By Novel Studio Course Director Emily Pedder
Greg Keen is an alumnus of The Novel Studio course at City, University of London. He completed his debut novel in between stints working as a pitch consultant and a media trainer, all based in Soho. In 2015 Soho Dead won the CWA Debut Dagger. We caught up with him to find out more about his crime series.
EP: Your novel reveals some brilliantly unsavoury characters. Were they based on people you’ve met…?
GK: I’ve met a few people who share their characteristics but no one who is absolutely like them. Bella – the sex club owner – is probably closest to someone I know.
EP: Your novel is set mostly in Soho, a place you seem to know intimately. Can you tell us about your relationship to the place?
GK: I got my first job there after university. Over the next ten years the company re-located four times, always in Soho. During that period I frequented most of the pubs and quite a few members clubs when members clubs meant a dimly lit cellar bar. Few of these remain but The New Evaristo (aka Trisha’s) in Greek Street is still going strong.
EP: Which crime writers have influenced you?
GK: Mark Timlin’s Sharman series primarily. I love Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May books and Colin Bateman’s Dan Starkey novels are wonderfully dark and funny.
EP: What kind of research did you do for the book?
GK: Part of the novel is set in the seventies. Mostly it was a matter of researching what was where in Soho in that period and which drinks and cigarette brands were available etc.
EP: “His pecs needed a training bra and his gut seeped like jelly from a dodgy mould…” Humour is rife in your book. Do you see it as an important element in the crime writing you’re interested in producing?
GK: To a point. Soho Dead began life primarily as a comic novel and was rejected by agent after agent as not having a big enough crime element. Over the next four drafts (complete re-writes basically) I bumped this up. The best advice I received was in a workshop when someone commented that the humour worked when it came from the situation and not when I was trying to insert gags. If any of my three review readers think something isn’t funny then out it comes. But the short answer to your question is that noir and humour often work well together.
EP: The novel is intricately plotted with lots of satisfying sub-plots and red herrings. How did you approach the plotting of the book?
GK: Thank you. I have about 70% worked out up-front and the rest is found while writing and re-drafting.
EP: The ending of the book is nicely unpredictable. Did you have an alternate ending in mind at any point, or were you always clear where the book was going?
GK: Some crime writers only find out who committed the crime when they reach its conclusion. I find this amazing and always knew who did it and why.
EP: What are you working on next?
GK: I’m about to begin structural edits on Soho Ghosts, which is the second in the series and out next year.
EP: Have you given up the day job?!
GK: As I freelance it’s not quite that dramatic for me. I have decreased my hours to focus more on writing though.