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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Interview with Rik Stone (author of Birth of an Assassin)

Joining us today is Rik Stone, a man who took a company pension at 50, after years in the shipyards and in the quarries, completed a BSc degree in mathematics and computing, and began writing. His debut novel, Birth of an Assassin, is the first in a series.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today. For those who haven't yet had a chance to enjoy your work, please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect.

About me? My name is Rik Stone and I grew up in the slum-lands of North East England. I left school at fifteen and worked in shipyards, the merchant navy, and quarries before taking up education and going into IT. The idea of becoming a writer in the early days was like the current idea of winning the lottery. But a dream is a dream and is there to be realized; even winning the lottery, albeit, that depends on luck while realistic ambition is achieved through hard work.

When an opportunity arose to pursue a writing career I grabbed it with both hands, did a few creative writing courses, read a million ‘how to’ books and wrote stories – not very good ones. Still, I pressed on, honed the skill set I was constantly accruing and completed a novel that I was proud of; Birth of an Assassin. This book is an explosive and fast paced thriller that looks deep into the darker side of society. It is set in Cold War Russia and none of the cast are what I would describe as being good-guys; to a man they have personal motives and their intentions are not always honourable.

Q: The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing, and what has the journey to publication been like?

I began writing seriously in 2005 and I can tell you, the road to publication is peppered with disappointment. I thought my dream had come true when I first got an agent, but, having been tied into a contract for thirteen months, felt the need to walk away from it. I had a publishing contract offered to me, but when I had the fine print looked at, they wanted to own me, so again I walked away. If that sounds arrogant, it isn't, they were tough decisions to make, but you have to look after your own interests.

Q: That's a hard thing to walk away from - good job! In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

The first paragraph. When I get an idea I write three sentences. They constitute the beginning, the middle and the end. I usually let that simple outline sink in for a day or two before putting pen to paper. When I do, the tale flows in my mind, usually through to the end. But it’s in that first paragraph where the story takes shape; this is the place where the characters become real to me and because of that it is them who decide which way they want to go.

I can struggle with the last chapter. It could be the most important piece of the book as it can determine whether you have a fan or just someone passing through. Because of this I probably write and rewrite that chapter more times than any other.

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when developing a series that touches on multiple genres. Were there any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?

Almost every twist and turn surprises me. I have something in mind and then the character throws in a curve that I have to follow. I mentioned my three sentence rule; while I allow them to change in the first chapter, I will produce another three sentences and after that I stick to them rigidly. They become waypoints I must reach. However, the route taken to get to them is flexible. This is one of the things that excites me about writing; like life, you don’t know what’s coming next.

Q: When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?

Difficult! With Birth of an Assassin I felt I might ostracize a section of readers because the setting was in Cold War Russia and none of the heroes were from the west. Of course, every writer wants lots of readers to go out and buy their books, but you have to follow what you feel is right for the plot. So, I guess I wanted to write for my own satisfaction and yet still have a multitude of readers who would love it!

Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

I don’t know about strange reactions, but I have been surprised. When writing Birth of an Assassin I thought its appeal would lie with a male audience, but that guess was way off mark. The book has received great reviews from male and female readers alike – equality rules.

Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

The work of Harold Robbins inspired me in early life. The opening chapters of his books always gripped me, so much so, I would read them over and over: they took me into the scene where I felt I was actually witnessing the proceedings. And to be able to escape reality at that time in my life was a wonderful thing. John Connolly is currently one of my favourites; his work makes me think and, for some strange reason, I can associate myself to his Charlie Parker protagonist.

Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were Birth of an Assassin to be optioned for the big screen?

Oh boy, I wish! My main protagonist, Jez, would have pretty, good looks, something like Johnny Depp, perhaps with a bit more muscle. The love of his life would be like Christina Aguilera; apart from her obvious beauty I think she could carry off the tough image of Anna. George Clooney has the strong features required of Jez’s mentor and a young version of Ivan Drago (Rocky IV) could carry off the evil character of Otto Mitrokhin.

Q: Nice I can imagine that. Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another story yet to be told in your latest world, or perhaps something completely different on the horizon?

The Turkish Connection is ready-to-go. It is a follow-up to Birth of an Assassin. The terms prequel or sequel don’t apply because the story runs in parallel, so I call it a paraquel. It has a different cast of characters to that of the first book and is set, as the name suggests, in Turkey. It is the second segment in a story that will take five books to complete. The first two books are stand-alone, but the characters come together in the third offering. I am currently half way through book four, but in the mean time a modern day thriller came to mind and I felt obliged to put what I was working on to one side. This book is set in Brazil and I am currently working on an edit which will be followed by a copy-edit and then that will also be done and dusted.

Thanks for joining us, Rik.

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About the Author

Do children born into poverty become impoverished adults? It happens; pitfalls and roadblocks to advancement are everywhere. Rik Stone grew up poor amidst the slum-lands of fifties North East England, and left school at 15 without any academic qualifications.

He worked in the shipyards on a local river and later went into the merchant navy. Further down the line, he worked quarries in Essex in South East England.

But life was without horizons until, contrary to what his teachers had told him, he found he was capable of studying and completed a BSc degree in mathematics and computing.

Life got lucky for him when he took company pension at 50 and began writing. And now, here he is offering up his debut novel Birth of an Assassin, the first in a series.


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About the Book

Birth of an Assassin by Rik Stone
Published July 16th 2013 by Silver Publishing

Set against the backdrop of Soviet, post-war Russia, Birth of an Assassin follows the transformation of Jez Kornfeld from wide-eyed recruit to avenging outlaw. Amidst a murky underworld of flesh-trafficking, prostitution and institutionalized corruption, the elite Jewish soldier is thrown into a world where nothing is what it seems, nobody can be trusted, and everything can be violently torn from him.

Given the order to disperse and arrest a crowd of Jewish demonstrators in Red Square, Jez breaks up the rally but discovers his sisters in their ranks. Rushed for a solution, he sneaks the girls from under the noses of secret police and hides them in downtown Moscow. But he knows they will no longer be safe in Russia. He has to find them a safe route out.

The journey begins, but he is unaware that his every move is being observed and that he has set in motion a chain of events that will plunge his life into a headlong battle to stay alive.

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