Interview with Kevin Wignall

kjw author pic 1


What everyday situation drives you mad?
K: Honestly? I’ve just sat here for a couple of minutes and I can’t think of anything. I dislike bad manners in all forms, but I wouldn’t say I got mad about it.

Your favourite music and the best live concert you’ve ever been to?
K: Favourite music is really tough. I like so many different things and dislike so few (certain kinds of jazz and Miley-Kanye-type-trash). And I don’t really do live concerts – I don’t like crowds or being crowded.

Colours you’d never wear?
K: Er, gold, I suppose, or silver, unless I’m in outer space in the future.

Name three contents currently in your fridge!
K: No.

Three books that you read that made you want to become an author?
K: “The Silver Chair” by CS Lewis, “The Lumber Room” (short story) by Saki, and probably one of the early Graham Greene novels I read (I read so many in such a short period, but probably “Our Man in Havana” or “Brighton Rock”).

It’s movie night – which films do you choose to watch with your friends?
K: I’m not sounding like a barrel of laughs here, but… I don’t like the cinema (crowds, again) and I don’t actually like watching films with other people (I love films, so I like to give them my undivided attention).

Your idea of a perfect holiday?
K: Ahem, I don’t do holidays as such. I travel and I enjoy that, but lying by a pool for a fortnight would drive me insane. I go places that appeal to me or that I want to use in a book.

Favourite literary or movie villain?
K: The first one that came into my head, Robert Mitchum as the Reverend Harry Powell in “The Night of the Hunter”.  The character’s beautifully drawn in Davis Grubb’s original novel, too, but Mitchum’s performance is mesmerising.

Your favourite Hitchcock movie?
K: That’s SO tough.  I have to mention three nearly-favourites – “The Lady Vanishes”, “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Strangers on a Train”.  But the one that stands tallest for me is “North by Northwest”.  I saw it as a kid and remember the crop-duster scene having a huge impact on me.  And three great performances from Cary Grant, James Mason and Eve Marie Saint.

A Death in Sweden is a classic spy story combined with the mystery of an old unsolved murder case. What sparked the idea in you of mixing those two genres together?
K: I didn’t really think I was mixing two genres together and it was only once I’d finished that I realised I had. It’s funny because I’m not a huge fan of police procedurals and could never write one, but I enjoyed that aspect of this book.

Your protagonists are often spies or hitmen – or both, yet you always portray them as very nice albeit with a few flaws. Do you believe that in the end of the day even killers are just people like you and me only with a different job?
K: Not all killers. Some are vicious, brutal, sadistic – natural killers, if you will. I don’t find those people at all interesting. But a lot of essentially good people do a lot of bad things, and that’s the fault line I find interesting.

Without wanting to give too much away about A Death in Sweden, the story features men in high positions that’d do everything to keep some things secret. Do you think that happens every day and probably even in worse ways than any fictional story could ever tell?
K: Absolutely. Power and privilege are corrupting influences if left unchecked, and there are enough factual stories in the public domain to give us an idea of how much this really happens in everyday life.

You have mastered the art of perfectly describing surroundings with very few words. Is that a conscious thing you have trained or does it rather just happen?
K: Thank you, and in truth, it just happens. People often say that they can “see” my books, as if they’re watching them, and a few people have asked me how I do that with very little description.  It’s just my natural style, I suppose, and I’m almost afraid to examine it too closely in case I break it. But I can say I’m a firm believer in allowing the reader’s imagination to fill in the canvas.

Are you a very structured writer and plan out the story meticulously before writing or do you just sit down and start typing away?
K: I think about stories for a long time before I start writing. Occasionally I’ll write down a couple of names, or some plot point, but I don’t usually have a written plan.  Once I’m happy that the story is more or less complete in my mind, I just start typing and usually finish within about six weeks.

You have lived in and seen many different places and your stories are usually set all over Europe. Do you think it’s a great benefit for a writer to have personally experienced other surroundings and ways in various countries or do you think these days everything can be acquired by googling?
K: I’m not sure. A couple of times in the last few years I’ve been writing about places I know (some of them very well) and I’ve checked them out on Google street view and found that I’d remembered some detail incorrectly.  So I’m sure it’s possible to write by googling alone, but I prefer to use it more as a back-up or memory-checker.

What are you favourite places/sights in Europe? Could you imagine living somewhere else then the UK or are you far too British for that?
K: Well I have lived in other places, so I easily could again, if I had a reason to be there.  As for favourites, I can think of a dozen, but each of them tends to reflect a particular memory or occasion or person.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Venice recently and might have to go back there soon…

Your short story ‘Like Plastic’ is a hilarious, quirky and very visual tour-de-force, overflowing with wondrous ideas. Are you personally a fan of the Japanese culture?
K: Thank you. I love Japanese culture, modern and old, and their cinema and literature in particular.

You wrote the Mercian trilogy as KJ Wignall, a young adult horror/fantasy series and you told me you’ve also finished another ghost/horror story. What would you say are the biggest differences in writing spy stories and fantasy stories? As a writer who feels at home in many genres, do you have a favourite?
K: I don’t think there’s any difference. You’re telling a story and that’s always the same, no matter the world or the characters involved.  One of the huge advantages of writing for children and young adults is that there’s much less emphasis on which genre a book belongs to.  

What were your biggest literary/cinematic influences as a child/young adult?
K: Where to begin? I mentioned “The Silver Chair” by CS Lewis and “The Lumber Room” by Saki – those two works were instrumental in making me want to become a writer.  Only when you asked the question earlier did I realise how much impact Hitchcock had on my childhood, but add to that the films of Michael Powell, various noir films, anything with Lee Marvin (I adored him as a young child and was allowed to watch “Point Blank” and “The Killers” when I was far too young, but loved them).  Then there’s Agatha Christie and Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, too many others to mention.

Your book For the Dogs/Hunter’s Prayer has been made into a major Hollywood movie with Sam Worthington. After many casting swaps and changes in the shooting schedule are you now quite disillusioned with the whole Hollywood process? Also, do you mind the changes from book compared to script or did you always know that would inevitably happen? Have you heard any news when the film will be out?
K: In terms of the casting changes and the changes in the schedule, I can’t say that left me disillusioned. It’s so hard to get a film made and I know everyone involved was doing their best to get it done.  I also don’t mind that the script ended up very different (I haven’t read the script, but I’m told it’s “very” different) – I don’t know whether it’s a better film or if they should have stuck to the original, but it’s a different art form and it has to have the freedom to take the material in a different direction.  So I wasn’t left disillusioned, but it did leave me feeling I didn’t want to have anything to do with the film business from now on – who knows, that might change, but it’s how I feel right now.  No word at all on the release date – hopefully this year, but there are plenty of big films that don’t get released at all, so we’ll just have to wait and see.