An Interview with John Nightingale, author of The Appearance of Murder


Soon I’ll be putting out a blog post explaining why I’ve failed to read as many books as I would have liked in 2016. One of those books that I haven’t had chance to read yet is The Appearance of Murder by John Nightingale. The Appearance of Murder was published by Spider Monkey Books and is available for purchase in e-book, hardback and paperback here.

As this thriller looks so much the kind of read I’d enjoy, I had to invite John onto Linda’s Book Bag to tell me a little more about it and you can read that interview below.

The Appearance of Murder


Crime writer David Knight is dragged back into a past in which it seems he might have fathered a child or even committed murder. Neither possibility is going to be popular with his wife Kate.

The trouble is that David hasn’t a clue about what actually happened…

An Interview with John Nightingale

Hi John. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and The Appearance of Murder in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

We were sort of nouveau poor. My father’s family had once owned a fertiliser business but all that was left when I was born was a large car park where the factory had once been. My uncle had been a racing driver famous for racing on even though he had been hit on the head by a bonnet that had become detached from a car in front of him. I never met my maternal grandfather until just before he died because he had run off thirty years before with a younger woman and when we finally met he was blind and had to reach up and feel the top of my shoulders to find out how tall I was – all very Dickensian.

(Goodness –  there sounds to be plenty of material there for many future novels!)

And tell us a bit about The Appearance of Murder (though don’t give away the plot!)

It’s about a crime writer who is dragged back into a past in which it seems he might have fathered a child or even committed murder. He needs to sort things out before events become out of control. The trouble is he hasn’t a clue about whether he is guilty or not as he is suffering memory loss for the time in question. So he faces the dilemma that as his investigation proceeds the guilty party he may be exposing is himself but he hasn’t really got any other option than to get to the truth.

(I think this sounds fabulous and can’t wait to read The Appearance of Murder)

How far has your writing acted as a foil to your previous careers in the civil service and pensions and how far have those roles been an inspiration?

I had a lot of very interesting jobs in the civil service. When I was helping sort out the Maxwell pensions scandal I did a lot of work with Sir John Cuckney who had been a spy in MI5. He used to go round with loads of cash that he would put into money clips and then deposit in various pockets in his coat and jacket. He also normally didn’t commit anything much to paper but would run through quite complicated topics verbally until he was sure he covered every angle. I think he just didn’t like leaving too much of a trail!

My wife was the first woman Private Secretary in 10 Downing Street that meant that I got invited to events at No 10 and Chequers. It was great – particularly as a writer – to be able to observe what was going on. My other series character is a high-flying early thirties Treasury civil servant, Jane Charles, who I’m hoping to return to once I’ve finished the follow up David Knight novel. People found the setting of the first Jane Charles book The Sky Blue Parcel (available as an ebook here) particularly authentic. I’m sure that’s because I’ve been inside the process.


Your protagonist in The Appearance of Murder is David Knight. I wondered how you chose his name and created him, as Knight reminds me of the age of chivalry and an Everyman type character. How far was this your intention?

That’s a very perceptive question. Knight certainly has echoes of chivalry and quest about it. David Knight is also Everyman in the sense that he simply doesn’t know what he’s done (or, in a sense, what he is capable of). That’s a predicament that could affect anyone. So all those echoes are  there although I suspect they came about instinctively when I was choosing the names.

I know you’re interested in the sense of the surreal. How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your writing is realistic whilst maintaining the layers of intrigue?

You can almost always find useful information – at least to start you off – on the net. I tend to print stuff off and index it. I remember one day I was doing a list that ran – Counter surveillance; Decomposition (of bodies); Open verdict; Repressed memory; Body bags; Female desire; DNA; Difference between male and female skeletons; Finding buried bodies etc and suddenly thinking I’m sure somebody can read this remotely and having a paranoid few seconds waiting for a tap on the shoulder! One safer way forward is simply to buy a book about the subject. Sleep and dreams feature a bit in The Appearance of Murder and I found a book called Sleepfaring by Jim Horne very interesting! Books also have the advantage that you can suddenly come across something that you were previously unaware of that may suggest a way to keep writing realistic while pushing the plot forward. To quote John Major ‘I don’t know what I don’t know.’ With a book you have a much better chance of finding out what that is. In The Appearance of Murder I push a bit into theoretical possibilities for sleep and dreams but I always try to ensure that any conjecture is soundly based.

As there are conceits and layers in The Appearance of Murder, how did you manage to keep on top of the threads of your writing? 

