Peter Darley - Writing a TV Series You Can Only Read
Peter Darley (P.D. to his friends) is a British novelist, whose professional history is in showbusiness. His lifelong admiration of heroes, and love of roller-coaster-style thrills have been a huge influence on his writings. As our Author of the Day, Darley tells us all about his flagship novel, Hold On!
Please give us a short introduction to what Hold On! is about.
Hold On! began as a unique experiment. I didn’t have the $50 million or so to make the TV series, so I opted for ‘The TV Series You Can Only Read’ That’s basically what it is – a literary TV show – which is why the books are denoted as ‘seasons’. It’s very much in the same spirit as Prison Break and 24, but it definitely has a unique storyline, loaded with emotion and tension. I never intended for it to be interpreted as six o’clock news reality. It’s purely a roller coaster ride with a primary agenda to entertain.
Brandon and Belinda are strangers when he first saves her life in the most hair-raising way. They find themselves hiding out in his cabin in the mountains of Aspen, where, after a time they start to fall for one another. Brandon is a mystery, but his story is revealed gradually. When they try to escape from America, they are faced with one danger after another – which leads to Brandon making the most horrifying discovery he could’ve imagined. (No spoilers.)
What inspired you to write about two lovers who are running for their lives from a corrupt government conspiracy?
With these kinds of thrillers, it’s usually ‘one man on the run’ from government bad guys. This time, I went with the ‘fugitive lovers’ approach. When I was writing it, conspiracy theories were all the rage, but they were mostly absurd. I felt that fiction was the appropriate place for these ideas, but I also wanted to incorporate as much credibility into it as I could. (It wasn’t easy – lol.) However, my primary reason for choosing this subject is because it’s high-concept and opens the door to endless chapter cliffhangers. I really wanted to make as many chapters as possible end like episodes of a TV thriller serial.
You have been in the showbusiness for a while. How has this influenced your writing?
Actually, I’ve been in entertainment all my adult life. I started out as a stage and television actor, but I also subsidized myself by working as a magician. One of the least acknowledged facts about books is – they are the very first type of entertainment that ever existed. Before the stage, before the rock band, before TV and film – there was the storyteller. It’s from this ancient starting point that all other forms of entertainment arose, and it never went away.
Tell us more about Brandon and Belinda. What makes them such a great couple?
It’s really difficult to say too much about Brandon without giving away spoilers, but in the beginning, he’s a man who’s going out of his mind with loneliness. Belinda suffers with the same bane, but in a different way. She’s very much ‘alone in the crowd’ and deeply frustrated with life. Brandon enables her to escape from all that. In turn, she gives him a sense of self worth, validation, and longed-for companionship.
What makes Brandon tick? Why did you make him go AWOL?
Eeeeeek!!!! Another spoiler risk. He stumbled upon information about an operation that would result in the deaths of countless innocents. Armed with an arsenal in ‘borrowed’ tech, he went AWOL to intercept an atrocity . . . and that’s how he met Belinda. It’s all explained in the first book, but a more detailed account of the back story can be found in my free signup novelette, Hold On! – Inception: https://peterdarleyinception.weebly.com/
Your book contains quite a few twists. Do you plan them out before you started writing?
Way back in 2010, I came to a halt at around Ch. 13 (lol). I hadn’t got a clue what was supposed to happen next. That’s when I came up with the crazy idea of making a bogus ‘TV trailer’ on the next page, with collages of images and text that was meant to be the TV voiceover guy. (This has now become a part of my writing process.) Just the general overview of ‘what happens next’ helped me to make a start on the next chapter – and that’s when I made a startling discovery. As I was writing, ideas just came to me, and they were much better than anything I could’ve come up with by sitting down and thinking about it. For the most part, my books write themselves with very little conscious input from me. I’d love to know if other authors experience this, because I think it’s a fascinating phenomenon.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m a trained actor, although it’s been a very long time since I did any acting. I couldn’t guarantee I’d be any good at it now if I jumped back into it cold. I also used to do voiceover work for radio ads, and I did a lot of presenting for corporate training videos. I did a bit of modeling on the side too, and the gym is still a big part of my life to this day. I am very fitness conscious. I also hold an honors degree in law and so far, that’s proven to be largely useless to me (lol).
I recently started working as a songwriter for the Burning Minds Music Group in Italy. That all began with one of the most amazing things that ever happened to me. All of my books are driven by melodic rock when I’m writing. Then, in 2015, my rock heroes came calling. Rock bands Charming Grace and Vega collaborated to write and produce “Gotta Get Away”, the theme song to my last book, Hold On! – Tomorrow. It was the first song in history to have been recorded as the soundtrack theme – to a book! Newspaper and radio interviews followed, and my heroes became my bros. Now, I’m working with them as a songwriter.
