J; I’d like to start by asking, have you always wanted to be a writer? And where did the idea of Psychopaths Anonymous come from?
W; I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I was a kid. I had a real thirst for knowledge, though. All I wanted to do was learn as much as I could about EVERYTHING. I dabbled with the idea of being a poet, a playwright, a painter and a singer. Theatre directing also made an appearance. So, I definitely always had a creative/expressive edge to everything. But I really honed in on the idea of writing a book while at university.
The idea for PSYCHOPATHS ANONYMOUS has been brewing for a while. When my dad died, I found a book in his house called ‘Steps to Christ’, which I kept. It’s the kind of thing you are given on a 12-Step program and I assumed he acquired it at some AA meeting. Religion/belief has always fascinated me or, more specifically, the psychology behind it. I knew I’d do something with it one day.
My books tend to stir up something in me as I write. HINTON HOLLOW DEATH TRIP looked into the idea of good and evil. This fed into THE BERESFORD where I thought a little more about heaven and hell. This then made me consider the function of a God figure. I was looking into Alcoholics Anonymous because I wanted to bring Maeve back and give her a story of her own. All of these things just came together and I invented the Psychopaths Anonymous support group.
J; How much research did you have to do for Psychopaths Anonymous…! Did you have to do a lot of drinking (lol) etc?
W; Ha! I do enjoy a drink and I like to ‘method write’ so I certainly allowed myself to get into Maeve’s character. I do have some personal experience of knowing people with addiction and I drew a little on that. I read through the 12-Step program several times. I always keep a Bible handy, too. I had considered attending an AA meeting but it felt very underhand when there were people there with real problems. We were locked down and there were online meetings but I just felt wrong doing that.
I did read testimonies from people who say how much the plan worked and I found people who believed it made things much worse.
When it came to the psychopathy element, I’m constantly researching this for my books and it’s a case of reading a lot of non-fiction and case studies and experiments, all of which I find incredibly interesting. I knew that a person could be a functioning alcoholic and wondered how it would play out to be a functioning psychopath.
J; Maeve is quite possibly THE best female Psycho EVER, how did you write her with such conviction? Did you base her on anyone!
W; It’s funny, a lot of people ask me this. Somebody even suggested that I may have based it on a female writer that I know. But the answer is no. She is fictitious. I had already invented Maeve for GOOD SAMARITANS. She was a successful and independent woman who drank a lot. She was obsessed with reality television and supported her husband, Seth, through some very dark moments. I had hinted at her psychopathy in the next two books and now it was time to ramp up her character.
There are so many male psychopaths and serial killers to draw from but I liked the idea that there aren’t as many women. It is suggested that men are more violent but I thought it would be interesting to see a woman do these things and not get caught. Maeve is smarter than men. She is calm, considered. She has a list.
But she also wants love. She wants somebody in her life. She gets off on seeing her ‘friend’ Jill’s misery but also feels those inflicting misery upon her should be punished.
Maeve is just a very rich and psychologically interesting character, and there was a great sense of playfulness I had in developing and writing her.
J; Who would you like to see playing the part of Maeve, if Psychopaths Anonymous is turned into a Movie?
W; I have to say that I think the idea lends itself more to a TV series than a film, perhaps. If I had written this book ten years ago, it would be Kate Winslet. No question. (I’d happily make Maeve a little older if Kate Winslet wanted to play her.)
When we were casting for the audiobook, I did say that Emily Blunt would be my choice in an ideal world, I think she has everything to pull this character off.
But, in my head, I was thinking of someone that looked like Sherilyn Fenn when she played Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks – that quirky femme fatale type.
J; As a child growing up, were you an avid reader or watcher of television? Did any part of your childhood make you the writer you are?
W; My parents weren’t big readers, so we didn’t have loads of books in the house. My mother was – and still is – into true crime books, so I assume that seeped into my mind somehow. But, yes, I always read a lot as a kid but I’ve always been way more into films. We always watched films, always went to the cinema. My favourite job – apart from writing – was working in my local cinema. Even now, I find it an entirely magical experience whenever I go.
I have a gigantic film collection. I get a message each week from my mother reminding me that there are still 3,000 VHS tapes in boxes in her loft. (I’ve snuck some DVDs up there, too. Shhh.) I think film has been the biggest influence on the way I write and is probably why I mess around with the structure of my books so much and end up telling each story in a different way.
As for my childhood, I spent a fair amount of time alone for various reasons and I think that lends itself to the process of writing/thinking/creating rather well.
J; What is your favourite book you’ve read in 2021 and why?
W; When was 2021? I read quite a few books over the year, I’m bound to forget something then kick myself for doing so. I’m going to pick a couple. One was a big hit, the other was more of an indie discovery.
I really enjoyed TRUE CRIME STORY by Joseph Knox. It’s nice to see a commercially successful author push things in a different direction. A great idea handled well. It still felt commercial to me and I think could have been edgier than it was but I absolutely tore through it. I’m sure there will be some awards nods coming its way.
And I’LL PRAY WHEN I’M DYING by Stephen J. Golds. I am a big fan of the writing. It’s dirty and raw and unapologetic. This is the other end of the spectrum to my last choice. There’s a real poetry to the writing. There’s rhythm and style and a powerfully dark story with a screwed up protagonist you want to succeed, even though you shouldn’t.
J; Do you have a favourite author or favourite book of all time?
