I am lucky enough to have a hobby that brings me into contact with loads of fantastic books and authors. It is always an absolute pleasure to be contacted by authors and publishers and invited to read their books. However every now and again I get emails that truly send my excitement levels rocketing, and one recently inviting me onto the blog tour for the latest by crime writing duo Michael Stanley was just such an email.
I am a huge fan of their Detective Kubu series having read my first one as part of my TOPCWFC a couple of years ago (after the challenge finished unfortunately) and absolutely love them. Their latest however is a departure from Detective Kubu, still set in South Africa, it introduces us to journalist Crystal Nguyen. When her friend goes missing whilst investigating a rhino poaching ring she is determined to find out what has happened.
I am absolutely delighted therefore to welcome Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip to acrimereadersblog. Thanks so much for joining me.
Firstly I have to ask, what inspired Dead of Night and why the move away from Detective Kubu?
We haven’t moved away from Detective Kubu. We really enjoy writing about him and his cases in Botswana, each set against a different backstory arising from the realities of southern Africa. There are certainly more Kubu books ahead! However, when you write a series, there are some inevitable constraints. Although every story stands alone, the focus always needs to be the series protagonist. And the very features that make the series appealing – the history of the main characters and their development – also constrain where one can go. Finally, a police procedural has an internal structure that must be respected.
Writers always need to be challenged to avoid their work becoming stale and boring, both to them and to their readers. We wanted to write a novel with a backstory of the South African rhino poaching and rhino-horn smuggling, but we wanted it to have the structure of a thriller – quite different from the police procedural. In a thriller, the action and the protagonist have to be believable, but they don’t have to follow the laws and evidence as police procedurals do. The rhino issues are really complex, and we wanted to get right into the action rather than pick up the pieces afterwards, as one does in a mystery.
So we imagined Crystal Nguyen. A strong female protagonist, born in Vietnam, she has a passion for conservation and a strong commitment to the American Gray Wolf. And she is someone who is willing to go beyond the rules when she feels it’s necessary. She is commissioned by National Geographic to visit South Africa to complete an article exploring the rhino-horn trade at the same time as trying to find the National Geographic reporter who disappeared while working on it. It turns out to be a much more dangerous and challenging assignment than she could ever have imagined.
I’m glad there will be more Kubo, although I have to say I loved the character of Crystal, as someone who on the whole prefers animals to people I certainly warmed to her passion and commitment to conservation! Have you both always been writers?
Well, Michael tried his hand at science fiction when he was at university, but we came late to mystery fiction. We started working on our debut book, A Carrion Death, in 2003. In another sense, however, we both have always been writers – in the academic non-fiction space. Both of us have written many research papers, and Stanley has written four text books on topics ranging from the use of computers in education to human factors in aviation. And most of our work has been done in collaboration with other people, so it seemed very natural to us to work on a novel as a collaborative project.
Can you tell us what a typical working day looks like for you?
Michael: I’m involved in a lot of things, including image processing research and graduate students at the university, and being a director of a start-up company in the geophysics area. Then, there are many communication activities around the books, including blogs and reviewing for ITW and the New York Journal of Books. Eventually – usually in the evenings – the dust settles enough to write. I feel very fortunate that I can do all these things for the pleasure of doing them rather than to earn a living.
Stanley: I am not disciplined at all when it comes to daily writing. I, too, have many interests including travel, various sporting activities and attending classical-music concerts. So, I write in between all of these and have developed the ability to write anywhere, even when sitting next to a screaming baby on a plane. I can block out almost anything.
It certainly sounds like you are both busy. How would you spend a perfect afternoon away from work?
Michael: Doing what I’m doing right now – sitting by the Olifants River at my place in the African bush near the Kruger National Park, relaxing and appreciating the complete wildness of the area and the beauty of its animal and bird life. The more afternoons like that you put together, the better it gets.
Stanley: Being in the bush would be my first choice too. I think too few people take the time to completely relax for extended periods of time.
That sounds absolutely amazing. South Africa is definitely on my list for places I’d like to visit. One of the things I love about your books are the real sense of the beauty and wildness of the country that comes across in the writing. Are you an avid readers yourselves? If so, which authors do you find yourself returning to time and again?
Michael: Yes I read a lot; most of the fiction is mysteries or thrillers of one sort or another. I write a monthly piece called Africa Scene for the International Thriller Writers in which I feature a book set in Africa and its author. My favourite South African crime fiction author is Deon Meyer. I think his latest book Fever (which is a near future post-apocalypse novel set in the South African karoo) is one of his most powerful books. I’m also a great John Le Carré fan. I think he is one of the best writers in the genre – or in any genre. (Henning Mankel reputedly said that Le Carré is the best author who will never win a Nobel prize.) His semiautobiographical A Perfect Spy is brilliant – I’ve read it several times and keep learning about writing from it.
Stanley: I mainly read mysteries, but also some historical non-fiction. I’m attracted to stories that are in translation, giving me an insight into different cultures. I enjoy Sunshine Noir because I prefer being warm to being cold!
Sunshine Noir is a great term! Finally can you tell us a little about what you are working on next?
We’re writing a prequel in the Detective Kubu series. In the book, Kubu is a new detective joining the Criminal Investigation Department. He has a tough time; because he hasn’t followed the usual route to being a detective, and the current detectives don’t like it. Then the CID is thrown into turmoil by a daring heist of diamonds from the world’s richest diamond mine at Jwaneng. Kubu has to prove himself in short order. Our working title is Facets of Death.
I can’t wait to read that one either. Thank you so much for joining me Michael and Stanley and taking the time to answer my questions, and thanks to the lovely Anne Cater of Random Things for inviting me onto this.
If you haven’t yet read Michael Stanley then you are in for a real treat and I’d highly recommend them.
Dead of Night is available now.
To find our more about Dead of Night and Michael Stanley make sure you visit some of the other stop on the blog tour: