To celebrate the cover reveal and opening of our pre-orders for Chris McDonald's incredible debut novel, A Wash of Black, we bring you a full length 'Getting to Know You' Q&A with the man himself. Grab a cuppa and enjoy getting to know our latest author.
Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you come to write your first book?
My name is Chris and I have been a reader since I was young. I studied English alongside teaching at uni, as I was undecided between being a journalist or a teacher. Alas, teaching won.
After having two children in quite quick succession, I lost time for reading so at the start of 2019, I set up my blog to force me to read more. An idea for a story that I’d had ten years ago, at university, slowly began to percolate through again! So I used the time during night feeds to think about an outline of the story and where it could go. Then I started writing it, simply to find out if I could!
What was the last book you read that made a real impact on you?
Oh flip, can I change this question to bookS?
I’ve just finished The Shining, which is my first Stephen King book, and it is easy to see why he is held in such high regard. His scene setting is amazing and the storytelling is so clever. I’ve learned a lot from him.
Heleen’s Stay Mad, Sweetheart - as well as being a fantastic read, was such an important book culturally and socially. It really opened my eyes to the nonsense that women have to go through. I thought it was very cleverly written.
Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver was a dynamite read. Clever, shocking, dark!
I could go on but I’ll stop now!
Who were the biggest influences on you growing up that led you to be a writer?
Never in my life did I ever think I’d write a book, so I never read a book with author’s eyes, though some of the techniques must’ve sunk in. I always admired Chuck Palahniuk’s storytelling but more recently, the books of Olivia Kiernan and Vanda Symon – both with kickass female detectives, like I’d always envisaged mine would have – inspired me to put pen to paper.
Tell us what inspired you to write A Wash of Black?
I have three reasons.
1. I wanted to see if I could write a full length novel.
2. I had thought of the opening scene, of Anna on the ice, ten years ago and wanted to see where it would go next.
3. I wanted a front cover! I’d signed up to Kindle Publishing so that I could design my own!
It’s a great title, where does it come from?
It was originally called Neck Deep (after the band) but I love a quote at the start of a book. I went searching for one to do with artists and found the DaVinci quote that will be at the start of my book. I thought it fit perfectly with the story.
This is your first novel. How does it compare with other first times in your life?
Good question. It’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done (except, perhaps, adjusting to lack of sleep after having my first child!) Though I had no expectations for the novel. I thought I’d write it (and if I didn’t finish it, there would be no harm done), send it to a few publishers and then put it out on KDP if I didn’t hear anything back. Thankfully, I did!
When do you do your best writing?
I can only write at night when the kids are in bed, so then! And I don’t always fancy it, but I subscribe to Michael Connolly’s advice – every time you write, move the case forward a little every day, even if it is just one paragraph.
A Wash of Black is set in Manchester. How important is the setting of your books in telling the story?
My favourite books have always been those where the setting is so well described, you feel like you are there! Hogwarts, though it is fictional, is so real in my head. I feel like I know the corridors intimately. Having the story in a city you know, with its landmarks and whatnot, give the story a real grounding. I toyed with setting it in Coleraine, my hometown in NI, but thought the grittiness of Manchester would be ideal for A Wash of Black. Maybe I’ll get to writing cosy crimes by the sea in the future!
What did you edit out of this book?
Not much, actually. I took out some of the more obvious clues that pointed to the killer. But other than that, it was more of what I added in. You don’t realise how much of the story is incomplete until the editor gets their hands on it.
How thoroughly do you plot a book before starting?
Not at all! I had the opening scene in my head, but other than that, nada!
My process was (and is) thus – write the opening scene, a chapter usually takes about five days as I can only write for an hour or two per night. Once I finish the chapter, I consider where the case could go next and write three or four bullet points for the next chapter, then log off. I spend the next day fleshing out the bullet points in my head. So I’m very much making it up as I go along. I didn’t even know who the killer was going to be until about half way through when I was kind of forced into the decision!
