I’m not going to lie. I am very much looking forward to December’s First Monday Crime panel. It looks set to be a brilliantly fun evening, and if you don’t know why then go and check out the First Monday website. Not only is there a brilliant panel, but some post panel high-jinx are also guaranteed. I am delighted to be one of the bloggers for the events and even more delighted because this month I get to do a Q&A with the author of my favourite book of 2016, Tall Oaks, Mr Chris Whitaker.
Before we find out what Chris thinks of Jaffa Cakes, let’s take a look at what his books are all about.
ISN’T IT ABOUT TIME THAT YOU MADE A DATE TO VISIT TALL OAKS?
Tall Oaks is an idyllic small town, until the disappearance of a young child throws the tight-knit community into crisis.
Jess Monroe, the boy’s distraught mother, is simultaneously leading the search and battling her own grief and self-destructive behaviour. Her neighbours watch on, their sympathy masking a string of dark secrets.
This is a small town where nothing is as it seems, and everyone has something to hide. And as the investigation draws towards a climax, prepare for a devastating final twist . . .
Dark, full of suspense and packed with twists, this brilliant new thriller is like nothing you’ve read before.
All The Wicked Girls
For fans of Lisa Jewell, Holly Seddon and Local Girl Missing, All the Wicked Girls is a gripping thriller with a huge heart from an exceptional talent.
Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she’s a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace – especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine. Then Summer vanishes.
Raine throws herself into the investigation, aided by a most unlikely ally, but the closer she gets to the truth, the more dangerous her search becomes.
And perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye . . .
Thanks for taking part in this Q&A. I’ve a mixture of some quick fire ice breakers to help us get to know you better, and some moderately sensible questions for you so we can practice the adult type stuff. 😊
Here we go:
Favourite childhood book?
Where The Wild Things Are
Favourite/most influential author?
What is your guilty pleasure?
Pornography (yes – thank you, Chris. A bit too adult that one… )
Best compliment you’ve had for your work?
Winning the Dagger. (And all the amazing reviews from my beloved blogger friends.)
‘borrows liberally from Fargo, Twin Peaks, & Vernon God Little but isn’t nearly as good as any of them’
At the time of writing Tall Oaks I hadn’t seen/read any of these. So there, smartarse.
Coffee or tea?
Plotter or pantser?
Handwritten notes or typed?
Favourite place to write? Alone or in public?
Do you have a soundtrack for your writing? If so what is it?
Depends what I’m writing. A lot of cello music for ATWG
Jaffa Cake: Cake or biscuit?
I like the orange bit. Is that jelly?
Now for the more serious stuff…
First up: All The Wicked Girls – small town America, big town problems. Discuss … Just kidding. Can you tell readers a little bit more about what they can expect from your book?
All The Wicked Girls follows the struggling town of Grace, Alabama during the mid-90’s, and the disappearance of golden girl, Summer Ryan. There’s a cop out of his depth, a group of teens that take the search into their own hands, and whole host of broke down people searching for redemption.
Having spent a short while living in a small town in SW America, what struck me about All The Wicked Girls, and your debut Tall Oaks, is how well you’ve captured the feeling of small town community in the South. How do you approach the research on this and getting your head into the mindset of your characters.
Jen! You lived in small town America, we should talk about this. And thanks, I’m glad you think it feels authentic. Research is about putting the hours in, maps, books, interviews, tv and film. That’s all relatively straightforward, though painstaking. The mindset is something altogether harder to explain. I think it’s probably empathy, no matter who you are writing they will have many dimensions.
I love the way in which you manage to blend a touch of humour in with what are really quite intense subjects. Was this a conscious decision or just something which manifested itself as you wrote?
It’s the highs that make the lows, and vice versa. So moving from writing a teenager working up the courage to ask out a girl, to a mother searching for her missing child, it’s a such a parallel. And I did wonder if these stories belonged in the same book. But as Liz Barnsley said in her review, Tall Oaks is life. And life can be funny and sad and all the things between, and that’s what I wanted to capture.
When we met this summer you mentioned that your publisher wanted you to take a walk on the dark side with All The Wicked Girls. The central subject matter is certainly quite taboo. Now you strike me as being a fairly easy going and generally nice chappie, so how easy did you find it tapping into the darkness?
I think it was more about not pulling any punches. I have no qualms about looking into the dark side of nature, though I have to admit it took its toll. I’ve yet to master the separation needed when writing and I found it very difficult to switch off. Spending so much of my day in the town of Grace left me feeling a bit drained, and I’m not a good sleeper so the effect was heightened.
Can you tell people a little but about your publishing journey? How or why did you turn to writing and how easy was the process for you? What has been the best part of your writing journey so far?
I think it’s about finding the thing you want to give everything to, and for me it’s writing. I did a city job, decided I’d rather be poorer and happier so quit and wrote Tall Oaks. I’ve glossed over it a bit but it was a hard decision, especially with bills to pay and a pregnant wife to support. None of it came easy. I didn’t do a course or anything, so just working out pacing and structure was difficult. Writing a book is a difficult thing to do.
