Cage of Bones by Tania Carver is published by Sphere on the 15th September as a paperback original (£6.99). Tania Carver is the husband and wife writing team of Martyn and Lynda Waites. Laura Harman talks supernatural, stylistics and all kinds of crime.
I want to be very careful not to give too much away here! The young man who discovers the boy in the cage of bones senses something bad about the house before he enters. Do you believe in the ability to sense such things?
Martyn: Yeah, but I don’t think there’s a supernatural explanation for it. Just a rational one. A person’s body adapting and responding to their surroundings. That’s all, as far as I can see. Nothing else.
Linda: Yes I do. I’m much more spiritual than Martyn. Like Shakespeare said, there are more things in heaven and Earth...
And do you believe in the supernatural?
M: Not in the slightest. I love horror in books and films but it’s not real. I would love to think it was but I’ve never seen any evidence for it at all.
L: I’ve never seen any hard evidence either but I’d love someone to prove it to me. I do feel that there’s something else there. I’m not saying it’s necessarily ghosts or anything like that, but maybe another dimension.
M: I’d go with that. The supernatural is just a name for things we don’t know. Like quantum physics.
Stylistically speaking, many of the sentences are short and almost ragged, as though the novel is told in a stream of consciousness. Was this a conscious decision?
M: I’m not sure about a stream of consciousness as I tend to think of something more formless and rambling like Kerouac for that. But the sentences are short, yes. It’s a third person narrative but short sentences are a good way of getting into a character’s head. Like shorthand.
L: It also gives the piece a sense of pace and urgency. Like breathing quickly.
Similarly, the chapters are short. Do you think that this gives the novel a sense of continually moving on? As though the reader is caught up in the action?
M: That’s the idea! It’s the goal of every writer, I think, to involve the reader. Short chapters in a thriller are just one more weapon in the arsenal.
The short scenes are almost filmic. What is your opinion of the rise in popularity for crime fiction dramas? Which medium do you prefer to engage with yourself, away from your own writing?
M: It depends what I’m in the mood for. The Wire, The Shield, Homicide... all brilliant. The Killing (the Danish one) was the best thing I’ve seen on TV in ages. I think over here, with our Midsomer Murders and our George Gentlys, we’re years behind. So I tend not to watch too much British drama. Luther was good fun, though. The Shadow Line I found unbearably pretentious although it did have some good performances from some proper oil burning thesps. But my own preference would be for an old episode of The Avengers or a classic film noir. Or a good book.
L: Personally I don’t go for the Midsomer Murders and George Gentlys either but then I think there are too many detective shows on TV anyway. Too many copycats. Too many flawed character detectives.
M: Apart from Phil Brennan. He’d be brilliant on TV.
L: Of course! As long as I get to choose the actor...
Do you think it is important to confront the worst things that people can do to each other?
M: I think if you’re a crime writer you’ve a responsibility to do it, really. If not you end up with some Agatha Christie thing where people get killed but no one gets hurt. But you have a responsibility not to be gratuitous. You have to be honest about it, not turn it into pornography.
L: I think it’s important to show the damage all round. The lasting damage, not just providing a victim but showing the consequences of an extreme act, the ripples outwards.
M: I think we do that in the Tania books.
Some people say that they could not write about crimes involving children. Is it important to you not to shy away from anything like that? Do you partly like to shock your readers?
M: No, I’ve never consciously tried to shock anyone just for the sake of it. And I wouldn’t read anything that did that. I think that, again, it’s all about being true to the story. If you’re writing about crime, about deviance and aberrance in society, then you will sometimes write about crimes involving children. Anything else is unbelievable.
L: Bad things happen to children. Just like other vulnerable people in our society. That’s life. Why ignore it? You can’t just bury your head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t happen. And the books should reflect that.
Many of the locations in which crimes occur are dark, or underground. Do you think that we often carry a fear of the dark with us throughout life?
L: I do. I’ve always been frightened of the dark. It goes along with the monster in the cupboard. We try to use locations that are atmospheric and when you’re writing something like Cage Of Bones dark, dank, underground ones are perfect.
M: I wouldn’t say I’ve got a fear of the dark. As the Flaming Lips said, the sun doesn’t go down, it’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round. However, predators use darkness as a perfect cover. So it’s probably healthy to be wary of things – or people – that may be hiding in the dark.
Of course, it has been revealed that Tania Carver is the pseudonym for a husband and wife team (Martyn and Linda Waites). Had you had experience writing together before you began these novels?
M: Linda was always the first reader and editor of all my novels. She’s a theatre costume designer and I wasn’t sure she knew what she was talking about at first but I was soon put in my place. She has an excellent eye for what works and what doesn’t and unlike a lot of writers’ partners, will always give the honest answer. She was always critical and never gave any praise when it wasn’t warranted. And gave me tons of notes to work through. Collaborating on a book was just a logical extension of that.
L: But I still won’t let him design any of my costumes...
Has writing together made you realise new things about each other? For example, have either of you been shocked by an idea the other's had?
M: Well, The Surrogate was Linda’s idea...
L: And it’s a long time since I was shocked by anything Martyn has come up with.
M: And that goes for the novels too...
With both of you living and breathing the story, how did you find it impacted on your personal relationship? Are you able to separate your work life from your home life?
M: It’s virtually impossible to do that anyway. When you work from home, your work life is your home life. And when you’re writing you can never switch off. It’s not a nine to five thing. You can sit down at ten o’clock at night to start work.
L: I think there’s less of an impact now than when Martyn is writing on his own. Because we’re both living the same story.
What is your opinion of our attitude towards mental health as a society, particularly in reference to characters like Paul the tramp? Do you feel we often reject what people in social positions like this have to say?
L: It’s not so much that we reject what they have to say as rejecting them altogether. Some people’s problems are so hard for us to understand that we don’t know how to deal with them and it’s just easier for us to walk away. But we have to remember they’re someone’s brother or son or daughter. They could be ours. There but for the grace of God...
M: I’ve worked with people who have mental health issues and it’s not easy. They need a lot of specialist help and care. But that’s expensive. And unfortunately, whenever there are government cuts to be made it’s the most vulnerable who get targeted first. Especially by this government.
Do you believe that a strong home life, no matter the family situation, provides a strong support system for people in stressful jobs? Indeed, for people in general?
L: Do you find your job stressful, Laura? What can I say? I come from an Italian family and we were brought up to believe that the family is all important. I couldn’t survive without the support of my family.
Do you have plans for further novels involving DCI Phil Brennan?
M: Yep. The next one is out in autumn 2012. It’s called Choked. I can’t say too much about it yet but we’ll see Marina taking centre stage.
L: Like all good strong women. We should always be centre stage.
Into the house. Down the stairs. Through the dripping dark of the cellar. Someone is there...Someone who shouldn't be there.
As a building awaits demolition, a horrifying discovery is made inside the basement: a cage made of human bones - with a terrified, feral child lurking within. Unbeknown to DI Phil Brennan and psychologist Marina Esposito, they have disturbed a killer who has been operating undetected for thirty years. A killer who wants that boy back.
But the cage of bones is also a box of secrets - secrets linking Brennan to the madman in their midst. With the death toll rising and the city reeling in terror, Brennan and Marina race to expose a predator more soullessly evil than any they've ever faced - one who is hiding in plain sight.