Interview: The Last Thread by Ray Britain

Today’s guest on What Cathy Read Next is Ray Britain, author of The Last Thread. The Last Thread is Ray’s first novel and, given his highly successful police career, it should be no surprise that it’s a crime investigation story.  I’m very much looking forward to reading The Last Thread just as soon as it reaches the top of my review pile.  In the meantime, I’m delighted that Ray has agreed to answer some questions about The Last Thread, the inspiration for the book, and his experience of being a first-time author.

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TheLastThread2About the Book

Accused of pushing a boy to his death in a failed suicide intervention, DCI Doug Stirling is suspended from duty. Attacked in the media and haunted by the boy’s smile as he let go of Stirling’s hand, he must look on helplessly as the incompetent Chief Inspector Ballard, intent on destroying him, investigates the boy’s death, supported by the vindictive Deputy Chief Constable, McDonald. Weeks later, an anonymous call leads the police to a remote location and the discovery of a burnt-out car containing the body of an unidentified man who has been savagely murdered. Short of experienced senior investigators, Assistant Chief Constable Steph Tanner has no choice but to take a professional risk.  Throwing Stirling the lifeline he needs to restore his reputation, Tanner appoints him to lead the investigation.

But with no witnesses, no forensic evidence and more theories than investigators, Stirling’s investigation has far too many ‘loose threads’ as he uncovers a complex, interwoven history of deception, betrayal and sadistic relationships. Was the victim connected to the crime scene? Is the murder as complex as it appears? Or is there a simpler explanation? Still traumatised by the boy’s death and with time the enemy, does Stirling still have what it takes to bring the killer, or killers, to justice before McDonald intervenes? Things are already difficult enough when DC Helen Williams joins the investigation; a determined woman who seems intent on rekindling their past relationship. And is Ayesha, the beautiful lawyer Stirling has grown fond of, connected to the murder somehow?

Format: ebook (536 pp.)                   Publisher:
Published: 17th September 2017    Genre: Crime

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Q&A: Ray Britain, author of The Last Thread

What has surprised you most about the journey from first draft to publication of your book?

How long it took – over thirty years! Writing a book had been an unfulfilled ambition for much of my adult life but with a busy career and a young family, it had to sit on the back burner. After leaving the police service I drafted a few chapters but, between being busy working in London and losing a little confidence in the writing process, I didn’t touch it again until 2015. What was the catalyst for starting again? I read a popular crime fiction novel and was so irritated at its many inaccuracies and its unrealistic plotline that I thought I should either put up, or shut up. Hence, The Last Thread and my protagonist, DCI Douglas Stirling.

How did you go about balancing your desire to represent police procedure accurately with the need to tell an exciting story?

I had two objectives. Firstly, and most importantly, that the story engaged the reader’s imagination, keeping their attention and them guessing to the end. Secondly, that it accurately reflected the realities of investigation in the UK.  I’ve endeavoured to provide sufficient information that will interest and inform my readers without, I hope, detracting from the story.

Is there a scene in the book you found particularly challenging to write? If so, why?

Not so much a single scene as the elements of the storyline intended to make the reader work and to think about who the culprit is.  Providing sufficient information and hints without giving it away then how to wrap it up and still leave a final decision with the reader.

Why did you decide to make Doug Stirling a Detective Chief Inspector, as opposed to any other rank?

As part of my motivation to write was to portray modern investigations accurately and authentically, I needed someone who has sufficient rank to lead complex investigations but is not so far up the hierarchy to be completely detached from the fray. Like many organisations, the higher one travels up through the ranks in the Police, the more distanced one is from day to day investigative practice.

Is the Doug Stirling the reader encounters in the book as you originally envisaged him or did his character change during the process of writing? If so, in what way?

Broadly, yes. In terms of his physique and looks, he’s drawn from memories of a young version of my Father, but that’s as far as the likeness goes. Doug is a bit of a dark horse with an intriguing, untold back story who enjoys the company of intelligent, interesting women and, if they’re attractive too, then even more so. As for the other characters in The Last Thread, they’re drawn from my imagination but with characteristics informed through experience. There are several strong female characters in the book, such as exist in policing and professional life generally, and many other interesting characters. I look forward to readers’ feedback.

The cover of The Last Thread has a very sinister feel to it. How did you arrive at the jacket design?

I’m delighted that people have commented favourably on the cover photography. I wanted something that was different to a lot of self-publishing imagery, hinted at a sinister element to the storyline and, of course, intrigued people enough to pick it up and want to find out more. Working with a semi-professional photographer – acknowledged – we spent some time early one morning doing the shoot, hoping no one would walk by!

Prequels seem to be popular – Endeavour for Inspector Morse, Prime Suspect 1973 for Jane Tennison. Would you be tempted to write about Doug Stirling’s early days in the police force?

I think I should establish Douglas Stirling’s reputation first before I consider that. And as he’s only half way through his career, there’s plenty of life, investigations and love affairs left in him yet!

Will your next book be crime fiction or would you like to explore a different genre?

The next DCI Stirling investigation is underway, with the prologue drafted and the first murder committed! I use mind-mapping software to capture my thinking, to develop story lines and timelines and define my character profiles to ensure consistency. I want readers to become immersed in the story without the irritation of inaccuracies or inconsistency.

I know you enjoy reading crime fiction. Do you find yourself more interested in the ‘whodunit’ or the ‘whydunit’?

Both. All crime is motivated by something and why people do terrible things is important and fascinating to understand. Consequently, my storylines aim to make the reader work, to understand why things happened and, ultimately, decide who did what, and why.

With the benefit of hindsight, what advice would you give an author embarking on their first book?

If you intend to self-publish, do a lot of research, such as the ‘ideal’ length of a popular fiction novel (100k words approx.) and Kindle Publishing’s format requirements. I got to the better part of 200k words before I thought to have a look! I would have prepared the formatting of my manuscript better too if I’d known a few things in advance, which would have saved a lot of time in editing. There are some excellent blogs where writers’ have generously shared their experiences.

Finally, what’s your favourite tune for ‘Dad dancing’ to? Well, you do list that as one of your hobbies!

Ah, thank you for reminding me about that, Cathy! Anything with a good rhythm but generally any of the ‘classic’ dance songs of the last three decades. I’m hopeless at remembering lyrics but enjoy a good tune and can throw some great moves. Well, I think so, anyway. My family would argue otherwise, of course.

Thank you, Ray for those fascinating answers. I know crime fiction fans are going to love the combination of accurate police procedure and gripping story lines in The Last Thread and future DCI Stirling books.

RayBritainAbout the Author

Gaining promotion to a high rank, Ray built his police career in the Midlands region of the UK, working in both uniform and investigative roles, but the investigation of crime and the camaraderie of investigators remained his first love. As a Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) he led many investigations, some of which engaged specialist, national capabilities. For fifteen years he was a Hostage & Crisis Intervention Negotiator and responded to hostage situations, many firearms incidents and numerous suicide interventions, not all of which ended happily. Ray attended the FBI’s hostage negotiator programme at Virginia, USA as a UK police representative and other responsibilities took him to India, Europe and elsewhere. He received several Commendations in recognition of his work.  Since leaving the police Ray has worked with other criminal justice sector organisations, including HM Government’s Home Office.

Ray’s idea of a good day out is mountain walking or skiing, but most definitely not at the same time! His interests include rugby, an eclectic taste in music but currently keen on modern jazz. He’s a great Dad dancer too – his family might argue to the contrary – who enjoys reading and occasionally acts as incompetent crew for a friend’s sailing yacht.

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