The burning issue
Andrew Woodward tells Matt Fleming about his latest murder-mystery, The Fire Walker
It’s been almost a year since we last sat down with Andrew Woodward. And there could be no better time for a literary chat as, 12 months on, the second book in his DI Chambers murder-mystery pentalogy has just hit bookshelves. The first installment, The Water Dragon, was well received last year and fans have been waiting on this second – The Fire Walker – with baited breath.
The Water Dragon saw Detective Inspector John Chambers from London’s Met Police on the trail of a suspect in a double murder in Hong Kong. This time, says Woodward (carefully sidestepping spoilers), DI Chambers, back in the UK, has been suspended due to his unauthorised involvement in the Hong Kong serial killer case and heads to Scotland to track down a relative who has disappeared. But things quickly turn pear-shaped…
“The Fire Walker is the second part of the pentalogy,” says Woodward, “so as Chambers is a UK-based detective it was only natural for him to head back there. However, his partner Li is from Hong Kong and she is still based here. So there’s definitely a Hong Kong angle and the action will focus more on Li in the forthcoming novels as there is a much wider, overarching plot for the series.”
The Water Dragon was a successful debut novel, both here and across the globe. “I read somewhere that the average debut novel sells 50 copies,” says Woodward, “so in comparison I have been very successful. But, then again, Stieg Larsson’s novels have sold over a million copies each, so compared to him I haven’t done very well at all! But, through the use of social media and the accessibility of Amazon, the book gained a good following all over the world. I have had emails from readers from Arizona to the Andes and from Sweden to Scotland, which is a fabulous response.”
Woodward says he created the hard-knock DI Chambers due to ‘being tired of seeing or reading about psychic detectives or serial killers as detectives or punk, tattooed, pierced would-be-detectives’. “Most detectives are normal people with mortgages and daily stresses,” says the Hongkonger. “It’s Chambers’ devotion to his vocation and his desire to see the job through that is his appeal. He doesn’t have a genius IQ, a penchant for wearing a deerstalker and he doesn’t even have a tattoo – but he can still catch the bad guys!”
According to Woodward, it’s not easy to hit success when it comes to getting English language novels published here. “There isn’t a very healthy support network for budding English language authors in Hong Kong,” says the 41-year-old. “Most publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, preferring to be contacted by a literary agent. The only problem is that good English language literary agencies are about as rare in Hong Kong as the tears of a unicorn.”
But this challenge hasn’t stopped the author. And he isn’t doing it for the cash. All the profits from The Fire Walker are being donated to Kitale School in central Uganda, which is due to have electricity connected up in January. “I have just come back from my second trip to the school,” he says, “and it was great to see how the kids’ quality of life improves when you realise what a couple of Hong Kong dollars means to them.”
So what now? Woodward says he’s in the process of writing the third – as yet untitled – installment in the pentalogy, with the intention of it being out by Christmas. And he won’t let his ‘core readership’ down either. “From the feedback I have received, the majority of my readers are middle-aged women!” he says. “Maybe it’s because they like problem solving or hunting for clues. This came as a revelation to me. I would have thought the readership would have been younger and male due to the sometimes gory murders – but it just goes to show that, just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t tell a potential reader from their demographic.”
The Fire Walker is published by IGK, priced $100. The Kindle version is $60. Both are on amazon.co.uk. For details or to donate to Kitale School, email email@example.com.