But the ‘other skill’ I have that’s been the most valuable to me as a writer is my sideline career. I’ve been a close-up magician since I was 17, and understanding the dynamics of magic has given me a huge advantage. More on that later.
Readers say you really kept them on the edge of their seats. How did you pull this off?
A part of this was actually a trick I learned from Dan Brown. Most of the chapters in the Hold On! series end on a cliffhanger. This can even be right in the middle of a life-or-death scene. You can just imagine it on a TV show: OMG! – freeze frame – executive producer credit – ‘that’s all until next week, folks.’ The end of a chapter is usually when someone puts a book down. But by doing this, it makes them NEED to find out what happens next. This is the secret behind what makes a page-turner, but with a book, you don’t have to wait until next week to find out what happens next.
I’ve had my knuckles wrapped a few times over the ‘cliffhangers’ at the end. This is a bit of a misinterpretation. The fundamental storyline of each book concludes. The ‘cliffhangers at the end’ are set-ups for the new story arc in the next book, in-keeping with the TV ‘season finale’ tradition.
Which novelists do you admire?
My background is in film and television, so the cinematic world is more of an inspiration to me than books. (Heresy, I know.) My greatest inspiration in that world is Hollywood writer/director/producer, Kenneth Johnson (The Incredible Hulk, The Bionic Woman, V, Alien Nation, etc.) He has an uncanny ability to take the most ludicrous concepts and make them credible, while also injecting serious drama and emotion into the narrative. My books are very much influenced by him, and it blows me away that he actually knows of my existence.
However, books? I would say – Stephen King, Lee Child, Clive Custler, and Dan Brown.
When working on a novel, how do you immerse yourself in the main characters' lives? Do you observe people in a certain culture, or do you try to walk in their shoes?
This is a great-but-loaded question because it depends which aspect I’m focusing on. For personalities and emotions, there is no greater authority than myself. All of us know what something feels like. We don’t know what someone else feels like. Borrowing certain aspects for scenes from our own life experiences is the best way to give them credence, otherwise you run the risk of it coming across as fake. I don’t have to ‘walk in their shoes.’ I’ve already walked in them. Even this can produce disbelievers because I’ve had some crazy experiences that many people haven’t. I don’t mean the action thriller elements in my books when I say that, but rather the relational and emotional aspects.
The next phase is to take the characters and put them in the most nail-biting situations. This requires a lot of research because what I want to happen might be contradicted by established reality. Occasionally, I can get around this by incorporating a subplot that’s unique to the storyline. For example, corruption can be a handy plot tool to use when you want a particular government or military department to do something they wouldn’t normally do.
How do you come up with such brilliant ideas for conflict? I mean, the way the plot goes is just never what you expected it to be, you never know what might happen next!
Conflict is fundamental to any thriller. One thing I learned in drama school is to never play a bad guy as a bad guy. If you do, you’ll wind up with a Scooby-Doo type villain, with the mock-evil chuckle. In reality, the ‘bad guy’ never considers himself evil. Even psychopaths and human traffickers don’t. Those, in particular, don’t feel anything at all, so they’re quite difficult to explore. Despite knowing the world would disapprove, most ‘bad guys’ think of themselves as justified, and they’re committed to that sense of justification. This makes for terrific drama because it can add pathos to the hero/villain dynamic. My villains are almost always bullies and controller-type personalities from different walks of life. The Hold On! series is full of them because during my life, I’ve encountered far too many of them. That doesn’t alter the fact that something made them that way. Exploring what that ‘something’ might have been makes for compelling drama.
My shock twists are influenced by magic. Magic is yet another form of storytelling. The audience will follow an effect from the beginning. Then, right at the end, the magician will blow them away with a killer reveal that they never saw coming. Magic is a part of me and has played a huge role in teaching me how to set up twists. It’s not something you can just ‘throw in there’ on a whim. It has to be set up and guided from much earlier in the story, with only the writer knowing the outcome at the start.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I know it’s not good, but I’ve come up with some killer twists after a few drinks. I aim to write a chapter a day, but in reality, it turns out to be about a chapter every other day, depending on what else I’ve got going on.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on my most ambitious project yet: a three novel series and a free signup prequel novelette - all in one year. It’s called the Invincible Trilogy, but I won’t release the first one until I’m at least halfway through writing the third. Right now, I’ve halfway through the second. Where the Hold On! series was action-oriented with some mystery and suspense, Invincible is more mystery and suspense with some action.
Where can our readers buy your books?
All of the Hold On! titles are available in both ebook and paperback on Amazon, but the ebook version of Hold On! – Season 1 is FREE on Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, and Barnes and Noble.
Links to all the book pages can be found here: https://www.peterdarley.com/the-hold-on-series.html