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Former Stratford Herald deputy editor Michael Davies has published his debut thriller novel, Outback – he’s in Waterstones signing today (Saturday)

FORMER Stratford Herald deputy editor Michael Davies has turned in his press pass for a new role as a writer of thrillers. As his debut Outback is published by HarperCollins, he tells us about his journey from newspapers to novels.

Outback is a sequel to another author’s book, Desmond Bagley’s Domino Island. How did you come to write it?

I worked on Domino Island for HarperCollins after the first draft of Bagley’s manuscript was discovered in his archives a few years ago. He’d died in 1983 and it was thought that after two posthumous novels there was nothing left to publish. But when this manuscript was discovered, the publisher, David Brawn, asked me if I’d like to read it. I’d been in touch with him over many years after pitching the idea of a Bagley biography and, while that never quite happened, it did put me in pole position when it came to preparing the first draft of Domino Island for publication in 2019. This year is the centenary of Bagley’s birth and David was looking for ideas of ways to mark it, so I jumped at the chance of pitching a new novel using the same protagonist – Bill Kemp – in an original adventure, although still set in the 1970s. Outback is being billed as the ‘Desmond Bagley Centenary Novel’ – not an attempt to mimic the great man, but a tribute to him.

Former Herald deputy editor Mike Davies with his new book Outback. Photo: Mark Williamson
Former Herald deputy editor Mike Davies with his new book Outback. Photo: Mark Williamson

How did you become a Desmond Bagley fan?

I was introduced to Bagley’s thrilling stories as a teenager by my two older brothers. His habit was to write roughly one book a year and through the 1960s and 70s he was one of the bestselling authors in the world. Critics and contemporaries alike acknowledged him as the ‘master of the genre’ and it’s no surprise – his 17 novels are action-packed, fast-paced and extremely well researched.

Bagley doesn’t seem very well-known any more. Why do you think that is?

It’s odd because his style of adventure thriller seems to have gone out of fashion rather. People remember Alistair MacLean more, probably because quite a few films were made of his wartime books, but even MacLean admitted Bagley was better. He’d been born in Kendal and brought up in Blackpool, where he tried his hand as a printer’s apprentice and engineer before finally joining a group of about 25 people in 1947 to trek overland to South Africa. After that, his love of travelling never stopped. Although he returned to the UK in the 1960s, settling first in Devon, then Guernsey, he would embark on frequent research trips with his remarkable wife Joan in preparation for each new novel, and they are full of meticulous detail and fascinating background material. His books have never been out of print, which is a testament to his enduring quality.

What is Outback about?

The book – which is firmly an adventure thriller in the Bagley mould – takes Kemp and puts him into a mystery in the heart of the Australian desert. When his clients Sophie and Adam Church inherit an abandoned opal mine, triggering some explosive long-lost secrets, they – and Kemp – find themselves facing an unknown enemy even more deadly than the vast, forbidding wilderness of the outback…

Outback cover
Outback cover

This is your first solo novel at the age of 59. Are there any similarities with newspaper journalism?

It’s a bit of a trope that most journalists think they have a novel in them, so I’m probably something of a cliché. In fact, it’s not my first novel – that was a very naive thing that remains firmly locked in the proverbial bottom drawer – but my background in newspapers has definitely helped me when it comes to not being precious about my words, being willing to edit ruthlessly and sticking to deadlines. As a journalist, you’re not allowed the luxury of waiting for the Muse to strike: you just have to get on with writing your piece. That mentality, drummed into me early on, really focused the mind on sitting down and getting on with writing the novel. It’s only taken forty years since I started on my first newspaper!

And what’s coming next?

Fortunately for me, HarperCollins have already commissioned another Kemp novel, to complete a trilogy. David Brawn very kindly said it was “one of the easiest publishing decisions I’ve ever made”, which feels like a real vote of confidence. The next one is called Thin Ice and is scheduled for publication in 2024, and it introduces Kemp to the world of Cold War espionage in the 1970s. Now all I’ve got to do is write it!

Outback is out now, published by HarperCollins and available at Waterstones and other bookshops, as well as online at Amazon, WH Smith and other websites. Michael Davies will be signing copies of the book at Waterstones in Stratford at 11am on Saturday, June 3. You can also follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=michael%20davies – Twitter and TikTok @mrgdavies and Instagram @mrgdavies64.

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