Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Crawl Space welcomes Christopher Wakling

Christopher Wakling is Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at Bristol University and the author of six novels, including What I Did, and The Devil’s Mask. He also teaches creative writing courses for The Arvon Foundation, Curtis Brown Creative and The Faber Academy, and writes travel journalism for The Independent.

Welcome to Crawl Space, Chris!

First up, a question I never got to ask at last year’s CrimeFest. How did you get into crime writing?

CW: Accidentally. I started writing much as I’ve continued: taking subjects that interest me and developing stories around them that pay as much attention to plot as character. My first novel was about a hapless young lawyer who makes a mistake and tries to cover it up. I thought it was a meditation on why people cleave to jobs they dislike. The publisher had a more succinct description: literary thriller. By packaging it as such they managed to get the novel stocked under ‘crime’ as well as in ‘fiction’, and my next two novels (about hostages in Kashmir, and a drowning) benefited from the same treatment. After that I wrote a novel so un-thrilling nobody dared elevate it to the crime shelf, and then I wrote THE DEVIL’S MASK, about the continuation of the slave trade after it was made illegal. Big crime, that. Back on the shelf.

You’re taking part in two panel sessions at this year’s CrimeFest in Bristol. Before I ask about those, how do you feel about book festivals in general? Are they fun, or hard work?

CW: They’re fun. Writing is largely about sitting on your own making things up. Making things up in front of a crowd complements that nicely. And talking about it in the bar afterwards is also fun.

So, these panel sessions at CrimeFest in May. On Friday 25th, you’re moderating ‘The Joys and Perils of Writing Historical Crime Fiction’. Give us two joys and a peril, please, Chris.

CW: Joy one: learning about history is inherently interesting. Joy two: rewriting it (I place the emphasis on fiction) is fun. A peril: ‘joy two’ is served with a slice of responsibility. (And a further peril for all historical novelists: mist and cobbles. It’s surprisingly tempting to throw them into scenes set in the past.)

I love mist and cobbles, but I can see how they might become ubiquitous. You’re on Saturday’s CrimeFest panel talking about ‘Bristol and the Word – Crime Fiction Comes to Town’ under the watchful eye of the very cool Bristol Festival of Ideas. What’re your thoughts on Bristol as a city to write about, and specifically to write crime fiction about?

CW: Bristol is a great backdrop: the hills, the gorge, and the docks at its urban heart. Post-war brutalism rubs up against Bath stone splendour; there are motorway flyovers and Georgian terraces; shopping centres and mansions and multi-storey car parks. And of course there’s the lovely Clifton suspension bridge. Though I wasn’t living in Bristol when I wrote it, I sent the protagonist of my first novel to have a why-not-end-it-all look over the rail. The city’s rich, dark past, informed The Devil’s Mask, and present day Bristol has a strong sense of itself.

Yes, and isn’t Bristol great at keeping itself secret? I’m sure the tourist board would pull its hair out at that idea, but people who’ve never visited have no notion of what the city’s really like, which I actually rather love. So which is best, sitting on a panel or moderating a panel? And which session are you most looking forward to as a visitor rather than a participant?

CW: Never having moderated a panel before, I’ll have to get back to you on that. I’m looking forward to thanking Lee Child for a favour he bestowed on me some years ago, and to meeting new people in the crime-writing world.

I’m looking forward to your moderating d├ębut. Must ask, will there be another Inigo Bright novel? I loved The Devil's Mask.

CW: The novel I'm working on now is a follow up to The Devil’s Mask, set in present day Bristol ... and beyond. The protagonist is a descendent of Inigo’s. He’s grappling with a crime that involves the theft of a child, so there are thematic links to the earlier book. Fewer cobbles though.

Terrific, I’m really looking forward to that. Thanks, Chris, and see you in the bar at CrimeFest.

ChrisWakling will be at CrimeFest in Bristol on Friday 25th and Saturday 26 May. For full details of the programme and to buy tickets, please go here.


Tania Hershman said...

Great interview! Joys, perils, mist and cobbles... I look forward to CrimeFest! I will be asking about Inigo's hair and if that's hereditary :)

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Tania. Does this mean you're coming to CrimeFest??

Betty said...

Time to move to Bristol! Great interview.

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Betty. You wouldn't regret moving here, that's for sure.

Tania Hershman said...

Ah, it seems to be all sold out already. Whoops.

Sarah Hilary said...

The weekend passes are all sold, but I think you can still get tickets to some individual panels and events, possibly including Chris' panel on Bristol, which is in association with the Festival of Ideas:


Tania Hershman said...

That link directs me back to the CrimeFest eventbrite site and I can't even see Chris' event. Am I going mad??

Sarah Hilary said...

Oops, sorry, Tania, not very helpful of me. If you go here:


You'll find Chris's event 2/3rds down the list, after Sue Grafton's sold out event. Currently, Chris's event doesn't have sold out next to it...

Anonymous said...

Great interview! Thanks.

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Freya!