On13 May, 2018, Chris paid a short visit to the Netherlands. His Dutch publisher, L.S., organised a live bookclub for his debut crime novel Guess who/Tik Tak. 35 readers (including T&M’s Miriam, her review will be published on the site this week) were invited to the Mercure Hotel in Amsterdam. There was an interview with Chris and the readers had the opportunity to discuss the book with him. An absolutely wonderful afternoon! Tik Tak will be available to everyone on 29 May 2018 and Thrillers & More reached out to Chris McGeorge: ‘Is it allright to ask you a few more questions?’. The answer was ‘absolutely!’, so here we go:
First of all: congratulations on the release of your crime debut! You must be on cloud nine! Has it sunk in yet or are you still pinching yourself and wondering if it is real or not?
It’s a weird feeling above all, I think. My whole life was working up to that moment, and then the moment comes – the publication – and it happens and it’s so amazing. But then life carries on. I’m not saying I’m not proud and so thankful of everyone and everything that has happened. But the next day comes, and you start to work on Book 2, and you start to think about Book 3 (because you only got a two book contract, so you should really start thinking about getting another one).
I think the best thing has been the reaction to the book both in England and Holland, hearing people being so enthusiastic from something I created. People have their own theories, their own opinions, and their own favourite characters. I think that is really what keeps me so excited and humbled about the journey I’m on.
Since we don’t know much about you: who is Chris McGeorge? Please tell us all about yourself (well, maybe not all, but whatever you’d like to share ;-))
I’m 26. I live in the North East of England currently at home with my mother, two cats, four guinea pigs and a hamster! In media, I love anything high concept, or even just a little different from the norm – anything that tries something unique. Guess Who/Tik Tak is my debut novel and it has currently sold in twelve countries.
Most recently, I did a university course in London for two years, all about crime fiction. The Creative Writing (Crime/Thrller) Masters Degree at City University is the route I decided to take to try and get published. Guess Who was written as the final project for the course! And I got noticed by an agent, and then subsequently a publisher, through that!
Where did the idea for Guess Who/Tik Tak come from?
Guess Who literally started as a challenge to myself. Could someone, I, write a murder mystery set almost entirely in one room. When I get a thought like that, I get incredibly excited about the possibilities of what I could do. I knew that it would be the most difficult story I’d ever told, and that’s why I did it. I like to strive to be better and go on a journey which will make me better as a writer. The confined setting of Guess Who came first and then the characters were next, although the character of Morgan Sheppard did come fully formed from a different story I’d started. Putting Sheppard in the hotel room was when it all clicked!
Is writing something you have always wanted to do?
I don’t think writing is the right word, but I always wanted to tell stories. I used to make my own comic books as a child, and for about the first ten years of my life I wanted to be a computer animator at Pixar (because I love Toy Story). I did a course in Film Production specialising in writing and directing. After the stress of making a film, I realised that really all I wanted to do was write novels. There’s a sense with a film that it’s very collaborative, which is great, but a novel is so individual. Yes, there’s been a lot of input from my editor and agent, but I can still pick up a copy of Guess Who and know that every word is mine.
I thought it was quite an accomplishment to write a story with only a few characters that are stuck in a room together and keeping it an interesting read. Was it a difficult story to write?
The main issue with writing the story in one hotel room is that there is not much space. Six people standing around meant I had to know and keep track of where everyone was at all times. And then I had to think – if someone says something in the corner (even whispered), who else will hear it and react to it. In the end, it felt like choreographing a play, almost instructing the characters about where to go next, and making sure they didn’t bump into each other!
Who is your favorite character in the book? Who did you enjoy creating the most and why?
I think the main character, Morgan Sheppard, is my favourite. He’s an unpleasant person, and readers have seemed to be divided over whether they feel sympathy for him or not. That is completely what I wanted to do with his character. Everything bad that happens in the novel is down to Sheppard (in one way of another) and I wanted to explore a man who was the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons.
How much of you (or anyone you know) is in your characters?
I think there’s a bit of myself in all of them, but it’s hard for me to answer because I’m so close to them. I’ve spent two years with them, and been with them at their best and their worst. When you see a character you have created grow and change, it’s hard not to see some of yourself in them. Sometimes it felt like Guess Who was just a way for parts of me to collide with each other.
Do you plot the story upfront and then write it down, or do you let your story take you wherever it goes?
When I start writing, I always know the beginning and end of the story, but I don’t necessarily know what goes on in between. I think it’s important to know where you’re going to end up – characters are ‘here’ at the start and ‘there’ at the end, and it’s my job to connect the lines. But I don’t know where exactly the lines will go along the way. Case in point; for my second book, there is a grand reveal (an explanation about how something crazy happened) and when I started writing, I had absolutely no idea how it was done. I think that’s incredibly exciting (and terrifying) for me, and hopefully some of that emotion comes out in the writing.
Do you have a specific writing routine? Or do you just sit down and type away? Loud music on or does it have to be really quiet?
I really thought I did have a routine, but I feel now that maybe it’s changing with every book. Guess Who was written early in the morning. I’d wake up and going to a coffee shop until sometimes 2pm. But with the writing of my second book, Now You See Me, it was almost entirely written in the dead of night with Netflix on in the background. I’ve always needed some background noise, whether it’s music or people talking, but Netflix is a new one for me. One of my best writing sessions of the last few months took place at 11pm and I had Spider-Man Homecoming in the background.
Who are your favourite authors and why?
Sarah Lotz writes amazing high-concept thrillers with a supernatural edge. Her books, The Three, Day Four and The White Road are among my favourites of all time. I read every single Stephen King as a child (my favourite being Needful Things). Of course, Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle are incredibly important to me as a writer and what I want to achieve, and finally in terms of contemporary crime, Erin Kelly.
What is by far the best book you have ever read?
One book is difficult! I think, in terms of contemporary, I would have to say The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I think it’s the only book I’ve ever read that I thought was perfect and the only book that, when I finished, I started again straight away. But in terms of classics, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. It’s the book that changed my life. After I read it, I really started thinking about writing myself, wondering if I could tell such an awesome story. So there’s two – if I had to pick one, I’d probably go Christie.
What makes a thriller a good thriller?
A thriller should catch the reader off-guard, should keep up a rattling pace, and be confident in where it’s going. I think a good thriller needs to create an atmosphere where everything could change at any time – an atmosphere where no one is safe.
And last but not least: why should we all read Guess Who?
Well, first, thank you for even considering buying it! I think Guess Who is a novel where fun is the most important aspect. It’s complex, multi-layered, and the characters have motives that are changing and growing all the time. The story’s not necessarily going to go the way you think. But above all, I just hope everyone enjoys it! Because I loved writing it!
photo Chris: www.lsamsterdam.nl