Life is hard for The Devil and he desperately wants to take a holiday. Growing weary from playing the cosmic bad guy, he resolves to set up a company that will do his job for him so the sins of the world will tick over while he takes a vacation. God tells him he can have his vacation just as soon as he solves an ancient crime.
But nothing is ever easy and before long he is up to his pitchfork in solving murders, desperate to crack the case so he can finally take the holiday he so badly needs…
1. When and where do you prefer to write?
I try to write every day. It’s become a favourite ritual of mine. Being a journalist I am writing every day, whether that’s breaking news, reviews or features. But I like to do my fiction writing every day too.
I was once given the advice from a creative writing tutor that you can’t edit a blank page – and that’s really stuck with me. So I always try to write something down every day. This can range from 50 words to 5,000. And it doesn’t have to be part of a work in progress or editing, it can be an idea or a scene or an outline for a future project. As long as I do it.
In terms of where to write, I’ll do it anywhere I can. My first novel – Morbid Relations – was written on train journeys between Glasgow and Edinburgh and back again, during rush hour. Not quite as tranquil as you can get but it seemed to work for that book. I don’t do that commute anymore so my writing environments tend to be quite a bit more peaceful.
Usually I write at home. But sometimes I like to head out to a coffee shop or somewhere outdoors, just to get some atmosphere. Writing can be a lonely business so I often find having that human contact – even if it’s just as ambience – can help fire those neurons and creative juices.
2. Do you have a certain ritual?
I’ve never been one for rituals in my writing. I have a writer friend – who shall remain anonymous to protect the guilty – who can’t start writing until they’ve had at least five cups of tea. This can be spread across a whole day – I don’t think they knock-back five big mugfulls first thing in the morning. In their defence, they know just how weird that sounds.
For me, I’ve never really fallen into a pattern long enough for it to become a ritual when it comes to my writing. What I normally find is that if I’m having a good day I’ll try to keep going for as long as I can. If I’m working on a particularly difficult scene or toying with a development of plot arc then I need to feel confident and at peace with what I’m doing. When I tap into that sort of mindset to keep going then I’ll do it. Similarly, if it’s just not working that day then I like to think I know when to quit.
3. Is there a drink of some food that keeps you company while you write?
Tea! And lots of it. Although I’m not quite as much of an addict as the anonymous writer above! But yes, I love having a cuppa close by. And some rich tea biscuits are a must.
In fact, my love of Rich Teas even made it into HellCorp!
4.What is your favourite book?
Oh this is a difficult one – do I have to pick just one!
It’s hard, although I do love asking this type of question to other people. It’s a different game when I’m on the spot!
I think there are books that come into your life just at the right time. And there are ones that always stick with you, no matter what age you are, how your life is going and how you feel.
So with that in mind I would have to say that King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Haggard. This seminal piece of work that’s had so much written about it and praise heaped on it. I read it for the first time when I was about 13 and it completely captured my imagination and sparked my love of literary adventure. And I can still enjoy it now as much as I did when I was a lad. Cracking stuff.
5. Do you consider writing a different genre in the future?
I would never rule out writing in a different genre.
I’ve always been a great believer in challenging yourself as a writer. When you start feeling comfortable with your writing it’s the start of complacency. Having that edge, that little nag in the back of your mind is something that really motivates me. And for my mind it’s something that makes the great writers really something special. That ability to adapt, create and succeed in different genres is just a part of their legacy.
The late, great Iain Banks was the epitome of this. An established literary writer he was also able to carve out a significant career in the sci-fi genre too. And in my opinion, that diversification fed into his work the more he did it and made him a better, much-loved writer.
HellCorp and the upcoming Man in the Dark are crime/thrillers mixed with urban fantasy. These are my first forays into these genres following my debut which was focussed on black comedy and family drama.
I’ve loved the change and how I’ve had to adapt my style, my thinking and even the language I use in my writing. When you write for characters like The Devil and God, nothing is every really out of bounds. Romance, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, it’s all there. In fact I’ve even spotted HellCorp in at least three different sections in book shops. So it keeps me on my toes – as well as giving headaches to book shop staff!
6. Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
My characters are The Devil, God, demons, angels and saints! So yes, of course!
All joking aside, I think all writers find they sneak in traits of people they know into their work. Whether this is conscious or not, it’s a part of who we are. Being a writer usually means you are an observant person. While I can’t speak for everybody, watching, listening and learning are big parts of what I do.
Being a journalist I’ve managed to meet some incredible people from all walks of life. Listening to them and their stories has had profound effects on not only my writing but my life to. And I’m certain that some of that has influenced my characters and the sticky situations they often find themselves in. Good and bad.
