Putting Authors in the Picture #33: Will Carver

Will Carver is a bit of a legend in certain booky circles, namely anyone who has read and adored his highly provocative, deeply dark, yet fabulous novels. I first met his books when I started the Detective Sergeant Pace Series, Good Samaritans leads the charge and I still vividly remember this heady, unique and challenging must-read. Nothing Important Happened Today and Hinton Hollow Death Trip follow next in the series and are equally twisted and twisty, and absolutely memorable. Out in July, his standalone novel The Beresford enters a shadowy and fascinating world where hope sits hiding in the corner. If you like something a little different, if you enjoy skating over the thin membrane that separates your thoughts from the distorted free-fall of shadows and darkness, then I suggest you stop right here. Will Carver is a bit of a word-magician, he mentions in his first answer the affect of unique voices, and that is most definitely what he has. 

A very warm welcome to Will:

The book that made you first want to become an author

I started out wanting to be a poet. I still dabble but only for myself. It was my love for theatre and film that got me in to writing. I watched everything and I read everything. But I loved David Mamet. The way he writes speech was second to none. (I think Aaron Sorkin does this best for the screen.) It made me want to try it. 

I read True and False, which is really a guide to acting and how actors should approach a role. Then On Directing, which focusses on putting a story together. I know that neither of these are about writing but they showed me how to not be wasteful with prose and ensure that each chapter has a purpose. This is a masterclass in plotting while True and False gives great insight into character. 

Everyone talks about Stephen King’s On Writing but I find that it’s not always books about writing that can teach you the most about writing. 

When it comes to novels, there is one book that was a game-changer for me. I was reading Nick Hornby and Mike Gayle and David Baddiel at that time and I picked up a book called Fight Club. I was like, ‘Wait there. You’re allowed to write books like this?’ I started to read Brett Easton Ellis and Douglas Coupland. I ventured into the Beat writers. A whole world had opened up to me and I thought that it was something I could do, I could write something raw and different and I could focus on the language and the rhythm and have some style. I could have a voice. Because that is what all of these people have. You can pick up one of their books and know they wrote it just by reading a paragraph.

Image that helped focus your latest book

I have an inordinate love for New York. I think it comes from all of the movies I watched and adored growing up. It is art and music and theatre and writing. It is culture. It’s a real mix of people and a real mix of architecture. And one of my favourite buildings is The Dakota. 

It’s a pretty well-known apartment building. John Lennon was shot outside it and it was the setting for Rosemary’s Baby. The people who have lived there include Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, Leonard Bernstein, to name a few.  

The things that must have happened in that place. So many untold stories. 

I wanted a building like that for The Beresford. I wanted a grand building with loads of closed doors, behind each was a different story, a different struggle. 

I know that there are apartment buildings like this in London and Paris and I tried to take a little of that and put it into The Beresford. 

I don’t ever say where The Beresford is. It is supposed to be anywhere the reader wants it to be. Outside any city, every city. And it doesn’t look exactly like The Dakota but the image of that building and the vibe of that city was what helped focus the feel of the book. That and the Miles Davis I listened to while writing. 

Favourite reading/writing spot

I tend to have two books on the go at once. One physical copy for the daytime and something on my Kindle (Paperwhite) for the evening, which I tend to read in bed. 

I have this thing where I love to read and walk. I’ve developed a real skill for it. For my first series – January David – I used to walk around London a lot, researching and picking up details, and I found I could walk with my notebook and write while moving and not get in anybody’s way or bump in to anyone. So I started doing this with paperbacks. Wandering around the streets and reading. It just works. Keeping my brain and body active at the same time. 

But I do have a favourite chair. It’s in the corner of the living room and it is bright and beautiful and separate from the rest of the room. The area isn’t finished yet, we need a decent lamp and a tall bookcase but it’s already my favourite spot to curl up with a book and a glass of wine/cup of coffee. 

My favourite spot to write? It’s strange but I either like total silence or a heavy bustle. It really changes with every book. It’s crazy how a silent house can seem loud and distracting while a cafe filled with babies crying can help me zone out and feel like I am completely alone in total silence. 

I’ve written some great scenes in the BFI bar and I really managed to hammer out the words travelling for hours on a train while on the Orenda Roadshow one year. 

I used to have an office at the bottom of the garden, which I loved, I’d love to build a new one, or have a cabin by a lake. It’s good to have a dream, I guess.

For now, I’m just happy to be writing every day, so, if you see me in a field, a Starbucks, a train carriage, on a park bench, or walking around Trafalgar Square with a notepad and pen, I’m in my favourite place. 

A books photo that makes you smile

When my first book, GIRL 4, came out, I longed to see someone reading it on the tube or a train but I never did. However, it seemed that everybody else in the world did. I would get photos all the time. Somebody went on holiday to Portugal and sent me a picture of somebody reading it on the beach and another in the sea, engrossed. 

