Games, Brrraaains & a Head Banging Life are very pleased to bring you an interview with British author, J.T. Turner. J.T. Turner (Joe Turner) is the author of the Alex Rainer series of two books, so far.
While I have yet to read the first (though I plan to soon), I have read, thoroughly enjoyed and reviewed The Maker’s Hand. You can read my thoughts on that here. The Maker’s Hand, and the Alex Rainer series are a little different to my normal reading circles being crime thrillers dappled with horrific elements over straight horror/fantasy. They are an intriguing read leaning heavily on criminal psychology to add intelligence and realism.
You will absolutely buy into the characters and journey with them down a dark, twisting road in a story that certainly gives you food for thought. Throw in a few nods to metal bands, songs and albums and more than a few horrific killings and we are on to a winner.
1 – Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live now and where did you go to school?
I’m Joe Turner, 30 years old and I’m originally from a backdoor town in the West Midlands called Wednesbury. It’s a place that Jeremy Clarkson once called “the worst town in the world” and I think that pretty much sums up everything about it. I went to school in the same town, although I skived every Tuesday and Friday because those were the days I had P.E, so I thought it would be easier to skip it than embarrass myself. I now live about ten miles away in a town called Willenhall.
2 – Did you always have an ambition to write books or did you have other aspirations beforehand?
I think I always knew from day one I wanted to write books for a living. I remember picking up a copy of Stephen King’s The Talisman in the library and being mesmerised by the cover. I read a few pages and said to myself “this is what I want to do”, but it took me a while to get started. I spent most of my teenage years trying to be a professional guitar player but I’m pretty comfortable in saying now, actually, I’m quite a terrible musician. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I got started on the writing path. Once I did, I knew it was the job I wanted to do forever.
3 – What other authors, past or present, do you look to for inspiration?
Although crime is my chosen genre, it’s mostly horror writers that inspired me to become an author. I’ve devoured everything by every author related to the Lovecraft Mythos – August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long, Ramsey Campbell, Robert Chambers, Brian Lumley, etc. Also, while not strictly Lovecraftian, I’m a huge fan of weird fiction. Thomas Ligotti and Laird Barron have been massive influences on me, as well as the major players like Clive Barker and Peter Straub. Overall, I would say I strive to be a combination of Clive Barker and Jeffery Deaver. Barker, for his masterful prose and ability to say so much with so few words, and Deaver for his matter-of-fact writing style and ability to instil a sense of dread so effortlessly.
4 – If you have one, what is your favourite book? If not horror, what is your favourite horror specific book?
Tough question! I think it was Clive Barker’s Books of Blood that made me realize what horror fiction is capable of. There’s one particular story of his that stands out to me from Books of Blood called In The Hills, The Cities. It’s a story about two towns of which the citizens assemble together to form two huge monsters which fight each other once a century. The imagery presented is almost indescribable, yet Barker seems to pull it off with ease. If we’re talking novels, then I would say Silence of the Lambs is my favourite. It’s a masterclass in creating memorable characters and villains, without having to resort to things like extreme victim counts or excessive brutality. The way the backstories of Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill are drip-fed is something people like me have been trying to replicate for decades, but there aren’t many people out there with Thomas Harris’s finesse.
5 – Regarding the Alex Rainer series, what inspired you to write the books? Why murder/serial killers?
I got my start in the writing world in the true crime niche. Serial killers have always been a fascination of mine, possibly stemming from my love of horror movie villains, and it just went from there. Over the years I’ve written a lot on the subject of serial murder and the criminal mind – even having to contact a few infamous murderers in person, and I think it’s awarded me a great insight into how these kinds of people think and how they’d act in certain situations. It’s allowed me to create realistic antagonists in my work, but also gives me the opportunity to take them to their most logical extremes. For example, the killer in my first novel the Heart Collector was loosely inspired by Dennis Rader (B.T.K.) who hadn’t killed for fourteen years at the time of his arrest – something pretty rare in the serial killer world. But it gave me a chance to experiment with things like why he hadn’t killed and how he remained undetected.
6 – Did you have any concerns about releasing a story in a genre that is quite saturated? How do you make your book stand out from the crowd?
