Debut author Russ Thomas admits it will feel a little surreal to be part of the line-up at Derby Book Festival this year, as he was one of the few people involved when the first seeds of the event were sown back in 2014.
Book lovers Jenny Denton and Sian Hoyle dreamed up the idea of a festival over a glass of wine in QUAD almost exactly six years ago.
One of the first moves they made was to ask staff at the city’s Waterstones store if they would support it and at the time Russ was assistant manager.
“They came to see us and were asking advice on how they could establish the festival and I contacted our head office to see what we could do. It seemed like a tall order to me at the time. Listening to them I believed they could do it. I was just not sure how they would manage,” admitted Russ.
“Watching it grow and develop since then has been very rewarding and I am delighted for Derby that it has such a great book festival – they have done fantastically well.
“But I never dreamt back then that I would actually get a book published and that I would be taking part myself.
“When I got my book deal Sian was the first person to email and congratulate me and she invited me to join in there and then. And of course I said yes,” said the thrilled author.
Russ says he was lucky enough to have been persuaded of the virtue of books from an early age. His parents read a lot and he was surrounded by literature.
He got his first job in a bookshop at the age of 17 and went on to work at Blackwells and then Waterstones for 15 years.
Until he got his two-book deal a couple of years ago he was working at the branch in Sheffield, where he now lives.
“When I was a child I read anything I could get my hands on at the library and at school and was always writing stories and poems. I still have some old poems I wrote at junior school. From a very young age I wanted to be a writer – although for a short period I wanted to be a milkman and then an astronaut,” he quipped.
Russ, 44, started his first book Firewatching as part of his MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University in 2008 but like a lot of authors he left it in a drawer for several years.
When he eventually went back to the crime thriller he added different touches and then began the long process of finding a publisher.
“It is really quite strange because people think you are somehow an ‘overnight success’ – even at this early stage – but actually this has taken me years and years of work. I only gave up Waterstones because I would not have been able to complete the second book in the deal if I had another job,” he explained.
Firewatching follows detective Adam Tyler as he investigates an arsonist in Sheffield. He is distracted by a cold case to which he is unknowingly connected. If he can’t discover the link between the fires and himself he will burn – along with the entire city.
The book is being published by Simon and Schuster UK on February 20. Go to russthomasauthor.com for more information.
Go to the derby book festival website to find out when he will be appearing in the summer.
“I am really looking forward to it. It will be surreal but it will be fun,” said Russ.