C. M. Thompson is the author of What Lies in the Dark, a crime novel which traces the investigation into a serial killer, whilst also examining the effect their crimes have on the surrounding community.
When did you start writing, and how did you arrive at the point of writing What Lies In The Dark?
Pre-teens, I started writing very badly spelt ineloquent fanfiction and equally bad poetry. Gradually I learnt how to spell (still working on the punctuation) and my writing became more understandable. Later teens, I started taking lessons in psychology and that combined with a weird dream, lead me to begin a first attempt at a novella called Fractured Voices (still unfinished)
I decided to study Creative Writing as part of my BA Humanities degree and played with more techniques and ideas such as the unreliable narrator. I decided to take things further in 2010 and study an MA in Creative Writing, What Lies in the Dark was actually started as a piece of coursework. Due to work, procrastination and little motivation, I didn’t actually finish it as a novel until 2014.
What drew you to writing crime fiction, and this particular kind of crime fiction? Are there other genres you’ve tried, or want to in the future?
In my teens, I became more interested in forensics, starting with the TV show CSI and moving into reading forensic based factual books like Never Suck a Dead Man’s Hand and forensic memoirs. I also became interested in psychology, about what makes people do certain things, how people react to different things, over ten years later, I still don’t fully understand people.
The next book is also a crime novel but then the book after that one, I am thinking of crossing fantasy with crime. I did have a plan for an dystopian novel as well.I do like to play around with genres but no matter what genre I chose to write, eventually I always end up killing off a character so I think everything is predominantly going to be linked with crime fiction.
The book’s style is very striking – told in the present tense, with what feels like a very deliberate coldness. How has your style developed, and who do you think influenced you?
I can’t take credit for the present tense completely. When I wrote the beginning of the book, then rewrote it, then rewrote it again and again and again, I kept switching between past and present. Then I submitted it to the Hookline Novel competition. It got short-listed and then jointly won with two other books. Then the editing started and I realised what a mess the book was actually in, but because I had read through it so many times I was just completely oblivious to its mistakes. (and some of them were just really stupid mistakes) Yvonne at Hookline Books suggested it would be better if it read completely in present tense.
Even now, when I am writing, I still have to be very careful not to mix up my tenses. The novel I am writing at the moment is again present tense. I think I prefer present tense because it keeps things moving fast and you are never quite sure if your narrator will survive. An action sequence written in past tense tends to mean your narrator made it.
I think I come across slightly cold in my writing because I am quite minimal, I under-describe most of the time instead over describing. I never want to bore my readers but the coldness of the killer is deliberate, as I wanted to present a killer who is not killing for love, hate, greed or anger. He is killing because he wants to, because he is bored, because their lives were his to destroy. There was nothing redeemable about him and he could be anyone.
Who are your favourite authors? Who do you read for fun, and who for technique (is there a difference?)
Its hard to pick favourite authors, but these ones are the close contenders. These would be the authors of my desert island books.
For fun, I really like reading travel and food writing, psychological / medical writing particularly ones like Into the Silent Lands, When the Air Hits Your Brain and The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. I have spent the last year slowly making my way through the Discworld series. I read quite a lot of the early Discworlds when I was a teenager and it has been interesting re-reading through because suddenly there are all these jokes and caricatures that I just didn’t get ten years ago.
I think everything I read though is for technique, by reading more and across genres, you gain a better understanding of how to tell a good story, how complex and different characters (and real people) can be.
For technique but mainly research, I read true crime, forensic based and psychological memoirs (like behavioural analysis) for ideas on motives, (of killers and of police officers) how murders have been committed, what has lead to the murderer being caught to try and keep my stories believable. I also try and look at live stories and comments on those stories to have an idea more of how people react.
I don’t tend to read that many fictional crime books, I did really enjoy No One You Know by Michelle Richmond (a combination of maths, murder and coffee) and Broken by Karin Fossum, (art and murder) because they are a little more unusual.
Do you think of yourself as a crime author, whose work sits alongside TV shows, journalism, and other flavours of crime writing, or a novelist whose work sits alongside other genres of fiction?
One of the remarks I hear most often is the What Lies is not a normal crime novel, I have always preferred to read and write pieces that are little more unusual, weird and wonderful so to speak. The problem with doing this is that it can become indescribable, hard to explain. If something is hard to explain then it becomes difficult to market. Whilst I would love to say it sits alongside the more popular crime writings, I guess I would say I am more of a novelist but maybe it is too early to tell.
Where might your writing be going next? Do you have a particular plan for how your career as an author might develop?
I am currently working another crime novel called Who Killed Anne-Marie, which as the title suggests, is about the death of a woman called Anne-Marie. However a little like What Lies, it is also about the aftermath of such a death, how people react to a potential murderer in their community and also what actions people will take to destroy themselves and other people. Cheery stuff.
Career wise, I have no plan, I have ideas for at least five more books, so thats going to keep me busy for the next 5-8 years. As well as the fantasy murder, I would like to do a sequel to What Lies and then I have two psychological thrillers and many little fragments of ideas that can be developed. If that all goes well, I will keep writing and see where it takes me. If it doesn’t go well, the plan is to deny everything, change my name and go into hiding.