Tuesday, 7 October 2008

An interview with author, Nik Morton

Links on Tell Me a Story


  • This week I’d like to introduce you to author, Nik Morton. Nik, how long have you been a writer?

Thank you, Anthony. I’ve been a writer for about 46 years. I wrote and drew comics then moved on to short stories when I was about 14.
When I was 16, I’d written my first novel, a spy adventure entitled A MAN IS KNOWN BY THE COMPANY HE KILLS; needless to say, it’s unpublished, as is its sequel, KILL A MAN WHILE HE’S DOWN. I didn’t do much else until I was in my early twenties serving in the RN: I edited the ship’s magazine and contributed stories, articles and illustrations.

In about 1970 I started a writing correspondence course and within a short time I was selling genre short stories to men’s magazines, when they used to feature non-erotic adventure fiction. My first commercial short story was ‘Hover-jack’, a spy story set in the Solent, published in Parade. My sales successes were such that the correspondence course advisers wanted me to become a tutor – but I was required to be on the end of a phone which clashed with my naval career, so I had to turn them down. I’ve been writing ever since.

  • So just how many books have you written?

Besides those two early attempts (which I still have), I’ve written and completed 9 novels (7 sold) and 3 novellas.

  • Wow! Quite a feat. What prompted you to write your latest books?

My two latest books – The Prague Manuscript and The Tehran Transmission are set in the Cold War, a period I enjoyed reading about: thrillers by Adam Hall, John Gardner, John Le Carré and Len Deighton, among others. For more years than I care to remember, the psychic spy Tana Standish has been with me, evolving. Her missions take her to many exotic places and I’ve even been to some of them while in the navy – including the Khyber Pass! I believe you’ve got to enjoy the genre you’re writing for or the writing will fail.

  • Too damn true, Nik. Have you had many struggles on the road to being published? Most of us have tales of failures to tell.

I’ve sold many short stories and articles and I know my writing is of a publishable standard – a publisher told me when rejecting a manuscript, ‘indeed, it’s better than many books that are published, but…’ So it’s probably just inappropriate subject matter, bad luck or bad timing or not approaching the right people at the right time; any or all of those reasons meant my novels didn’t get taken up.

  • I think that’s quite often true.

In retrospect, I was probably still acquiring my ‘voice’, though that ‘voice’ depends on the type of novel I’m writing. Style and voice in Pain Wears No Mask, which is narrated by a nun who used to be a policewoman, is different to the third person narrative of Tana Standish and her fellow male agents, Tyson and Swann, and yet different again when writing about hard men and tough women of the Old West in three quite varied westerns.

Over the years, I’ve been close – two big literary agents were very interested in my character Sister Rose, though that wasn’t her name at the time. I even had an interview with a publisher with a view to publishing a series of crime novels about Sister Rose. But the interest died or the publisher changed direction in response to the accountants. A fantasy quest novel came very close too, but again a publisher’s reorganisation diverted interest.

  • So what has been the best part, and worst part, about being published?

The best part was holding my first book, a hardback western, in my hands, albeit under one of my pennames – Ross Morton. After so many years striving, I found it a little ironic: I researched the westerns published by Robert Hale, planned a story and then wrote it in 19 days. Equally satisfying is to see books published that have been many years in gestation; the wait was definitely worth it: inevitably, after many rewrites over time they’re better books. I kept my faith in the characters and their stories and Libros showed faith too in accepting and publishing them. Worst part about being published? There isn’t any, though much creative time is spent spreading the word and getting people to read my books. After all, I wrote them to be read, not to make mega bucks. Usually, readers enjoy them, and that’s the most important aspect of writing – spreading enjoyment.

  • And where would you say your work was aimed , mainly at men, women or children?

Throughout my writing career my reading has been eclectic. I’ve read westerns, sci-fi, horror and fantasy books, sagas, romances, thrillers, biographies, history, crime and even erotic novels. I don’t specifically aim at a readership, though I know that probably 60% of book readers are female. Certainly, my crime thriller Pain Wears No Mask will appeal to readers of Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell and Tess Gerritsen. My Tana Standish thrillers probably appeal to both sexes. Most feedback for both books has been favourable, the comments from both sexes usually being, ‘I couldn’t put it down!’

