Alex Laybourne Sits Down With Author Christopher D. Abbott to talk Holmes, Poirot and Dr. Straay.

Today I am joined by author Christopher D. Abbott. Author of ‘Sir Laurence Dies’; a murder mystery of the highest caliber, and it is available now. Christopher is a hard-working man who has still found time to write and publish a novel, and is also working on multiple other titles.

Christopher Abbott

 

Hi Christopher, thank you for being here today. To start with, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who is Christopher D. Abbott?

Thank you. I’m a quirky kinda guy with an insatiable curiosity. I’m passionate about what I do, whatever it is I do, and I value my friends highly. I’ve worked in quite a few different disciplines throughout my career, but I’ve always found a way to connect with people, this is, essentially, my primary focus. I’m not the quiet type, you know? I’m a bit of an extravert so I do need an audience.

You moved from the ‘Garden of England’ to Connecticut, USA. What was the primary reason for your relocation?

The primary reason was to expand my horizons, live in another culture, and find my way in a foreign land. Live the dream, baby! As with all adventures, I’ve hit some snags along the way, but this hasn’t deterred me at all. It’s very important that I rise to new challenges and continue to do so, in that regard, I’ve been quite successful; more so, than when I was living in the UK. 

Do you have any regrets about the move?

None about the move. Certain choices I’ve made have given me reason to “regret” but other than that, no, I’m very content on this side of the pond.

You mention that you have always loved murder mysteries and love the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie’s Poirot. If you had to pick, which would be your favorite?

Oh… now you’re asking. Okay so here it is. There are certain aspects of each character that I am very fond of, more so in one, than the other. I love Holmes’ arrogance and his unwavering belief in himself, and his abilities. Very rarely do you see him doubt himself, and if he does, it is usually short-lived. In Poirot, that self-confidence is taken even further. He never wavers at all from his belief that he is the best detective in the world and that there is no greater detective than Hercule Poirot. They both solve crimes, albeit rather differently. However, essentially, they do so in a familiar fashion. At the time Christie was being published, Conan-Doyle was too, so you can imagine that they were both reading each other’s work and saying to themselves: “I don’t want to use anything from him, or her, in my work!” I said in another interview that it was Jeremy Brett (Holmes) and David Suchet (Poirot) who pulled out certain characteristics as part of their performances, which made me take notice of them. I read the stories after I had watched the actors playing the roles, so from that moment on I was drawn in and could hear those actors in my head whilst I was reading the stories. However, despite that, if I’m forced into making a choice, then it would be Poirot.   

There is certainly something fun about a good old-fashioned murder mystery, but do you think that the style of the story will need to change from the classic formula in order to keep the attention of a modern audience?

No I don’t think so. I feel that the modern audience will accept classic formula if it’s interesting and engaging. If a story doesn’t capture any attention, I don’t think the formula really matters.

 

I like to say that being a writer is innate; we just ignore the signs until we are ready to see them. Can you remember when you started to tell yourself ‘I am a writer’?

I’ve never thought of myself as a writer really. I’m an amateur. I play at it. I would like to consider myself a writer one day, but I’m still an apprentice. I’m still learning. One day I will have a book published in the traditional way and have an agent and all those lovely things but for now, I’m content to write my stories and put them out there just to gain experience. People will either like them, or they won’t. I hope for the former, but I also understand and am not discouraged by the later.

Can you recall the moment that the idea for Sir Laurence Dies first sparked in your mind?

The idea came to me one day, after watching a marathon run of Poirot. I just said to myself, I’m going to write my own crime story! I set out to create my detective, and I wrote out pages of dialogue. Then I got together with my friend Andy and we fleshed out that dialogue, one drunken night in summer. We sat and developed the character of Major Alastair Berkinshaw (Who later became Major John Heskith) along with others, and we came up with the name Doctor Straat (which later became Straay).  However, the book didn’t have a title until 2010. I was going to call it: The Straay Files.

How long did it take you to write?

I started the book in 2007, but I put it down for 3 years. When I moved to the USA, I had quite a bit of free time before I was legally allowed to work, so I sat and wrote the entire story out, using the dialogue I’d previously written, and over a period of about 4 weeks. I wrote about 3000 words a night – every night.

You have two very strong protagonists in your novel. This is a break from the standard Murder Mystery approach. Was it a conscious effort on your part to avoid the ‘bumbling sidekick’ character?

