Hi and welcome to #QandASunday! I think we can all agree that Casa Orenda has an abundance of talented authors, so choosing one to prod and probe is a very difficult thing to do! This time around, I opted to examine the undoubtedly beautiful but pitch-black mind of Will Carver. Everyone say hi to Will:
Grab yourselves a cuppa and make yourselves comfortable, this might take a while 😄
Hi Will! Welcome to FromBelgiumWithBookLove! I’m delighted you could find the time to visit! As we’re having our talk when the coronavirus is wreaking havoc in both our countries, the most important question I can ask you is: how are you?
Much like everyone, muddling through. The kids are back at school, so I have some extra time without that whole homeschooling thing. I’m tired. I’m trying to write. I managed to get away for a week but I feel like I, somehow, need a holiday now. (Five kids.) I think this whole situation is beating the shit out of everyone, whether they realise it or not, and it’s not going away.
So, I guess I’m doing what I can. Adapting. Working hard.Trying to take something from this that I can use. And it’s not what’s happening — I think it would be bad form to write about it in any way — but taking the feeling, the unease, the anger, the confusion, and doing something with that. Something creative and worthwhile.
So, how am I? I’m wrestling with stuff, trying to make something happen.
Five kids, bloody hell… I think you deserve another holiday! If this were an actual meeting in real life (and without the corona situation, obviously), where would we be now? Would we be out for coffee, would we go for a bite to eat? Where would you take me, and why?
It depends. If we were doing this face-to-face before lunchtime, we’d be drinking coffee. Personally, I like the biggest mug you can find and the blackest coffee you can make.
Anything after 12:00 and I hope there would be beer/wine/whisky and a bowl of chips. I’m vegan, so it’s not always easy to find something when I eat out — though it is getting better. One thing you can always find, though, is chips.
Coffee is basically what sustains me and I’m not one to turn down a glass of rose, bring it on! But if there’s to be wine, I’ll need to know who exactly I’m talking to. Please describe yourself in 5 key words. Who is Will Carver?
None of your fucking business.
Is that what you’re after?
Not really, no…
I always find these things difficult. Reducing something (hopefully) complex into a soundbite.
I know, that’s why I’m asking, torturing authors is a hobby of mine… And it’s fun to see what people come up with if there’s a word limit.
I remember a time when we didn’t even know what writers looked like, now so much is out there. On one hand it’s great to feel like you know someone, on the other hand, there’s not as much privacy.
Enigma wrapped in a secret.
Does that work?
Sure. Very mysterious!
I guess the things that define me are being a father, a partner, a writer and a vegan. I believe so strongly in being all of these things; I’m serious about all of them. I think the fifth word would be silly. It’s something that my kids and girlfriend say they like about me.
Take the things you DO seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. And certainly don’t take anything I say seriously because I’m usually just fucking about.
But, if I was being serious, I guess five words would be: I’m trying to do better.
See, that was not so hard, was it 😁 What quality are you most proud of?
Honesty. It’s something I’ve always tried to be. Honest. I don’t have the greatest memory — because I don’t sleep enough — and lying about things means that you have to remember stuff.
It’s difficult when you are online, too. Because people often have an online persona — I write about this a lot. And, as a writer, there is pressure to not say the wrong thing or rub someone up the wrong way or appear more appreciative than you really are.
When I wrote the January David series. I did have a bit of that. Where these interviews were passed through my agent or publisher and sanitised before they went out. I didn’t like it but I did it.
After disappearing for a while and returning with Good Samaritans, I decided that I wasn’t going to do that any more. I needed to be myself. And I am someone who says the wrong thing from time to time and I’m not always going to be gracious when somebody tweets me that my book is a pile of shit. We are human and we get things wrong and that is okay. So, for me, honestly is hopefully my best quality and the thing I look for in others.
I’d just like to add that honesty isn’t going online and spouting your outrage or opinion about everything without any thought for others. You see this a lot. There still has to be some forethought. Being honest doesn’t mean saying everything that is honestly in your head and not thinking about the consequence. That’s just being a dick. (I like to think I put these points across more eloquently in my fiction.)
