Kevin Brooks has written eleven novels for teenagers including Martyn Pig, Being, and Lucas. He’s won various awards for his writing including the Canongate Prize for New Writing, Branford Boase Award, Kingston Youth Book Award, and the North East Book Award. His first adult crime novel A Dance of Ghosts was published last year and the second book in the series, Until the Darkness Comes, is now available. I caught up with the author to find out a bit more about the man behind the words.
1. You’re known for your impressive list of teenage books, why delve into adult fiction with first, A Dance of Ghosts, and now, Until the Darkness Comes?
Mainly, I think, because I like to try different things. I’m very lucky to be a published writer, and I want to make the most of the opportunity I’ve been given, which for me means never being satisfied, never being complacent, and always trying to stretch myself as a writer. Writing is writing, and there’s simply no reason to limit yourself to any particular genre, style, age group, etc. So when I was offered the chance to ‘delve into’ crime fiction for adults (which is something I’ve always wanted to write anyway), I jumped in without even thinking about it.
2. PI John Craine is a rather tortured soul, dabbling in drugs and alcohol, were you ever tempted to make him…normal?
No, not for one moment! I wanted to create the kind of character that I enjoy reading about, and I I’ve always enjoyed reading about tortured souls. Of course, I’m perfectly aware that some people view this type of character as something of cliché – it’s been done so many times before, he’s just another in a long line of hard-drinking detectives, etc – but I don’t see it like that. For me, there’s always been a sub-genre of crime fiction that’s all about the tortured soul, and if you want to write within that sub-genre – which I do – your character has to be of that type. It’s like playing the blues. If you like blues music, and you want to write a blues song, you use the same three chord progression that blues music has used for almost a hundred years. That doesn’t make your song a cliché, and it doesn’t mean it has to sound exactly the same as every other blues song, but if you don’t use the those three chords, it’s not the blues.
3. Another feature of John Craine’s character is his cognitive psychological relationship with his deceased wife Stacy, why did you add that element to an already complex persona?
Firstly, it emphasises the idea that he can’t live without her, that he still needs her so much that he’s willing to accept the unbelievable. Secondly, it allowed me to express some of his subconscious thoughts and feelings, which can sometimes be difficult when writing from a first-person point of view. Thirdly, it helped to introduce and develop Craine’s growing sense of derangement. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it just felt like the right thing to do.
4. What prompted you to choose such a remote setting as Hale Island for the story?
I’d used Hale Island as the setting for my second YA novel (Lucas), and as I wanted the tone and feeling of Until the Darkness Comes to be similar to that of Lucas – and the island had already been mentioned in A Dance of Ghosts – it seemed to be the obvious choice. Incidentally, the narrator of Lucas, a teenage girl called Caitlin McCann, makes a cameo appearance in the opening chapter of Until the Darkness Comes. She’s not named, but for anyone who’s read Lucas, she’s the sad young woman gazing into the mudflats on page 14.
5. How long did it take you to write Until the Darkness Comes?
About six months.
6. How many books are planned in the series?
I’m writing the third at the moment, which will probably be published in 2013, and I’d love to carry on writing them indefinitely. I’d like the series to develop in ‘real-time’ (like the Matt Scudder and Dave Robicheaux series of crime novels), so that with every new book Craine ages a year or two, his circumstances change, his life moves on.
7. Did you find any real differences between writing books for teens and books for adults?
The only real difference is in the narrative voice. When I’m writing the John Craine books, I’m writing in the voice of a forty-year-old man, and when I’m writing my YA books I’m writing in the voice of a teenager. Apart from that though, my approach to both is exactly the same. Same style, same kind of content, same effort, same everything.
8. Do you plan every scene and stick to it rigidly as you write, or do you allow room for improvisation?
A bit of both, really. I plan the whole book scene by scene, but I’m also quite happy to change the plan if necessary. Books always evolve while you’re writing them, and sometimes you realise that you don’t need a certain scene any more, or you can combine two scenes into one, or a scene you planned for chapter seven works better in chapter four. It’s also often the case that I’ll have a scene planned in a very general sense, but until I actually come to writing it I don’t have any idea how it plays out.
9. Strong characters in any story are important, where do you draw your inspiration from to create and build your characters such as John Craine and Robyn, in order to make them real?
I like my characters to be characters in their own right, not just thinly-disguised versions of people I know or have known, so I always spend a lot of time thinking about them before I start writing, developing their personalities, working out what kind of people they are, what they think, how they feel, etc. Once I’ve got a genuine feeling for a character, I’ll then start borrowing relevant characteristics from people I know or have known in order to make my character as real as possible, but I don’t just appropriate real people and stick them into the story. I harvest their details, their quirks, their gestures, and transplant them into my characters.
10. How relevant would you say your books are to the society in which we live in today?
As relevant as you anyone wants them to be.
11. You’ve written a few books already, how do you keep the process of writing fresh for your readers, and interesting for yourself?
I think if you give too much thought to what other people think of your writing, you run the risk of not being true to the story, and that’s all I really think about when I’m writing – the story. Obviously I want people to like what I’m doing, but if I started writing what I thought people wanted to read, rather than just writing the best possible story I can, that’s when I think it might become stale. As it is though, writing is still just as fascinating and enjoyable to me as it’s always been.
12. When you write a book, what are you hoping the reader will take away from it?
One of the wonderful things about any art form – be it a book, a song, a painting, a building – is that you can take whatever you want from it. It’s your experience, it’s entirely up to you what you do with it. So while I hope readers will take something from my books, I don’t have any preference for what that something might be.
13. Aspiring writers always welcome advice from established ones, what advice would you give to those who one day hope to reach your high level?
Just do it, keep doing it, and never give up.