‘She’s an honest character which, for me, is refreshing in a world of unreliable narrators.’
Elka has a very distinctive voice, one that stays with readers long after they’ve finished the book. How did you first discover this style of writing, and how did you maintain it throughout the novel?
I’ve always loved reading books and watching movies that have a strong narrative voice. I enjoy feeling like I’m being told a story and that’s what I wanted to write. I don’t think I could have written it any other way. It was very easy to maintain – once I read a few lines of it, I was back in Elka’s head. I ended up speaking and texting like her and so did a lot of readers which is really amazing. I believe the way a person speaks mirrors their personality and the way we change our speech patterns depending on who we’re talking to is telling. With Elka, she has none of that emotional intelligence, she doesn’t know how to manipulate or alter herself, she’s an honest character which, for me, is refreshing in a world of unreliable narrators.
Did you carry out any research prior to writing The Wolf Road, which helped you develop the setting, characters and storyline?
I’ve been a long-time fan of any documentary or TV show set in Canada or Alaska and survival shows are my go-to guilty pleasure, so I had a good base of knowledge there already. The real research came from a survival course I went on which I hope lends a touch of authenticity to Elka’s experiences. I’m a visual person so when I research, I watch any and all TV shows, documentaries or movies set where the book takes place. I like to hear accents and patois rather than read them, and I’d always rather see a forest or cornfield or small town and put my own spin on it, than read how another writer has described the same thing. I also visited Canada a few years ago so got first-hand experience of the sights, smells and sounds of the area which was invaluable.
Do you have a preferred strategy for plotting and writing a novel? Would you start off with a detailed sketch of the storyline, written on a board across the wall? Or would you begin writing with a basic premise and let the story carry you along?
I tend to get an idea and an image of the first scene, then the first line comes and it all goes from there. I know a project is right if the characters pop into my head fully formed and I hear their voices when I’m writing. I know how they look, speak, their background, what they want – like a close friend you haven’t seen for ages. I plan more now than I used to, because I have less time so it’s a bit more efficient, but I like to let the characters do what they want and drive the story.
Which books convinced you to become a writer? Have you always been a crime fiction fan or were you drawn to the genre later on?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer so no books in particular convinced me, at least none that I’m conscious of. I remember reading Wuthering Heights and The Woman in Black when I was thirteen or so and suddenly being aware of structure and framework narratives, as well as the feeling of being told a story instead of reading a book. I don’t really have a favourite genre and I don’t read as much crime as I’d like. I tend to read a lot of science fiction and books which straddle genres, the ones that are hard to categorise, which I think is why I’ve written a book that doesn’t quite fit into one genre.
After The Wolf Road, what will you write next? Though you’ve set this novel in North America, do you plan to write fiction set in the UK?
The next book is set in a small town in the American midwest in the early seventies. Four friends discover a body and set about trying to solve a murder but they dig too deep into the town’s secrets. It’s all about leaving home and childhood behind and how that feels. I love writing stories set in North America. It’s so big and varied and the landscape is diverse and beautiful. You can get lost there in a way you can’t in the UK which appeals to me. I’ll definitely write a story set in the UK one day, I have one brewing set during the Blitz. That one is two books down the idea queue at the moment but I’ll get there.
Of all of the books you have read in the past year, which has been your favourite?
Wow, that’s difficult. The one that immediately springs to mind is The Girls by Emma Cline. It has its faults but it’s so beautifully written it stayed with me. I also loved Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel, and The North Water by Ian McGuire. I’m currently reading The Power by Naomi Alderman and Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan – both excellent – and next on the to-be-read pile is Defender by G X Todd which I can’t wait to get stuck into.
-Beth Lewis, author of The Wolf Road
The Wolf Road
23rd March 2017