Today it’s my pleasure to be featuring another author I’ve ‘met’ through various online book groups, Steven Hayward. Steven’s latest book Jammed Up is published today 28th May 2016. Jammed Up is a novella that complements Steven’s first novel Mickey Take and is available to buy here, but if you read Steven’s interview you’ll find out how to get it for FREE by signing up to Steven’s newsletter.
To celebrate this latest publication, Steven kindly agreed to an interview on Linda’s Book Bag.
Loyalty. Betrayal. Injustice.
A rudeboy never forgets. It’s been ten long years and ‘Jam’ has been working his way through a list of men who tormented his best-friend, Jabba. Now there’s only one name left to cross off…
When he takes an easy lookout job for criminal entrepreneur, Herbert Long, he knows something’s not quite right. Knock-off gear and bent coppers have never been his bag, but the money’s good and he doesn’t want to live with his aunt forever. All he has to do is get down to the depot, watch a handover and report back what he sees. Little does he know what he’s getting himself and Jabba in to.
He’s not the only one nervous about the deal, DI Terence Pinner needs this to go off smoothly to settle a debt that has him enslaved to South London gangster Raymond Riggs. But with so many people involved and serious money at stake, things get messy very quickly.
Out of his depth and up against an organised criminal gang, Jam has to learn fast to stay alive. But if there’s one thing that keeps him going, it’s thoughts of sweet revenge…
An Interview with Steven Hayward
Hello Steven. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing.
Hello Linda, thank you for having me. I’m absolutely thrilled to be your guest today.
Firstly, please could you tell readers a little about yourself?
I suppose I could begin by telling you what a wild child I was and about all the crazy stuff I did as a youngster, and how my completely dysfunctional life led me to the creative place I now inhabit… But no, the truth of it is, I’m a (fairly) quiet, studious guy from a working class background and a close and happy family. I grew up on the coast in Dorset, became the black sheep only by virtue of going to grammar school, joined a bank, and (quickly glossing over the permed hair and highlights phase during the Duran Duran years) moved to London at the age of 22. I met my wife Helen and we’ve been married a long, long time. I travelled quite a lot for various banks, living and working in a few different places, ending up as the Head of Anti-Financial Crime at a US bank in Canary Wharf.
I’ve run the London Marathon twice and helped raise over half a million pounds for New Ways as the financial controller of its annual advent ball. I now divide my time between consulting for banks on their anti-money laundering controls, experimenting with book marketing strategies, being easily distracted on Facebook and Twitter, and occasionally writing crime fiction.
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
Looking back there was a point in time in all of that where I lost something that had burned within me as a child. While grammar school nurtured my right brain preferences for Art and English, to a greater extent it channelled me unwittingly along a more academic route. The rational left brain took over and sent me into a career that was to sustain me financially, but not creatively. It’s ironic that Economics was the subject I did least well in at school only to spend the next 25 years thinking about little else! It was 11 years ago that I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical and, as well as raising a beagle puppy (my muse, Ella), I went back to explore those creative preferences. Three years later, I quit the full-time job with the long-term aim of becoming a published author.
Today we’re celebrating Jammed Up, the novella prequel to your novel Mickey Take. Why did you decide a prequel was needed?
When I started writing Mickey Take, I had such a lot to learn. But, of course, it’s one of those situations where you know what you know (or at least think you know), but you don’t know what you don’t know! I now know that you can’t anonymously drop a new novel into the ocean of Amazon and expect anyone to notice – whether it’s any good or not. And you can’t spend months building support for that novel and then not reward your readers with something of a similar ilk – we all know how successful series are. And then a year ago I discovered Ian Sutherland. He’s the London-based writer of the Brody Taylor thriller stories, but also something of a Twitter guru. What struck me most about my first interaction with Ian was that he was offering me his book for free. In fact, he was offering his first book to everyone for free. Once I understood his strategy, I realised I had a problem. I didn’t have a series and I wasn’t about to give away the only book I’d published for free!
With my readers seemingly keen to read more about Mickey, I’d already been persuaded of the merits of a sequel and that was to be the priority when my most recent consulting contract ended last Summer. But first, Helen and I headed to Rome to celebrate our 25th (OMG, I must have been a cradle-snatcher!) and I came back with an idea for a short prequel with the common thread of a debt gone bad, which was the by-line of Mickey Take.
You may have heard of National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo. It’s like marathon running for writers! Well, I sat down on 1st November with a rough plan and a goal to write 50,000 words by the 30th. I failed. But unlike most who fail, it was words that I ran out of rather than days. By the 24th, I had 39,000 words and the first draft of Jammed Up finished. Now that it’s been through beta-readers, several re-writes, professional editing and proofreading, I no longer think of it as a marketing funnel, even though I will still be offering it for free. It’s both a prequel and an introduction to Mickey Take, albeit with one major difference.
What are the challenges of writing a prequel to another work?
In order to achieve its objectives, Jammed Up had to be capable of standing alone on its own merits, being enjoyed by readers of Mickey Take as a true prequel, whilst also offering completely new readers that introduction I was talking about, without spoiling their subsequent enjoyment of the original. The first challenge this presented was that I felt the existing lead characters, Michael Field and Grace de Manton, who are introduced and tell their stories in Mickey Take, couldn’t appear in this earlier tale. That led me to conclude that in addition to a debt going bad, the consistent theme had to be the backdrop and the antagonists rather than the main character – hence a prequel with a difference! I then saw an opportunity to take a relatively minor exposition in Mickey Take about the collapsed murder trial of the ruthless gangster, Raymond Riggs, and tell the story leading up to the death of his business partner. Not only did that act as a bridge between the two books, it also gave me a solid destination to write towards.
The next challenge was to create a new central character who was as flawed as Mickey, but at the same time very different, and pitch him equally, if not further outside his comfort zone within the corrupt world of Riggs, Herb Long and DI Terence Pinner. For inspiration, I looked to Croydon (five miles from where I live) with all its issues and diversity. From there the confrontational, but staunchly loyal and significantly more desirable (than Mickey, so I’m told) Kingston Michaels, aka rudeboy “Jam”, was born. That decision had the added appeal of giving this story a more urban feel and I had a lot of fun, and more than a little local help, giving Jam an authentic voice. I also gave him a young lady, but far from being just a love interest, Siobhan Jennings has a heart-breaking story of her own that acts as another link into Mickey Take.
Finally, several people have said that Mickey Take is a very complex thriller – and let’s be fair, there is a sociopathic serial killer lurking in the shadows that I haven’t even mentioned yet! So, I guess the other big challenge was to add sufficient layers into the novella (it now comes close to 50,000 words) that would do justice to the characters without disclosing any of the big secrets that a new reader would then still appreciate in the original novel. The hardest part was giving Jammed Up enough similarity in terms of style, characterisation and sub-plots without giving too much away about Mickey Take.
Have I achieved all of these objectives? As Mickey would say, you’ll be the judge of that!
You say the similarities between you and Michael stop when Michael ‘throws in the towel’ in the city, but how much of his character is like your own?
Confession time! Isn’t it the first trap every debut author falls into? You’re told to write about what you know, yeah? And then you can’t help transplanting your own personality onto the first protagonist to come along. I got so far into the first draft of Mickey Take before realising he had turned into me! I then went about reversing everything to make him the antithesis of me, by sharing my personality traits in a given situation around the other characters (for example, Mickey’s boss and his mum) or by having Mickey do the exact opposite to what I would do. That said, he does still have a moral compass; his problem is that he allows himself to get too close to too many magnets. Boy, I wish I’d thought of that line when I was writing Mickey Take!
Grace is also a strong character. How did you go about creating her? Is she based on someone real?
