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An interview with Haylen Beck

Dark secrets and a breathtaking race to reveal the truth lie at the heart of Here and Gone, a rollercoaster of a read by Haylen Beck. We caught up with the author to find out more about his new page turner.

Who is Haylen Beck?

Haylen Beck is the author of a debut suspense novel called Here and Gone, as well as seven previous books. Yes, that’s a contradiction, but let me explain. Under my real name, Stuart Neville, I’ve written seven novels set mostly in Belfast, but Here and Gone moves the setting to Arizona. That, and the shift to a more high-concept thriller style made the idea of a pen name more attractive.

Is there a story behind the pen name?

I went on a road trip through Arizona, and it just happened to coincide with my favourite band, Van Halen, playing Phoenix. That made me think about my two favourite guitarists, Eddie Van Halen and Jeff Beck, and whether I could fashion a pen name as a tribute to them. Thus was born Haylen Beck. That the first name is gender neutral and the last name is near the top of the alphabet were bonuses!

Why Arizona?

I’ve been visiting Scottsdale in Arizona, home of the great Poisoned Pen bookstore, since my first novel was published in 2009. For some reason I always seem to end up spending an extra day or two there and I’ve had a chance to explore a little. I find the arid landscape strangely beautiful, almost alien, and the heat can be extraordinary. It makes me wonder how and why people actually choose to live there. When I first came up with the premise for Here and Gone, I knew right away I wanted it to be set in Arizona. The fictional town of Silver Water is very much inspired by that question of how a community survives in such an environment.

What inspired the plot of Here and Gone?

The story sprang from a single line of dialogue that came out of the blue: “There’s a man who’ll pay me a million dollars a child. Three million for a pair.” It just popped into my head one night while I was watching a movie. I wrote the line down there and then, and over the next day or so, I began to build a picture of who was saying those words, who he was saying them to, and why. I shared the idea with my literary agent, and because I had other commitments, we agreed to put it on the backburner for the time being. Then in late 2015, an opportunity came up to take an Arizona road trip from the low desert around Phoenix up to the pine forests around Flagstaff at an elevation of 7,000 feet. That proved the perfect impetus to finally write this book.

Why, as a male author, do you choose to write female protagonists?

The short answer is that I simply find women more interesting to write. With male protagonists, it’s a lot easier to slip into tropes, particularly if I’m writing a cop character. With a female protagonist, I have to think a little harder about who she is. Having said that, my approach isn’t that different. Every character, whatever their role, has their own story, their own life, their own path that brought them here. That, more than anything else, is what makes a character interesting: finding their humanity.

What’s next for Haylen Beck?

I’m just putting the finishing touches to another standalone thriller, this time set in New York. It’s about a woman who finds herself at the centre of a social media storm after an offhand comment in an interview. She’s beset by internet trolls, suffering the worst kind of abuse and threats. But when the attacks move from the online to the real world, she realizes she and her family are in terrible danger.

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