The second in a series of interviews with authors due to appear at this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate.
Thank you. I suppose it comes from a background of reading and writing all kinds of genres. When I started out, my stuff was rooted in horror and science fiction – very otherworldly and unreal – and the crime aspect crept in over the years. I’ve probably been influenced by everyone I’ve ever read to some extent, but there are a few it’s easy to single out: Stephen King; Dean Koontz; Michael Marshall Smith; Graham Joyce; Jack Ketchum; Jim Crace; Christopher Priest. Probably a hundred others, but I can see the influences there, in terms of prose-style, structures, techniques and so on. None of them are really crime writers, which is a little strange, so I’ll throw in Mo Hayder too. She’s brilliant. And a nod to John Connolly as well.
Now that you are a father, have you noticed any changes to your writing? Have you detected any changes in your self-censorship levels?
Perhaps, though it’s difficult to say. Even though Black Flowers has its moments, it’s probably my least overtly violent novel, but most of it was conceived before my son was born. The one I’m working on now has some strong scenes in the first draft, but I don’t know what will make it through.
If anything, it’s probably just experience. I never deliberately set out to shock for the sake of it, but looking back, I’ve probably come close. There’s certainly stuff in The Cutting Crew that I wouldn’t do now. It’s not so much self-censorship, as a better understanding of what the story does and doesn’t need to be effective. As it turned out, Black Flowers didn’t need so much. You have to respect the overall tone of what you’re doing; it has to fit.
Ha ha! Probably not, but never say never. The weird thing is that, back when I was unpublished, I was sending manuscript after manuscript to the same agent, and she kept telling me I should write YA fiction. I have no idea what made her think that – the style, rather than the content I guess. So maybe it’s possible. I mean, if I had a good idea, I’d write anything. If I had a good idea for a cat mystery, I’d write one of those.
Is there a ‘traditional’ straight detective crime novel hidden in a drawer somewhere, or anything else you’ve written that hasn’t seen the light of day, but just might?
I’ve got a few trunk novels, but – since I started writing them when I was 17 – the older ones are totally lost now. Even if I still had the floppy disks, I doubt a program exists that would read them. And that is a good thing, believe me: I read one of the later ones recently, and it was an awful, painful mess. There’d be no point even in mining it. No gold there.
As it happens, my books have probably got more traditional as I’ve gone along. Like I said, I started out writing stuff that was tinged with horror and the supernatural, a bit of SF thrown in for good measure, so the older stuff was more like The Third Person or The Cutting Crew than what I’m doing now. The book I’m writing at the moment – provisionally titled Dark Room – is turning out to be a fairly straightforward police procedural, although I’m sure I’ll find a way to twist it into contortions before I’m done.
Not really. Every single one of the books has been written in a different way – probably a desperate attempt to find a routine that works for me. I plan as much as possible, then tend to find better ideas as I go. But basically, I’m fairly relaxed about the whole thing. To use a pretentious analogy, it’s like shooting a movie with half a script. I know at the end I’ll have a better idea of what I should have filmed, a handful of good scenes, and the chance to do copious reshoots from new angles with different characters.
My routine at the moment is to write in the pub in the afternoon, tearing through the first draft as quickly as possible, not worrying too much about the quality or about what will or won’t make it to the second draft. Right now, I’m doing the leg-work – exploring the story a bit to see where it wants to go and where I’m prepared to let it. But I have to deliver in September, so I have to be a bit military about getting it done.
Any plans to produce a sequel to any of your books? I believe a possible 50/50 Killer book 2 was discussed a while back on twitter?
Still Bleeding almost was. For a while, the cop character in that was going to be Mercer from 50/50, and I even wrote a few chapters from his perspective. In the end, I decided the fresh character of Kearney worked better, and it led to a very different book than I originally planned. In the initial stages, Mercer had retired to a battered old cottage on the coast that was gradually eroding into the sea. I liked the house, so used it very briefly in Black Flowers for someone else.
When I was planning Dark Room, I thought it might be Mark Nelson from 50/50 as the main. It’s not anymore, but it’s possible this book will have a sequel, that the new character will be a series character, but it’s too early to say right now. My problem is that I usually wrap everything up. The books are always conceived as sealed units. Everyone ends up where I’m happy to leave them.
That’s a harsh question to throw at someone! I like David Fincher and Michael Mann very much. But I’d have a hard time pinning down a single film, and my top twenty would probably be a weird and slightly embarrassing mix. Some all time favourites: Star Wars; The Princess Bride; Seven; Fight Club; Manhunter; Heat; About a Boy; Grosse Pointe Blank; Minority Report; Lost in Translation; Switchblade Romance; Groundhog Day; The Truman Show … you see the problem here? We’d be at this all day.
Any TV or film company interest in any of your books so far?
The 50/50 Killer and Cry for Help have both been optioned by French production companies. They’re both ongoing projects, and I’m not too involved. I know a script for 50/50 has been through a couple of drafts. I’m quietly hopeful – the people involved are good people – but with film deals it’s always a case of not believing it’ll happen until you’re in a cinema watching the thing.
I’m in talks for a TV adaptation of Black Flowers right now, so can’t say too much about that. But again – quiet hope.
I like them, with some reservations. Given the choice, I’ll take a physical book every time, so the ebooks I do read tend to be ones it’s harder to get hold of. And I can’t say I rate the Kindle itself as a piece of kit, but being able to read across devices I carry anyway is nice. That’s Amazon’s real success, I think – the store, and the simplicity of the cloud.
Besides that, there are a hundred things to say, of course, but I’m reluctant to add to the static. Despite the huge boom in sales, I think it’s still early days. A few people are getting very rich right now, but how long it will continue and what will happen is anyone’s guess. When I got my Kindle last year, for example, eBook sales in my house increased by about 3000% because I wanted some content for my new toy. Don’t expect that particular increase to maintain. But we’re clearly in for an interesting few years.
The main thing that ‘bothers’ me is the pricing issue, and the dialogue around it. There’s a perception that eBooks should be considerably cheaper than their print equivalents. Leaving aside the arguments around production costs and sales potential, I think it’s a mercenary conception of value. I don’t buy books for the value of the paper; I buy them to read the story. That’s where the value lies. What is the experience of reading a story worth? Well, it’s worth a lot more than $0.99. At least, to me it is. The value of a story is not reducible to how much it costs to manufacture a computer file. This is not data entry.
And, finally, to save time at the bar at Harrogate, ‘What you drinking, Steve?’
It’s usually dry white wine at festivals – but I’m buying.
For more on Steve and his novels, get over to his website: www.theleftroom.co.uk and tell him who sent you.
Or, better still, to meet Steve and buy and get him to sign a copy of one (or all) of his books, come along to the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival this July, or in May you can also catch him in Liverpool with John Connolly and Charlie Williams at the following event:
Thursday, May 19 at 6:00 p.m.
“The Killer Inside You: Horror in Crime Fiction”
A Twisted Tales event with John Connolly, Steve Mosby and Charlie Williams Tickets £2, redeemable against the purchase of a horror or crime novel that night
Waterstone’s Liverpool One,
12 College Lane,
0151 709 9820
Keith B Walters