The Black Ditch

LAURIE STERNE feels like he’s been cut adrift in space. His father has been shot dead, caught in the crossfire of a gangland war that has also claimed his boss’s life. Laurie is a refugee who lost his adoptive mum years before and doesn’t know where he was born, let alone who his birth parents were. But he’s not alone in the world: someone is trying to kill him.

This is London, 2050, a dumping ground for climate refugees and dissidents. Gangs rule, murder goes unpunished and the police make sure you can’t escape.

In his struggle to stay alive, he finds an ally: his former boss’s secret daughter.

But with the killer predicting his every move, is the man without a past being betrayed by the woman who seems to offer him a future?

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Author Q&A
1.       What is the first book that made you cry?
Us thriller writers are supposed to be tough; we don’t cry. But OK, I confess the fate of Magwitch in Great Expectations gave me a very tight feeling in the throat. And I once laughed so much reading a Carl Hiaassen novel there was definite wet around my eyes. I was on a train. You should have seen the disapproving looks of my fellow passengers. They weren’t getting the joke.
2.       How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
The first draft takes me about three months, and subsequent drafts slightly less. I do a bare minimum of three drafts, mostly more, sometimes many more. I am now able to write full-time but doing it part time I never completed a novel (and it was a short one) in less than eighteen months. There are people out there who put out four novels a year. I am insanely jealous of them.
3.       How do you select the names of your characters?
Some have “working” names and I change them as their personalities develop. Some are fully formed on their first entrance – with names magically attached. Marina Haas in The Black Ditch came to me that way. That’s who she was, that’s what she was called. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. I wouldn’t trust Marina, but I can’t help but love that she is straightforwardly “her”.
4.       What creature do you consider your "spirit animal" to be?
According to the Chinese zodiac I’m a dragon. I’m just throwing that out there, not suggesting I have the spirit of a mythical, fire-breathing monster, however cool that might be. Actually, I am somewhat of a loner, I like hot countries, I am not a morning person and I suffered from spots as a teenager. That makes me a leopard. They’re pretty cool, too.
5.       What are your top 5 favorite movies?
I watched The Spy Who Dumped Me twice in six months, the second time on a plane back from a challenging holiday. It wasn’t Some Like It Hot, but after losing my passport in India I needed some silly fun. I really love Hanna, with Saoirse Ronan. It’s like Bourne, but with the fun conceit of the kick-ass righter of wrongs being a teenage girl, as well as a wonderful turn from Tom Hollander playing against type as a sadistic villain. And yeah, it’s not Chinatown. Is Hanna my favourite Saoirse Ronan film, or is it Little Women? I don’t know. Is Stardust my favourite movie adaptation of a Neil Gaiman book, or is it Coraline? I don’t know, either. They’re both fantastic. I couldn’t say if they’re on my top five; I’ve seen too many movies to decide, or even remember, my true favourites. Except that my daughter works in film, so anything with her name in the credits is a favourite.
6.       If you were the last person on Earth, what would you do?
Teach myself to fly, take a trip to the tropics and walk into the warm, enveloping sea.
7.       What fictional character would you want to be friends with in real life?
One of the many cats in the novels of Haruki Murakami, perhaps. But if the character has to be human, I’d like to share a bottle of Old Forester with Philip Marlowe.
8.       Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Start small. By which I mean short stories. To learn, you must practise. You can waste months, years, even, on a novel that doesn’t work. A short story might take you only two weeks. Some will work, some won’t. All will prove vital lessons in the art of storytelling. And the ones that work best will be your guide to finding your own voice, to honing the essence of what will make you unique.
9.       What book do you wish you had written?
A Brief History of Time. Because that would mean I would know what Stephen Hawking knew.
10.   Tell us 10 fun facts about yourself! :)
When I was six my best friend was Lulu. She was a cat. Developing a rich fantasy life is about the only plus point I can think of to being brought up a million miles from kids your own age.

At around the same time I announced to a novelist neighbour that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. ‘Don’t,’ he said, wisely. A bit later he gave me the portable typewriter he’d written his first book on. I was doomed from that moment on.

I used to be a member of a secret organisation called WASP and would ride around the skies in my whizzy plane offing the bad guys. Aged seven. What a dude!

When I got older, I learned to fly real aeroplanes. I guess I never really grew up.

I also studied aeronautical engineering at university. It was a weird time. A man wearing a food-stained black suit and mad professor hair would come into the lecture hall and write squiggles on the blackboard for forty minutes. I mean, what? Apparently, the what was maths. After being apprised of that, I decided to leave the design of flying machines to someone else and quit after my first year.

Instead I design and build my own audio gear, a less maths-heavy occupation. Facing the prospect of switching on a project for the first time is a great cure for constipation. Will it play music or will it explode?

I’m working on a new project: a DIY shortwave radio. It’s research. In the follow-up to The Black Ditch Laurie Sterne is still confined to London but he’s getting communications from elsewhere. Where and why? You’ll have to wait and see…

I was born in London and it has always felt like home to me, even though I only lived there for a few years. I truly love the place. I feel so guilty about smashing it up in The Black Ditch.

When I moved back there for my first job I was lonely. I began a novel that I failed to finish because my social life picked up. My godmother read a bit of it and said it was like Kafka. She lied. It was, like, terrible.

For all my love of London I’m no fan of English weather. Winters are OK; I mean they’re supposed to be cold. But when summer temperatures get stuck at 19, I just want to travel south. Me, head in the clouds, always.

Author Bio – Simon J Lancaster is the author of The Black Ditch, the first in the Laurie Sterne trilogy of dystopian future thrillers. Prior to writing novels he was a national newspaper journalist in London, as well as a music critic and private pilot. He has written short stories and plays and, after reading extensively about climate change, concluded that the fantasy gun-play of contemporary-set action novels would be the lived experience of our coming world.

Social Media Links – Facebook

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