I was definitely a little worried about entering such a heavy market. It was kind of like sending out a message in a bottle to sea and hoping it reached someone. Luckily, my publisher knows how to get seen and I can’t praise them highly enough. Other than that, it was just a matter of hooking people in with the story synopsis and then letting the books do the talking. I think a strong synopsis is what initially draws readers in. I like to create just enough mystery to pique the reader’s interest without giving too much away. Then, I try to get the action started straight away from chapter one to grab the reader’s attention immediately. I’m not a big fan of slow burners – I like to kick off with a bang. A lot of people have emailed me saying that the first two sample chapters (on Amazon) of my first novel is what persuaded them to buy the whole thing.
7 – With you being educated in criminal psychology, is Alex’s character based around yourself or someone you have crossed paths with?
I’d like to say I was as observant as Alex, but I’m far from it! Alex is actually a combination of a few of my favourite detectives: Sherlock Holmes, L from the anime series Death Note and Gideon from Criminal Minds. One thing I’m sick of seeing these days is the clichéd “socially awkward genius”, yet one who just happens to be an expert in human body language and psychology. I wanted to make sure Alex was still human at his core – someone who isn’t completely invincible, someone who makes the occasional mistake and gets blinded by his own preconceptions. I wanted him to be the exact opposite of socially awkward – someone who understands that things like love and emotion can be the catalyst to horrific actions, and then be able to empathise with both the victim and killer.
8 – Give us a little insight into your writing process. Do you always have an exact outline to work to or is it more free flowing? Do you know the ending before you start writing?
I always start every story with a hook. In the case of the Maker’s Hand, it was “a dead magician comes back to life”. From that point, I plan out the main plot points of the story and let the rest come naturally. I think a rigid structure can be quite inhibiting especially as new ideas tend to crop up as the story progresses. In TMH, there was a scene where the detectives break into a victim’s house and there’s a mannequin in the corner of his spare room. Originally, that was meant to be nothing more than a bit of creepy imagery, but I thought it would be fun to toy with the idea that the killer was hiding inside it – always one step ahead of them. That part in itself spawned a whole new aspect of the story I never intended so I just rolled with it and it came out great. When it comes to the ending, I always know who the killer is and how the climax is going to go down, but the steps to get there usually change along the way.
9 – It feels like there is more to come from Alex Rainer. What are your plans for this series? Will there be more books? Do you have an end game, or will you just keep the series going as long as there is interest in it?
I’ve finished book number three and I have the foundations for the next two already set up. I don’t see an end game yet, at least not until I’ve explored all of the scenarios I can conjure up. In addition to hunting serial killers, I’m hoping to let Alex investigate things like underground cults and terrorist cells – things that are a little unusual, but still with mystery at the heart of them.
10 – Electronic books have had a huge impact on your craft in the same way that streaming, and YouTube has on music. Do you feel that the ability for absolutely anyone to publish a book, at will, has helped or hindered you as an author?
I personally think it’s a hindrance to professional authors. I believe there’s a reason books need to go through the professional publication process. They should be proofread and edited by someone other than the author to make sure it’s fit for public consumption. I’m sure a lot of self-publishing authors do do this, but there’s no denying there’s some serious crap out there as a result of self-publishing. I think music is a little different because it’s very subjective, whereas a badly-written paragraph is the same in any language. A lot of people out there want the stigma of being a writer without having to go through the hardships to earn it, and vanity publishing offers a convenient shortcut. However, all it does it cheapen the prestige that comes along with it.
11 – Physical books or eBooks or both. Any preference?
I’m old school so I much prefer physical books, but ebooks definitely have their place. I personally don’t like staring at a screen for too long but they’re definitely a great convenience.
12 – Away from writing, what are your hobbies? How do you switch off?
I’m currently in limbo at the minute because I don’t have a DVD boxset on the go. I’m in that awkward state where I can’t find a series to watch so I end up watching The Office over and over again. Other than TV, I’m a pretty big video games fan, currently working my way through some mid-2000s horror games on the PC. I’ve just recently finished The Vanishing of Ethan Carter on PS4 which was quite the surreal experience. I’ve got a big stack of unopened games next to my TV that are currently awaiting my attention. From the top of my head I still have Bloodbourne, Elder Scrolls Online and Friday the 13th to get to, I’m just trying to find the time to get round to them.
13 – You obviously have good taste in music, based on some of the band and song names that creep into your stories. Would you class yourself as a metal fan? What are some of your favourite bands/albums/songs?
Thank you! I’m a huge metal fan and have been for as long as I can remember. I grew up with the masters like Maiden, Sabbath and Slayer, but these days I’m a lot more into power metal and melodic death metal. My favourite band, without a doubt, are German power metal legends Blind Guardian. No one else sounds like them, and every song of theirs tells a story. I can listen to them forever. I think my two favourite albums of all time would be Touched By The Crimson King by a little known band called Demons & Wizards and Clayman by In Flames, both for vastly different reasons. Crimson King is a power / thrash masterpiece with a lot of literary references, and Clayman is prime circle pit material with enough melodic parts to make it stand out from the crowd. I like a lot of Scandinavian bands like Nightwish, Children of Bodom, Wintersun, Sentenced, etc and I’m just getting into some Japanese artists like Church of Misery, Maximum The Hormone and Galneryus.
I’ve often thought about the one song I could listen to over and over again, and I think the answer would have to be Creeping Death by Metallica. I can never get tired of the verse riff!
14 – How about horror movies? Are you a fan of the genre? Do you have a favourite horror movie, series or villain?
I’m a huge horror movie buff, and I’m a sucker for a good villain. I think my favourite horror film would be a little Japanese found footage film called Noroi: The Curse. It’s pretty disturbing, and it’s one of the few film which uses the found footage gimmick in the right ways. I love all of Dario Argento’s films, with Suspiria and Tenebrae both in my top five all-time favourites. I know it might also be an unpopular opinion, but I really love all of Rob Zombie’s films. The Firefly family (from the Devil’s Rejects and House of 1000 Corpses) are real assholes but you can’t help but love them, and I think Rob really excels at making them detestable but likable. If we’re talking old school slashers though, Leatherface is my go-to villain. I think Gunnar Hansen’s portrayal of him in the original 74 film is one of the best silent performances in all of horror. Through his body language alone he lets the audience know that he’s basically a frightened man-child acting out of desperation.
15 – Serial killers seem to be a popular topic at the moment with many true crime podcasts and blogs centred on the subject. Do you have one person or case that you find most intriguing? Why?
Great question! I could talk for hours about serial killers and unsolved cases, but if I had to choose a favourite case it would be Tsutomu Miyazaki, the Otaku Murderer. He was a bizarre Japanese serial killer, cannibal, necrophiliac, vampire – whatever you want to call him. He abducted, killed, mutilated and ate four young girls, kept their body parts as trophies, taunted the victim’s families, videotaped most of his crimes, drank his victim’s blood – and a lot more. Miyazaki was something even the most demented artist couldn’t create. He was pure evil, one of the sickest people to have ever lived. After he was caught, he told the police he only murdered because the “Rat Man” told him to. The reason he fascinates me so much is that his crimes are almost too unbelievable to be true. Everything about the case is incredibly tragic, and the worst part is that the crimes could have been avoided if Miyazaki was given the help he needed at the right time.
16 – What can we expect from J.T. Turner next? Is there another book in the works?
I’ve actually just finished book number three. It’s called the Grave Dancer and will be out at the start of June. It’s actually very heavy metal based – the plot revolves around someone using the lyrics to an obscure metal song to carry out murders around London. I thought it would be a nice addition to use lyrics to a semi-famous song, but a certain record company wouldn’t give me permission to use them, so I had to write my own. Writing the lyrics were probably the hardest part!
17 – Finally, what can websites, blogs and the fans of literature do to help support upcoming authors? How do we ensure we keep getting more reading material in the future aside from obviously buying and reading the books?
If there’s one thing that’s helped me tremendously so far it’s reviews. Obviously I love the positive ones but critical ones are just as important providing the feedback is useful to the author. Also, any kind of social media interaction can make a huge difference. A single retweet or reblog or any of that kind of stuff can reach potential readers who would have never given my books a second look. I have a great respect for sites like yours that take the time to reach out to upcoming artists to give them a voice, so thank you!
Thank you very much for taking the time to read and answer these questions. We wish you every success and will be on the lookout for more from you, and Alex Rainer, in the future.
Thank you for the interview and for the great questions! I wish you all the best with your site.
You can grab yourself a copy of J.T. Turners books at the Amazon links below or by visiting Barnes & Noble here. Keep up to date with news and release info from J.T. Turner at his Twitter page, here. Keep an eye out for that third book in the Alex Rainer series, Grave Dancer too.
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