your work?

KJL: I knew I wanted to write a thriller involving a photographer as I've been taking photographs for many years, both as an amateur and semi-professional. The light bulb moment came however when the Euromaidan protests kicked off. Regrettably I can say no more, as to do would give away a big element of the plot. Sorry!

It may seem an odd mix, but Annie Proulx and Stieg Larsson were the main authors in my head when I was writing The Cossack. Annie Proulx, for her magical ability to describe people, place and situation, and Larsson, for his plotting, drama and pace. Whether I've come anywhere close to achieving a blend of those authors' talents is for others to judge, but my aspiration was to write a thriller that would be a pleasure to read for the language used to tell the story as much as for the excitement and drama of the plot itself.

  • BB: I think you've achieved that, KJ. I thought that you brought out the situation in Ukraine brilliantly - it felt like a political football to be kicked around by the superpowers as they wished - and I suspected that you were personally invested in the fate of the country. Do you agree?

KJL: Well that's very kind of you, thank you! You suspected correctly, my partner is from Ukraine and has family there, so we kept an extremely close eye on events as they unfolded.

  • BB: I liked your central protagonist, Daniel Brooking. Will we meet him again?

KJL: We may indeed. I have the wisp of an idea for the next book, and though he's not part of it as yet, it's such early days that you never know. If the next book doesn't involve Daniel, then I still have in mind for him to make a return somewhere down the line.

  • BB: When my brain allowed me a few moments away from the plot I marveled at the amount of research you must have done to be able to bring so many locations and situations off the page in so few words. Was it arduous? Time consuming? Did you visit the countries we visited in the book?

KJL: Ah now, you're talking to an ex-lawyer and scientist. Research is in my DNA. So though yes, a lot of research was necessary for The Cossack, I loved that part just as much as I relish the challenge of crafting a sentence or solving a problem with the plot.

Over the years I have been lucky enough to travel to all the countries mentioned in the book, though I wasn't able to visit each precise location prior to writing. In any event, the vast majority of the internal settings existed only in my head.

  • BB: You've a wide range of skills in your background. Did they help you when it came to writing the book?

KJL: Absolutely. My knowledge of photography was clearly relevant to Daniel's character. I also found that many lawyering skills were directly transferable to the novel writing process and all the problems one encounters along the way. Funnily enough, though I was actually a publisher many moons ago, academic publishing is a very different world, so that was one skill set I didn't really draw upon.

  • BB: How did you learn to write so brilliantly? And what nudged you towards the thriller genre?

KJL: Gosh, that's a really big compliment, and as I'm English, I'm now looking down at my feet and muttering in an embarrassed fashion. I've not had formal training in terms of an MA in Creative Writing, but I suspect that twenty years of crafting pleadings, opinions and arguments for court hearings has had more than a little influence on my writing style. I also believe you learn an enormous amount simply by reading other writers and absorbing those elements of their work that you most admire.

As to why a thriller, I love a high quality thriller, be it Robert Harris, John le Carré, Charles Cumming or Patricia Highsmith, to name but a few. I simply wanted to write the sort of book that I myself would want to read, in the hope that others might want to read it too.

  • BB: When you read for pleasure, what do you read? What would be your desert island book?

KJL: I try to read a variety of styles and genres, not only for pleasure, but also because I believe it improves my own writing to see how other authors approach telling a story. I'm not sitting in front of my bookshelves right now, but from recollection you'll find the likes of the aforementioned Annie Proulx and a whole bunch of thriller writers, alongside Michael Chabon, Elmore Leonard, Donna Tartt, Paulo Coelho, PD James, Val MacDermid, Joanne Harris and, as they say, many, many more.

My actual desert island book choice would be 'Everything Ray Mears knows about surviving on a desert island and is prepared to share.' In fact, can I just take Ray Mears? While Ray is being a jolly good fellow and getting on with building something useful, like a canoe, having first made me a hammock from palm fronds and some twine he's spun from tree bark, I would probably be reading Donna Tartt's, The Secret History. It's decades since I read it, and I now have only a hazy recollection of the story. But when I think about the book, I recall the story had the aura of magic about it. Though there's always a danger of re-visiting a book you hold precious in your head, I doubt I'd be disappointed. More power to her elbow I say.

  • BB: We'll have Mr Mears packed up and ready for you! You've got one wish. What's it to be?

KJL: Leaving aside all the worthy and/or practical things I'm supposed to say, it's that Aaron Sorkin (pause for genuflection) is still writing The West Wing and it's as utterly brilliant as it always was. Oh, and that I have various superpowers, including 'The Mary Poppins Superpower', which involves my suitcase being able to decide what needs to go in it and then pack itself whenever I'm going away. OK, that's two. Hmmm.

  • BB: We'll let you get away with that just this once. What's next for K J Lawrence?

KJL: I expect to be pretty busy in the coming months with promotion and publicity for The Cossack. After that it will be time to see whether that wisp of an idea I mentioned might be developed into the premise for the next book. I'm already looking forward to immersing myself in that particular problem!

  • BB: And we're looking forward to the results. Thanks for taking the time to chat to us, KJ!

You can read more about K J Lawrence here.

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