What life span do Anderson and Costello have?
I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see how this standalone goes. I don’t have a big plan, but I write in real time. What a mistake that is. Don’t do that. Just write in ethereal time, so no one gets older and pregnancies can last two and a half years. When you write in real time, you either have to promote characters or have reasons for them not to be promoted, which is what happens to Anderson in book four. So I might have the Rankin/Rebus issue – having started too late.
Which compromises with realism do you make?
What the police do in a day to day sense is very logical, so what I write isn’t what happens. As a crime writer, you’re allowed one intelligent detective and one who’s slightly daft, so when one explains things to the other one, the reader gets it. If books are full of anachronisms, writers might be showing their readers they’ve done their research, but readers don’t get it. For example, you can’t have 15 people on a Scottish jury. Never mind the fact that you would be right, somebody will assume you’re wrong and correct it to 12. So you nod at what’s real and get on with what’s good for the story.
What’s good for the story?
I was doing Aye Write with Professor Sue Black, and, being a forensic anthropologist, she said the nuts and bolts of the job are actually quite boring. Two minutes before that I had said it’s good to get the forensics in because that makes the story really exciting. Someone from the audience was obviously paying attention and asked: “How do you reconcile what she just said to what you said?” I answered: “We just miss out the paperwork. If the emotion is behind the people who solve the crime, you will get your forensic anthropologist out of bed at half past three in the morning if that’s what the novel takes.” She just went: “I wouldn’t go. I’d stay in my bed.” It’s an agreed fiction, and that’s fine.
What I don’t like is the ‘nighty in the graveyard scenario’. That’s when a detective of either sex does something unbelievably stupid that no cop would ever do, like meeting a serial killer, on their own, down a mine, without a phone or a knife. If you have to do that to get your story to work, your story’s wrong. And pay some attention to the time line. It’s useful to get a piece of wallpaper liner and put it on the wall sideways. Draw two lines along in, one above with what actually happens, and one below with how it appears in the story. It sounds like an obvious thing to do, but a lot of novice crime writers don’t realise that a lot of the crime novel occurs in backstory, so you’re very often writing in the future.
How steep has that learning curve been for you?
It took a few false starts for them to get the language right in which to speak to me. I didn’t get what they were getting at. Then they said: “We are trying to get you to write the book you thought you have already written.” Then it clicked. They’re not trying to get me to write something else. I get that now. A good editor is never trying to make you write another book. A good editor is trying to make this one better. Editing is about making what’s in your head relate to what’s on the page.
Did that develop your interest in narcissists?
There’s nothing wrong with being a narcissist. People say it’s terrible to be a control freak. Control freaks get things done. Yes, people can take it to extremes, but it shouldn’t be put down as a bad thing, because the person passing that judgment is probably the lazy person who’s not doing what the ‘control freak’ is getting done. Anyway, anybody who likes applause is technically a narcissist. All great performers are narcissists. It’s when narcissism becomes pathological that it gets dangerous.
A couple of weeks ago, Alex Gray and I were both asked whether we believed in the concept of evil, and we both said ‘yes’ in a very cheery way. I think it does depend on your definition of evil. There’s all this research saying it has something to do with a person’s amygdala not working, which means the brain’s ability to process morality chemically is lacking. If that person grows up in an environment where morality is not instilled in them, it serves up a perfect storm, and that’s happening more and more. So are they evil or are they ill? It doesn’t really matter. They can’t be out walking about the streets, because they can’t be trusted to behave. They will murder your granny and think nothing of it, so they have to be locked away.