Alex Caan

Q. Tell us about your journey into writing crime fiction? 

Firstly can I just say thank you so much for this, it’s a big step being featured in TAW. So my writing journey has been an interesting one, I’ve written for years with various levels of success. My true passion though has always been crime. I think within the framework of a crime novel you can literally cover the entire span of humanity, and talk about anything. I wrote a crime novel set in the Asian community, dealing with the murder of a British soldier in a segregated part of Northern England, a few years ago, but it didn’t sell to publishers despite my lovely agent’s best efforts. I think in some ways I was limiting myself, writing what I thought people would expect from an Asian crime writer. My agent and his in-house editor then gave me free rein, told me to write the book I really wanted to. And so I did just that, took off every hat I had and wrote the book that was speaking to me. And so Cut To The Bone happened, and thank God it’s been an absolute joyride ever since Bonnier bought it.

Q. I haven’t stopped hearing about this book. Have you been pleasantly surprised by how well it’s been received?

That’s because I keep tweeting you about it. Lol. No but seriously, there is a whole team from my agent to my publisher that gets behind a book and makes it really work. I have imposter syndrome so think I’m rubbish, so yes it’s been a shock that anyone liked it! But I am really grateful people have. And the chart success thank God has just been the icing on the cake! (And everyone knows how much I love cake…)

I don’t read a lot of crime fiction but found Cut to the Bonequite absorbing and really relevant to how we live now. Was it a case of just landing on a good idea and running with it quickly or was there a period of reflection?

Thank you, really appreciate your kind words. Honestly I was in panic mode. My first crime novel hadn’t sold, and I needed to write to stop myself from falling into despair. The idea of vloggers was really in my blood at the time. I knew kids that no longer dreamed of being astronauts or movie stars, they wanted to be online superstars! It’s shocking, and I was fascinated how these people, a lot of them without a talent in the traditional sense, were so popular. And then I read articles about how some of the Youtubers were abusing their power, and their fans, and it all came together. I had to write about the darkness that the frothy smiles and pranks were concealing.

Q. As a big fan of social media I found the plot quite disturbing. What were you trying to say about how openly the younger generation especially seem to play out their lives so publicly on these platforms?

I tried to keep the cyberpsychology at bay, but I read so much about how young people who are streetsmart in their real lives, are so naïve online. They leave themselves open to all sorts of dangers, friending strangers and tweeting out really personal stuff. And online bullying is just horrendous. At least I could leave school and go home to avoid my bullies. Now? They whatsapp you and post stuff about you online. Makes me angry and sad and worried. It’s why I was so passionate about writing this novel.

Q. Where did the inspiration for your detective duo, Kate and Zain come from? Was the idea to have both of them part of your earlier drafts or did that come later during the revision process?

They came first. Zain is the idealised version of me, how I would want to look and behave. He has a half-Indian, half-Turkish mother, allowing me to incorporate my love of Bollywood and Istanbul and Rumi into one character. His father is in the British army, and I wanted Zain to feel displaced and as though someone cut his strings. It’s something we all feel at times. Although I enjoy doing horrible things to him. I need a therapist! Lol. Kate was an amalgamation of Scully from the X Files, Xena Warrior Princess and all the really strong women I grew up around in my family and extended community. She’s tough, smart, in control, and she acts with subtlety and intelligence. Which I rarely do!

There are plenty of times when we think we know what’s going on, only to realise that we’re nowhere near to knowing the real truth. Was it a difficult task to keep on top of the plot twists and how did you manage that balance between writing something that was really gripping but also satisfied us by the time the story concludes?

Oh wow thank you! You really are being too kind, but I appreciate the positive response. You know how much I respect your opinion so it means a lot! I basically came up with Kate and Zain, then the idea about the vloggers and then I wrote a plot outline of about four pages. That had all my twists in it, and then I started writing. So by that time I knew where the surprises were. Although, a few turned up during the writing process which was very weird.

Q. What was the most challenging part of the publishing process?

Thank God I think the publishing process has been amazing, I’ve been very fortunate. The most challenging part was what happens as you approach release, or after publication. I am quite shy naturally, so having to meet people and talk about my book was really difficult for me. Luckily, I made so many friends in the crime writing community from bloggers to authors that it turned from a worry to an absolute pleasure. I now also have my first live panel on the 22nd March, so here’s hoping I can start doing actual events. It’s been wonderful meeting people who love the book, I am never not humbled by people giving up their time for me.

Q. There’s lots going on symbolically around the victim who is seemingly open to sharing her life online, to the secrets that unfold as we read. What’s your biggest secret and are you good at keeping them?

My biggest secret is that I…well I think I’ll keep it to myself for now. Although you know most of them! Lol.  And yes I am. Friends trust me with their most intimate secrets. So do people I don’t know very well. I must give out vibes or something, but yes I honour people’s privacy. Unless I need it for a plot device, in which case…

Q. I had to step away from the book more than once, to process it all and then come back. Tell us more about the writing process. 

Wow, I’m really glad you said that. I wanted to make people think about some really serious issues, really using this novel as a platform as well as entertaining them. It’s so difficult to do, so I think I was writing a really dense and serious book at times, so had to keep pulling it back to keep trying to make it a page turner. I love John Le Carre and Graham Greene, and A Suitable Boy is my favourite novel. So they were always clashing in my head, while I tried to find my own voice. But honestly, as a process, it’s very simple. I had to just sit and write the words, and then I had to edit and re-edit like crazy.

I’m assuming there’s another book to follow. What can you tell us about the next book in the series and how far have you got in terms of writing it?

I am currently a bit broken and burned by finishing book two. Well the first version that has just gone to my publishers. It’s called First To Die, and I can’t believe how difficult it was to do! Everyone says the second book is in a series is always the most difficult, and Val McDermid told me at Harrogate I should write my second novel before I sold my first one. I was like, erm yeah horse has sort of bolted and run the Grand National with that one, as book one was about to be released as an ebook. Anyway, so I’m just waiting for my edits now for First To Die, and hopefully it will be out in November. It’s bringing back Kate and Zain again, and is even pacier than book one. It starts with Zain on duty during the night of the Anonymous protests in London, torn obviously between wanting to be part of Anonymous and having to be a police officer instead, and thinking how everyone wearing a cloak and mask would make it really difficult to find a murderer in the crowd…and in the morning Kate discovers a body, and then it all kicks off.

Q. What have you been reading lately and what would you recommend our readers pick up, if they haven’t already? 

Streets of Darkness by A A Dhand

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown by Vaseem Khan

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee

Eyes Like Mine by Sheena Kamal

Alex Caan was born in Manchester, and has spent over a decade working in Information Systems Security for a number of government organisations, and is currently specialising in Terrorism Studies. A lifetime passion for writing was sparked by the encouraging words of an English Teacher in school, and eventually led to Alex successfully completing an MA in Creative Writing, and write Cut to the Bone.