I have just finished reading Woodcutter, the debut author by Shaun Baines, that I thought was a fantastic action-packed, brutal and gritty thriller (you can read my full review here). It is a crime thriller involving family loyalties.
Some family trees are meant to fall…
On the run from his criminal family, Daniel Dayton returns home to Newcastle Upon Tyne when his abandoned daughter is attacked.
But his family have problems of their own. Targeted by a brutal mercenary, their empire is destined to be destroyed should Daniel refuse to help.
Betrayed by his parents. Despised by his brother. In love with his sister-in-law. Home has become a dangerous place to be.
Daniel wants his daughter safe. And he wants his revenge, but in the shadowy streets of Newcastle, things are never what they seem.
I was given the opportunity to ask the author some questions, this is what I asked and what he had to say.
Hi Shaun, thank you for agreeing to this interview and telling us a little bit about yourself and your background.
As mentioned earlier, I thought Woodcutter was brutal and gritty thriller, how did you come up with the idea?
The same way all authors come up with their ideas. I stared out of a window, but this particular window looked out on a dairy farm in Scotland. Isn’t that where all brutal, gritty thrillers start? My wife and I were new to the area and I wondered what our farming neighbours thought of two Geordies moving in next door. I figured they thought we were criminals on the run and Woodcutter was born. The book starts with Daniel starting a new life in rural Scotland and that’s where my new life as writer started, too.
How did you decide on the title Woodcutter?
When I’m writing, it takes a while for me to recognise the symbolic threads of my book. The tagline for Woodcutter was always – ‘Some Family Trees Are Meant To Fall.’ I also had a character who was a tree surgeon, a house called Five Oaks, a grand wooden staircase and a denouement set in a forest. So naturally, I called the book Hard Secrets – a title that means something and nothing.
It was my wife who suggested linking the wood thread to Woodcutter as a more fitting title. Because she is smarter than me. She also named the second book and gave me such a fantastic name for a piece of Geordie dating software (to appear in the sequel) that I should sign my royalty cheques over to her.
I won’t, but I should.
Why did you decide to set it in Newcastle?
Newcastle is my home town. Well, it’s next door to my home town, which is South Shields, home of the aggressive seagull and orange tan. I live in Scotland now and I miss the area a lot.
There are so many great things to say about Newcastle, South Shields and the north-east in general. The people, the night life, the architecture, the literature – the list is never ending, but I don’t look back with rose-tinted glasses.
We’re also drinkers, smokers, fighters and criminals, from the man who once stopped me in the street to sell me a computer console in a plastic bag to the girlfriend who was so drunk, she tried to light her cigarette from a running tap. But that’s what makes the north-east so great. We’re colourful, vibrant and unusual. It’s the perfect place to set a story about gangsters.
How long did it take to write this book?
I wrote Woodcutter in the winter of 2016. It was a Scottish winter, so that’s about six months. I landed my agent, the ever excellent David Haviland of the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency in 2017 and was published in 2018. It’s not a dramatic story and I understand how lucky I’ve been. Put simply, I wrote a book and got it published.
Writing isn’t the lonely profession writers claim it to be. I had help from many people and Woodcutter is a collective effort, though I take credit for the swear words.
Did you base any characters on people you know?
Because I’m a sadistic man-child, I always name one of my characters after my best friend. I won’t name him here (bless him, he has enough to worry about with that gangrenous foot and looming court case), but I delight in killing him off in the worst of ways. I’m sure Freud would have a field day with it.
It seems perverse, but it’s actually a genius marketing scheme. No matter what I write, I’ll always be guaranteed one sale because it’s important for my BF to appreciate how I envisage his death.
What did you edit out of this book?
There were long, rambling monologues and character arcs that went nowhere. The trick was to cut through all that and find the gems hidden underneath. Typically, thrillers need to be fast paced and extraneous narrative is an anchor slowing the book down. Many reviews of Woodcutter call it a page-turner so I guess I’ve achieved that.
