Interview with crime fiction royalty – MARTYN WAITES on his novel, THE SINNER, the second in his Tom Killgannon series.

Tom Killgannon, ex-undercover police officer and now in witness protection, is recalled to active service by a local police task force, headed by DS Sheridan.

His mission is to befriend notorious child killer Noel Cunningham and find out where he buried the bodies of his final two victims

Often described as the king of sinister, Martyn Waites was born and raised in Newcastle Upon Tyne.

He has written nine novels under his own name and five under the name Tania Carver. He has been nominated for every major British crime fiction award, has been chosen as a Guardian Book of the Year and has won the Grand Prix du Roman Noir.

Martyn, your early career was as an actor, what drew you to writing dark crime?

Well, it was the only thing I enjoyed reading at the time. I read Chandler at an impressionable age and it was like he blew open all the windows. I’d found my thing. Then in the late Eighties there was a new wave of American crime novelists who I thought were knocking it out of the park. Andrew Vachss, James Ellroy, Sara Paretsky, Walter Mosely, James Lee Burke . . . All streets ahead of anything British authors were doing at the time. They still seemed to be in thrall to Christie and her ilk who I’d never enjoyed. And I’d always wanted to write.

I thought being an actor that I’d write plays and I did and they were godawful. So I tried a crime novel, trying to import some of what the Americans were doing over here.   

Do you have a set writing routine?

If it’s all new stuff I aim for about three thousand words a day. I can’t do any more than that both physically and mentally. The words stop coming. I usually do this after lunch.

Mornings are spent doing other stuff: admin, articles, researching, all of that. If I’m alone in the house (or even if I’m not) I also love working evenings and into the night. If I’m editing or rewriting I can do that anywhere or any time. 


"If it’s all new stuff I aim for about three thousand words a day. I can’t do any more than that both physically and mentally. The words stop coming."

Was there a particular inspiration for this novel – exploring the issues surrounding convicted killers who fail to disclose the location of their victims?

It was actually an idea I had for a separate novel and my publishers asked me to make it the second in the Tom Killgannon series.

So I had to then find a way to get him into it that was as organic as possible. I had to find a situation for him to use his skills and getting someone to talk seemed like the best idea.

It also enabled me to use the location I had in mind and had echoes of the moors murderers and others. For me it was using the situation to try and explore the claustrophobia and terror of being locked up with someone and the only way you can get out is for them to grant – even inadvertently – your release.

That feeling of powerlessness that prison gives. 

In our podcast interview with fingerprint expert Philip Gilhooley, who worked on the Helen McCourt murder, he expressed the view that murderers should never get parole if they refuse to divulge this information (the impending, Helen’s law). Do you have an opinion on this?

I completely agree. It’s part of their mindset. The only piece of power the murderer has left in this situation is to withhold that information. I think it’s fair that if they don’t divulge it they shouldn’t be allowed out. No brainer, really.

In our interview with Neil Samworth, author of Strangeways – a prison officer’s story, he describes the lack of funding and appalling conditions in prisons. You have held writing residences in prison and delivered creative writing courses, what are your views on the conditions for prisoners and the benefits of arts programmes in prisons to assist rehabilitation and mental health issues?

I worked in two establishments, a Young Offenders Institution and an adult HMP. I loved the work. Absolutely loved it. This was back in the 2000s.

Now I doubt that I’d even be allowed in.

Prisons, like everything else that’s public funded, has got so much worse since 2010. We’ve got schools unable to pay for basic equipment, hospitals stretched to beyond their limits and dangerously overcrowded prisons where even basic education programmes are struggling to take place. I saw first hand what can be done with someone like me in a prison.

How it’s possible to affect a real change in someone’s life just by something as simple and basic as encouraging them to sit down and write. Get in touch with themselves. Sort themselves out. And creating a safe space within that prison to do that alongside others.

The arts in prison plays a vital role in rehabilitation and dealing with mental health issues. But with a Tory government that at one point tried to ban inmates being sent books to read, it’s only going to get worse.  

Yes, I’m on my high horse but it’s something I feel strongly about. And something that desperately needs to be addressed.

Is there another Tom Killgannon book in the pipeline?

There is. Don’t ask what it’s called because I can’t decide on a title yet. The current working title is IN THE DARKEST PLACE although that may well have changed by the time you read this.

I’m working on it at the moment, it’s nearly finished and it’s a further exploration of the folk horror/folk crime aspects of neglected rural Britain. It’ll be out in the States published by Blackstone. I don’t know when (or even if) it’ll be out in the UK.

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