David W Stokes
Q When did you first embark on your writing journey?
I wrote my first novel ‘The Provo Link’ back in 1979. It was published by Robert Hale of London under the pen name David Hayward. My second book – The Strasbourg Connection – came out in 1981.
Q There is a long gap then between books, as your third wasn’t published until 2011. What happened?
Working as a reporter on our local newspaper in Lurgan in Northern Ireland, life got very busy with the onset of the so-called ‘Troubles.’ Over time I progressed to the role of Deputy Editor and a few years later I became editor of a rival local weekly in a neighbouring town before becoming Duty News Editor on a local Independent Radio News outlet – Downtown Radio, and its sister station Cool FM, both of which today still hold the No 1 and No 2 slots in listening figures across Northern Ireland, so it was a high profile, all-consuming and utterly exciting role.
Q Tell us about that?
While I was primarily a desk editor, my role also encompassed frequent reporting and on air news reading, as well as acting as a local correspondent for radio stations across the UK – I was a regular fixture on LBC in London, for example. At that time anything that happened in Northern Ireland was front page, television and radio leading news; we rarely got time to lift our heads, as they say.
Q What big stories did you report on?
All of them, really – from the IRA hunger strikes and the Long Kesh prison break-out to the Omagh bombing and the Peace Process – there simply wasn’t a lot of time to do anything else.
Q So now you are back to writing?
More or less full time, although I still do have a day job – working as Group Editor with the publishers of a number of business and trade magazines here in Northern Ireland.
Q The Icelander marked your return to novel writing. What inspired that?
It followed a surprise trip to Venice, courtesy of my lovely wife Jackie, and it is there that the novel is set. Venice is such an inspiring place, which is why my latest novel ‘The Pope & the Pigeon’ is also set there. It features two of the same characters – Nick Savvas and Lyndsay Mitchell – who first appeared in ‘The Icelander’ and its follow-up ‘The Hunt for Black Friday,’ set mainly in London.
Q Tell us a little about those characters?
Nick Savvas is a retired British Army bomb disposal expert. He served in Northern Ireland and in other hot spots, but he got out while he was still alive and now lives in County Kerry in the south of Ireland. He doesn’t really want to be an all action hero, but after being called out of retirement he got a taste of what could be, and he’s agreed to be ‘on call’ for other assignments – so an all action, albeit reluctant, hero he has become!
Q And Lyndsay Mitchell?
She’s a journalist from Dublin who was covering the story of the Icelander in Venice when she bumped into Nick Savvas. They kind of hit it off and before leaving Venice there was the hint of romance in the air. They are not quite a couple, but who knows what’ll happen in the following books – so watch this space!
Q Is it difficult to get into writing?
It’s not difficult getting into writing if you have a talent, but it can be difficult to become a published writer, which is what most people want to be. That said, it is not as difficult as it used to be. The advent of ebooks and print on demand, as well as electronic reading devices such as Kindle, have conspired to make it all possible. But you need to be good to stand out from what is a growing crowd.
Q Does writing come easy to you?
I’ve been writing all my life, so it’s second nature – the hard part is constructing a story that is believable, that grips the reader right from the first page, a story that can be sustained to the very last page. It also has to be original and fresh and, yes, sometimes relevant to what is happening around us in the world today – it has to be a lot of things on a lot of levels – that’s the hard part.
Q Any advice for aspiring authors?
Don’t take rejection lying down. Some of our best known writers were rejected 20, 30, 40 or more times before they eventually ended up in print. It takes a lot of perseverance, a lot of belief in yourself. It can be a lonely old life behind a keyboard, but at least you get the opportunity to create your own world, your own characters, even the type of life you might want to live. You are the writer – you can do what you want, when you want and where you want, and with whoever you want – at least on the page if not in reality.