‘In the dock’ with author Will Carver
Chilling thriller author Will Carver is in our dock this week – talking exclusively to Dead Good about his inspiration, Detective Inspector January David and deleting all of his work!
Hi Will, please tell us about your new book in your own words?
Eames is back! It seems that he is finishing the work he started in GIRL 4. Another woman has died, suspended from the ceiling above the stage of a New York theatre. Eames is taunting Detective Inspector January David again. He knows every detail of who will be killed, where and when. But he is still locked away.
Meanwhile, a young girl is found dead and buried in Regent’s Park. Two high-profile cases but January David has to choose. One could lead him in the direction of his estranged wife and one could bring him closer than ever before to finding his missing sister.
Does your writing ever scare you?
Absolutely! I write from the point-of-view of all my characters, which means I get to become my killers. I move like them and talk like them and think like them. Sometimes I come up with an idea in the moment and it’s scary to think that it came from somewhere inside me. My wife has had colleagues that have read my books and pulled her aside at work to ask Is everything all right at home? She politely reminds them that it is fiction and that I haven’t actually ever murdered anyone. But I know that if I write a scene and it’s real enough to scare me, then it will probably have the same effect on my readers.
I also write a lot at night. There aren’t many things more terrifying than writing a murder scene and catching something moving in the garden out of the corner of your eye.
Are you a disciplined writer?
Yes. I write every day. But I don’t have a fixed time that I write. Sometimes it’s in the evening, occasionally it will be an early morning. As long as I get my words done, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m quite relaxed about my time but when I am in writing mode, I am very focussed. I really shut myself off from the world. I can sit in a cafe full of screaming children and not hear a thing.
When I finish a January David novel, I always give myself a month off. But even that isn’t really time away because I still write, I just don’t write about January David. I think it’s important to keep doing it otherwise it’s like going to the gym for six months then eating nothing but chocolate for four weeks.
I’m also a very disciplined deleter. It is not uncommon for me to write several thousand words one day, read it in the evening and love every word, then wake up in the morning, highlight it all, and delete it from existence forever. I actually think that this is as valuable as being disciplined with the writing.
Who is your most recognised character? What was the inspiration behind that character?
Detective Inspector January David is my most recognised character. He appears in all of my books. He is dark and troubled and flawed. And he makes mistakes and bad decisions. But he isn’t inspired by anyone, really. I’m not even sure that I know what exactly he looks like. The only time I’ve described him was to say that he has dark hair and stubble.
When I wrote GIRL 4, I created the killer, Eames, first. He was inspired by Manson and Bundy and a friend of mine who is a magician. I then created all of the victims. January David was the last character that I came up with but he was really conjured from nothing and I think that works. He is the most important character in the books because it is his journey, his quest, everything comes back to him and his need to find his missing sister and make sense of his intuitions.
I find his chapters the easiest to write because I feel like I know him the best; I created his outlook and history. He’s been through a lot already in the first two stories but I feel like he is coming through it in Dead Set. And I’ve come through it with him.
But I think that all of my books explore that grey area between reality and dream. What’s true is not always what is real. January David is the one character that is entrenched in that idea. That is the inspiration behind him.
Where do you write your books?
When I’m researching, I walk around the locations in London – and New York for DEAD SET – where my characters walk and scenes take place. I write in my notepad with a pen while walking. It sounds difficult but I’ve honed a technique where I can somehow write while walking along and still not bump into people or step in front of moving vehicles.
When it comes to typing up my notes and writing the actual book, this has changed over time.
I had an office in the house but this was taken over when my daughter was born so I was relegated to the dining room table and the local cafe. When my son was born, the house became smaller and louder so I had something built at the bottom of the garden. I looks like a large shed from the outside but inside is my office. I have walls of books down there, guitars hanging on the walls, bottles of whiskey, a coffee machine, heating. The internet even stretches down there so that I can get my work done.
It looks like a shed but it’s actually my office. In our house, we refer to it affectionately as The Shoffice. It only had one window and I have the option of having it boarded up, which I do most of the time. Some days I will sit down there, completely closed off from the world for twenty hours. Writing. Deleting. And I love it.
Which crime fiction book, film or TV programme has had the most impact on you and your writing?
I never used to read crime fiction before I was published. The only book I’d read in the genre was The Talented Mr Ripley. I’ve read piles and piles of crimes and thrillers in the last few years and I still think Ripley is maybe the best I’ve read.
But, when it comes to having an impact on my writing, there are two TV shows I frequently make a nod to in my work. Firstly, The X-Files. Still the greatest TV show of all time. I could name 200 episode titles off the top of my head and I am currently re-watching it in its entirety to celebrate the 20-year anniversary. The relationship between Scully and Mulder is second to none. I love that Scully is so straight and scientific and that Mulder is so open to the fantastical. It sets up balance but is also great opportunity for conflict.
