In this month's Artellus author profile, we speak with Jim Raven. Raven is a consummate crime author who writes under his own name, as well as the pseudonyms Jaime Raven and JP Carter. His hotly anticipated new series begins with In Safe Hands, released by Avon on 24th January 2019, can be ordered on Amazon here. We spoke to Jim about being a full time writer, working under a pseudonym, and how crime fiction has changed with the internet age.
Jim, can you begin by telling us how you became a full time crime author?
I guess it begins when I was a child because my late mother was a big fan of Agatha Christie and Mickey Spillane books, and she encouraged me to read. So I read them and got hooked on crime books. I did write my first book when I was 15 but it was so bad it didn’t get sent off or anything.
I worked as a journalist for newspapers and I started to write, and had four early books published by Robert Hale. I then moved into television and became a TV news producer. I’d heard about self publishing and thought why not do it myself? I went on to Amazon and published through the Kindle Direct a couple of books I’d written and they were quite successful. After I became one of Artellus’ clients. I got another 5 books published by Robert Hale, before they were taken over.
Then I dug out of my drawer a book I’d written that I’d never sent off. It was half-finished and I can’t remember what it was called. I wrote it up and sent it to Leslie and she sent it off to Avon (Harper Collins), who took it on, changed the title to The Madam, and we did a three book deal with Avon.
And that’s when you took on the pseudonym Jaime Raven?
Correct, the book was slightly different to what I’d done before, it wasn’t a straightforward police procedural. It was gangster, gritty crime, so Avon wanted me to change my name. It was partly because they didn’t want me associated with the previous books. Also it was a gender neutral name, they were keen on that. Most people who reviewed the book referred to me as ‘she’ so that worked for them(!)
And now you’re writing under the pseudonym JP Carter?
Yes, I then came up with an idea for a new detective series which is slightly different again to the Jaime Raven books and Avon went for it. Because it was slightly different they wanted me to change my name yet again! The only thing I asked them, and they were happy to do it, was that I would like to refer to my previous names and to my real name. So in the first JP Carter book ‘In Safe Hands’ there is an explanation inside as to who I am and the fact that I’ve written books under different names.
What are the pros and cons of writing under a different name?
The main disadvantage is that it’s not my name on the book! For any author one of the greatest pleasures is to see your name on the cover of a book. It can be confusing when you do book launches and things you have to explain to people ‘actually that’s not me that’s not my real name’ If I’m in Waterstones and there’s a book by JP Carter it does take a bit of the edge of it if it’s not your name! So you do miss that.
Right, people will think you’re having them on if you point it out in the bookshop! And what about advantages of not writing under your own name?
I notice depending on the type of book I’m doing my writing does change a bit. I wrote several books under my own name, James, and they’re in the first person. And I got quite used to that, and then I decided to write a couple of books that were not in the first person. I think you develop characters more easily by not being in the first person. So I do that, and the JP Carter books are not in the first person so I’m concentrating a lot more on character development.
How do you think tastes in Crime Fiction have changed over, say, the last 20 years?
The main thing is the popularity of psychological thrillers. Going back many years I don’t remember reading many at all, but now the market is saturated with psychological thrillers. There’s much more emphasis on characters and characterisation than the plot. When I first started reading I was always focused on the plot: how to develop the plot, what action is taking place. Now I come at it from the characters and their backstories and relationships first. I try and come up with a main protagonist first before I develop a plot. That, for me, is the main change.
Do you think the recent popularity in psychological thrillers reflects a change in society at all?
I think it does reflect something in society: how social media has an effect on how we react. We look at Facebook, Twitter, all this stuff and you’re seeing how other lives are led. Together with that there’s a lot more news out there now: 24 hour news; online news; newspapers. There’s a lot more exposure of people’s lives and you’re seeing that it’s not just detectives and criminals who are getting up to stuff! You see normal people in newspapers or online that everyday are doing things that make for interesting reading.
Right, the mass exposure of private lives through the internet and social media, and it’s changing our cultural tastes.
I remember speaking to Avon about changing from the Jaime books which were more ‘Gangsters’ and ‘police’ to the new series. They wanted the plots to focus more on ordinary people rather than gangsters and that moves it more towards the psychological: a mother has got a secret, or a marriage is going wrong. So the newest book, In Safe Hands, centres on a nursery school, children are being kidnapped. A nursery school is something many of us send our kids to.
Interesting stuff. The time’s they are a-changing!
I can tell you another story about the way the life for an author has changed. When I was doing the first books for Robert Hale, many years ago, it was on a typewriter. I remember I wrote a 200 page manuscript; my wife and I had an argument and she tore it all up! And of course there was no backup! I remember I had to start it all over again.
Eurgh, what a horrible place the past was! Finally, what’s next for the many incarnations of Jim Raven?
Well I’ve got the three book JP Carter series with Avon. I’ve written one that comes out this month – In Safe Hands. I just finished the second one, ‘At Your Door’, which Leslie has sent to Avon and I’m just in the process of doing the structural edit. Then I’ll have to come up with another story for the third book. We’ll see where we go from there. So that’ll be three JP Carter books and hopefully more beyond that.
No resurrection of the 15 year old Jim Raven’s crime masterpiece?
I’ve no idea where that is!⬛️
Thanks to Jim Raven for speaking with us, and the ongoing pleasure of being his literary agents. Interview by Angus MacDonald; transcript has been edited for clarity.