I started off The Appearance of Murder as an organic process without too many notes and then got a long way into the book before finding it didn’t work as well as I wanted it to. Eventually I had one of those ‘Eureka!’ moments when I suddenly saw a simple change in the plot would sort everything out. Unfortunately that meant whole that most the book had to be re-written! For the follow up David Knight The Direction of Murder I did much more work upfront in getting the plot sorted before I stated the wring process. So for this book I had a detailed plot, notes on all the characters, general notes, and a time frame all in place before the writing process began. I also find it useful to briefly summarise the main events in a chapter once I’m happy with it so I have a ‘log’ to refer to.

So, which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

I think the most difficult thing is ensuring the plot and characters are well developed before you start. This doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind or that characters won’t suddenly surprise you but you’ve got to be sure that you have a sufficiently robust structure available to explore the basic idea or inspiration for the book. Once that is done I find dialogue comes more easily than description because there always seems to be a next sentence available.

When you write, how aware are you of your intended readership?

I don’t think what I write is quite like anything else out there. One reviewer called it ‘a genuinely original mystery which is unlike everything else I’ve read from the genre’. My ideal imaginary reader is probably somebody who has had a hard day at the office and has decided to curl up somewhere comfortable with a glass of wine and a book for company and who is looking to be entertained and have some fun.  Ideally the book will linger on after they have finished it.

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

When I’m researching or planning a book I don’t really have a set routine. When I’ve started writing the book itself I usually set targets – say a 1,000 words a day. That means that you get something down. I review what I’ve written the next day – and sometimes start again! I don’t like finishing a day’s work at the end of a chapter so I’ll always write a few lines of the next chapter at least. I try to have a comfortable chair and a desk or table and to have a window to one side so I can glance out – preferably at something green. I like a few books around and a printer. I work mostly on the screen but sometimes simply have to print stuff off and work on hard copy.  I sometimes listen to music as a background but on other days only silence will do music. I don’t know why and I can’t predict how I’m going to feel in advance. If it is a music day I don’t really recall what I’ve listened to but hopefully my subconscious does!

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

I have one or two favourite novelists like Jonathan Coe and I always read their next book when it appears. At the moment I’m reading lots of crime short stories. I’ve also just started a book called Reality Is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli that is a sort of potted history of humankind’s various theories of what the universe is made out of and how it works written in a really clear and lucid way.

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

I’ve always been interested in the nature of ‘reality’ in the sense of how thinks work (hence the Rovelli book) and just how the human mind functions. I’m also interested in history and what people are prepared to do and the circumstances in which they are prepared to do it. Crime fiction is an obvious genre to explore both ideas.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

I also write plays and when I’m not writing plays or novels I find myself setting quizzes. My crisp tasting round matching crisps to their description is surprisingly difficult!

There’s quite a lot of light and shade on the cover image for The Appearance of Murder which suggests a level of obfuscation to me. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

We had been trying out various ideas that were OK but not as visually striking as we wanted. We  came across this photograph that was both an interesting image and seemed to fit with the basic proposition that faces David and that is captured in the strapline ‘If you can’t remember – how do you know what you’ve done’. The white light in the foreground and the golden light in the background have been intensified by the designer to deepen the difference between light and darkness and the possible fates that await David…

If you could choose to be a character from The Appearance of Murder, who would you be and why?

It’s a first person narrative so it would be difficult to be anyone other than David Knight. I also like David’s friend, the gadget obsessed Jerry, and it would be great to be able to mend anything and have the right piece of equipment for any job!

If The Appearance of Murder became a film, who would you like to play David Knight?

A lot of the plot relates to the actions of a group of university friends twenty-five years in the past. A younger Bill Nighy would be perfect but Benedict Cumberbatch would do an excellent job. He would also be good with the surreal aspects of the plot. One of the things I’m trying to do for my readers is to give them situations which seem inexplicable and then give a logical explanation. From seeing him on ‘Sherlock’ I think he’s be good at conveying that mental stretch. There’s also a slight Holmes/Watson echo in the relationship between David and his friend Jerry although I think Martine Freeman would be better cast as the children’s entertainer Peter Parchment who is one of the main characters  in the book!

(That answer made me smile as we use this question in my book group and we ALWAYS try to give Bill Nighy a role!)

And finally, John, if you had 15 words to persuade a reader that The Appearance of Murder should be their next read, what would you say?

If you like classic crime and a witty and entertaining plot this is for you!

Thank you so much, John, for your time in answering my questions.

About John Nightingale


John Nightingale is a thriller writer and creator of the David Knight and Jane Charles series. Before becoming a full-time novelist, John worked as a civil servant in a number of different roles, including as  an expert on pensions, playing a leading role in sorting out the Maxwell pension scandal.  He lives and writes in London and Suffolk and is married and has two daughters.

You can find out more by visiting John’s website and you can follow him on Twitter.

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