THE CHAT -PART TWO
David: To turn this question back, what would your ‘DCI Craig’ compare to on TV?
Catriona: Mmm.... good question. I think the Craig Series could be a show like ‘NCIS’ (Naval Criminal Investigation Service) which, with due deference to your comments about shows from the U.S. is really great fun.‘NCIS’ has a central team whose interactions are funny and touching and the team in my Craig Crime series is just like that. Obviously the humour in Craig is Irish banter rather than American humour (although there are strong similarities) but the team’s camaraderie and banter is the core of each book (as well as them being great crime stories, she says modestly).
Many people have told me that they come back to the series time and again to see what happens to the characters, because they like them so much. I think Craig would translate well onto television with a relatively small cast and the stories have crime, romance, humour and murder, all essential ingredients to keep people’s interest, I think.
I haven't watched the Scandinavian crime series like ‘Borgen’ and ‘The Bridge’ but I agree with what you say about slower stories being very powerful. However, it would be interesting to see if books of those slower stories would ever have been published, given a lot of publisher’s seemingly desperate desire to 'hook' readers in the first page! I think that approach underestimates readers and viewers terribly, by implying that they don't have the patience or intelligence for a 'slow reveal’. As you say, many people do have that patience. It’s a fiction to believe that everyone prefers throwaway, fast fiction. Like fast food it has its place and time, but so do powerful stories that take time to evolve.
On another subject, you've written books outside your STAC series, 'The Handshaker' and 'The Deep Secret' to name only two. I stepped outside the Craig Crime Series recently to write a spy/espionage thriller set in New York, called 'The Carbon Trail' which is being released on the 15th April. I love reading thrillers and I really enjoyed writing it. In ways it was almost a 'holiday' from crime and enabled me to return to Craig Series refreshed and write two new novels (numbers six and seven in the series) in quick succession.
What made you write 'The Handshaker' and 'The Deep Secret' and can you tell us some more about the books?
David: To answer your question, I need to backtrack about 20 years. In my forties, I had begun to suffer from osteoarthritis. It wasn’t major, but I worked outdoors and in the cold weather I found myself in a lot of pain. I’ve never been able to tolerate NSAIDs, and painkillers like Paracetamol were ineffective, so I had to look at alternative means of analgesia. I found it in hypnosis.I was so intrigued by this phenomenon that I trained as a hypnotherapist, but I didn’t practice for long. I have no counselling qualification, which is usually necessary for this kind of work. Instead, I began to research hypnosis, and during that research I came across The Heidelberg Case.
It’s well documented elsewhere, but essentially it was the true story of a criminal hypnotist who worked in Southern Germany in the twenties and thirties. He controlled and abused a young woman, only ever identified as Mrs E, for seven years before he was finally caught. What was really interesting was his ability to turn her into a potential murderer. In all she made six attempts on her husband’s life, and three attempts to take her own. Conventional wisdom has it that it is impossible. I don’t know who accurate the tale is. I found it in a book entitled Hypnose und Verbrechen translated from the original German into English in 1956. It’s written by Dr H.E. Hammerschlag, a Swiss psychiatrist, and even though his account is second-hand, we can assume there is more than an element of truth in it.
Writing fiction often means turning convention upon its head, and that’s just what I did with ‘The Handshaker’. Instead of assuming that the subject controls a hypnotic session, I took the position that the subject controls only the induction. Once hypnotised, the hypnotist is in control. ‘The Handshaker’ details the crimes of a serial killer and the efforts of hypnotist, Felix Croft, and Detective Inspector Millie Matthews to track him down. Make no mistake; this is not a cosy crime. It is a violent, graphic thriller, a depiction of a man who delights in brutalising and abusing women before murdering them in the most obscene fashion. To this day I have doubts about the graphic scenes in the novel. I anticipated howls of protest, but in fact, most people are not worried by them.
As with all my work, I leave the ending open to possible sequels, and after publication, I realised that ‘The Handshaker’ begged as many questions as it answered, so I set to work on ‘The Deep Secret’.This was on the most difficult books I have ever written. I had a huge amount of research to carry out, and I had no end of problems slotting everything into place. And yet, I wrote the core story in a week (it was part of a writing challenge). The remainder took many months of hard work before it was brought up to publishable standard, and of course, Crooked Cat snapped it up.
The Carbon Trail on Amazon.com: http://tinyurl.com/ngkpq95
The Carbon Trail on AmazonUK http://tinyurl.com/pfz5gqj
The Craig Crime Series on Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/os44kzq
The Craig Crime Series on AmazonUK http://tinyurl.com/p435ro4
Catriona on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CatrionaKing1
At its heart, it looks at the induction method our Heidelberg hypnotist used to subdue Mrs E. It’s one of those thorny problems with the case. She never recalled a hypnotic induction. Instead, she claimed that Walter (the hypnotist) took her hand and from that moment, she lost all will of her own.‘The Deep Secret’ flits back and forth between 1930s Germany, the war years, 1950s and 1960s Britain, and the present as the story unravels. And again I’m pitting Croft and Millie against a brutal and callous adversary. In both cases, they’re less whodunits, more thrillers, but they’re not for the faint-hearted. I toned down the sex and violence in ‘The Deep Secret’, but it’s still there.
