Interview With Author Stephen Franks

# Please introduce yourself and your book!

The Milan Contract is my debut novel. It was published in December 2020 but didn’t go live until February of this year. The Milan Contract is a sort of Italian Maigret with its roots in the cold-war. A tale of two immigrant families living in Milan who manage to get caught up in an international story of betrayal and murder.

I have always harboured the desire to write and in the autumn of 2020, I started to set out the story that became The Milan Contract. The tale came to me as I stood on the steps of a Milanese hotel waiting for a taxi. As strange as it may sound, I have always believed that the story was somehow already in existence – it was just waiting for someone to come along to tell it. That story is still in much the same form as it was when it first ‘appeared’ to me more than thirty years ago!

My background is military (both British Army and Royal Air Force) and when I left the armed forces, I trained as a barrister.

# What is the real-life story behind your book?

The Milan Contract contains some factual historical background, but the story itself is wholly fiction. None of the characters are ‘real people’ but many of their idiosyncrasies and emotional responses are based on people I have met over the years.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity?

I am an avid reader and love nothing better than to sink myself into a Le Carré, Forsyth or Greene novel. I also watch people and am genuinely fascinated by the vast array of human responses to any given stimulus or situation.

# How do you deal with creative block?

I generally don’t have writers’ block – once I have a story in mind, I find it relatively easy to write about it. The process that takes me the most time is developing the story as a ‘mental film’. I cannot begin putting words on paper until I have the whole story mapped out in my head!

# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

I don’t feel qualified to answer this yet and I am sure that in three books’ time my answer would be different. However, I have always felt strongly that one shouldn’t write about a serious or sensitive topic without fully understanding it from many different viewpoints.

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

I can just pass on what I do. I walk around a bookshop and see which style of book cover grabs my attention. I also believe a book cover should provide some insight into what the reader can expect to read about.

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

People who spend their hard-earned money and a part of their life on reading my book are entitled to their opinion. It is after all their version of a ‘publication’ and the vast majority of reviewers want to enjoy what you have written. As for low ratings, I always take comfort from the fact that there are readers who rate Shakespeare at one or two stars. It doesn’t matter that I may disagree – we don’t all like the same things and the world is a better place for that.

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book?

Writing a novel is significantly easier than getting it read! It genuinely shocked me how hard this market is to break into.

# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

I admit to writing books for the satisfaction of my readers. I genuinely want people to like what I have written so my self-interest ends as soon as I answer the question: “Is this book ready to be read?” If it’s not, I work harder – simple as that.

# What role do emotions play in creativity?

In fiction writing, emotion is everything. When I write a book, I have already watched the ‘mental film’ in my head, so it’s just a case of ensuring that the reader can identify with an emotion as clearly as possible without using too many words. Most people can relate to most emotions, and you have to let the reader form an emotion from your description of what is happening in a scene. It is vital in my opinion for the reader to share the pain, joy, anxiety and fear of the protagonists.

# What are your plans for future books?

I am currently writing my second novel (as yet unnamed) and I am hoping that it is received as warmly as my first. I will never be the type of author who can churn out ten books a year (massive respect, by the way!). I will aim to produce one work per year, I guess.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself.

My dodgy claims to fame:

  • I was a guard at Charles & Dianna’s wedding.
  • I once held a local record for the number of beer mats flipped.
  • I gave Princess Margaret a cigarette when she had run out of her own.
  • I once used the gents’ toilet while still wearing a live microphone after giving a lecture to a packed-out auditorium.



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