Author meets Reviewer: C.J. Carver meets Philipa Coughlan

Article published on February 5, 2018.

When Caroline Carver’s outstanding debut thriller, Blood Junction, set in the dangerous Australian outback, was published in 2001, she won the Crime Writers’ Association New Writers’ Award. Now writing as C.J. Carver she is still producing high class thrillers, with her latest, Know Me Know, being the third in the current Dan Forrester series.

Her own life is worthy of a novel. Born in the UK, Caroline’s mother had set the land speed record in Australia in 1957 and her father was a jet fighter pilot in the Australian Air Arm. It is no wonder she herself was drawn to adventure and travel.

Originally brought up on a farm, at 18 she headed to London, doing various jobs, and then aged 22 went to Australia for a holiday and stayed for 10 years. Caroline had also backpacked around South East Asia for 9 months, living on $9 a day, and many of her characters begin their respective novels travelling and heading for adventure and often ending up in disasters and stomach-churning escapes.

The love of cars inherited from her mother features in her own life. In 1992 she and her co-driver were the only all-female crew on the 63 day, 12,500 mile London to Saigon Motoring Challenge. Then, in 1998, she completed the London to Cape Town 4×4 Adventure Drive and later the 14,000 Inca Trail. Cars and speed often feature in many of her plots!

Philipa – Your own life is worthy of a novel surely? Any thoughts on writing an autobiography?

C.J. – I’ve just written a self-help book – about my experiences living with a psychopath and how to extricate yourself from that relationship – does that count?! I did write a travel-memoir on my adventures driving London-Saigon, which Pan Macmillan nearly bought… when they finally rejected it, I realised writing was now firmly in my blood and I went for broke and wrote a novel.

Philipa – Travelling, adventures and cars feature heavily in your plots. Would you say you have a wider male or female readership?

C.J. – I think it’s about equal at the moment. When I was published as Caroline Carver, not C.J., I attracted more female readers, but then I started receiving emails from men saying their partner or girlfriend had “forced” them to read my book and, amazingly, they’d really enjoyed it and please could I write more. Hence the subtle change of name.

Philipa – The current Dan Forrester series follows on from a series based around the characters India Kane and Jay McCauley. Do you approach each series differently and do you find there is a natural end to any series when writing about them?

C.J. – Interestingly, I didn’t write my first book featuring India Kane with the intention of it becoming a series. It was written as a stand-alone, and it was my then editor who insisted it became a series. Which was a bit weird to be honest, because India’s life at the end of Blood Junction had changed so dramatically, it was difficult to avoid spoilers in the next book. But I think we managed OK!

The Jay McCauley series was started consciously as a series and, on reflection, although I’m not writing that series any more, I could happily write more books with Jay. It ended up being a trilogy, which is where I am with the Dan Forrester books at the moment, and I hope he keeps going for a while yet.

Philipa – “It’s usually a masculine trait”, you say in your first novel about the art of compartmentalising parts of our lives. Is it an easier plot tool to use for male or female characters?

C.J. – Personally, I use that particular character trait to show someone who likes being in control and dislikes being distracted. In this case, I’ve used it show a woman, Stella Reavey, as self-controlled, disciplined and focussed. Dan Forrester is also a big compartmentaliser, or he’d never be able to do the job he does.

Philipa – In the Dan Forrester series, we learn about his severe amnesia due to personal trauma, which is a powerful part of the novels. Have you had any personal experience of this that has led you to explore it in your writing?

C.J. – I have a friend who had ECT to help them with their mental illness, and they suffered quite a bit of memory loss. They were kind enough to give me some personal experiences I could use in the book, but what struck me most was their having to trust others – including myself – to fill in various blanks. Someone not acting in their best interests could easily have lied and manipulated them to a massive effect.

Philipa – You also often explore wider medical and ethical issues, some of which are quite controversial. Does this require a lot of research?

C.J. – Ooooh, yes. I love my research! I’m also very lucky to have a family of scientists to hand and once I’ve decided on the angle I’m going to take in the book, we have great fun discussing the pros and cons. It can get quite heated, which makes it even more fun!

Philipa – Blood Junction was not only your first novel, but described a less than sunny Australian landscape alongside the brutal treatment of Aboriginal families by white murderers. How did living in Australia affect your view of the country and how often do you go back there?

C.J. – You could say that Australia’s my spiritual home. I love all that open space, huge skies, desert, and room to breathe. But yes, it has a darker side, which I wanted to explore in the novel. For example, I made my character India Kane an outsider because I had first-hand experience into what it’s like to be an outsider, a “Pom”, which was always said to me with a slight sneer. Living there simply made me understand the place better, warts and all. Since you ask, I try to go back every 2-3 years as some of my best pals are Aussies.

Philipa – How important are groups such as the Crime Writers’ Association, Romantic Novelists’ Association and other structured feedback to new writers?

C.J. – I found the RNA’s new writer’s scheme invaluable. It was the RNA who encouraged me to write to my strengths and write a thriller rather than a romantic novel. Thanks, RNA!

Philipa – What’s in the pipeline in terms of your writing plans at the moment?

C.J. – I’m half-way through the fourth Dan Forrester novel, but I’m already thinking about a stand-alone story with different characters. I love writing a story where my protagonist can have full arc of character change, which in a series has to happen incrementally.

Philipa – Any tips on the best cars to drive this year!?

C.J. – If you can get your hands on an Audi R8 Spyder V10 Plus, then go for it!

Our thanks to both C.J. and Philipa for this excellent Q&A.

Know Me Now by C.J. Carver
Zaffre 9781785760310 pbk Jan 2018

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