Author Interview: David Williams on "11:59"

Ana: David, an excerpt from your novel “11:59” was submitted in the ABNA 2010 contest. I remember being struck by the superb characterization of Marc Niven - a radio host who works the switchboard nightly - and how he managed to be this surprisingly sympathetic and likable character, despite his sometimes cocky affection. Your excerpt was submitted in the “Thriller” category, and I was struck by all the tension and foreboding it contained - one of Marc’s night callers phones in a dedication to his own widow, which is obviously a pretty strange and creepy thing to do. Since ABNA doesn’t provide the judges with the pitch for the excerpt, I honestly wasn’t sure if the caller was a crank-call, a crack-pot, or a genuine ghost! Can you tell us more about your novel and where it goes from the end of the excerpt? What sorts of themes do you explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience?

David: Hi Ana. I don't want to put too many spoilers into my reply as the essence of a thriller is that the reader should not be able to anticipate what happens next, so I'm going to be cautious in how much I say here. There are basically two plots in the novel, which intertwine about halfway through. Overlaid on the two plots is what happens to Marc in his personal life, and particularly in terms of his relationship with his partner Sam, his former studio assistant, who has left him shortly before the action of the novel starts. The back story of that split-up is not revealed until well into the book, when it becomes highly significant. The major themes carried by the two plots are (possibly) human trafficking for sexual exploitation and (possibly) terrorism. I say possibly because we learn what happens only as Marc learns it, and he is capable of jumping to wrong conclusions - so it's best not to trust what seems to be. (That's a good rule in reading most mysteries and thrillers, I would say.)

What I hope the reader will take away from the experience is: number one and most important, the sense that they have been engaged in an absorbing story; that they have learned some things they may not otherwise have known, especially in relation to the main themes, by reading the story; and finally, a sense of empathy with the main characters and a feeling that one or two them have grown with the story.

Ana: I'm glad we get to learn more about Sam - I thought her character was especially intriguing. What was your inspiration when writing your novel? Where you influenced by a specific author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre?

David: The plot idea came from a late night drive when I was listening to a typical phone-in on my local radio station and out of nowhere the thought popped into my head, what if someone rang in during a dedication sequence and left a message of love to his widow? Would anyone really take notice of what he said, or would it slip by in the way that so much coming out of the radio does? What if the presenter was distracted, and missed the significance of the message at the time? What could the consequences of that be? While I was musing on this, I remembered a news item from several years before about a phone-in DJ who had successfully talked down a would-be suicide from a bridge. It is part of Marc's back story that he has done that very thing.

The themes I explore in the novel sprang mainly from some reading I was doing from interest at the time.

Inspiration? Well, I wanted to test myself by writing a novel in a genre I had not tried before - what fuels most of my writing is that desire to learn how to do things by doing them; in this case writing a thriller-based novel that would be strong enough to keep the reader engaged, wanting to see what happens next, how it will end, and investing enough in the main characters to care about what happens to them. Funnily enough I'm not much of a pure thriller reader myself; I prefer character-based novels that nevethless have a good story to tell, and I like to think that "11:59" is as much character-based as it is plot-based. One of the Amazon reviewers made a comparison with Nick Hornby, and certainly he is an author I admire, as is Ian Mcewan, but if I'm influenced by them it's only as much as I'm influenced by all the writers I have enjoyed and admired over the years.

Ana: I like that - I can definitely see the "character-driven" aspect of your excerpt, and I think it's why I liked it so much. In your excerpt, Marc Niven is an extremely cocky persona who enjoys flirting with his co-workers and nightly callers, but despite these potential character flaws, you managed to make the reader warm to him over time. I think this is partly because a lot of his outgoing personality seems to be at least a by-product of his career as a radio personality, but even so it takes a skilled writer to make this type of characterization work the way you have. What are your feelings towards your character, and how do you interpret his personality within the framework of the novel? How difficult was it for you to make Marc charming, even as we - the readers - are treated to his not-always-nice innermost thoughts?

David: Ana, I'm glad that you warm to Marc as the book goes along. A writer takes a risk when setting out with a character who has so many flaws that the reader may wholly dislike him or her, especially, as is the case with Marc, when he is not only the central character but the first person narrator of the story. An important driving force for me in writing the story was to ensure that the things that happen to Marc make him a 'better' person in the process of dealing with them. If that does not happen in the minds of the reader, and if he is not taken into their hearts, along with one or two of the other main characters (Oliver and Sam) then I'd feel I'd failed a major part of my challenge. Even when Marc is coming across at his most sexist and randy, I hope the reader respects him for his honesty and forgives him to a degree for (because of?) his naivete. I like Marc - you can't help loving your children - though my favourites are Oliver, Edona and, in a strange way, one of the villains of the piece, Emmanuel.

Ana: Haha, I think it's natural for authors to love their villains - without them, where would the story be? Is this your first or only finished work, or have you written other novels? If you have written other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?

David: This is my first novel, but I have been a part-time freelance professional for over thirty years - full-time for only the last two or three. I spent many years writing radio plays for the BBC, mostly for BBC Schools Radio but some Radio 4 drama too. The BBC schools stuff led me to writing for various educational publishers - plays, stories, a couple of school leavers' books. Before "11:59" I wrote a collection of short stories about growing up in a northern mining community, which has been well-received. It's called "We Never Had It So Good" and it has been reprinted so somebody must be reading it. :-)). My current project is an historical novel (another genre first for me) about the railway pioneers George and Robert Stephenson.

Ana: I was first introduced to your novel through the Amazon Breakthrough Award contest of 2010. What prompted you to enter the contest, and what were your overall feelings towards the contest in general?

David: I can't even remember how I got to hear about the contest - it may have been through one of my professional associations - and I entered "11:59" almost in an idle moment without thinking too much about it. But as the process went on I got quite involved, both in seeing the reviews and comments people like yourself were kindly making on the work, and in seeing quite how far my entry could go. I got to the semi-final stage, which was pleasing. In general, I think contests like this are great for writers as a potential outlet for your work but, equally importantly, to offer your work to people you don't know, people outside your friends and family who are not necessarily going to be as kindly or biased as your loved ones might be.

Ana: Are you currently published or self-published? Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? If you’re not currently published, how can readers “sign up” to be notified when your novel does become available?

David: Apart from some reworking of out-of-print material as Kindle versions, I have not gone into self-publishing. My education-focused works have been published by the likes of Macmillan, OUP, Cambridge Educational and Hutchinson. Some of these are still available and can be purchased through Amazon. My book of short stories "We Never Had It So Good" is published by Zymurgy and available on Amazon and most other online stores and bookshops. You can also get it on Kindle. "11:59" is published by Wild Wolf. Funnily enough, I had submitted the ms to them shortly before I put it into the ABNA contest, and they got in touch asking to publish it while in was in the throes of the competition stages. Contractually, I had to hold them off until my participation in the contest was finished, but they took a chance and prepared for publication in parallel, so that they were able to bring the book out very soon afterwards. "11:59" is also available on Amazon and the other usual places, and as a Kindle version. So there's no excuse not to buy it, folks! :-))

Ana: David, thank you so very much for being willing to participate in this guest blog interview. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

David: My pleasure. I'd just like to finish by thanking you for you very kind review of "11:59", for your interest in my work, and for letting me talk about myself, which I do only too readily. I'd be delighted if your readers would also come along to sample my blog at


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