Hi Luca, welcome to Shots! Your debut novel Dead Gone is out now as a Kindle eBook with the paperback in January 2014. This must be a very exciting time for you… can you tell us a bit about it?
Set in Liverpool, Dead Gone is the first novel in the Murphy and Rossi series. It follows the investigation of the murder of a student from one of the city's universities, found in Sefton Park with a letter attached to the body... detailing an unethical historical psychological experiment which has been carried out on them. Murphy and Rossi dismiss it out of hand and decide - playing the overwhelming odds - it's someone who knows the victim rather a sadistic and ruthless serial killer. And then another body turns up... and then another... all with their own letter attached.
Sounds great (and I can confirm that it is, having read it recently myself!) So, as a psychology student, writing about a serial killer obsessed with unethical experiments is a no-brainer… Is this the first novel you wrote? Or were there others before that are still hidden in a drawer?
Well, I never actually completed a novel before Dead Gone (which itself went through some pretty extensive rewrites before being picked up), but I did get some way into a completely different type of book. It was centred around a character I created called "Shooter" - a middle-aged gangster in Speke, whose nickname had less than auspicious roots than it suggests - and was more of a drugs/mean streets/violent style than Dead Gone is. I wrote about 25-30,000 words of this and struggled throughout. It just wasn't for me at all. Around that time I was reading yet another Steve Mosby novel for the second or fifth time and realised I should write what I enjoy reading. By chance, I'd started my psychology degree a month or so before and had the idea of a serial killer who murders victims, using psychology experiments and theories as their signature. I switched to that idea and wrote the first version of Dead Gone in a couple of months... Shooter is never likely to see the light of day!
Haha – that may be a good thing… I read recently that you started Dead Gone after hearing a lecture about Dr Harry Harlow's experiments - can you tell us a bit more about your influences?
Well, that lecture was a major influence on the idea for the serial killer in Dead Gone. It was supposed to be a jokey aside type of thing, with the lecturer giving us examples of past psychology experiments that would never pass an ethics board now. Almost all of them involved animals, and I instantly thought "what would happen if you did that to humans instead...?" which I admit is a pretty weird thing to occur to someone! The Harlow experiments are some of the worst imaginable acts to commit on humans in the name of research - especially those concerning isolation - but they are fascinating studies.
Is it weirder that I now want to go and read more about them?! Dead Gone delves into some dark areas - in particular, the effects of isolation, both as an experiment and also as a consequence of your protagonist, DI David Murphy retreating into himself after the death of his parents and break-up of his marriage - what made you want to explore this?
I'm fascinated by death and in particular the grief aspect following. I think it comes from not actually losing anyone particularly close to me other than my granddad when I was quite young. The first funeral I went to was someone I didn't even know! So, instead of thanking my lucky stars for never being affected, I've gone the other way and tried to find answers elsewhere. Murphy's reaction to the death of his parents is my view on those who go the "stiff upper lip" route through grief, internalising their pain and never speaking about things. I wanted to explore how this could affect someone whose job involved investigating death and what the result of that would be.
It works well. I just hope he might get some time to come to terms with the grief in later novels… So, the relationship between Murphy and Rossi is an interesting one as there appears to be no sexual tension there at all. Ditto the relationship between Murphy and his best friend (only friend?) Jess. Was it intentional to make Murphy more of a ‘friend of the ladies’ man rather than a man's man - a bit different from the usual stereotypes?
Never even crossed my mind, to be honest. Jess was one of the first characters I imagined, so she was always female but Rossi was actually male in the first two versions. The dynamic never really worked between Murphy and that character though (becoming more of a sad pastiche of the Thorne and Holland partnership in Mark Billingham's books!), so my agent suggested the Italian element, and making the character female. In the first book, Murphy is far too messed up to be even considering moving on from his estranged wife, so there's no sexual tension to be had. It was intentional to have his best friend be female though, as it's something I feel strongly about (the fact men and women can be friends without sexual tension!) Jess is an amalgamation of many female friends I've had over the years (with Murphy also having elements of friends and family), and is probably my favourite character to write.
I like Jess. She’s a friend I’d like to have! Going back to the stereotypical detective for a minute, I don't think there is any mention of Murphy’s music collection and he doesn't seem to have any sort of substance abuse issues..! What are his interests and what are his demons?
I know his favourite music. Mainly because it matches my own! I think the music thing has been done now and by far better hands than my own. Just dropping in a scene where Murphy starts fingering vinyl would have just looked completely out of place within the story (although there is one of my favourite seventies tracks mentioned briefly). He does struggle with his weight a little, being a six foot four inch ex-boxer who hasn't been the gym in a while. And his relationship history roughly matches most coppers I know. If anything, it means I can introduce a crystal meth storyline in book five, if I run out of ideas!
So what's next for Murphy and Rossi? What are you working on at the moment?
I'm about a month away from deadline for book two, so I'm just putting the final touches to that (or: weeping over my wordcount and wondering if it'll ever be finished). This one explores vigilantism and the "problem" of youth. I'm endlessly fascinated by members of the generations above my own who believe every issue regarding the vast numbers of unemployed and not in education youth today, and how a "short, sharp shock" is all that is required (national service, clip round the ear etc). So, I'm looking into anti-social behaviour and those who seek to end it.
Having just watched yet another bit of CCTV footage highlighting anti-social behaviour, I have to say that sounds like a fascinating subject to explore. 2014 is tipped to be a great year for crime fiction. Anyone else we should be looking out for?
I've just finished Sarah Hilary's debut novel Someone Else's Skin which is superb. Mark Edwards is releasing another standalone which sounds brilliant from what little he's told me about it. New ones from Mark Billingham and Steve Mosby will be in my house on release day. The one to watch out for though is Eva Dolan's Long Way Home. An incredible debut novel, which I'm sure will win not only awards, but a multitude of fans.
Ah – that one is next on my to-be-read list. Have heard many good things. Apart from novels, you’ve been involved with two fantastic charity short story anthologies (Off The Record and Off The Record Two: At The Movies) showcasing a variety of established talent and relative newcomers – are there plans for any others in the series?
It's definitely on my mind to do a third in 2014. Probably using TV as the inspiration this time around. I really enjoy doing them, but it's incredibly time consuming, so I hope to have a breather once I finish uni next May and get back into it.
Good stuff! And finally, what question does no one ever ask you that you'd really like to be asked? (And what's the answer?!)
Would you like a hundred million quid?
Answer - Yes please.
Seriously, I've probably not been asked enough questions yet to wonder about ones I haven't received. Although, I was warned that I'd be constantly asked where I get my ideas from and that hasn't happened yet. The answer to that one is a small bonsai tree at the bottom of my garden named Jeff.
Very wise, those tiny Chinese trees! Thanks Luca, best of luck with Dead Gone - it's going to be a big hit!
Thank you so much. I love Shots Magazine, so it's a great honour to have been here!
Read SHOTS' review here