I couldn’t agree more, I’m all for honesty (without being a dick). What is your biggest vice?
I’m vegan. So the food I eat is usually healthy. That’s not to say that being vegan means you are healthy and lean because you can still eat processed crap. But the type of vegan I am means that I don’t put much of that stuff into my body.
Although I am a hummus addict. I speak about this quite a bit but I just can’t get enough of the stuff. My son is the same. He dipped popcorn in hummus the other day and said, ‘Dad, you have to try this.’ I did. He was right. It totally works. Everything works with hummus.
Coffee, of course. I don’t sleep much so it is a necessity but I just couldn’t live without it. I try to limit the amount I have because of the effect it can have on cortisol levels but I’m not always successful with that.
I’m a writer and I like to have a drink. Beer. Wine. Whisky. Petrol and lemonade. I’ll drink it. And I don’t feel bad about it. I figure that I don’t put too much crap into my body through food and the food I eat does not harm living creatures or have a devastating impact on the environment, so if I knock back half a bottle of Red Breast on a Sunday night, there are probably worse vices I could have.
I have got into playing Fortnite on the Xbox with the kids and my girlfriend got me to download a game on my phone called Zoo2 Animal Park and these certainly do eat into my writing time.
If you were to find a bottle with a genie willing to grant you three wishes, what would you wish for?
I would wish that the best writers sold the most books. I don’t know whether that would affect how many books I sell but it would be interesting, eh?
I’d wish for a global epidemic of true compassion. There’s too much apathy. There’s a pretence of care. I would make people care. Completely. I think that true compassion would lead to so many great things. People would stop eating meat. We would have a proper discussion about mental health where we listened and understood. There would be more tolerance between beliefs. People wouldn’t go on Twitter and tell me that my book is a pile of shit. Stuff like that.
If you’ve read Hinton Hollow Death Trip, you’ll remember that I posed this same question to Evil. Evil had a tough time coming up with a third, too.
You want to choose something that will somehow encompass world peace and banning guns in America and eradicating disease and having enough to take care of your family and friends. It’s a difficult balance. So my third wish would be FREE HUMMUS FOR LIFE.
Shoulda seen that coming 😂 Great choices though, and if I could I would grant them all! Before you became an Orenda author, you wrote the January David series. There was a pretty big gap between the last David novel and Good Samaritans, what happened, if you don’t mind my asking.
It’s not a happy story, so I’ll keep it short.
I was supposed to write two January David books a year. After the success of Girl 4 in the May of that year, The Two was supposed to come out in November. I had submitted this 6 months before deadline because we wanted to be ahead of schedule. It was delayed by the publisher. Then delayed again – apparently so it did not get lost in the release of some ‘big’ books. Makes sense. It was eventually released on the same day as Fifty Shades of Grey. Weird. A massive publication that obliterated the book market for everyone releasing a book around then. Oh, and it was the same publisher that I had.
Fifty Shades went on to be the biggest selling debut for my publisher that year, much as Girl 4 had been their biggest the year before. However, The Two did not sell as many and my career was basically dead.
Dead Set came out with no real focus. It sold well in Tesco but wasn’t widely reviewed apart from an excellent critique in The Sunday Sport.
I lost my publisher. My agent disappeared. I didn’t know what to do.
Then the worst thing happened, I lost myself. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, whether I would ever get published again. How I would find a new agent. Who was I? My agent at the time told me that it was more than likely that ‘Will Carver was dead’. Ouch.
Without going into the horrors of disintegrating relationships, I will say that I never stopped writing.
I wrote something that wasn’t crime. I met with an agent. It didn’t happen. I wrote something else. It didn’t happen. I tried something commercial. It didn’t happen.
Then Seth Beauman came into my brain and I used all the anguishes and the darkness and the struggle and I put it into Good Samaritans. I wrote my way out of the pit. It wasn’t like the January David series. That started well but got sanitised and disfigured the more it went on. It was something I wanted to write, in the way I wanted to write it.