The other show is Twin Peaks. This is a programme that fits into no single genre. It is a crime story, it is a horror, a comedy and maybe the best soap opera to have been aired on television. I love that the small, close town had such a seedy underbelly and every character has a quirk to them. The thing that really struck me when I first watched it was the supernatural element, and I think that January David’s ‘ability’, his intuition was a result of the impact that Twin Peaks had on me. And I love that it is very cryptic: you have to think and work things out while watching it rather than just being absorbed and swept along. I also think that it is fantastic that it ended and the story was not neatly tied up. We’ll never get to know what happens to Agent Dale Cooper. It’s frustrating but I think it’s great that David Lynch just thought, ‘It’s tough. I’m not going to tell you what happens. Ever.’
What is your favourite scene or line from any crime fiction book?
I could pick a hundred favourite lines and they would probably all come from American Psycho. Patrick Bateman is probably my favourite fictional serial killer.
‘It all comes down to this: I feel like shit but I look great.’
It’s a bit of a throwaway line but says so much about serial-killer psychology.
I also like, ‘This is true: the world is better off with some people gone. Our lives are not all interconnected. That theory is crock. Some people truly do not need to be here.’
The serial killer, Edmund Kemper, was once asked what he thinks when he sees a beautiful woman on the street. He answered, ‘One side of me says, I’d like to talk to her, date her. The other side of me says, I wonder what her head would look like on a stick.’ It’s a real-life line but Ellis quotes it in American Psycho. I also reference it in Girl 4 but my killer, Eames, is saying that he is nothing like that, he’s better than that. It’s disturbing but it is a great line.
Which non-fictional killer frightens you the most?
Anyone that is yet to be caught…
When I was researching the psychology of serial-killers to write the character of Eames for Girl 4 and Dead Set, I devoured everything I could get my hands on about Ted Bundy and Charles Manson. It became a bit of an obsession. I would read books and articles and watch interviews and their trials. I think there is something that fascinates about fear. Perhaps I thought that if I could understand them, they would no longer be scary.
But the killer that frightens me the most is Jim Jones.
I’ve also done a lot of research into the cult mentality for another book I have been working on and it is terrifying that Jones had such a hugely devoted following that he could command people to take their own lives. In 1978, over 900 members of The Peoples Temple took a cyanide pill in what they called a revolutionary suicide. But it was performed at the behest of Jim Jones. The fact that he could wield this power, that these people were killed by his words rather than a gun or a knife, is mind-boggling.
What tip would you give any budding writers?
I guess I’d say, Don’t listen to writing tips.
There are so many people giving writing advice out there and not everything is going to work for everyone. You can spend too much time going through ideas of how you should write when you should be making your own discoveries of what works and what doesn’t.
I read a ‘tip’ recently that suggested it was a good idea to Ignore the doubters. Write the way you want to write and you will find your readers. Or words to that effect.
It made me quite angry because I know there are budding writers out there who will see this and implement it and do themselves a great disservice. Feedback and criticism is one of the greatest tools at a writer’s disposal. It can only make you a better writer to be told that you are awful. It is more important to know the aspects of your book that don’t work. I’ve learned more about writing from the editing process than anything else.
So, my tip is that having somebody who loves you read your work is a waste of time. No matter how honest they think they are being, they are always going to dress up the criticism with praise. I also don’t think it is fair to put someone who loves you under the pressure of having to tell you that what you have written is, in fact, rubbish. Join a writing group, enter competitions, submit your work. Obtain honest feedback from somebody impartial. Be open to the fact that you are getting it all wrong and try to put some of it right.
E-book or paper?
Paper. I like the feel of a book, the smell of a book – particularly old books with yellowing pages. I like to fold the corner of the page rather than use a bookmark, too. I think the transition from buying a CD to downloading a song was easier because you are not in constant physical contact with the disc while you listen to it – though I do miss flicking through the CD booklets. With a book, you are touching it the entire time. I know that you hold on to your e-reader but pressing a button means that turning a page is the same experience for every book whether it’s 200 pages or 800 pages.
Also, I think you can learn a lot about a person by looking at their bookshelves. I love doing that when I go to somebody’s house. It feels a bit invasive to say, ‘Can I have a flick through your Kindle library?’ It’s like you’re asking to read their emails.
I do own a Kindle and the world is big enough for both to exist in peace, but a physical book is a beautiful thing to hold in your hands.
If you were a fictional character, how would you write your own death?
However this question is answered, it will give some kind of psychological insight into the person that answers it. What does it say if I choose to die by sacrificing myself for another person? Perhaps I would perish while saving the entire world. Maybe I’d kill myself by jumping from a building or throwing a toaster in the bath…
My answer is that it would probably be a magic trick that goes wrong. Perhaps an illusion where I am supposed to disappear and then reappear moments later. But I don’t reappear and the body is never found so I am assumed dead. But actually, I’ve faked it and I’m living on my own somewhere drinking whiskey and avoiding questions about how a fictional version of myself would like to die.
…and what would your final meal be?
This is a different question to ‘What is your favourite meal?’ I don’t think I’d have my favourite meal if I knew it was going to be my last. I think I’d go for something highly calorific, sickly and satisfying. So, five kilograms of Galaxy chocolate and a vat of black coffee would probably do the trick.
A very big thank you to Will Carver for answering our questions!