For a writer, Douglas Schofield can be a man of surprisingly few words.
With a mind sharpened by years of drafting skeleton arguments, detailed briefs, and distilling and sifting through conflicting testimony, when it comes to his blockbuster thrillers, Schofield would, it seems, rather let the reviewers do the talking. That is, until he gets used to you.
Better known outside legal circles as the novelist of such hits as “Flight Risks,” “Succession,” and “Time of Departure,” the former assistant solicitor general’s next novel, “Storm Rising,” is slated for release in November.
The author is currently spending evenings and weekends working on another thriller, scheduled for release next year, with the working title “Response Time.” Set in Florida and Sicily, it features a female U.S. Customs agent on an undercover assignment.
Ideas and influences
Reading between the lines, his writing, which has helped put him on the map in the global mystery and thriller community, is partially informed by many years immersed in complex criminal and civil litigation – including some of the legal system’s grislier cases. Dealing with the personalities and the motivations behind such cases has led Schofield not only to become an incurable people-watcher, but has also developed his unwavering knack for coming up with compelling stories.
“My ideas come from disparate sources,” he said. “Sometimes from a snippet of conversation that gets me thinking – and very often from an obscure factoid in a nonfiction book I’m reading – usually it’s history, my first love – that strikes me as a possible doorway into the fascinating world of ‘what if?’”
Not one to dwell on the more sensationalist aspects of his legal career, Schofield prefers instead to turn his investigator’s heart to crafting well-received page turners. His fictional forays, though not confined to legal thrillers, do though have the same gritty, real life feel to them, with memorable characters placed in unusual situations and narrative arcs driven by intriguing plot lines.
In his DNA
Not only is Schofield in good company when it comes to straddling the legal/literary world, it seems that literary leanings are in his DNA.
Born in Manitoba and raised in British Columbia, Schofield said that his home life had an enormous influence on him. Not only through his mother, who was one of thousands of British war brides who emigrated for a new life in Canada after World War II, but through his father as well.
Schofield said his mother survived the Battle of Britain, and “after marrying my father, a Canadian artillery officer, she eventually left London in March 1945, bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia, in a destroyer-protected convoy, to settle and carve out a new life for herself. After raising two children, she spent several years as a newspaper columnist.”
His father, although not a writer, was nevertheless someone who obviously loved the written word.
“Even now, years on, I still keep all the correspondence he sent to me while I was working in Sydney, Australia; Durban, South Africa; and in London during a year-and-a-half break before finishing my first degree,” Schofield said. “Dad typed his letters on his old open-frame Underwood (typewriter). They were the most amazing letters. The way he handled the
English language still floors me today,” said the writer.
“[My parents] were avid readers and had one particular English novelist whose books they both enjoyed. As my mom was a much faster reader than my dad, they’d sit up in bed together with the author’s latest paperback and she’d tear out the page she’d finished and hand it over to him.”
Another anecdote, albeit a less pleasant one, also points to the novelist’s future career.
As Schofield recalled, he was publicly upbraided by a male teacher over a piece of work he’d turned in when he was 13.
“My English teacher tore a strip off me for plagiarism,” he said. “He simply refused to believe that a child of that age could have written the essay I did, despite my protestations to the contrary. Mom knew I had and she went to see him and gave him a piece of her mind. I was present at the confrontation, and I still remember that the man looked pretty shaken by the time she got through with him. I guess, after what she’d been through in London with the aerial bombings, she was pretty fearless.”
Schofield’s keen interest and aptitude for history as a teen meant that he dreamed of one day teaching the subject. However, his father, tired of his son’s love of an argument, half flippantly suggested that he’d be better suited to being a lawyer. Taking up the gauntlet, Schofield did indeed read history and then law before settling on a legal career.
Making a start
Schofield first worked as a trial lawyer (prosecution and defense) in Canada and Bermuda before settling down in Grand Cayman in 1999, but he never fully shook off his literary aspirations.
“Although I submitted a few short stories to obscure journals during high school and university, I eventually became so caught up in my legal career that my dreams of writing fiction faded into the background,” he said.
“I was one of those people who would say, ‘I know I have a novel in me, if only I had the time.’ I finally decided to call myself on my own bluff. I was living in Bermuda at the time, and it was there that I finally buckled down and started writing a novel.
“Ironically, that project didn’t become my first novel; it became my third, ‘Time of Departure,’ which was released 25 years after I had first started writing it. That was because before I finished the first draft, I set it aside and I moved on to the idea that eventually became ‘Flight Risks,’ my first published novel.”
After meeting his future wife Melody on Vancouver Island, B.C., it was she who persuaded him to finish writing “Flight Risks” after a two-year hiatus. It took another eight years to find a publisher.
Asked to give some insights into the publishing process, Schofield said, “As I’ve learned, [it’s] all about deadlines.
“Once a proposed novel is accepted (after submission of a short outline and a chat on the phone with my editor), I have so many months to submit a completed manuscript. After that, the deadlines tighten: notes from the editor must be responded to in so many weeks; notes from copy editor in so many days; comments on the ‘first pass’ galley in so many days, and so on.
“All of this might seem a bit intimidating, but fortunately for me, a career in litigation has accustomed me to meeting deadlines. An author’s relationship with their editor is central to everything. My editor stuck her neck out for me when she championed ‘Time of Departure’ and convinced her bosses to sign me up. The least I can do for her is meet my deadlines. I haven’t missed one yet, and I hope I never do.”