Is the writing full time now? If not, what’s the day job?
I wish. I trade in the stock market but do so from home (with my own money) now, so no boss to answer to, though it hurts a lot more when I lose. I do write every day, usually into the early hours, which is why I look a bit ill all the time.
Both your novels Tall Oaks and All the Wicked Girls have a small town America setting, yet I read you were born in England and spent 10 years as a financial trader in the city. I’m scratching my head here, can you explain why you aren’t setting your books in Watford or Stevenage, for instance?
It’s partly an escapism thing. 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.
What’s easier – a career in the City, or life as an author?
I’ve yet to find anything more difficult than writing a book. I did work very hard in the city, but there was a clear structure to my day, and a clear way of ascertaining whether it was a successful day (I made money or I didn’t). Writing is like beginning a journey and having no idea where you’re going or if you’ll ever get there. Did I make that up? God, I sound like a knob.
What’s your typical writing schedule?
Write a little, delete a lot. And then ponce around on Twitter. I’ll do this until a deadline looms and then panic and write all night for weeks.
Do you insert traits of family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
I don’t think so. Though perhaps I do it subconsciously. I never set out to copy traits. I do like to tell people I’ve modelled a horrible character on them, it’s endlessly entertaining.
How long was the debut book, Tall Oaks in conception, before it finally saw publication and hit the shelves?
Around two and a half years from slush pile (talent pool!) to shelves.
Did the end result resemble the book you envisaged when you set out? Were there many bumps in the road along the way?
The end result was a long, long way from what I started with, though the heart was always there, a story about a small town trying to move on following the abduction of a child. Once my editor got involved the story went through some major changes. It’s a steep learning curve and if you’re precious about your work then you’re in for a rough ride, but I had such total faith in the team at Bonnier.
We lost a character, added a narrative, changed some plot points and massively tightened up the crime element.
Did you have to conduct a lot of research in respect of the settings for your books, or have you got a strong connection with similar places in the States?
No connection, all research, all painstaking. Maps, books, audio transcripts, interviews. There is no shortcut, I have to put in the hours and grind it out. I set my stories wherever I see them best.
No, definitely not. It was a horror. It wasn’t just the weight of expectation, it was writing something fairly heavy and dark, in almost a different language, and writing from the perspective of a teenage girl.
Do you have a favourite from the two? Which would you press into the hands of a new reader first?
Ah there’s no way I could choose. Tall Oaks was my first born and led to so many brilliant things happening. ATWG was the difficult second child, waking me in the night and shitting on me, forcing me to neglect everything else in my life so I could focus on it. I love them both in different ways. So, read both. Or read one and I’ll come round and read you the other.
Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
Unpublished, yes. Gems, no.
Is there a current work in progress? How’s it going? Any hints as to what it’s all about?
I am currently writing book 3. It’s about a little girl looking for revenge. Her name is Emily. I’m just starting out so that’s all you’re getting I’m afraid.
What’s the best thing about writing?
Getting to live in another world for part of the day. When it’s going well, when you’ve a strong sense of place, you know your characters and what’s in store, you sit down and before you know it you’ve written an effortless thousand perfect words, it’s the best job in the world. Working with some of the most creative, talented, lovely people I’ve ever met. Seeing the cover, holding the proof, the first reviews, having a laugh with the bloggers, the launch party.
I am unable to switch off. I’m distant when I’m working through a plot, I’ll be so utterly focused on the story I’m writing that the other facets of my life will take a back seat. I’ve never thought of myself as a selfish person but I become increasingly single-minded as I write.
What are the last five books you’ve read?
The Perfect Victim – Corrie Jackson
My Little Eye – Steph Broadribb
Dark Pines – Will Dean
The Tall Man – Phoebe Locke
All of them are absolute stunners, I urge you to grab them when they’re out.
Who do you read and enjoy?
G.J. Minett is a friend and also a master of the plot twist. He has a new one coming out soon, Anything For Her, and I just know it’s going to be special. Jo Spain. Dennis Lehane. John Hart. Cormac McCarthy. Sunjeev Sahota, I still think about The Year of the Runaways. I have to break from crime now and again.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Harry Potter. I would be a hero to my children.
Harry Potter. I would be a hero to my children.
Lovemaking. Often alone.
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
Sing. It was awesome.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Whitaker household?
Total TV addict. I’m finally watching The Wire and it’s perfect.
In a couple of years’ time…
Having still not delivered book 3, I will be avoiding my editor.----------------------------------------
Many thanks to Chris for his time and to Emily at Bonnier Zaffre for setting this up.
Chris is on Twitter - @WhittyAuthor