I knew when I finished that book that it was going to get published. I really did.
All I needed was a bit of luck.
From January David over Good Samaritans and Nothing Important Happened Today and this year’s Hinton Hollow Death Trip, your novels are pitch-black. Was that always your intention, or is that just how things turned out? I mean have you always wanted to write such dark stories or did you try your hand at different genres, or a lighter kind of detective story?
I never wanted to write crime, initially. I never read any crime. I don’t even read that much now — I try to be selective — but it’s still more than a lot of people I know. I had never thought about writing a detective story until it was suggested to me by a publisher after my agent submitted a dark comedy I had written.
Still, the stuff I was writing before was dark. I guess that’s how I see the world. It’s full of suffering and misunderstanding. I don’t consider myself a pessimist at all. I’m a realist. And I think that tackling the harder, darker issues are the way towards the light.
The January David books are dark in a different way. Yes, they tackle loneliness and the mundanities of life but the darkness comes from the elaborate set pieces that were the murders, and the fact that I wrote it from the point-of-view of the killer and the victims.
The amazing thing about Orenda is that I can write in the crime arena but highlight real issues that I think are important and bring them to people’s minds. I’m not writing stories for readers to get swept up in, I constantly jerk the reader out of the story so that they can remain critical throughout. I have the opportunity to actually say something.
I can write a book where the detective doesn’t speak until the final chapter or doesn’t appear until the 100th page or is the sidekick to the omniscient narrator, Evil. There’s a freedom to be expressive. While, hopefully, writing a decent story, too.
I have ambitions to write out of the genre and I feel that there is the support there to do that – with Orenda and with my readers. Because, as you say, there is a thread that runs through my books. I hope that it doesn’t matter what genre I write in, you could still pick up one of my books and know that it was me who had written it.
Absolutely. Reading these answer I can tell they’re yours. I love that each and every one of your books is different but still very much you, and I love that Orenda Books give you that kind of freedom, to do what you do best. Can you describe Hinton Hollow Death Trip in 5 words?
I’m not good at these.
Shortlisted for the booker prize.
Over five million copies sold.
These are some options I would love to say about it.
Now a major movie production.
That would be nice.
But to describe it? Evil. Mayhem. Pigs. And mothers.
Doesn’t tell you much, though, does it?
It’s a difficult book to describe in five paragraphs without giving too much away. It’s the same with all the books involving Detective Sergeant Pace. So, I think I’ll have to stick with my first answer.
That’s fair. Although I rather like “Evil. Mayhem. Pigs. And mothers.”! If you had to pick a theme song for Hinton Hollow Death Trip, what would it be?
Day Is Done by Nick Drake. If you haven’t heard it, please go and listen to it. I imagine it playing through the epilogue.
Actual chills! How much of yourself and the people around you do you put in your characters?
I always think it’s dangerous ground to base a character on someone that you know. I wouldn’t do that. If I ever use a trait of a real person, I will take something that I love about them and make it something that the character in the book hates. It’s a fun way of disguising it.
Obviously, I draw on myself a lot but none of the characters are me. They may have aspects of my personality or what I think but I will distort it or exaggerate it in some way so that it is not me at all, by the time it hits the page.
If you look at NOTHING IMPORTANT HAPPENED TODAY as an example, the leader of the cult is consumed with anger towards the world. He is sick of people using mental health issues as an excuse to be worse than they are. And I have had readers suggest this is how I feel. But this book is the opposite of that. I used it to understand those issues because somebody close to me had got themselves into the lowest of places and it took me too long to listen properly and understand. So I created a character who felt similarly to me but went about understanding things in an entirely different and altogether darker way.
I’m also a people-watcher. I try to listen more than I talk. So I pick up on things. Idiosyncrasies that are interesting or thought-provoking, and they will find their way into a character somehow.
The people closest to me do say that they can hear my voice when reading my books, though. But they would, I guess.
How important is planning in your writing process? I mean, do you know where your characters will end up, or do you allow them to take you on an adventure?
