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Gavin Bell

Q & A with Mason Cross

3 January 2017

Mason Cross is the author of the Carter Blake thriller series, which began with The Killing Season.

Recently described as a "bestseller in the making", Cross's second book, The Samaritan, was picked for the Richard and Judy Spring Book Club earlier this year. His third book in the series, The Time to Kill, came out in the summer and will be available in audio next April and in large print later next year. Mason lives in Glasgow with his wife and three children and juggles his writing with a day job in IT.

Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a writer?
I always loved writing stories at school, and I was lucky that my parents and teachers were always really encouraging. As a kid I wrote science fiction and action stories, and some Choose Your Own Adventure style stories, which I would print out and sell at school. After university I remembered how much I loved writing anything that wasn't an essay and, inspired by Stephen King's On Writing, began writing short stories and submitting them to magazines and competitions. I piled up a heap of rejections and eventually managed to get published in a couple of places. I also uploaded some of my work to HarperCollins's Authonomy website, and was surprised when I was contacted by the top-flight agent Luigi Bonomi, who had read some of my work online. He signed me up and gave me some great advice, and a couple of years on I landed a book deal with Orion. It's scary to think how much luck is involved, but it demonstrates the importance of getting your work out there.

Have you always written thrillers and crime stories or did you start off with a different genre?
I've always leaned towards crime and noir, although I did write a few horror stories when I was younger. For me, mystery is an essential element of any story, and crime and thrillers seem to be the most natural structures for exploring that. That said, if I had an idea that would work for a different genre, I would certainly pursue it.

On an average day, how much time do you spend writing? Is it difficult to juggle writing with your day job in IT?
Most of the writers I know have a day job and/or kids, and I have both. It just means that discipline is even more important: I have to make sure I hit a certain number of words in the time I have available, which is usually night-time after my three children have gone to bed. When I'm writing I'll try to fit in some words whenever I have downtime: during lunch, on trains, whatever. It helps that I'm using a different part of my brain than I do at work, so it doesn't feel like one long working day.

What do you find are the best and the worst things about writing?
I love starting work on a fresh book when the possibilities are infinite and you're excited to explore a new story and characters. The worst thing is the midpoint crisis, which almost every writer I know experiences, when you can't see how you're going to finish this thing and start to doubt your abilities. I hate that part, but you just have to grit your teeth and fight through to the other side.

Your novels are set in the United States, have you ever lived there? How do you do the research for your books?
I've never lived in the States, but I've visited a few times and spent time in LA, San Francisco and New York. Like most people, I do a lot of research online: the internet is a fantastic resource for everything from the geography and history of a particular place to sunrise and sunset times, to the intricate details of cyber terrorism. I'm also lucky to have American friends who will read early drafts, highlight any mistakes and give me invaluable local knowledge.

Are you planning to write any thrillers set in Scotland?
I have a half-finished psychological thriller set in Glasgow that I keep meaning to go back to. It's different from the Carter Blake books - more influenced by Hitchcock and Ira Levin. I'd love to have the time to finish it, so I can find out how it ends.

Do you know how your stories are going to end before you start writing them?
Sort of. I write a reasonably full outline of about four pages. That gives me enough idea of the plot to get going, but I always make big changes along the way. The ending always comes out differently from how I had planned - I need to have written the rest of the book first to be able to work out the ending.

What's the best writing advice anyone's ever given you?
Write every day, but don't overdo it. Hearing about authors committing to writing two thousand words a day used to really put me off, until someone suggested I try to hit 500 a day. 500 words is a manageable amount: it doesn't seem too daunting, you can do it in half an hour or less, and if you do that every day, in six months you'll have the first draft of a novel.

Interview by Nicky Solloway at Magna Large Print Books.