13th Nov2014

Interview with P.D. Viner

by Lloyd Paige


P.D. Viner is the author of The Last Winter of Dani Lancing, as well as The Sad Man and The Ugly Man short stories. Summer of Ghosts is his latest novel. With a film production and audio book background behind him I went to speak to the author about the fascinating world he has created and the origins of his writing.

1. It all began for you with The Last Winter of Dani Lancing, or did it? What was the first full-length novel that you wrote and what mark would you give it out of ten?

The first novel I started was in the early nineties. At the time I was working and living in Upstate New York and I wrote a YA novel (though I didn’t know the term back then) called Dreams of a Wild Wild Life. It concerned a girl who lives in a catholic commune – kind of a cult of Jesus.

Her parents are killed and she escapes and runs away. The two leaders of the cult give chase. It was a black comedy with Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins as my inspiration. It has some nice lines and some comedic set-pieces but it is all over the place – I would give it four out of ten.

2. You have a bit of a film background, has that influenced the way you write?

The way I write is to dream/imagine the lives of my characters. I see them and hear them inside my head – I watch what they do, and direct them to some degree. The film of the scene plays in my mind and then I do my best to describe what I have seen.

If you write to get published then you could be heading for a fall.”

3. When you recorded the audio book for The Last Winter of Dani Lancing did you enjoy it?

For the ten years before I became a full-time writer (I still grin when I think that phrase ‘full-time writer’) I produced audio books with my sister. We had a little company that created guides to Shakespeare and the classics for students (SmartPass guides) and adults (Shakespeare Appreciated). I loved doing that and, if the financial crisis hadn’t struck, would probably still be producing audio now. So when I sold the rights to The Last Winter of Dani Lancing, I asked Random House audio if I could do the book. They thought I meant read it – but no, I wanted to direct it.

They told me what money they would spend on a single author reading (not much) and gave it to me and I used it to produce a full-cast drama of the unabridged book. I booked some of my favourite actors – but also played a part myself and my daughter has a line and my mum. In fact anyone who came to our door that month is in the final cut. It also has music (my sister’s choir) and sound effects throughout. I am really pleased with it, but it was such hard work to edit that I would not do it again (probably). If you go to my website you can hear a couple of clips and judge for yourself.

4. To make it as a writer you have to have a great deal of determination, how determined were you to succeed and what was it like when you had?

I was determined to finish the book and be proud of it. That was really the extent of my strength of will. I have two unwanted books under the bed – my literary Boo Radleys – and I assumed it would be three.

The truth is that most people who write go unpublished. Ideally someone should write for fun and for self awareness. If you write to get published then you could be heading for a fall. My business had died and I had a daughter who was two-years old that I looked after two days a week, and more if she was ill (and she had loads of days sick back then). So I craved something that was creative and would fit in with this lifestyle.

I went back to writing and signed up for a two-year course, which gave me the discipline to write every day (ish). I did complete the book – yes I was determined to do that and then my wife bought me a Guardian Masterclass with Sophie Hannah. She read the opening of my book and encouraged me to send it to an agent and he took me on immediately.

It was like a dream (and I am extremely grateful to Sophie for the advice and help). Had I have been schlepping it around for six months from agent to agent, I don’t know how my determination would have stood up. I probably would have ended up as an emotional mess and stuck it under the bed and gone for a job as a barista (my only other skill).

Luck and some degree of professionalism (a good looking and proofread manuscript are supposedly rare) were my weapons. When I got my agent, the pretty incredible Simon Trewin, I did a dance around the living room. When the book sold I danced in the street with my wife (we were actually out on a date with a baby-sat child at home when the call came).

5. You currently have two short stories out, The Sad Man and The Ugly Man and they’re both free. Why?

When I was writing The Last Winter of Dani Lancing I had some advice from the crime writer Sue Walker – she said I had to know my characters inside out and create their life stories; know their birthdays, the school and university they attended – everything. I am a good student and I did that. It was a fantastic exercise and made me totally immerse myself in the lives of these people.

In particular, I created an entire C.V for Patty (who was a crime journalist) and Tom Bevans, Dani’s boyfriend who joined the police to make amends for not saving her. In my head I planned their entire careers – I knew the cases that made them who they are when we get to The Last Winter… I found I wanted to write those key cases – but they were not novels in their own right.

When I sold The Last Winter of Dani Lancing, I met my editor for lunch and as we talked about the book I offered to write the two origins stories and it was my idea to make them free (without realising they would end up being 115 pages each). I thought they would be great introductions to my work and the characters. I also had a plan in my mind for the story of Dani Lancing to traverse three novels and four novellas. Of course my editor was excited and asked for them ASAP. I had meant I would write them after book two, but I said: ‘Of course, coming right up.’ So I did it.

6. Tell us a bit more about The Sad Man.

The Sad Man is set in 1999 and Tom Bevans AKA The Sad Man is a lowly FLO (family liaison officer) who cannot get promotion because he is too good at breaking unhappy news to parents of victims. His superiors want to keep him at that level but he has real ambitions to form his own serious crimes unit.

In TLWODL (set ten years later) he has become a Detective Superintendent and runs Operation Ares, which is a serious crimes team unit dedicated to investigating multiple sex murders. But in the novella we see him investigate the case that makes his career, and allows him to form Operation Ares. A woman is murdered. She is discovered with angel wings carved into the floor around her body. The wings are filled with her blood.

I think most crime writing (and possibly most fiction) is about understanding the world and particularly why we do what we do.”

7. Tell us a bit more about The Ugly Man.

With The Ugly Man, I wanted to show Patty Lancing at a place in her career where she was hungry and fighting for equality in the newsroom. So this novella is set in 1976 – when her daughter is eight years old and she is sacrificing her family life for her career.