It’s different every time.
With the January David stuff, I would always plan the set-up and the ending. I knew what they would be and the part in the middle was a little more of a journey for me. I learnt some lessons from this but all three of my Orenda books so far have challenged me in different ways.
GOOD SAMARITANS was not going to be a crime novel. I wanted to explore how the most dysfunctional relationship could actually work for both parties. I hit the middle of the book and thought, ‘What if I put a twist here instead of right at the end?’ So, I did that and it took on a life of its own. I wrote the second half very quickly and I think it reads that way, too. I knew how I wanted it to end but I changed it a few times.
Oh, and there was no detective to begin with. And it was originally written from a different point-of-view. My friend, and fellow writer, Tom Wood suggested that I have a think about changing that and I did.
NOTHING IMPORTANT HAPPENED TODAY was originally the third January David book. I rewrote the entire thing as a Detective Sergeant Pace book and it didn’t work. I didn’t want him as the central character. Not yet. So I rewrote that again with the view of splicing in the manifesto/cult instruction manual chapters that you see in there now.
And I didn’t come up with that ending (or prologue) until I was about three-quarters through. I learned so much while writing that book. I had an ending but I knew I would come up with something better, and I think I did.
With HINTON HOLLOW DEATH TRIP, I had originally written that about six years ago, after I found out there was not going to be a fourth January David book. I invented this new guy, Pace. Again, the book that is out now is the third incarnation. And I’m not talking about the third draft. It’s the third time I’d written the book.
The first book was a mess, it was no wonder nobody wanted to publish it. The second version, I somehow managed to take every ounce of tension out of it. Quite a skill! It was the idea of using Evil as the narrator that clinched it for me. It made writing that book so much fun, and it had to be fun because the first two versions were so crap.
I added three new characters: the pig hater, the overeater and the window breaker. I wasn’t sure how they would feature in the end but I knew they would. That really came to me right at the end as I was writing.
I’ve always wanted to write an epilogue and this was one of the first chapters I wrote because it was so fresh in my mind after finishing NOTHING IMPORTANT HAPPENED TODAY, I just had to get it down.
So, there you go.
I do get quite a lot of (lovely) comments with regard to my crafting of a story. I don’t always think that planning equals crafting. Some writers focus on plot. I am certainly more character-led. But, for me, the most important thing is HOW you tell the story.
I’m not writing these books in different ‘original’ ways for the sake of it. Some of them have been written in more traditional ways to begin with, each story deserves to be told in the best way possible, the way that fits the characters and the message and the atmosphere. HINTON HOLLOW DEATH TRIP works best when it is told by Evil. The next Hinton Hollow story does not work that way. NOTHING IMPORTANT HAPPENED TODAY does not work as a police procedural. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t write one of those (although I absolutely will not) but the story would have to fit that style.
In short, I think I know where my characters will end up, but some of them surprise me along the journey.
I could’ve just said that, eh?
You could have, but where would be the fun in that. What is your writing process like? Do you have a regime you try to adhere to, certain habits to get the words flowing, a writing cave, a favourite drink, some music? And what is your favourite aspect of the writing process?
I write late. Other work and school runs and kids’ clubs take up most of the day. I often finish in the evening. Once I’m clean and fed and the kids are down, I usually turn the laptop on, prepare work for the next day and then start writing around 22:00. Sometimes I don’t get going until midnight.
I’ve always kept Tuesdays as my day to devote to whichever book(s) I am working on.
A whisky always goes down well when I’m writing, as does three whiskies.
I used to try to write 2,000 words a day but that was when I was writing full-time. Now I go for 500-1000. I prefer it. It helps me to hone, keep things sparse, make every word count.
I like deleting stuff. Weird to say. I love to get rid of the crap. I’ve deleted entire books, as I said earlier. I know the words that never get read by anyone. I don’t keep them in a folder for the future, they get erased forever. There’s something liberating about that.
Whenever I finish a book, I pour the biggest whisky you’ve ever seen and listen to The Weight by The Band. Every time, I do that. And I love it. It’s my tradition.
