Tom Grieves (‘A Cry in the Night’, ‘Being Human’, ‘Dracula’) interview

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His 2012 debut novel, Sleepwalkers, was an exciting and intelligent thriller, and met great acclaim. Just under two years later, Grieves is releasing his second novel, A Cry in the Night, which sees a complex and unnerving kidnapping case unfolding in the Lake District. A case that may involve the dark influence of witches.

As A Cry in the Night hits shelves and e-readers everywhere on Monday 16 January, CultBox spoke to Tom about his latest book, as well as writing for Being Human and Dracula...

What can you tell us about your second novel, A Cry in the Night?

“It’s about the investigation into two missing children who disappear from a remote village in the Lake District. The village is renowned for an ancient witch trial where several women were drowned in the nearby lake. To this day, rumours of witches are never far from the locals’ lips.

“The cops (Sam and Zoe) think little of this until they begin to wonder if there is a connection between the missing kids and other cases where women have murdered children in their care. As the story develops, Sam begins to suspect that there may be a group of women, modern-day witches, working together to harm children and escape unharmed.”

Your first novel Sleepwalkers was really well received, but some writers can struggle with a second novel. Was the writing process easier of harder second time round?

“Well, it killed me, of course, but I don’t think that was because this was because of a ‘difficult second album’ syndrome. I was better prepared (for the plot and the writing process) and my publishers were much happier with the first draft, so that was good (and people have been very kind about it too, so far). But I knew Sleepwalkers inside out before I began because it was an old TV idea.

“This one was all new and keeping that much information in my head (despite copious notes etc.) was hard, hard, hard. I remember a time when I was writing late and thinking ‘no one has a clue about what I’m doing’ and it was rather thrilling, and rather terrifying as well.”

What prompted you to move into writing novels?

“There were a number of factors. 1) I love writing!

“2) I was once a TV producer and I would sit in meetings where we would discuss writers. Someone would say “oh, he’s no good anymore” and I just imagined the poor guy falling through the cracks in the pavement with no idea why! So I wanted to have a few strings to my bow if/when the TV people decide that I am also no good.

“3) I’ve always wanted to write a book or two (or twenty).

“And 4) When I finally left my TV company and began life as a freelance writer, I was very aware that I would have months to spare, waiting. I decided to fill this time with a novel. This second book was also written in the gaps and I’m busy with the third now, waiting for a round of notes. I try to make sure I have a clear week and then just dive in.”

Touchpaper have bought the rights to A Cry in the Night, so is there a chance you might be writing the screenplay for your own novel?

“Wouldn’t that be weird? And fun. I think. I did say to them “don’t you want someone else to do it?” but then didn’t let them answer in case they did. It will be a very interesting exercise because I know where all the cheats are, so I’ll have to face up to them…”

Who would be your dream casting to play Detectives Zoe Barnes and Sam Taylor?

“Er, now, can I just say that I can never remember any actors’ names? Toby Whithouse always laughed at me during Being Human meetings because I’d go ‘her with the long hair who was in that thing with the guy who’s really funny.’

“So them. What? You really want names? Er. Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe. They’d do it on a TV budget, right?”

You wrote for Being Human, and there’s still a lot of fans of that show. If you were given the permission/opportunity, would you ever want to write a Being Human novel? Or at least a novel set in that world?

“You know, one of the best things about seeing how good my episodes of Being Human ended up was the relief that I hadn’t ruined the show! So writing a book would be a bit too terrifying.

“The audience knows those characters so well, and I feel a lot of their stories have been told. I’d be scared I’d be the man who messed it all up. But it is a great world, isn’t it? So yes, I would. (I’m going to hide now in case it actually happens).”

The thing you notice when watching both your episodes of Being Human is how strong the characterisation is – was there a character in the show you enjoyed writing for more than any other?

“I loved writing for Hal but this is a bit selfish because he had yet to be seen on screen so I felt I had a hand in shaping him. I didn’t, of course, he is entirely Toby’s creation, but I enjoyed the feeling that I was at the time.

“The idea of a reclusive, OCD, semi-autistic vampire is just brilliant, isn’t it? So he was my favourite, but I knew that all the actors would make my dialogue sound great. I was particularly pleased with making it Tom’s birthday – that seemed to work very well.”

How much of those episodes is of your own invention, and how much are you told to put in? Were characters like Kirby and Yvonne your creation?

“When I began, Toby said he wanted a ghost to visit the house who was a serial killer. And he talked about the sort of character he had in mind. I then drew on that (and made him my own) but it was always within the clear inspiration that Toby had provided.

“Yvonne came about in a meeting with Toby, Phil (the producer) and Laura (the script editor). They wanted to bring Adam back and we were all very excited about this. But we didn’t know how, exactly, because his story in the previous episode had been so well done and was so complete. But then someone suggested he was now in love (and we all laughed) and then we talked about the kind of woman who he’d fall in love with. And out of that, Yvonne was created. And then we laughed and laughed for days.”

Did you have any ideas for Being Human that went unused?

“Well, the Yvonne episode had an entirely different ending. Basically, Yvonne was so distraught at losing Adam that she runs off to kill herself by jumping off a bridge. Adam goes after her, but, in order to prove that he’s in love with her for real (not because of her touch) he climbs after her in one of those old-fashioned deep-sea diving outfits.

“Hang on, this is brilliant, why did we cut it?! I do know that they actually found a bridge for the location but by then we’d realised that it had all got too silly.”

How did you find writing an episode of Dracula? He’s very different to Being Human‘s Hal!

“Isn’t he just! The process was very different – I was fitting into the American system of writing. I lived in Los Angeles and each day would commute to an office where all ten writers would sit in a room and argue the show into existence.

“We outlined, in great detail, all ten episodes. It was a really fascinating experience (and LA is very sunny…) but the odd thing was that I didn’t feel that I ‘owned’ any of it. Toby is very generous as a creator in that he gave me plenty of room to write what I wanted but there were so many voices on Dracula that I didn’t feel that I had a chance to show mine.”

Will you be writing any more episode of Dracula?

“I only wrote one episode of this series. I’ve signed a contract that puts me ‘under option’ if there’s a second season (if they want me) so we’ll see.”

You’ve demonstrated that you’re very good at writing vampires – any plans for a vampire novel?

“My first spec script was a vampire movie. A lonely, beautiful man trying to find the ‘soul’ of his old love (now living inside a woman who has just woken up from a coma). Maybe I’ll look at it again.

“I think right now, you’d have to come up with something incredibly original to make a mark after so many vampire projects. But you can see why they work so well – it’s wonderful material for drama.”

> Order A Cry in the Night on Amazon.

> Buy the Being Human Series 1-5 boxset on Amazon.

Watch the Being Human Series 5 trailer…