Author interview with Graeme Shimmin
Graeme Shimmin was born in Manchester, and studied Physics at Durham University. His successful consultancy career enabled him to retire at 35 to an island off Donegal and start writing. He has since returned to Manchester and completed an MA in Creative Writing. The inspiration for A Kill in the Morning came from Robert Harris' alternate history novel, Fatherland, and a passion for classic spy fiction. To find out more, and read his spy-themed short stories and book and movie reviews, visit http://graemeshimmin.com.
Hi Graeme, welcome over to The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us.
BP: First off, can you give us a short introduction as to who Graeme Shimmin is? What are your hobbies, likes and dislikes?
GS: I’m spy thriller novelist, and the author of the award-winning novel A Kill in the Morning. I also run a website where I review spy thrillers and advise aspiring authors about writing and getting published. Apart from reading and writing about spies, I like football and dogs, and my favourite city is Prague.
BP: You studied Physics and now you are a writer. What happened in between? Why and when did you decide that you wanted to become an author?
GS: I worked in IT for fifteen years. It was very lucrative, but practically everything I ever worked on was cancelled and I realised I wanted to create something lasting. I'd always written a bit, but I resigned in order to write full time. That was ten years ago. It was a risky step, but it was worth it.
BP: A Kill in the Morning is your debut book. What gave you the inspiration to write it?
GS: I’d had an image in my head for years of hanger doors grinding open to reveal an amazing superweapon that I could never quite see. I also had inspiration from all the classic spy novels I'd read. When I started writing, all those ideas just seemed to flood out.
BP: Writing a debut is a daunting task, how did you tackle this project?
GS: A Kill in the Morning is the second novel I’ve written, although it’s the first to be published. I’d learnt a lot from writing my first novel, and from trying to get it published.
While I was working on the second draft of A Kill in the Morning, I did an MA in Creative Writing. The support from the university and particularly from the other MA students helped me get a polished draft completed.
After that I used the writing critique site YouWriteOn to help hone the opening chapters, and a writing group I’m part of, Manchester Speculative Fiction, gave me lots of good feedback.
BP: Have you already gained valuable experience that you will be able to use for your following books?
GS: Definitely. I’m learning all the time and the attention to detail of professional publishers is on a different level. Working with professional editors has made me realize how much more I have to learn.
BP: A Kill in the Morning will be published this June, if you would have to sell your book with a single sentence, how would it go?
GS: A Kill in the Morning is an action-packed, fun spy thriller that has been compared to Robert Harris’s Fatherland and Ian Fleming’s Thunderball - if you like classic spy thrillers, you’ll love it.
BP: Did you encounter any specific problems when you were writing A Kill in the Morning?
GS: A Kill in the Morning features several historical characters. The only thing I worried about a little was trying to capture those real characters’ voices. For someone like Churchill it was easy; for some of the others I could sense what they were like from their autobiographies. But for others, like Reuven Shiloah the head of Israeli intelligence, I must admit I had to just make it up.
BP: What was the hardest part in writing A Kill in the Morning?
GS: I had to do a huge amount of research. I read biographies of all the real characters in the book: Churchill, Reynard Heydrich (head of the Nazi secret service) and Stewart Menzies (head of MI6 during World War Two). I also read a lot of non-fiction about Nazi Germany, World War Two and particularly the Special Operations Executive, the British organisation that organised sabotage and resistance in occupied Europe. The heroism of the women of SOE was incredible and helped inspire me to write my heroine, Molly Ravenhill.
BP: Besides the hardest part, which chapter/scene did you enjoy writing about the most?
GS: About halfway through writing A Kill in the Morning, I suddenly realised how it had to end and that it was really going to work. I sat back and just thought, "This is the story I was born to write". It was an amazing moment. I felt like a sculptor, chipping away and finding the sculpture was already there inside the marble. That was the best moment.
BP: A Kill in the Morning is alternate history; did you have to carry out additional research into the Second World War to keep certain facts straight?
GS: There was a huge amount of research. First I had to understand what really happened. Then I had to find out what other things might realistically have happened instead, and then I had to discover what single incident I could change to move history onto a different track. And after all that, I had to roll the effects of that change forward and invent an entire alternate world to set the novel in.
BP: You based the story around the Second World War, why did you choose this one in particular?
GS: I was brought up reading classic spy thrillers like From Russia With Love, Ice Station Zebra and The Ipcress File: fast-paced, action-packed and fun. Most of them are set during the Cold War. By writing a novel set in an alternate history, I had a lot of scope to write the kind of classic spy story that was written during the Cold War, but with the Nazis as antagonists, and after all the Nazis are the ultimate bad guys!
BP: A Kill in the Morning is your first book, do you have plans to let it be a stand-alone or will you turn in into a series?
GS: I have plans for a series, and I’ve already written the first chapter of the second novel.
BP: With A Kill in the Morning being published soon, do you have any other projects that you wish to pursue in the near future?
GS: I'm editing a novel called Angel in Amber at the moment and hoping to bring that out next year. Angel in Amber is a thriller set in the near future, with Britain trapped between a feuding USA and Europe. It's written in the same all-action style as A Kill in the Morning.
Also, every month I write a free short story for my friends and the people who like my writing. You can sign up for it on my website at http://graemeshimmin.com/free-story
BP: Everyone enjoys fantasy and science fiction in their own way, what do you like most about it?
GS: I see science fiction, and alternate history in particular, an as a way of writing something classic but with a twist. In an alternate world, without real history as a constraint. anything can happen, and that freedom appeals to me. It's the ultimate 'what if...' genre.
BP: If you would have to give your top 5 favourite books, which would they be?
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre,
Fatherland by Robert Harris,
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson,
Game Set and Match by Len Deighton.
The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins
BP: And just lastly, can you give us a sneak peak as to what we may expect in A Kill in the Morning?
GS: The year is 1955 and something is very wrong with the world. It is fourteen years since Churchill died and the Second World War ended. In occupied Europe, Britain fights a cold war against a nuclear-armed Nazi Germany.
In Berlin the Gestapo is on the trail of a beautiful young resistance fighter, and the head of the SS is plotting to dispose of an ailing Adolf Hitler and restart the war against Britain and her empire. Meanwhile, in a secret bunker hidden deep beneath the German countryside, scientists are experimenting with a force far beyond their understanding.
Into this arena steps a nameless British assassin, on the run from a sinister cabal within his own government, and planning a private war against the Nazis. And now the fate of the world rests on a single kill in the morning . . .
BP: Thank you for your time Graeme and good luck with your future projects!