TToday we have a special treat for you: an interview with Neil Lancaster, author of Going Dark, his debut novel which hits the shelves in just over a week’s time, on 17 April 2019.
Neil is a fantastic guy who has led a hugely interesting life, with many of his experiences influencing Going Dark, a gripping crime thriller which has been described as:
“A tense, edgy debut that captures the mind and captivates the reader.”
– Ian Patrick, author of the Sam Batford series.
“A great read. Lancaster clearly knows his stuff.”
– Stephen Leather, Sunday Times bestselling author of the Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd series
“A genuine gripping page-turner from a new author with real insider knowledge… the pace and tension are relentless.”
– Alex Walters, author of the DI Alec McKay series.
“A gripping page turner that drags you in and won’t let you out until you finish it”
– Paul Harrison, author of Mind Games, Dancing With The Devil and Chasing Monsters
“If you enjoyed my Manhunt look out for this. A novel written by a bloke who actually worked on my investigation.”
– Colin Sutton, author of Manhunt – How I Brought Serial Killer Levi Bellfield To Justice.
You can read more about Going Dark at the end of this post, as well as find out how you can read an exclusive extract of the novel for free. But first, here’s the interview with Neil Lancaster:
BC: Hi Neil, welcome to the Burning Chair hot seat! Before you were a writer you were a covert specialist with the Met Police – which I guess is “undercover cop” for us laymen? Tell us about your background and how you went from chasing criminals to writing about them.
NL: “Undercover” is a very specific term that refers to a very particular tactic, so I’m careful about the use of it. It is just one method that can be employed against very serious criminals. My experience in covert policing was very often driven by organising and undertaking covert surveillance. That is, essentially gaining evidence or intelligence against bad-guys without their knowledge. That can be a number of different tactics including surveillance both conventional and technical.
I also did all other types of policing from uniform patrolling through to being a DS in an organised crime team investigating corrupt members of the legal profession or other public officials, particularly in the field of immigration.
When I left the police in 2015 and moved to Scotland, I found myself with plenty of time on my hands. I have been a voracious reader all my life and had always thought there was a book in me. I Ignored the advice of Christopher Hitchens who once said, “Everyone thinks they have a book in them, but in most cases that is where it should stay,” and I sat down and had a go.
I had no firm ideas other than I wanted my protagonist to be ex-military and to be a surveillance expert. I also liked the idea of him being a refugee from a war zone, there are so many good-news stories out there for asylum seekers that don’t seem to get written about. I wanted to tell a good news story rather than the negative ones we seem to hear about. The story just shaped itself as I wrote. I had no particular plan, I just let the events unfold. I have no idea what the story would be like if I had planned it.
BC: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
NL: I always harboured a desire to try one day but my life was always so busy with working and family that the moment never arose. It was only once I had stopped policing and moved to the countryside that the desire really took hold. I had never thought of myself as creative, I’m certainly not artistic, but once I started writing the words just seemed to flow.
BC: How have your experiences and training in the police force influenced your writing and stories?
NL: It made it easy to pick a genre to write. I have a lifetime of experiences and influences to draw upon. I also have lots of characters that I have met, both police officers and criminals, that help to shape interesting individuals. I started out with the intention of writing a police procedural but as the words flowed it ended up being an adventure thriller. That wasn’t planned, it just happened. I hope that it has meant that, when I write about policing, I am writing accurately and in a way that feels accurate. It’s impossible to be truly accurate as police work is 99% dull routine and paperwork and the reader would be falling asleep every five minutes.
BC: What’s your favourite crime thriller writer, and book?
NL: Hard question. It changes almost weekly. I have loved the Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz: they are absolutely compelling. I have also loved the Jack Reacher books, he is such an influential character who really draws you in.
If we are looking for who inspired me the most then it is a slightly unusual choice that I only recently realised was, perhaps my biggest influence. When I was quite young my Mum got me to read a book called “Running Blind” by Desmond Bagley. Bagley was one of the big thriller writers in the 1970s, along with Alistair Maclean and Hammond Innes.
I absolutely loved that book: it blew me away that a book could be more exciting than a TV show or a film. I read it over and over again aged about 12 until it fell to bits. I then forgot all about it until quite recently when I was being asked this very question about influences. Out of curiosity I downloaded it and re-read it. I was astounded as to how the structure, pace and action sequences were so similar to “Going Dark”. So it just goes to show that your perceived influences may not be as obvious as you think. I hadn’t read that book for about 40 years but its DNA can be seen clearly in the pages of “Going Dark”.
BC: What book made the biggest impression on you as a child / growing up?
NL: This may be an unexpected choice, but probably “My Family And Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell. I was, once again, forced by my Mum to read it when I was aged about 11. Durrell had a way with words that was just inspiring. His descriptions of pre-war Corfu were just beautiful and made me aware of how much could be transmitted with just words. It’s a book that just gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling: even now, decades later.
BC: As someone who’s been there and done that in terms of actual policing, what’s the one thing which irritates you the most about things which appear in crime fiction?
