After turning the first few pages of The Two, it quickly becomes apparent that the lead character January David, has more than his hands full. The Two, now available, is a grippingly dark tale which pitches the troubled detective against not one, but two serial killers. Author Will Carver has written a story that is at times, quite unnerving, and one which jumps between the voices of different characters. Will was kind enough to talk to me about The Two and a few other things as well.
1. Have you always wanted to write or was it something that you simply fell into?
I have always wanted to do something creative. I had the opportunity to play rugby professionally but, while I loved it, I never wanted it to be my job. Until my mid-teens, I thought I was going to be a painter. I was also secretly writing poetry every day – polishing my rugby boots then scribbling a sonnet. It was a confusing time.
I developed a love affair with the theatre, devouring everything I could, by and about Brecht, and somewhere along the line discovering the master of dialogue that is David Mamet. I set up my own theatre company where I could direct the plays I loved, and hoped to eventually direct something I had written. Unfortunately, my University course managed to chip away at my fondness for the theatre in the same way the prospect of a professional contract detracted from the joy of playing rugby. Then I read Fight Club.
I just couldn’t believe that someone was allowed to write a book like that and get it published. His voice, the subject matter, the characters, everything just blew me away and I found myself head over heels in love with the novel form. I wanted to write a novel. I wanted to write more than one novel. I wanted to do it because I loved it, and I wanted it to be my job.
So, in short, perhaps I always wanted to write but I wasn’t sure of the form that it would take. It wasn’t that I fell into it. Or was pulled. Or pushed. It was, perhaps, a slow, controlled, fortuitous sideways skid.
2. With your previous novel Girl 4, the detective, the killer, and the victims – each have their own voice. Was that a risk initially?
George Bernard Shaw said: ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man adapts the world to himself. Therefore, all progress is made by the unreasonable man.’ (Or something along those lines.) I didn’t initially set out to write a crime thriller novel so I knew that, if I was going to write one, I wanted to do something a little different. I wanted to write it in a way that I would find interesting and challenging. Of course, there is always a risk when going against convention, but my inspiration for writing a novel came from a book that did exactly that. So, to me, it was reasonable to have some victims that were not particularly likable, that the reader may not feel a great deal of sympathy towards, and to know their final thoughts before death. It was equally reasonable to have the killer tell their side of the story and know exactly what was going on in their mind. I was not particularly interested in detailing the procedural elements of police work or filling pages with forensic intricacies. I wanted a story where the reader is told the truth from every person involved in the crime yet still has to somehow unravel the mystery behind it. I wanted readers to be taken along by the story but also be nudged out of it after each chapter. In the end this felt like the only way to tell the story.
Perhaps it was a risk to present a story in this manner if it is not what is expected in the genre. Maybe it was a risk to jump about in time rather than keeping the story linear. Perhaps it was risky to write in the present tense. But the book was snapped up by Random House so maybe it was a risk that paid off, or maybe it was not a risk at all. Either way, I think writers should always take risks. Some will work out and some will bomb. But what is the point of writing without them?
3. How tricky was it creating individual voices for those different characters?
Writing each character in the first person really helps. When I research and write a character, I completely submerse myself in their life. I will go to the area in London that they live, walk the streets they walk, hang out in their workplace, attend their church service, drink in their pub, ride their bus route, watch their neighbours. I then repeat this process as the killer and again as my detective, January David.
I can walk a route once as the victim, contemplating my day, unaware of what lies in store. I’ll retrace the steps, this time as a killer stalking their prey and once again as the detective looking for justice. By actually becoming each individual character, it is easier to create their own distinctive voice, especially January David. I don’t even think of him as a character any more. He is a person. He is a detective. He is real. I don’t ever set out with a complete character in mind. I decide whether they are male or female and their age, perhaps I’ll give them a specific phrase they use when talking or I’ll know that they hate their father or love their job or have a particular insecurity, but the full character only forms when I drop myself into their world. And I start to think in their voice.
4. Your new book The Two is the next in the series and continues with the January David character, what can your readers expect?
For the second book in the series, I really wanted to up the ante both for January David and the reader. I follow the same style and format as in Girl 4, so the action is teased out through the different voices of the victims, and we get to experience their last days and moments in a way that draws the reader vividly and painfully into their hearts and minds. January David is quickly launched into a complex murder investigation that is spreading fear throughout London as the victims are taken in very public places, in broad daylight. The killings are bold, ritualistic and terrifying.
