Thanks for having me on your blog! I’m thirty-five years old and live in north London with my wife and two daughters. I’m from London originally and have lived here most of my life, but have travelled fairly extensively. I’ve always had a love of books and Americana and, in particular, US-set noir – so it’s perhaps no surprise that my debut novel, The Dark Inside, is a story very much rooted in that tradition.
Tell us something about your background and your studies.
I first graduated with a degree in History & Ancient History (a long time ago now!) and for almost ten years I worked in the advertising industry in London, as a media buyer. I first dabbled with writing ten years ago, but didn’t get very far. The bug stayed with me, however, and in 2010 I decided to get serious, taking a distance-learning course to study the fundamentals of novel writing, and writing my first novel (unpublished) in just over two months. I loved the experience and knew it was something I wanted to pursue, but real life got in the way for a couple of years. Then, in 2013, I signed up for a Masters degree at City University in London, with an idea for a story that I’d been toying with and researching for a while – and that eventually became The Dark Inside.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Has The Dark Inside received many refuses by the editors?
I’ve always loved books, but I’d never really thought of being a writer when I was younger, because it seemed so out of reach – like saying you wanted to be a footballer or a rockstar. By the time I reached my mid-twenties, though, I was restless with my career and looking for something more fulfilling, and I’d also discovered the work of James Ellroy, who is my biggest inspiration. By that point I was naive enough to think I could give it a go! The first time I can remember really thinking I wanted to be a writer was when I read The Cold Six Thousand – a book that just blew me away and made me think, ‘I want to do that.’ And, as I said above, as soon as I tried writing a novel properly, I knew it was for me.
In terms of rejections, I was quite lucky with The Dark Inside in that I got an agent very quickly, and actually had several publishers make offers once the book went on submission. But I’ve been on the other side of the fence too – my first novel was rejected by about forty agents (even though some said encouraging things about my writing.) You learn to accept that rejection and criticism are part of the process.
Do you read? If so, who are your favourite authors?
Yes, I always have at least one book on the go. There are so many great authors I could mention; my absolute favourites are James Ellroy, David Peace, Raymond Chandler, Joseph Kanon, Don Winslow, Daniel Woodrell and James Lee Burke. But I’ve also been reading a lot of debuts lately, and there are some phenomenal new writers out there – Eva Dolan, Tom Bouman, Tim Baker, David Young, Helen Giltrow, Paul E. Hardisty, SJI Holliday to name just a few. I really could go on all day.
You are the author of the debut novel The Dark Inside, a novel loosely based on true events. How did you learn about the facts related to the unsolved Texarkana Moonlight Murders? What was the starting point that led you to dramatize them in a novel?
I stumbled across the case by accident. I’d been watching David Fincher’s movie ‘Zodiac’ about the Zodiac killer in San Francisco in the 60s & 70s, and when reading up on it, I saw a link to the Texarkana Moonlight Murders. As soon as I started reading the facts of the case, I got a sense I wanted to write a novel about it. The murders were so strange and brutal, and the atmosphere they provoked in Texarkana was so claustrophobic and terrifying, it gave me chills. Straight away, a voice I wanted to use to tell the story started to form, along with a sense of the kind of climate of dread I wanted to evoke.
What kind of research was involved to reproduce the American slang of the Deep South from ’40?
I’ve always had an interest in American culture, books and TV, so a lot of it came from my own knowledge. But I also read and re-read books from the era, to try to nail the speech patterns and vocabulary, and watched old movies for the same reason. I also tried to listen to podcasts and things of that sort which were hosted by Texans or Arkansans, trying to pick up some of the local idioms that are used to today, some of which were clearly old enough to have been in use in the 40s. Then in 2013, I travelled to Texarkana, to try to get a first-hand feel for the dialect and the way people speak. Lastly, my agent, Kate Burke, was fantastic in helping me to hone the text, weeding out anything that sounded inauthentic or anachronistic.
How long did the process of writing The Dark Inside take?
I spent around six weeks researching and thinking about the story, then put it aside for two and a half years when I went back to work. Once I actually started writing, it took me about a year to finish the first draft – writing around my work and family commitments.
The opening chapter presents the protagonist, the reporter Charlie Yates. Could you tell the audience what happens?
In chapter one, Charlie Yates arrives in Texarkana, a small town on the other side of the country from where he lives and works in New York City. Charlie’s life is spiralling out of control, having problems with his work, his marriage and his temper. As a punishment, and a way to sideline him, his bosses have sent him to Texarkana to cover the story of a pair of brutal attacks on young couples which have left three people dead. To Charlie and his bosses, this story is inconsequential, and Charlie believes he has hit absolute bottom with this assignment. But he’s about to find out that he’s walked into the middle of a nightmare, and that finding the killer will soon become everything to him…
You can read the first chapter here:
Texarkana, is a small rural town on the Texas/Arkansas border. Please tell us a little about the setting of your book.
Texarkana is a very interesting place. It’s technically two towns – Texarkana, Texas and Texarkana, Arkansas, each with its own police force, mayor, city legislature etc. The borderline runs right through the middle of the main road in town, State Line Avenue, so that you’re in a different state depending on what side of the street you’re standing on. I found this duality interesting on sever different levels, and it was a theme I tried to incorporate into the story.
In addition, in 1946 Texarkana was a major railroad hub for servicemen returning from WW2, so the town was full of GIs. I thought that made for an interesting backdrop to set a crime novel against, both because of the questions it opens up about the identity of the killer, and also because of the way it personifies how the war still overshadowed everything at that point – even in heartland America, which was never directly touched by the fighting.
The Dark Inside is receiving a very positive reception by the bloggers. Do you believe in the power of word of mouth? You’re getting positive feedback also from readers and from print?
I’ve been very lucky so far that the book has been well-received. I absolutely believe in the power of word of mouth, and with social networks – in particular Twitter – you can actually see it in action. Certainly I’m most likely to pick up a book if it’s been recommended by someone I know and whose opinion I trust.
Hopefully the positive reviews continue; I’m certain there will be some that dislike the book, and that’s fine too because books are subjective and we all have our own tastes and opinions, but it’s especially great to hear from people who’ve enjoyed my work because, at the end of the day, all any writer hopes to do is to tell a story people enjoy.
If Hollywood calls, what will your recommendations be for the parts of Charlie and Lizzie?
Ha – I don’t I should tempt fate like that – and I’m pretty sure Hollywood wouldn’t be interested in my opinion anyway! Off the top of my head, maybe Johnny Depp for Charlie and Jessica Chastain for Lizzie? I think I should stick to writing, not casting…
Projects for translations? Has your agent contacts with Italian publishers?
At present I’m only published in English, but my agency has done a great job of generating interest with publishers all over Europe, so I’m hoping the book will catch on with some of them. Watch this space…
What are you working on at the moment? On a sequel?
Yes – I’m just about to send my second book to my editor at Faber. It’s a sequel to The Dark Inside and see Charlie compelled to go back to Arkansas, despite his best instincts. As soon as he arrives, things go bad, and Charlie discovers he’s caught up in a nightmare of murders, betrayal and corruption. As he tries to escape, he finds the truth might have roots in the past he thought he’d laid to rest…