Q&A with Chris Whitaker, the author of We begin at the end

Den 17. maj er Chris Whitaker aktuel med romanen Under de høje ege, som endelig udkommer på dansk, og i den anledning har jeg interviewet Chris. Læs med og hør meget mere om bestselleren Vi begynder med slutningen, inspirationen til at skrive, hvem Chris gerne ser spiller Duchess Day Radley i den kommende filmatisering, hvorfor alle hans romaner foregår i Californien, hvad danske læsere kan forvente af Under de høje ege, hvad Chris selv læser og ikke mindst hans bedste råd til forfattere in spe.


So Chris, I absolutely loved We begin at the end (da: Vi begynder med slutningen). How did you come up with that, what was the inspiration behind Duchess Day Radley, her brother and least of all, their compelling mother? 

Thank you so much! The character of Duchess was born of trauma in my own life. I was mugged and stabbed as a teenager and turned to writing as a form of therapy, projecting my own struggles onto the page. If I was feeling angry, Duchess would burn with rage, if I was feeling lost, she would be filled with despair. In Robin, Duchess has a reason for living, for getting up each morning and facing the day when life feels too difficult. He anchors her, he reminds her that she is capable of love and compassion despite the bad things she does. Star, their mother, perhaps struggles even more than her daughter. The story begins with the death of Star’s sister, long before Duchess was born, but when we skip ahead to the future we find the small family still living in the shadow of this awful event. And we hope that the children might find a way out, even if it seems too late for their mother.

Your novel Tall Oaks, which was actually your debut, is coming out in Danish this month (da: Under de høje ege). It gives me such a Twin Peaks vibe reading the cover text. As with We begin at the end, there is a mystery, a murder, something off and thrilling at the center of the story. Why is that so important in your novels? Is it what gets the whole plot going, or do you just love the ‘who dunnit’? 

Though there is a crime at the heart of my stories I never think of them as crime novels. To me, they are the least interesting aspects of the story. I’m far more interested in the why, and the how, and the what next. I believe people are innately good, and try to do the right thing, but when something bad happens that goodness is put to the test. And it’s here where my characters learn about themselves. I see the twists less as plot devices, and more as explanations of why people behave the way they do. I like a novel to stand up to a second read.

Disney’s 20th Television Studios has been able to secure the rights to turn your hit thriller novel We Begin At The End into a series? How is that? I’m personally so excited and would love to hear who you picture playing Duchess?

It’s a dream come true! It’s beyond exciting to work with such talented people, to see their vision of how the book might translate to screen. With regard to casting I’m afraid I can never picture anyone other than the characters that reside in my imagination! That being said, I would quite like to play Duchess myself. I’d just need a wig, a gun and a whole lot of attitude!

Also, what is it about California? Why do both We Begin At The End and Tall Oaks take place in California? 

Both towns are fictional, but loosely based in real locations. The town of Tall Oaks is affluent, beautiful and very much the kind of place where problems are left at home, where an ideal is projected. California has the necessary gloss. I also quite enjoy mentally leaving London behind for some Californian sun! Cape Haven is the setting for We Begin At The End, and I wanted the rugged California coastline to mirror the character of Walk. The town is Walk’s safe place, his reminder of a better time in his life. Only the town is slowly eroding into the sea, which is a metaphor for Walk’s memories slowly fading, for the fact that change happens no matter how hard we grasp onto the past.

Photocredit: Roar Paaske 

If (as I think) Danish readers loved We Begin At The End, what can they look forward to when reading the Danish edition of Tall Oaks?

A book about a town trying to move on following the abduction of a child. A thriller, but also a coming of age story, a look at a failing marriage, a policeman far too close to the case, and a mother unravelling. By turns it is frightening and funny, moving from the devastation of the missing child’s family, to a teenager getting ready to attend his first prom. It’s a book about life, its highs and lows, and the secrets we tell ourselves in order to feel normal.

Tell me about you working at your local library, that sounds so amazing? Why do you do it? Besides the obvious? 

Working at the library was my favorite job! I’ve loved going to the library since I was a child. I adored seeking out new voices and worlds amongst the shelves, and so when a job came up at my local library I jumped at the chance to work there. I loved everything from reading with children, to helping customers find new books (always my own). I had to give up my job after We Begin At The End was published as there simply weren’t enough hours in the day but I still love taking my own children to the library each weekend.

Where do you write your books, at home, in public?

Always at home in my office. I often make notes when travelling, but the actual writing takes place across three screens, where I’m able to map out scenes by looking at pictures and notes, and not be distracted by my children!

The best book you have ever read? 

It’s hard to say best, but my favorite is The Last Child by John Hart. It was after reading this that I felt inspired enough to quit my city job in order to write. It is a book that changed my life.

If you could travel to a fictional universe, like Lord of The Rings or Harry Potter, where would you go? 

I would have to say Harry Potter, and would also have to take my eldest son with me. He’s just finished listening to all of the audiobooks and seeing his smile throughout is the most lovely thing.

What are you currently reading right now yourself?

I am reading the new Clare Mackintosh book, A Game Of Lies. She is such a wonderful storyteller.

Your best advice to those who are dreaming of becoming a published writer themselves? 

Stop dreaming and start writing! Talking to you about my book, traveling, attending events, that’s the fun stuff. But the hard work is done when I’m sitting alone at my desk, staring at a blank page, and wondering where the story is going to take me.

Du kan læse min anmeldelse af Vi begynder med slutningen lige HER og læse meget mere om Under de høje ege lige HER.