The Five By Five Interview with Will Carver
“Five By Five?” Um, well… I wanted a name for this (hopefully regular) feature, and as well as being a big crime fiction fan I am also a big Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan, with a soft spot for “rogue slayer” Faith, who uses the phrase constantly – though she never explains what it means, it’s an expression used in telecoms/military coms to confirm a signal is being received clearly, so hopefully this means we’ll get a clearer picture of our interviewees!
I have Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books to thank for introducing me to Will Carver, when she sent me a copy of Good Samaritans which totally blew my mind (I can’t tell you anything other than it’s the twistiest headf*** of a novel, and you HAVE to read it!). Warning: you can put his novels down, but they will never leave you… I won’t say they are unreviewable, but they’re tricksy little devils (I had a go at The Beresford, if you’re interested) He’s also highly entertaining with a guitar in hand at Bloody Scotland’s Crime at the Coo (if you know, you know :-D), and a pleasure to chat to if you ever get the chance – say hi the next time you see him across the signing table.
Will Carver is the international bestselling author of the January David series. He spent his early years in Germany, but returned to the UK aged 11, when his sporting career took off. He turned down a professional rugby contract to study theatre and television at King Alfred’s, Winchester, where he set up a successful theatre company. He currently runs his own fitness and nutrition company, and lives in Reading with his two children. Will’s first title for Orenda Books, Good Samaritans, was book of the year in Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Express, and hit number one on the ebook charts. Hinton Hollow Death Trip was longlisted for the Not the Booker Prize, while Nothing Important Happened Today was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Good Samaritans was book of the year in Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Express, and hit number one on the ebook charts. Orenda Books has also published The Beresford, Psychopaths Anonymous and The Daves Next Door. Follow him on Twitter at: @will_carver
First, the sensible questions…
Q1 Tell us a bit about your journey to publication and how you got to where you are now. Why crime fiction rather than another genre?
Well, I’ve had to get published twice. The first time, I wasn’t writing crime fiction. I got myself an agent for my black comedy, originally called First Chapter (and eventually called Suicide Thursday). It went to a lot of publishers, who were interested and complimentary but it didn’t quite make it. One publisher suggested that I write a crime novel as my style suited that genre.
I wrote a book called The Smiling Man in about six weeks. That publisher didn’t like it. (I think it was the “supernatural” element.) Anyway, someone at Random House loved it and wanted me to turn it into a series. That book became Girl 4 and the January David series was born. Unfortunately, the third book didn’t do quite as well as hoped and it all came to an abrupt end. I wrote a standalone novel called Take Me First (which would eventually be rewritten as Hinton Hollow Death Trip) but nobody was biting. I parted ways with my agent and descended into despair for a few years. But I kept writing.
I wrote a non-crime book for a different agent. Nothing came of it. I rewrote Take Me First but hated it. I couldn’t sleep. I had no money. No agent. The fact that I had already been published and had a successful trilogy wasn’t helping me at all. It sucked. But I kept writing. I had an idea for a book about a dysfunctional relationship. A man who couldn’t sleep and stayed up at night, phoning strangers, desperate to make some kind of connection. It wasn’t until I got half-way through that I realised it was a crime novel, that was never the intention. That went on to become Good Samaritans. Suddenly agents were interested in me again. And so were publishers. Well, a couple…
The same publisher that had originally told me to try writing crime years before and Orenda books. I’d met Karen at the launch party for Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes and I think I knew then, weirdly, that it would be where Good Samaritans would end up. And I’ve been smashing out my weird little books since then. All a bit different but hopefully interesting and thought-provoking. I wouldn’t necessarily class them as crime but it’s difficult to know where to put them – but there is always some crime element, so it makes sense. For now…
Q2 What was it like sitting down and writing your first novel, and what is it like now – easier, harder, just different?
Fear got me through that first book. I had been made redundant from a job that I hadn’t had for that long. I had enough money to get me through about eight weeks and my first child was due four weeks after that. If I hadn’t done it then, I don’t know where I’d be now. People think I’m prolific and my agent always tells me I’m a “machine”, but I just like to work – I just make sure that I do the things that I put my mind to.
I think, once you have a few books under your belt, you’ve learnt where your strengths are and, hopefully, you’ve figured out the things that you get wrong. So, i do think it is easier in that respect. Also, because I haven’t written ten books in the same series, I’m not restricted to one world, which I imagine can get difficult because I found that I wanted to break free after writing a couple of trilogies.
Life is different now, too. More kids, a fitness business that takes up so much of my time, it’s difficult to have set writing hours. So I think that some aspects are a little easier but life is a bit harder, yet, still, it is always fear that gets me through. I’ve lost my dream job once already, I won’t let that happen again.
Q3 You push the boundaries in your crime writing to the point where it’s not crime, but something entirely itself – tell us some of your favourite books (crime or otherwise) which have inspired you and/or influenced your writing?
When I started out, it wasn’t a genre that I read – though I did watch a lot of TV/films. Once I was in, I read everything. If I was on a panel with somebody or if I met them at a festival, I read their book. You end up finding that you’re not reading anything else, so I slowed that down a bit. I do read it a lot now, but I don’t know how much it influences my own work because, as you say, I’m on the periphery of the genre.
