Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Humfrey Hunter?
I’m 39 and I live in the south of England. I spent five years working for newspapers followed by a couple of years in PR and then went into publishing, first as a literary agent, then as a publisher and literary agent, and now as an author, publisher and literary agent.
Your new novel, The Storykiller, will be published soon by Silvertail Books. It looks rather intriguing: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
The Storykiller is a modern thriller which I hope will appeal to readers of The Ghost and fans of TV shows like House of Cards. Its main character, Jack Winter, is a former news reporter who left newspapers after blaming himself for the death of a young girl and now works for the rich and powerful protecting them from the kind of journalist he used to be. In a nutshell, he kills stories his clients don’t want published, and so is a kind of poacher-turned-gamekeeper in the media world. He struggles with this because he has become the opposite of what he used to be, and he was a reporter with principles. In The Storykiller, a new client comes along and Jack is drawn into a far more dark and dangerous world than anything he’s ever known before. And yes, it is part of a series. I’m well into a second book featuring Jack Winter.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I’d wanted to write commercial fiction for many years, and knew that coming up with a main character to base a series around could be a great help. So then I got to the question of who could my character be? I wanted someone original because it would be so hard to compete against all the brilliant series out there featuring police officers, soldiers, PIs, ex-soldiers and so on, especially when I had no knowledge of those worlds. I started a couple of stories, but they didn’t work. Then I remembered the old writing maxim which tells you to write what you know. I knew media and publishing, but these weren’t very exciting, certainly not thriller material, I thought. Then I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the kind of work I used to do, and she said there was potential in that. Not that the work I did was anywhere near exciting or interesting enough to make a book, rather that a character who did that kind of work was someone to whom interesting things might happen, and who, if circumstances fell in a certain way, could end up in some very difficult situations.
And so I ended up with Jack Winter. Because newspapers are interested in such a wide variety of people, Jack’s potential for adventures is huge. He could go anywhere with any kind of person, so that’s the road I’m setting out on with him, which feels like a very exciting one. I see Jack as a Dashiell Hammett-type hero: not a perfect man, but one with fundamentally good intentions, one who makes mistakes and then works hard to try to make things right again. As for general inspiration, the world around us is full of the most amazing true stories and real people. You don’t need to look far to find them.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
Clive Cussler was the first grown-up thriller writer I ever read, and that was when I was about 12. It was Deep Six, featuring Dirk Pitt and I wrote a book review about it for school. I remember my English teacher writing at the bottom of the page that it was obvious I enjoyed the book very much. Then there were series like Tom Clancy’s John Kelly books, and from that I graduated to everything from Agatha Christie to Christopher Brookmyre, Jeffrey Archer and Lee Child, who I’ve been addicted to since his fourth or fifth book.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I love it. It’s tough and challenging – launching each book is very difficult and stressful, especially with the industry changing constantly in the background and with the quality and amount of competition out there. But when it works, it is extremely satisfying. I love every aspect, from writing fiction myself, to finding new authors to work with, to editing (although I don’t enjoy deadlines), to getting important non-fiction books out which no one else will touch, right down to putting royalty spreadsheets together. After all the working with words, I actually enjoy the precision of the numbers.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
No, but I wish I did. I’m trying to get better at having a routine, but I’m failing miserably. At different stages of writing The Storykiller I had it all planned out, then I veered off my plan, then I made another one, veered off that and so on. And I have two young children, who are a serious distraction, especially as I work from home. Finishing it was a huge relief. For research, I read a lot – books, newspapers and online. I’m always looking at things and wondering if they could be used in a story.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
Writing fiction has always been my ultimate dream job, the thing I wanted to do above everything else. I’ve loved books all my life and still feel the same sense of wonder about them now as I did when I was a child. Making them, whether it’s as an author or publisher, is a dream come true. Reporting for newspapers was a close second (because I started reading newspapers a few years after I started on books), and I’m lucky that I got to do that for a few years. Do I look back on my early writing attempts fondly? I’m not sure. Does some of my old stuff make me wince? Yes, definitely.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it? The genre today is incredibly healthy. This is a wonderful time to be a reader – there is an unprecedented number of books available, they’re easy to access and come at very reasonable prices. This makes the competition fierce for authors and publishers, of course, but if you really want something, you shouldn’t fear that. I hope there’s space for my book. My intention was for it to appeal to readers who like crime stories and thrillers generally. As for whether it actually does, I’ll have to wait and see.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I always have lots of books in the pipeline! To pick a handful, I’m writing my second Jack Winter book, which will follow on from the first, editing a business book for next year, trying to generate support for an author of mine, Dan Clements, who has just been longlisted for a prize for his novel what will remain, negotiating two contracts for new books, planning publishing schedules for next year, thinking through a handful of cover designs, starting royalty calculations for the first half of this year… the list is endless.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’m currently reading Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen – I’ve been a Hiaasen fan for years and am loving this one. I recently finished A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which was extraordinary, painful and unforgettable, Ratlines by Stuart Neville, which is the work of one of the best crime writers around today, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, which surprised me by being unputdownable, and recent non-fiction reads include: Moneyball by Michael Lewis and Barbarian Days by William Finnegan, both of which are superb.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
For anyone wanting to learn about how to write fiction (and to read something brilliant), An Officer And A Spy by Robert Harris is the work of a true master. Otherwise, The Power of The Dog by Don Winslow is astoundingly, breathtakingly good. That’s two, I know. Sorry!
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I have two mini dachshunds, called Ringo and Daphne.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Watching my children grow up and learning to surf properly. The second is not very likely to happen.