Screenwriter and former private detective (seriously, how cool is that?) Cal Moriarty’s debut novel The Killng of Bobbi Lomax is getting rave reviews left, right, and centre. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy which I devoured a little while ago and was so excited when I go the chance to then interview Cal Moriarty herself. Before we get to the interview I want to tell you all a little about The Killing of Bobbi Lomax.
Bobbi Lomax is the young wife of a local businessman and as the book begins, she along with property investor Peter Gudson, have been killed by bombs. The story starts with the third bomb going off and the victim Clark Houseman isn’t quite dead. Detectives Marty Sinclair and Al Alvarez are investigating and as they start to uncover the secrets in this deeply religious area (ruled by The Faith) I found myself staying up into the small hours of the morning trying to read as much as I possibly could before forcing myself to go to sleep. Cal Moriarty has written a gripping book with funny, addictive characters, and more layers than an onion (truly I have always wanted to say that).
Getting the chance to ask Cal about The Killing of Bobbi Lomax was fantastic – this book made all these questions and thoughts spark off in my head and having Cal answer some of the questions for me is by far the coolest thing ever.
As characters I loved Detectives Sinclair and Alvarez, especially their partnership. How did you go about creating them?
With Marty Sinclair I reverse engineered one of my favourite actors, Harvey Keitel, back about 20 years. Marty doesn’t take any crap. A bit like Harvey K in Pulp Fiction. For Alvarez I wanted him to be more of an outsider than Marty – who is also an outsider, but by choice. The Faith is very WASP-ish and very excluding of non-WASPs, so a Hispanic heritage Catholic cop like Al is really in a strange and unusual place. Originally Sinclair and Alvarez both met when they worked the Manson case together in the late 60’s in Los Angeles. When I was creating them it was very important to me that they have history together, and apart. Kind of like a long but intense and committed marriage.
The Killing of Bobbi Lomax is such a tightly plotted novel which left me, as the reader, trying to finish as fast as possible. Did you plot your novel meticulously before you started or did vital elements of your story change as you wrote?
I knew from very early on how I wanted it to end. And I knew who the Bad Guy was. And that it would be a dual narrative. I also had a detailed chapter by chapter breakdown of the first half all plotted out before I started. But for the final half I didn’t have that much beyond a few key plot points figured out because I felt that the first half would highlight elements that as a writer you can’t completely predict no matter how much you plan, which for a control freak like me is slightly alarming. So, for the second half of the novel I entered a kind of writerly freefall which was exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure.
Your novel follows the police investigation into the death and murder of Bobbi Lomax and Peter Gudsen, and the attempted murder of Clark Houseman. In the process you take us into the heart of a community with a very strong religious core. Why did you choose to have the Faith be so prominent?
I realised that, like it or not, religious and social control are encroaching upon us everywhere. It wouldn’t take too much tightening of the social screw to pitch us all into a world where the quietly threatening Faith control every aspect of all our lives. That, to me, is even more terrifying a prospect than going into writerly freefall.
You setThe Killing of Bobbi Lomax in two different time lines and it reads like a story within a story. Why did you choose to structure your novel in this way?
I’m a massive life-long fan of crime fiction. But I wanted to do something that was a little bit different – give the readers something they might not be expecting. I thought the story could be told most effectively and intriguingly from two characters’ points of view and to do that I had to start the story before the happenings of Chapter One.
Your supporting characters are extremely well thought out and rounded. Is it easier for you to create these secondary characters as opposed to the main protagonists?
Thank you. I appreciate that hugely as I absolutely loved creating those secondary characters, so much so that some of them might be making a reappearance in other novels in the series, possibly at both earlier and later points in their lives. Those characters really have to pop out of the narrative for the reader to be beguiled or intrigued by them. Also, in some cases, for the reader to ask which one of those characters might be Bobbi Lomax’s killer.
You obviously did a lot of research for this book. How did you go about researching some of the aspects in The Killing of Bobbi Lomax (such as the Faith, and police procedures in the 1980s) and were there things you really wanted to include in the book that you couldn’t?
My research took me back to L.A., where I used to live and to a sunless dungeon in the desert where there’s a huge archive of material that helped inform certain aspects of the narrative. I was a private eye in the early 1980’s so was already familiar with police practice, plus I was on a soccer tour for a month – as a youth player – in America in 1980, so I had met a lot of people in the States / sampled American culture not just in person, but through all those great TV shows we all remember from our youth. The research for the book was the gift that kept on giving there was so much I could have put in the novel. I sketched out a further six chapters for the final stages of the novel, but I knew if I included them I would want to include another six so I just cut the idea of those sketched out six chapters to bring us quicker to the finale.
Can you tell us a little more of your writing process? Are you a pen and paper sort of person?
I suffer from osteo-arthritis in my hands, primarily my writing hand, so I have had to learn to love typing directly onto my Apple Mac. I have pricey dictation software on the computer but I don’t use it because it just feels like the story’s escaping someplace that isn’t the page and all that stop, start and constant correction just ruins the flow. I type 100wpm, so it’s much easier to switch off the outside world, put on some great loud music, particularly of the era of whatever I’m writing, and just write as if I’m in the room with my characters experiencing events with them.
You recently graduated from the Faber Writing Academy. Is the course something you’d recommend to aspiring writers?
For me, crossing from screenplays to novels was made exceptionally easy by my amazing writing tutor Richard Skinner. Richard is just one of those tutors who has a great gift in being able to make you understand what a narrative might want from you as a writer. As a published writer and poet Richard has that valuable down-the-pit experience of being a working writer which makes his teaching even more effective. I would absolutely recommend Richard’s classes to everyone looking to find out how to write a novel.
I absolutely loved The Killing of Bobbi Lomax but when you reread your work are you tempted to make changes or are you happy it’s out there?
I’m a slightly psycho perfectionist. But, as a writer you have to learn to let go or you will never finish anything. Ultimately, it is what it is. That doesn’t stop me finding fault with myself, when my proof arrived the other day I found a tiny glitch in a line. No-one else has noticed, but it bugs me it’s there. I must get it changed asap…
Have you already decided what you will be writing next?
I’m writing the second novel in the Wonderland Series. It’s called White Rabbit.
I can’t recommend this book enough to you all – cleverly plotted, nice and twisty, with wonderfully written characters.
The Killing of Bobbi Lomax by Cal Moriarty is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)