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“We felt the need for a new challenge” – Michael Stanley on why their latest thriller features a new protagonist

Published in the Sunday Times

Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who write under the name Michael Stanley, recently wrote their first novel to not feature Detective Kubu.

Dead of Night is a departure from our previous books, which are police procedurals with protagonist Detective Kubu of the Botswana CID. The new book is a thriller set mainly in SA, and features a new protagonist – Crystal Nguyen, an American investigative reporter of Vietnamese descent.

So why the change? Had we run out of ideas for Kubu?

Certainly not. We’ve plenty of ideas for more Kubu books, but we felt the need for a new challenge. The structure of a thriller is very different from a police procedural, and just to make it a bit harder, we decided to write it in first person with Crys telling the story herself.

The backstory of Dead of Night is the poaching and horn smuggling that’s devastating the rhino population of SA.

We both spend a lot of time in the bush and feel strongly about the issue. However, we wanted to step back and look at the situation from an outsider’s perspective – so we decided against a South African protagonist and opted for Crystal.

We write together by brainstorming the story, each drafting different chapters or sections of chapters, and then exchanging them multiple times for comments and corrections.

Interspersed are long discussions on WhatsApp or Skype. So every chapter has serious input from both of us.

Readers tell us the writing is seamless. To us collaboration is a natural process and we think writing by yourself must be lonely.

However, with the thriller, we found the chapters going back and forth, but not converging.

And we had trouble getting to grips with Crys. Who is she and what are her motivations? We put the project aside, and wrote another Kubu book. Still, we were convinced Crys had a gripping story to tell.

Two things brought us back to Dead of Night.

Stanley wrote a novella about Crys, and suddenly she came into focus for us. Then, soon after, our publisher asked, ‘Where’s that thriller you were writing? I want to publish it next year.’

We got to work, and this time we knew what we were doing. The book started to flow.

But there was still something wrong with the result.

It needed work, more depth, rewriting. Then, after the second rewrite, we decided first person wasn’t working for us.

Although we have quite similar writing styles, it’s hard for two people to live inside a single person’s head for a whole book. ‘The nuclear option!’ our editor told us. ‘Rewrite it in third person.’

While we were doing so we finally understood what was motivating Crys. Once we did, the book was transformed. Suddenly we were happy with it, and editors were smiling.

Maybe there will be more Crys books. But in the meanwhile we’ve got another challenge – writing a prequel on how Kubu started his career at the CID.

Dead of Night by Michael Stanley is published by Orenda Books, R220

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