Today we will meet an author who writes for adults. Do you remember the cold February weather? Philip Cox’s thriller/mysteries will make you shiver just as much as that northern wind.
Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Phillip. You began your writing career as a stay-at-home father. How did you find the time and the energy to write After the Rain, Dark Eyes of London, Something to Die For, Don’t Go Out Into the Dark, and Wrong Time to Die all within four years?
Philip Cox: Actually, it’s six years now, and She’s Not Coming Home and Should Have Looked Away are somewhere in there too. Writing a book is something I’d always wanted to do. When our eldest daughter was born, I took a career break from my job in banking and started After the Rain, which finally came out in 2011. Time management and self-discipline are very important: there are always potential distractions. As far as the energy is concerned, that’s just lots of black coffee and chocolate cookies!
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Ferrante: Several of your books take place in the United States of America. Why have you chosen to write in that setting instead of England?
Cox: For a book to enjoy any success it has to sell in necessary numbers in both the United States and the UK. US readers are more likely to be interested in a story set in their own country. Places like London or Paris might be an exception. As far as UK readers are concerned, with a story set in somewhere like New York or Los Angeles, there’s that familiarity because of the movies and TV, and at the same time the exoticism and foreignness. I tend to pick New York and LA as they are places I know very well. In Wrong Time to Die the main character visits several restaurants and bars: they’re all real places. I’ve been to them.
Ferrante: Why do you write in the thriller genre? Are you inspired by anything in the news or real life?
Cox: The authors I enjoy reading most range from Lee Child and James Patterson right through to Agatha Christie and Denis Wheatley. I took inspiration for After the Rain from a newspaper article I read about a guy from South London who was on vacation somewhere and went missing. Don’t Go Out in the Dark was something on Facebook. I was sitting in one of the stalls in a restroom and overheard a conversation. I got to thinking how scary it would be to be to hear a murder, even scarier if you had one of your children with you! So I took the plot of Should Have Looked Away from there.
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Ferrante: Your interests include the history of cinema and model railroading. Is your basement filled with models? Have you ever written about either of these?
Cox: Ha! Not the basement – some years back I had the garage converted into a den! No, I’ve not thought about including model railroading, but I’m also interested in full sized ones. The Underground (subway) in London is the oldest in the world and has lots of history. A lot of the action in Dark Eyes of London takes place there, and there is a suggestion at the start of the book that readers download a system map so they can follow the events.
Ferrante: I’m assuming that since you write thrillers, you’re a plotter.
Cox: Generally, the outline isn’t too precise when I start. I have an idea what the story’s going to be about and how it will end (generally) but I’ll flesh details out as I go along. Sometimes the story will develop in a different way to how I first envisioned it. I’ll always start at the beginning, and have never written the climax first; however, if I’m suffering from block, I might write a future chapter or two, then tailor the action to reach that stage. Better than stalling.
Ferrante: With two children to care for, a quiet and private place to work must be a challenge. Do you have a routine that you follow every day?
Cox: I tend to write when the children are at school or when they’ve gone to sleep. If that’s not possible, I’ll take myself off to the local library, but there are distractions there as well. I tend to pencil out a couple of chapters in rough – just an outline – one day, then hit the keyboard the next, alternating like that. With everything else going on, I’d find it too tiring to be typing day in, day out. I do target myself, not numbers of pages, but numbers of words. When I start a book, I’m aiming for around 65000 words. When I know when I need to finish the first draft, I can then calculate how many words I need to achieve each week. I also try to keep it Monday to Fridays: that way, I have time weekends to make up any shortfall.
Ferrante: What do you find the most challenging about writing?
Cox: Trying to come up with something original. Not easy. For example, the one I’m working on now is the third in a series featuring an LAPD detective. I came across a piece a few weeks back about an old Navajo superstition which says if someone’s on a journey and a coyote crosses their path, they have to abandon the journey, as it means they will meet with a fatal accident. The mystic side of that appealed to me and I planned on working that into the plot. I even thought up a title: The Last Coyote. As I always do, I checked on Amazon if there was already a book with that title and there was – a Harry Bosch novel! So it was back to the drawing board on that one. I’ve found it a good idea to have a notepad and pen with me 24/7 because little ideas will always flash through my mind at the most unexpected times. Another challenge can be boredom: if it’s hard going, and nothing’s coming through, it’s easy to get distracted to just do something else, so yes, you do need the discipline.
Ferrante: What do you find the most rewarding?
Cox: Getting the royalties! That’s not as glib as it sounds: whilst everybody likes to see those credits on their bank statements, to receive a payment for something I’ve personally created is an amazing feeling. Of course it’s not 100% me: others proof-read, and help with research, but in the main, it’s my achievement. When I worked in banking, that was all down to the guys who founded the bank however many years ago, and I was working something that others had set up and created. Here, the books are my creation. Hope that doesn’t sound too lofty. Also rewarding is when I either first see the eBook on the Amazon sales pages or when I unwrap my copy of the paperback version. I was present at the births of both my children, and the feeling of seeing a new book is second only to how I felt then. Not a close second, by the way; some way behind, but second nonetheless.
Ferrante: What advice would you have for beginning writers starting their first novel?
Cox: When it’s finished, get somebody else to proof-read: you will miss loads, and lose your credibility.
Ferrante: Is there something you would like to share with your readers that I haven’t asked?
Cox: My favourite movie genre is horror, the black and white Universal pictures from the 30s and 40s, and the colour pictures from Hammer Films years later. I met and had a conversation with Christopher Lee once, an unforgettable experience. I have a couple of CDs of soundtracks of the Hammer horror pictures, and once I got my wife to play excerpts, shuffled, to see if I could guess the movie. I got 100%! How sad is that!
Ferrante: If you could create a memorial to yourself in a city park, what would that memorial be?
Cox: I think a life-sized statue of me sitting reading a book. Hopefully that will encourage more kids to get off their computer games and read a book. E-books allowed, of course.
Ferrante: If you could go back in time and ask any famous person in history one question, whom would you question and what would you ask? Assume that you would be given a completely honest answer.
Cox: Jesus Christ. I’d like to ask him: all the stuff I’ve heard, all the things I’ve read – is it actually true?
Ferrante: If, with your safety guaranteed, you could experience something considered very dangerous, what would you want to experience most of all?
Cox: To go into space, and see the world as it really is, as an actual planet, with the moon over there, the sun over there, and the stars way out there in the distance. That might link in with question 2.
Facebook: /Philip Cox
Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.