On the advice of my agent, who is also a great editor, I changed the ending dramatically. Originally, the main character Daniel died (although in a murky, he’s-probably-coming-back way) and the bad guy was killed by a side character. I thought I was being clever, but I had strayed so far out of the box as to leave the reader unsatisfied. There’s no ego in writing and I’m glad I listened to an expert.
Are you working on a new book, if so will it be a sequel?
I am polishing up the sequel to Woodcutter, which is provisionally called Pallbearer. It deals with the aftermath of the first book. I can’t say too much because I don’t want to spoil either book for anyone, but I’m very pleased with it. We get more of Daniel’s relationship with his daughter and also his growing relationship with Bronson. Old enemies return, blood is spilled and we’ll all have a jolly good time.
It’s my hope that the Daytons will develop into a series. I guess it all depends on how many of them I kill off because in my books, no-one is safe.
What other authors inspire you?
I’m on record as saying that if I had enough time in the day, I would happily follow John Connolly around as his ugliest groupie. I love his Charlie Parker series. His books are dark, funny and populated with the kind of characters you wish existed in real life. It inspired me to write my own series, though I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to pair my books with his.
James Herbert, the British horror writer and our answer to Stephen King, was the author who got me into reading at the age of eleven. Far too early as it happens. His book The Rats gave me a lifelong phobia of rodents.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I guess the easy answer (and the most trite) is to say I try to deliver what the reader wants, but in an original way. As a reader, I am a huge fan of commercial crime fiction. As a writer, it means I have to stay within the genre and adhere to its rules. That means my characters are damaged, their deeds are dark and the book should have more twists than a Chubby Checker song.
How many hours a day do you write?
I’m still a part-time writer so it’s as many hours I can rescue in a day. I wake at 4am, start writing at 5am. By 7am, I’ve fed my chickens, showered and eaten a hearty breakfast in time to start work at 8.30am as a gardener. I generally finish around 2pm, so it’s a second shower (gardening is dirty work and you should never trust a clean one) and then I try to squeeze in two more hours of writing before I cook tea. (that’s what working class people eat instead of dinner.) I go to bed around 8.30pm before clambering back onto the hamster wheel and doing it all again the next day.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I force myself to read reviews because I think it’s important to know what people think. It’s in my nature to discount the many great reviews Woodcutter has received and concentrate on the odd bad one. And to be honest, the bad ones hurt. I didn’t write Woodcutter to disappoint anyone. I wrote it to entertain. Thankfully, most people get that and I’m grateful to everyone who joined me on the journey.
What is your favourite childhood book?
George and his Magic Knitting Needles. Not because it rocked the literary world, but because my primary school teacher told me off for reading it. It was one of the first book reports us ten year olds had to do. Most of my contemporaries chose Enid Blyton, Anne of Green Gables etc., but those books didn’t interest me.
Mrs Benton read my report, lowered her glasses to the tip of her nose and said, “You will not better yourself by reading such rubbish.”
Even at a young age, I saw the elitism of her words, despite not understanding what elitism was. What if I didn’t want to better myself? What if I wanted to entertain myself? Wasn’t there room for that? I was ten years old and had no reason to escape my relatively easy life, but I understood why I might.
I was coming up to puberty and would soon find other ways to entertain myself in my bedroom, but I never forgot how marginalised her comments made me feel. For that reason, I choose George and his Magic Knitting Needles as my favourite childhood book.
A year later, I read Wuthering Heights and wanted to be Heathcliff. I think puberty played a part in that, too.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I don’t have enough imagination to believe in writer’s block. For me, writing is a job. Imagine working in an office and telling your boss, “Sorry, I didn’t finish the spreadsheet. I just wasn’t feeling it today.”
Of course, not every day is a good day. Sometimes, I can’t see the words for the trees and turning on my laptop is all I’ll achieve. That’s no reason to give up. One word at a time is all you need to finish writing a book. That, and a constant source of ginger nut biscuits.
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview it is very much appreciated. I look forward to reading your next book.
Woodcutter by Shaun Baines is out now for Kindle and out in paperback from 7 June 2018, both available to buy from Amazon here. To find out more about Shaun Baines and his books, visit www.shaunbaines.org.