Leeds-based author Steve
Mosby created a stir with last yearís
The 50/50 Killer. Now, Mosbyís Cry For Help offers another
high-concept crime thriller following a serial killer who brings cop Sam Currie
and magician Dave Lewis face to face with their guilty pasts. Itís fast and
furious, a single-sitting read with a palpable sense of creepiness. I asked
Steve about his work and what his latest novel means to him.
Damien: What is Cry
For Help about, in your own words?
Steve: On a basic level,
itís about a killer who ties people up in their homes and leaves them to die of
dehydration. He uses texts and emails to maintain the illusion theyíre okay, and
then eventually taunts the friends and family who didnít care enough to check up
on the victims. Beyond that, I suppose itís about our responsibilities, both as
individuals and as a community as a whole, and how people can depend on us in
ways we miss if weíre not careful Ė or because sometimes itís easier not to
Damien: From the novel:
ĎEmails, texts, Facebook profiles. People never stopped anymore. Just flitted
around each otherís lives obliviously, like butterflies.í Does the impersonal
nature of modern communications technology bother you, or is it just a good hook
for a serial killer story?
Steve: It doesnít really
bother me, as itís the main way I stay in touch with a lot of people. I spend
most of the day connected to the internet. So I was never wanting to make any
real comment on that type of communication in itself Ė itís more about missed
signals, and the ways people reassure themselves that everything is okay. That
comment comes from one character in particular, and heís biased because of the
investigation going on around him.
Damien: Serial killers
plus themes of guilt, complicity and betrayal Ė isnít Cry For Help a
repeat of your last novel, The 50/50 Killer? What sets these books apart?
What drew you back to these themes?
Steve: Well, there are
similarities between the two, but mainly because the serial killer element
strips the drama down to something simple and essential: what is the hero
prepared to do to achieve his goal? In The 50/50 Killer, the trauma is
literal: rather than climbing mountains and fighting dragons, the guy just has
to endure plain old physical pain to Ďwin the girlí (which, unlike traditional
fairytale heroes, he doesnít necessarily manage). In that book, the killer is a
metaphor for the things that can come between a couple and ruin a relationship.
In Cry For Help, the killer functions on a slightly different level. To
summarise it really bluntly, without the serial killer element 50/50 asks
Ďwould we put up with our partner hanging around with an ex, given that it hurts
our feelings?í while Cry For Help adds Ďwell ... what if their ex really
That aside, theyíre quite
different books. In 50/50, the plot was intricate, but the theme was
straight down the middle; Cry For Help is shorter, simpler, and a more
straightforward thriller, but the themes are harder to pin down. I guess you
could say they were companion pieces, though. The next book will be more of a
Damien: What sort of
writer would you say you are? Are you trying to settle into a certain market
niche? What are the risks or benefits of doing that?
Steve: I genuinely donít
think about marketing niches at all, and when Iím writing something my only real
thought in that direction is Ďcan this be classified as crime, or am I going to
get in trouble?í I fell into the genre by accident, although I do see myself as
a Ďcrime writerí now. Iím happy with that, but I donít associate myself with any
particular subgenre. There are risks and benefits to both approaches, I suppose.
That kind of branding helps in some ways. In others, it hinders. Anything that
limits you makes you easier to market ... but you become limited.
Damien: Whatís your
philosophy on life and how does it influence your fiction?
Steve: I donít know Ė
nothing well thought out. I guess itís just the usual. Treat everyone as
individuals, be nice, put yourself out for people if you can. In my fiction, I
do try to feel some level of empathy with all the major characters. I donít hate
any of them; if they were real people, Iíd be saying ĎYeah, but...í about them.
I suppose Iím a bleeding heart liberal, although Iím still young and naive so
that will probably change. Ten years from now, itíll be all Ďhang him!í
Damien: Thereís a
memorable scene in Cry For Help in which protagonist Dave Lewis attends
the meeting of a popular psychic in order to debunk him. In this scene, thereís
the line: ĎHarmless lies. I felt myself growing more angry with every word.í How
much of your own opinion is there in this, if any?
Steve: A little, although
Iím nowhere near as angry about it as Dave gets. I donít believe in anything
supernatural Ė I think itís all bullshit Ė but at the same time Iím nobodyís
nanny and itís possible it can be helpful for some people. I donít know if itís
entirely healthy, psychologically, but I see it as morally more complex than
Dave does. His reaction is an emotional one, and in some ways heís kidding
himself as much as he thinks the audience is. Thatís part of what interested me
Ė the way that someone will almost Ďrewriteí events and people from their past
to make their lives easier in the present. Dave does that explicitly in one
instance, and less obviously in a few others. Itís a first person narrative, but
Dave doesnít speak for me in any way at all.
Damien: Do you think
youíll get bored of writing about serial killers?
Steve: Thatís tricky, as
Iíve never been overly interested in them anyway. Iím certainly not writing
realistic social commentary on serial murder, and I donít read that widely
within the subgenre. I think a lot of it has been absorbed in from the field of
Horror. So you get a traditional Ďbeating the monsterí narrative couched in the
language of the procedural: the vampire as serial killer, entering your home at
night, and Van Helsing recast as a profiler. Good, evil; chaos, order.
