01 March 2013

Interview with Matthew S. Wilson, author of The Devil's In The Detail

Yesterday I met up with Melbourne based author Matthew S. Wilson, author of debut novel The Devil's In The Detail who kindly sat down to a coffee and an interview.

Interview Questions

Matt, in your website bio, you mentioned you lived in London for 7 years and travelled with a notebook to 'capture new ideas whenever they appeared.'  Do you still do that? Do you have a collection of notebooks?  Do you use the same type of notebook each time? Tell us more.
Author Matthew S. Wilson
signing his novel over coffee
(See below for details on how
 to WIN this copy)
My study is littered with notebooks of all different shapes and sizes. I’ll confess to having a preference for Moleskin notebooks and I usually carry one of them with me at most times. There is something rather romantic about pouring my thoughts and ideas into the same brand of notebook used by Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh. Unfortunately, inspiration tends to strike at a moment’s notice. When I’m not carrying a notebook, I’m left to scribble the idea down on whatever is available at the time. This includes beer coasters, telephone bills or even (writing purists, please avert your eyes) using the ‘Notes’ app on my phone.  (Matt had one of his notebooks with him and showed me his notes which was a great privilege, and peek behind the writer's curtain).

Where does your self-belief that you could become a writer come from?
I suppose it comes from my family, who has always been very supportive of my writing. I also had some very encouraging teachers in High School. Special mention must go to Mr. Schlosser, whose assessment of my To Kill a Mockingbird essay in Year 10 had more impact on my writing than he’ll ever know.

What inspired you to choose purgatory as the location/setting for The Devil's In The Detail?
I wanted to explore the theme of “right vs. wrong”, as it seemed to me that the difference between the two could be so subjective. Purgatory looked to be the perfect location to explore this theme.

In the Christian faith, it’s generally accepted that Saint Peter judges a soul’s passage to Heaven. I realise that religion is now asking us to interpret the Bible much more metaphorically, but I thought it would be fun to present Purgatory in a completely literal way.

With 150,000 people dying each and every day, the logistical challenge alone of judging everyone when they died fascinated me. How is that even possible? Does Saint Peter delegate? What was the criterion for passage to Heaven? It seemed like there was a lot of scope to create a unique, bureaucratic world to tell this story within.

Did The Divine Comedy by Dante (or Dante's Inferno) factor into the novel at all, either as an influence or inspiration?
While I was writing the first draft, several friends suggested I read Dante’s The Divine Comedy. I actually resisted the urge to read it (and still haven’t), fearing that the story I was trying to tell would be overly influenced by it.

When it came time to describe Hell, I did end up researching The Divine Comedy and referenced Dante’s account of the nine levels of Hell. But ultimately Hell is a plot device in my novel. The main story revolves around the life of our protagonist, David. 

What was the hardest part of writing The Devil's In The Detail?
Researching the novel was an enormous amount of work. Aside from all of the reading required on religion and theology (for example, I had no idea that there were nine different types of Angel), I found that there was also a massive amount of research required for the scenes in London. The novel is based on ten flashbacks, drifting back over the forty years of David’s life. The challenge was to ensure that these flashbacks were as authentic as possible, so as to not distract the reader from the story. So where I’ve said that a particular football player scores a goal in a particular game on 14th April 1991, you can be rest assured that it happened!

Do you listen to music when you write?
Music is definitely a massive part of my writing process. Originally a screenwriter, I tend to listen to the music that I think suites the particular scene I’m about to write.

For The Devil’s in the Detail, I listened to a lot of the music that David would have been listening to throughout his life, including Jimi Hendrix (in the 70’s), Dire Straits (in the 80’s) and Radiohead (in the 90’s). For some of the scenes in Purgatory I listened to the scores of films like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, helping me to conjure up the majestic, surreal atmosphere that I wanted to create.

