Name: Howard Linskey
Where are you from: My home town is Ferryhill, a fairly small place in the north east between Durham and Darlington.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life ect
I went to a fairly typical north east comprehensive school and managed to just about scrape through it. I eventually got to Huddersfield Polytechnic, primarily to delay any awkward, grown-up career decisions, graduating with a ’Desmond’ in History & Politics, otherwise known as a ‘drinker’s degree’. Since then I have worked in a variety of jobs all over the country but have always written in my spare time for fanzines, newspapers, magazines and web sites before eventually turning to books. I have been married to Alison for twelve years and we have a beautiful daughter Erin who is five.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
There’s quite a bit lately. My first novel ‘The Drop’ has been optioned for TV by David Barron, producer of the Harry Potter films and ‘Page Eight’, which I am thrilled about and I have just completed the follow-up ‘The Damage’, which will be published in April, so it’s an exciting time for me right now.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I was about twenty when I started and I just felt the need to give it a go. At the time, I was trying to find something, anything, that I was good at. I wrote a script and it was strong enough to interest a production company, which wasn’t bad for a first effort at that age and it gave me the confidence to keep going.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Not sure there was one particular moment, as my writing career seems to have been all about baby steps forward, punctuated by knock-backs, with each one making me feel a little more like a ‘proper’ writer. From what I gather, most writers feel a bit fraudulent at times. It’s pretty common to think that everyone else in the room is a real writer and that you have somehow been invited into the club by accident. At the back end of last year ‘The Times’ voted ‘The Drop’ in its ‘Top Five Thrillers of The Year’, so I suppose I am allowed to call myself a writer after that. It was my ‘they can’t take that away from me’ moment. In fact they can carve that on my tombstone instead of RIP. I must insist on that in my will.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I saw a documentary on the assassination of Nazi General Reynard Heydrich in Prague in WW2 and I was fascinated by the story. I decided to write a novel about it and it was good enough to get me a top literary agent, which was a massive step. I had a near miss with a big publisher on that one but it remains in a drawer waiting for someone to fall in love with it. I then wrote a couple of crime novels under a pseudonym that were published and shortly afterwards I wrote ‘The Drop’, which No Exit picked up in a two-book deal.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
If I do, I’m not sure I know what it is. I try not to think about it or analyse it too much because I want my writing to be instinctive, not studied or self-conscious. I’ve never been on a creative writing course or anything like that. I guess I’m a bit like the bloke who can’t read music but can somehow play the piano. I do try to write in a pacey way and I want my books to be as gritty and realistic as possible without being boring for the reader. I’m not too descriptive though and I won’t take a page to describe a tree blowing in the breeze.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The title of ‘The Drop’ just came to me one day and it stuck. ‘The Drop’ is the protection money that goes missing in the book and lands our hero in the shit. It seemed a simple and catchy name for the novel and I guess Michael Connelly agrees because his latest book is also called ‘The Drop’. I’ll be expecting a cut of his royalties obviously. I liked ‘The Damage’ as a title for the next book, because the people in the follow-up have to live with the consequences of their actions in the first book, so by and large they are damaged people. It’s also a reference to a bill that must be paid, as in ‘What’s the damage?’
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Not a heavy handed one but I do make the point in both books that there are consequences whenever you make a choice and you can’t be a plastic gangster. You are either in that world or you are not. If you are in it you will face the threat of injury, imprisonment or death on a daily basis and have to live with that. I can’t imagine what that level of pressure must feel like.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic? Well the story is total fiction but a lot of what you read in ‘The Drop’ either has happened or could happen. In fact whenever I feel I may have written something a bit outlandish I pick up a newspaper and see something even more far-fetched being reported in a court case. A classic example was my coke-snorting Premiership footballer and I did wonder if he was a bit too much but, since I created him, a number of footballers have failed tests for recreational drugs or been arrested for more serious stuff and they make him seem quite tame by comparison.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Not any one I know, thankfully, or I’d be too terrified to write about them. Journalists always ask me if I know any real life gangsters or if I have criminal convictions but I am as soft as muck and the only crime I’ve ever committed involved an over-zealous speed camera. ‘The Drop’ is very largely based on my imagination, combined with ideas I got from newspaper reports on murder and drug cases in the Newcastle newspapers or The Times.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
Not many books can influence your life but reading ‘A Kind of Loving’ by Stan Barstow in my early teens made me realise you could be a northerner and write a realistic book based in your homeland and still find an audience. I learned that not everything has to be set in London or New York.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I don’t have a mentor but I am lucky enough to have met some really good people in the last three years. Simon Kernick kindly read ‘The Drop’ and gave me a great quote for the cover. I also thoroughly enjoy the company of writers like Adrian Magson, Sheila Quigley, Matt Hilton, Paul Cleave, Jeremy Duns, Kevin Wignall, Adrian Dawson, Tom Wood and Sarah “Bloke in a nice wrapper” Pinborough. I need a new liver after we have been together for a few evenings at Harrogate or Bristol Crimefest.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Nick Quantrill’s ‘The Late Greats’, which I was lucky enough to be sent an advance copy of. It’s the second Joe Geraghty story and I’m really enjoying it. Nick is a talented northern writer who sets his gritty P.I stories in Hull.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Aside from Nick, Tom Wood is destined for great things. We share an agent and his debut novel ‘The Hunter’ got a great reaction in 2011. It has been sold all over the world. The book has a relentless pace and it’s destined for Hollywood.