I met Martyn Waites (aka Tania Carver) at the Princess Louise pub in London. It’s an old Victorian place with wood panelled booths and a traditional bar. Over beer and pork scratchings, we chatted about crime fiction, country music, and what it’s like writing under multiple names …
Your latest novel – HEARTBREAKER – is the 7th Tania Carver novel featuring DI Phil Brennan and Psychologist Marina Esposito. As you know, I’m a huge fan of the series, and I found the killer in this book especially chilling. What was it that led you to create that particular character?
I never set out to create a villain. The character might have done horrible things, but everyone is the hero of their own story, so I come at it from that angle. It’s about making monsters more human. I think you have to look at characters that way or you don’t get the depth of psychological involvement needed for the story.
Their side of the story was quite interesting to plot. At first I wanted to let the reader know the killer’s identity halfway through the book and have them see the character manipulating and manoeuvring the chess pieces during the second half. But in the end I went back and changed it, so that the story kept the reader guessing till close to the end.
The question in my mind was what would attract someone who’s a natural predator to do [what they do in the book]? I like the juxtaposition between their job and what they do privately, and at the same time I wanted to make them good at their job. I wanted to create someone who had a life – I like giving good characteristics and traits to bad characters. I hate looking at things as black and white – grey is so much more interesting.
During the course of the series, and especially in HEARTBREAKER, you’ve put Phil and Marina through a lot both professionally and as a couple. Was their relationship something you’d planned out from the start of the series or has it grown organically book by book?
I make it up as I go along! I know when I start a book they have to be in a different place emotionally at the end, and that the story has to have moved them on as characters – without that, everything stays on the surface. In a series it’s difficult to do, but worth doing. Every novel needs to be a good jumping on point for new readers, but also give readers of the series something more. I like surprising the reader!
You’ve written books under your own name – the Joe Donovan series, the Stephen Larkin series, the Woman in Black: Angel of Death, Great Lost Albums – as well as the Tania Carver novels. What is it that attracts you to a story idea, and how do you decide which of your names it’s right for?
I’m not sure! I had actually started working on a Tania book, but about fifty pages in I realised it was a Martyn Waites novel so I stopped. I’ve got another idea for a standalone, and an idea for a comic series which I’m putting together. I’ve got an idea for a supernatural horror crime novel too where the premise came to me fully formed – I was on the tube at the time and had to get off so I could write it down. With writing, I think it’s about opening up yourself to different ideas, and then finding someone to pay you for writing them!
When I write I don’t have a specific reader in mind, but I do want to give the reader a good experience. It comes from when I was acting. I was on tour in a Catherine Cookson play (as the villain) and my mother and her friends had all saved up so they could buy good tickets to come and watch it. That really reminded me that the audience have paid money to see a play and deserve to enjoy it. It’s the same with readers – I don’t write for a specific person but I want the reader to have the best experience they can. It means you can never feel complacent and do something half-arsed. It makes me my own worst critic – I always think I can do better.
What’s your writing process – do you plot everything out in advance or dive right in and see what happens?
Bit of both really. I start with a premise, maybe a couple of images, and some questions – what’s happened? Why did it happen? From there I’ll write a bit and see what happens and where it gets to. In the new one I’m writing [the 8th Tania Carver novel] a couple of new characters have popped up and I just love putting them in scenes – that’s the exciting bit. I tend to use the first part of the book as an audition for the characters, then do a bit of structuring and plan a list of things that will happen.
With this book I’ve changed to writing at night. I start work at 8pm and write through to midnight, or if it’s going well until 2am. I like working at night. It’s like you’re alone with your thoughts and the house is silent. It’s comforting. It makes it feel like a good time to write.
Like me, you have a love of country music. What are you listening to at the moment? And do you listen to music as you’re writing?
I need silence when I’m writing. I’ve tried writing in coffee shops, but I can’t do proper work away from my desk or dining room table (which I sit at for a change of scenery). So I can’t listen to music as I write, although I wish that I could.
I do listen to music to get me into the right mood to write, and this is different depending on the book. For one book I would listen to Night Owl by Gerry Rafferty, and for another it was Verdi Cries by 10,000 Maniacs. I’m currently listening to Everything’s Fine by The Willard Grant Conspiracy (really miserable) and Mark Lanegan (kind of less miserable) – both put me in the right mood for writing. If I want something more upbeat, then I listen to some sixties southern soul like James Carr.
What was it that drew you into writing crime fiction and how did you get started?
I was a fan of crime fiction. I read a lot of the stuff, and am a huge comics fan, but couldn’t read sci-fi. I read a lot of pulp fiction and when I picked up a copy of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely I knew I’d found my thing. I read everything by Chandler, Ross MacDonald, and Dashiell Hammett. Then discovered James Ellroy and James Lee Burke. I didn’t really like the UK stuff like Agatha Christie, but I loved the contemporary American stuff and the way it was reporting on a society I recognised. I wondered why no one was doing that it in the UK – so I decided to write a novel. At the same time others had the same thought and were taking the idea in their own direction – people like Ian Rankin. Crime fiction was the only type of books that really connected with me, I was left cold by UK literary fiction – it all seemed to be about the beauty of a sentence and showing off. I hated it. Whereas Ellroy and Lee Burke demonstrated that literary crime could be accessible and contemporary.
What advice would you give to those aspiring to publication?
Someone once said that the main difference between an amateur writer and a professional writer is that a professional writer doesn’t take no for an answer! It took me five years to be published and during that time I was turned down by everyone!
Keep writing. Keep getting better. Don’t take no for an answer.
I still turn up to crime fiction events feeling like I’m going to be told my time’s up. You just need to keep on writing, and re-writing and re-writing. And if you get knocked back ask why – you’re never going to get better unless you know why you’re getting rejected, so ask.
And finally, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?
Finishing the next Tania Carver novel, which will hopefully be finished sooner rather than later – it’ll be out in summer 2016 as an eBook, and autumn 2016 in paperback. Then my back catalogue is being published in France and I’ll be going there to attend some festivals.
And with that our drinks were finished, the pork scratchings eaten, and the interview over.
A huge thank you to Martyn Waites (aka Tania Carver) for letting me ply him with beer and interrogate him about his books and writing.
Be sure to check out HEARTBREAKER – the fabulously gritty, super-chilling latest book in the DI Phil Brennan and Psychologist Marina Esposito series by Tania Carver.
Here’s the blurb: “After years of abuse, Gemma Adderley has finally found the courage to leave her violent husband. She has taken one debilitating beating too many, endured one esteem-destroying insult too much. Taking her seven-year-old daughter Carly, she leaves the house, determined to salvage what she can of her life. She phones Safe Harbour, a women’s refuge, and they tell her which street corner to wait on and what the car that will pick her up will look like. They tell her the word the driver will use so she know it’s safe to get in.
And that’s the last they hear from her.
Gemma Adderley’s daughter Carly is found wandering the city streets on her own the next day. Her mother’s mutilated corpse turns up by the canal several weeks later. Her heart has been removed. Detective Inspector Phil Brennan takes on the case, and his wife, psychologist Marina Esposito, is brought in to try and help unlock Carly’s memories of what happened that day. The race is on to solve the case before the Heartbreaker strikes again …”
You can find out more about Martyn Waites (and Tania Carver) over on www.martynwaites.com and follow Martyn on Twitter @MartynWaites
And click on the book cover below to buy HEARTBREAKER from Amazon: