A Fatal Verdict is the second in a series of three legal thrillers featuring a British barrister (trial lawyer) Sarah Newby. She’s a tough lady who left school when she became pregnant at fifteen and had a hard fight to get to where she is today. In all three of these books Sarah is confronted with trials in which she cannot be certain whether the clients she represents are guilty or innocent. The reader doesn’t know either, until the last minute. This means that although Sarah fights each case as hard as she can, there are difficult moral and emotional choices to be made, by her and the police and everyone else involved.
In the first book, A Game of Proof, Sarah’s own son, Simon, is accused of a series of dreadful rapes and murders. This is bad enough for any mother, but Sarah is not just Simon’s mother, she is also a lawyer, an officer of the court. So when she uncovers evidence which seems to prove her own son’s guilt, what should she do? Hide the evidence and risk her career, or tell the truth and betray her son? What would you do in that situation?
The same question comes back in A Fatal Verdict, in a different form. This time it is not Sarah who faces the difficult mother’s choice, but her client, Kathryn Walters. Kathryn’s daughter, Shelley, is murdered; a horrible experience for any parent. But what should a mother do, if the courts set her child’s killer free? How should the victim’s family – her mother, father, and sister – respond to that?
Should they accept the verdict, and try to forgive and forget? Or take the law into their own hands, and seek their own revenge? And if so, how – in practical terms – would they actually do it? Should they plan together or separately? And if one member of the family commits a crime, should the rest of the family lie to protect that person, or save themselves by telling the truth? This is why the book is called A Fatal Verdict; because the choices which confront the victim’s family are so terrible. So Sarah Newby finds herself defending a client for whom she feels great sympathy, but who seems, for reasons Sarah cannot understand, to actually want to be convicted of murder.
Were there any scenes which you found more challenging to write than others?
It wasn’t the scenes that I found difficult; it was the plot. All three of these books have quite complex plots; it’s part of the challenge of making a good thriller, I think. The reader should have enough information to guess where things are going, but be frequently surprised by what actually happens. Timing is important too; the events should seem to move swiftly, in the right order, so that the reader keeps turning the pages; whereas in a real legal case, things aren’t like that.
If a book’s easy to read, it was probably hard to write. And what really stumped me, halfway through this book, was a twist in the plot which I just couldn’t make work. I wrote scene after scene which were all fine in themselves, but which had to be discarded because they didn’t fit the plot. It was like doing a jigsaw where someone had deliberately substituted half-a-dozen wrong pieces. It was only when I worked out what was wrong, that I could carry on to the end and make it work.
The really dramatic scenes, though, are the ones I love doing. I get into the zone and they just flow.
How long did it take you to write A Fatal Verdict?
About a year, probably, with a longish break of several months in the middle, because of this plot business. I work at the university as well, so I don’t have that much time to write.
Is there a part of the day when you feel most inspired to write?
Mostly in the mornings, from about 9 to 12 if I’m free. I find if I haven’t got into it in the morning, it’s much harder to get started later.
But there’s another thing that’s more interesting than the time, perhaps. I think writing is a bit like exercise – running or swimming or whatever you do. I had a period when I trained to run marathons (very slowly, but still …) and when I was running regularly I felt the need to run every day; if I didn’t do it I felt bad. But when I gave up running for a month or two I found it very hard to get started again; there was too much TV to watch, too many books to read, anyway it was raining or too hot, and so on and so on. The excuses mounted up, time passed, and I lost all my fitness.
Writing is the same. When I’m doing it regularly, and have a plan for a book, then I feel a need to do it every day. But if I haven’t done it for a month or two, I find it impossible to start. I look out of the window, go for a walk, watch TV, whatever. And there’s another day gone.
What books have most influenced your life?
Heavens, that’s a hard question. I’ve read hundreds. Sometimes I think I’ve wasted my life reading instead of doing. But perhaps you could say that all those books have influenced my life, by showing me how to lose myself in an imaginary world, which is sometimes more satisfactory than the real world around us. I was the kid who read books when others wanted to play, quite often.
The novels I really enjoy are the ones you don’t want to end. Or when they end there’s another one in the same series. Books in which the same interesting characters have further adventures. For instance the sea stories of Patrick O’Brian – probably the best historical novelist ever. There are twenty-one of them, and I’ve read them all at least six times. Tolkien is similar. And recently my wife and I – and my mother – have immersed ourselves in Winston Graham’s Poldark series, which were once a great TV hit in the 1980s. There are ten or twelve of them, and they’re marvelous, especially if you’ve lived in Cornwall, as I have.
What do you think contributes to making a writer successful in self-publishing?
I wish I knew! I’m still trying to find out!
Apart from writing a series of good books (see below) I think many of the answers are the same as in traditional publishing: talent, hard work, determination, and luck. All three are equally important. The talent and determination go into writing the book in the first place. Then you need more hard work and determination for promotion and the marketing. This involves a steep learning curve, and hours and hours of time on the internet. (Time which could be used for other things, like writing)
Then at the end of it all you need luck. There are gazillions of other authors out there trying to do exactly the same thing, and we can’t all succeed. There are more books than there are readers.
Think of it this way. There is a type of birds in south-east Asia called bower birds. These birds are artists. Every mating season, the male bird spends all day collecting sticks and bright stones and feathers to make a bower to attract females. This bower is like your novel. The poor bird spends all his talent, hard work and determination making the most magnificent bower he can. Then he stands outside waiting. What happens?
Scientists tell us that the males who build the best bowers stand the best chance of getting a mate; that’s natural selection. (The girls choose the guys!) So the writer with the best novel and the best website and the most tweets ought to sell the most books, isn’t that right?
Well, maybe, but what if the fashion in bowers is changing? There are hundreds of birds in the forest who’ve made bowers like this, but a few have a different idea. Our bird’s neighbour is one of these. Instead of carefully woven grasses, bright feathers, and tastefully arranged pebbles, this bird has heaped together a lot of trash – crisp packets, Coke cans, sweet wrappers, broken bottles. Our bird is disgusted; he thinks it’s a tasteless shiny mess.
But guess what? The females love it. They think it’s cool and sexy. Why? Who knows? You have to be a female bower bird, I guess!
That’s luck. Luck plays a big role in natural selection, and in the success of books, too. That’s my theory, anyway. (It’s probably rubbish – but I’m off to find some Coke cans, right now!)
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
First, obviously, write a good book. Some bad books succeed, but I hope it’s true that the better a book is, the better chances it has. If there’s any justice in the world, that ought to help. (But – oh dear – see above!)
Second, write another one. If a reader likes your first book, what are they going to do? Look for the next one. If it’s not there, they’ll go somewhere else.
Third, make sure it’s perfectly edited and formatted with no typos or odd-looking paragraphs. When you think your manuscript’s perfect, read it again, line by line. You’ll find some more.
Fourth, get a good cover. Unless your own talents like that way, get someone professional to do it. I use Cathy Helms at Avalon Graphics.
http://www.avalongraphics.org/ She’s great!
And finally, be prepared to spend all that time and effort promoting your book, and hope you have some luck as well!
What is your favorite quote?
Another hard question. How about this: ‘When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. Characters are caricatures.’ Ernest Hemingway. That’s fairly ambitious but I think he’s right. That’s what I try to do when I’m writing; I don’t know if I succeed.
It goes with another Hemingway quote: ‘All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they really happened, and after you have finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and belongs to you … if you can give that to people, then you are a writer.’
That’s a pretty high target, but it’s worth aiming for, I suppose.
Tim Vicary – short biography
Tim lives with his wife in the English countryside near York. When he is not writing or playing with his grandchildren he still tries to keep fit by horse riding, cycling and jogging, though less than before. (The time for marathons is probably over)
Tim Vicary’s official website: http://www.timvicary.com
About the Sarah Newby books: http://sarahstrials.wordpress.com/
About historical thrillers: http://historicalthrillers.wordpress.com/
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Tim Vicary who is the author of A Fatal Verdict, one of our medallion honorees at http://www.bragmedallion.com. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as A Fatal Verdict merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.