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’m having a few days off before dragging together the story lines for the third book featuring the characters in ‘The Drop’ and ‘The Damage’. I’m also plotting a stand-alone crime story with a futuristic slant. I’m going to see how that one pans out in my head before giving it a go. And there’s a story about a journalist who returns to his home town to cover the story of a missing girl that I have hopes for.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I don’t know if he has ever been described as an entity but my literary agent Phil Patterson has been a great source of advice and he asks me all of the ruthless questions about plot and character that I daren’t ask myself. I figure if he is impressed by something then it has to be good and if he has doubts I either bin stuff or rewrite it until he’s convinced. I’d rather he asked me these searching questions early in the writing process, before loads of readers pick up the book, even though he did describe one of the lines I put in a sex scene in The Damage as ‘terrible’. Obviously writers are sensitive souls normally but for some reason I can take it from him without feeling resentful…….the bastard.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
It’s a bit more than that really. It’s something I have to do. My wife tells me she can see a difference in me if I have gaps in between books where I am not writing. It’s something that takes me out of myself for a while and lets my imagination run away with itself. I think I would find day-to-day life seriously mundane without it.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Well I would try and write it in chronological order, which is a more sensible notion than the method I actually employed. I’m always time-poor, so I usually write the scene I’m in the mood to write. I don’t start at the beginning then do the middle and progress to the end. Instead I have it mostly worked out in my head and proceed to write stuff in chunks that have to be somehow welded together. Unsurprisingly, this complicates matters, leading to something akin to editing hell. I vowed to change this approach in book three, for my own sanity.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I remember when I was a very young boy telling my dad that I was mightily impressed by the cool lines Clint Eastwood was coming out with, as he faced down the baddies in Spaghetti westerns and he broke the news to me that someone actually wrote those lines for him. After my initial disappointment, I thought, ‘Wow, what a cool job!’ I guess it didn’t seem like hard work back then but it does now when I am trying to edit 120,000 words for the umpteenth time.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
‘The Damage’ picks up the story a couple of years on from ‘The Drop’ and our hero is now a reluctant gangland boss with a lot of problems. This is a short extract from the prologue:
“They stopped a few yards from the body and the whole party waited patiently for DCI McGregor to take a look then deliver his verdict. He didn’t disappoint. ‘A middle aged bloke out on his own walking in the park,’ he began, speaking softly, as if to himself, ‘is he dodgy I wonder? We should check that. Just because he’s unlucky enough to become the latest victim of the Sandyhill’s Sniper doesn’t mean he wasn’t out here looking for kiddies to fiddle with, leaving a trail of Werthers Originals right up to the back seat of his Rover 75,’ they all laughed lightly at the chief’s gallows humour, ‘but I doubt it. I think we’ll find this poor fucker is divorced, not his idea either, and it wasn’t his weekend with the kids. He probably didn’t know what to do with himself until it was time to go to his local.’
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Most writers find the editing process pretty painful. You end up getting rid of a lot of words to make the book leaner and pacier and that means deleting stuff you’ve worked hard on and often really like. Sometimes though, you have to amputate a limb to save the patient.
Fiona: Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? Probably John Le Carre when he is at his best. I love how highly nuanced and subtle some of his stuff can be, particularly the books featuring George Smiley. He is a master at conveying the impact of betrayal.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
A fair bit, as The Drop attracted a lot of interest in the north east because it is set in Newcastle, so I had invitations to sign in bookstores, do radio interviews and events back there, which is great but I am an exile who has worked away from the area for years. When I was invited onto BBC Radio Newcastle one morning it involved a 4.00am wake-up and a mad dash up the M1, avoiding those dreaded speed cameras.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The covers for The Drop and The Damage were both designed by Alan Forster and I think, if anything, that The Damage is even better than ‘The Drop’. His covers are absolutely awesome, which is great because that is something authors worry about and usually have very little control over.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Going over it countless times, spotting tiny little flaws and correcting them. The Drop was edited a lot. I lost count of how many drafts there were.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I’m always learning and hopefully improving. I probably learned that less is more and I don’t need to use six sentences where a couple will do.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Be your own worst critic but believe in yourself as well. Develop a very thick skin because there will probably be countless rejections before you finally get a publisher. Not everyone will love your book but you only have to be lucky once, so don’t listen to all of the talk about the long odds against being published. I didn’t and I got there in the end.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Mostly thanks. Thanks for buying the book and I really hope you enjoyed it. All the while I was writing ‘The Drop’ I was very aware that someone was going to part with their money and spend a lot of precious leisure time reading it and I really didn’t want them to be disappointed. Also, if you see me out and about, come and have a chat. Writers spend hours just tapping away by themselves on a keyboard, so we love to meet people when we do signings and the messages and comments we get from readers on Facebook, twitter and the like keep us going. Talking with people in book stores is one of the best parts of being published.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Basically Alan Shearer stole my life. I wanted….actually still want…to be centre forward for Newcastle United but that ambition was thwarted by the age of ten when I realised I was actually pretty crap at football. Instead I have to content myself playing 5-a-side once a week with a bunch of great friends I’ve known for years. I have to say though that being a published author is not a bad second to playing for Newcastle but I’m afraid the money aint anything like as good.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? if so what is it?
My publisher No Exit has a great web page, which has lots of info on both books:
I also have a web site at: