Will Carver is the author of the debut novel Girl 4 which introduces readers to Detective Inspector January David. He admits to being a film buff and watches at least one film a day.
Looking at your website, you appear to be a blank page! Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?
I lived in Germany as a child but my secondary school education happened in the UK. After my A-Levels, I was offered the chance to play rugby professionally but declined, opting instead to study theatre and television at Winchester University. After graduating I spent a few years working in IT while writing in the evenings. In 2009, having just turned thirty, I was delighted when my first thriller novel Girl 4 was accepted for publication by Random House. With my debut book published in May 2011, and my second (The Two) out in November 20011, I am now officially a full-time author. My third novel in the January David series is also approaching completion, to be published next year. I am married and live with my wife and daughter near Reading.
Have you always wanted to write?
I’ve always wanted to express myself creatively. I was almost certain that I wanted to be a painter up to my mid-teens. I was very good at copying a picture or drawing something from real life – particularly portraits – but I could never just invent something from nothing.
I found I had a particular aptitude for poetry, which I continued with for a few years until I read Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. This book blew me away. And so began my affair with the novel form. That was when I really knew what I wanted to do, that I wanted to write and nothing else would do.
What made you decide to write a crime novel?
I wrote a book at university. This was not a crime novel, more of a dark comedy. Lots of publishers read it and gave me positive feedback; one in particular suggested that my style may suit a thriller. They said they would love to see it if I ever decided to write one. A month or two later, I started researching my ideas for Girl 4.
What was the impetus for Girl 4?
Part of the motivation was that I knew it would definitely be seen by a publisher because they had already expressed an interest; this is the most you can ask for as an unpublished writer. However, the kick I needed came a few months later when I was made redundant from my job and was given a small window of opportunity to knuckle down and write all day, every day. I saw the loss of my job as an opportunity to write the story I wanted, get it finished and eventually submitted.
The impetus for the story came from two places: the end of the book, which reveals the reasons behind the crimes; and the image you see of Girl 4 on the cover.
How pleased were you with the book once you had finished writing it?
I really only feel pleasure for a book while I am writing it. The actual act of writing and creating a story from nothing is the best part of the job for me. Once I had finished writing Girl 4 there was the usual sense of accomplishment you get from completing a novel – I tend to toast it with a nice glass of whisky – but almost immediately, I put it to the back of my mind. I’m over it. I don’t want to look at it again. I want to start writing something new.
Was the writing as difficult as you thought it would be?
I immersed myself in the research, the characters and the world in which I was creating them. I came up with the ending first. Once I had plotted the demise of each character, the hard work was done; I felt like the book really wrote itself.
The most difficult part was getting the style right. I decided that everyone would have a voice. The detective, killer and victims would all speak in the first person and give their side of events. While each character has their name atop their chapter, I really wanted to create a distinct voice for each of them so a reader could recognise them merely from their words.
This was the toughest aspect of writing Girl 4 but it felt so natural to write it in this way.
Detective Inspector January David is quite a strange character as he is prepared to put his professional life before his private life despite the consequences. Could you talk about him without giving too much away?
Detective Inspector January David, a London detective, has made a name for himself solving violent crimes. Being a detective is a fiercely personal mission for January because of a tragedy in his own past. He’s a man tormented by his own demons, and the January David series explores his own story alongside those of the victims.
He is not a hero cop; DI David is more than usually flawed – but, hopefully, that makes him intriguing for readers. He doesn’t always get things right, and his quest to catch the killer takes him to dark places. It’s the psychology, more than police procedure that fascinates me. In particular, January David is torn between whether detective work should be based solely on solid, conventional police work – or gut feelings. Throughout Girl 4, and indeed the entire series, January battles to trust his own intuition. Not everything is always as it seems in Girl 4. What you see is not always what is real. January David is thrown into this grey area between reality and dream, facts and hunches.
Is there to be some let up in David’s personal life?
