“The internet allows me to get lairy with gangland thugs” – Interview With Author Kris Lillyman
We had the pleasure of being able to interview author Kris Lillyman a few weeks ago. He brought up a heavily debated point by many authors. This being the classic advice to always write about what you know. As Kris said this is great if you were a government spy but for most of us we have to be more resourceful. So we asked him how he goes about writing thrillers and the particular challenges this genre creates for authors.
Question: Many authors write thrillers about espionage, intrigue, murder, extreme wealth and top secret assignments. As you pointed out this goes against the popular advice many authors provide saying write about what you know. What are the particular challenges you face writing in this genre when as a writer you haven’t experienced any of the scenarios personally? Or maybe you have and we the reader will never know….
That’s exactly it. Provided my stories are interesting and told with passion and conviction, then I hope my readers will never need to question whether I have lived a particular scenario personally or not. The truth is, I find it relatively easy to put myself in various situations, at least in my mind, which I suppose comes from having an overly active imagination.
I also have a keen interest in films and my general knowledge, or rather my capacity to retain useless information, is reasonably good so I suppose that, too, informs my writing. The bottom line, in my opinion, is that a story is a story – it’s made up, comes out of your head – it’s a flight of fancy – so I can pretty much have my characters do, say and go where I like so long as I can back it up with a reasonable amount of fact – which is where the research comes in.
Research can be fun but it can also be challenging as sometimes I might not be interested in a particular subject but knowledge of it is vital to a particular storyline or character. Facts about guns, for example, which I have absolutely no knowledge of or interest in seem almost impossible for my brain to absorb. I have to read the information over and over so that it eventually sinks in. It would be unrealistic if the characters in my books all carried a Colt .45 or a Walther PPK – although, I will admit that some of them do!
The internet allows me to get lairy with gangland thugs, betray Mafia kingpins or go undercover in Colombian drug cartels – all without the risk of being brutally murdered – which is also something of a bonus. But nobody needs to know that I didn’t really put my life in danger. Right?
Locations are challenging also. Not all novels can be set in my home town. In fact none of mine are and I would guess that very few others are either. I have travelled but not extensively and I am certainly no adventurer so setting my novels anywhere other than England, which is where I live, is somewhat problematic. So thank goodness for the internet. I continually use it to scout out exotic locations around the globe. Google Maps is fantastic and Street View is particularly good – I can even go for a ‘virtual stroll’ down a ‘virtual’ New York street – perhaps amble along a Caribbean beach, maybe even skulk around a Parisian back alley of an evening if the mood takes me. In fact, I’ve got an unlimited visa to travel wherever I want to go. Brilliant! The internet allows me to get lairy with gangland thugs, betray Mafia kingpins or go undercover in Colombian drug cartels – all without the risk of being brutally murdered – which is also something of a bonus. But nobody needs to know that I didn’t really put my life in danger. Right?
Question: Were there any particular stereotypes or clichés that you try to avoid when writing this genre? Or do you relish the opportunity to indulge them?
I suppose the answer is that I tend to embrace the clichés – not with plot lines or set-ups as I like to keep those fresh and surprising; take the reader on a ride that they’ve never been on before – or at least hopefully not. But I do like my heroes to be handsome, square jawed and athletic and my heroines to be beautiful, sexy and sassy. I know that is not the way of things in real life – heroes and heroines come in all shapes and sizes but in a novel I don’t think it hurts to have characters that are both smart and good looking. Bad guys, too – and girls for that matter – should be properly bad and in my novels there is little chance of them being perceived as anything other than very nasty pieces of work.
In my opinion people like stereotypical good guys and bad guys. For everyone of us who played at being Luke Skywalker when we were kids I’ll bet there were almost as many pretending to be Darth Vader. But it does not mean every character has to be the same as each has an individual personality and that is what sets them apart.
With my characters, I see them in my head as if they are up on the silver screen wearing white hats or black hats – the good guys and the bad guys clearly defined. I want every male reader to wish he was the hero and every female reader to wish they were the heroine; to imagine they are John Wayne or Maureen O’Hara, Spencer Tracy or Katharine Hepburn – even Tom Hanks or Meg Ryan. I believe most of us aspire to be heroes whether we like it or not so I draw mine broadly in the hope that people will find something in them to identify with. Although, with luck, not too many of them will identify with the bad guys – otherwise we might have a bit of a problem! Did somebody order a Death Star?
Question: Your other novel is described as a A Rockin’ Retro Rom Com for the Hair Gel Generation! What are the most challenging differences between writing thrillers and romantic comedies?
The great thing is, because the genres are so different it is not a challenge at all, in fact it’s great fun. I had a blast writing Jam Tops, The Fonz and the Pursuit of Cool because it was so unlike any of the books I had written before. Even though I loved writing Bad Blood, Finders Keepers and Dance With The Devil, they were all tough, hard hitting novels with gritty themes of vengeance, honour and violence – compelling and exciting to read, hopefully, but equally thrilling to write – even though I knew where the stories would eventually lead!
Jam Tops, however, was different. It was light, frivolous and I could indulge my silly, irreverent side – allow myself to be funny and have my characters say and do things which they just would not in a thriller – not if I expected them to be taken seriously. What made the book so easy to write was that it is VERY LOOSELY based on my own experiences growing up in the seventies and eighties. The lead character is certainly not me but he does bear some remarkable similarities and some of the scrapes he gets himself into are very similar to some of those I have gotten myself into in the past – although I have fleshed them out much more fully in the book and also made up a great deal, letting my imagination run riot.
The whole plot is complete work of fiction but many of the characters and situations are drawn from real life so that made things a bit easier too.
My next novel, which I can’t wait for people to read, is a rip-roaring sequel to my first novel, Bad Blood. It is called World On Fire and will be released in the next few months. After that, however, is when I will face my biggest challenge in writing both thrillers and romantic comedies – the question of what to write next, thriller or rom com? I’ve already outlined several ideas for both genres, all of which I’m just itching to get started on but for the life of me I cannot decide which one to work on first. Maybe I should try writing different genres on alternate days. Now that would be a novel idea!