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Hello, Mr. Beckett, thank you for taking time for a few questions. After earning a Master of Arts degree in English you didn’t start writing novels immediately, but first worked as a teacher, played in several bands before becoming a freelance journalist. How did you get to write crime novels then?

I originally became a freelance journalist to pay the bills while I was trying to find a publisher for my first novel (Fine Lines, published last year in Germany as Voyeur). I hadn’t really thought about what sort of novel it was – I’d written it as an examination of the darker side of human nature -  so it came as a surprise when people started calling it a crime novel. I’d never really considered it in that way until then. Even though I’m happy call myself a crime writer now, I’m still quite wary of categorising things too much. If a story works then to my mind it doesn’t matter what category it falls into.


The David-Hunter-series is a great success in many countries. How do you explain this? And did you anticipate this success after the first book was published?

I can’t explain it, although I’m obviously very happy the books have become successful. I think readers have taken to David Hunter as a character, and there are other factors that all contribute, such as good translations and strong covers. But I certainly couldn’t have predicted this when I wrote The Chemistry of Death. At the time I hadn’t had a novel out for several years, so I didn’t even know if my agents would be able to find a publisher for it. I’m very glad they did.


In Germany the 4th book about Dr. Hunter (“The Calling of the Grave”) was recently published. It also deals with David Hunter’s background and turns back to the time he had a wife and a daughter. When you started writing the series, did you already know about this? Did David Hunter have a complete history from the beginning or did you develop his story later while writing the books?

I spent about a year developing David Hunter’s character and background before I started writing The Chemistry of Death, and not all of that found its way into the finished novel. But although I’ve always had a good idea of his history, I left enough gaps for it to develop along with his character through subsequent novels. I like the idea that there are still things people don’t know about him, including me.


David Hunter is working as a forensic anthropologist and his stories contain a lot of details about death and decay. What is it that fascinates you so much about this?

I think forensics – and especially forensic anthropology - is a fascinating field, but I’m not really fascinated by death and decay in themselves. I didn’t have any interest in forensics at all until I visited the Body Farm in Tennessee to write a magazine article. That made a huge impression on me, and I was very impressed by the work that goes on there. Seeing something like that makes you consider your own mortality, and I wanted to put a sense of that into the novels. But I hope there’s more to them than grisly details. The psychology and motivations of the characters are at least as important to me as the forensic aspects.


David Hunter is not a typical investigator. He sometimes makes mistakes, gets hurt and really is not a “tough guy”. Did you invent him or did he create himself? And – important – do you like him after all? Would you like to have him as a friend?

It was important to me from the start that Hunter wouldn’t be a ‘tough guy’. I wanted him to be vulnerable and human, and capable of making mistakes rather than always getting things right. But he didn’t spring to life fully formed – as I mentioned earlier, it took me a while to develop his character, so he probably did create himself to some extent. As for liking him, we don’t always see eye to eye. But it would be difficult continuing a series with a character unless you get along with them pretty well.


The books from the Hunter-series always have kind of open end, so your readers have to wait a long time before getting to know how it’s going on with him, even if he will survive (at the end of “Written in Bone”). Why do you do this? Do you want to crucify your readers? And do YOU know what will happen in the next book when you finish one?

I like to have a good idea of what’s going to happen in the next book, so that there’s a sense of continuation between them. And I tend to go for ‘open’ endings because it gives the sense that Hunter’s life is carrying on after the book is over, which I think is important for a series. But I don’t want to crucify readers, and I certainly wouldn’t write an ending just to make them want to buy the next instalment. With Written in Bone it seemed like such an unexpected and strong scene that, once it had occurred to me, I had to do it.


From the open end in “The Calling of the Grave” I assume that you are planning a 5th novel about Dr. Hunter. Are you able to tell our readers something about it?

Hmm... no. Sorry.


Before your great success with the Hunter-series you published some other novels, which are now re-published in Germany. How do you feel reading this “early works” after so many years? Do you still like them?

I was delighted that my earlier novels were given another lease of life, especially since I was able to make changes that – hopefully – improved them. You don’t normally get the opportunity to do that, but in this case enough time had passed for me to be objective when I re-read them. They’re very different to the David Hunter novels, but I’m still proud of them. Especially Fine Lines and Animals (published February 24th in Germany as Tiere), which I still have a soft spot for.


Do you have particular rituals which you follow while writing, for example a particular time of writing or a certain number of pages per day? How can we imagine a day in a writer’s life?

Writing is a desk job. You shut yourself in your office – or wherever it is you happen to work – and do your best to translate your imagination onto the page. Some days it goes well, others not quite so well. I try to start work around nine and finish around six, but I can’t pretend to be writing flat-out all that time. There’s a lot of staring into space or out of the window, trying to work out what I’m doing. I have a token target of 1000 words a day, but I don’t always manage that. Often it’s less, occasionally it’s more, and usually I’m not happy with what I’ve written so I re-do it anyway. Then I’ll keep on doing that until the book is finished.


A German author of crime novels said about his own reading habits that he avoids reading crime novels, because he is afraid someone will blame him for stealing his ideas. What kind of books do you read? Do you have favourite authors or genres?

Simon_Beckett_2_kleinI very rarely read crime novels anymore either, for the same reason. Also, if I’ve been writing crime fiction all day, then I usually prefer to read something else when I want to relax. At the moment I’m alternating between a novel about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright by T.C. Boyle and the latest by a British science fiction author called Neal Asher, who are very different to each other but both favourites of mine. I’m not too bothered what genre a book is – I just like a good story where I can lose myself for a few hours. 


Thank you very much for this interview!

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