Show me a straight male author who hasn’t created a character to represents his ideal woman! No, seriously, I suppose there are one or two people I’ve known who might be lurking somewhere behind the character of Grace de Manton. And maybe I’ve always been in thrall to petite women with imposing personalities! Grace starts out as a single-minded predator with her own agenda, but that soon changes. I think what makes her different is that a challenging upbringing has left her streetwise, but she remains very self-aware. She has self-confidence and she’s nobody’s fool, but her drive to find the truth about her past is directing her towards a more settled life. ‘I soon came to realise,’ she says, ‘happy families is just a card game.’
Siobhan Jennings in Jammed Up is physically very different, has a normal background – you might even say, privileged – but she’s equally assertive when the men around her show their weakness. And she has also known tragedy. It would be interesting to see how the two might get along in future…
You’ve had some amazing reviews for Mickey Take. What is it, do you think, that draws readers to psychological thrillers like yours so readily?
Thank you. Yes, I’ve been bowled over by the positive response. I think what makes people intrigued by psychological thrillers is the fine line that often exist between our perception of good and evil and the seemingly subtle differences that can lead some people to do the things that others would never dream of doing. Also, I think, like me, people are intrigued by the ease with which these “evil” people assimilate into society and often excel in authoritative positions. In researching for Mickey Take, I wanted to understand the distinction between psychopaths and sociopaths. Some argue the terms are interchangeable and I accept this is a highly complex area with a whole spectrum of characteristics, but I liked the simplicity of the definition that equates the terms with nature and nurture. It suggests that a psychopath is born bad, whereas a sociopath is conditioned by their environment to do bad things. What I find scary is that society often highly values many of the traits of psychopaths, which makes it both easier and more rewarding for them to integrate. The unknown element is what makes these ruthless, manipulative people kill, and I think that’s the part that fascinates readers the most.
If Mickey Take became a film, which actor would you choose to play Michael Field and why?
I used to say Danny Dyer… but in recent years that has become a little clichéd, given that it seems Danny Dyer only ever plays… Danny Dyer! Right now I’m looking at a picture online of Tom Hardy – and I know that would be a popular choice with the ladies. He seems to be about the right age, five foot nine, unruly crop of slicked back hair, has a slightly used look about his face, and in the suit and tie he’s wearing, he could certainly pass for a non-conformist failing to impersonate a banker!
I know you haven’t entirely left city life behind. Which persona – author or financial crime consultant – is your preferred role and why?
I absolutely love the writing persona. I am a bit of a control freak so I’m happiest being my own boss. I’m also naturally introverted and enjoy my own company. Writing is a very solitary process but I never feel lonely. I’m also never not busy. The only thing missing by comparison is the income! As a consultant, I enjoy working with others and solving problems and I’ve always enjoyed the recognition that has come with my professional career. So, if there’s one thing that would make my writing life complete, it would be to one day earn that same level of respect as an author.
If I wanted to commit a financial crime, what three things might catch me out?
Great question, if slightly compromising! I could quote the criminal offence provisions for tipping off under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, but I won’t!
- Don’t use awful spelling, grammar and Edwardian salutations when operating your so-called boiler-room email scam. We used to have hours of fun reading them all. But beware, these are getting better all the time. I’m sure that’s not a mistake you would ever make, Linda!
- Never turn up at Border Control with a case full of €500 notes. Their large denomination makes them the banknote of choice for traffickers. Previously nicknamed Bin Ladens; you knew what they looked like, that they were out there somewhere, and they moved around a lot. But no-one ever saw one!
- Don’t run your small retail business with a low turnover, and then start making regular large deposits of cash. Even if they are below the regulatory threshold for monitoring, the bank is obliged to know its customer’s business sufficiently to discover if the amounts bear any resemblance to its actual turnover.
Hmm – I think I’ll stick to blogging!
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Mickey Take and Jammed Up should be their next reads, what would you say?
Discover the next hapless victim in the longstanding feud between Herb Long and Raymond Riggs.
15 words exactly – well done!
