Interview with debut mystery novelist Peter Rowlands

My special guest today is Peter Rowlands. He’s chatting with me
about his debut novel, Alternative
. It’s a mystery drama with a romantic thread.
Peter Rowlands was born in
Newcastle upon Tyne, England, but has lived nearly all his adult life in
London. He spent many years editing and contributing to UK business magazines
covering logistics, transport and home delivery, but novel writing was always
where he wanted to be, and he finally published his first novel, the mystery
drama Alternative Outcome, in 2016.
Peter is an avid reader of
mystery dramas and thrillers, and always planned to write books that distilled
what he considers the most appealing aspects of such works: vivid characters,
naturalistic dialogue, plenty of pace, and intricate but coherent plots.
Welcome, Peter. Please tell us about Alternative Outcome.
What if you self-published
a novel based on real events and people, and some of those people and events
started to intrude into your life? Alternative
starts with that premise, partly turning the mirror on itself.
Mike Stanhope, unfulfilled
by his job as a freelance journalist working in London and depressed following
his divorce, hopes that publishing a book will help him re-focus his life, but
when friends urge him to track down one of the real-life characters he has
hijacked for it, a girl he knew long ago as a teenager, disturbing events
follow: a website hack, a theft, a kidnap attempt.
Mike’s search takes him to
Cornwall, where a new relationship beckons, but fact and fiction become
increasingly entangled as he struggles to work out what really happened in the
story behind his book. The pressure mounts as he deals with increasingly
aggressive confrontations with people who seem convinced he has information
they need.
What inspired you to write this book?
Getting a book published
is a big challenge (that’s an understatement if ever there was one), so in Alternative Outcome I decided to work
some of my own experience of this into the plot line. I was also fascinated by
the power of the internet to track down people who previously might have found
it much easier to stay hidden; and I was intrigued by the parallels and
contrasts between remembered experience and the hard evidence that is now so
often preserved online. Combining these ingredients offered a rich mix,
presenting opportunities for a multi-layered drama.
Beyond all this, I also
wanted to celebrate the joys and setbacks of an emerging relationship played
out in difficult circumstances. I wanted to create a convincing world populated
by vivid, three-dimensional characters – everyday people facing unexpected
Excerpt from Alternative
We progressed to a
restaurant down the street. I ended up sitting diagonally opposite Ashley,
facing a Londoner called Joe who proceeded to spend an inordinately long time
telling me about the delights of surfing. “That’s why I moved to Cornwall,” he
told me. “Fantastic to have it all there on tap. Lovely lifestyle, too. I’d
never come back here to London now.”
The meal ran its course. I
couldn’t easily converse with Ashley on her own, but I was strongly aware of
her voice and personality, and this evening she seemed more animated than I
remembered. I was aware of her colleagues teasing her from time to time, but I
could tell it  was teasing borne out of
respect, and she parried it with self-deprecating grace.
Eventually Joe disappeared
to the men’s room, and Ashley shuffled into his place opposite me and leaned
forward. Though we’d had so little direct conversation, in a strange way it
felt as if we’d spent the entire evening in unspoken dialogue.
She grinned at me. “Is
that what people call you? Michael?”
“Not really. When I’m good
I’m just Mike.”
She nodded to herself
several times.
“Michael, I have
intelligence for you. Brought to you courtesy of Patrick.” Unthinking, she took
a sip of Joe’s beer. “Aarrggh! What’s this stuff?” She thrust it down, reached
over for her own glass and took a sip from that. “Patrick is my older brother.”
“Thing is, I was telling
him about you.” She broke off. “Not that I want you to get the impression that
I was thinking about you. No way.”
“But somehow you came up in
conversation. And he remembered Trina Markham quite well. I think he probably
fancied her, stupid prat. He always fancied all the girls at the Fairmile.”
“Yes, and he says she was
from Altrincham. Her father was an accountant or something, and they had a posh
house up there.” She looked at me in triumph. “What do you think of that?”
“Is that it?”
She smiled at me with her
eyes. “That’s gold-plated information there! Normally I charge for this kind of
“It’s greatly valued, I
assure you.”
“Yes, I believe you.”
We continued to smile at
each other for a moment, perhaps unsure where to take the conversation next.
“How’s Jack?” I asked
finally. I hated myself for bringing him into the conversation, but somehow
couldn’t help myself.
“Jack is fine, thank you.”
She looked away from me for a moment, then back. “We’ve known each other
forever.” She took another sip of beer.
“When are you planning on
getting married?”
“Oh, no date yet. Probably
next year.” An airy shake of the head. “It’s a moveable feast.” She pondered
this for a moment. “It’s a virtual engagement – that’s what it is. Virtual.”
What exciting story are you working on next?
Prior to writing my first
published mystery drama, I wrote an earlier one, Escape Sequence, in which memory loss was one of the main themes.
This a well-trodden path, but for good reasons in my view; it opens up so many
dramatic possibilities. That book also drew on my own long experience of
working with people in the world of public relations.
I felt that the earlier
book wasn’t quite ready for publication, but now I’m revising and paring it
down, and I think it will make a convincing follow-up to Alternative Outcome. I also have ideas for my third novel, which
again will have a logistics / business publishing background, and will include
photo editing as one of its themes. I aim to write this during 2016.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I was already inventing
story extracts and typing them out on my father’s pre-war Remington portable
typewriter when I was about ten. Did I think I was a writer? Well, I wanted to
be! Then I spent a career in business journalism, which of course involved
writing of a kind, but all along I knew I could write compelling fiction too. So
I guess I’ve always considered myself a writer – but I’ve taken a very long
time to demonstrate it to the world.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day
like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to
I still have to pay bills,
so I can’t afford to write fiction full-time, though I spend as much time on it
as I can. The rest of the time I write journalistic stuff about logistics and
computing, including some promotional material; I write about and photograph buses
(yes, including London’s red double-deckers); and I build web sites. But
increasingly I’m forcing these day jobs to the side to ensure that the fiction
doesn’t get neglected.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I wouldn’t say it’s a
quirk exactly, but I’m fanatical about the way presentation can influence the
way readers take in the rhythm and flow of prose, especially when direct speech
is involved. For instance, a new line for a new speaker might be enough to indicate
the pace of a conversation, but sometimes you might have to be more explicit by
breaking a quote mid-way with “He hesitated” or some such device. But not too
often! I’m also pretty fanatical about getting the punctuation right – and the
grammar, of course. When you’ve been a journalist, a sub-editor and an editor
yourself, you realize that when it comes to the fine detail, the buck stops
somewhere. I feel strongly that I need to take that responsibility on myself.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was about seven, I
told my parents I wanted to be a BBC producer. They were amazed that I even
knew what this meant. For the record, a BBC producer was then the equivalent of
a director in the film world, and that’s what I had in mind. I loved the idea
of managing a cast of characters and developing a story. In a way, that’s what
I’ve finally been able to do with my fiction – but I don’t have to rely on
actors, set-builders, sound staff and a lighting crew. I can do it on my own!
Anything additional you want to share with the
For every writer you hear
about and consider reading, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, who are
toiling in isolation, struggling to make their voices heard. The internet
revolution has opened the door for anyone to jump on the publishing ladder, but
it’s a steep ascent, and from the bottom it can appear that most of the rungs
are missing. So when you do find a writer you like, share your good fortune –
tell your friends and the world! It might seem a small thing, but it can give
an enormous boost to the author. Self-published writers are especially reliant
readers to celebrate their successes; they have no promotional machine to keep
them in the public eye.

Thanks, Peter. Happy writing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.