Author Q&A:
Stuart Turton

The Devil and the Dark Water
(Raven Books) 

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Following his acclaimed debut, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Turton’s new novel unfolds aboard a ship travelling from the Dutch East Indies to Amsterdam in 1634. No sooner is the ship out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A strange symbol appears on the sail. A dead leper stalks the decks. Livestock are slaughtered in the night. And then the passengers hear a terrible voice whispering to them in the darkness, promising them unholy miracles. Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes? Inspired by the Batavia, a real life ship with a strange story of mutiny, wreck and murder, The Devil and the Dark Water is an expansive, complex and absorbing mystery. 

Was it a challenge to balance historical research and accuracy with the imagination required to write the supernatural elements of this book?
One of them works best the less you know of the threat, and the other works best by steadily revealing the threat. Getting that balance nearly drove me mad.

Are there common themes between The Devil… and Seven Deaths?
They’re both books with my name on them! After Seven Deaths, I set out to write something completely different, so there isn’t a lot of overlap. Aside from having a murder mystery element, they’re different genres, and the characters are polar opposites. Everybody in Seven Deaths was supposed to be vile. Most of the characters in Devil are people I’d happily go for a drink with. Hopefully, they’re both satisfying mysteries, and really entertaining stories.

You write in your intro that you drove yourself a little mad writing the book. Can you tell us about the process and why it was so gruelling?
It wasn’t actually the book that was the problem, it was the fact that I had a newborn baby. She was born a month after I started working on Devil, and turned two a week after I finished. Doing any task while having a newborn is difficult, but trying to write a twisty-turny mystery is nigh on impossible. There were days when I was writing without any recollection of what I’d written the day before. After about a year, I started getting some sleep, then had to pull together the disparate mess I’d created. It was torture.

Both your books are very filmic. Is cinema a big influence on you? And though it would be quite a challenge to condense them down to 90 minutes, would you like to see them adapted for the big screen?

I’m honestly influenced by everything I love, including other books, films, telly, videogames, even board games and the people I’ve met. It all goes into a pot and, eventually, a book comes out. There’s been some talk about adapting Seven Deaths for television, and hopefully we’ll have news about that soon, but, yeah, I’d love to see Devil make the leap. Mainly because a few of my friends don’t read for pleasure, so it would be good for them to finally see what I’ve written.

You are from Widnes though you live in London now. Did your hometown help shape you as a writer at all, or do you owe your career to the education you got once you left?
Being from Widnes, there’s definitely a social conscience to my books. I’m suspicious of inherited wealth and the lowered expectations that come with being from a working-class town. In terms of technical ability, that comes from my career as a journalist and spending a lot of time writing bad books, before I finally wrote a decent one.

How has the current pandemic impacted on you as a writer?
It hasn’t, really. Devil was written before the pandemic kicked off, and the lockdown was mostly lifted by the time I started on my third book. The only way I can foresee it affecting me is that I’ll never write a book about pandemics, plagues, or illness. I reckon we’re going to be inundated by those in a couple of years.

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Interact: Responses to Author Q&A: Stuart Turton

  • John.
    17 Jan 2023 12:07
    Another question: how were 17th century ships able to ‘anchor’ overnight at sea as suggested?

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