NL: I could list a million. The one that comes to mind first is that most Police protagonists in books or films are DI or above. I can tell you now that anyone over the rank of Sergeant will rarely leave the station, particularly if they are Detectives. Murder DI’s or DCI’s will often be managing up to 10 or more murders at any one time, certainly in London. They just don’t have the time to go interviewing witnesses or bashing suspects’ doors in.
BC: Flipping it round, which crime thriller book have you read which you’ve found to be spot-on in terms of matching fiction with reality?
NL: Probably one of the Police Procedurals I have found the most enjoyable in terms of accuracy are Tony Parsons’ “Max Wolfe” crime novels. They are excellent, well-paced and as true-to-life as is doable if the book is to stay compelling. For me, accuracy is more about a feeling than the reality. If the characters are well-drawn and believable then I can overlook any mistakes.
BC: Tom Novak, the main character in Going Dark, is a very interesting character – not just your typical hero but with some fundamental (but useful!) character flaws. Where did the inspiration for him come from?
NL: As I have already mentioned, Tom is a refugee from a war-zone which has left him with some emotional scars. I really wanted to explore whether a person who has very little empathy could still be a good person. It came down to the fact that whilst Tom has these flaws, he is still a good person who manages to stay on the level by living to a learned set of values.
BC: What was the hardest part of Going Dark to write?
NL: Well there was a sex-scene but I hated writing it so much that I cut it out. I was wincing as I wrote and when my wife’s elderly aunt read it I just wanted to crawl into a dustbin. I’ve now accepted that I can’t write that kind of thing. But, hey, who knows? Maybe I could have another go.
BC: As your first novel, how did you find the creative process? How did you approach planning and writing Going Dark?
NL: I didn’t plan anything at all. I had a vague idea about the character and his background but it just formed as I wrote. I think about plotlines whilst walking the dog and then get insecure that I have forgotten some really good ones. A brilliant idea will come to me in the middle of the night which I will completely forget the next day. I barely put pen to paper throughout the whole book I just type and stare into space thinking. Planning is just not for me. I want the story to evolve as I write and I don’t want to know the end until I get there.
BC: How did you find the editing and publication process? (Don’t worry about hurting our feelings – we’ve got thick skins…!)
NL: It was actually a real joy to do. I was confident that the book was a good one but the suggestions you guys made all made sense (apart from when Simon went all blood-thirsty with one of the characters – still not going to happen…!). I always felt that I had a veto and that the words and the story were all mine, creatively. Writing a book is a solo effort, getting it to publication is a team effort and that’s how it felt.
BC: Yes… Simon did demonstrate a very dark side in that editing meeting – from then on I’ve made sure that all our team meetings are in public places…! Moving on, what’s the one piece of advice you would give to a would-be thriller writer?
NL: Just start writing… That’s it. Get the words down. You can edit and improve a crap book, you can’t edit and improve a blank screen.
BC: You’re really active on Twitter – how do you balance that and writing and everything else? (Asking for a friend…!)
NL: It’s bloody hard. Writing a book is one thing, getting it published, and, more importantly noticed is another. It does take your life over and it is sometimes hard to think of anything else apart from plotlines, publicity, tweets and retweets. The Twitter contacts I have made have been invaluable. One thing is that the writing community is really helpful I have had loads of help and advice from top authors and a number of them have read the book at various stages of edit and been free with their advice. People want you to succeed and social media is a real bonus for making those connections.
BC: What’s next for you? Will Tom Novak be back in action soon?
NL: Damn Straight he will. I am well on the way with book 2 which I am really excited about. Tom is going to get into a whole world of grief once more. Plan is for book 2 to be out some time this year. (as long as you guys like it, that is!!!)
BC: Thanks Neil – great to speak, and here’s looking forward to the launch of Going Dark on 17 April.
You can get a free, sneak peak of the opening chapters by signing up to Neil’s readers group at neillancastercrime.co.uk, and you can read more about it (and pre-order) at burningchairpublishing.com/product/going-dark
Cover by ebooklaunch.com
Published by Burning Chair Publishing on 17 April 2019
When everything and everyone—friend and foe—is working against you, where will you turn?
Tom Novak is a troubled soul with a dark and bloody past.
A former refugee, Royal Marine, and member of the elite Special Reconnaissance Regiment, he now finds himself struggling with the deadening routine of day-to-day policing.
When he is deployed undercover to infiltrate a gang of people-traffickers, things go badly wrong. Faced with an impossible choice, his cover is blown and he finds himself on the run from the Serbian mafia and even his fellow police colleagues.
With no-one to trust, and his enemies using all the resources of the state against him, Tom has only one option: to Go Dark.
Who are the police traitors feeding the Serbian mafia his every move? Is there anyone he can trust? Can Tom prove his innocence before it’s too late?
Going Dark is the debut crime thriller from former covert specialist Detective Sergeant Neil Lancaster, and the first in the Tom Novak series. If you enjoy gritty suspense, thrilling action and flawed heroes battling against the odds, then you’ll love Going Dark.