Write what you know. Immerse yourself in the genre you want to write in. That’s always the first advice given to new authors. Girl 4 is my debut novel and the first in a series featuring Detective Inspector January David, a London detective specialising in violent crime, investigating an elusive serial killer who has already taken the lives of three women. I do not live in London. The last time I was in a police station was to earn £10 for taking part in a police line-up. And I’ve never really read any crime fiction. So what prompted an unpublished theatre graduate, working in computer software, to write a book in a genre he knew very little about?
It began with another book; a novel where I had written what I knew. I took the feedback from publishers, positive and negative, then it was suggested my style may suit the crime genre. This was the first flash of inspiration. I would write a thriller.
The fact that I had not read much crime fiction meant I didn’t write Girl 4 with any preconceptions of the genre. I drew on my knowledge and love of film, imagining how each sequence would be shot, and converted it into prose.
I came up with the ending first, the reason the victims had to die, why they were chosen. This allowed me to plan each murder: I wanted them to look theatrical, with my killer thinking of himself as an artist. The first image that came to me is the one on the front cover, the female victim’s lifeless body floating above a stage. From this, a story emerged.
I started with the fourth victim rather than the first. I like to write in a non-linear way because life is like that, and it enables me to juxtapose dramatic connections. I am more interested in the psychological than the procedural. I now had my ending and my beginning, the rest would be a journey on which I would learn that the shortest distance between two ideas is rarely a straight road.
I’ve always been interested in the line between reality and dream. I wanted my ongoing detective character, January David, to explore this. There is the question of a gut feeling, a kinesthesis that comes with experience: should a detective work solely on facts or trust his hunches? It is the grey area in between that fascinates me. This led to the creation of The Smiling Man character, and January’s battle to trust his own intuition. Not everything is always as it seems in Girl 4. What you see is not always what is real.
Setting the story in London was never in doubt. It is one of the best cities in the world, such a huge canvas. I wanted to set this book in the quieter outer boroughs, exploring apparent mundanity. I was intrigued by the idea of death in life, and life in death: ordinary people becoming extraordinary in the moment and manner of their demise. I also thought everyday settings would make it relatable and therefore scarier for the reader.
Finally I had to decide how to tell my story. I felt strongly that everyone needed a voice. Not only detective and killer: I present crimes from the victims’ perspectives to create a dialogue between them and the reader. I realise this challenges readers’ expectations, and in that respect it was an advantage to me not to have immersed myself in the genre. I had no benchmark other than my own ideas and a spark of inspiration from the image of Girl 4. All that was left was to write what I wanted to know.
Girl 4 by Will Carver is published by Arrow