My work brings me up against all kinds of low life Leeds writers; they gaggle together around book launches, literary events and 'talks'. We newer ones are a fairly close-knit community and easy to track down, except for one. Steve Mosby keeps his distance. Maybe he's shy and hasn't searched us out; perhaps his genre and bigger (than most) publishing deal means he doesn't need the support and camaraderie of the Leeds lot.
Intrigued, I've been gently stalking Steve for a year, ever since I'd finished his stunning sixth novel Black Flowers on holiday. When my main criticism of a book is 'there isn't enough swearing', you know it's good. I was so struck with it that I badgered Mrs Mick to put down her 800+ page biography of Che Guevara to howls of 'But I don't like crime fiction. I don't do thrillers.' A couple of days later she was a convert, thought the swearing was perfectly adequate, and on returning to work spread the word. Within weeks there were groups of people buying and passing around his books.
What is it about then that sucked these disparate people in? Obviously they are thrillers with multi-layered and compelling plots but, although ingenious and original, these are simply the foundations of his books. From them, he builds atmospheres and places that you inhabit. There's characterisation, brilliantly handled, that seeps through the stories until you are living the lives of fully-rounded people. Possibly most startling is his ability to immerse you in the worlds and emotions of new characters in a couple of pages.
I'm struggling to decide what I like most about the books. They're scattered with little gems of insight into the human condition and reflections on the nature of life but, for me, it's between the simple mastery of the writing craft and the humanity. From any angle you look he's a fabulous writer and to have the humanity shine through in dark, violent, brooding thrillers is quite an achievement. You empathise; you feel the fear, the sadness and the elation.
None of the Leeds writers (or people) I'd asked had heard of him, hardly surprising as his UK sales are low compared to those overseas. His books have been translated into nine languages and he received a six figure sum for the rights to the German translation of The 50/50 Killer alone. I had to meet him but he's as elusive and secretive as a Water Rail in a reed bed. After 12 months of gently courting him he agreed to a meet up, he had to; he's a writer and I wanted to write about him.
I was careful as I knew he'd be carrying a blade; well, strictly speaking, it's a dagger, a prestigious Crime Writers Association Dagger. Now, I'm sure there'll be a pecking order – Frederick Forsyth won the CWA Diamond Dagger – but Steve had just won the 2012 CWA Dagger in the Library Award, selected and voted for by librarians from across the country. Librarians know books and I was impressed, especially as the award is for a body of work rather than a single title.
So what do you need to know? The young Mosby gorged himself on Stephen King and amongst his current favourite writers are Jack Ketchum, Mo Hayder, Graham Joyce, Michael Marshall Smith and Tim Willocks. He started pestering publishers at the age of 17 and got his first deal nine years later.
Full story in The Guardian. 23 August.