Q&A with @morningstaruk Christopher Byford #DenOfShadows @HQDigitalUK

Den Of Shadows by Christopher Byford

The Gambler’s Den weaves its away across the desert… But will it stop at your station?

While fighting off poverty in the blistering desert heat a travelling casino offers one night of solace. One chance to change your fortunes. But once on board there is more to the show than meets the eye: enter Franco, the elaborate ringleader, Wyld the stowaway thief and Misu the fire breathing showgirl.

In a kingdom ruled by the law Franco ensures his den remains in line. But when he’s faced with saving the fate of the train, and those on board, he may be forced to break his own rules. Life on the den isn’t just a job but a way of life and once you’re in you’ll never be able to leave.


Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?

A) Den of Shadows is an adventure following those aboard the Gambler’s Den, a casino train that travels a desert region bringing entertainment to the downtrodden masses. The accompanying shows are grand affairs, extravagant, causing word of mouth and rumour to fuel excitement about its arrival. Ran by the enigmatic Franco Del Monaire, he trusts those under his roof, a legion of showgirls, to exhibit the upmost professionalism and, more importantly, obey his every word. With costs rising and an already dangerous region becoming increasingly lawless, Franco accommodates a travelling thief who dutifully pays her way. Things soon spiral out of control as the local lawmen begin to particular attention to the owner of the Gambler’s Den and the shady company he keeps. To complicate matters, the criminal element have taken notice of the Gambler’s Den too…

Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?


A) Den of Shadows started off as a daydream. I was 18, in a college class and found my mind wandering when working away with my headphones on. The Spencer Davis Groups’ hit “Gimmie Some Lovin’” was nestled away on some obscure compilation album. As soon as it started playing, I had the striking image of a roguish individual hanging from the boiler of a moving steam train, wearing a cheeky smile like an expensive suit as he focused on a sand soaked horizon. Thunderstruck, I immediately wrote the first chapter, and emailed it to myself, but never really found time to develop the concept. After being hospitalised and diagnosed with an aggressive form of UC, my priorities shifted and the idea of writing took a back seat. With health and life getting in the way I wouldn’t pick it back up until my mid 20’s, when I moved across the country and found the freedom to pursue my ambition of being an author. I spent six months completing it, a good chunk done whilst working on nightshifts before self-publishing the title on Amazon under the name of the train itself, “Gambler’s Den”. Despite moving onto other projects, I was so affectionate about the concept that I approached agents and publishers to see if anybody wanted to pick it up. I received the usual swathe of rejection letters but I stubbornly persisted, most of the query letters being sent out after a glass or two of whiskey. At this point I was working full time, coming home and sinking another five hours a night writing whilst waiting for my wife and I’s first child to be born. To top things off, I found out I was to be made redundant soon after the baby arrived, bad timing one would think, but an unusual silver lining was starting to appear. I decided to seriously make a go of things, using the redundancy money to finance the following year. I had a number of titles on Amazon but could never really crack the market given the constraints of working full time. Being able to devote myself to the role would allow me to be significantly more successful than what I was, at least that was the plan. I committed myself and during one of the queries, I was contacted by HQ Digital, an imprint of HarperCollins and agreed on a phone call to talk about it. During the call they asked me how I would feel about them publishing the entire series, being that I was working on the third at the time. After coming to terms with the fact that yes, this was actually happening, I agreed.

Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?

A) I’m a sucker for anything by HP Lovecraft. I still find things I had never noticed before in rereading, plus the concept of cosmic horror fascinates me. Neil Gaiman has a special place in my heart simply because I found that he can jump from subject to subject almost effortlessly, Neverwhere, Stardust and Sandman: Dream Hunters in particular I found to be standouts of his. Gaston La Rouxs’ Phantom of the Opera was my first exposure to something utterly alien and I still give it a go through every year. Philip K Dick scratches my sci-fi itch whenever I get the bug for that. I’m reading a lot of George Borrow at the moment, who was a guy who walked around England and wrote about his experiences with the people he mingled with.

Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?

A) I consumed anything I could when I was younger. James Herbert was a staple in our household and I usually ended up flicking through a well dog-eared copy of one of the books from his Rats series when it became available. Shakespeare was a favourite, being that I enjoyed the prose more so than most my age would admit to, especially in As You Like It. Flowers for Algernon stayed with me after reading it in school and still remains one of my favourite books of all time given the subject and use of diary entries for the narrative. Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park ignited my imagination at an impressionable time and Douglas Adams with the Red Dwarf series is still my go to when it comes to comedy. I went through every single Fighting Fantasy book by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone that my local library had in stock. I also became fond of Byron’s works and even now I find myself picking up a collection of his and devouring it.

Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?

A) Seeing your work thrown about and spoken about with passion is still quite astonishing to me. It’ll never get old. I suppose if I had to pick just one, it’s that I can say that I’m managed to achieve the one thing in my life I always aspired to. That’s not a bad thing to be proud of at all.

Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?

