“Get serious about it, get motivated and get moving. It’s all possible.” This is the advice that best-selling British crime-thriller author Lee Weeks gives to aspiring writers. It’s the advice she heeded herself when she wrote her first novel, The Trophy Taker, five years ago.
Since then the 52-year-old – tagged as the female James Patterson – has had three more novels published: The Trafficked, Death Trip and Kiss & Die, all featuring her detective Johnny Mann, a cop she describes as “a damaged hero type”.
Although fans will have quite a wait for the next instalment in the Johnny Mann series – she expects this will be published in 2014 – they will be heartened to know she does have another novel – as yet untitled – in the pipeline, due out towards the end of this year.
Stranger than fiction
After leaving school at the age of 17 and travelling around the world on a series of one-way tickets, Lee’s own life is the stuff of novels.
In fact, it was her often terrifying experiences in Hong Kong, where she was during her early 20s, that formed the basis for The Trophy Taker. “After I left school in England I became an au pair in Sweden for a year and then decided to travel without a map, got hideously sick in France and was taken in and looked after by an old Parisian couple.
“I then went to Germany and worked as a barmaid and a DJ. When I came back to England I couldn’t settle, so went to Hong Kong and worked in a nightclub. It was here that I had some scary experiences involving the Triads and these became part of The Trophy Taker.
“When I travelled it was always on one-way tickets, so, as you can imagine, there’s not much in life that I haven’t had a taster of, good and bad. The most shocking thing to me is that my plots are nothing on what is actually going on every second in the world.”
The Trophy Taker – about a killer nicknamed The Butcher – was Lee’s first attempt at novel writing. For years the vague idea of writing a book ran around her head, but with a failing marriage and the need to earn a living, she never really got past constantly rewriting the first few chapters.
When her 20-year marriage finally ended, she had to find a job, try to save the house and look after her children. So she reworked the first few chapters and sent them off to an agent thinking she’d give it a go.
The agent was Darley Anderson, who also represents authors Lee Child, Martina Cole, John Connolly, Michelle Harrison and Tim Weaver. He loved the story, but made some suggestions and a year later, Lee delivered the reworked story.
He secured her a two-book deal. She says having her first book published has given her more satisfaction than anything else in her life – apart from her two grown-up children, Ginny and Robert.
As a creative child herself, Lee was often to be found immersed in poetry and novels when growing up.
“In my teens and twenties I tended to go for the classics such as Dickens and Hardy, or Henry Miller. But The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper is my all-time favourite book. For me it still has everything: unrequited love, massive fight scenes, the chase and the tragedy. It’s perfect.
“My own books are aimed at the commercial market rather than the literary end. So I try to make sure there’s a shocking first chapter that hooks, short chapters throughout, a surprise on every second page and a shock every fourth page.
“I always end each chapter with a hook so that readers have to read on. An author should always put the reader first – this is entertainment. Nothing must get in the way of the pace. Absolutely nothing must be written unless it moves the story forward and is necessary. And it must have lots of dialogue, punctuated by action, which helps move the story. So don’t go on about the weather!”
Top tips for writers
By her own admission she’s still relatively new to the business of novels, but Lee has sound advice for anyone writing a book in addition to her suggestion to “get serious about it, get motivated and get moving.”
She is very disciplined about her writing, getting up early most mornings and starting to write by seven. She continues to write until something interrupts her, such as a gym class scheduled or her dogs needing walking.
“Analyse what kind of a writer you are,” says Lee, who has now settled in England’s West Country after her travels and 15 years spent living in London.
“Ask yourself if the plot is vital to you. If the answer’s ‘yes’ then you need to plan your story meticulously. If it’s not, then you can let your characters grow and just see what happens along their road.
“They say write about what you know, but that loosely means write about what you’re interested in and what is within your capabilities. You have to be a good journalist, be able to listen to people and put yourself in their shoes. We’ve all had that instance when someone describes something so vividly that we think we’re there too. Just write that down and use it.
“You must have a theme too, such as jealousy, greed, justice or envy… Then, make sure you know everything about your characters: their star sign, favourite colour, where they went to school, their sayings and habits and hobbies, and what motivates them.”
For more details on the author, visit www.leeweeks.co.uk