This morning I posted my review for Tom Becker’s latest novel Dark Room. While I had a big problem with one element of the book, overall I had a great time reading this creepy murder mystery. I was really pleased to be able to ask Tom some questions about the book, its setting and its take on social media. I hope you enjoy Tom’s answer as much as I did.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Tom Becker?
Tom Becker is the pen name of Tom Beckerlegge, who is the same person except with a slightly sillier surname. I grew up in a Lancashire market town and now live in London, which makes me sound more like Dick Whittington than I actually am. I used to be young but now there is grey in my hair and I don’t recognize the songs I hear on the radio. I’ve been writing children’s books since 2007 – Dark Room is my first YA book, but hopefully not my last.
How would you introduce people to Saffron Hills?
Saffron Hills is an exclusive community hidden away in a quiet corner of the American state of South Carolina. Mansions nestle in the hills above the main strip. Expensive sports cars gleam in the winding driveways. Its inhabitants are obsessed with wealth and beauty, power and influence. Saffron Hills is a place where secrets stay hidden. It is a place where bad things have happened in the past, and bad things are about to happen again.
Were Saffron Hills or the Angel Taker case inspired by any real, historic places or events?
For my previous three books I did quite a lot of background reading and research before writing – from World War Two POW stories to non-fiction accounts of India under the Raj and 19th-century grave-digging in the UK. But Dark Room emerged completely of its own accord, creeping out from some shadowy corner of my imagination.
Dark Room is a very dark mystery, liberally laced with horror elements. What drew you to writing a horror mystery for a YA audience?
Up until now I’ve been writing for audiences just below the YA level, and Dark Room offered me the chance to push the envelope just that little bit further. It wasn’t just about upping the gruesomeness and the gore (although hopefully horror fans will have their bloodlust sated), but also exploring slightly more mature issues and relationships. In my previous books I wouldn’t have included a storyline like Darla’s struggles with her dad’s drinking problem, so it was quite liberating to be able to explore this in Dark Room.
Social media, or at least the uses they are put to, are not portrayed very positively in Dark Room. Do you actually see social media in that bleak a light or is reality more nuanced?
Hmmm… I guess having reached my mid-30s I’m now vulnerable to the world and its technological developments overtaking me, and people tend to be fairly suspicious of things they don’t quite understand. I’m not desperate to share the inner workings of my life with anyone and everyone, mostly because I don’t think it’s that interesting. And I think it can leave people vulnerable, especially when its sense of anonymity can lead others to use it in a negative or harmful way. Having said that, I am on Twitter (with the catchy handle @Tbeckerlegge), and it allows me to hear from readers in a way I wouldn’t have been able to when I was first published. That’s fantastic. But would I use it if I wasn’t a writer? I doubt it. At the end of the day, social media is just a tool – whether it’s used positively or negatively is down to the user. So maybe it’s just that I view people in a slightly bleak light…
The Angel Taker is quite inventive in their killing methods. Was it hard to figure out so many different ways or was it actually fun?
I think if you can’t have fun dreaming up gruesome ways to kill people, you should probably choose a different genre to horror. That said, the Angel Taker’s murders did require a bit of thought, as I wanted the deaths to reflect the victims’ personalities and their flaws in their character. I was going to say like a twisted Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but then that’s a pretty twisted book in its own right, come to think of it…
What’s next for you? Any appearances or conventions planned?
I will be at the Lichfield Literary Festival on 6 October alongside the fantastic Lou Morgan, and will hopefully make some school appearances in the New Year to promote Dark Room. Apart from that it’s back to the laptop, and spending some time getting to know my beautiful newborn son Ezra.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
Music has always been very important to me, and Dark Room offered me an opportunity for it to play a larger role in my books than normal. It was great to have a key character in Sasha Haas who loves punk music, and to have scenes in locations like the vinyl store Criminal Records and the band night in the scuzzy basement bar by the creek. I even get to name-check Sleater-Kinney, one of my all-time favourite bands. I’m sure they’ll be delighted.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I’m not even going to pretend to be any help here! I have a seemingly endless list of books that I haven’t yet read and really ought to, without even thinking about books that haven’t been published yet. I haven’t even finished The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, which is the most astonishing piece of writing I have seen in an extremely long time. I’ll be returning to that the first moment I can.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
Great question. I know that many people are switching to e-books but for me a full bookshelf is one of the happier sights in life. The last time I had all my books in one place I arranged them geographically (North American, South American, UK, mainland Europe, and so on), and then alphabetically within those sections. I have absolutely no idea whether or not this was an efficient system, but it was fun sorting them out.
Bio: Since Tom Becker learned to hold a pen, he wanted to become a writer. Aged 25, Tom realized that dream with publication of his first novel, Darkside in January 2007 which won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. Aside from reading, Tom’s other passions include music, supporting Everton Football Club and eating a diet of fry-ups and fish fingers!