They were all great but I was more shocked than smiling. 

Then I got a message one day from a writer – Maria Duffy – on Twitter. She was watching Neighbours and one of the characters was holding a copy of my book. It was amazing. My book was on TV. 

Again, I don’t know if it really made me smile rather than gawp at the implausibility. 

Then, I have a picture of me in a bookshop on holiday when I was dreaming of becoming a writer one day, gazing at the books and hoping. 

I revisited a few years later and got an updated picture with my children. They were so small but they still got that I was a writer and I was in to books, and they are both looking at the books with me but also looking up to me. It’s sweet. It makes me smile. They are aware of what it means but have a curiosity of their own. 

Photo that best sums up your author journey

I’ve included two, taken moments apart, around 5am, at the end of the Oscars a couple of years back. I’m half whisky and half Joker facepaint, which is running because I cried at Joaquin Phoenix’s speech. I think this pretty much sums things up, though. Whisky is my creative lubricant and the blurred of my despair. The Joker outfit is apt because I generally feel like I don’t particularly belong. And the tears are real because everywhere you look, it seems as though everyone else is being way more successful than you are. But, also, it’s a lot of fun and lot more than a lot of late nights. The agony and the ecstasy. 

Most memorable book event

My first event ever was at the Hampstead and Highgate Literary Festival. I was being interviewed, one-on-one by Peter Guttridge. My editor called to tell me. He said that I was going to be asked questions by a critic from the Observer but not to panic because he had loved the book. 

I’d never been to a book event in my life and had no idea what to expect. I also couldn’t understand why anybody would pay £12 to see me fumble for words when I was a debut writer who they hadn’t really heard of. 

I thought I was going to be asked to explain the meaning of verisimilitude or something. I was really scared. I didn’t feel like a real writer – I’m not sure I do now – but a large part of me did not want to do it.

I met Peter beforehand in the green room and he was wonderful. Calming. Charming. Complimentary. And generous on stage when we got out there. I felt comfortable. And it turns out that people had paid the £12 to see what I had to say. I can’t remember a single thing that I said but it seemed to go well. So well that I was asked back the next year to be on a panel with Belinda Bauer. 

Nobody bought tickets and it was cancelled. 

Still, I got a free mug out of it.

Most beloved and well-read book

I have an old, battered version of Fight Club. It’s the rubbish one with the film tie-in cover. (I do have a first edition hardback but that copy stays on the shelf.) I keep my dog-eared version next to me when I write a book. Whenever I’m feeling like I need a kick or reminder what real writing is, I flick through it and read a few paragraphs. 

It gives me something to aim for. 

And it means that I have it near me almost every day of the year. 

But I think that The Great Gatsby is my most beloved. I have so many versions. Every birthday, my kids buy me one that I don’t have. I have the Penguin Classic and the beautiful Folio Society copies, as well as an abridged and augmented version for kids. A friend bought me a limited edition hardback for my 40th birthday, which has a handwritten version with notes. 

It is so beautifully written and comes from a period when all the greats were churning out their best work, so to stand above them is something quite extraordinary.

A location that has inspired you

As much as I adore New York, and it does feature in a couple of the books, London has been important. I set my first book in the outer boroughs of the city and I would always walk the journey of each character. 

I didn’t always plan everything and would often discover things while wandering with my pad and pen. There’s so much history and culture and diversity in our capital, it can’t help but inspire. Often, I would find a car park or a church and write a scene while in there because I felt so amped by its presence. 

I visited most of the bridges that cross the Thames while researching Nothing Important Happened Today but it was a chance incident on Chelsea Bridge that gave me the idea for that harrowing opening. 

I was walking back from a friend’s house in Balham. It was nighttime and the bridges were lit up. I sat on the steel box that runs the length of the bridge and looked out over the river, Battersea Power Station’s shadow looming menacingly. A train appeared on a bridge opposite me and came to a stop. I could see the passengers through the windows and I wondered whether they could see me. And what had they stopped for? 

The opening for a story called Nine Lives was written there and then in a notepad. It would eventually become Nothing Important Happened Today

But the place that has inspired each and every thing I have written is not a real place at all. Well, there is a real place called Snoqualmie Falls in Washington state but, to me, it’s really a town called Twin Peaks.

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If you enjoyed this, check out more titles by Will Carver. You can also visit the Author Talk section of our blog to find more Author Q&As and 'Putting Authors in the Picture' features.

Recent Putting Authors in the Picture include:

#32 - Sharon Blackie

#31 - Rachel Donohue

#30 - Caroline Bond

#29 - Keith Stuart

#28 - Graham Masterton

#27 - Stuart MacBride

#26 - Joanne Harris

#25 - Bridget Collins

#24 - Chris Hammer

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