Wednesday, 8 July 2009

July's Book of the Month

(Interview by Tim Stretton)
July marks another genuine debut, rather than one of the old MNW lags sneaking in a second book: James McCreet, who tells us about The Incendiary's Trail and lets slip some tantalising facts about himself below.

The invention of murder . . .Murder is rampant in Early Victorian London. Detective Inspector Newsome of the new Detective Force decides to recruit a recently apprehended master criminal to help bring the culprits to justice. A polymath with a mysterious past, the man is no eager volunteer.

And when the ghastly murder of conjoined twins galvanizes the city, Newsome blackmails his prisoner – Noah Dyson, as he calls himself –into working with the Force’s finest: Sergeant George Williamson.

Unknown to the policemen, the criminal genius behind the murder shares a dark past with their new associate. It is not justice that is on Dyson’s mind, but retribution. As Williamson and Dyson together close the net, the murder-rate soars and the streets of London begin to burn. Ingeniously plotted and seething with grotesque characters, James McCreet’s striking debut will grip readers from its first dark pages.

Hi James. Tell us a little about your novel, The Incendiary’s Trail.

It’s a Victorian detective thriller suggested by Edgar Allan Poe’s writing, particularly his short piece “The Man of the Crowd”. What started off as an idle interest in Victorian London slowly became a combination of musings on identity and observation in an era before photography. A man was whoever he said he was – and if he said nothing, he was nobody.

How did the book find its way to Macmillan New Writing?

I think it was October 2007 that I sent the manuscript in – emailed from Harrogate public library. I heard nothing back and assumed it had been rejected. But in February 2008 I sent it in again. That’s when I was told the novel had excited some interest back in October but that my contact details had been misplaced. If I hadn’t tried again in February, it might never have happened.

One of the unexpected things about professional publication is working with an editor. How did you find that experience?

I’m a copywriter by trade, and so almost everything I write is adulterated by someone somewhere, whether cut, padded or just changed. At Macmillan, I was pleased to discover that my text was in the hands of experts and I was happy to learn from the process. It has positively influenced my writing since.

You are one of the few Macmillan New Writers to publish under a pseudonym (although quite a few of us hide behind initials). What made you take that path? Given the plot of the book, are you fascinated by games about identity?

There are many ways I could answer this. I always find evasion is the best policy, so I’ll offer a selection and you can choose the one you’d like to be true:

a) I’m not wedded to historical texts and if one day I choose to write something else, I’d like each new direction to have the freedom of another authorial identity.

b) It sometimes seems to me that when I read through my words, they have come from a different place and a different mind. I use words I didn’t even know I knew. Perhaps the pseudonym is that other place, that other mind.

c) James McCreet sounds like the name of a thriller writer; my real name does not.

d) What is my ‘real’ name? My great grandfather was allegedly a senior policeman in Ireland, but changed his name on emigrating to the UK. If he hadn’t done so, I would be McCreet.

e) The author is just a name on a book – it doesn’t really matter whose, as long as the story is good.

f) My writing is a highly personal thing. I am never more truly myself than when I am writing, so it seems good sense not to reveal that hidden self in a name.

What is your typical writing day?

I work full time, so don’t have the luxury of a ‘day’ as such. I write between eight and ten each evening, usually over a sixth month period. When I’m not, I’m researching the next book.

It’s traditional for us to ask our writers to supply Four Random Facts about yourself—and we aren’t letting you off this one!
1. My most embarrassing moment was being caught under the headmaster’s desk. I was a teacher at the time.

2. My TEFL students in Greece called me ‘kondouli’ (shorty). I am 6’ 2”.

3. I am punctual to the point of mania.

4. I love my Chambers dictionary so much that I won’t let anyone else touch it.

Do you have a writing mantra?

No, but it might as well be, “Don’t stop ‘til it’s finished.”

Do you compose by pen or by keyboard, or what …. and why?

Keyboard. Apart from typing being much faster, my job means that I’ve become accustomed to thinking and typing simultaneously. I occasionally write letters by hand and the slowness is agonising.

Who are the writers you most admire? Can you trace their influence in your own writing?

Poe and Kafka for their imaginations – or were they just insane? Umberto Eco for his ideas and the way he blends history, philosophyand literature. James Ellroy for his distinctive voice. Elmore Leonard for his perfect prose. Kurt Vonnegut for the way his personality comes through in his writing. Ian Fleming for his inner boy. Herman Melville for Moby Dick – a book in which the author luxuriates in his writing. Henry Miller, who made being a writer the subject he wrote about. I’m not sure any of them influence my writing in a perceptible sense. They represent standards to aim at.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m researching the third novel in the series that began with The Incendiary’s Trail. Already I have a long list of words I’m desperate to use – almost none of which can be found in modern dictionaries.

James, thanks for your time, and the best of luck with The Incendiary’s Trail.


Aliya Whiteley said...

Congrats, James. Looking forward to reading this - I love the blurb and the cover.

Frances Garrood said...

Welcome, and congratulations, James!

Alis said...

Welcome to the crew, James. That's got to be the most intriguing new author interview I've read here. It definitely makes me want to read the book (but, OK, it's the kind of book I love anyway). Congrats!

Matt Curran said...

Congratulations on joining MNW, James!

crimeficreader said...

A review of this one turned up in The Guardian this weekend:

Len Tyler said...

Congratulations on publication and congratulations on the review. Hope to see you at a future event.

Ellie said...

Sounds like a great read, james!


Ann Weisgarber said...

James, as usual, I'm jumping in late. First up, congratulations on the publication of your novel. Second, congrats for hanging in there and not giving up when you didn't hear from MNW. And third, are you ever going to narrow down the list of choices about your real name?

Enjoy the month and have fun as you watch your book fly off the shelves.