An active imagination, an interest in the written word, and a fairly stable upbringing in a fairly ordinary town. I used my imagination to escape.
What was your big breakthrough?
Getting published for the first time was pretty major. But the biggest breakthrough was probably when I won the [Crime Writers' Association's] Gold Dagger award for Black and Blue [in 1997]. That convinced me, my publishers, and the public at large that I had a future.
How difficult is it to get noticed?
I think writers have to be proactive: they've got to use new technology and social media. Yes, it's hard to get noticed by traditional publishers, but there's a great deal of opportunity out there if you've got the right story.
How do you know a novel is finished?
When the deadline is approaching. I finish a first, second and third draft, then my wife reads it and suggests changes. The next draft goes to my editor and agent, who suggest more changes. I'm often still tweaking after it's been typeset – so it's finished only when it's published and you can't make any more changes. If you take it down off the shelf again, you'll always see things you'd have done differently. That's one of the things that keeps writers writing: the fact that there's always more you can do.
What's the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That we're introspective, sensitive souls and have arcane knowledge. I used to think that: whenever I heard that someone had taken 10 years to write a novel, I'd think it must be a big, serious book. Now I think, "No – it took you one year to write, and nine years to sit around eating Kit Kats."