As an author do you have a role model? An author you look up to and think: that’s who I want to be when I grow up?
Ha! I have writing heroes, for sure. I love the rawness of Bukowski, I devoured everything Hemingway wrote and I love the sparsity of the prose. David Mamet’s plays, his dialogue. I think Aaron Sorkin owns that on screen now. These are the things I look up to and have obviously informed the way that I write but I don’t want BE those writers.
I want to be Will Carver when I grow up. But a better version, a better writer. I’m better now than when I started, so maybe I am growing up a bit, who knows?
My all-time hero is Chuck Palahniuk. I’m very vocal about this. It’s not a shock to hear, I’m sure. Someone referred to me as the British Chuck Palahniuk last year and I wanted to cry. So, I guess, that’s the real answer to the question.
Definitely a comparison I can get behind! What do you love most about being a published author? Are there downsides too?
It’s difficult to talk about the downsides because I’m so grateful to be published at all. It’s very difficult to get a traditional publishing contract so it’s bad form to have a moan about the downsides. That’s usually something writers do with other writers over a drink.
But I can give you a taster.
Social media makes it look like everyone else is selling their books to other countries and getting film deals. A book should never cost someone 99p. The shortlist/award winner is so predictable. It’s still embarrassing to introduce yourself as a writer to someone. How are you supposed to eat when the book that took a year to produce only costs 99p? Going to another writing festival where you don’t have a panel. Walking into your local Waterstones and they are not stocking your book.
Actually, writing this has just reminded me that I need to call my friend Tom (Wood) for a chat…
The great things about being a writer are that you sometimes get a panel at a festival, where you get to talk about your book and meet other writers and – more importantly – readers. Sometimes your book gets reduced to 99p and you don’t make any money but you shoot up the charts and lots of new people read your novel that wouldn’t have heard of you otherwise. Occasionally, you show up on one of these award shortlists. You know you won’t win but it feels like your work has been recognised.
But, for me, the thing I love most is when a reader reacts to my book in the way I react to my favourite books. I’m still naive or idealistic enough to believe that words can change the world – or at least make some kind of difference. I know what it feels like to read something that you love, something that has a profound effect on you. And it is the craziest feeling when something you have written has that impact on a reader. It only has to be one. That is the best thing. It makes you feel like you’ve done your job and you’ve done it well.
Well, let me tell you right now: your books have the biggest impact on me! From the stacks of books I devour each month, each year, yours are among the ones that stick. What does the future bring?
More books, I hope. I’m definitely going to screw up somewhere, trying something and finding that it doesn’t work. That’s half the fun. And, being published by Orenda, there is a sense of freedom to try these things and security that you won’t just get dropped straight away for not getting it right one time.
I have books written and ideas on the go. All the time. There will be more books to expand the world that Detective Sergeant Pace inhabits – even if he is not the main focus. I want to write one where Maeve Beauman is the main character. That will be really great fun to write. I just need to get a feel for what her story is.
I’d like to bring January David back for one more story.
I’d like to write something that isn’t a crime/thriller.
The book I will be working on next is a revenge story set in Hinton Hollow a few decades before the Death Trip. I’ve had the story in my head for a while but I’ve been wrestling with the best way to tell the story.
In Hinton Hollow Death Trip I mentioned a person called Carson Chase. I mentioned him twice. And Evil said that it had visited Hinton Hollow one time before. This next book will be that story. It will not be told from Evil’s point-of-view because it’s not the best way to get the story across.
I guess you’ll have to wait and see.
Oooooh! I can’t wait! And I really do hope Maeve gets her story one day, I loved bumping into her in Hinton Hollow. What makes you happy? What are your favourite things?
