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Cleveleys-based author, Michael Davies, publishes his debut novel today. He tells Linda Hampton how it’s in fact a sequel to a book written by another author with a Blackpool connection.

Your debut thriller, Outback, is out today and is a sequel to the novel Domino Island by Desmond Bagley, who lived in Blackpool. Can you tell us about the events that lead you to write this novel and how is it connected to Bagley’s last work?
The chance to work on a Desmond Bagley manuscript was a huge thrill for me. I’d first been in touch with his publishers, HarperCollins, more than 20 years ago, hoping to pitch a biography of Bagley – of whom I’ve been a fan since my teens. When the manuscript was discovered in his archive, HarperCollins’s publisher of estates, David Brawn, asked me if I’d like to read it. It took me all of half a second to say yes, of course. I wrote David a script report on what might need doing to the first draft to bring it to publication (using notes that Bagley himself had made before shelving the project for reasons unknown), and when they made the decision to go ahead, David very kindly asked me to do the work. Domino Island was published in 2019. This year is the centenary of Bagley’s birth and David was looking for ideas of ways to mark it, and I jumped at the chance to pitch a new novel using the same protagonist – Bill Kemp – in an original adventure, although still set in the 1970s. I’m delighted that Outback is now being published as the ‘Desmond Bagley Centenary Novel’ – not an attempt to mimic the great man, but a tribute to him.

Can you tell us a little of what Outback is about?
The book 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…

You have declared yourself to be a lifelong Desmond Bagley fan. What is it about his books that you love and how has that influenced your writing of Outback?
As a teenage boy with two older brothers, I was introduced to the heroes of Bagley’s stories at a formative moment, and their combination of high-octane thrills and exotic adventure appealed enormously. He used to write roughly one a year until his death in 1983 and they were eagerly anticipated, not just in our house. At his height, he was one of the bestselling thriller writers in the world, and acknowledged as the ‘master of the genre’ by critics and contemporaries alike. He’s action-packed, fast-paced and extremely well researched, and if I can come anywhere close to that dynamic blend in my own writing, I’ll be very happy.

Like Bagley, you have travelled around extensively in your work, and you now live on the Fylde Coast. What is the link between Desmond Bagley and Blackpool?
Bagley was actually brought up in Blackpool, where his parents ran a theatrical boarding house in Lord Street, near Blackpool North station. He’d been born in Kendal and they briefly ran a fish-and-chip shop in Bolton, but he was living by the seaside by the age of 12 and stayed right through his teenage years and early adulthood. He spent many hours in the Central Library, devouring fiction, and it was here that he first developed a desire to write. With a bad stammer, he wasn’t allowed to sign up for active service in the Second World War, but worked in an aircraft factory in the town. He tried his hand as a printer’s apprentice and engineer before finally linking up with 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.

It’s a bit of a trope that most journalists think they have a novel in them, so I’m sorry if I’m a cliche.

This is your debut solo novel at the age of 59. Has it always been your ambition to write novels and how has your background in journalism helped you to achieve this?
It’s a bit of a trope that most journalists think they have a novel in them, so I’m sorry if I’m a cliche. 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 40 years since I started on my first newspaper.

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

Outback by Michael Davies (Collins Crime Club, £16.99) is out now available in hardback and audio. You can order it from Amazon here or from all good bookshops.

Davies is hosting a series of author talks locally: June 28, Poulton Library, 11am; June 29, Eccleston Community Library, 10.30am; and on June 22 you can catch him doing an online interview with lifestyle website Goldster (www.goldster.co.uk) at 12 noon.

Find Michael Davies on Twitter and TikTok @mrgdavies, Facebook and sign up for his newsletter via his website.

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