An exclusive for Carpe Librum readers: I was listening to ‘Halo’ by Beyonce when writing the conclusion of the novel. But let’s keep that amongst ourselves, shall we?  Definitely (wink wink).
Everything Is Illuminated
by Jonathan Safran Foer

What are some of your favourite books/authors?  Do you have any literary influences?
Two books that come to mind are Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Both weave such clever stories in an extremely funny, touching way. Both novels are the type of books that I aspire to write.

I also really enjoy Ben Elton’s work, which is always thought-provoking and hilarious.

When do you do your best work?
Because my writing focuses on people, I tend to be at my most creative while sitting in a crowded café. This allows me to tap away on my laptop, surrounded by the sights, sounds and conversations of people around me. It’s also the perfect excuse to get out and enjoy Melbourne’s superb coffee.

I also really enjoy writing in my study late in the evenings. I once heard Paul McCartney say that he wrote the melody for the song ‘Yesterday’ in those few moments before drifting off to sleep and I really think that the brain is at its most imaginative in the last hours of the day, when everyone else is asleep. 

Do you have a favourite bookshop?

My favourite bookshop is Daunt Books in Marylebone, North London. An original Edwardian building, with oak galleries and a spectacular skylight, it’s precisely how a bookshop should look, sound and smell.

But now that I’m living in Melbourne again, I tend to go to Hill of Content bookshop on Collins Street. It was quite a thrill to see The Devil’s in the Detail appear on its shelves last year.

What's next?  What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently about two thirds of the way through writing my second novel. It’s a love story that occurs on the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage across Spain. I came up with the story while walking the Camino in 2010. Walking the 800 kilometres across the width of Spain, gave me plenty of time to devise the plot. 
Melbourne Author Matthew S. Wilson
(Photo taken by Tracey Allen, Carpe Librum)

I hope to have the draft completed in a couple of months, with the novel released at the end of the year.

What would you like to tell your readers?
I’d simply like to say thank-you. All of the support that my readers have shown, whether via an online review, e-mail or simply approaching me in the street, has greatly touched me and inspired me to keep writing. Thanks again.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks very much for taking the time to read and review The Devil’s in the Detail, Tracey. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Congratulations on Carpe Librum, it’s lovely to find a website that caters for book-lovers, written and administered by a fellow book-lover. I hope to catch up later in the year.

For your chance to WIN the signed copy of The Devil's In The Detail by Matthew S. Wilson (pictured above), leave a comment below and tell me your favourite book or movie with the word 'devil' or 'angel' in the title.  Entries close midnight Friday 15th March 2013, and winners will be drawn using www.random.org  

For an additional entry in the competition sign up to follow Carpe Librum by email, mention this in your comment and double your chances to win!

Would you like to comment?

  1. I did enjoy THE DEVIL IN WINTER by Lisa Kleypas.

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  2. An oldie abut a goodie The Devil's Advocateby Morris West.
    Great interview. I'm a writer who loves notebooks to write in too.

  3. Thanks Dale. I'm not a 'writer' but I love notebooks too. There's something about their potential and their beauty; I could definitely go beserk collecting notebooks, that's for sure.

    I was reading this site the other day, brilliant: http://www.notebookstories.com/

  4. Digging deep ... a children's classic. The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell, illustrated by Sergio Leone. (Admit I had to look up who the illustrator was. They ALWAYS get short shrift ... )

    Nice website, and good interview.
    Thanks. mlh

  5. p.s. Email is mlhpro at hotmail dot com. :)

  6. Thanks for your entry mlh - great to have a children's book mentioned - and glad you enjoyed the interview.

  7. Great interview - answered a lot of questions about the book and author that were floating around in my head esp. regarding the research etc. it was very thorough! A great book - clever writing, intelligent reading with just the right amount of human insight. Deb

  8. Thanks Deb, so glad you enjoyed the interview!

  9. Just finished this wonderful book and enjoyed reading this interview. Good job Tracey! 😊

    1. Thanks Ash, so glad to hear you enjoyed the book and the interview 😊


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