On a different note, you’re a strong supporter of the New Ways charity which works to improve life for those in Africa. Why this particular charity?
In a previous bank role, I ran the relationship management team serving UK pension clients. One of my major relationships was with Unilever where I met Angela Docherty who was the senior investment advisor. In her spare time, Angela had established the charity New Ways which was, and remains, the UK fund-raising arm for various missionary-led activities in Kenya, Ethiopia and Malawi. I volunteered on the annual ball committee and, even after we had both moved on from the jobs that brought us together, Angela and I remain close friends and I continued as financial controller for ten years.
What I love about New Ways is the positive and direct impact it has on the lives of a large number of people, but through a philosophy of empowerment. In Turkana, Kenya, for example, it initially targeted the most vulnerable within the semi-nomadic pastoral communities – pregnant women and children under five – but now provides healthcare, education and nutrition to thousands of children on a daily basis. And by encouraging the drilling and damming for water, the growing of crops and the catching of fish abundant in Lake Turkana, gradually, and with sensitivity towards an ancient culture, it has facilitated a better and more sustainable way of living.
The vast majority of New Ways fundraising efforts are derived through volunteers giving the charity an incredibly low cost base (less than 5%) when compared with all the large well-known charities you might donate your time or money to. There’s a real sense that your ten pounds, or whatever it is, is actually being spent on things that make a real difference. And when you hear that New Ways can feed a child for a year for less than £50, it really is a no-brainer!
Since first publishing Mickey Take, I have and will continue to donate 5% of all royalties to New Ways on an annual basis.
That sounds amazing. If blog readers would like to find out more about New Ways, they can click here.
Finally, Steven, is there anything else you would have liked to be asked?
I’d just like to say something about covers. I’m one of those risk-taking (foolish?) indie authors who create their own. The big challenge with that is getting an objective viewpoint on whether they stand up to scrutiny in a highly competitive marketplace. I love playing with graphics and am always open to honest feedback and I’m hugely grateful to a whole host of people for helping me find the right look for both books. In thinking about what to do for the cover of Jammed Up, and to allow a more consistent style across what has become the “Debt Goes Bad” series, I decided to subtly alter the e-book cover for Mickey Take to the greyscale version you see today. I’d like to give a shout-out to a young lady on Facebook who I’ve never met, who came up with the idea for keeping the eyes blue. I’m hugely grateful to her. Take a bow, Regan Lockhart!
One last thing, that strategy I was talking about… well it’s now live, so Jammed Up is available for free to everyone, via my website. So please click the link here and claim your copy!
About Steven Hayward
Steven is a financial crime consultant who suddenly decided some time ago, his dream was to write fiction. His debut novel, Mickey Take: When a debt goes bad…, features an ex-banker who throws in the towel on his “big” City job, but that’s where the similarity ends. Between writing crime thrillers and volunteering as the financial controller of the annual New Ways Advent Ball, Steven periodically ventures back into the ranks of London commuters. In contrast, Michael Field, the protagonist and primary narrator of Mickey Take, is perhaps less likely to resume his career in financial services anytime soon!
Murder. Corruption. Revenge.
For hapless ex-banker, Mickey Field, losing his City job and beautiful wife is just the beginning. The proposition from one-time friend and small-time gangster, Herbert Long, is non-negotiable. Pay-back for that little cover-up years ago, from which young Mickey emerged unscathed, to climb the corporate ladder. But this time, there’s no easy way out.
If you like your heroes conflicted and outwitted at every turn, and your heroines strong and manipulative, you’re going to love Mickey and Grace. And if you enjoy being teased by the dark threat of an evil force lurking in the shadows, you won’t want to stop reading Mickey Take until you’ve discovered the identity of the cold-blooded killer.
Readers are calling Steven Hayward’s impressive debut a gripping, edge of your seat, psychological thriller, expertly written, full of twists and turns. Grab the paperback or download the ebook today. Go on, Take the Mickey!
To buy Mickey Take, click here!