  • So where are your books available?

Any online bookstore, Bookworld España in Spain, or any mainstreet bookshop, though they may have to be ordered at the latter.

  • I know! It’s always a problem getting books stocked in brick and mortar stores – too many books chasing too few shelves. Have you any other work in the pipeline?

I certainly have, Anthony. I’m into the third Tana Standish thriller, The Khyber Chronicle, set in Afghanistan at the lead-up to the Soviet invasion. I’m also planning a sequel to Pain Wears No Mask entitled Silenced in Darkness, which again will be in the first person – ie from Sister Rose’s perspective, with more flashbacks to her time as a policewoman. And several short stories are bubbling to the surface, plus a new private eye series of books…

  • Would you like to give us an outline of your latest book?

My latest book is due out soon from Libros: The Tehran Transmission, is set in Iran during the period 1978-79, leading up to the Islamic Revolution. She has recovered from her mission in Czechoslovakia a couple of years back and is sent into Tehran following a number of pro-Khomeini demonstrations and deaths; the shah has declared martial law and British interests are threatened.

Tana assassinates SAVAK captain Mokhtarian who tortured one of her friends then teams up with an underground cell conspiring against the shah. Meanwhile, in a Special Psychiatric Hospital at Kazakhstan, Dr Schneider from the Prague Manuscript is visited by Spetsnaz trained GRU lieutenant Aksakov. She asks him to tell her all he knows about Tana Standish. Elsewhere, in the Kirlian Institute, Professor Bublyk’s Group has been alerted to keep watch for a psychic by the name of Tana Standish. Dr Schneider brings word about Tana’s abilities...

Bublyk learns that she is in Iran. Capturing the British SIS agent would vindicate all his expensive psi research. And he wants her as a live experiment. Within the institute one psychic, Raisa Savitsky, is jealous of Karel Yakunin’s infatuation with the British psychic, Standish.

In Iran, Tana teams up with Lance Colombo, a CIA operative who discovers that his superior has been helping the SAVAK secret police torture civilians. They both just avoid death at the hands of a demented Pahlavani assassin. Tana attempts remote viewing, spying on Evin prison and learns of a plan to capture an Iranian friend and his family.

She is tipped into mental limbo where only the psychic contact of Karel helps her prevail and recover. Now she knows about The Group and Karel Yakunin. At Shiraz Tana plucks her friends from the clutches of SAVAK. There are tense moments as Aksakov in a helicopter closes in on Tana. But they manage to contact a British submarine, HMS Onyx, in the Persian Gulf and evade Aksakov. The tension mounts as Tana is called out to Iran again; it’s probably a trap but she has to go – this time to the ancient city of Yazd. Her psychic abilities will be called upon to combat Aksakov and Bublyk’s Group.

There’s a cat-and-mouse conflict in the snow-clad mountains on the border of Afghanistan with the ending an ironic echo of the book’s beginning… Which will lead on to the sequel, The Khyber Chronicle, which I have begun.

A fourth chronicle is planned, set in Argentina during the Falklands War, 1982. For a change of pace, I’m also writing a romantic thriller set in Tenerife; I’m 11,000 words in and it’s fully plotted; but other tasks keep preventing me from continuing; I’ve been trying to get busy on it for the last four weeks!

I have five other books planned, plus another upcoming western. I’d also like to find a book publisher for my sci-fi, fantasy and ghost short stories, most of which have been published in magazine format. I have to admit that times are quite exciting right now. And to cap it off, my wife Jen and I have been made grandparents for the first time.

  • Exciting times indeed, you're a very busy man. Thanks for that Nik, and congratulations on your first grandchild. I have eight now, and I’m afraid I’m at the point where I start to forget names and birthdays. I have to write birthdays down in a prominent place, it would be terrible to miss them.

  • All the best with your new book. Hope we chat again sometime.

  • Next post, My interview.
  • Bedlam.
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