W; When it comes to contemporary fiction, you can’t beat Chuck Palahniuk, and FIGHT CLUB is an anarchic masterpiece. The book changed my life and made me want to write novels, rather than plays.
I love Hemingway. A MOVEABLE FEAST and TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT are probably my favourites. You can’t beat Fitzgerald, either. I mean, THE GREAT GATSBY is basically perfect. Oh, and Bukowski, of course. POST OFFICE. Raw. Dirty. Brilliant. I could go on but these are the books I go back to again and again.
J; If you could go back in time, to one historical event, to witness it, what would it be and why?
W; It’s funny, I do suffer from a thing called ‘Golden Age Syndrome’ where you think your current generation is awful and want to travel back to the time you see as the best.
I’d love to go back to 1969 and attend Woodstock but Joni Mitchell didn’t play, which sucks because she’s the best.
I’d happily stick around for ten years after that to witness the greatest decade in cinema history. (It was also quite a fruitful time in the world of serial killers that I have written about.)
But, if I could only choose one, I’d probably head to Paris in the 20s and drink absinthe and wine with all of my favourite writers and artists. The crazy thing is that they would probably choose to go back to some other time when they thought literature was at its height.
I know that isn’t necessarily one historical moment like the JFK assassination but having all that talent in one city at one time seems worthy to me.
J; You can pick 4 famous people, dead or alive, for a dinner party, who would you pick and why?
W; I recently wrote a piece on six fictional psychopaths I would invite to dinner. But if I could have real people. CHARLES BUKOWSKI. I’d want someone who would stay up and drink with me until the early hours. It might end in some kind of fight, who knows? I think the same would be said for HEMINGWAY but he’s a little too serious, probably. Take the work seriously but yourself less so.
FRAN LEBOWITZ. Damn, I just love her. Smart, funny, outspoken, interesting. If you get a chance to read anything she has written, you should. And check out her documentary on Netflix to get a flavour for her genius. I could listen to her talk all night. And she probably would.
PAUL MCCARTNEY. I’m on a real Beatles high, at the moment, and he’s my favourite. I like the idea that we might be able to jam after dinner on the guitar and piano and rock out some songs.
KEVIN WIGNALL. I’ve been to dinner with Kevin many times. He hosts an intimate gathering every year on the Saturday of Harrogate festival. We eat lovely food, drink great wine and he has a love for dessert wine that is renowned. I think I’d like to repay his hospitality with this fine bunch while also using his unsurpassed skills as a raconteur.
J; When you’re writing do like silence or do you listen to music?
W: When I’m creating, I tend to do it in silence or with the thrum of a cafe filled with screaming children. If I listen to music while writing, it’s usually classical or jazz. I can’t listen to anything with lyrics. (I love the Cinema Paradiso soundtrack. Ennio Morricone. Beautiful.)
However, when I’m trying to create a certain mood or vibe to write in, I will listen to something before I write, to get me in the right space to create the sense I want on the page. When I edit, I can have music with lyrics and I tend to have something in the background because editing sucks and I need some joy in that process.
I also always listen to The Weight by The Band when I finish a book. And I drink a LARGE whisky.
J: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
W; STOP EATING ANIMALS. That’s the best piece of life advice I’ve received. Going vegan changed me for the better. I feel cleaner, healthier and ethically wrinkle-free. I wish I’d done it sooner.
The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever received was to ‘add light to the shade’. My books are often trying to talk about some societal issue and I can fall into a place where it feels like I am punching the reader in the face repeatedly to make the point. That doesn’t work. Often a serious point can be made by injecting humour. You can’t just hear about a character’s faults, there has to be some redemption. you have to let the reader breathe.
The funny thing is, I know this, but it’s always the note that comes back to me on any edit. But I think that the first draft is where I am completely caught up in the story and I am getting everything out. The best advice I can give to a budding writer is to get somebody to read your work that doesn’t love you. Your mum/partner/brother/cousin shouldn’t have to tell you that you are awful, it’s not fair. Find someone to read who will be honest. It will set you up for the world of writing and publishing to hear that what you’ve just written is a load of crap because that’s all being a writer is.
J; Are you currently writing another book?
W; I’m always writing another book. I have a lot of ideas and I need to get them down. PSYCHOPATHS ANONYMOUS hasn’t been out that long, so people are still talking about that. I’m in the editing phase of THE DAVES NEXT DOOR, which is due in July, and I am currently writing my book for the end of the year, which is preliminarily called SUICIDE THURSDAY. I’ve written some of it and I’ve got an idea of where it’s going to go but it’s not quite ready for me to really sit down and pound out the words.
I think I know my next four books and I’d like to branch out in the world of screenplays/stageplays at some point. I enjoy working hard and I love writing, so there is always something on the go.
J; Which of your books are you most proud of?
W; NOTHING IMPORTANT HAPPENED TODAY. Without a doubt. I don’t think there’s a book out there like it. I really managed to hit on something original there but I think, and it’s incredibly rare, it came out exactly as I wanted it to. I can think of things I would change in all of my other books but I just wouldn’t change anything in this. The prose was sparse but had the impact I wanted. I think my voice is at its strongest, too. I know that the subject matter is difficult and I know that the readers who don’t like it tend to really hate it but its point is to provoke that reaction, to get people thinking.
I’d love to feel that way again about a book but I’m not sure lightning will strike twice.
Thank you once again Will Carver for agreeing to be my blog guest, and also special thanks to Karen at Orenda books for arranging this and supporting me.
You can buy Will’s books HERE