New Zealand author, Finn Bell kindly answers a few questions about his reading and writing. His third novel, The Easter Make Believers featured on the blog yesterday - my thoughts here.
Is the writing full time? If not, what’s the day job? Can you give us a quick biography of yourself?
Yes, I write full time and have been doing so since the release of my first book 'Dead Lemons' back in 2016. Before that I used to have a day job working in prisons, hospitals and other institutions, mainly in forensic psych, but writing's more fun.
What’s your typical writing schedule?
I write pretty much where and when ever I can really. But mostly, when life allows it, I try to get started in the very early mornings - most often getting up at around 5 am before the distractions of the day take over.
When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
I'm a plotter (probably-ish). All of my books are based on a scaffold of true crimes and actual events from my past drawn from old case files, prison interviews, court reports, cold investigations and so on. I do all my research and thinking first, building everything in my head until I can see it clearly then I just sit and write it down. There's probably better ways to do it but this is mine.
Are there any subjects off limits?
Not for me. My writing started (before it became a career) as a way of dealing with some of the things I came across at work that ended up following me home. Things I couldn't understand or sometimes understood but wish I didn't. Writing became a way of dealing with it all. My books are definitely on the darker side of the crime fiction spectrum because of it though - so reader beware - it's not for everyone.
I’m currently reading The Easter Make Believers, your third novel, how long from conception to completion did it take?
About 8 months.
Did the end result mirror the book you were striving for at the start of the journey?
Yes (for better or worse). As mentioned above I have it all worked out in my head before I start (which is why for weeks or months before I actually write the first word I'm probably one of the most distracted, absent minded people you'll meet) the actual writing of it is the simple part.
In addition to The Easter Make Believers, you have a couple of other books under your belt - Pancake Money and Dead Lemons, which I believe won the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel. Please can you tell us a bit about each one?
Yes, I've been very lucky in having won a few awards (still find it surprising whenever I think of it actually). I wrote Dead Lemons and Pancake Money at the same time as one story. It took longer to untangle them into two separate books than it did to write it all in the first place but I realized I had to do it because the core of the two stories were about different questions.
Everything I write is dark crime fiction and all of my books (for me at least) center around a specific idea or concept which is summarized in the title of the book and then explored in the story (hence the odd sounding titles). The same is true of The Easter Make Believers. The title is the question and the story is the answer. No guarantees that it's the right question or answer but it's the ones that bother me enough that I can't stop thinking about them. Some of it is obvious and some of it is not, which you can (depending on your opinion) ascribe to my limited skill as a writer or my subtle literary artistry (your choice). I often get messages from readers (both happy and unhappy) and sometimes they take things away from the story I didn't put in (which is good) and other times they get it exactly right (which is also good). If you want to know more go read the books.
Your main character in Dead Lemons is called Finn Bell, are you the hero of your own first book?
If anything it's the opposite of hero. The short version is that I lost a bet involving Alfonso Cuaron's film adaptation of 'Great Expectations' in which the main character is also named Finn Bell at which point both author and main character became same named. That piece of folly achieved things then started taking on a life of its own. All the bad parts of the main character (and there’s many) are based on my own flaws (of which, trust me, I have more than enough) and the good parts on people I’ve met who I wish I was more like. What made me want to write him was the idea of luck. I kept thinking how fortunate we all are (and I was binge listening Counting Crows songs and got this lyric 'I am an idiot walking a tight rope of fortunate things' stuck in my head). Luck, providence, define it as you wish but this idea of unnoticed fortune that surrounds most of us.
How many dumb, stupid (and typically impatiently selfish) things we all do (too often) and how unusually common it is to keep getting away with it. How many risks do we knowingly take? With the big things and the small things – like our health, our conscience, the people we care about, or even just driving to work too fast. Then I thought what would happen if all that luck we don’t even know is there suddenly ran out? What if we didn’t get away with anything. At all. What if we paid for every bad choice? What if there was always a consequence? That’s Finn (the main character) – someone whose living beyond his luck. Someone who is made to pay for every bad thing he’s done.
I also see a reference on your website to your next book – A Pearl For Every Child. Please can you offer some hints as to what it’s about and when is it due out?
It's due for release early next year and it's probably the most unusual book I've written yet. It's dark, even for me, and the characters and plot fall well beyond the norm for the genre. It's certainly nowhere near main stream. I'm quite curious to see what people will think.
Four books (almost) under your belt, does the journey get easier each time?
Hard to say. Some things get easier and others get harder. I think when you like doing something this much it turns into something somewhere between an addiction and a job. It makes the world simpler but simple isn't always easy.
What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?
To be perfectly honest probably the almost daily realization of how much more time I now get to spend with my cats.
Do you have any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
Yes. I have a bunch of books in my head already all worked out that are just waiting to be written down (but then that's probably true of most people).
What’s the best thing about writing?
The amount of time I get to spend in my own head without adult supervision.
The same answer as above.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Almost anything written by Neal Asher in the early years.
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
I like to perpetrate random acts of woodwork that I then foist (involuntarily) on unsuspecting friends and family. Currently renovating an old piano (the filigree is turning out the be a real bastard).
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
That would have to be a tie between 'Blade Runner 2049' and 'Wind River.' They're very different movies that managed to make me feel exactly the same way.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Bell household?
Not a TV addict no. But I get hooked on certain kinds of stories (the format of the story - book, film, music etc. is irrelevant to me). So to answer I'll echo my statements from the glossary of Dead Lemons from under the heading 'Slightly Biased Mostly True Things' it's always going to be the iconic 'Firefly' tv series (it remains - in my opinion - Joss Whedon's best work to date).
Many thanks to Finn for his time.
You can catch up with him at the following haunts.....
Website Finn Bell Books
Facebook Finn Bell