Hummus. My kids. My girlfriend. Japanese whisky. Playing the guitar. Playing the piano. Playing with my kids. Exercising so hard that I am dripping with sweat and want to throw up. Reading. Writing, of course. Cooking. (Not baking.) Films made in Hollywood between 1969-79. French cinema. The plays of David Mamet. Brecht. Getting answers right on University Challenge. Documentaries. A tidy house. Order. Chaos. Balance. Making up songs that my kids laugh at. Being able to jump really high. Joni Mitchell songs – even the sad ones. Talking to somebody who has a passion, whatever that passion is. Seeing someone’s passion realised. Maybe helping with that in some way. Hard work. Boozing on a Sunday. My mum.
I’m grateful for the things I do have rather than sad about the things that I don’t.
I take away from that that hummus came before kids and girlfriend. Please share an anecdote with me, what is the funniest / weirdest / most shocking / most emotional / … thing you’ve ever experienced as a published author? (Like something a fan did or said, or something that happened at a book event or while you were travelling to a book event, or something that happened while you were writing.)
I want to talk about luck.
Earlier, I said how I had finished Good Samaritans and felt strongly that it would get published. I thought it was the best thing I’d written to that point and, as I’d already had three books published, surely it was good enough to be published, too.
Here’s the thing: Good Samaritans went on to be a book of the year in a bunch of newspapers and found its way onto many a blogger’s list, too. It was long listed and shortlisted for awards. So it was good enough to get published, clearly, but that doesn’t always matter. You hope the hard work pays off. You hope you have some kind of talent, but, you also need LUCK.
I needed an agent.
I went to a DHH Lit Agency event where you send in a portion of your book then go and sit with an agent and talk about it for half an hour. There were lots of wannabe writers there and we were talking beforehand. I felt embarrassed about the whole thing because I was a writer once but sure didn’t feel like one at that point.
It went well and I was asked to send in the book once finished.
In the meantime, now that I had some kind of validation, I needed to send to other agents. I’m not great at this networking thing. Luckily, I have a couple of writer friends who are and they got me to send my book to their agents and a few other names that I had met before at various festivals.
Weeks passed and I heard nothing. Now, things can often move slowly in this industry, so I wasn’t too disheartened. But I waited another couple of weeks. NOTHING.
I was really excited to see what one of the agents at Blake Friedmann thought because he had said that he was all about VOICE and was looking for a writer with a unique voice. For me, he was my safe bet.
But I heard nothing.
My friend (and fellow writer) Tom Wood called me to see if I was going to go to Crimefest in Bristol. I felt a bit crap about the whole thing and I had no money so I didn’t go that year. I got a text from him later that night saying that he was out for a dinner with loads of people. Someone switched places after going to the toilet and he ended up sitting next to the Blake Friedmann agent.
The text went something like, ‘Will, this guy is pissed off because he liked the sound of your book and you never sent it to him. What are you doing, man?’
I text him straight back and said that I had sent it. A month ago. I’d sent it to loads of agents and nobody had come back to me. I checked my sent items and there it was.
I said I’d send it there and then.
It didn’t go through.
I tried again.
Turns out that my laptop, for whatever reason, was not sending any emails if I included an attachment.
I was thinking that these agents were rude or just hated the book. And they had never received it.
We managed to do a work-around where I used WhatsApp to send a PDF.
I signed with Blake Friedmann the next week.
If Tom hadn’t been involved, if that person hadn’t changed seats after going to the toilet, if that agent hadn’t have brought up my book……
I had written three books before that, the book I had written went on to great acclaim and really set up this series. Everything was there. But that doesn’t always matter. It can simply be about being in the right place at exactly the right time. And it doesn’t even have to be you that’s there.
I, for one, I’m thrilled that Tom Wood was in the right place at the right time, Good Samaritans ended up on my books of the year list too, as did Nothing Important Happened Today the year after, and as Hinton Hollow Death Trip is sure to do this year!
Thanks so much for joining me today! Can’t get enough of Will Carver? Then check out this brilliant Hinton Hollow review / Q&A on Hair Past A Freckle! Or watch some Orenda Books at Bedtime videos: Hinton Hollow Death Trip and Good Samaritans.
Will also did a lock-down video interview as part of the Harrogate festival, as Nothing Important Happened Today was longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award 2020: