My next guest I have is a very clever gentleman indeed. He's called Rob Sinclair. His new book has just been launched and it's called The Red Cobra, and I'll tell you now, it's brilliant. If you enjoyed any of his other books, believe me you will enjoy this one; it's a cracking read, and he's here to tell me all about it.
So Rob; All in all, you’ve had great success with three of your novels, the Enemy Series, which really come highly recommended, I should say. Then you have a cracking read called Dark Fragments, all about murder, money, and revenge. Again, everyone was raving about it, and now you have a new one out called, The Red Cobra. So please, tell me all about it.
The Red Cobra is a follow-on to my Enemy books, but it picks up with the hero of those books, Carl Logan, in a new time and place and with a new identity - James Ryker. Although Logan got to a good point of closure in Hunt for the Enemy, he was just too important to me to stop his story there. Because of that closure, though, I was also absolutely determined to make The Red Cobra a new start point. I’d already put Logan through so much in the three Enemy books that by the end of Hunt for the Enemy, it felt like it would be almost too implausible (even for thriller fiction!) to think of another connected (and concocted) scenario. This culminated in the idea of Logan’s new identity, James Ryker. It made absolute sense to me that Logan would have moved as far away from his life in the JIA as he could - new identity, new location, new outlook on life. But, at the same time, his history is so convoluted and twisted and murky that it had to be his past life that spoiled his new-found idyll.
And that’s where the story of Red Cobra comes in - an infamous female assassin. I’d long toyed with the idea of writing a book about a female assassin, and had an idea in my head as to what her backstory would be (which is told in this book through flashbacks to her childhood in post-Soviet Georgia). Suddenly it made sense to use that character for Ryker, and to have their past lives intertwined. In the book, having been presumed dead for many years, The Red Cobra mysteriously reappears following the murder of a woman in Spain, and thus begins the series of events that draws Ryker back out into the open, hunting for an old adversary who may or may not be a threat to him and everyone he knows.
As I said before, three of your novels have made up the Enemy Series. Will we be seeing anymore of your books made into a future series, or will they stay as standalone books?
I get drawn into writing series quite naturally, I think because I build an affinity with my characters and want to tell more of their stories. Having said that, I’d rather keep the series short and sharp rather than dragging them out unnecessarily. So the Enemy series was 3 books, and this James Ryker series will be three books (there are already two more books to follow from the Red Cobra - The Black Hornet and the Silver Wolf - both of which should be released this year). I’m also developing a spin-off series to Dark Fragments which will be three books, and you never know, perhaps there’s still life in Logan/Ryker for some more of those down the road!
Out of all the books you have written, what’s your favourite? Oh and tell me what you love; or hate about it.
You know at the time it’s always the one I’ve just written, because I get so involved in the characters and the stories that the most current book just feels the most real to me. That said, thinking about the books and how easily the stories came, and how much I enjoyed writing them, I think I’d say The Red Cobra. The setting in Southern Spain is an area I’m very familiar with and have a great affinity too, so it was nice to try and draw out a lot of aspects of that region in the book, and I like how in that book it’s not just James Ryker who takes centre stage but The Red Cobra herself, who the whole story pivots around. She was a really great character to write about because she was so different to what I’d done before, and I wouldn’t rule out using her again in the future.
How hard is it to write interesting characters into your stories?
In some respects it gets a little harder with each book, because you’ve got to make each character stand out and be different to ones you’ve already used. Unfortunately some of my best characters are now dead, and it’s always a dilemma who lives and dies - it would be easier not to kill anyone off at all just in case, but then the stories wouldn’t carry quite as much weight. The problem is, looking 5, 10, 15 years down the line I’m not sure my imagination is that varied to keep on producing wholly new characters! Plus, when I’m drafting, I tend to write very quickly, just trying to get from point A to point B and figure the plot out, so quite often characterisation gets left to the side initially, and then it always feels like a bit of a pain to have to go back through and make sure they’re properly developed! So yeah, it is hard to create new and interesting characters, but luckily I have great editors on hand to help me with that process.
How much, if any, has your own personal character gone into any of these characters?