A) I’ll win no points for originality for this, but it’ll have to be my wife, Emma. One of the first things she did when we first met was encourage me to pursue writing. She’s been my muse from the start and I honestly believe that I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for her. We co-write a series together which results in a lot of discussions regarding refinement and critique. Admittedly there are times it can be brutal, harsh even, but I would rather suffer that than be aimlessly nodded at. After all, it’s how you improve.

Christopher Byford
Authors Links:
Website: http://www.thetenwings.co.uk/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christopherbyfordbooks/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Morningstaruk


5* #Review Q&A #IAmMissing @TimWeaverBooks @penguinrandom #WhoIsRichardKite #TheLostMan

I Am Missing by Tim Weaver
(David raker #8)

When a young man wakes up bruised and beaten, with no memory of who he is or where he came from, the press immediately dub him ‘The Lost Man’.

Naming himself Richard Kite, he spends the next ten months desperately trying to find out who he is. But despite media appeals and the efforts of the police, no one knows him.

Richard’s last hope may be private investigator David Raker – a seasoned locator of missing people. But Raker has more questions than answers.

Who is Richard Kite?

Why does no one know him?

And what links him to the body of a woman found beside a London railway line two years ago?

Could Richard be responsible for her death – or is he next?

My review:

I am a fan of the authors David Raker, missing persons, private investigator series. I find the theme of missing persons, very interesting, whenever I read real-life cases. I am often curious as to the circumstances someone disappeared and the lack of sightings or evidence. There is a case local to me, of a teenage boy that disappeared 20 years ago, never to be seen again. I cannot even begin to imagine the families pain and how much they must long to know what happened to their son.

With this novel in the series, the author has added a new unique spin into the plot. It is the missing person, seeking his help. Richard Kite was found broken and bruised by an RNLI station, in Southampton waters. He now suffers from dissociative amnesia, meaning he has limited memory and sadly that includes most of his personal details. He has no recollection of his real surname and no one has come forward to claim him, despite persistent help from medical professionals, a local reverend and police. The media have dubbed him #TheLostMan who is Richard Kite and what is his story?

PI David Raker begins his investigations by gathering further information from those in Kite’s life currently. His London based therapist and the local Reverend that has offered him help and support. When Raker gathers conflicting accounts, he decides to dig further. Raker soon discovers Kite’s phone contains spyware and he suspects Dr Naomi Russum of being involved. But why would she hinder Kite’s recovery? Why does she persist to show him photographs of an unknown female? Who is the unknown female?

Alternative chapters show the childhood background story of sisters Penny and Beth. Also extracts from an article written by Andrew Reece. At first I found these confusing, that was until, at the halfway mark, the novel takes a monumental turn and the penny drops! As the reader, you are never sure who to trust and their motives, within the plot. Which makes the novel unpredictable, edgy and never for one single page, boring!

It is impossible to leave a full review, as to give away parts of the plot/themes in the second half of the novel, would be to give spoilers. I am insanely impressed with this novel. Its complex multifaceted plot, that can only truly be appreciated when you turn the very last page…….
Highly recommended 5*


Q) I have followed your missing persons PI series, for quite some time. For any readers who may not know. Can you give a summary of yourself and David Raker?

A) Well, I’m much less interesting than David Raker, so I’ll get the boring bit out of the way first. I flunked my A-Levels and, more through luck than judgement, ended up at a publishing company as a magazine journalist, writing about games and tech mostly, but also some film and TV too. After that, I became an editor, running magazines rather than writing for them, and a long time after that (about twelve years!), I made the leap into full-time writing, mainly thanks to Richard and Judy, who picked my fourth book, NEVER COMING BACK, for their Book Club. I’m now on Book 8, I AM MISSING, and thanks to the support of all the wonderful readers out there, am still able to do what I do best: staring out of the window, praying for inspiration J

David Raker, meanwhile, has led a much more colourful life. He’s an ex-newspaper journalist who spent time in places like South Africa, the US, Iraq and Afghanistan, and then kind of stumbled into a career finding missing people after his much-loved wife, Derryn, lost a long battle with cancer. Looking for the missing helped him grieve, it gave him a purpose, and pretty soon, it became his entire life. He’s a smart, single-minded, brave, emotional, often vulnerable man, and damaged in a different way to some of the classic thriller heroes: except his weakness isn’t alcohol, or drugs, or women, it’s this persistent inability to adjust to his wife’s passing. He’s really quite a lonely soul.

Q) I was absolutely gripped by this novel and it was insanely difficult to review, due to the huge turn halfway through. I was adamant to not spoil this. What was the inspiration behind this twist?

A) It’s very hard to talk about the twists in the novel, or even their inspiration, without massively giving away the plot, so I’m going to dance around this question. What I will say is that I put a lot of time into trying to come up with new and interesting ways to surprise the reader, and this was no different. Also: thank you for not spoiling anything!

Q) The series runs with a missing persons theme. Something which fascinates me, also. Was there an individual case that inspired this novel?

