Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Roland Ladley about his career, his writing experiences, and his new book, The Belmonte Paradox.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m one of those archetypal, ex-military, white, late-middle-aged, thriller writers who flood the market with militaryesque novels, that are as genre-busting as Georgette Heyer is to historical romance. Except … I’d really like to think I’m not. OK, so I am white, ex-military and definitely late-middle-age. But I don’t do Bravo-Two-Zero. Nor is my protagonist an ex-US military policeman saving the US from all manner of scull-duggery – although, like Lee Childs, I’d welcome selling a book somewhere across the world every 20 seconds.
I haven’t answered your question, have I? In short I joined the British Army at 18, left 26 years later to teach high school mathematics for almost a decade, and then sold everything, moved into a motorhome with my wife and toured Europe for 5 years whilst penning the Sam Green series.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
Good question. I’m a maths/math person at heart. Science was my thing. But I always thought I had decent imagination – I elaborate on what I see. I’m the one in a cafe working out what you do a living, and whether or not you are an international spy. Alas my English was poor at school and penning a novel was never, ever an ambition of mine. Until … in my thirties I was asked to write a military paper about the future of technology on the battlefield. It hit me then. If I really want people to read this then I need to tell a story. So I did. It was a 30,000-word novella and those who read it loved it and, more importantly, recognised the message I was sending. It was then that I knew I really wanted to write.
When did you take a step to start writing?
After the military paper, life got in the way. Later, as a teacher, I found I had more time during the breaks and so started to pen a travel blog, and I wrote three chapters of a book I titled Unlikely Hero. But, I guess as with all of us, time was still not on my side. I had to wait until I’d left my teaching job – then 52 – before I found the time to really start writing. There’s a message there, I think, for all aspiring authors: it’s never too late.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Unsuspecting Hero, the first in the Sam Green series, took 10 months from the first tap of the keyboard to publication. Whilst some of the novel’s gestation came from Unlikely Hero, by then I’d lost that manuscript and started from scratch. (I have since found the lost script, by the way … it looks nothing like the finished book!)
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Again, ten months. It’s a process. I start writing on 1st September, having stewed over the plot in the summer, finish the first draft by Christmas, edit like crazy until Easter, and then it’s over to the beta readers and finally my proofreader in early summer. This gives me two months break before the whole shebang starts again. It’s exhausting in it’s own way. But, and it’s an important but, that process ensures the novels are written. I hear of so many authors sitting on probably excellent work which they’ve not managed to finish. Leaving aside the ability to string a sentence together and having decent imagination, tenacity is a key skill for any writer I feel. Without it, ideas remain just that – ideas.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Belmonte Paradox?
The Belmonte Paradox is the seventh of the Sam Green series. Sam is on a journey … the series is consecutive and every novel refers to previous books (although they are written so you can read them independently from each other). And, and I think this is unusual, Sam’s life follows the books’ timelines – they all move on together. They all get older together. In many ways, therefore, I have to write ‘the next novel’ because, if I don’t, Sam loses her existence. She ceases to move on. And, just as key, all the characters who keep popping up in the series also freeze. If I don’t write, their story ends. I couldn’t have that.
But I’m not sure I answered your question completely. My books are political, with a small ‘p’. They paint the world, with all its contemporary challenges and issues, as it is today. I avoid the names of real people, but I don’t shy from allowing my books to ridicule far right and left politics … and religion. I am a liberal. Sam is a liberal. She faces down global, existential threats, created by bad people. She does this because she believes she can tell the difference between right and wrong. And she’s always on the side of the minority. So, as long as I can see injustice, I have to write. It’s my way (and Sam’s way) of making some noise.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Belmonte Paradox?
One hundred and thirty thousand words – getting them on paper in some semblance of order which tells a layered and multi-plotted, realistic and complex story in a way which the reader finds gripping – and doesn’t confuse the hell out of them. It scares me every time I sit at my laptop. It scares me now…
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
Velma Dinkley from Scooby Doo. I could leave it there. But, to be fair and accurate … every soldier, male and female, who I worked with during my time in the Army. Sam is ex-Intelligence Corps (medically discharged from the service having been injured in Afghanistan) and she is the epitome of the countless, outstanding men and women who serve our country in some very difficult circumstances – many leaving the service with PTSD, as Sam did. Sam is also autistic. As a teacher I worked with a number of children on the autistic spectrum and I wanted their skills, their difficulties, to also play an important part in my story telling. I hope I have achieved that.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Corrupt leaders, politicians and public servants, and those who use religion as a tool to shackle and extort populations. As you can tell, I feel very strongly about this. And, by the way, these people make excellent antagonists.
What is the inciting incident of The Belmonte Paradox?
That’s a tricky question. I think Sam’s autism (and OCD) combined with issues she brings back from Afghanistan, make her liable for ‘incitement’. Book one starts with her finding a wallet on the shores of a Scottish loch. The wallet belongs to a Sierra Leonean doctor and that sends her on a journey from which she never looks back. But there are so many incidents which trigger her … that’s just the first.
What is the main conflict of The Belmonte Paradox?
It’s a cliche, but for me it’s about right and wrong. It’s about the powerful against the weak. Rich versus poor. Any position of strength being used to undermine the weak. Having spent a lot of time abroad and seen so much that hurt, it drives me …
Did you plot The Belmonte Paradox in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I’m a panster. I have a protagonist. I invent the antagonists – sometimes these recur, sometimes they don’t. And I imagine what the antagonists are plotting. It’s normally something cataclysmic.
And then I write. And who knows where it’s going, who’s going to get hurt, and how Sam and her colleagues are going to stop the bad from doing bad. It’s all a mystery to me … until about half way through when I wake up one morning and realise I’ve got some threading to do. I then get out the knitting needles and try and croquet the whole thing together. It’s a mystery as to how I ever manage to make that happen successfully.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Belmonte Paradox need?
Beta readers are my saviour. As a military planner I’m quite good at bringing things together and I have an eye for detail. But, in my latest book where Sam travels to Bosnia, Nigeria and the UAE (I’ve been to two out of three), I had expert betas to offer advice. Having said that, my editing workload is nowhere near as high as the proofreading – I cannot see the mistakes for the words. For that I employ an expert.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
I’m sorry, but may I offer two? First, once you have a plot give yourself a daily or weekly word count and stick to it. If you don’t your wonderful script may never be completed. Write something. It doesn’t matter what, just get the words onto paper until you’re done. Editing is the fun part. Second, employ a proofreader. For an 80,000 word novel set aside $300. Don’t offer a manuscript to the market which is littered with mistakes. I have made that error and deeply regret it.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’m going to complete the 8th in the series this year (21/22), which is the second in a two-book mini-series. I might break for a year then and write something else, but always with an aim of coming back to Sam in 22/23.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Oh, yes, but hopefully not in an arrogant way. Fuelling the Fire, the second in the series, won a Kindle Scout contract and I am immensely proud of that.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
You can find me and my books here:
Instgram/Twitter – @rolandtheauthor
Facebook – search for Roland Ladley
Travel and writing blog: search for ‘the.wanderlings’, or link here: https://thewanderlings2013.wordpress.com/
My author page on Amazon: