An interview with Paul Cleave about his book Joe Victim
(original cover / French cover)
Did you have since a long time the idea of a following for « The Cleaner »?
Actually, no. When I wrote The Cleaner, I had no intention of writing a sequel – though I knew one day it could be a possibility. When The Cleaner went through editing in NZ back in 2005 (that’s how old the book is now…), my publishers actually wanted me to kill Joe off.
But I liked him too much, and was always open to the idea one day he might come back. However it was actually people emailing me all the time asking ‘where’s Joe?’. So it’s because of readers that Joe has a second book.
I originally wrote The Cleaner back in 1999, and I wrote Joe Victim in 2012, so it was a little tricky getting back into Joe’s mind. Plus I was jealous too – Joe ages one year between the books, and I went from 25 to nearly 40.
It was a bit of a trap to get into such a following. Did you immediately found an approach that differed significantly from the first novel?
That was always going to be the problem. I was setting myself up for failure – I knew many people would go ‘we loved the first one and this is too different’, or they would go ‘this isn’t different enough’. You can never please everybody, and those you don’t please love to go on social media to tell you how much you suck.
So I took all those things that worked really well in The Cleaner and have them in Joe Victim. I had to come up with a new story for Joe, while it still felt like the old book. This is also why it took many years to write, because I needed to get it right.
In the end the most important thing was to capture Joe’s humour – if I could do that, fans of the original book would love it. And it’s worked.
People who enjoyed The Cleaner enjoy Joe Victim just as much and, in my opinion, Joe Victim is a much better book because I had thirteen years more writing experience to put into it.
The scene from the middle of « The Cleaner », the park, marked all readers. They still talk about it, after so many years. Without revealing anything, in that new novel we can say you did just as strong. It is a kind of nod? 😉
Absolutely. I wanted a scene just as big as that park scene, but I wanted something funny. Sure, it’s gross, and it’s disgusting, but you also laugh while it’s happening – and the important thing about both those scenes is in those moments you sympathize with Joe. You’re on his side.
So yes – this was a deliberate thing as a nod to the first book. Makes me happy you picked up on that.
It’s amazing how you arrived to mix particularly hard scenes with others where humor is very present (and very dark … The dialogues between Joe and his mother are unforgettable!). How do you work with this balance when writing?
I just ring my mum and let her frustrate me, and then write it all down… no, just kidding. I used to say I based Joe’s mum on my mum, which used to be a little true – I’d take some of the small things mum used to do, and then exaggerate the hell out of them and give them to Joe’s mum.
I used those scenes to make the reader like Joe more – so in that way, Joe’s mum is really important. I was a little worried when my mum read The Cleaner, because she would know what I had done, but she actually really loved it.
She died a few years before Joe Victim came out, which means I can make Joe’s mum even more batshit crazy and my mum can’t tell me off for it.
But all the other stuff – the non-mum stuff – yeah, I just keep throwing in as much humour as I can. I love it when the books make people laugh – and I think it helps make them stand out from other books. Also, without that humour, they’d be way too dark. It is a balance you have to get right. It’s easy to go over the top – the key is to keep it subtle.
Your ability to make us feel empathy for a killer as Joe is pretty amazing. Even if you do them live their worst miseries in your bouncing plot, we feel that you lend much attention to develop the personalities of your characters. Are they the essence of your novels?
Character is everything. One of the reasons we love Joe is because of the way we see him through other characters eyes. I want all my bad guys in the books to be likeable. Joe is somewhat different from other characters in other novels – but mostly I like to create bad guys that we can relate to – I like to ask the reader this question… would you do the same thing in this situation ?
With The Cleaner, you probably think back on that book and can’t really remember much of what happened, but you remember Joe. The same will be for Joe Victim.
In five years, or ten years, you might not remember what the plot was, but you’ll certainly remember the character. My favorite books are like that. It’s always the characters that stay with you.
Catégories :Interviews littéraires