A) Most of the books are amalgam’s of different, true-life investigations, but I AM MISSING was more directly inspired by a case from the States, where a man called Benjamin Kyle woke up, badly beaten, outside a Burger King, with no memory of who he was or where he’d come from. Authorities weren’t able to locate his identity, or a family, so he existed in this kind of hinterland, where he couldn’t get a social security number – and, therefore, become a part of the system – because he had no ID to prove who he was. There was a semi-happy ending for Kyle, but there’s a great Reddit thread where he talks about the challenges (physical, emotional, psychological) when you lose your memory.

Q) so many missing person’s cases have drawn my attention and I have continued to follow the story over many years even. From high profile to smaller, virtually unknown cases. Local to me, at the Isle Of Wight, there is a specific case of a young teenage boy, who vanished over 20 years ago and has never been seen since. The one thing the family struggled with in the early years of the investigation is the lack of media coverage. What are the virtually unknown cases, you have stumbled across in your research?

A) Oh, there’s tons of cases that didn’t get much publicity, but one that I always find very disturbing is the disappearance of Tara Calico. She was a 19 year old girl who vanished from her home town of Belen in New Mexico in 1988. There’s a great summation of the case here. If you’re a parent – or even if you’re not – it’s the sort of stuff to give you nightmares.

Q) What are your recommended reads in both fiction and non-fiction which cover missing person’s cases?

A) There are so many! I’ll give you a few you might not have read, though.

On the fiction side, I love Four Corners of Night by Craig Holden, which is an under-appreciated gem about two detectives working the case of a missing girl in America’s midwest, and who start to realise the disappearance is linked to another investigation they worked seven years before. I’m a huge fan of John Connolly’s early work as well, and The Unquiet – his sixth – handles difficult subject matter with a delicate hand as his protagonist Charlie Parker hunts for a missing psychiatrist and possible child abuser. And then there’s Night Film by Marisha Pessl, about a journalist’s hunt for a reclusive film director: this one is flawed, no doubt about it, especially the second half, but there’s just something about the world she creates that I absolutely love.

At the non-fiction end of things, a good one to check out is The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. It’s not exactly a barnstorming page-turner but, if you have the patience, it’s an absolutely fascinating account of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, inter-connecting two stories: that of architect Daniel Burnham, who helped shape the look of modern-day Chicago, and the life of HH Holmes, one of the world’s first, documented serial killers. Him and his ‘Murder Castle’, the hotel he ran in the city, were responsible for tens – possibly hundreds – of disappearances in the run-up to the Fair.

Q) This novel differs from previous cases in the series. In that it is the missing person seeking to be found, himself. What was the research process for this and in particular into dissociative amnesia?

A) Obviously, it’s very important to get the details right, especially as dissociative amnesia is a very specific type of memory loss where the person forgets everything – not just individual events, or a few hours, or days, but absolutely all of themselves. But I treated my research into this much the same way as I treat my research into everything: as a balancing act. Too little research and the world you’ve built doesn’t feel genuine; too much, and it begins to feel like an encyclopaedia. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.

People buy thrillers to be thrilled. If you can learn a few things along the way, then that’s perfect, but predominantly, it’s about entertainment. So, I always try to ensure the characters, their motivations, their histories, their specialisms, feel correct and realistic, but I take liberties as well. The liberties I take, I (hope!) I’m careful to disguise, but I’d never try to shoehorn in some interesting research or tons of facts at the expense of pace and tension.

Something else too: when you go out and chat to experts in the field, you end up with hours and hours of recordings, 99% of which is massively interesting, because the people you talk to are fascinating. One of the hardest bits of the job is trying to decide which bits to use, and which to leave out.

Q) This novel is extremely intense and I found myself completely engrossed in the plot and characters lives. What is your writing process? Do you write for long hours, until the story, themes and characters have moved from your imagination to the page?

A) My writing process is rated S for Stressful! I’m not really a fan of planning. At a basic level, I find it a bit boring, but I also think it’s hard to get a sense of the characters, who they are, their motivations, and how they interact with other people, until they’re on the page. So, my planning for a book basically involves knowing the start – a mysterious and unexplained disappearance – and how it, potentially, might end, but everything in between is up for grabs.

I think a part of it harks back to your second question – how do you surprise the reader? I find the best way to surprise the reader is to surprise yourself. If I don’t know something is going to happen until I get there – a twist, a death, an event – then there’s a very good chance that the reader won’t see it coming either. In essence, if I’m surprising myself, I’ll probably surprise the reader.

I’ll be honest, it’s a scary and sometimes unpredictable way of working, because you’re never ‘ahead’ of the story – you don’t really know what’s coming and what the resolution will be until you’re literally putting the words on the page, and there’s always the chance what you’ll come up with will be awful. But, most of the time, thankfully, it hasn’t been. In fact, some of the very best and biggest moments in the Raker books – the things I get emails about from readers – are almost always the things that I never planned, or even thought about, until I got there.

*Huge thanks for agreeing to appear on my blog in a Q&A. I wish you every success with the release of I Am Missing 🙂

Tim Weaver
Authors Links:
Web: http://www.timweaverbooks.com/
Twitter: @TimWeaverBooks