When authors write in more than one genre they tend to use a pseudonym and as such this is how Martyn Waites arrived on our doorstep as Crime Writer Tania Carver (with two books written in association with his wife.) As usual with our reading habits we dug into the cover to see what darkness lurked beneath and were treated to a tale of horror, of crime and of course with some deliciously wicked twists to keep you gripped.
Here we chat to Martyn about writing, comedy sidekicks and his considerate thinking friend who aides in plotting during walks…
Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?
Martyn Waite: Absolutely true as far as I can see. I’m often grumpy and miserable and distracted when I’m working which is the way it should be, really. You’re creating a world in your head and getting it down as faithfully as you can. However I’m much more miserable and grumpy when I’m not writing. I think the statement ‘I enjoy having written’ rather than ‘I enjoy writing’ applies to me. And most of my writing friends too.
FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?
MW: I don’t think there was a conscious moment when I said it. Even to myself. I used to be an actor and I recently had lunch with an actor friend I had done a lot of work with. He told me he wasn’t the least bit surprised that I’d ended up a writer. ‘Because you weren’t the slightest bit interested in acting.’ I was quite taken aback by this because I thought I had been. He said the only time I was ever excited by anything was when I’d read a good book or graphic novel. I started to think about this and realized he was right. When I got a script I always responded to it as a writer would rather than an actor. I suppose in hindsight it was inevitable.
FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?
MW: You’re asking the wrong person that one. I’ve written a few short stories but only when I’ve been commissioned to do so. I don’t write short stories as a rule or even read them. They have to be something special for that. I’m sure I’m missing out and I know writers who are absolutely brilliant at it. But it’s just not a medium I respond to. Give me a novel any day.
FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?
MW: Depends what someone’s looking for. The Tania Carver novel written with my wife are more straightforward, high concept thrillers. The ones under my own name are different. Two of them, Born Under Punches and The White Room aren’t crime novels, they’re more state of the nation secret history type books. The Joe Donovan series are contemporary crime novels with a serious sense of social engagement.
FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?
MW: Great crime thrillers. They’ll make you laugh, cry, shudder and think. You’ll get your money’s worth alright.
FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?
MW: Unfortunately most of my favourite writers are dead so I don’t do much queuing up for their latest novel. Graham Greene is my favourite all time writer. I’ve got everything he ever published. Likewise Patrick Hamilton, Nelson Algren, John Fante, Hubert Selby, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, tons of old paperback original writers . . . Of the living ones there’s John Le Carre, Harry Crews, Don Winslow . . . There are plenty more but they’ll do for starters.
FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your ideas develop as you write?
MW: Bit of both. I usually start with a central image or idea and develop it from there. Then I’ll see where I am after a hundred pages or so and start to plan from there. Then another couple of hundred in I’ll take stock once more and plan accordingly. I plan roughly but I do leave enough gaps for the story to breathe, develop or just surprise me.
FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?
MW: I never really relax when I’m working. It’s not the kind of thing you can switch off from. But the book I most recently enjoyed was Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad. Fantastic.
FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
MW: I don’t have any guilty pleasures. I don’t believe in them. Life’s too short not to get pleasure from what you enjoy and I’m pretty much an open book about what I enjoy.
FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)
MW: I’ve got a hyperactive collie dog. She has never appeared in any of my books but I run about three or four miles with her every day and got a lot of thinking done then so I suppose you could say she helps in that respect.
FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?
MW: I always enjoy writing the villains. Or the comedy sidekicks. They’re the ones who get to say and do the things you would never countenance – or even absolutely hate – in your real life. You can really let rip with them.
FT: How similar to your principal protagonist are you?
MW: I think Frances Fyfield said that a series character is an idealized version of the author but five years younger. I’d go along with that. Joe Donovan is how I’d imagine myself to be in those extreme situations. He says the right thing at the right time and does it too. Phil Brennan is too, to an extend but the one difference between me and him is that I’d never consider joining the police force in a million years.
FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?
MW: I don’t have any hobbies. Everything I do seems to feed back into my work. If I watch a movie or DVD then I’ll watch with a critical eye. Same with reading a novel. I’ll often meet up with friends for lunch or dinner or drinks but since they mostly tend to be writers it ends up being about work again.
FT: Where do you get your ideas from?
MW: Everywhere. The Surrogate was from an article Linda (my wife and the other half of Tania Carver) read in the paper. The Creeper came from a dream I had. Cage of Bones from a line in a Warren Zevon song. Ideas are the easy bit. I can have three or four ideas a day. The hard bit is sitting for a year and turning them into something people will pay money to read.
FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?
MW: Constantly. But you just have to work through it as best you can. When you’re writing for a living and getting paid to have a piece of work submitted on a certain date to a certain standard, writers block is a luxury. Everyone has days when they can’t focus at work. Writers are no different. Bricklayers never complain of bricklayers block, do they?
FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?
MW: They’re used to it. Both my wife and I are freelancers and when Linda’s not involved with the Tania books she’s designing for theatre and that isn’t a nine to five job either. As for me, I’m not much of a morning person so I tend to write during the afternoons or evenings. If I’m late with a deadline then it’s just me, the laptop and a bottle of Maker’s Mark sitting up till the early hours with me screaming ‘Give my creation life!’ at the screen. Happy days.
FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?
MW: It has to be silence for me when I’m working on a novel, which is a shame as I do love my music. It influences what I’m doing too much. I can write other stuff with music playing, though. I’m listening to the Drive By Truckers while I’m writing this.
FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?
MW: I don’t know that I had any misconceptions as I didn’t have many conceptions. I had no idea how it worked. If I did have one I suppose it was that I’d be able to make a living from it.
FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?
MW: It’s called ‘Choked’ and it’s going under the Tania Carver byline. It’s the fourth in the Phil Brennan/Marina Esposito series and this one sees Marina taking centre stage in a race against time.
FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?
MW: I can’t say. They’re all filth. Or Doctor Who. Or filth and Doctor Who. Together. That’s wrong, isn’t it?
FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.
MW: None whatsoever, I’m entirely self taught. However I do teach creative writing at university and have, if I may say so, quite a decent track record in getting people agented and published.
FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?
MW: By keeping going. When you’re a professional actor you develop a thick skin and learn to cope with constant rejection. A mate of mine always says that the difference between an amateur writer and a professional one is not taking no for an answer. That’s what I did. Was incredibly bloody-minded and pig-headed and just stuck at it. And in the end it happened. But it took five years of hard work.
FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?
MW: The best: You’re your own boss and you get to work from home. You’ve got no one cracking the whip and your hours are your own.
The worst: You’re your own boss and you get to work from home. You’re completely relying on yourself, you’ve got no safety net and because you’re at home all day you’re easily distracted.
Cage of Bones is released today from Sphere.