So tell, me, Catriona, what’s your take on graphic violence and sex in fiction?
Catriona: It's a tricky one. It does seem that some authors simply splash sex and violence across every page, as if it's a competition to see how horrific or lewd a book can be. That's one extreme, then there's the other; where books are so devoid of references to either that an adult audience can become bored. It's a very fine balance to achieve.
If you're writing thrillers and crime novels there's bound to be mention of murders or violence of some sort and, in my book, heroes always deserve a love interest, so there will be some allusion to romance or sex. But it doesn't have to be so graphic that the reader feels uncomfortable. It's often what is hinted at that is more exciting. In my Craig Crime Series, several reviewers have commented on the fact that Craig feels like an old-fashioned knight in shining armour, because he's chivalrous, kind and charming. As I said earlier I've always railed against the expectation that all detectives have to be sad, lonely people sitting alone in a darkened room burdened in some way. I think that's a cliché in the same way as saying that all female detectives have to be lonely, sad or hard.
Craig has all of the aforementioned good qualities but he's not perfect. He's moody, can be bad tempered and when necessary he'll give people what for, whether that's a punch to the jaw or involves a gun. Perhaps that's the trick; sex and violence only need to be included when they are absolutely necessary for the storyline (Ha ha, that sounds like an actor saying that they would only take their clothes off if it was essential for the part, but you know what I mean.) I think that I censor myself naturally by saying that if something makes me feel embarrassed or repelled as I'm writing it then it's probably too graphic or sexual. And then there's the mother test. Would I have liked my mother to have read a particular passage or would I have hidden it from her? If it's the latter then the passage comes out of the book.
I think that's the trick really, alluding to murders or sex without having to go into graphic detail on either. In my standalone novel, 'The Carbon Trail', out in two weeks’ time, there were different challenges after writing five books in a series. I had to invent completely new characters and, in the case of this book, set them in a new city and country (New York City, USA) and in the world of government agencies, spies and science, after the Craig books being set in the world of the police.Writing about spies and car chases, creating new likable and unlikable characters, even writing dialogue using a different dialect and sense of humour was a challenge, although I do think that American Humour, east coast particularly, bears a strong resemblance to Irish wit. So while the euphemisms may be different the quickness of the humour is still the same.
I know that your 'Flatcap' books are very funny, but how do you use humour in your STAC crime series and other books?
David: My first love is writing humour, but it’s not an easy for an author to get ahead. Stand up, yes, TV or stage, great, but humour in the printed word… very difficult.Flatcap’s brand of humour is observational and cynical. That’s because of his age. He’s a sixty-something, not a twenty or thirty-something. And there is a lot in this world to be cynical about. Again, it’s not easy. It demands a great deal of lateral or inverted thinking. Let me give you an example from ‘Flatcap – Grumpy Old Blogger’. There’s a tale about a woman who rang 999 (the UK’s emergency number) because her snowman had been stolen. That’s farcical and an abuse of the emergency phone lines. But turn that on its head. Forget this silly woman and think about the thieves. Who in their right mind would steal a snowman? If you marry that to a caricatured picture of a professional thief, you open up a whole host of possible skits.
It’s the same with the poor Frenchwoman who accidentally locked herself in the bathroom and was there for three weeks. She was hammering on the pipe and the neighbours thought she was doing a little DIY. The comic possibilities are endless.
When it comes to the STAC Mysteries, they were originally intended to be light-hearted, and as I went along, I applied those same techniques to the situations Joe, Sheila and Brenda find themselves in. The two women rib Joe endlessly, but there are other opportunities too. We’re all familiar with the ubiquitous high visibility coat or vest, and they are compulsory on most industrial sites. In the latest STAC novel, ‘Death in Distribution’, Joe and the STAC bus driver are making their way on foot into a huge distribution centre, when a driver tops them and asks, “Where’s your hi-vis vest?” Joe’s response is, “Under my low-vis shirt.”You see? Turn the question on its head and in this case, think about the exact meaning of the words. It has to be done in the right places. You can’t have Joe breaking into humour when he’s confronting the killer or during the denouement. The humour is usually slotted in around the backstory or background, and it’s not always so blatant. Again quoting from ‘Death in Distribution’, there is a scene where Joe enters a coffee house and deliberately orders tea.
Catriona: Thanks for chatting with me, David.
David: Thanks for putting up with me, Catriona. It’s been absolutely great nattering with you.