Interview with short thriller story writer Frank Westworth

Short story writer Frank Westworth joins me today
to chat about his new collection of shorts, The
Stoner Stories.
These are crime, thriller, mystery, intrigue hardboiled,
and noir stories.
Frank Westworth shares
several characteristics with his literary anti-hero, JJ Stoner: they both play
mean blues guitar and ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Unlike Stoner, Frank
hasn’t deliberately killed anyone. Frank lives in Cornwall in the UK, with his
guitars, motorcycles, partner and cat.
Welcome, Frank. What do you enjoy most about writing
short stories?
The freedom they offer for
a writer to take a single idea, or a character, or a situation and then develop
it in a single sitting. No monster planning sessions, no real need to remember
all the intricacies of a big plot arc or the entire history of the characters
and their relationships. You can just have an idea (‘Hey! What if Deep Water
Horizon was actually sabotage, huh?’) and run along with it, see where it goes.
And if it turns out that the idea’s silly or impossible or just plain bad, then
… well, you’ve only lost a day.
Can you give us a little insight into a few of your
short stories – perhaps some of your favorites?
My own? Of course; every
writer’s dream. The very first to appear – though not the first to get written
– is ‘First Contract’, which is an introduction to the central character in all
my fiction attempts, JJ Stoner, showing how the transition from regular army
grunt to governmental spook happened. When I wrote the first novel, which came
out a couple of years before the short story, I had only a vague idea of
Stoner’s roots. And I was happy with that. I wanted to present the stories as
being part of a continuing process, without an obvious start and without an
obvious end. Life – real life – is like that. One of many big surprises was
that The Reader wanted to know more about Stoner’s origins, so First Contract
is a prequel, if you like.
I used all the other
shorts – six so far with another couple written and another under way – to highlight
characters from the novels, which is always fun, especially as in a couple of
cases I’ve introduced characters who won’t appear again – in a novel – for
quite a long time. And they are really entertaining to write. You can share
humour with The Reader. So, Third Person is written entirely in the first
person, from a woman’s perspective, which is a challenge. But I wanted to try
that, as several of my favourite authors who write male characters are actually
What genre are you inspired to write in the most?
Thrillers. I always wanted
to write thrillers. I’ve had a bash at writing fantasy and science fiction, but
as what I enjoy the most is considering situations which have at least one foot
in reality I found it too difficult. I read monster amounts of crime / thriller
fiction, and perhaps the most interesting part of the best novels is their
recognition that we all have both heroes and villains inside us, and that a
dastardly act from one perspective could be seen as selfless heroism from
another. Exploring that is the best bit.
What exciting story are you working on next?
The problem with writing a
trilogy – which is what I set out to do, basing the three books around three
sisters rather than the central character – is that the story never actually
ends Unless you kill everybody off, which is not entirely a high note to end
on. So at the moment I’m writing the fourth book in the series of three. It’s
intended as a standalone, not as part of a set, which means that I can present
an entirely different situation, location and indeed most of the characters those
who’ve read the earlier books and shorts, or to anyone who’s not.
It’s exciting – possibly –
because the characters have closed old doors and opened new ones. Old and
honest personal friendships have survived, while ‘professional’ friendships
have not. Worlds have been realigned, loyalties have been transferred, personal
relationships have become untenable or the opposite.
It also takes place in the
present day, which with the current political volatility is providing excellent
opportunities for ‘what-if’ situations. And a lot of murder, mayhem, that kind
of thing.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve been a full-time non-fiction
professional writer since 1988. It pays the bills! Writing fiction, however,
has long been a hobby – a passion, if you prefer. I wrote my first full-length
novel in 1990 or so, but didn’t publish it because I didn’t like it.
How do you research markets for your work, perhaps as
some advice for writers?
Market research? I look at
what sells, and at what I enjoy reading, then try to write in a way which
interesting to The Reader. I can’t offer any commercial advice, but will repeat
what stunningly successful author RJ Ellory, who is also a good friend, told
me: write what you want to write, he said, and several times. Never be
discouraged. Knuckle down and do it. Don’t stop.
The crime/thriller market
is very big, but there is only a tiny number of authors who succeed
commercially. That’s life.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I love writing dialogue. I
totally enjoy getting inside the heads of characters – who are all based on
real people, by the way – and imagining them having fast and witty
conversations in tense conversations. I also like to shock, so allow the
characters to rush off and find fun in their own ways. Physically fit women and
men do what they do, and describing it could probably be described as a quirk!
And I write masses of
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had no plans. I grew up
through the 1960s and 70s; I just wanted to have enough of everything to have a
really good time. I worked as a musician for a long while and thought that
would be great. But it wasn’t…
Anything additional you want to share with the
Tiny advice, not original,
but passed on as encouragement. If you want to write – to write anything – just
do it. Do not wait for inspiration. Think of characters, put them in situations
and see how they work together. If that doesn’t work, save the file to a disc
and start afresh. Do that until you have characters doing stuff that you enjoy
writing. If you enjoy writing it, there is at least a chance that others will
enjoy reading it!
Thanks for being here today, Frank. Happy writing!

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