Eventually, there has to be, but things are going to get worse for him before they get better. The quest to find his missing sister dominates and affects everything. Even if he works through some of his other personal issues, his relationships with colleagues or his parents, his newly-found intuition, his drinking, nothing will be fully resolved until he uncovers the truth about what happened the day his sister, Cathy, was taken away from him.
Is DI David based on anyone that you know or is he an amalgamation of various people?
He is completely made up. I don’t tend to base any characters on people I know. I enjoy writing unlikeable characters, they are far more interesting, and the people I know in life tend to be people I like so I keep them out of my work.
Is there anything of DI David in you or vice versa?
January David enjoys a whisky and so do I. He is a little unkempt in appearance and I opt for a slightly scruffy style myself, but that is the only cross-over.
People often ask whether a character is based on me or someone that I know, but the beauty of fiction is that you don’t have to do this. Of course, aspects of your life and experiences do creep into your work, it can’t be helped. But I am not one of my characters, I am all of them.
What makes a character real for you? Must you work everything out about them beforehand or do you just let it flow?
I give each character a set of personality traits. It may be the way that they speak or think about the world or view themselves, but I also give them all room to breathe and evolve. Often it will shock and surprise me how a character develops. Some become more prominent and some get marginalised.
I focus on the mundanities of life to make a character more real. It is the everydayness of a character that can make them more relatable to a reader, I think.
The only character I work everything out for is January David. While everyone else in the books needs to seem real, they are ultimately there to tell his story. He still throws up a surprise to me every so often, but I feel I know him so completely that his chapters are always the easiest to write.
What was your favourite part of the book and what did you most enjoy about the writing?
I like the way that it is set out, that you get to hear the truth, as they see it, from every character. I like the way that it may seem disjointed in places but each person is giving clues to the larger puzzle.
I enjoyed writing as the different characters but perhaps the most enjoyable was Eames, the villain of the piece. To write as the killer was so interesting for me. So often your view of the killer comes from the detective or the reader forces an opinion based on the crimes committed, but in Girl 4, Eames informs the reader why he does the things he does, he tells you how he feels about the victims before, during and after the event. I love looking into the psychology behind these thoughts.
So writing Eames was probably the part I enjoyed writing the most but the actual style of hearing from every character is probably my favourite aspect of the book.
When writing a novel it has to be a combination of plot and character. How did you manage to ensure that one did not overwhelm the other in Girl 4?
I don’t really buy into rules like this. I’m not sure that the process of creating something should be restricted to saying you need a perfect balance of plot and character. I don’t believe that a reader should be fed every answer and I don’t think every aspect of the story needs to be tied up into a neat resolution.
My only concern, when writing Girl 4, was to create an interesting story with believable characters and motivations that would make a reader want to keep turning the pages to find out why. I tend to think more about the pacing of the story, the information given; every chapter needs to further our understanding of the plot, every chapter to should reveal a little more about that character.
I also think a writer needs to hold back a little of the plot and characters for the reader to draw their own pictures.
Who were your influences when you decided to start writing? Do other books still influence your writing and if so what other types of writing are you attracted to?
I started writing when I was fairly young and, at the time, I was reading Nick Hornby and Julian Barnes and they both had an effect on my style and certainly my chapter length. I also read a lot of plays, mainly David Mamet, who I think is the master of dialogue, and Brecht whose whole philosophy is fascinating.
I do draw a lot of inspiration from film. I have ahuge collection and I try to watch a film or two every day if possible. I think this has inspired the visual quality to my writing.
My tastes have changed and developed over time. I am currently working my way through everything Hemingway wrote. But the biggest influence was Chuck Palahniuk. He changed how I thought about writing for ever; I just think he is such an original voice I find myself re-reading his books more than anyone else’s.
Are you a fan of serial killer novels?
I am a fan of serial killers. This is probably an odd thing to say; what I mean is that I am interested in the psychology of the serial killer. In researching for the character of Eames in Girl 4, I read reams of material about Bundy, Constanzo, Dahmer, De Salvo, Gein, Kemper, Manson, Nilson and Shipman, to name but a few. I had to know something of how their minds operate before I created someone different but believable.
