How do you write? For example, do you have a favourite time of day to write? Or a favourite place?
I start early. I'm a morning person, I like those early hours. is the worst time for me writing wise - I go for a walk, take a long lunch and then start again around two. I rarely work later than seven in the evening. It adds up to a lot of hours but it never feels particularly tough as a regime.
At the moment I work in a study but I'm not sentimental about it, which is fortunate since it's a rented flat. In fact, I'm about to move, so I'll be working somewhere new in a month or two.
Which book(s) inspired you to become an author?
I don't know if there was any one book. I'm pretty sure it was every book I ever loved. And not just books but also television, film, theatre - I've always liked stories, it's nice to be able to make it my living.
Which other writers do you most admire and why?
The list is long, I wouldn't know where to start - and I'd get nightmares that I'd forgotten someone. Plus, I don't know how meaningful a list it would be anyway: you love different authors for different reasons at different times of the day. Coming up with a list would be like scratching names in fresh cement, I'd be fine with it today, embarrassed by it tomorrow.
What influenced the creation of CHILD 44?
The television series 24 was an influence. I wanted to write a book that was as exciting as 24, a page-turner in the way that show is compulsive. I buy the DVD box sets. I've watched three or four episodes back to back. I've never watched one episode by itself. I have to force myself to stop and put them aside for at least another day just to make it last. Of course, there are plenty of books like that, books you finish in a day, but I remember very distinctly watching series three of 24 at the beginning of sitting down to write CHILD 44.
Without wishing to seem oblique, another big influence was public transport. I used to live in
Were any of the central characters based on real-life historical figures?
The events surrounding real life serial killer Andrei Chikatilo were the springboard for the novel. But the bungled criminal process, the injustices, the system itself - these were more important than any real life characters in terms of inspiration. Soviet
However, I didn't model the character of my fictional serial killer on the real killer. I took his crimes but not his character. Andrei Chikatilo discovered that other people's pain gave him intense pleasure. That is a very interior, private motivation: one that is essentially unfathomably, indescribable. It belongs to him and no one else. It makes sense to him and no one else. It doesn't give a reader, or me for that matter, any way in. Therefore, there's a risk they'd seem flat, a device, a mere monster, rather than a "real" person. It's ironic since in some ways making the killer dull and flat might have been a more accurate description of the man. Would it have made good reading? I didn't think it would so I've totally rethought his reasoning and, insane though it still is, my killer offers up a warped logic to his crimes, that allows us to get a little closer to him.
What first attracted you to a narrative set in Stalinist
The story attracted me - the idea of a criminal investigation being hampered by a social theory, the theory that this crime simply could not exist. The story and setting, in that regards, are inextricable. But I didn't suddenly think Stalinist Russia would be a great place to set a novel and go fishing for a story. Having said that, the more research I did, the more I realised what an amazing stretch of history it was and that definitely powered me forward.
Out of all the research, what was the most illuminating or unforgettable piece of
Some facts do stick in your mind, not always because they're the most shocking or the most extreme. I remember reading that Stalin ordered a census of his population, I think in 1937. When the results of census came back, stating that the population was much lower than Stalin desired it to be (because he'd murdered so many people) he had the census takers shot. It was jaw dropping: executing people because he was annoyed the population wasn't higher which was his fault anyway. Stalin then released his own inflated figures, figures he could've just made up in the first place.
What works similar to your own would you recommend to the reader who wanted to find out more?
There's a selected bibliography at the back of the novel. I haven't come across a bad book on the period, the histories, the memoirs, diaries - they're all incredible.
What was your favourite childhood book?
I loved Roald Dahl - I must have read everything he wrote. And then there was Tolkein, any adventure stories really, other worlds. I also remember being addicted to a kind of fantasy fiction where you'd read a page and then be forced to make a choice: do you want to go down this tunnel, or climb the ladder. You'd be given different page numbers to turn to and different adventures would unfold depending on the choices you made. I had about forty of those books. You were supposed to follow rules: using a dice to determine if you defeated a monster or not. I'd ignore those rules and cheat my way through. I could never imagine killing myself halfway through a book and starting again. I'd be interested to know if anyone ever did. Anyway, those books must seem quaint now - usurped by computer games where you make those kinds of interactive decisions every single second.