08 April 2015

The Intel: Gavin Collinson

Gavin CollinsonGavin Collinson’s new novel The Hitchcock Murders is a homage to the Great Man. Published by Cutting Edge Crime, it’s a big, fun story about a serial killer who slays in ways inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s classic films.

So we’re delighted that Gavin—the Interactive Producer on Doctor Who—is here to tell us about Alfred, his new protag Josa Jilani and what should happen to lazy writers…

Tell us about The Hitchcock Murders…

It’s a contemporary thriller full of big set pieces and characters I hope people will love spending time with. Lots of cliffhangers, personal jeopardy and twists. No-one who’s read it has predicted the final chapters and the sequence of reveals that fuels the second half of the book… But it doesn’t cheat! The clues are all there.

The pitch goes something like this: There’s a psycho out there. A serial killer who strikes every Tuesday, murdering women in gruesome ways inspired by the movies of Alfred Hitchcock. Newly promoted DCI Josa Jilani is given the case because factions within the police service want her to fail, but she’s got too much riding on it, so enlists the help of criminologist Daniel Blake. He’s something of a mystery. A loose cannon, unpredictable and charismatic but frowned on by Josa’s superiors. Together, Josa and Blake must hunt a murderer who is growing in skill and audacity and raising the stakes to make it personal…

Give us an example of one of your Hitchcock-themed murders!

All the famous ones are there, from murderous birds to showers that don’t end well. I needed to cover the killing in Blackmail where someone is stabbed with a breadknife, but if you’ve ever actually tried stabbing someone with a breadknife, you’ll know it’s a tricky business. The way that turns out in the book makes it my favourite murder.

What do you think the great man would have thought of your book?

It’s a little known fact that he’s alive and well and living in Shamley Green. He’s read the book and tweaked a few of the murders but you know what? He loves it. Bloody loves it.

The Hitchcock MurdersWhere did the idea for the book come from?

For reasons I won’t bore you with, I completely understand obsession. And I’m not talking about the perfume, here. Obsession forces us to do mundane things and fun stuff but it can also compel normal people to carry out acts of evil. I’ve seen it happen and it’s terrifying. That was one of the many starting points for The Hitchcock Murders, but another, more obvious trigger was a straight-forward desire to write the kind of book that people will read and then urge their friends to read. That’s a big ask… I hope I succeeded.

What’s your favourite Hitchcock movie – and why?

That changes every day because they’re so different. The Birds looks unspeakably beautiful and if you watch five seconds of North by Northwest you’ll be unable to tear yourself away until the end credits. That’s medical fact. But right here, right now I’m going with Rope because it’s a different movie every time I watch it, yet it never fails to disturb and delight.

Tell us about your protagonist DCI Josa Jilani…

I do worry about Josa. She’s like you and me. Given a raw deal at work and when she finally gets a break – in her case a promotion to the rank of DCI – the powers-that-be want to see her fail so they hand her the Hitchcock Murders, thinking she’ll be out of her depth. And you know what? She is. But Josa has been swimming against the current all her life and will not go down without a fight.

She’s a young, British, Muslim woman with a better-looking sister, whom she adores, and a mother who has elevated criticism to a casual art form. Her dad died years ago but she still misses him and although it might not make sense, Josa desperately wants him to be proud of her. She knows she was the apple of his eye and that he would be rooting for her one hundred per cent.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That some people, people you thought loved you, will pray that you fail.

How do you deal with feedback?

Some of my colleagues are insensitive to the point of brutality so I’m used to criticism that would drive many people to take their own lives. Having said that, positive feedback still makes my world sunnier and warmer, so I’m fine with both ends of the spectrum. After I wrote The Hitchcock Murders I gave it to several readers and their feedback was priceless. If they thought something jarred or felt lacklustre or they spotted an opportunity to improve a passage, I wanted to know about it. In terms of being an author, top of my job spec is ‘write a cracking thriller’… I’d be a clown to ignore any feedback that helps with that goal.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I admire every author who works hard and with imagination to craft something that entertains people, whether it’s in a genre I enjoy or not. It’s a tough thing to do. I work on Doctor Who and see first-hand how genius writers like Steven Moffat create gripping fiction. A lot of it is down to innate talent, sure, but believe me, it’s also a question of relentless graft. I despise lazy writers who churn out books that are devoid of wit or surprise or dare. These authors know who they are and when I’m king of this land they will be sent to Strangeways and forced to read their own garbage for at least seven hours a day.

Give me some advice about writing…

Always remember your reader. That sounds obvious to the point of d’oh, I know, but keep this in mind: readers don’t know the next chapter is the best thing you’ve ever written. You must ensure the preceding chapter is strong enough to take them there. We live in a world where distractions are constantly tugging at our sleeves, so your prose must be consistently good enough to overcome that.

What’s next for you?

A large G&T, if you’re asking. After that? Some of the characters who survive The Hitchcock Murders return in They Keep Killing Marilyn which I’m currently writing. This will sound corny and a little bit talkshow, but I absolutely love being back with some of these characters, giving them dangerous new problems to contend with. Watching them fail, get angry, flirty, win battles, lose face and try to overcome their own frailty to see justice done. The sequel to The Hitchcock Murders will also be published by Cutting Edge Crime and writing it feels fantastic.

You can buy The Hitchcock Murders from Cutting Edge Crime here.

And you can find out more about Hitch right here.