[Interview] Brian L. Porter

Brian L. Porter lives in Yorkshire in the United Kingdom and is a member of the American Authors Association and the Military Writers Society of America.

His books include the novels, The Nemesis Cell (Stonehedge Publishing, 2007), A Study in Red: The Secret Journal of Jack the Ripper (Double Dragon Publishing, 2008) and Legacy of the Ripper (Double Dragon Publishing, 2009) as well as the short story collections, A Binary Convergence (co-authored with Graeme S Houston) (Stonehedge Publishing, 2007), The Voice of Anton Bouchard (Mythica Publishing, 2009) and Murder, Mayhem and Mexico (Eternal Press, 2009).

In this interview, Brian Porter talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing for many years, but began my career as a poet. After having over 200 poems published, I began writing short stories, and gradually progressed to full length novels, with A Study in Red: The Secret Journal of Jack the Ripper being my first novel to be published, and, so far the most successful.

That first book was inspired by the fact that I’ve spent over 35 years studying the Jack the Ripper murders, and it seemed logical to me to base my first novel around a subject that I already had a good working knowledge of, although a lot of additional research went into the factual side of the book.

Having written the book I sent submissions to many publishers and agents in the UK, but sadly, such is the state of the publishing industry in the UK, no one was remotely interested in a new author with no previous publication record.

A friend suggested I use the internet to try and find a publisher in the USA or Canada, and, to my delight the first publisher I submitted the work to, accepted it.

From that day, I’ve never looked back and now have a string of publications to my name, not just with Double Dragon Publishing, but with a number of other publishers too.

How would you describe your writing?

When I write under my Brian L. Porter name, my work veers strongly towards the dark side of human nature, with my novels mostly being dark psychological thrillers that delve deep into the psyche of my characters.

It would be true to say I try to give people a good old-fashioned shiver or two as they read my books, and also try to indulge myself in a little misdirection, so that my readers are led along one path, and begin to expect certain things to happen next, and then I throw in various plot twists to turn the story in a totally different direction.

Of course, writing children's and young adult works as Harry Porter, is a totally different scenario for me. My books on dog rescue are all based on the real dogs who share my home and my younger children's books are the results of stories or poems I originally wrote for my own children.

Who is your target audience?

Of course, my novels are aimed at an older, adult audience.

I’ve always loved reading thrillers and mysteries, having been a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle since my teens, and latterly being a huge devotee of the works of Tess Gerritsen and Jeffery Deaver.

I’ve been fortunate that people appear to enjoy my novels to the extent that A Study in Red won the Preditors & Editors Best Thriller Novel Award for 2008 and is currently being developed as a movie by Thunderball Films (LA), in collaboration with Masterplan Films (UK). All of my other novels have also been signed by Thunderball Films in a franchise deal, for future movie or TV adaptation, so I suppose someone must like my books.

As for my childrens books, the motivation for those was firstly the enthusiasm of my own children who wanted me to write something they could read, and the wonderful experiences I’ve enjoyed with my dogs, which inspired me to write my Harry Porter’s Dog Tales series, the first of which, Tilly’s Tale, won the Preditors & Editors Best Childrens Book and also Best Artwork Awards, 2009.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I suppose my one main concern when I begin a new book, is whether the work will prove appealing to the target audience.

I’ve become aware of the fact that writers sometimes forget that they should be writing what the readers want to read, rather than what the author wants them to read. To that end, I’ve recruited a great team of between five and seven people, of differing ages and backgrounds who act as a critique team for me, and who read every chapter as I complete it, and give me their feedback on it as readers. I hope that by using these wonderful people, my main concern is dealt with before the book even reaches my publishers.

On a personal level the biggest challenge I’ve had to face is that presented by my own mind, in the form of the depression that is always with me. Each day is often a struggle, and I do my utmost to make sure that no matter what, I always write something each day, even if it’s only a few paragraphs, or often, just a few words. At other times, the writing flows and I can write chapter after chapter in a day, so, my challenge is always to reach out and grasp whatever I can from each day, and then move on to the next.

From a writing angle, the biggest challenge in writing any novel, is the research I always undertake to ensure that the mingling of fact and fiction I always employ is woven together in a believable fashion. I use many sources of research, from police forces to organisations that follow the subject matter of any particular book, as well as using the internet and that most accessible of research sources, books!

Which authors influenced you most?

The three authors I’ve already mentioned have to be my greatest influences.

Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales were so perfect in their writing and in the wonderful characterizations and settings he used for the stories. He created such terrific mysteries and his plots were simply superb.

Tess Gerritsen is not only a great inspiration but also a wonderful lady who gave me great encouragement when I contacted her during the writing of A Study in Red. She even sent me a good luck message which appears with her permission on the cover of the paperback edition of the book.

Jeffery Deaver, is to me, the master of misdirection. I love all his books and read them time and again. He also encouraged me, via email, during the writing of A Study in Red. I owe them all a great deal.

I hope there is something of Conan Doyle in Behind Closed Doors too. I’ve set this story in a similar time period to that in which Holmes operated, though my principal detective, Albert Norris, is a member of the official police force, rather than a private investigator. There are red herrings aplenty in the storyline, and I hope I’ve managed to convey something of the period in my descriptions of life in the Victoria era.

I want readers to feel they are a part of the story and are able to 'see' the action taking place, whether it be on the 'new' underground railway system or in the grand houses of the rich, and the less than salubrious dwellings of the less wealthy characters within the book.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I’ve suffered from depression for a number of years and in many ways, I’ve used the darker side of my experiences of that illness to help create some of the more terrifying and visually 'scary' scenes that often appear in my books.

It’s been a case of using my own personal demons to create something that I hope will reach into the hearts and minds of my readers and allow them to experience the fears and tribulations that often beset my characters, both heroes and villains. Each of those characters does, I suppose contain an element of my own ‘dark side’ within them, and I hope that adds a depth to the realism of those fictional creations.

Certain aspects of Behind Closed Doors will mirror the darkest emotions that often exist within the human psyche, and though my characters are fictional, the situations they find themselves in are as real as I can possibly create, using personal experiences of that dark side of human nature.

When one is lost in a world of darkness and fear, such as is created by deep depression it can lead to many nightmarish visions, which I hope I’ve been able to turn to advantage by transferring some of them into the characters I create.

Do you write everyday?

As I previously mentioned, I do try to write every day, though I don’t stick to a disciplined regime. Having said that, there have been times when I’ve gone days, or sometimes, weeks, without being able to write a word. When that happens, I simply have to wait for inspiration to strike before I can carry on. I don’t decide how a session is going to begin or end, but just ‘go with the flow’ until my mind tells me that enough is enough for the day.

How many books have you written so far?
What is your latest book about?

My latest book will be Behind Cosed Doors, coming from Sonar4Publications. The book is currently a work in progress, though it’s going so well that it shouldn’t take many more weeks until it’s completed.

Altogether, research and writing will probably add up to about six months from start to finish. As to the publisher, this was a case of them choosing me rather than the other way round. I was delighted when Sonar4 approached me and asked if I’d be prepared to write a Victorian murder/mystery for them. They made me a generous contract offer which I was pleased to accept and I can honestly say that so far, contact between the publisher and myself has been an open two-way series of communications and I’ve met with no disadvantages at all so far.

You ask what it’s about? Well, here goes:
Autumn, 1888. The population of London is transfixed and horrified by the atrocious and horrific murder spree being conducted by Jack the Ripper. The newspapers are full of the details of the mutilations perpetrated by the killer and the apparent inability of the police to apprehend the unknown assailant. As Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Charles Warren throws the bulk of his investigative resources into the search for The Ripper, and the tabloid press scream of the crimes in banner headlines on a daily basis; on the new, ultra modern Underground Railway that has revolutionized travel around the great metropolis for the working man, another, less well publicized killer is at large.

Tucked away on the inner pages of the daily press, hardly enough to raise an eyebrow among discerning readers, one may have found a few, short articles which told of the strange and also, so far unsolved murders which are taking place on board the carriages of the new-fangled and much heralded transport system. Each murder takes place the day after one of the ripper killings, as the murderer appears to be taking advantage of the lack of police resources to tackle not one, but two, major investigations simultaneously.

Inspector Albert Norris is charged with bringing the railway killer to justice, but, as with case of Jack the Ripper, clues are few, the killer's motive unclear, and he is forced to carry out his investigations 'quietly and without causing a public panic' as the authorities seek to prevent a loss of confidence in the safety of the underground railway system. The press are being told even less, hence the minimal coverage, and Norris can count on little help from above as he attempts to solve the inexplicable series of murders.
Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into Behind Cosed Doors?

The research into the early days of the London Underground System proved a little harder than I’d anticipated, due to a surprising lack of information being available on the internet, but I managed to over come this by visiting a second hand book market where I was able to locate and obtain an obscure book that gave me all the background information I required in order to create the settings for the book.

I’ve really enjoyed creating the central characters for this book. I love the Victorian era and being able to create my own fictional characters and place them within a real timeline and work alongside actual events that were taking place at the time has proved immensely satisfying.

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

Although this is a thriller like my other works, this one stands out a little because it holds more of a mystery element than my previous works. There are still elements of straight-forward thrills and bloody murder of course, but Behind Closed Doors, will I hope, prove to have a disturbing effect on readers for the simple reason that though this is a work of fiction, I’ve written it in such a way that I hope people will read it and actually believe that this series of murders actually took place.

Behind Closed Doors is similar to my other work because, well, for one thing, my old ‘friend’ Jack the Ripper gets more than a couple of mentions, as my story is contemporaneous with the Ripper murders. It’s a thriller, of course, and it has my usual twist in the tale ending, which of course, I can say no more about for now.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Easily, the movie contract with Thunderball Films. They approached me out of the blue with an offer for the movie rights to A Study in Red and after negotiations were complete, they then came back to me with the franchise offer for the rest of my novels.

I was then further delighted when I was asked to work with the writer/director on the screenplay and they have been so pleased with my contribution to the screenplay that I’m also to be credited as co-screenplay writer in the movie credits.

The fact that the book won the ‘Best Thriller’ award and also the first movie trailer picked up an award have also been wonderful achievements for the book.

*This article is based on an email interview with Brian L. Porter which took place in June 2010.

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