What do you do to shut off, or are your characters always talking to you?
Because I was writing it whilst my baby was still having night feeds, I’d think about it all through the feeding. Then, when she went back to sleep, I’d get into bed with my head swimming. It took over my life for six months!
This time around, I’m much more chilled. Erika is not bothering me quite as much!
Do you need a big ego to be a writer?
I don’t think so. I’m quite shy and self-deprecating. I‘ve never been particularly proud of my accomplishments, aside from having two wonderful children. Maybe one the book is published, I’ll change and insist on being called Sir and having only purple skittles on my backstage rider…
Do you read your reviews? How do you cope with the good and the bad?
Aside from two or three beta readers and from the publisher, I’ve not had any feedback. Everything I have had has been positive or kindly constructive. I imagine I will cope with the good reviews with dancing and GIFS, whilst the negative reviews will be met with either stoicism or expletives.
What was the best money you ever spent for your writing career?
I don’t think I have, I don’t even own a laptop! I’m using my work laptop that occasionally gets taken in for PAT testing and the like, which curtails my writing for a few days. So if anyone wants to put together a crowdfunding to buy me a laptop…
I’d say buying a tonne of books over the years has been the best spent money, as all those stories have left an impression. It’s an old adage, but reading makes your writing better. I say it to the children in my class all the time!
What distracts you from your writing most frequently?
Children and trashy TV! Once the children are in bed, they’re usually settled and require little intervention. Right now, I’m being distracted from these questions by Flirty Dancing… my wife’s choice, not mine… honest.
What do you want your readers to feel at the end of your book?
I want them to feel like they’ve got their money’s worth. There are so many books out there, and I really want them to feel like the time they invested in mine was worth it.
Do your characters always do what you tell them?
Yes, otherwise they die.
What are your writing routines? Are you disciplined or freeform?
Freeform. Like I said, I can only write at night. With this book, I’d write every night like it was my duty. I went on a two week hiatus where I considered quitting and then got on with it again. Now, on my second book, I’m the opposite. I’m much more relaxed (despite being under contract!). Some nights I don’t fancy it, so some nights I don’t write.
How many drafts did you do of this book?
One! Then went through and changed a few bits but not much, then I sent it off. The first half was edited as I wrote. The second half I just wanted to get done! So the second half was addressed much more in the publishing editing stage.
How do you know when a book is finished?
Is it ever? The story was told and tied up, but I found writing the last scene quite difficult. All the action had finished, and the end scene felt anti-climactic. But needed I think. I hope.
What is a dream scenario for you as a writer?
A mansion. If you say anything else, you’re lying.
Honestly, the dream would be doing it full time. I’d love to spend my days creating life inside pages.
My realistic scenario is for one person to read and enjoy it. Which they already have, so anything from here on in is a bonus. I’m just thankful that so many people have already expressed an interest in being on the blog tour etc. So I’ll take this opportunity to say thank you in advance to everyone who plans to read, know that you are helping me realise a life dream!
What are your biggest hopes and fears for A Wash of Black?
Hope – that people will enjoy it.
Fear – that people will hate it and no-one will read the second one!
What’s your party trick?
I can do a passable Johnny Cash cover on the guitar! Although, I always find ‘Hurt’ brings the atmosphere down somewhat…
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
Bon Jovi - Always
Are any of the characters in A Wash of Black based on people you know, and would they recognise themselves?
Not really on people I know. Afterwards, I tried to think who would play them in a film. Erika would be Emily Blunt.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I don’t want to be judged on this, because I think I have a pretty good taste in films etc. I love Tarantino, In Bruges and The Blues Brothers are my tied favourite films… But I do love The Notebook.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing the second in the DI Erika Piper series, All I Hear Are Whispers. I’m also looking forward to attending as many festivals as I can, and can’t wait to meet readers and other authors!
Follow Chris's journey on twitter @cmacwritescrime
And just in case you haven't seen the beautiful cover of his first book. Here it is: