Interview: Adrian Magson

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Adrian Magson is known for his Gavin and Palmer series of crime novels, all of which have titles starting with the word ‘no’. There’s No Sleep for the Dead, No Help for the Dying and, yes, No Peace for the Wicked. Luckily, when we asked him for an interview, he said, ‘Yes’. The author has been developing two new series, one featuring 1960s French detective Inspector Lucas Rocco and the other is about ex-MI5 agent Harry Tate. Soon, we’ll be bringing you our review of the third Rocco book, Death on the Pont Noir. We decided to ask him a few questions about it…

What made you choose France – and the Picardie region in particular – as a setting for Death on the Pont Noir?
My family moved to France in 1958 and I went to school there, so I wanted to see if I could write a crime thriller based in France. Using the Picardie region as a setting was a bit of a gamble, but I didn’t want the setting to overtake the characters or plot and it made sense to set the action among the kind of people I had experience of, although none of the characters are based on anyone specific. Bringing Rocco out of his former Paris base allowed me to avoid the image of a slow-witted country plodder, but also showed that crime is crime no matter where it takes place. I had some fun creating the characters around him, such as Claude Lamotte, his sidekick and local garde champetre, Mme Denis, his neighbour, and some of the other non-city types who come into his life.

Are the 1960s a period you are naturally attracted to?
It was this period I knew from my time there, but the 60s were also a time of huge change for France. It was very rural, there were still strong echoes of the War and the Indochina conflict, the Algerian situation was coming to a head, but there was also an influx of international trade, music and social attitudes from abroad. All of this provides me with a great backdrop against which I can paint each story, something I find very useful to give some feel of realism.

Which do you prefer, personally – village or city life?
I was born in the country, on a farm, and used to live and work in London, so I know both very well. But I much prefer the countryside, although I do enjoy occasional visits to town for a change of pace. You might expect French village life to have changed dramatically since the 1960s, but I recently returned to the area and found so much that hadn’t changed a bit.

Is Rocco ever going to find the love of a good woman?  And, isn’t he a little ahead of his time with his insistence on jogging?
Well, the love bit is beginning to unfurl a little in book four, so I shouldn’t worry too much about that. I don’t want him to be a hermit, but neither do I want to portray him as a clichéd French lothario with a woman in every bistro!

As for the jogging, it’s been suggested to me that the term wasn’t even coined then. But the word was in use to describe running or moving at a leisurely pace, and as many former military people of the time will attest, that’s how fitness was kept up. Since Rocco was ex-army and is now a policeman, he would have been required to keep up a certain level of fitness, and gyms simply weren’t common then. He also uses the time for some inner reflection – for the reader’s benefit – and it distinguishes him from anyone else in the village, a weird activity that the villagers would somehow expect of this cop from Paris.

You’ve written the Harry Tate spy thrillers, and the Gavin and Palmer detective series too.  Do you find it difficult to work on multiple projects simultaneously?
I think I have a butterfly mind. I’ve always worked on a variety of genres, and find the change of pace and style refreshing. It’s nice to work on something shorter after being locked into a book of 90,000 words; but equally nice to go back to the next book after writing some short pieces. If I get stuck on one project, I switch to another.

But with the two current series, Lucas Rocco (France, 1960s), and Harry Tate (spies, contemporary), I write them entirely separately, alternating between the two. If I tried writing them simultaneously, I’d end up having Rocco reaching for his Nokia or iPhone, which someone would notice!

You’ve also written YA literature and even women’s short stories under a pseudonym. Are you very disciplined?
I’ve always taken a very businesslike approach to writing. Even when I had a day job, I used whatever spare time I had to write. I used to travel all over Europe for my work, so had lots of time between flights to think about and write bits for the next project. Then I was made redundant, and finished ‘work’ on the Friday and began writing full-time on the Monday (for which I have my wife, Ann, to thank). I had been selling short stories and features, radio shorts and some comedy pieces for many years, so it was really a question of doing full-time what I’d been struggling with part-time. It also allowed me to pick up some writing ventures I wouldn’t have had time for before, like penning the Beginners page in Writing Magazine, which subsequently became Write On! The Writer’s Help Book.

What’s next for Inspector Lucas Rocco?
I do like to take a historical event to use as a backdrop. The fourth book in the series, called Death at the Clos du Lac, due out in summer 2013, concerns a rogue department within the government machine, and the kidnap of an industrialist’s wife, set against trade negotiations the French were undergoing with communist China at the time. Again, it’s just a backdrop, but it allowed me to play with real events and make the writing more interesting. Hopefully, it makes them more interesting to read, as well.

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