Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Interview with Frank Malley, Author of The 13th Assassin

14 May 2022

Special Guest Interview with Frank Malley, Author of The 13th Assassin

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Emily Stearn is young, headstrong, logical - and believes that someone has murdered her Uncle Sebastian. Whilst going through his belongings, after his sudden death, Emily discovers an encrypted journal. With the help of Al Andrews, a maths graduate she befriends after meeting in the local cafe, she deciphers the material. It reveals that Sebastian, a Cambridge history professor, was a spy. Code name WHISPER.

I'm pleased to welcome author Frank Malley to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

The 13th Assassin is a murder mystery blended with a spy thriller, published by Sharpe Books. I like to think of it as Midsomer Murders meets John le Carre. Emily Stearn is young, smart, and sure someone has murdered her Uncle Sebastian. Sorting belongings at his seaside home after his sudden death in 2021 she discovers an encrypted journal and with the help of her friend, Al Andrews, cracks the code.

It reveals the Cambridge history professor was a spy. Code name WHISPER. Hiding in the shadows of academia. Until 1981, when British Intelligence believed he was the only man capable of getting close to Colonel Igor Kalenkov.

A disciple of the 13th Directorate – the Soviet killing and kidnapping department – Kalenkov is closely-guarded, and plotting an attack on the British Royal Family. As the journal surrenders its chilling secrets 40 years on, Emily decides the Russians have assassinated Sebastian. But does a grainy CCTV image point to a murderer closer to home? Emily won’t rest until she uncovers the truth. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I tend to mull over the storyline for some time, forming a loose framework, rather than dive straight in. Not that I am a meticulous plotter. I am much more of a pantser, once started letting the characters take the story in directions I find unexpected. That can be exhilarating at times.

Once I commit to writing, I tend to be disciplined time-wise which probably comes from my years as a national newspaper reporter. I like to work to a deadline. I’ve done so all my working life. Between 1,000 and 2,000 words a day, five days a week, keeping the momentum going. It applies pressure and focus to get that first draft done. You can always edit your manuscript into shape after that.     

What advice do you have for new writers?

Read. Observe. Persist. I hold up my hands, I don’t read enough but I try to have a book on the go most of the time and especially when I’m in writing mode. I like to bathe in the cadence of other writers, soaking in the beauty of the written word and its ability to generate pictures and emotions. That’s the magic of writing. If you want to make magic of your own it makes sense to experience how others do it.

Observe the world around you. My debut novel, When the Mist Clears, was inspired by voluntary work as an ambulance car driver transporting cancer patients to radiotherapy treatment. I witnessed so much courage and laugh-out-loud humour and found the bonds of friendship that sprung up spontaneously between patients at the scariest time of their lives quite humbling. Some of the characters demanded a story of their own. I was happy to oblige.  

Persist. Probably the most important because all new writers – and established ones too -  experience imposter syndrome at some stage. Days when you are sure you have nothing relevant to say and that what you have written is unworthy. You have to believe. You must keep writing, however sticky it may have become. Everything can be polished and improved.    

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

I used to think writing a book was the hard part. Getting it into the hands of readers is far more problematic. We all have friends and family who will buy our new release, but short of a TV spot on a national chat show how do you break into the wider market? My non-fiction sports books were straightforward. 

There was a defined market. A niche market. Easy for bookshops to find the right shelf. Easy for the author and publisher to target potential buyers. In reality, I’m still looking for the secret to raising awareness in the fiction world. I don’t think there is a secret. Ads on Facebook and Amazon haven’t worked for me, or anyone I know. I think it’s down to hard work. 

Forging contacts with the writing community on social media, who are approachable and supportive, on the basis that if you support others, they will support you. Reaching out to accessible bloggers and reviewers. Building a brand. Getting that word of mouth circulation. It takes time. I’m not there yet, but participating in the writing community has certainly helped.     

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research?

For The 13th Assassin I had to research how to locate old newspaper articles. I thought they may prove impossible to find until I telephoned a gentleman at the British Library who told me that a hard copy of every print edition of every newspaper in the United Kingdom is available for perusal on demand. Apparently, it is a legal requirement. 

The papers are kept at a vast warehouse in Yorkshire and on request relevant editions are put on a daily van and transported to London St Pancras for reading. Oh yes, and there was another unexpected fact. A pristine first edition copy of Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer prize winning 1936 novel, could fetch in the region of £80,000 at auction.  

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Describing the feelings of a woman who had been diagnosed with brain cancer in When the Mist Clears. I wanted to get things right, so researched as sensitively as possible with people who had gone through the same diagnosis. The tangled thoughts they described, followed eventually by a clear determination to fight for their lives, gave birth to the title of the book. 

Also, a conversation in The 13th Assassin between a hard-line Kremlin officer and the history professor main character, debating the merits of autocracy and democracy. The Russian argues that the will to kill your enemies, and if required your own people, without a moment’s reluctance, is part and parcel of being the leader of a big nation. Getting inside the psyche of such a character was a challenge, although the notion of state-sponsored murder became quite prescient when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.     

What are you planning to write next?

I have a quirky murder mystery, If it Looks Like a Duck, being published by Whisper Publishing in August. It is the second book in the Lexford Town Mysteries series and the sequel to When the Mist Clears. My current work in progress is the follow-up to The 13th Assassin. It’s another crime mystery set in Cambridge. Three students die in mysterious circumstances, all with dog-head key rings on their person, and another goes missing. Emily Stearn believes a book relating medieval modes of persecution holds the key to the killer. She must convince the police. And time is running out. All my novels are character driven. I want readers to believe in my main characters, hopefully to love them, though not necessarily all of them, and be invested enough to root for them.   

Frank Malley

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About the Author

Frank Malley works as a volunteer ambulance car driver, transporting cancer patients to life-saving radiotherapy treatment at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. In another life he was a columnist with the Daily Express newspaper in London and former chief writer with Press Association Sport. He travelled the world reporting top events, including five Olympics and four football World Cups. His memoir, ‘Living on the Deadline’, was published in 2014, Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins supplying the foreword. Simply the Best, a book about his passion for Wigan Rugby League club followed in 2017. Royalties for all his books go to charity, the most recent to the Primrose Cancer Charity in his adopted home town of Bedford where he lives with wife Carole.  Find out more from Frank's website and follow him on Facebook and  Twitter @MalleyFrancis

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like an amazing read! Wishing you lots of success, Frank.


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