Theyíre familiar stories,
and I donít think thereís anything wrong with them. Theyíre not realistic,
but thatís not the same as being useful or interesting, and so Iím not bored
with the serial killer as a fictional device. I suppose I use them to exaggerate
the central theme of what might otherwise be a non-crime story, and as a
metaphor I think theyíre effective. But like I said for question 4, Iím not a
Ďserial killer writerí. Iím not organised enough to have that much of a career
Damien: The blurb for
Cry For Help makes your protagonists sound more clichťd than they
actually are. Does that bother you?
Steve: The back cover? Not
really. I found the story hard to summarise, so maybe itís my fault. The more
detail I gave, the more I needed to give, so it ended up being done in broad
strokes. Back covers are always a bit cheesy anyway. When I read them in my
head, it usually sounds like that ominous movie trailer voice-over guy.
Damien: What input do
you have in the marketing of your books?
Steve: Very little Ė I get
the covers in advance, and I provide a basis for the synopsis. And obviously,
Iíll do any interviews that come my way. Beyond that, Iím happy to leave it to
Orion to do what they think will work best for the book, and I just join in when
needs be. Iíve never been that good at promoting myself. My first Harrogate, I
had two books out, and when people asked me if I was a writer Iíd glance around
nervously and say, Ďer, no, not really...í
Damien: What strikes me
most about your writing is the skilful use of metaphor in your descriptions of
people, places and moods. Do you work hard at this or does it come easily?
Steve: Thanks Ė glad you
think so. Nothing comes easily, to be honest; everything in the books has been
gone over and re-written several times. For every good metaphor thatís there,
you can bet a fair few alternatives have hit the cutting-room floor along the
way. But thatís probably where Iím most comfortable. Iím always happier with the
language than the plot.
Damien: What can you
tell us about your next book?
Steve: Not much at the
moment, as Iíve only just started writing it. There will be a serial killer in
it, but it's a much smaller aspect than the last two. The beginning of the book
involves a man whoís murdered his girlfriend in a drunken rage and dumped her
body in a field, only he canít remember where. The police put out an appeal and
when they finally locate the field, a week later, the bodyís somehow gone
missing. The bookís about a friend of the victim who feels compelled to find
her. I like the idea of a hero trying to save a girl whoís already dead,
although thereíll be more to it than that.
Damien: Given the
high-concept nature of your work, what comes to you first Ė scenario,
characters, key scenes? Are you a pre-plotter or a reviser?
Steve: I like to have an
idea when I start out, and a few points along the way to write towards.
Sometimes I have an ending. But Iím very much a reviser. I do my first draft
then slowly realise what I should have done. With Cry for Help, about a
third of the first draft made it through in one way or another. The second
draft, maybe two thirds survived. Even now, there are probably lots of things
Iíd change. I still revise the earlier books in my head; theyíre only ever an
approximation of what Iíd like them to be, but at some point youíve got to let
them go and move onto something else.
Damien: Whatís your
day-to-day writing routine?
Steve: It depends where
Iím at: I start slowly, then build up. In the early stages of a book, Iím happy
with less work, but as I get into it I want at least 1000 words a day, probably
more like 2000. I try to do it first thing Ė start about seven in the morning Ė
and then just see how it pans out. In between, I fit in DVDs, the gym, a bit of
wandering the streets, and have dinner on the table when my wife gets home from
a day doing proper work.
Damien: Who are your
biggest influences, not just literary, but also from film and TV?
Steve: In terms of books,
itís reading people like Stephen King and Dean Koontz as a kid. Since then, Iíve
probably added a few others Ė Jack Ketchum, Michael Marshall Smith, Christopher
Priest and Graham Joyce spring to mind Ė but itís difficult to single people out
as influences, as everything just goes into the soup. I watch more films than I
read books, but again, I donít usually know what influences me. If anything, it
would be structures and techniques rather than particular films.
Damien: You took ten
years to get an agent, writing several unpublished novels in the process. What
advice can you give to other writers who might still be at that difficult stage
of their careers?
Steve: I donít know if Iím
in a position to give any advice at all really. The thing is, unless youíre
lucky or extremely talented, thatís basically the process you have to go
through. You have to see it all as a learning experience, but that doesnít stop.
The rejections were never crushing for me, because I would have been writing
regardless, and thatís my only advice really Ė if youíre not loving it now, then
donít expect publication to change that side of things. It helps in some obvious
ways, but there are easier careers for making money, and when youíre published
youíll be rejected far more often (and far more publicly) than you are now.
Damien: If there was
just one major thing youíd want readers to take from Cry For Help, what
would that be?
Steve: Iíd want them to
take away that it was entertaining enough to justify the entry fee. Thatís all I
ever want really. Thereís a lot of different stuff in there, but people take
things in different ways, and it all basically comes down to ĎI hope you liked
Cry for Help is published
by Orion (15 May 2008)
Hbk £18.99 Pbk £9.99
Visit Steveís website