An interview with ‘London Stone’ author Nick Bydwyn
Private Investigator Drake Sanders has been press-ganged by an old police colleague into investigating a murder that he is somehow the main suspect for, not only that he's been hired by two different people to search for an ancient artefact that doesn't appear to be missing.
Soon, he needs to unravel fact from millennia-old fiction in order to unearth the truth about an elaborate scheme that threatens to cost him not only his career, but quite possibly his life as well.
Hi Nick, thanks for taking part in this blog series featuring authors I have worked with. Tell us, what drew you to tell this story? Was it the character Drake or the story of the London Stone that first took hold?
I love the way London’s history is so dense and accessible and as an outsider from a small(ish) town I found that fascinating. Somewhere along the line I discovered the stories about the London Stone and went to look for it, only to find I’d been closer than I imagined. I’d been commuting into Cannon Street station for over a decade and yet not once did I realise that such an important historical item was placed out of sight on the other side of the street. I’d walked past it at least twice a day and never even noticed.
My mind went into freefall. Why was it there, who else knew about it, why wasn’t it more prominent? The skeleton of the story grew from a massive ‘What If’?
Now that I’ve discovered more about it, I think it should be moved into a museum instead of being left to rot. The London Stone might not be the crown jewels but I think it deserves more care than it’s currently getting.
How familiar are you with the places you describe in your novel?
It was essential that it felt like Drake knew the city he operated in well. In a similar vein, I had to be sure that the logic of the central puzzles was feasible, which led to physically walking around all the places described in the book, most notably a good stretch of the Regent’s Canal to the river. Although these meanderings were classed as ‘research’ I can’t deny that I loved finding hidden areas that were packed with important history but had, for one reason or another, been all but forgotten in the 21st Century.
Which were your favourite parts of the story to write?
Oddly enough one was the original first chapter, which I subsequently cut completely. It was a self-contained anomaly where I described a murder and the way the weary policemen went about their business at three in the morning on the river bank. I like it because it helped me to find and set the tone of the story, which up until then was just a lot of random noise in my head. Despite my affection for it, as the story evolved it stood out as being the only part that wasn’t described rom the protagonist’s point of view. It was a wrench but it had to be excised for the greater good.
As for what made it into the book, that would be the dialogue. Having to vicariously be all of these different and distinct characters and have them talk to (and insult) each other in a realistic way was very fun. Time seemed to fly by whenever I needed to write the ‘banter’ as it helped to round out who exactly each person was, much as happens in daily life.
Do you stick to a writing routine or work whenever you can?
I’m a morning person so if I don’t get anything done in that timescale my creativity starts to decay rapidly. On an ideal writing day I brew a gallon of coffee, secrete myself in the cupboard under the stairs and stay there between nine and midday. And yes, I do write in a (roomy) cupboard with a comfy chair as it keeps me away from any distractions. Unlike some, I can’t listen to music or be near a window when writing as I know my train of thought will veer off track.
I don’t have a set word count to complete; sometimes I only squeeze out a thousand in a session and sometimes, on astonishingly good days, it can be as high as six thousand. It’s more important to get something written, however small, than nothing at all. Whether it’s a drip or a deluge, in the end it all adds up.
Which authors have influenced your writing?
I’ve been a non-partisan voracious reader all of my life so there’s every chance there may be elements of William Burroughs, Helen Fielding, Anais Nin, Raymond Chandler, Peter Hoeg, Jack Kerouac, Nick Hornby and dozens of others coming through.
If I were pushed I’d say that I tried to imbue the dialogue with a naturalistic quality reminiscent of Terry Pratchett. The way his characters interact has always been joyous to read. Despite their fantasy roots they always seem to have a solid reality to them that comes through in the way they speak to each other.
Can you tell us a little about the cover design process for your book?
It began not by knowing what I wanted, but what I didn’t want.
When I think about the detective fiction novels on the shelves the covers that come to mind are images of ominous, crumbling staircases, shadowy figures at the end of dark, wet passages, lone trees standing on windswept hills, a hand holding a knife or gun. Everything in a gritty, muted green or brown and covered with fog or grime. There seems to be a visual shorthand that has enveloped the whole genre.
I wanted something cleaner and less cluttered that might stand out a little from the rest of the crime novels. I’ve always liked the pop-art animated intro sequences that are evocative of Saul Bass’ movie work (Anatomy of a Murder, Catch Me If You Can, The Incredibles etc.) so that seemed like a perfect place to start.
I basically knew I wanted a silhouetted skyline and it just grew from there. Although it may be a rain-soaked, moonlit view of London, it looks very simple and modern.
My designer Dan Prescott at Couper Street Type Co. demonstrated the patience of a saint, especially when I would ask for elements to be moved by only a single pixel just to test how everything fitted together.
What’s next for you as a writer?
Ideally I’d like to write one or two more books featuring Drake; I have a few ideas in mind and have already started typing some test chapters of a follow up. Watch this space!