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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Neil Coley talks about his new historical murder mystery novel, The Cold Distance.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed historical fiction author Neil Coley about his life and career, what inspired his new book, The Cold Distance, and his creative writing process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Neil Coley and I am a local historian and author. I have written five books about the history of Lichfield, my home city, one collection of short stories, and two novels. I am married and have two grown up children. I was a schoolteacher for many years and I am now retired. My interests, as well as writing, are reading, bird watching, nature, watching cricket, films and going to the theatre.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I’ve always done little bits of writing over the years but retirement allowed me to become a full time writer. I had lots of ideas for books about Lichfield and its history and also wanted eventually to write novels. My first novel, An Alien Autumn, was published in 2021 and is a science fiction story set in the London of 1888. In it two undercover aliens become involved in the hunt for the serial killer, Jack the Ripper.
When did you take a step to start writing?
My first book, entitled ‘Lichfield Stories,’ published in 2013, is a collection of short stories set at different time periods in the history of Lichfield. I had been planning it for a number of years but being retired allowed me the time and energy to finally write it.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
It takes me about a year to write a book. That includes doing the research, which is usually very extensive as all of my books, both fiction and non-fiction, have historical settings.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
My latest novel ‘The Cold Distance’ took me about a year to produce from beginning to the end of the publication process.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Cold Distance?
I enjoy reading and writing books that have historical settings. I also like crime fiction, particularly murder mysteries. ‘The Cold Distance’ combines both genres as it deals with a murder that takes place in the early 1970s and the ramifications of that murder in the present day.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Cold Distance?
It’s always a challenge writing any sort of book. To complete a book is, in my opinion, a major achievement. The biggest challenge with ‘The Cold Distance’ was making the conversations between characters in the 1970s sound appropriate for the time and ensuring that no verbal anachronisms crept into their speech.
There are a lot of characters in the book and I have tried to ensure the ‘voices’ of all of them sound different from one character to another. I was keen to ensure the ‘voices’ of female characters in particular were appropriate and genuine sounding, which is something that male writers can find problematic.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
The present day action of ‘The Cold Distance’ involves the main character organising a fifty-year reunion of his university friends. I was thinking of doing just that when the Covid pandemic started and so I shelved the idea, instead imagining someone doing exactly that in the fictional world of my story. The narrative then naturally jumped between the events that happened in the 1970s and those happening in the present.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
The main character in ‘The Cold Distance’ is a crime writer called Robert Cross. He is a complex person who, as he approaches his seventies, looks back on his somewhat disreputable past with a great deal of regret. The antagonist in the story is, in many ways, an amalgam of Rob the writer and the gradual realisation that he done a lot of harm in his life. That coupled with ideas like regret, memory, the passage of time and lingering guilt form the antagonist of the story.
What is the inciting incident of The Cold Distance?
The death of a university student called Stella in 1973 and a letter that is received by the main character in the present day
What is the main conflict of The Cold Distance?
The main conflict in the novel is between the Rob character of today and his recollections of what happened in the past. As he gradually uncovers memories he’d forgotten he realises that as a young man he was not as pleasant as he once thought he was. Those events from long ago begin to haunt him and lead him to reassess his whole life.
Did you plot The Cold Distance in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I knew how I wanted the story to start and how I wanted it to end. Writing the rest was like building a bridge that spanned the gap between the two. I find that sometimes the narrative takes on a life of its own and characters react in different ways to how you expect. That’s fun and exciting.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Cold Distance need?
In my experience all my manuscripts require a lot of editing. The help I got from others as well as that from my publisher, Cranthorpe Millner, was absolutely invaluable.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Get into a writing routine that suits you and write every day if possible.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’m currently working on a sequel to ‘An Alien Autumn.’ It’s called ‘A Blood Winter’ and will continue the story of the two undercover aliens in Victorian London. I am also planning another murder mystery story.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Writing a book of any sort is a wonderful achievement. The process of doing so requires a great deal of hard work and determination but of course is always worth the effort especially when you see your finished work on the shelf of a bookshop or library.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Facebook: Neil Coley
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