Detective Inspector January David was introduced by Will Carver in his debut novel Girl 4. The first of many surprises in this book was that January is neither American nor female as the name would suggest. Will spoke to Mel Sherratt of High Heels and Book Deals about his journey to publishing, shifting narrative perspectives and the future of DI January David in his forthcoming release, The Two.
This is your first novel Will, tell me about your journey to publication?
Apparently it was a relatively short journey, I am told. It felt like a hundred years to me. It started with a book I wrote at university. My, now, agent read it, liked my style but told me it needed tweaking. I rewrote it all. She got it on editors’ desks.
I had some very positive feedback about my writing but also that it wasn’t the kind of book that they believed would sell millions of copies. It was suggested that my style may suit a thriller. One editor said that they would be happy to read a thriller if I wrote one – I’d never even considered it.
I toyed with the idea for a month, continuing to allow a small piece of my soul to die every day as I half-heartedly drove up and down the country talking to buyers about anti-virus software. Luckily, I was made redundant. There was no pay-off but I had a couple of weeks ‘working’ from home. In this time I came up with the idea for GIRL 4.
Then came the risk.
I was going to write a crime thriller novel. And that was all I was going to do. I came up with the ending of the book first – as I always do – then I plotted each victims’ demise. I knew I wanted to try to tell the story in a different way and decided that each person in the book would have their own voice and tell their side of the events: the detective, the killer and the victims. I wasn’t sure this kind of story had been told in this way before but, then, I’d never read a crime novel.
I wrote every day; all day and all night. Suddenly the insomnia I had suffered with for years was making itself useful. Working closely with my agent, I made the necessary tweaks and polishes and my complete manuscript was submitted by my agent to a number of publishers. Random House came back swiftly with a pre-emptive offer and, after a short intensive period of negotiation, a three-book deal was agreed.
The time between my redundancy and signing my contract with Random House was about seven months. So, yes, it was pretty quick but there were five years before that where I was trying to squeeze in time to write around a string of jobs in IT that my degree in Theatre and Television had not sufficiently prepared me for.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading GIRL 4 – published in May 2011. You have taken several different points of view – and to me, that made it even more enjoyable. How did you come up with the idea?
You are referring to the fact that every character in the book – killer, detective, victim – has their own voice. They each have their own chapters and speak in the first person. . .
I just wanted to do something different, tell the story in an interesting way. I suppose I came up with the idea that every character would have their own voice because I really wanted to write from the point-of-view of a serial killer; the psychology behind it is so interesting to me and I thought I could create someone real and, at times, strangely likeable – it’s also rare that you get to hear the story from the villain’s side.
It comes with its challenges because I have to give each character a distinct voice so that the reader could recognise them from what they say even if their name wasn’t at the top of the page.
I think writing in the first person allows a reader to really get inside the head of a character and connect with them, so I wanted to do that for the victims because it can hold more weight when they are taken from us – they have been discussing their lives directly with us, the reader. Also, it means that I get to create fairly in-depth psychologies for each person in the story.
From the very first chapter I also have the victims refer to their own death before it happens. Not because they see it coming or because they are speaking from beyond the grave but because each character also acts as a kind of third-person narrator – they can discuss things their character would actually have no knowledge of. In this way the story reads like a dialogue with the reader. As far as I was concerned there were no rules saying that I could not do this.
It is difficult to say where the idea came from. I tend to see the book in my head as a film so perhaps this is my way of writing a more detailed script. Not every book I write will be in this style but I really think it works for this kind of story and will certainly continue in the January David series.
Where did the name January come from?
Part of the reason for choosing the name January was simply because it was unusual and I thought people would definitely remember it. I can’t really say the other reason because it may spoil something in a future book.
Can you tell us a little about your typical writing day?
I set my alarm for around 7:00. At 7:00 I’ll hit snooze. At 7:07 I’ll hit snooze again. Then again at 7:14. At 7:21 I turn it off and go back to sleep.
I’m very disciplined when it comes to laziness.
I get woken up properly when my wife brings my daughter upstairs to show me which outfit she is wearing. It’s the best way to really start the day. I then take some toast and a large black coffee to the bottom of the garden where my windowless writing haven awaits.
I write for the entire day until it is time to come in to bath my daughter and get her ready for bed. I do take time out during the day to play the guitar and connect with people on Twitter. I also have my eleven o’ clock ritual of coffee, chocolate and a chat with my wife.
Depending on which stage the book is at I sometimes head back down to the writing den until the early hours of the morning. This happens mostly at the very end of a book when the writing process gets particularly intense.
Are you a plotter or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-panter?
I always say that I plan the ending, the beginning and then make up the middle section which joins them together. I don’t have a detailed structure of the chapters because I like the story to unfold as I write – I don’t ever see a story chronologically in my mind either. Obviously I know certain scenes that I need to appear and important information that must show up but this is generally written on bits of paper around my desk.
I do have a giant map of London behind my screen which I scribble on – usually locations of murders or victims names but there are notes pinned to it too. I store a lot of the information in my brain.
I suppose the only parts I really plot out are the murders and, because I write from the point-of-view of the victims and killer, I like to experience what they do so I will always go to the actual location – always in London so far for this series of books – and I take the same journey as the character, noting down the detail I need. So, if a victim walks home from the tube station, I will walk that journey as the victim. If they are being a stalked by a killer, I will repeat the trip but this time I will be in the mindset of the killer. They may see exactly the same things but it will register in a different way so these parts are plotted out to the smallest detail.
How many drafts do you do before the final one is complete?
It’s difficult to say. I tend to just write it all down on the first go and edit as I’m moving. Sometimes I will read through a day’s work and delete it from existence forever. Luckily my chapters are usually fairly short and that makes this process easier.
I work closely with my agent and send her the manuscript after 15k words, 30k words, 50k words and then the entire book. It’s important to step away and let someone with a fresh perspective run their eyes over it. She will give me notes and I’ll make changes. These are not drastic structural things, just areas which need a little clarification or sections which could do with a tad more explanation; the things an author doesn’t see because they are so close to the material.
I then send to my editor at Random House who will read and give me further detailed notes and we’ll discuss the book and any revisions needed. Once I have finished these that is the final draft. (Obviously a copy editor has to run through with a fine-tooth comb, followed by a proofread of the typeset manuscript, but after I’ve reviewed those my work is generally done.)
Can you share with us a few of your writing tips?
One thing I do not like is people telling others how to write, what is the best way to write. I don’t really like to give tips or advice because I think that my way of writing works for me but may not work for everyone. That said, if I were to say anything it would be to not be too precious.
Having an editor is the best things in the world because they spot the parts of your work that you don’t realise are rubbish. I think the problem comes when you are editing it yourself as you write. There can be a tendency to edit something that is not completely working, then re-edit, then tweak because you think it can be better and in the end you polish your voice out of the piece without realising.
I prefer to just delete it. And don’t delete it and keep it in a file ‘just in case’. Why would you want to hold on to something that isn’t good enough? It must take longer to edit the same piece over and over than it does to write something new and fresh.
Don’t be precious.
Write something better.
And what is your worst writing habit?
Er, I think maybe I delete too much. . .
Tell us a little about your next book?
The second book is called THE TWO and will be released on 10th November 2011 (although it is available now for pre-order on Amazon). It continues the January David series and sees him enter into another high-profile case searching for a killer seemingly using Pagan ceremony when slaying their victims. The problem our detective faces is that the killer he seeks has already been captured by a vigilante who goes by the name V. It is told in the same style as GIRL 4.
And what are you working on now?
I have just finished the third book which will be published in 2012. This is the newest January David novel and is currently under wraps!