Yes most definitely. Watson was never meant to be an idiot; he was just played that way on-screen. Certainly he didn’t come across that way in the book. He was a Doctor, in the 19th Century, an educated man. David Burke and later Edward Hardwick did much to change that opinion! Hastings’ irritation at Poirot was understandable, yet he too, in my opinion wasn’t the idiot he seemed to be erroneously labeled with. However, Hugh Fraser, who played him well, did make him far too comedic for my taste.  I just didn’t want to go down the same route. I wanted two intelligent protagonists, each capable of solving the crime, but in different ways. I feel I pulled it off, although there were some instances where Drake came across as being difficult, but not stupid.

You have self-published your novel. Was this always your intention?

Well I did send the book out to a few places, but never heard anything. I did get a rather damning review once, where the person said: “It’s a good story, it has potential. I like this character and that, it could work! There are some errors in it, of course, and some formulaic difficulties, but nothing that a completely re-write wouldn’t solve! But it’s not our type of book…” et cetera…. You have to understand that I didn’t set out to write a book! I set out to see if I could actually, coherently, write a story for myself, not for anyone else. I never really believed anyone would be interested in it! I published it on Authonomy and there I met some people who gave me a great deal of encouragement. People were saying nice things about my story! Then I thought what the hell. I’ll make it into a book and see what happens. The results were unexpected!

What is it about self-publishing that helped you make the decision to take this path?

I like the fact that I can control my own book; I can also fix errors when people point them out. I can set my own price and I can do what I want with it. It’s really as simple as that. I just wanted a printed copy for my own bookshelf. I never imagined that (to date) 800 people would also have a copy of it sitting on their Kindle! I’m selling on average 5 books a day – that’s incredible!

Are you already working on a second novel?

Sir Laurence Dies is part one of a three book series. It became that way after I had finished it, because there were some threads within it that were never fully resolved. Why was Sir Laurence in Amsterdam at the beginning of the book? What is his connection to another unsolved murder, that of Captain Wurburton in Swinging Sword Alley, London?

I am also writing a new book. It’s autobiographical in nature. The book in essence will be a collection of true short stories, coming from the perspective of a former Connecticut Detective Sergeant. A man who fought in the Korean War and later went into law enforcement, served in Germany in Undercover Narcotics and became one of the most well-known Police Dog Handlers in the State. His stories are hilarious, frightening, and at times very sad. The project is in full swing.  

Do you like to play by the rules when you write, or are you a literary rebel?

Let me answer this by paraphrasing a similar answer I wrote on another interview:

The honest answer is: I don’t know. I have no formal training, I don’t fully understand the literary “rules”, and I have never understood the term “show don’t tell”. Look, I’ve been accused of : “far too much telling, not enough showing”. I understand what it means, but in context with what I’ve written, I can’t always see how else to write it – but I’m not daft, I understand the concept of it.  So how do I correct a problem I don’t fully understand? I guess you could call me a literary rebel, but an unintentional one!

Do you have the luxury of being able to write full-time or do you have an ‘Evil Day Job’?

I do have an “Evil Day Job”, which I enjoy, but my days and weeks are very long! I have hardly any time to write and I want more time. My working week is about 45-55 hours – so when I do get time off, I’m not able to do the kind of writing I want to do. That’s just a sad reality of life. One day I will be able to devote time to fully realising my dream. Then I can call myself a writer!

What does a typical day look like for you?

My shifts are never the same, I work a 10 hour day, and that can be morning or evening. A typical day requires me to manage around 15 staff in a high-volume retail store.

Sir Laurence Dies has received some very favorable reviews, how does it feel to wake up and see a new review for your work; especially ones filled with such high praise?

Well of course I love it! I mean, once you get reviews from people you have never spoken to in your life before, and they tell you that they love your book, it’s more than gratifying. It’s humbling. I am always encouraging people to give me reviews, good or bad. The fact that people have the option of putting 1 or 2 star if they choose, and haven’t yet done so, is a huge confidence booster for me.

How do you react to bad reviews?

In the same way I react to criticism of any kind, badly!! No not really. I welcome bad reviews. Everyone has a different view of a story, some people can’t see passed the errors, some people can’t see past bad plots or certain inconsistencies, or wrong word use, grammatical errors – and they tell you. I did a lot or research. So when someone says: “if you’d researched this better, then you would know that …..” Well guess what, we all miss things, but frankly I’m not a Psychologist or a Detective. I’m just pretending to be, and sometimes it shows.

If you could describe your writing in three words, what would they be?

Very simple indeed!

 

Keep your eyes on your email notifications, because on Wednesday I will be posting a sneak peek at the world of ‘Sir Laurence Dies’ and believe me when I say it is an extract that you do not want to miss.

 For those who cannot wait, you can find more of Christopher at the following online haunts:

 Twitter

Facebook

His Website

Amazon

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