Today I talk to Alex Callister, an industry expert on media, telecoms and internet stocks. By day, she visits high security web hosting sites, by night, she writes about a dystopian world where organised crime have harnessed the power of the internet and are taking over. Her award-winning books are the talk of the town, so naturally I was keen to find out more.
What is your background and what drew you towards writing thrillers?
I spend my day wondering and worrying about the latest internet developments. City analysts ask the question, ‘What if’ for a living.
What if you could murder someone easily and anonymously online? Would there be many takers? How would people respond? Would some cultures take to it more than others? What would it do to society? How would the government respond?
These were the questions I was turning over in my mind at the start of the Winter Dark process.
How did you get into writing? Did you always want to write?
I have always wanted to write Winter. She is my version of a Hollywood action hero – Bond, Bourne, John Wick, Vin Diesel, John McClane in Die Hard etc.
As a writer of both audiobooks and printed books, what skills do you need to create engaging content for these very different mediums?
You have to be really on your game with audio. Every word is going to be performed. You can’t have a single duff line. With print the eye glides over boring bits – audio there is nowhere to hide.
I have been really lucky to have an amazing narrator. I deliberately put in a range of nationalities because she is so good at accents. The twist at the end of Winter Rising came about because of her skill with different voices. I could see how the reveal would work really well.
Audio is a genre in its own right. It is like being told a story round the campfire. I am fascinated by what you can do with sentence length and rhythm. I hear what I am writing in my head: the rise and fall of it.
I had a great letter from a speech therapist in Florida who said she had been late for work every day for a week because she couldn’t stop listening in the staff car park. That’s the real challenge, to immerse the listener and make it hard for them to leave.
What features do you believe are vital to creating good thrillers and how do you incorporate these into your work?
These days commercial fiction can be quite formulaic. You need a hook, inciting event, reveal, surprise twist etc. When you are trying to get published you have to play by the rules. A good thriller actually makes your heart race while you are reading. That’s my goal. Not every scene obviously but most of them. Doesn’t have to be fear. There is plenty of erotic content in the Winter books.
Please tell me about the books you read. How do they influence your work?
Lee Child has the biggest influence on my actual writing style. No one can touch him for tightness of prose. Mick Herron, Ian Fleming, John Le Carré are my genre. John Fowles, Angela Carter. Lord of the Flies. Fight club. Mustn’t forget Fight club. What is the first rule of Fight club?
Where do you take your inspiration?
The movies. Winter Dark is FULL of one liners! I also love fairy stories like Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, Snow White and use a lot of fairy tale tropes – mirrors, pills, eyes, sweets etc..
Winter Rising is set in an old graveyard in South East London. The Guardsman has a particular gravestone where he likes to kill people. A real gravestone was the inspiration for this. The angel looks like it is weeping…
Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?
I work at night 10pm – 2am. Put the earphones in to get me in the mood. Each of my characters has a signature song. I just have to play it and I am right back with them. Winter’s is Bette Davis Eyes, the Dean Ray version. It has this line, ‘Pure as New York snow….’
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
How to choose?? The Marquis de Sade? I would love to write a Terry Pratchett. Winter is basically Granny Weatherwax fifty year younger
Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
Winter Rising, the sequel to Winter Dark, is out on 1 October. It features the Guardsman, a classic character from a gothic horror. It is interesting to reimagine this kind of killer in a technologically developed age and to see what opportunities that gives him.
Are there any new books or writers are you looking forward to in the future?
One of Winter’s early supporters, Robin Morgan Bentley, has his debut novel The Wreckage out in February which I am excited to see.
Anything you’d like to add?
You can find me on acallister.com Thank you for having me!
It’s been a pleasure talking to Alex! Winter Dark was the Audible Thriller of the year 2019 and is published by Bookouture Jan 2020. Her second book in the series, Winter Rising, is out on Audible today- keep a look out for it!