Steve Mosby Q&A With Damien Seaman For Shots Ezine

 

 

 

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 notice.

 

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.

 

Cry For Help by Steve Mosby 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 needs them?í

 

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 step away.

 

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 plan!

 

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 ití.

Cry For Help by Steve Mosby

 

 

 

Cry for Help is published by Orion (15 May 2008)
Hbk £18.99 Pbk £9.99

 

Visit Steveís website here

 


 

 


 

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