I think I go into all of them, in one way or another, even the most horrible of characters! We all see the world through our own eyes so even when we’re thinking up the worst characters who do despicable things, it’s all from our point of view - that’s not to say the characters share my personal opinions on matters, but it’s still my thought process that goes into their thought process, if that makes sense. It’s inevitable that each character in a book is deeply influenced by the writer’s life and people in their life, though I’ve never set out to base a character on myself, or on someone I know in particular, you just borrow pieces from here, there and everywhere really.
Now for everyone that hasn’t read any of your books. What would they gain from reading them?
Thrills! My task is always to write a page-turner. A book where every time you get to the end of a chapter there’s a hook to keep you going to the next one. I hope I’ve achieved that. The Enemy series is classed as espionage, but really I think they’ve got broader reach than that and are accessible to anyone who likes crime and thriller fiction of any variety. I don’t write high brow fiction, I want my books to be pure entertainment.
How would you describe your own writing style?
Like I said, for me it’s all about having a style that is easy to read and accessible, but at the same time giving people entertainment and thrills. I want people to turn the pages and just escape into the book, and to devour them as quickly as they can - that to me is the sign of a good read. I’m not sure how that style is described, though plenty of agents and publishers (when they were rejecting me!) told me in the past that I had a great commercial style - whatever that really means.
You only need to look on Amazon to find you have received many fantastic five-star reviews for all of your books. Now, what I would like to know is; personally, what do reviews mean to you as an author?
Reviews mean a lot. They can make or break any day and I’ll check every day on Amazon to see if there are any new ones. I don’t really know how much readers are influenced by them, and I think writers probably take them more seriously than they ought to, but if I have a new 5 star review it makes me feel happy, and if I have a new 1 star review it usually makes me really mad, and does get me down. It’s never nice to be judged negatively by people, especially when it’s a one way communication - there’s not really the opportunity to hit back at the 1 star reviewers to defend yourself and at times they can be quite nasty and poisonous.
What was the best or worst review you have ever had, and what was you reaction to it?
I can’t pick a best one, because there are so many. Every 5 star to me is cherished. Just like all the 1 stars are horrible. But the worst one was a 1 star I got for my first book, Dance with the Enemy, and it came at a time when I was an unknown and selling virtually no books, and trying everything to get myself noticed. Through Goodreads.com I’d found a half dozen people to review the book in a book group, and all but one was positive of my work. One guy absolutely trashed it, though, gave a 1 star and wrote pretty much an essay describing why he hated it and why I was such a terrible writer. That’s what gets me mad - when reviews attack the author without provocation, like they’ve personally insulted the reader. It’s just not necessary. I gave this book to the guy for free so he could read and review it. I can’t always expect 5 stars in that situation but personally, if I was him and genuinely didn’t like it that much, I would have told the author the book wasn’t for me, told them privately if there really were some major issues with the writing like horrendous spelling and grammar, and just not posted a public review. I don’t see why any reviewer should try to hurt an author or post a review that is potentially damaging to them. We’re just people trying to make a living like everyone else - our books are our livelihood.
Has there ever been a moment in time that sticks out as being a turning point in your writing life?
There’ve been several really. The first big one was making the decision to self-publish the Enemy series, after a couple of years of being rejected by agents and publishers. With editing and learning more about the craft, over that rejection period I felt I was getting closer and closer to getting a deal, but then one day I decided enough was enough. I didn't want the books to just sit on my computer forever, and I felt confident they were good enough, so I made the decision to publish them myself rather than waste any more time, and not wanting to get myself any more down from the constant rejection. The way things have panned out it was obviously a good choice, though it did feel like a huge risk at the time, and certainly not every self-publisher who has a great book gets all the breaks I’ve had, but it didn’t come easy, I worked hard for it too.
If you were to change anything in your career as a writer, what would you change?
Overall I’m happy with where my career is now, but there probably are some things I’d change still, if I could just invent that time machine. I spent a lot of money on marketing in the early days, even hiring expensive PR companies to try to get me airtime. My wife backed me in spending our savings on that, but looking back a lot of that money was more or less wasted. It was a gamble I was prepared to take to try to get my career to take off. Luckily some strategies did work, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this interview now with my fifth book coming out, but if I were to do it all again I’d certainly know how to spend that money more effectively. Overall, though, I’m in a good place now so I can’t complain too much, and I guess we learn from our mistakes.
Rob, This has been a fantastic interview. Many thanks for taking time out and being here today. I’m sure, The Red Cobra is going to be a massive success, and I wish you the very best of luck with it.