Neil White: ‘Enid Blyton turned me towards mystery and horror’
‘Whatever sick and twisted deed you read about, I’ve come across worse in real life’
Neil White is a criminal lawyer who writes crime fiction novels. ‘People are much worse than writers are able to imagine them.’
What was the first book to make an impression on you?
Any one of the Enid Blyton Famous Five books. I remember well the feeling of mild terror as the mystery unfolded, which turned me towards mystery and horror.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I went through phases and liked too many to have a favourite. Famous Five, the Doctor Who books, the Jennings books, and then horror from around twelve. I Am Legend was my first “grown-up” read.
And what is your favourite book or books now?
I enjoy comic crime, like Bateman or Carl Hiaasen.
What is your favourite quotation?
“Write drunk, edit sober” - Ernest Hemingway
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Sherlock Holmes. Everyone loves a genius.
Who is the most under-rated Irish author?
Difficult, because of the word “under-rated”. I’ll go with Joseph O’Connor, because I enjoyed The Salesman very much but I haven’t heard as much about him since (although that’s probably down to me, and I’ve probably embarrassed myself by selecting a huge figure in current Irish fiction).
Which do you prefer - ebooks or the traditional print version?
Print every time. There are a lot of positives to ebooks (for instance, obtaining a whole back catalogue in minutes) but the feel of a book in your hand beats it. I wish children would be targeted more for e-readers though, to make them a must-have gadget.
What is the most beautiful book you own?
Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella. It’s my favourite book and not often found over here. I bought my copy in Kansas, I think. American paperbacks have a nicer feel.
Where and how do you write?
I write at a messy desk in what I call a study, just trying to move a plot on as I drink coffee and eat chocolate.
What book changed the way you think about fiction?
Salems Lot by Stephen King. It taught me that a book can scare you witless.
What is the most research you have done for a book?
My third book, Last Rites, had the Pendle Witch Trials as the background (in a modern setting), so I spent a lot of time researching the trials and the history.
What book influenced you the most?
As a writer, Shoeless Joe, because it was the first prose style I tried to mimic.
What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?
To Kill A Mockingbird. The only book I’ve read where I wanted to read it again immediately.
What book do you wish you had read when you were young?
The ones I was supposed to read for my English Literature GSCE. I failed, got an “unclassified”, not even good enough to scrape an E. Ironic really, given my current profession.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Don’t try and be clever. Just tell the story.
What weight do you give reviews?
I don’t read them, I’m too thin-skinned. Even the good ones I skim (when pointed out to me) as I will dwell on a vague negative.
Where do you see the publishing industry going?
The same path it has always trod, producing great books for people. Indie books are competition, but if they foster the reading habit, where’s the negative? Everyone wins.
What writing trends have struck you lately?
Crime fiction has steered itself away from trying to be the goriest to a more subtle psychological torment, like The Silent Wife or Gone Girl. An enjoyable shift.
What lessons have you learned about life from reading?
In real life, I’m a criminal lawyer. My lesson is the other way round: whatever sick and twisted deed you read about, I’ve come across worse in real life. People are much worse than writers are able to imagine them.
What has being a writer taught you?
That I’m not as clever as I thought I was.
Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
What is the funniest scene you’ve read?
So many, but I’ve laughed out loud at some Bateman novels.
What is your favourite word?
If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?
The event would be the sixties. Such a decade of change.
Neil White’s latest novel The Death Collector is published by Sphere. neilwhite.net