Vicky Newham


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Stav at CrimeFest 2103 in Bristol

Stav at CrimeFest 2013 in Bristol

 

My introduction to Stav Sherez was through his tweets, many of which are about writing, music, coffee and the weather. These prompted me to look up his website. When I read the beautifully crafted and intriguing piece called ‘Why I write crime fiction’ (http://stavsherez.com/why-i-write-crime-fiction/), I headed straight for Amazon and bought The Black Monastery and The Devil’s Playground. Since then he has been one of my favourite crime fiction authors.

Recently, I asked Stav about his writing and how his background influences his novels. I also caught up with him at CrimeFest, in between his panel appearances, book signings and trademark espresso-slamming sessions, to take some photographs.

 

1. Religious settings occur in several of your books, and you are Literary Editor for the Catholic Herald. Is there a reason for your interest in religion and theology? What aspects interest you most? You are very well informed on the subjects. Did you study them at university?

It’s funny because this is one of those things that I’ve only noticed in retrospect. When I was writing the books, I went with whatever felt right for the story but looking back, you’re absolutely right. Religious settings and themes seem to thread through each book, not least of all in the titles. I did Art History and Theology as my degree and despite (or perhaps because of) being agnostic I’m intrigued by what causes people to believe and how it fundamentally changes the world they experience and live through. Theology intrigues me as it posits some of the same questions as philosophy. In a sense, God, and existence are the biggest mysteries of all. On another level, I think monasteries and convents are very creepy, strange and interesting settings for crime novels.

 

2. How did the journey from rock journalist to novelist come about? Are you ever tempted to return to music journalism? After a great gig or new album, for example?

Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a novelist but music has always been a huge part of my life too. When I was writing my first novel, I was doing a lot of music journalism, but it was always a side project to the novels. As for the second part of your question – no. I’m quite happy now to just enjoy a record or gig without having to think what to say about it.

The Death Overseas panel at CrimeFest 2013 with Stav as moderator

The Death Overseas panel at CrimeFest 2013, with Stav as moderator

3. From when I read the ‘Why I write crime fiction’ piece on your website it was obvious that you love language and have a gift for using it. Your expressions are utterly unique and your imagery deliciously fresh. Why is language so important to you, in general, and in your writing?

Well, without language there wouldn’t be any writing! I, like most writers, tend to write what I would like to read and the books I love most do new and strange things with language yet never at the expense of story – I’m talking about people like Thomas Pynchon, James Ellroy, Don DeLillo. It’s through language, and the unit of the sentence, that we tell stories, and I do believe that using language in unusual ways can immerse you deeper into the sensual atmosphere of a novel.

 

4. You are now a mainstream, well-respected crime novelist. Why do you think that your novels are popular? Can you say what you think your USP is as a writer?

Ha – I’m not so sure about that! I have no idea why people like my novels, I’m just very happy that they do. I think any writer’s USP is his or her language, the way they see the world, and the particular stories they choose to tell about it.

 

5. Are you enjoying writing a series? What are its challenges and benefits?

It’s much harder than I anticipated. After two standalones, I thought writing a series would be somewhat easier but, as with everything else, I was wrong. The major difficulty I’ve found in writing a series is not repeating yourself. By the very nature of a series you are going to be writing similar scenes from book to book (discovery of body; autopsy; briefing etc) and it’s very hard to make them different but it’s also a challenge that forces you to write outside of your comfort zone and try new things. One of the major benefits of writing a series is not having to tie up every loose end by the final page. Stories and sub-plots can play out across several books. A series will also trace your life into the narrative as you change over the years you are writing it.

 

6. You are writing the third Carrigan and Miller novel now. Can you tell us what challenges face your detectives in the next novel?

I have no idea! I don’t plan at all and so at the moment I’m still working on what to keep in the second draft. Everything’s up for grabs!

Moral hypocrisy in crime fiction panel at CrimeFest 2013

The Moral Hypocrisy in Crime Fiction panel at CrimeFest 2013, with Sophie Hannah as moderator

7. With each of your novels you’ve chosen distinctive places as part of the setting for the plot, if not all of it. What do you think ‘place’ adds to a novel? Can there be a ‘good novel’ without this?

For me place is crucial. Every book I’ve written has begun with landscape. Once I know where it’s set, I know what can or cannot happen there, the histories that have come together to make the place what it is. I think setting is very important to the crime novel. It’s a large part of what makes one different from another. It adds context and history and atmosphere. That said, however, there are no rules in fiction and you can certainly write a good novel without it.

 

8. Which part of the novel-writing process do you find most rewarding, and which the most challenging?

I find pretty much all of it challenging! First drafts are probably the easiest as I write without editing or looking back. Hence, the second draft is often the most soul-crushing one, when you realise nothing works, the story doesn’t make sense, the prose is terrible and you’d rather write any other book, even a fourteenth century costume comedy, than this one. I tend to do about ten drafts of each book and it’s the last four or five that I ‘enjoy’ most – when bit by bit you can feel it starting to click together like pieces of a puzzle. That’s a lovely feeling.

 

9. Your editing job, blog pieces and article-writing, are all non-fiction writing. Do you find that doing non-fiction work helps or hinders your fiction-writing?

I don’t like writing non-fiction and I find it much harder than fiction. I like to make things up and to use language to create mood and suspense and non-fiction requires a very different discipline, one I’m not very good at.

