Talking writing and childhood with novelist Trevor Ferguson
Seven Days Dead is the second instalment in The Storm Murders Series
Trevor Ferguson, the Hudson, Que., writer, just published the second installment of The Storm Murders Series.
The novel, Seven Days Dead, is set on Grand Manan, an island off the coast of New Brunswick where dead bodies don't fall out of trees. But in Ferguson's telling, they are sometimes attached to trees or fall over the island's rugged cliffs.
Writing under his crime fiction pen name John Farrow, Ferguson brings together characters from the island: drug dealers, dulse harvesters, fish farm operators, Harvard professors trying to fly, a minister who has lost his faith, a wealthy tyrant and his estranged daughter.
JK: Why choose to set the book on Grand Manan?
Trevor Ferguson: It's a nice island populated by very disparate groups. In Dark Harbour, the actual name, people have lived off the grid for years without electricity in shacks cliffside.
There is also a group of Ivy League professors. The fishermen are not the cliche some people think. Most have degrees, usually in English Lit, yet go back to fishing, the lifestyle they prefer.
And on an island there is no escape, so when these people rub up against each other you have conflicts.That's the magic of an island. If there is a murder one assumes the murderer is still among us.
JK: Can we read your detective Emile Cinq-Mars' explanation of his work — with its attention to detail, human nature and the intuitive approach to solving crimes — as a description of the work of the writer?
TF: When I decided to write crime I made a conscious decision write the same way as a literary novel: to rely on intuition, not to figure out everything ahead of time. Even though these are very plotted books, I do not know what the plot is as I go through the writing process.
When I start to write, I want to start from nothing which means if I have an idea I get rid of it. I want to get down to nothing. This is not quite as crazy as it sounds because I do believe that we have a core mind and I don't want my conscious mind manipulating or directing the process.
JK: You lived through two near death experiences as a young boy and teen. How did that influence your decision to become a writer?
TF: It changed my childhood. My childhood was over. I got into lots of trouble after that.
I ran away at age 14 and left home for good at 16. I'd started reading literary novels like John Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle at age 12. And it was more real to me than the world I was living in. I cared about it more.
When I headed out on the road a major aspect was looking for the kinds of worlds that mattered. And I realized they're partly imaginary and partly real and you have to meld the two together. So that had a lot to do with my becoming a writer.
I was only 16 when I wrote on the only paper I had, a Gideon Bible in a down-market motel, 'I'm going to be a writer. I'll never take a job I like because that will distract me' and I signed that. It was partly naivety and partly passion but also knowing what it is to understand what you want to do and who you are.