Tom Claver, author of the popular thriller Hider/ Seeker, discusses his fascination with detective fiction and dark films and how it influences his writing.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?
My style of writing tends to be quite direct with plenty of dialogue. I think my economy with words comes from being a journalist and keeping the word count as low as possible when writing news. When I was young I had ambitions of working in films and made some shorts, which helped me gain a visual sense of storytelling. This led me to write some feature length scripts, one of which interested the BBC, but nothing came of it. Some thirty years later, I decided to re-write that particular script into Hider/Seeker, my first novel.
Why crime fiction? As a young film buff I was mad on Hitchcock although I never thought at that time of writing a novel. I was too focused on cinema and enjoyed all film genres, although thrillers excited me the most. In the 1970s while I was studying for my economics degree, I went to a creative writing class that had just been set up by Dr Rod Whitaker, an American professor from the Department of Radio, Television and Film at the Austin School of Communications in Texas. He arrived late to the first class because he’d just come off the phone from speaking to Clint Eastwood, who was going to turn his debut novel, The Eiger Sanction, into a film. After that entrance, he had my full attention.
What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?
I’ve had a long career in business journalism, both in print and television. One lunchtime I was browsing in a bookshop and I came across The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I realised that I had seen the Humphrey Bogart films many times, but had never read the novel. After devouring that book, I began to read other classic thrillers to see how much they varied from their film version. Books such as Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain, Point Blank, by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake) and Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. This rekindled my desire to try again to write a novel as I enjoyed so much reading these books. I read books on writing and taught myself to put 90,000 words together in a comprehensive way.
I had already been writing for more than 10 years when I decided to go full-time. I just wanted to see how I would fare in an entirely different sector of the publishing industry. I think that during those years of writing part-time, I knew I was repositioning myself towards a new type of career ahead.
Please tell me about your novel, Hider/Seeker.
Hider/Seeker was published originally as an ebook in April 2015 and after three months it had broken into Amazon’s British top 100 paid ebooks. It reached No.11 in the Kindle Store and ranked No.2 in Crime Thrillers in the UK. Last year, it reached No.48 in paid ebooks on Amazon.com in the US and was No.3 there in Crime Thrillers. The paperback version is due out shortly.
The story is about Harry Bridger, who makes his living helping people disappear from their enemies by teaching them how to avoid detection in the digital age. But when he helps a woman disappear from her violent husband, little does he know he will need to find her again for his own survival. The story opens in London, but it soon shifts to Central America and there are plenty of twists and turns on the way.
Are there any particular mediums or narrative tropes you like to use in your writing and why?
That’s the whole fun of writing a thriller. Bertolt Brecht, who was a fan of thrillers, was once quoted as saying that the aesthetic quality of the detective novel is derived from the variation of its fixed elements. When reading a thriller I enjoy seeing what authors do with the built-in tropes. It’s like watching an escapologist getting out of chains while in a burning box. Every time I pick up a thriller, I think, how is the author going to pull it off this time around?
When starting a novel, I always create a hero with plenty of baggage who is reluctant to get involved in an adventure. Then I engineer it so that he has a lucky escape from death towards the end. It is the basic chassis to build any story upon. As long as I can torture the hero along the way, I’m happy because the reader needs to experience directly the dilemmas and anxieties facing the protagonist.
What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?
You’ve probably guessed that I prefer reading thrillers from an older era, partly because they are less horrific, but mainly because they have such a wonderful style of writing. I read recently Rebecca for the first time, having seen the Hitchcock film on numerous occasions and found that I enjoyed it more than the film. I’m currently reading My Cousin Rachel, also a Daphne du Maurier novel, and am totally absorbed by her clever storytelling. Similarly, I like Patricia Highsmith for those reasons. But the trouble with writing is that you can only do what you can do however much you dream of writing like your favourite author. You have to work with the material you’ve got and know your limitations. I tend to introduce humour into my thrillers as I feel it brings more realism to the characters and also helps to bring a greater contrast when things go wrong for them. I’m probably most drawn to authors such as Hammett, Chandler and Deighton because their dry wit is so appealing.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
I strongly believe it is a mistake to meet your heroes, as they can never live up to your expectations. After all, it is their work that we love, not them, as they are complete strangers with their own private lives and complications. So, I don’t think I would be attracted to collaborate with anyone as writing a novel is not really a collaborative art form like filmmaking. But if I had a time machine and had a chance to work on a film script with a director, it would have to be Hitchcock, because I would be able to learn how to extract the nub of a story in such a cinematic way. He would always seek a story where he could explore its emotion rather than its detail. Daphne du Maurier didn’t like what he did to her novella, The Birds, but he had the good sense to focus on the horror she had created based largely on her descriptive writing.
Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?
Yes. I am publishing my second book, Scoop of the Year, at the end of October. It’s a suspense novel with a healthy dose of humour and is quite a departure from Hider/Seeker. It’s about a young hapless journalist called Martin who becomes jealous of the meteoric rise into television by Tom, a fellow reporter. But when he lands a scoop that would allow him to outshine his rival, he discovers his malfunctioning family gets in the way.
It is written in the first person from Martin’s POV and shows a positive side to envy. Martin is a luckless hero you can’t help but root for as he aims for greatness. Both the ebook and paperback will be available on Amazon from 28th October.
Thanks ever so much for your time Tom, it’s been really interesting to hear your thoughts. To find out more about Tom and his work, click HERE.