I’m hugely influenced by Chuck Palahniuk. Fight Club. Survivor. Choke. Lullaby. The way he wrote Snuff directly influenced the structure of Girl 4 where I wrote from every character’s point of view. I get compared to him a lot and I’m fine with that. I love the rawness of Bukowski. It’s kinda dirty and brutal and I try to get that into my work. Post Office, Factotum, Women. All great. The Beat Generation, too. Kerouac, On The Road. There’s a rhythm to prose that I admire. Sure, plot, pace, character are all important but choosing the right words can make your audience read in the way you want.
When I think of crime fiction that has an impact on me, it’s not the detective series that lasts for 20 books, it’s The Talented Mr Ripley or American Psycho or We Need To Talk About Kevin. Books that focus on the psychology of a character, usually unlikeable but fascinating all the same. This is something I tried with Maeve in Psychopaths Anonymous. I care more about the writing than the story. I want a writer with a distinctive voice, a book where you can tell that the writer is fighting for something.
Q4 What’s your favourite part about being a writer?
I do love the research phase. Starting with a kernel of something and exploring it in depth to get a true understanding. People always say, “write what you know” but half the fun is finding out things that you didn’t know. I spend a lot of time reading non-fiction or watching documentaries about psychopathy, serial killers, cult leaders because there’s so much to pick at from their psychology or the sociological impacts or influences. I also love visiting locations. Of course, you can do that from the comfort of your home with Google Maps in 3D but there’s something else you get from being on the street where you have killed a character, or sitting on Chelsea Bridge and writing as you peer out over the river where nine people will jump to their deaths in the opening scene of your book. I do love meeting readers, of course, but I am just as nervous doing that as they often are at meeting me. I think I can always put myself across more eloquently on the page.
My favourite part is writing. Of course. It’s not about playing God, either. It’s just about creating something new every day. It’s about finding the best and most interesting way to put across the point you are trying to make. I spend a lot of time thinking about structure because I may want to write a story in reverse or have chapters where the sentences are all questions but that is just a gimmick unless you fit it with the story that best uses that technique.
I love it when I come up with one sentence that I know will stand out among the other thousands. I love discovering a path I did not know I would venture down. I love hitting the half-way mark and knowing that I can speed downhill to the end. I love writing prologues. I love steering a reader where I want them to go while also presenting them with all the information they require to solve the mystery. I love the idea that I can construct a story from nothing that could make a reader think about something they might not have if they had not read my book. There is plenty that I don’t like about the writing world, but the actual act of writing is the only thing that matters.
Q5 What’s next for you, in terms of writing?
There’s a lot going on. I’ve been writing a couple of books a year for the last few years. After Suicide Thursday is published, it’s another year until the next one but that will be a sequel to The Beresford. This is probably my most successful story with Orenda Books. It’s currently in development in the US for TV and I’d like there to be a second series. But there was also a large part of that building that I didn’t delve into, so I will be writing about the upstairs apartments and that penthouse suite and the mysterious third floor.
I am currently planning that while I write something else that is just for me, at the moment. Experimenting with things. (I like to write something that may never see the light of day between books. It just takes me out of things for a while.) But my plan is to start a Beresford sequel on 1 November. I think Halloween should get me in the mood for another spooky story. (I’m also working on something for TV, possibly, but can’t go into detail yet.)
I’m not sure what will come after the second Beresford book. I do have an idea for a third and I’ve started something that is another trip to Hinton Hollow. But something else will spark in my brain as I write the next book. They all usually end up informing each other. The trick is to stay busy. Write every day. Never have a day off. So, I guess I’ll just keep doing that.
Now for the quick-fire round…
Q1 Who are your favourite characters in crime fiction?
Tom Ripley. Without a doubt. Sherlock Holmes (though it seems a bit obvious). I loved Callum Doyle, the detective in David Jackson’s first few books. He’s street smart and cocky, and you can’t help but like him. Luther. Lecter. Patrick Bateman, of course. Chastity Riley. I could go on…
Q2 What book have you reread the most?
Well, I keep a copy of Fight Club next to me when I write and I dip in when I feel the need to remind myself how to write the perfect novel. But if we are talking, beginning to end, it’s probably The Great Gatsby.
Q3 What’s your favourite method of killing off characters?
I think I seem to use suicide a lot. For me, it’s psychologically interesting. Plus, I think I killed more than 1,000 people this way in one book. My favourite ever is in Girl 4, though. The one with the cigarettes in the mouth.
Q4 What is your most over-used phrase, in life or in writing?
I make sure that every single one of my books has the line, “Nothing important happened today” somewhere within the pages. In life, I think I’m constantly telling kids to “Be careful”.
Q5 Do you use a bookmark or do you fold down the page corner?
I’m a folder. When I look at a bookshelf, I like to see that spines have been cracked and pages have been folded. I think it shows that has book has been used and loved, that it has lived.
Thanks Will for some fantastic answers – super-thoughtful (just like the novels) and I hope inspiring to people starting on their writing journey, worrying about finding their voice and whether they fit a genre. And a return visit to The Beresford sounds intriguing indeed…
Will’s latest book is Suicide Thursday, which is out in November (watch out for the blog tour, which I will be part of): Eli Hagin can’t finish anything. He hates his job, but can’t seem to quit. He doesn’t want to be with his girlfriend, but doesn’t know how end things with her, either. Eli wants to write a novel, but he’s never taken a story beyond the first chapter. Eli also has trouble separating reality from fiction. When his best friend kills himself, Eli is motivated, for the first time in his life, to finally end something himself, just as Mike did… Except sessions with his therapist suggest that Eli’s most recent “first chapters” are not as fictitious as he had intended … and a series of text messages that Mike received before his death point to something much, much darker…