7. Do you take a notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?
Absolutely. I actually think I’ve got a notebook for every coat that I own. While that isn’t that many, it all comes about from an unfortunate situation I found myself in about five years ago.
I remember going to meet my now wife from work. She’s a doctor and was working in a busy Glasgow hospital at the time. When she was working long shifts I used to go up to meet her when she finished – which usually meant I’d have to wait in A&E until she came down. For about six months I saw all kinds of people come and go from that room – it was a real mixing pot of human emotion.
But I remember distinctly one evening where it was really busy. A person with a bad limp had come in and was arguing with the staff behind the desk. There was a pause before one of the nurses came out and made this really off-the-cuff, completely hilarious comment about the limping person. And the whole A&E erupted in laughter.
Do you know I’ve replayed that scene over and over in my head about a million times since it happened and I can’t for the life of my recall what the nurse said. And I vowed from the next day when I forgot it that I would ALWAYS carry a notepad around with me, just to jot down anything and everything that works.
It’s a real shame that I can’t remember what was said now, it was so pivotal to the whole strange scenario. But you live and learn, as my old gran used to say.
8. Which genre do you not like at all?
Oh, this is a toughy. Is there any answer I can give that won’t anger some of my fellow writers?
If you’d asked my this about five years ago I actually would have said crime – odd given that at its heart HellCorp is a whodunnit.
One of the motivations behind HellCorp was my dislike of crime. I’d become so disenchanted with the genre. How many on-the-edge cops and detectives do we have to stand before we become completely bored. If they’re not alcoholics they’re workaholics. If they’re not estranged from their family they’re estranged from society. If they don’t break the rules they don’t break anything. It was the same thing over and over and over again.
So I thought – why don’t you do something about it? If you’re going to have an antihero – why not go for somebody who is the ULTIMATE antihero. And there really only was one candidate – The Devil incarnate.
But my crime hating days are in the past. You might even say that I’ve been rehabilitated!
In terms of what I’m not keen on at the moment, probably historical fiction. I’ve only recently rekindled my love of history, having lost touch with the academic side and knowledge having left school. But I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction work on ancient
Greece and Rome, with a focus on the mythological and literary side of things. And I think that’s what’s jarring me about the historical fiction genre.
While I accept that it’s fiction, I’m just in the mood for more hard fact at the moment rather than fantasy.
9. If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?
Now this really is a tough question!
Matt Haig has always been a favourite author of mine. I’ve always loved his honest, beautiful prose and his non-fiction work is as hard-hitting as it is inspirational. Seriously, if you haven’t ever had the chance to read Reasons to Stay Alive, go out and get it now (and grab a copy of HellCorp while you’re at it!). I would love to collaborate with him on a fiction project, if for nothing else than to pick that big, brilliant brain of his.
Gareth L Powell is another one of my writing heroes. His science fiction output over the past decade has been nothing short of remarkable. And he does so much to help other writers by answering their questions, dedicating time to teaching the craft and being a general, all-round good egg that I would again love the chance to work with him on something. He even took the time to call me a “writer to watch” ahead of HellCorp’s release, which meant the absolute world to hear.
As I mentioned before I like to try new things. And having the chance to work in a different field of fiction would be brilliant too. In particular I would love the chance to work with some of my comics heroes in Mark Millar and Mike Mignola. Two giants of the industry who’s writing has provided not only endless entertainment but also wonderful inspiration for me.
10. If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?
Well I had the absolute joy of getting to go to Rome for my honeymoon last year. It was the second time I had been with my wife and provided more than ample inspiration for The Man in the Dark.
But I would love to go to Egypt and fulfill a lifetime ambition of seeing the Pyramids and Sphinx in real life. I think this goes back to my love of Victorian and turn of the 20th century adventure stories. Those iconic buildings and structures are as much part of the fabric and fantasy of old world capers as anything else. And since I first learned about them in primary school I’d love to see them with my own eyes.
I’m lucky enough to draw inspiration from almost everywhere I visit – whether that’s at home or abroad. As long as I keep my eyes and ears open I’ll always find something that gets me tapping away on the keyboard.
Thank you, Jonathan Whitelaw and Love Books Group Tours.
About the author
Jonathan Whitelaw is an author, journalist and broadcaster.
After working on the frontline of Scottish politics, he moved into journalism. Subjects he has covered have varied from breaking news, the arts, culture and sport to fashion, music and even radioactive waste – with everything in between.
He’s also a regular reviewer and talking head on shows for the BBC and STV.
HellCorp, from Urbane Publications, is his second novel following his debut, Morbid Relations.