10 Questions With… Stuart Turton

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome bestselling crime writer Stuart Turton. Stuart is the author of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and The Devil and the Dark Water. He joined me for a quick chat about his writing journey.

Over to you, Stuart…

1) Did you always want to be an author? What is your earliest memory of writing?

My earliest memory of writing is making up stories for my sister. I’d read them across the hallway at night, from my bedroom to hers, just before she went to sleep. She’d be able to amend the story as we went along, and I’d have to adapt it. It was good training, now I think about it.

2) Did you have a favourite subject at school? Do you think it made an impact on your writing?

I didn’t enjoy school terribly much. I loved RE with Miss Moorhead, because that was about philosophy and big questions. We got asked our opinions on things, and that wasn’t happening to me a lot. Miss Moorhead was one of the first people who told me I was bright, and a bit different. That gave me a lot of confidence. I definitely think that class had an impact on my writing. A lot of the stuff we talked about in RE ended up being contemplated in Seven Deaths.

3) Are you a full time writer? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing full time?

I’ve been a full-time writer since Seven Deaths. Before that I was a freelance journalist. I actually quit a high paying job in Dubai so I could move back to England and write Seven Deaths. It was a bit of a risk, but I knew I had to have a go or I’d always regret it. I moved from a beautiful 30th storey apartment overlooking the marina in Dubai, to a dingy little flat above a children’s nursery in London. I used to write with the smell of dirty nappies wafting up the stairs. We were permanently skint because I only took enough work every week to pay the bills, then I’d focus on writing my book. It was stressful, and tiring, and horrible. Life’s much more pleasant now.

4) What appealed to you about writing? Why did you choose to write crime fiction?

The first books I fell in love with were Agatha Christie novels, and I’ve always wanted to try my hand at writing something like that – with the tropes, and the fair play, and the clues. When I started writing crime I realised I could mash it up with almost any other genre, which was fantastic. I just feel comfortable in this genre.

5) When you start writing, what normally comes first for you? Is it plot, character, theme or a mix of all three?

It’s the murder usually. I work out an impossible crime, then work backwards. Who died? Why did they die this way? And who wanted them killed? After that my plot is pretty much worked out, and I start thinking about the characters who’d surround the victim. The substance of the characters is always the last thing I think about, because I find that in the writing.

6) The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a striking, unusual stand out title. How did you come up with the title?

Oh thanks. The title of that book was the very last thing I thought about. I just looked around at titles that I’d enjoyed and nicked The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. That’s a great title, so I changed it a bit for mine.

7) How many drafts of Seven Deaths did you write before getting your agent?

It took me three years to write Seven Deaths, and I’ve lost count of the drafts. There were at least 27 major revisions that altered plot points, character motivations, and even the ending. That book was forever shifting beneath me.

8) For Seven Deaths, what was your agent hunting process like?

I was really lucky. At that time, crime publishers were looking for something new, so agents were on the lookout for unusual crime story. I sent off five submissions and three people wanted to see the full thing. Two requested a meeting, and I went with Harry Illingworth. He just got the novel, and wasn’t too terrified when I started telling him how weird I wanted my future books to be.

9) How does the writing process differ for your future books? Are they different to Seven Deaths at all?

Yeah, every book I write is different. My aim is to obfuscate the author as much as possible. If I could take my name off them I would. I truly want each book to feel like it was written by a different person, so I plan them completely differently. Seven Deaths was planned down to the minute. Devil was much more loosely plotted – to reflect the way a ship in that period would find its way across the ocean. The writing wasn’t as ornate, but it was grimier. There were fewer metaphors.

10) I find that specific pieces of music help me to engage with my characters. Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a favourite band or artist that you enjoy?

I make a playlist for each book when I first start planning it. There’s usually fifty songs on there, or so. Each one reflects the tone of the book, or the characters, or has something going on acoustically that I’d like to reflect in the writing. That’s my playlist for the duration of the novel, which is handy because after a while it disappears into the background, which allows me to focus on writing.

Thank you for your time today Stuart, it has been a pleasure to interview you. All the best with your writing.

Bio: Stuart Turton is the internationally bestselling author of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which won The Costa First Novel Award, and the Books Are My Bag Reader Award among other accolades. His second novel, The Devil and the Dark Water was the Sunday Times Historical Fiction Book of the Year in 2020, and the Daily Mail’s Book of the Year.

Before becoming an author he was a travel journalist. Before that he did every other job you can possibly imagine. Working as a Goat farmer was the best. Cleaning toilets was the worst.

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