Monday 3 November 2014

Interview with Tom Greer

Tom Greer was born, raised and educated in Glasgow. He's also lived in London, Germany, Belfast and the North West of England and currently lives in the South West of England.

An Expendable Spy is his debut novel.

Follow Tom Greer on Twitter @tomgreerwriter

Visit and Like Tom Greer's Facebook page at

We asked Tom all the usual questions

My name is Tom Greer and for my sins I write novels.

For anyone that hasnt read them can you tell us a bit about your books

I concentrate on spy and crime fiction. My first novel, An Expendable Spy, was published on Amazon as an eBook and paperback at the end of last year. It's a Cold War spy story which takes place in London, Amsterdam and the wilds of Devon and is set in the late seventies. There'll be a sequel (of sorts) sometime in the next few years called Our Friends in Berlin which will take place ten years on against the backdrop of the events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall and which will feature some of the characters from An Expendable Spy.

Currently I'm working on the first of the Inspector Gore crime series set in North London and featuring DCI John Gore. This series is centered on an Oxford educated, accelerated promotion detective and is written in the First Person, so the reader gets to hear Gore's actual thoughts. And as Gore himself points out to one of his Superiors, he's nothing like that other Oxford educated policeman, "For one thing, Morse is a fictional character and I'm clearly not."

The first novel in this series (the one I'm currently working on) is called Death Comes Calling and revolves around a serial killer targeting professional women in their mid to late thirties in North London. 

Tell us a bit more about the last book you wrote

In An Expendable Spy, the main character, Jack Tate, wants his old life back. Five years earlier he'd been shunted out of MI6 and into a British Intelligence backwater where instead of running high level East German agents he's reduced to snooping night-after-night on trade unionists and minor public officials... none of whom he believes are a particular threat to The State.

But now he's been offered a way back into MI6, and his superiors are willing to sanction his return to field operations on one condition; that he proves himself worthy by tracking down and eliminating the leadership of a Moscow funded terrorist group and exposing the identity of their KGB handler.

Undercover and working alone Tate knows he's vulnerable. He knows he'll have to kill if he doesn't wish to end up dead himself. And he's also beginning to realize that events and rivalries are conspiring against him and that time isn't on his side.

You can take a look at An Expendable Spy on Amazon here.

What did you learn about writing whilst writing the last book you wrote?
That editing is a whole lot more fun than doing the first draft, which can be a real slog. The first draft is like slowly carving a sculpture out of solid granite whereas the subsequent drafts are more like making delicate brush stroke changes to an oil canvas. And a writer needs to redraft, redraft and redraft again. Almost any writer's first draft will be rubbish - just typing, basically - but the subsequent edits should turn it into something worth reading. Too much of the dross on Amazon is there because the author has uploaded what is essentially a first draft.
Do you have a set writing process, if so what is it?
Most of the actual writing is done in my head on the hoof, so to speak, walking here and there. Walking into Bristol on a Saturday, for example, is me creating scenes and dialogue in my head. If possible I make notes as I go along on my iPhone notes app. The actually typing is usually done between ten at night and one in the morning, if I'm not too tired.
I make at least three drafts. The first is typing which I wouldn't show to anyone. Much of the heavy lifting and improving is then done in the editing for the second draft, and the third draft is further improvements and adding things like the names of roads, wines etc that previously just read xxx Street or [reference a good red wine]. Any further drafts after that will be mainly be minor amendments and checking for typos.
Do you write a lot of short stories?
Funnily enough it's only now I've started writing short stories and that was down to having to produce one for the North Bristol Creative Writing Group. Afterwards I uploaded it to Wattpad. It's called The Gothic Time if you're interested in checking it out here. However, I did enjoy the experience and plan writing more of them and placing them on Wattpad on a regular basis. I've just had an idea for a Christmas short story… well, if it's good enough for Dickens it's good enough for me.
Do you prefer the long or short form? How do you feel about Flash Fiction?
I'm very much a novelist so I prefer the long form. I guess you could categorise The Gothic Time as Flash Fiction as it's only about a thousand words long, and any future short stories will be of that sort of length or less. Flash Fiction is a great exercise in making each and every word count and that's how I see it for myself - as a sort of writing exercise.
Which character in your books do you most identify with and why?
Logically it should be DI Ian Ritchie (AKA Dead Eye) in Death Comes Calling as he's a fellow Glaswegian, but unfortunately I'm nothing like him. I seem to have more in common with some aspects of John Gore (we both like Bach and Paul Simon) but he's an arrogant sod who complains much of the time about not being higher up the promotion ladder than he is so I hope I'm not too much like him.
I don't think I have anything particularly in common with Jack Tate, the main character from An Expendable Spy, or with any of the spy chiefs or urban terrorists who also populate that novel.
Which bit of your writing are you most proud of?
I like the atmosphere of bleak realism I think I've achieved with An Expendable Spy.  In Death Comes Calling, which in places is very dark, I like the way the tone is lightened by touches of humour, such as the somewhat surreal scene where two Metropolitan Police Officers debate the sexuality of a Womble in front of a witness.
Tell us a bit about how you got published? Did you go via a slush pile? Get an agent before a publisher?
I went for the Amazon self-publishing option rather than waste time and effort looking for a trad publisher, and so I use Kindle Direct Publishing for eBooks and CreateSpace for the paperback versions of my novels.

Publishing is in a flux at the moment and self-publishing is now a respectable option where say a decade ago it wasn't. It gives the author far more control of the whole publishing process; from choosing the cover to deciding the book price to running the marketing campaign... and the royalties are far higher than you'd get with a traditional publisher - 70% on Amazon compared with typically 10 -15% with a trad publisher.
In one sentence what is your best piece of advice for new writers?
Read and read and read and read.

Many thanks to Tom for dropping by and providing such interesting answers to our questions!

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