Interview With an Author: Stuart Turton

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Stuart Turton and his latest novel, The Last Murder at the End of the World
Photo of author: Charlotte Graham

Stuart Turton is the best selling author of The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and The Devil in the Dark Water. His books have won numerous awards and been translated into thirty-seven languages, selling more than a million copies. His latest novel is The Last Murder at the End of the World and he recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for The Last Murder at the End of the World?

Inspiration is a very kind word for the chaos in my brain. There’s usually three hundred ideas swirling around in my head, and occasionally they collide. I’ve previously written a locked house mystery and then a locked boat mystery, so I knew I wanted to do a locked island mystery. The trouble was how to keep everybody trapped on the island. That led me to the idea that it was surrounded by a poisonous fog which had destroyed the rest of the world. That felt like a great setting, so my brain got ambitious. What if there’s a voice in everybody’s head that can hear all their thoughts and talk to them? What if the people on the island are super lovely, and there’s never been a murder before? It was like having a Q&A with myself, and every time I answered one of the questions, an extra piece of scaffolding went up around the novel.

Are Niema, Emory, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

Emory was inspired by my daughter. I really struggled to find Emory’s character for the longest time. The island is a utopia. There’s no arguing, no violence, and almost nobody’s unkind. Unfortunately, Emory is my investigator, and investigators need to be outcasts—the genre demands it. I couldn’t work out how to do that without betraying the core principle of loveliness the island thrives on. My solution was my six-year-old daughter, who asks any question that pops into her head, no matter how rude it may be. Because she’s so innocent and so guileless, nobody’s ever offended. I figured if Emory had that trait, it would make her a brilliant investigator but also a bit isolated—considering it’s quite an annoying habit.

How did the novel evolve and change as you all wrote and revised it? Are there any characters, scenes, or stories that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

I always write the wrong novel first. I’ve done it for each of my three books, and I foresee myself doing it for the next three. It’s how I work out which characters interest me and whether my plan for the novel is actually working (spoiler, it usually isn’t). In this case, the wrong book was 111k words long. I tossed the entire thing, first word to last. Place in recycle bin. Empty recycle bin. I didn’t save any of it. I find if I try to salvage things it’s much slower than just writing again from scratch. The problem with that draft was that it just wasn’t fun for the reader, and if my books aren’t fun, I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m lucky that I enjoy cutting and throwing things away. There was nothing in that draft I wished I’d saved. It would be a very different book if I had. And it would have sold like 12 copies.

What was your process in creating the version of the future and, specifically, the island on which the novel takes place? Was it inspired by a real place? If so, is it a place you’ve visited (or would like to)?

It was supposed to be based on a real Greek island. I’d planned to go and live there for a few months with my family, but the pandemic hit, and suddenly, I was writing the book from my house in England instead. I used to be a travel journalist, so I ended up trawling through my own articles, trying to summon the details I needed for the story. What does that specific type of heat feel like? What’s the light like in the evening? I decided to turn the island into a composite kind of place, and make it a bit eerier than a real island. The future I envision also comes from my journalism. Before being a travel writer, I was a tech journalist. Every bit of technology in the novel—including the AI stuff—was based on things I’d heard about in that job and are currently being worked on. There’s no flight of fancies at all in Last Murder. Everything in it is coming, whether we want it to or not.

The Last Murder at the End of the World is your third novel, after The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and The Devil and the Dark Water. All are variations on the classic “locked room” mystery. Do you have a favorite “locked room” mystery (short story, novel, movie, or series)?

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie is utterly perfect. It’s such a good setup, and the reveal is exemplary. That’s a novel I go back and read once a year, and I always enjoy it, even knowing what’s coming. The dread she conjures, and the helplessness the characters feel is completely different to her other works. I’ve always wondered how she felt about it and what her headspace was like. It’s so dark! There’s nothing else like it in her canon.

The Last Murder at the End of the World would make a make a marvelous film or series. If it was going to be adapted, who would your dream cast be?

Honestly, I don’t remember what my characters actually look like! I imagine them from the inside out. I know what they’re thinking and feeling because that’s what makes the plot go. I never know how they look on the outside. Whenever I’m required to write a description of them I inevitably dash something off, then change it again ten pages later - much to the consternation of my editors! Back in 7 1/2 Deaths, I famously described a character as ‘being bald’ before ‘running his hand through his curly hair’ three pages later. I’m happy for other people to play the casting game, though. I have two small children. I don’t think I’ve watched a film since 1987, so I don’t know who’s still knocking about.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

I’m back to Bleak House by Charles Dickens. It’s my nemesis. I hate it so much, but I’ve read everything else by him and I won’t be beaten. I’ve been reading it for five years, because every time I get a few chapters in I put it down in annoyance and don’t pick it up again for a year. It’s so dull. I truly don’t understand how it was published.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, TV, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

A friend of mine took me to see the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. Inside are these great big canvases painted black and hung on the walls. There’s something about their size—and the chapel’s light—that messes with your head. Your brain strains to find images in the darkness. You can feel it wrestling with the emptiness. It’s a battle between our urge to create and their stubborn refusal to give anything up. I can seriously imagine myself going mad if I stared at those canvases for longer than half a day.

What are you working on now?

I’m absolutely knackered, so nothing at all. I’m taking some time. I’ve written three complex books back to back and had two children. I feel like a mine that’s been completely dug out. I need to step away from my computer. The next few months will be BBQs, swings, books, and becoming acquainted with those actors I know nothing about. I’m very excited.

Book cover of The last murder at the end of the world : a novel
The Last Murder at the End of the World
Turton, Stuart