December is steadily creeping closer. I’m slightly in despair over my Christmas shopping but First Monday Crime is there on the horizon to inject some Christmas spirit into the season. It’s a fabulous line-up with Susi Holliday, Mel McGrath, Louise Jensen and Chris Whitaker. Chris has been kind enough to answer some questions for me. And he only swore once. I think this might be a record. I’ve read both of Chris’ books and you can read my review for Tall Oaks here and All The Wicked Girls here.
Firstly, have you come down from the ceiling yet after your magnificent win at the CWA Daggers for the New Blood category for Tall Oaks?
I haven’t. I went to the gala dinner with zero expectations, and that’s not me being modest (I’m not that kind of guy) I was just happy Tall Oaks was included amongst the mega books. It’s been such an amazing journey from slush pile to Dagger winner. I’m a lucky author.
I only read Tall Oaks this year (I know, I was very late). Manny’s my favourite character – where did the inspiration for him come from?
I had a rough idea for Tall Oaks and then just sat down and started writing, and Manny appeared. Although he’s introduced in chapter 2 his was actually the first scene I wrote. I had such a strong visual of him in his ridiculous suit and hat. Once I started writing him he just evolved from a bit of a joke to this troubled boy trying to make sense of his father walking out on the family. I love him.
Did you set out to write Tall Oaks with such black humour or did it arise naturally?
I set out to write a book about a town, not necessarily a book about a crime. I gave no thought at all to what would come next, that I would need to find an agent and a publisher and they would have to try and market the book. And I think that helped, otherwise I might have been too scared to mix so much humour with crime.
Unlike Tall Oaks, I had the opportunity to read All the Wicked Girls early. I absolutely loved Tall Oaks but ATWG is something else. There are still pockets of humour but generally, your writing is laid bare and not found wanting. How much harder was this book to write?
Ah thanks, Joyous, that’s lovely to hear. It was immeasurably harder, each and every sentence, the plot and the characters, all of it. And I’m not entirely sure why, perhaps there was an element of second book syndrome, the weight of expectation, but I think more than that it was writing something so dark in tone, with such a strong sense of place.
You tackle some pretty serious themes in your books. Do you consciously choose to do that?
Not entirely. It was never a box-ticking kind of plan, I just liked the idea of this broken town and these broken people that end up there, looking for redemption and not really knowing where to find it. I think most of us have been through something traumatic in our lives, and I wanted to explore the kind of shadow these events cast over us.
How do you manage to write so many different voices and do you decide beforehand how many you’re going to have?
Never. I’ll know my main characters, and roughly where they’re heading, but from that point on it’s all a bit of a shitshow. I am aware that there can be a lot of voices to keep track of so I’ll give some characters very distinctive looks/traits (Jerry in Tall Oaks, Samson in ATWG). I spend as much time working on peripheral characters as I do those at the centre. It’s important to me that no one character feels like a plot device, if that makes sense, so I’ll work on their mannerisms and appearance and quirks until they feel whole.
Both books have been set in small towns in America. Why have you chosen this setting?
It’s partly escapism. I sit down at my desk and feel the need to move far from my street and town and life, I like that total separation. And America is just a great setting, with such a sprawling, varied landscape. I think there’s a little more freedom when it comes to police structure and guns etc. it lends itself very well to crime writing.
So what’s next for you?
A story of a little girl on a quest for revenge.
Thank you Chris for answering my questions and to First Monday Crime for organising the interview. If you want to buy his books then click here
About the author
Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working as a financial trader in the city.
His debut novel, Tall Oaks, won the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger.
Chris’s second novel, All The Wicked Girls, was published in August 2017. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two young sons.
Don’t forget to book your place for First Monday Crime in December. It’s going to be busy and there are a limited amount of seats so click here to reserve your place. Remember, there’s a free glass of wine, cookies and other goodies to eat, a free book bag when a book is purchased and there’s a Secret Santa too – just bring a wrapped book to give. Hope to see you there on Monday 4th December 6.30pm.