 

10. Do you write anything other than prose? Or have any plans to branch into a different medium?

Does Twitter count as prose? (joke). I’m actually writing a screenplay with a friend at the moment – my first attempt at a script since I was at University! It’s an adaptation of the Why I Write Crime Fiction piece that you mentioned. It’s such a wildly different way of working and I’m just trying to get my head around it.

 

eleven days from faber

 

Thanks so much to Stav for providing such thoughtful answers. Of course, I now have lots of supplementary questions but I shall keep those for another time! But, a couple of other things I’m curious about are: is the ‘Amy’ in the why-I-write-crime-fiction piece a real person? And, how does he get his hair to stand up like that? Stav. Stav? Oh, he’s gone…

Stav’s fourth book, Eleven Days, is out in hardback and on Kindle. It’s the second in the ‘Carrigan and Miller’ series. If you fancy checking out Stav’s tweets, you can find him here: @stavsherez

 

 

Vicky Newham © 2013


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What’s that Twitter thing all about?

twitter-logo (2)

Recently there have been a few articles and blogposts about the use of Twitter by writers. As someone who uses it regularly, but only really in the last six months, I’ve been reflecting on how I use it, what I feel I’ve gained from it, and what its downsides are. Yesterday I was telling a couple of business-y friends  how useful Twitter can be – and fun – and they both looked at me as if I was talking about running down the local high street naked (not that that would necessarily be useful, of course!). ‘We don’t get it!’ They chimed. Fair enough.

The main thing I’ve found of value is the way it’s enabled me to make contact with a range of people all around the world. Of course other forms of social media also facilitate this, but I find Twitter the most user-friendly. It’s great to be able to tweet a person whose talk, book, TV programme I’ve enjoyed or am looking forward to. It’s fun to make the acquaintance of people with the similar interests. I’ve found out about local author and writing events, informative writing blogs and fantastic new (new-to-me, and new-new) authors. In addition I’m able to keep abreast of developments and issues in psychology and neuroscience (which, despite giving up teaching, still remain a great passion of mine).

‘Launching’ myself on Twitter a year ago was a bit weird. I typed my first tweet and pressed the button with trepidation. I felt like ‘the new kid on the block’. Albeit one of millions of new kids every day! An imposter, even. I read articles on Twitter protocol and etiquette to try and reduce the likelihood of faux pas commission. I wrote and re-wrote my ‘biog’ section goodness how many times. ‘Writing a crime novel’ it said. You and lots of other people, the cynical voice in my head said! (In fact, any concerns I had about making this statement on Twitter only mirrored those I already had so by the time I wrote it I was actually ready to ‘put it out there’)

On one level it feels a bit strange tweeting people who are ‘famous’, authors whose books I love and people who could potentially become my agent, publisher or editor! But in real life and on Twitter I tend to relate to others first and foremost as human beings, and am naturally friendly. And I don’t really ‘do’ star struck. I also happen to have a slightly cheeky nature which can be useful for breaking the ice … but can get me into trouble too. (I’m good at apologising and am genuinely mortified if I ever offend!) It’s been awesome to get in contact with other people who, like me, are writing books and hoping to get them published, and it’s genuinely inspiring and delightful to see authors getting agents and being offered publishing contracts.

I still find the public nature of Twitter a bit confusing. Reading someone else’s tweets makes me feel a bit like I’m spying on them, or reading their diary. But they are in the public domain. People also have heated debates on Twitter and sometimes it’s like witnessing a row in the pub. And then there are the people who rant a lot and seem to think that Twitter is their very own, personal, individual, very loud, loudspeaker. Another issue is that of ‘butting in’ on existing conversations. Sometimes they’re just so fascinating, aren’t they? However, it’s not really any different from butting into a conversation at the bus stop. But, hey, I do that sometimes too …

Regarding self-promotion on Twitter, my view is that everyone uses it to some extent for that – and what’s wrong with that? However, the folk who only tweet about their books, and their 5* reviews, and their special offers, they aren’t for me. The same with the serial RT-ers: to go onto my timeline and see nothing but other people’s RTs (and always book promos) is annoying, but I’ve discovered that you can turn these off. Hurrah! I enjoy following people who are genuinely humorous and interesting, and who reveal a bit of themselves and what their life is like. People who are human. I like to find out when their book is being published, and if it’s on special offer. I find it reassuring to know that they also struggle with sections of their books, have days when they don’t get dressed properly or leave the house, and eat strange food sometimes. I have also discovered that, as in real life, people’s idea of etiquette differs. Some people thank you for RTs, some don’t; some people take offence if you ask for an RT, others do it willingly; some people ask for information and don’t say thanks when you supply it. Some people return your ‘follow’ without a ‘hello’ or any social lubrication, just a link to their book/website/blog/Facebook page. Nice. But, hey, there’s always the ‘unfollow’ button. And on the whole I’ve found people to be absolutely loverly.

One perplexing aspect of Twitter is its speed. On my phone the Twitter and Tweetdeck apps only supply a few hours’ feed. Consequently, it’s easy to miss interesting or useful tweets but you can always check the tweet feed of individuals (although this still makes me feel a bit like a stalker!). I am getting used to using Twitter and it is a constantly evolving medium. Sometimes I’m not in the mood, sometimes I love it. As someone who’s writing their second novel, it’s made a huge difference to my life, largely via an increased sense of connection with other writerly folk.

Vicky Newham © 2013