Chris Longmuir lives in Scotland and spends most of her time writing. ‘Night Watcher’ is her second crime novel. Her first, ‘Dead Wood’, won the Dundee International Book Prize in 2009. Chris also writes short stories and historical articles which are published in the UK and the US. She is currently working on a further two crime novels.
Can you sum up Night Watcher in no more than 25 words?
It is a psychological thriller featuring two different kinds of stalker -- a woman seeking revenge, and the disturbed Night Watcher who has killed before.
What was your motivation for writing it?
I’m not sure I had any specific motivation to write this book other than the need to write, but once I started I became hooked into the psychology behind what motivates a stalker. I’m a pantster rather than a plotter and I usually start with one scene and work from there. This book actually started with the scene in chapter 11 which now forms Part Two of the novel. I wrote the book from that scene to the end, then went back and wrote the whole of Part One.
How long did it take you to write?
It took about a year, but that includes the editing process. I edit each chapter as I go along, I find that helps me to move forward to the next chapter and fixes the story firmly in my mind. Then when I have finished the first draft I go over it again, revising and rewriting, usually several times (I think my record for this was 22 revisions), before I send it out to my editors. Because I’m a pantster I work from chapter to chapter, sometimes not knowing where the next chapter will take me. I often don’t even know whodunit until near the end. I like to surprise myself as well as the reader. I find if I plan in too much detail my story becomes wooden and lifeless, so this is the method that works for me. It has its disadvantages though, because I have to be completely sure that the person whodunit doesn’t actually have an alibi for the time of the crime. To get round that problem I keep a running timeline during the writing that tells me where each character is at any given time, and if the killer does have an alibi, then that just means a bit of a rewrite. I often think it’s my characters writing the book, not me.
How much difference does an editor make?
An editor is crucial. Since becoming an e-publisher I have read a fair selection of e-books ranging from the excellent to the awful. Some e-books are definitely in need of an editor, and I’m afraid I get quite annoyed by some of the worst editing and proofing examples. It really pushes home the value of an editor. After I finished Night Watcher and revised, rewrote and edited it to the best of my ability I sent it to my two editors. Liz edits for grammar and spelling and all that kind of stuff, and believe me, she’s extremely picky. Betty edits for story line and continuity, and things that don’t make sense. When they’ve finished ripping the manuscript to bits I go through it again removing bits, rewriting bits, ad infinitum. Then it gets sent to a literary agency for the final edit and proof, although they always say my manuscripts are among the cleanest they get in. So, hopefully by the time a book has gone through this process it’s as good as it can be. All it needs then is a reader to like the story.
How important is a book's central character?
Night Watcher’s central character is Julie, who is obsessed with punishing Nicole, the woman who stole her husband and ultimately led him to his death. As part of her agenda for vengeance, she targets and plays mind games on Nicole who, of course, is then murdered. I’m not going to tell you whether Julie’s obsession would lead her to commit murder -- you’ll have to read the book to find out. But, as you can see, my central characters are not necessarily nice people, although I hope I can get the reader rooting for them. So, yes, I think a central character is crucial for the story, someone the reader can identify with and accompany through the book. I read an e-book recently where there was no central character, just a succession of characters moving the story along. There was plenty of action in the story, but it left me feeling something was missing. And, of course, that something was a central character.
What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?
The best piece of business advice was given to me by you, when you advised me to go into e-publishing. Although I had given some thought to e-publishing, without that advice I might have wavered on the brink of that decision for quite a long time. It was enough to give me a push and now I have two books for sale as e-books.
As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?
I like all kinds of crime fiction, although I veer towards the dark stuff. I like Val McDermid and Mo Hayder, both experts in the field of dark crime. But I also like psychological crime, the whydunits as opposed to the whodunits. Then I like a lot of the American writers. Some of my favourites are Jeffrey Deaver, Harlan Coben, Dean Koontz, and Michael Connolly.
As a writer, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?
Someone who likes a bit of mystery, a murder or two or several, who is not put off by a bit of gore, and who appreciates the psychology within the story. I don’t do literary, I prefer to write a good story and keep the pages turning, so I would advise any reader that if they are looking for a literary novel, my writing is not for them. I know that’s a strange thing for a writer who won a large literary prize for her first book to say. But I never did think that book was literary in any sense of the word. Just a cracking good read.
What was the last good eBook you read?
John Locke’s ‘Lethal People’. I’ve only just discovered him and I have the rest of his books in my Kindle waiting for me to read.
What are you reading now?
I’ve just finished reading ‘The Rook’ by Steven James. I hadn’t read any of his books before but I’ll certainly read more. This was an excellent page turner. I won’t say anything about the book I’m reading now, because I’m not particularly enjoying it. The thing is, even though this book doesn’t appeal to me, it doesn’t mean to say it’s not good because reading is a very subjective thing, and I wouldn’t want to influence other potential readers.
From an artistic rather than financial perspective, what book do you wish you had written?
‘Pillars of the Earth’, or ‘Fall of Giants’, by Ken Follett. It’s the wide historical sweep that appeals to me, plus he writes really good characters.
Do you have any other projects on the go?
I’m currently writing a contemporary dark crime novel based on internet predators. I’m about a third of the way into it and I think it’s developing nicely. With this book I have a choice of three for the whodunit role, but I think I’ve narrowed it down to one of them. Maybe they’ll surprise me though, you never know. I also have a couple of other things on the back burner.
Night Watcher by Chris Longmuir