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Author interview: Peter Swanson

Published in the Sunday Times

Peter Swanson, author of All The Beautiful Lies. (Author photo: unknown.)

 
What’s the one book our world leaders should read?

I’d have them read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s the bleakest vision I’ve read about a post-apocalyptic world. Maybe it would do its part in preventing one of our leaders from reaching for the nuclear button. If not, it’s still riveting fiction.

Which book changed your life?

The first Agatha Christie novel I read was Sleeping Murder. It’s not her best, but I fell in love with mystery novels because of her, and I’ve never turned back.

What music helps you write?

I listen exclusively to movie soundtracks when I write. They create a mood but they also fade into the background. Lately, I’ve been listening to Jonny Greenwood’s score for Phantom Thread and James Newton Howard’s score for Red Sparrow.

The strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I’m always looking up information on Google about how to murder someone, questions such as “How long do you need to hold someone under water for them to drown?”.

You’re hosting a dinner with three writers. Who’s invited?

Stephen King, Kate Atkinson and David Mitchell. If I was allowed to invite dead writers it would be Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and Kingsley Amis.

What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift?

On the occasion of the UK publication of my second novel, The Kind Worth Killing, my wife bought me a first edition of Darker than Amber, my favourite Travis McGee novel by John D MacDonald. I love the book, but I also love the memory of that night.

What books are on your bedside table?

I’m reading The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson. The next book I’m hoping to read is James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss and then next on the pile is Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, because I never like to be too far from my favourite novel.

What would you tell your younger writing self?

Stop trying to be the next Hemingway and start writing thrillers. Another way of phrasing this would be to tell myself to write the books that I’d want to read.

What did you edit out of this book?

I write extensive histories for all of my main characters. Sometimes those histories make it into my books and sometimes they don’t.

How do you select the names of your characters?

I have used multiple ways to select names, including baby name books, genealogy sites, plus just scanning my own bookcase. Lately, I’ve found a couple of good surnames by taking walks through cemeteries and reading the headstones.

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson is published by Faber & Faber, R275

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