It’s Meet the Author Monday! Each week we meet a new author and get to know a little about them, their writing process, publishing experience, and tips for other writers. Today we’re talking to John Steele, author of Rat Island.
About John Steele:
John Steele was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In 1995, at the age of twenty-two he travelled to the United States and has since lived and worked on three continents, including a thirteen-year spell in Japan. Among past jobs he has been a drummer in a rock band, an illustrator, a truck driver and a teacher of English. He now lives in England with his wife and daughter. He began writing short stories, selling them to North American magazines and fiction digests. He has published three previous novels: Ravenhill, Seven Skins and Dry River, the first of which was longlisted for a CWA Debut Dagger award. John’s books have been described as ‘remarkable’ by the Sunday Times, ‘dark and thrilling’ by Claire McGowan, and ‘spectacular’ by Tony Parsons. The Irish Independent called John ‘a writer of huge promise’ and Gary Donnelly appointed him ‘the undisputed champion of the modern metropolitan thriller’.
About Rat Island:
New York, 1995. Cop Callum Burke arrives in New York from Hong Kong, drafted in as part of an international investigation into organised crime.
With the handover of Hong Kong to China only a couple of years away, gangsters are moving their operations out of the territory and into New York ahead of the looming deadline.
Burke’s experiences with East Asian crime and the Triads’ links to the Irish Mob make him the perfect man to send in undercover.
But as he infiltrates these vast and lethal criminal networks, bodies start to pile up in his wake and his conscience threatens to send him over the edge.
And when Burke’s NYPD handlers push him to continue the investigation at all costs, he may have to cross the line from cop to criminal just to stay alive…
Readers of Don Winslow, Michael Connelly, Steve Cavanagh, Richard Price and John Sandford will love this dark and morally complex novel which presents a searing portrait of mid-1990s New York as you’ve never seen it before.
Author Interview with John Steele:
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- What inspired you to start writing?
I’d already written short stories for several websites and anthologies, but I write a novel on a bet with a friend. I had to write a first draft by the time my daughter was born – my wife was two months pregnant by then. It became a bit of a mission to also leave a story about the place I’m from, Belfast back during the ’Troubles’.
- What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
Aside from the craft of writing well on a page and telling a story to which others can connect, I think integrity is vital. Writers get pressure from editors and others to compromise at times; or shoehorn agendas and issues into fiction at the expense of narrative integrity. The best novels tell a story and go on a journey with the characters free of those compromises (unless they do – sometimes – make sense) and agendas.
- Is writing your full-time career? Or would you like it to be?
If only! My dream is to make enough from my writing to provide a good life for my family and devote myself to the craft. However, I am very grateful that anyone is willing to spend their own hard-earned cash on my books, no matter how many or few.
- How do you deal with the emotional impact of a book (on yourself) as you are writing the story?
Writing dark, violent noir about criminality and morally compromised cops can get you down at times. I’m very lucky to have a beautiful wife, Tomoe, and daughter, Hana, to pull me out of some of the darker stuff. A walk or a good football match on TV can help, too. Sometimes I wonder why I write about the worst of society, but it’s because the lynchpin of my books is the good people – flawed and fighting their own demons but essentially good – who are there to stop them. I think a lot of crime fiction is all about hope and the wish that justice be done.
- What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
I wanted a book with some degree of authenticity about a very secret criminal organisation in the Triads, and two police forces about which I knew little: the Royal Hong Kong Police Force and New York Police Department. That meant a lot of research. There is plenty of material out there about the NYPD, but books and videos on the Triads and RHK Police are pretty sparse. I was very lucky in that I wrote to Gerald Posner, the respected American investigative reporter whose book about the Triads, Warlords of Crime I read, and Gerald agreed to read my novel. He gave me a fantastic endorsement, a line of which that appears on the cover. That made me feel I had managed a level of authenticity. In addition, the book is set in 1995, a year in which I lived in New York City. Luckily I kept a diary, and some of that content makes it into the novel – not all of it savoury.
- What was the highlight of writing this book?
Undoubtedly, a trip to New York. I received some cash from foreign rights for a previous book and used it to fund a trip to NYC in 1995, to interview former NYPD detectives. It was fascinating, inspiring to a crime writer, and gave me some fantastic material. A sequence when a female cop tries to tease information out of a thug is lifted from just one of the war stories I heard on that trip. It also helped with small operational details that just give a noir a sheen of reality.
- What are you reading now?
For pleasure, I just finished James Ellroy’s latest, Widespread Panic. I’m on a Harry Crews kick and have his novel Scar Lover lined up next. However, in the very early stages of research for my next novel, I’m reading up on the Hells Angels.
To learn more about John Steele, here’s where you can connect with him:
- Twitter: @JohnSte_author
One thought on “Meet the Author Monday: John Steele”
Hi Kelly, thanks for featuring me and the book – I enjoyed the Q&A: it made me think!