Lilian asked S.K. Tremayne some questions before reading The Assistant (Dutch: De Assistent, published by Prometheus): on writing under a pseudonym, The Exorcist and…well, we did ask.
Who are you and why did you decide to publish novels under a pseudonym?
Please see my wiki for personal details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sean_Thomas_(author)
[We did. It says:
Sean Thomas (born 1963 Devon, England) studied Philosophy at University College London. As a journalist he has written for The Times, The Daily Mail, The Spectator and The Guardian, chiefly on travel, politics and art. When he writes under the name of Tom Knox, he specializes in archaeological and religious thrillers. More recently he has written novels under the pseudonym S. K. Tremayne.]
I chose to use a pseudonym because I wanted to wipe the slate clean of all my previous work: memoirs, journalism, literary fiction. The Tremayne books are in a very different style, and I wanted readers to come to them with no expectation. Also, a bit of mystery is good for a mystery writer.
In your previous novels, your main strength was creating confusion. Is this the case in your latest novel, The Assistant?
I like to think so. I love to write thrillers which edge close to a potentially supernatural or science fiction explanation, without ever actually tipping over that. There must always be a rational explanation, as well. I find this uncanny valley quite captivating. The grey area where confusion and imagination run riot.
I personally haven’t read this book yet. Can you tell me why I should absolutely read this one?
Because it describes a sinister world which are about to enter. Even more so because of this virus. We will all be monitored by machine.
Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?
In real life locations, generally. I am a travel writer and I love to write about “place”. So most of my books start with a specific and evocative place, and then I think: Ooh, what could happen here?
Do you write out the entire plot from beginning to end before you start writing, or do you let the story and characters take the lead?
Back in the day I used to just sit down and wing it, with no proper outline. Maybe that’s why my first books did not sell. I have now learned the necessity, especially with thrillers, of a firm plot outline, carefully mapped.
Are the books you’ve published under your own name (Sean Thomas) and the ones published under your pseudonym (Tom Knox) similar to the S.K. Tremayne books? If not, how are they different from one another?
As I said before, they are very different, Knox is hardboiled masculine conspiracy thriller. Tremayne is domestic noir with spookiness. Sean Thomas just likes taking naps.
Which books do you enjoy reading? Do you have a favorite author? A Favorite Book of All Time?
Favourite author must be Jane Austen or James Joyce. Very different, but both inspiring. Favourite book is almost impossible to say. So many! My favourite scary book is The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty. People remember the brilliant movie, but they forget the amazing book behind it. It is a masterpiece of fright.
Generally I like to read history, biography, memoir, science. With a dash of poetry. I tend not to read novels when I am writing them, as they might influence me too much. I devour TV drama.
Is there an author that you consider to be your role model? Why him/her?
F Scott Fitzgerald, because of his divine prose, and because he managed to write it while drinking about a bottle of gin a day. Same with Hemmingway.
When and why did you start writing thrillers?
Around 2003, when I was going bankrupt and my agent said, “write a thriller, people read thrillers”.
Are there other activities that bring you fulfillment/joy?
Country walks on a sunny day (especially now in quarantine). A seafood lunch with my wife, we love oysters. Visiting a new foreign country, I adore the sense of discovery.
Name one thing we’re allowed to wake you up for in the middle of the night.
A total eclipse of the sun. I’ve seen one but it was disappointingly cloudy.
Is there a question we’ve forgotten to ask, but that you’re dying to answer? If so, what question is that? And will you give us the answer too? ?
“Where did the Coronavirus come from?”
I believe it was that virology lab in Wuhan. I’ve read tons on this subject (I had suspected coronavirus in early Feb, caught in Bangkok, and that got me interested). I think that the idea that this lab, which investigates coronaviruses in bats, and is 300m from Wuhan wet market, is not connected an outbreak of coronavirus, caught from bats and spread at that market, is too absurd for words. As a thriller writer I can say it does not work as a plot device, it is too incredible, any reader would reject the coincidence.
I believe the virus came from the lab, probably because someone sold a bat illegally.
You did ask!