In short, I do not read serial killer novels but I do read a lot of non-fiction about this type of criminal mind.
Were you a reader of crime fiction before you started writing it and if so can you remember the very first crime novel that you read?
I have not read much crime fiction in the sense that a crime occurs and there is a detective or legal person who must bring about justice. I have read the Dan Brown books which usually start with a crime of some sort, but I’m not sure they are classed as crime fiction. The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith stands out as an early example of a book I read with criminal activity, but this may not strictly fall into that category either.
I tend to read a lot of contemporary literature; I will read historical books, science fiction, romance and the classics. The fact that I don’t really read much crime fiction only means that I do not go into writing my books with any preconceptions of the genre; I can try something different.
Is there a crime novel or novel you wish that you had written?
Fight Club really changed things for me, as I said before. That was the first time I had read a book that made me feel I had something to aim for. The Great Gatsby just seems to be the perfectly written novel. The language is ferocious and, though it is a world away from anything I know, the mundanity and fact that not a lot really happens, are the things which make it so real.
I also have to mention The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway because it really is a story where no single word could be altered to make a positive difference; nothing could be changed to make it better.
These are the stories I go back to time and again to remind myself just how great it really can be. I write and continue to write, hoping that one day I will find the story I hope will be my own Gatsby.
What made you decide to write a series as opposed to a standalone novel?
I think January David is so complex that it would be impossible to fully understand him in one book, and there is no way he could confront all his demons in a single novel. He has many personal and professional barriers to overcome still. Also, I have created a world. Yes, it is based on the real one we live in, but it is different, it is darker and it needs to be explored, and there is so much left to uncover that I would never be able to fit it into one book.
Besides, I already have ideas for further cases and conspiracies and mythologies that I want to explore, and it seemed only right to extend January David’s life across a series to give him the opportunity to unpick his own story piece by piece.
How would you describe your book to someone who was about to read it for the first time?
Girl 4 is a psychological thriller rather than a procedural crime novel. The principle character is a London detective, but the novel is more concerned to explore his psyche and that of the killers he pursues, and the victims he tries to save, rather than to portray the nuts and bolts of a police investigation. The novel is not your average detective story, and January David is not an average detective. The shock factor is high, the pace is fast, and nothing is quite what it seems.
Girl 4 became Sainsbury’s book club choice in May. Has it had any effect on the way in which your book has been received?
I was so pleased when Girl 4 was selected for the Sainsbury’s Book Club in May. It is great to have this level of support as a debut novelist, especially as a British voice in thriller writing. This has also given the book some great exposure for readers looking for something new.
It was also great experience to write some exclusive material for the Sainsbury’s Book Club version and give these readers a little extra information to bridge the gap between the first two books.
I understand that the second novel is entitled The Two. Are you able to tell us anything about it?
The Two finds Detective Inspector January David thrust into another high-profile case trying to track down an elusive killer seemingly abusing Pagan ceremony against their victims. The detective’s job is made even more difficult when the person committing these atrocities is captured by a vigilante known only as V. Now January David is on the hunt for not one but two souls.
This book will be released in November and I have recently finished writing the third novel, which will appear in 2012.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
I’m very fortunate with my job as a writer that I can work anywhere at any time. This affords me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my family. I look after my seventeen month-old daughter for half the week while my wife works, and I love doing this, no matter how exhausting.
I still like to paint but only as a hobby now, and I play the guitar whenever I get a chance to sit down for half an hour. There’s not much that I find more relaxing than that.
As I said earlier, I am a real film fan, so I need to find time in the day to watch a film or two. It is more difficult now with a child and two books to write each year, but these are the things I do away from the words.
I do like to play golf too, but some rounds are not as relaxing as I would want them to be.
Any last words?
I am always intrigued to hear readers’ comments and feedback via my website www.willcarver.net. There is also an opportunity for readers to appear as a character in my second novel, The Two. Check out www.girl4.co.uk for details. Thanks for the support.
Arrow (12 May 2011)