I hope readers will slip back easily into January’s world – the inner demons that torment him after the disappearance of his sister and his wife’s betrayal – and the uncanny insight he possesses that makes him a controversial, flawed yet incredibly intuitive detective. It was the psychology of killing – of what motivates a killer – that inspired me in The Two. What drives an ordinary person to the edge so that their mind fractures into evil intent? And how do you catch such a killer when truth deceives and nothing is ever what it seems?
5. With The Two, did you feel any pressure to better Girl 4?
There is that sense of writing ‘the difficult second novel’ that so many writers face but I’m not sure I felt the full force of this phenomenon because I had already finished writing The Two by the time Girl 4 was published.
I was on such a high that Random House had taken my first book and asked me to turn it into a series, that I just jumped straight into researching and writing The Two immediately.
Of course, once Girl 4 had been published and sold copies and was reviewed and critiqued, there was pressure to improve The Two even more. I worked very closely with my editor to adjust and tweak and restructure. He let me know that a good book was not good enough, that it had to be better than that. I think that is true and I have certainly honed my style and learned from the things that I did in Girl 4 that I would perhaps do differently now.
I don’t think you can just sit back on success and churn out another book that follows the same formula; you have to try to better yourself with each book or album or film or painting. I feel I have done this with the third book and I am currently writing the fourth in the series, which I believe will be better than the third. There is the pressure to better the previous book but it is a welcome pressure. The odd thing is that, having already written book three, and always being one book ahead of publication, it’s like my best book is always the one coming next. That’s how it should be, I guess.
6. There are strong religious references in The Two, did you include that aspect because religion in some way influenced you, or was it done because you felt that angle added more to the overall story?
I wouldn’t say that religion has influenced me but I have a healthy interest in the idea of faith and I can explore that through my writing. The question of faith is something that runs throughout The Two: Celeste and V both approach situations from different standpoints as a consequence of their different faiths, and this causes a conflict. The prologue explains how January’s mother turned to God during a time of great despair, and that was the real starting point for me. Also the question of January David’s lack of faith and inability to trust even himself and the things that only he sees. I think a lack of faith is just as interesting to explore. This is not a story about religion. It is about desperation; it is about the things we turn to when we think we have nothing, when we feel completely alone – not just religion but science, alcohol, crime, music, drugs, sex . . . I think The Two takes a glimpse at each of these avenues.
7. While you were writing the drafts concerning the main characters such as Celeste, V, and January for example, did you tend to jump back and forth between them, or did you write long pieces for each character first, before cutting and piecing them in together at the end?
Each chapter has to contain something that furthers the story. Every section for every character must, in some way, give the reader a piece of vital information; everything is there for a reason. So it would not work simply to write a much longer chapter for each person in the story, chop those up into smaller segments then splice them together. Besides, I think my mind automatically works in this way, jumping from character to character, bouncing through time.
8. How would you describe your protagonist January David?
Damaged. Persistent. Intelligent. Focused. Drunk. Different. Loyal.
Everything he touches seems to die or disappear, and he struggles to deal with that. He has been cursed or blessed with the ability to unravel the deepest of mysteries yet his entire life, everything he does, hinges on his quest to find the younger sister that was taken from him at an early age. He is untrusting of everyone, especially himself.
9. How long does it normally take you to write a book?
It takes about six months for me to have a complete first draft.
The first three months I will spend solely on the research – and I use that term very loosely.
I did read several religious texts and psychology books in preparation for The Two. I even dabbled in some forensic psychology this time. But the majority of research time is taken up on location, walking in the shoes of the characters, dropping a made-up person into the real world and picking out the details that will be relevant. Before this even happens, something has to spark an idea that will give me a premise for the book – in the case of The Two, I really wanted to explore the lengths that normal people go to when at their most desperate and helpless. I then come up with an ending before plotting how each character reaches their demise.
The actual writing then takes another three months.
It will bounce back and forth between myself and my agent in that time to ensure I’m staying on track before submitting it to my editor. You could probably add another couple of weeks to that time once I have sat down with my editor to make the final tweaks and rewrites. I’m told that I write fairly quickly but there are days when I write for three hours and there are days when I write for twenty. I think the trick is to just write and keep writing until it’s done.
10. When you write your first draft, do you have a clear idea of exactly where you want the story to go?
I know how I want to set the story up and I know how I want it to end – usually with some kind of twist or at least something unexpected, some kind of revelation. The pay-off. I also know how each victim will die and how the killer is motivated. There may even be the odd ‘killer’ sentence I want to get into the story at some point, but the rest is all a discovery as I research the characters and start the writing. I think that planning every chapter would be too time-consuming and restrictive for me. I like to work it out as I go along.
I just like to be writing.
You can read part two of the Will Carver interview by clicking here