Mainlander #killerfest15

Category: Author Post

I seem to have written a thriller by accident. I started writing a book about a teacher from the Mainland stewing over the state of his marriage while sitting on a headland back on the island of Jersey where I grew up. I had him bump into a pupil near the edge of the cliff and be unsure as to whether boy was about to jump. He drives the boy home, not mentioning his fear, telling himself the dusky half-light and his gloomy imagination were playing tricks on him. But the boy doesn’t turn up to school the next day. Boom. I’m writing a thriller.

Though it wasn’t intended as genre fiction, I definitely wanted the book to be thrilling. But thrilling whether I was dealing with the disappearance of a child, or the subterfuge of an affair, or the concealment of a criminal background, or the punch of a hurricane hitting a tower a mile out to sea (the book is set in 1987, in the week leading up to the Great Storm). I’m a firm believer that truly great writers can make anything engaging and exciting. How else does Philip Roth make glove-manufacturing techniques in 1960s Newark as gripping as the rest of American Pastoral?

I did make a conscious effort to make the end of each chapter, for want of a better word “hooky”. I’m a huge fan of the great American cable dramas – The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood  and The Shield. What these shows have in common with great novels, is the feeling that you’re just dropping in on the characters for the events of the show, and that they have a life either side of it. This is because the writing is coming from the characters, so the plots seem to unfold naturally and organically, as opposed to a show like 24 where Jack Bauer will lose a phone signal at a crucial moment, so the producers have a moment of suspense to make sure the viewers come back after the fifth ad break. Network shows have the rhythms of the ad breaks, you can feel the format. Cable shows have the rhythm of real life, or at least the heightened version of real life that passes for realism. But that doesn’t mean you can’t hit the viewer or reader with a surprise. The trick is to pace them out. Pack a show or a book with twists and reversals and they lose their impact. The Wire would often do a slow burn to the last episode, but that just meant it hit even harder, and those end of series montages were so well-earned and devastatingly haunting.

Hopefully at the end each chapter of Mainlander, you’ll have learnt a little bit more about each character, will have a new perspective on them, and will want to turn the page to find out more. I like to think I could achieve this even without the “mystery” engine of a missing boy. Stick me in Pseud’s Corner, but I found Anna Karenina and Swann’s Way to be as page-turningly addictive as Red Dragon.

Blog by Will Smith

Latest book: Mainlander

Q&A with author Will Smith @willsmithuk #killerfest15

Category: Author Post

Will Smith Mainlander

Your name: Will Smith

Tell us about yourself: I’m a comedian and writer best known for working on The Thick Of It, in which I also appeared as Phil Smith.

Tell us about your latest book: Mainlander, it’s set in Jersey, where I grew up, in 1987, over the week leading up to the Great Storm and the Black Monday financial crash. A teacher spots a pupil near the edge of a cliff, and thinks he may have been about to jump. He gives him a lift home, and when the boy doesn’t turn up to school the next day, he becomes determined to find him.

When did you start writing? Since I learnt to hold a pencil. I’m not being facetious, but I’ve always wanted to write stories, and started pretty young.

Where do you write? Anywhere, all I need is a table and a chair and headphones. I bounce between a rented desk in a shared office and various Stoke Newington cafes.

Which other authors do you admire? Jonathan Franzen, Jennifer Egan, Jess Walter, Charlotte Bronte, Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy, George Eliot, John Le Carre, Andrew Miller, Philip Roth, John Updike, David Mitchell, Michel Faber, John Lanchester, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, Balzac, Victor Hugo, Turgenev.

Book you wished you’d written? Middlemarch.

Greatest fictional criminal: Greatest as in all-powerful? That has to be Sauron. Although as a mere Maiar, he is of course dwarfed by the power of his master Morgoth, a member of the Ainur. I went through a big Tolkien phase in my teens, it hasn’t really ended.

Greatest crime or criminal from the real world: I don’t want to condone any actual criminals, and by definition the greatest ones are probably the ones we’ve never heard of, so I’ll play the arch card and say Vladimir Putin.

What scares you? Death. Not a day goes by where the thought of it doesn’t give me at least a mild panic, if not full-on horror.

Are you ever disturbed by your own imagination? No, but people who’d pegged me as a quiet one were astounded to see me on stage early on in my career, and to hear certain things come out of my mouth.

3 crime books you would recommend to EVERYONE:

I know the last two aren’t technically crime, but they are thrilling.

Do you listen to music when you write? Yes, I use it to suggest or reflect the time and place I’m trying to create or recreate on the page. I also make playlists for the characters – things I think they’d listen to, or that remind me of them.

Are you on social media? Yes, Facebook and Twitter and a defunct MySpace page I keep forgetting to take down.

How can fans connect with you? Twitter. I always try and respond to people, and I’m at the level where the rate of interaction is quite manageable.