Ahead of the release of A Nuclear Reaction we spoke to Manchester-based author David Beckler about his career so far, handling themes of terrorism and the latest in the Antonia Conti series of books…
DAVID BECKLER – THE INTERVIEW
THE J: What are your earliest book-related memories from your childhood?
DAVID BECKLER: Because I lived in rural Ethiopia for my early years, I didn’t attend school. There were no bookshops or libraries nearby, but every so often, my lovely Aunt Eunice would send a crate of books from England. She did a brilliant job of curating the selections which had to keep me and my three sisters, with a six-year age spread, happy. These were always exciting occasions and I still remember opening the box to discover gems like Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson.
EARLY WRITING EXPERIENCES
THE J: Were you always encouraged to write when you were younger?
DAVID BECKLER: No, I went to a Grammar Technical school, and they encouraged maths, science and practical skills. One English teacher told me that my stories—twice the length of those written by my classmates—were too long. At home, I drew dialogue-free adventure stories on notepads until I was twelve.
THE J: Have you brought any of your firefighting experiences into your writings?
DAVID BECKLER: My first series, Mason & Sterling, features a firefighter, so there’s a lot borrowed from my experiences. In the Antonia Conti series, she suffers many tribulations, including the odd fire and car smash. I make sure the action is realistic, so readers know what we experienced.
THE J: How exactly does a fireman become a published author?
DAVID BECKLER: There are a few of us, I know of two in the UK, one even from Greater Manchester, Graham Ashworth, and some from the USA. It’s a similar route to everyone else: hard work, determination and, most importantly, luck.
THE J: You’re Manchester-based. How inspiring a place is this for a writer?
DAVID BECKLER: Manchester is a very inspiring city which has made me feel right at home since I arrived in 1984. Its history is littered with significant events in social history. Although the industrial revolution plays a big part in the city’s growth, the city has also been important in the struggle for universal suffrage, workers’ rights, the fight against slavery, women’s rights, the cooperative movement…
THE J: Terrorism features heavily in your latest series. Do you have to be sensitive around this subject given the experiences our city has endured in recent years?
DAVID BECKLER: Terrorism has been a threat for many years. I was a schoolboy in Birmingham in the 70s, and the pub bombings scarred the city. Although I didn’t attend, I was on duty when the IRA bombed the Arndale Shopping Centre in 1996. I set the Antonia Conti series in London, and there have been several terrorist atrocities in that city, not least in 2005. I try to treat every subject I deal with sensitively, especially when I write about controversial topics.
THE CRIME WRITERS ASSOCIATION
THE J: Please tell us about the CWA, and how the group has helped establish you?
DAVID BECKLER: The Crime Writers Association is a group of crime writers who work together to promote crime fiction and help authors develop. I’ve had a lot of support from fellow members, especially when I knew next to nothing about being an author. One initiative they run is Crime Reading Month, which runs through June. Many authors will be organising and attending events. Have a look at what your local library or bookshop is doing and get involved.
A NUCLEAR REACTION
THE J: Who is Antonia Conti?
DAVID BECKLER: Antonia is a young ex-refugee who is driven by a strong sense of justice. She works as a journalist for The Electric Investigator, a publication specialising in uncovering corruption. Because of her experiences, she finds it difficult to trust people, but once she does, she’ll do anything for you. She hates being thwarted, and once she has a story in her sights, she won’t give up.
THE J: Did you always plan on telling her story through a series of books?
DAVID BECKLER: I wrote the first version of book one nearly ten years ago and realised that I had much too much material for one book. Although she is the most important person in the books, she has a strong supporting cast. I wanted them to grow and develop, and their relationships to change. The only way to do that is to write a series.
THE J: What are your feelings towards e-books or audio books? I can’t help but still love a good old-fashioned second-hand book shop!
DAVID BECKLER: Although I still enjoy reading books, and love beautiful books, especially the old ones I’ve inherited from my mother, I love my Kindle. It means I can carry hundreds of books with me. I needed half a suitcase for my books when I went on holiday. Now my library fits in my pocket. I also enjoy sampling books to discover new authors.
When I drove tens of thousands of miles a year, audiobooks kept me company. It meant I could enjoy a book while doing other things. My partner listens to them all the time while she’s working.
HOW TO GET YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED
THE J: What tips can you give to somebody with ambitions to have their book published?
DAVID BECKLER: Find a good writing group—make sure they are supportive but honest. The members need to be dedicated to making each other better. You won’t improve if people are just denigrating you or, conversely, telling you how good you are if you’re not.
Make sure other people read your work and give you feedback. You can always tell when the author hasn’t let others read their manuscript.
Read and give feedback to other writers. It will improve your writing. Polish your manuscript and don’t send it out before it’s ready. You’ll be tempted to do so, but you only get one chance to impress each agent/publisher. Don’t waste it.
Be prepared for rejection and have coping mechanisms. However confident you are, rejection can chip away at you. Your supportive writing group will help.
THE J: What does the future hold for David Beckler?
DAVID BECKLER: More writing, I’ve already plotted book four in the Antoni Conti series and have written book five of the Mason & Sterling series. I just need to finish books three and four. I’m also writing a new novel set in Manchester, featuring a homeless protagonist. Stories set in Addis Ababa, where I was born, are in the pipeline.