Somewhere to review books I'm reading without giving away any spoilers!
I am very happy to be able to post this interview with one of my all time favourite authors, Nick Pengelley. I love reading his enthralling Ayesha Ryder series and confess to keep hassling him to find out when the next in the series will be released. I was very keen to find out more about him, his writing and am delighted to have the opportunity to share his responses with you, here:
Q: Where did you get the inspiration for the series?
A: So many places! I’ve been fascinated by the Middle East since I saw the movie Lawrence of Arabia as a kid in the 60s. I’ve read extensively about him, and the history, politics and culture of the region. The Israel/Palestine conflict has been a particular interest since I discovered that much of what I’d been taught and read in the newspapers was wrong.
Like any putative series author I wanted a character with a difference. As far as I know Ayesha Ryder is the only kickass Palestinian heroine out there. She had to have a dark past that would come to the surface in different ways, and be populated with characters who could crop up at appropriately inconvenient times. So far that recipe has proved successful for the first three books of Ayesha’s adventures – I have lots more plot ideas in my head!
A: I develop a first, basic idea for a plot. Then I flesh it out and develop sub-plots. Then I outline the chapters, “growing” them and expanding them until I’m fairly happy with what I have. Then I start writing the story, chapter by chapter. New ideas always occur that change the plot in some ways, but not substantially. The main cast remains much as expected at the outset, although new minor characters usually invent themselves.
Q: Where do you write?
A: I love writing but it’s a lonely activity. I find it hard to write at home – too many chores call to me, and it’s too quiet. I write best in local bars and cafes. I like to be able to look up from the screen and see people and life around me. To interact with barristas and bartenders. And I need noise. Preferably loud classic rock. I can tune it out, and get totally absorbed in my writing, but I cannot work in a “zone of silence”.
Q: Do you write with pen and paper or on a computer?
A: A computer – my Mac. And thank heavens they were invented! I remember writing school papers longhand or on a typewriter; I’d never go back! I edit and change as much if not more than I write – the idea of doing it in my appalling handwriting horrifies me.
Q: Who is your favourite character out of your stories and why?
A: You’d probably expect me to say Ayesha Ryder, but she’s far too energetic for me! Lady Madrigal Carey is my favourite. She get’s to sit around in a comfy armchair by the fire sipping vodka martinis and watching the action. Mind you, she once was as active as Ayesha – something you’ll find out if you read my new series, which starts back in the 1930s.
A: If you’ve read Ryder you’ll have guessed that I’m a fan of Rider Haggard. A favourite literary character of mine is Charles Ryder from Brideshead Revisited – so Ryder. Ayesha of course comes from Rider Haggard’s She. Madrigal is a name I’ve always loved, since coming across it in an old story by Dornford Yates. Most other names I haven’t thought much about – mostly going with the first thing that pops into my head.
Q: How would you categorize your books?
A: Thriller/Adventure seems the most appropriate fit. I never think in such categories myself. If asked to compare with other works of fiction I’d say I’m Dan Brown meets John Buchan with a strong dash of Peter O’Donnell (Modesty Blaise).
Q: How do you fact-check your books? Internet research? Consulting with experts? First-hand experience?
A: The Internet. Thank heaven for it! When I think of the things I research in seconds for my books and how much time I’d spend in libraries trying to find the same information (even if that were possible), I shudder. Weapons – I know nothing about them. What, for instance, is the difference between a pistol and a revolver? What type of gun would a British policeman use if armed? How does one use a longbow? How do you build a pipe bomb? What time is sunrise in May in London? Where would I position a sniper to take out someone on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral? If my Google searches were monitored by a counter-terrorism agency I’m likely be headed for Guantanamo Bay!
A: My books are set mostly in London or other UK locales. I’m mostly true to the settings, taking liberties only where necessary and appropriate. My key fictional location is the Walsingham Institute for Oriental Studies, where Ayesha Ryder works. In Ayesha’s world it is located at 1 Seething Lane, next to St. Olave’s church where Samuel Pepys is buried, not far from the Tower of London and St. Paul’s. Actually a nondescript hotel stands on the site. I prefer Ayesha’s world.
London is my favourite city. I’ve spend a lot of time there and am familiar with other parts of the UK. I’ve spent time in Cornwall (my ancestors hale from there), visited Jamaica Inn which is a setting in Ryder, and actually lived and worked in Herstmonceux Castle which is a key setting in Ryder: Bird of Prey.
Q: What types of books/genres do you read now for pleasure? If you read series fiction, do you have any favorite characters, and if so, what is it about them that appeals to you?
A: Oddly, since starting to write fiction, I have now become almost exclusively a reader of non-fiction. Partly it’s a realization that I need to know so much more real history in order to write about it believably. Partly it’s a realization that life is always more exciting than fiction. Of the few fiction authors I still read (apart from re-reading old favourites), Alan Faust’s espionage/thrillers set in the murky world of 1930s Europe are particular favourites.
Books by Nick Pengelley in this series (which I have read, thoroughly enjoyed and posted reviews of so far are:
Author Information (via Goodreads):
Nick Pengelley cites many influences on his writing. Readers of “Ryder” will not be surprised that authors like H. Rider Haggard, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, John Buchan and Peter O’Donnell figure prominently. He is a fan of the ripping yarns of the inter-war years – by writers such as Sapper, Dornford Yates, Edgar Wallace and Leslie Charteris. His more modern favourites include Umberto Eco (particularly “The Name of the Rose”), Alan Furst, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Kostova (“The Historian”). Nicholas reads a “book or so” a week (and is horrified to think that, if he lives to be 200, he may only get to read 10,000). These days, although he still reads fiction, he is mainly interested in modern European and Middle Eastern history, and biography, having discovered some years ago that truth really is stranger than fiction. He lists his heroes, literary adventurers all, as Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell and Teddy Roosevelt.