Looking back now it’s hard to single out a specific moment, it’s more a collection of the unbelievable. Having agent interest, that moment when a publisher offers, working with a team on the story you wrote in alone at 2am for months and months and didn’t know if anyone would ever read, signing off on the final draft, holding the proof, holding the finished book, the first review, the national press, being longlisted for an award alongside some of the best writers in the business, then shortlisted, then winning the thing. INSANE. All of it.
Was it always your intention to write in the crime genre? You’ve got a great sense of humour. Is this something you’ve considered taking further in your writing.
I read crime, always have. I didn’t ever try and write anything else, though I certainly mixed a lot in with it. I’m not certain my books fit too neatly into a genre, and that’s something Bonnier let me get away with, and I love them for it. I’m certain I’ll write something without a crime in it at some point.
Your debut, Tall Oaks, has been met with great critical acclaim having won the CWA John Creasy (New Blood) Dagger in 2017, a massive congratulations on that one, and you’ve named by Sarah Hilary, amongst others, as one of the top writers to watch in crime fiction. When you started out, did you think you’d be so successful? Is it a help or a hindrance when it comes to plotting out your next novel?
Thank you. Not in a million years did I imagine being able to call on Sarah Hilary for support. She’s Sarah Hilary! Crime goddess! She should be all arrogant. I mean, I have to call her Lady Sarah and aren’t allowed to look her in the eye, but still.
I wrote Tall Oaks without knowing about the next steps, which probably helped. I didn’t ever look beyond the stage I was at, and still don’t now. The fact that readers have (mostly) enjoyed my books is a huge help going forward. It’s like validation that I can continue taking risks and writing the kind of stories that really interest me.
Now, you may have missed it, but I also quite liked Tall Oaks (my book of the year for 2016) and I don’t think it’s possible to do a proper Q&A without mentioning Manny as he is without doubt one of the funniest characters I met last year. How did you come up with his character and do you have any plans for a Manny sequel?
I didn’t miss it. I will love you forever, Jen. I’m not even joking when I tell the blogger crew I love them, they are my extended family and I’ll always appreciate just how supportive everyone has been.
Manny is special to me, he was born out of nothing, I just sat and wrote and he evolved. And the more I wrote the more complex he became. I miss him, I miss writing his scenes with Abe and Furat, and his mother. I will absolutely see him again at some point in the future, I couldn’t not.
Speaking of Manny, I think one of the best things about him, apart from his complete dorkishness, was his relationship with his best friend Abe. This idea of the bond of friendship is something you’ve revisited in All The Wicked Girls with Noah and Purv. It has a kind of ‘Stand By Me’ vibe to it. What was the inspiration behind taking this approach?
I love Stand By Me. I love the whole dynamic of teenage friends, of supporting each other when life around you is difficult. I had friends like that growing up, more like family. At that age your friends can understand you better than anyone else, there’s an element of being in it together, whatever it may be. There’s also the unknown, that you’re heading toward adulthood, those days are fleeting and fascinating.
Thinking back to when it all started, if there was one piece of advice you could give yourself as a novice writer at the start of your journey, what would it be?
Be brave and fierce.
Finally, and because I know for a fact there are many, many, many people who want to know, how is book three coming along? Anything you can tell us about it?
Hmm. Book 3. You’ll meet Emily, a little girl on a big mission. But not until at least 2019.
Thank you so much Mr Whitaker. Only you could manage to get porn a mention on my blog!!! For those of you who haven’t yet read either book, first of all – why not? Do you have any idea what you are missing. Despite only looking to be in his teens still, this guy is a genius and his books are superb. Second of all – stop fannying about and go and follow one of the links above to buy yourself a copy. You won’t regret it. Trust me. Would I lie to you? If you want to know what I thought about the books here is where you can find my reviews for Tall Oaks and All The Wicked Girls.
In case you missed it, Tall Oaks was my top pick of 2016, and All The Wicked Girls received my prestigious (in my head at least) Red Hot Read badge. If I’d had the badge back in 2016, then Chris would definitely be a double winner.
About the Author
Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working as a financial trader in the city. His debut novel, Tall Oaks, won the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. Chris’s second novel, All The Wicked Girls, was published in August 2017. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two young sons.
You can stalk/follow Chris on Twitter.
Chris Whitaker will be appearing at First Monday Crime in December. The event this month is a real holiday treat! Not only do we have a cracking panel- Louise Jensen, Chris Whitaker, Susi Holliday, Mel McGrath, moderated by the lovely Claire McGowan, but wine will be graciously sponsored by No Exit Press.
As an extra festive bonus, some of the finest crime fiction authors in the WORLD are going to pitch their cherished dream projects to you, the audience. A panel of experts, with savage wit and repartee, will be there to add commentary, but YOU decide who the winner is! There will be tears, laughter and possibly dinosaur detectives.
This part of the event will be crafted under the careful and caring gaze of MC Howard Linskey, Rod Reynolds, Abir Mukherjee, Cass Green, Leye Adenle, Susi Holliday, Derek Farrell, Lisa Cutts, Chris Whitaker, Mason Cross, Neil White and James Carol as they vie for the ultimate prize: the coveted title of First Monday Pitch an Audience Champion 2017.
And don’t forget to take part in the Secret Santa Book Exchange. Bring a book (pre-loved is fine!) wrapped in tissue/news/wrapping paper and get a book in return!
You can book tickets and learn more about First Monday Crime, at their website here.