Today I am very happy to be getting to know Alan Carter as part of the Ngaio Marsh Awards tour.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU WITH ALAN CARTER
Tell us a little about your novel, what readers can expect from it.
Marlborough Man is about a former undercover cop, Nick Chester, from the UK who is in witness protection in remote New Zealand after an undercover job gone wrong back in his home town – Sunderland. He and his family are struggling in this new beautiful but often tough environment – constantly looking over his shoulder, waiting inevitably for his past to catch up with him. It’s a spectacular yin and yang place he finds himself in – rushing rivers, seismic tremors, fjord-like coastline, rapacious loggers, midnight pig hunters. But as well as being hunted by Geordie gangsters Nick also has to deal with a predator on the loose in the top of the South Island, snatching children off the streets.
Where did you grow up and what was family life like?
I grew up in Sunderland in a two-up, two-down terraced house not that far from the football ground at Roker Park. My dad was a welder in the shipyards and my mam worked as a wages clerk for Rolls Royce Aero. I went to the match most weeks and attended Monkwearmouth School. It was a gritty place to grow up in but we were near the beach at Seaburn and, even with the sewage outlet, it was a lucky upbringing to be so near the coast. As I was the youngest I was pretty much left to my own devices. I was never going to be pressured to follow the traditional jobs of shipbuilding or coalmining because they’d all closed down by the time I got to be of working age. I’m still looking for a proper job forty years later.
Academic or creative at school?
I was a pretty average student both at school and at uni, a bit lazy to be honest, but I did enjoy writing stories and I think I got my first ever commendation certificate for a crimey storey I wrote when I was about 14. As well as immediately developing a crush on the English teacher I realised this writing palaver was something I enjoyed doing. The rest, of course, is history.
First job you *really* wanted to do?
I think I wanted to either be a spy or the captain of a ship but the ship thing required good science and maths skills and I was crap at that. I did end up working for the government though. In the Tax Office.
Do you remember the first moment you wanted to write?
Probably see above re Miss Bradshaw and the commendation certificate. After messing about in the tax office for a couple of years then travelling for several years to “find myself” I then became a documentary filmmaker for the next 20 years or so and thus entered the realm of storytelling for a living. It wasn’t until 2008 when, after emigrating to Australia and getting married, I moved to a small town on the south coast of Western Australia where my wife Kath had got a job as a teacher in a new school opened as a result of the mining boom. She made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – stay at home and be a kept man for a year while she took care of the bills. If I had any time left over after childminding and housework I could write this book that was supposedly inside me. The result was PRIME CUT – my first book, featuring Chinese-Australian detective Philip ‘Cato’ Kwong.
Who are your real life heroes?
Real life heroes? Probably all those people who do really dangerous or gruelling stuff every day to rescue and look after people – nurses, firies, doctors, teachers, garbage collectors, etc. As for writers I admire well there’s James Lee Burke, Graham Hurley, Ian Rankin, Malla Nunn, Garry Disher – to name a few.
Funniest or most embarrassing situation you’ve found yourself in?
Remember musical boxer shorts? I had a pair emblazoned with pink pigs that played “Love Me Tender” if you pressed a particular spot. For a while I had a job in management and found myself in the middle of performance appraisal time having to discuss professional development with one of the staff. Yes, you’ve guessed it. “Love Me Tender” was triggered at a most inopportune moment and any authority I believed I had went flying out the window. I didn’t last long in management which is why I’m now a crime writer.
DIY expert or phone a friend?
I’m completely f*#king useless. The practical expert in our house is Kath and I defer to her in all matters.
Sun worshipper or night owl?
Neither. I rarely last later than ten p.m. and I do function better in daylight but I tend not to hang around too long in the stuff because it gives you skin cancer.
A book that had you in tears.
I think the last book that had me choked up was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
A book that made you laugh out loud.
Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project.
One piece of life advice you give everyone.
I’ve been housesitting in Tasmania lately and had all sorts of stuff on my plate. On the back of the toilet door in this place was Desiderata which I haven’t seen since I was about 20 years old. And you know what, it’s really good advice. Well most of it anyway. So next time you’re doing the business in a house that has the Desiderata in the bog – take time to read it.
What the Ngaio Marsh Awards judges had to say about MARLBOROUGH MAN:
“A terrific, full-throated crime thriller that puts the freshest of spins on the cop-with-a-past trope. Carter is a first-class wordsmith with a particular talent for authentic dialogue, and he repeatedly yanks his Sunderland exile Nick Burgess/Chester back from the brink of antiheroism by endowing him with self-awareness and humility to compensate for his all-too-typical flaws. The novel’s setting of Nelson and its surrounds wholly embraces the people and action, and the overall effect is powerful and persuasive.”
“Carter’s assured writing, clever plotting and real-life characters work together in making Marlborough Man highly successful. The two- story element- the back-story of Nick’s under-cover work in the UK and the subsequent need for him to go into hiding alongside his present search for the killer of young boys-is seamlessly handled. The dry, dark humour is wonderful as is Carter’s portrayal of the Marlborough Sounds.”
About the Book
Nick Chester is working as a sergeant for the Havelock police in the Marlborough Sound, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. If the river isn’t flooded and the land hasn’t slipped, it’s paradise. Unless you are also hiding from a ruthless man with a grudge, in which case, remote beauty has its own kind of danger. In the last couple of weeks, two local boys have vanished. Their bodies are found, but the Pied Piper is still at large.
Marlborough Man is a gripping story about the hunter and the hunted, and about what happens when evil takes hold in a small town.