John Wisniewski Interviews Tom Quiller

Punk Noir Magazine

INTERVIEW WITH TOM QUILLER

When did you begin writing, Tom?

 I began writing as a young child. My mum had been a journalist before becoming an English teacher so I knew writing was something you could do as an actual job living and the idea of telling stories for a living appealed to me. I would write stories in school exercise books or on A4 ruled pads. When I was about 12 or 13 Mum gave me an old Norwegian typewriter (it had the “o” with a diagonal slash through it, which kind of fascinated me) and the first thing I typed out was the opening chapter in a thriller called “Angle of Death”. I still have it on cream Basildon Bond writing paper! 

Any favourite crime and suspense authors?

Too many! I have to be upfront and say that while I read A LOT, I also watch a great deal of TV thrillers and crime procedurals. But very early influences were the Agatha Christie books, Conan Doyle and shows like The Sweeney and Z Cars. (That’s showing my age!) I also loved the thriller movies of my youth – the Bonds (later, I read all the books) and the Harry Palmer adaptations starring Michael Caine. This moved me into the books of Wilbur Smith and Jack Higgins and later still PD James, Gavin Lyall and Ted Allbeury (still today some of my favourite writers). I aspire to the literary skills of John Le Carré, Robert Harris and Ian Rankin. 

How do you create suspense in your novels? How do you keep the Reader guessing?

I believe the key to suspense *is* to keep the reader guessing! We all have things in our past or character traits we’d rather forget or not have anyone find out about. With fiction it’s heightened so that these things become much more significant – or appear to do so. These character flaws are revealed slowly; the skeletons fall out of the closet one limb at a time! This hopefully draws the reader in. In crime novels, the reader is a kind of rival detective, trying to solve the mystery before the protagonist does. I find it most satisfying when – as a consumer of crime and mystery fiction – I’m half right and the writer has actually pulled the rug from under me a bit in a way I didn’t see coming. That need not be a huge twist, although I love those (as long as they make you go “oh, yeah!” rather than “how did that happen?”).

So, I will always try to lay breadcrumbs for the reader but also ensure there are red herrings aplenty that will put them off the scent and confuse things for them *and* my main man, DI Andrew Crawford! Plus, it’s about omitting key information until the very last moment – or burying it somewhere unexpected so it may be overlooked; finding ways to obfuscate the facts but placing them (more or less!) in plain sight. If we have a person who is discovered holding a smoking gun over a dead body and is then found to be guilty, that’s obvious and unsatisfying. If we find out that person is innocent despite appearances – or there is solid doubt of their guilt – then that becomes much more interesting. It’s all because we just don’t know, and we want to find out.

Frustration and suspense are unlikely but keen bedfellows! Uncertainty about who is exactly what they appear to be, what they are doing and why are key to suspense. It’s that uncertainty that makes us question and second-guess everything, jumping from one suspect to another as the clues form a pattern. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle where you don’t have the picture on the box. And I love piecing those together!

How did you create the Andrew Crawford character?

To me, all my characters are real. They have to be. I like to think that they are fully formed from the beginning. It’s *me* that has to interpret and understand them, to bring them to life on the page for the reader. It’s like tuning a radio to get a specific station. You turn the dial – quickly at first and then with more precision as you find what you’re looking for. As you narrow the band, things become clearer and the character takes shape.

This is very true of Crawford. He came to me as a lumpy black of stone and slowly, as I’ve listened to who he is, I’ve chiselled and formed so that he now appears as real as he can. All my lead characters are loosely based on my experience. I have trauma in my past and so do they. His is very different to mine and his reactions are different, too, but it’s there. Many of his feelings are like mine. Others are not. Despite his origin in my imagination he is his own person. He has dark secrets and a dry sense of humour. He is a much more considered person than I am. Perhaps because of what he has seen. Someone who sees murders and murderers on a day-to-day basis is going to be a very different person to someone who sits at his desk and merely makes them up!

Obviously, there’s research, too. Speaking with serving and ex-police officers. Having them as friends… Watching documentaries, reading real life crime and online accounts. And adorning this with other crime writer’s influences. This is what I like to think of as decorating the Christmas tree; adding the extra baubles and lights of verisimilitude and intertextual references (albeit slight). This is what has rounded out Crawford and made him fully formed. I genuinely hope the readers see this and enjoy his company as they go with him on the journey of solving his cases. 

Could we talk about Evergreen and Apparitions, Tom? What inspired these novels?

Evergreen and Apparitions came to me in the early stages of the first lockdown we had in March 2020. For me, that period was very productive as my imagination went into overdrive – possibly as a coping mechanism. I love folk horror and I love police procedurals, so I thought I would try to put the two genres together, using the supernatural overtones of the former to inform the latter and add another layer of creepiness, suspense and uncertainty.

I knew I wanted these books to be set around where I live in East Anglia as there is so much folklore, so many strange legends and, of course, the connection to the witch trials and the Witchfinder general (who came from Manningtree, which is about an hour south of my home). Boudicca came from here, there is a very visceral connection to the land and the ancient woodland of the area, the Broads, the coast and so on.

I love forests and woodland. They are beautiful. But they can be creepy and unnerving. It’s that flipside; that dual aspect to nature and the countryside that I wanted to capture. So, Evergreen deals with the folk legend of the Green Man or Herne the Hunter. Apparitions deals with ghosts and the idea of a hanging tree. And the whole theme comes to a head in Convocation, the third novel, where we deal with witchcraft. 

Now, I must stress that these novels are not supernatural tales; they all have very real, human and rational explanations and are concerned with very contemporary murders and mysteries. It’s the backdrop to them that I haven’t seen that often in other detective fiction and I wanted to play with in a regular police procedural.

We move slightly away from this in the fourth in the series, Fallout, which deals with a murder set against the backdrop of a Nuclear Power Station. It’s not supernatural but something, I feel, that has become mythologised as places to fear and to be suspicious of since our own disaster at Windscale in the 60s and then with the US Three Mile Island and, of course, Chernobyl. Similar to ancient legends and fears but different – 21st century folklore, if you will.  

What will your next book be about?

As I say, I’ve got the three loosely linked books of Evergreen, Apparitions and Convocation followed by Fallout, the murder mystery set in and around a nuclear power plant on the Norfolk coast. At the moment, readers can also get a free story – Masquerade – by signing up to the mailing list. As well as this free and exclusive story, readers will get sneak peaks at new books with sample chapters, cover reveals, and other news – such as what the 5th book in the series (and beyond – I currently have seven planned and plotted!) will be about.

You’ll also be able to find news about my new thriller series starring Jamie Knott, an ex-SBS soldier, who is invalided out of the Royal Marines and manages to get a desk job at MI6. But with Knott being who he is, a desk job is never going to last…

So, please do go along to https://www.subscribepage.com/tomquiller and join the mailing list! It’s free to sign up and you get a free DI Andrew Crawford story! Did I mention it’s free?

Evergreen is published on December 21st by Dream Paladin Books and is available to pre-order at Amazon here (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Evergreen-Detective-Crawford-DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR-ebook/dp/B08NYW49T3/) along with Apparitions and Convocation both due in 2021.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @TomQuiller or find him on Facebook at facebook.com/TomQuillerAuthor or visit his website www.tomquiller.com for further information.