It is a great counterpoint to the Patty we see in TLWODL, as at that point she is 65 and hollowed out by loss and grief. But in 1976 she is forging her career and investigates the murder of a barmaid. She is bludgeoned to death in front of witnesses – her killer is a local man but when he arrives at the pub, he is already covered in blood. Has he killed someone already? If so, then where is the body?

I feel both of the novellas are well written, pacy, and are strong stand-alone stories. Read with the two novels, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing and the sequel Summer of Ghosts, I think they create a universe for the characters that is really exciting. It is the kind of world that comic books are so good at creating and some TV shows – but it is less common in fiction. And let’s face it – the novellas are free. FREE! Get downloading and enjoy. Then try one of the novels.

8. Are you a fan of the ‘flashback’ and what extra qualities do you think it can bring to a story?

I think most crime writing (and possibly most fiction) is about understanding the world and particularly why we do what we do. Crime often deals with why we do terrible things.

Rom com’s are why we do silly things – but it is all about the WHY? Most of the why is buried deep in our past and writing is about uncovering the secret places.

We are the archaeologists of our own lives and our character’s lives. I love to dig back, and the best way to do that is to show the past. In film and TV it is easy because visual triggers and aural clues immediately tell the viewer when they are. It is harder in fiction but can be incredibly effective. In a sense my two novellas are extended flashbacks for the novels – but inside the novellas they are also flashbacks. I was always told to show not tell when I write. So I love to show flashbacks (and imagine the haircuts and music of the day).

9. In your opinion, what’s the single most important thing a novel should have?

A reader. No reader and you have a doorstop. But apart from that, there are no rules. You can even have no words if you have a graphic novel. For me, I would like to think my novels have believable characters and the writing and plot create empathy for the protagonists even when they do awful things. But I can only write – so much of how we appreciate novels comes from the reader. That is why one person will give a book one star and another will give five.

I hope to write a book that has lots of fives, but some one stars too. That is better than all threes. All three stars makes for a bland book. I would like to be a little more like marmite than that.

10. Summer of Ghosts is a new story from you Phil, what can fans of Dani Lancing expect from this particular outing?

(Phil pauses for a few seconds and gives this a lot of thought). Well it’s six months later and the big finale from Dani Lancing is a bomb going off for the main characters. What they expected to find is not what they get. Tom Bevans, the Sad Man, is absolutely destroyed, distraught by it (Dani’s death). In the intervening 6 months he can’t go back to work and spends the months drunk, just smashed.

All the 22 years of guilt, shame and hopelessness that he carried around, he’s put that all aside for such a long time. He’s been the perfect cop, perfect hero and suddenly he looks at his life and thinks I’m so f***** up. Everything is based on lies. Everything is based on these terrible things he did when he was younger and he has to live with that. He crashes and burns then drags himself up. The beautiful skin murderer is back. He’s killed three times and Tom swore to three mothers that he would avenge the death of their daughters and he hasn’t.

At the same time, Jim and Patty (Dani’s parents), now know the truth about their daughter. Where do they go from here? Will their relationship survive?

Summer of Ghosts sees the three of them (Jim, Patty and Tom) still obsessed with finding the truth, and somebody from their past needs help. Franco who helped find Dani 22 years ago, when he was an 18 year-old drug pusher, is now the head of a major gang.

11. What inspired you to write Franco?

I think Franco was a fantastic accident because he wasn’t on my radar when I started and as I wrote Tom Bevans’ character he became darker and shadier. I did the audio book of the first novel working with Michael Maloney and there was a band next door rehearsing. The singer was a very charismatic guy and said he wanted to be an actor so I said come and read this part.

He read the part and was just Franco, amazing. And as he was reading I said, I need more Franco and from that the character grew and grew, and took over. The real question is can somebody that does terrible, terrible things, have a heart? And if you know about their childhood, if you know where they come from, can you have sympathy and empathy?

12. How did you stop Franco from becoming clichéd?

Well what I’ve done is I’ve given him a history and a future that I think is completely believable. I set his past in Zimbabwe and made him a child solider. In many ways, I admire him, root for him, and he loves his daughter.

13. Tom Bevans is labelled The Sad Man but how did you come to choose that title for him?

Well the truth is I wrote half a story years ago. I think I wrote it during the first Gulf War and it was about a man who travelled by plane around America breaking the news that service men had died to their families. He was the sad man. Tom breaks the news of Dani’s death to her parents and as he does that his face literally starts to crack. Almost overnight the stress physically changes him and people start calling him The Sad Man because he looks so sad.
He’s a family liaison officer. He’s used to breaking bad news to families and they look at him and think this person’s feeling my pain when actually he’s not. He’s just absolutely embedded in Dani’s lost. To be physically changed by something, I think that’s really interesting.

14. Finally, how would you describe the type of writer you are and the type of writer you’d like to be perceived as?

That’s really difficult. I just want to be read. I believe I tell really interesting stories with really interesting characters and I think they’re emotionally true. So I would say I would like to be perceived as a good story teller with stories that are worth telling with characters that are worth spending time with.


‘Beautiful skin…’

It begins with a father calling his daughter, but whoever answers is not Pia but his daughter’s killer.

He must listen, horrified, to the sounds of his only child being murdered, powerless to intervene as

the killer utters two chilling words.

Most men’s thoughts would turn to vengeance but Pia’s father is far more resourceful than most. And he

is not the reserved businessman his daughter always believed him to be, but Franco, a notorious London

drug lord who will call in all his debts to find his daughter’s killer. Including the one owed to him

by DI Tom Bevans.

Only Tom is a man haunted by grief; every unsolved case weighs heavily against his soul. And Tom has

heard the killer’s words before…


Comments are closed.