The Next Big Thing – Straight Jacket

I’ve been tagged by Newswrite Editor (NSW Writer’s Centre) and debut novelist Kirsten Krauth in the Next Big Thing Blog Meme in which writers answer a series of questions on their works in progress.

Readers of my blog will know that my novel Mr Cleansheets was published in 2010 and my ebook THEM was published in 2012. My own next big thing (I hope) is Straight Jacket – which is quite different from both of my other books – although, like Cleansheets, it could be described as a very unusual crime thriller.

1) What is the working title of your current/next book?

Straight Jacket (yes, the misspelling is deliberate)

2) Where did the idea come from?

I’ve always been a bit of sneaky trickster, playing arcane practical jokes on people (even strangers) for a bit of fun. An example is when I was working out in the desert years ago. I was with another bloke (Nick) and we were both smokers (I haven’t smoked for years, so this really is a long time ago). Anyway, Nick was one of those organised, well-prepared type people who buy cartons of cigarettes when going for weeks into the desert, whereas I would buy two packets and hope for the best. It became my occasional practice to spirit away an unopened packet of Nick’s, carefully open up the cellophane at the bottom, slide out the pack, flip the lid, prise away the silver paper and filch two cigarettes. I would then slip a note inside, close up the packet, slide it back inside the cellophane and close up the bottom with a teensy piece of sticky tape. Then, sometime later when Nick opened the packet (in the orthodox style), he would swear at the missing cigarettes, pull out the note and read with incredulous anger: ‘The Ethereal Brothers Strike Again’.

I call this (annoying) behaviour ‘life sculpture’, and it eventually occurred to me that life sculpture, if taken to a more extreme level, could have serious consequences for a person’s life. In Straight Jacket, my main character, Morgen, is a wealthy lawyer who rather enjoys life sculpture and is driven by a powerful sense of justice. His mission is to ‘reward the virtuous, punish the ignorant, and avenge those who won’t avenge themselves’. He takes an anonymous interest in strangers and secretly pulls strings on their behalf. If he likes you, then your luck might change in wonderful ways. But if he doesn’t like you, your life will turn to shit.

At the same time the story is being told from the perspective of a detective (Blacksnake) in charge of a serial killer investigation and the reader must eventually begin to wonder…could Morgen be the killer?

3) What genre does your book fall under?

It’s literary crime fiction, but an unusual offshoot of the genre. It has a depth and a sense of humour you don’t always find in crime novels.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The three main characters are a fabliau (Morgen and two detectives: Blacksnake and Clair). Morgen is suave and quite dark – maybe the young Alec Guinness from Kind Hearts and Coronets could play him (if he was still alive and had an Australian accent). Hugo Weaving could play Morgen. Rob Carlton would make an excellent Blacksnake and Toni Collette would be brilliant as Clair.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Wealthy lawyer with an odd sense of justice pulls secret strings to change the lives of strangers – could he be the killer?

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m negotiating with a publisher right now and hoping it will be out in 2013.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?

I tend to work on several projects at once as the ideas percolate. I started mapping out Straight Jacket about ten years ago but got serious about the draft in 2010 shortly after Mr Cleansheets was published. It probably took about a year and I’ve been editing ever since. The story rollicks along at a good pace but there are numerous transcendent themes, subtexts and subplots. It was like writing a symphony getting all of these exactly right.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The only book that comes close is Filth by Irvine Welsh (about a rogue detective). The two books are both deeply immersive 1st person narratives. The main difference is that the reader is always aware of Bruce’s motives in Filth, whereas the reader in Straight Jacket is increasingly suspicious of Morgen, despite being privy to his thoughts. Fans of Irvine Welsh would certainly enjoy Straight Jacket. There might also be some notes reminiscent of Peter Carey’s Bliss – not least in the surprise revelations (regarding love) at the end of the book.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My own sense of evil manque. I wanted to write a book that told a pacey, compelling story but which also gave the reader a lot to think about afterwards. Several of my beta readers have already read the book multiple times and tell me the book keeps delivering up its secrets over subsequent journeys. I really love hearing that.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s darkly funny, has highly unusual sex scenes and some major twists that none of my beta readers have yet seen coming.

Next up, I’ve tagged some writers whose work I have enjoyed:

Tony Wilson is a multi-talented media phenomenon and excellent writer. I loved his books Australia United and Making News.
Antony Mann is a blogger, novelist and screenwriter with a collection of short stories published in the UK and Japan: Milo & I. Ant ought to be famous by now.
Pete Abela is a novelist whose debut work Wings has received a lot of well-deserved attention.
Matt White is an award-winning screenwriter and novelist now living in England and far too reclusive for my liking. Memo to Matt…you’re not Howard Hughes!

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