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Interview with Crime Author Carla Vermaat

Author Carla Vermaat is soon to publish her twenty first English novel, Tregunna. In the book, a murder is discovered in the heart of Cornwall and It’s down to Inspector Tregunna to unveil the truth. We find out more about Carla Vermaat and the book…

Can’t wait to know more? Read the prologue and first chapter here.

Congratulations on your crime novel, Tregunna. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Like after finishing every book, Tregunna is the best, the one I love most, it’s still closest to my heart – until the next one.

What has been your writing and publishing journey prior to this book?

I’ve been making up stories since as long as I can remember, even before I learned to read and write. Before the age of five my mother once took me to the doctor, worried because I insisted a nice old man lived under my bed. The doctor was kind enough to listen to the stories I told him when I was supposed to sleep. Fortunately, I wasn’t sent to a mental institute: our GP said I was blessed with a very vivid imagination. When I was about ten, my parents bought me a portable typewriter (after I drove my father mad wanting him to bring the typewriter home every weekend from his work).

In my early twenties I actually finished the first book-length story and sent it to a publisher. I started the next story immediately, and by the time it was finished and sent to the same publisher, I got a rejection for the first book. But they published the second! I wrote several novels in a few years’ time, the eighth and last was published in the early eighties. Then I stopped writing for personal circumstances.

I picked it up again twenty years later. Crime novels. Having found a new publisher (the previous one didn’t do crime), I’ve since published another twelve books, modern and crime novels. Three of those are published under a pseudonym (Mary Morgan), as they are set in the UK – one in Yorkshire and two in Cornwall. Tregunna is my twenty first book in English.

The novel is mostly set in Cornwall, travelling (up-north) to Tavistock and Bristol at points. What is it about the county that inspired you to write such a dark story?

I love being close to the sea and in Cornwall you always are. Cornwall inspires me in many ways. For me Cornwall has a certain atmosphere, mysterious if you like. It appeals to me. Somehow I feel connected to this area; perhaps in a previous life I have lived here – who knows? It certainly feels like I have!

(You can take a look at how Carla’s been visually inspired by Cornwall by viewing her paintings on her website.) 

As to it inspiring a dark story – I’ve had to endure quite a few dark periods in my personal life. Maybe that’s why I am a bit more hardened than other people. True, Tregunna’s problems are very serious indeed, but I don’t see the story as a particularly dark one. In my humble opinion there are always positive sides to the darks in life. They only make us stronger afterwards.

Carla Vermaat

The original Artwork that Carla painted for the novel’s cover

You explore some important issues in the novel to do with the body and illness. How did you tackle such traumatic themes? Was it difficult to write?

I didn’t tackle the traumatic themes in Tregunna as such. It is rather the other way around: writing the book helped me tackle the traumatic events that happened in my personal life. I suppose you can say that I just had to write about these subjects, I wanted to raise awareness.

“My aim was to create a character with an interesting and different side to his life”

How did writing and producing Tregunna differ from your other titles?

Tregunna is different because I didn’t write it in my native language (Dutch). Therefore it was more difficult at times, more of a challenge, to find the right words and at the same time keep it flowing. Tregunna is also more personal to me than any of my other books. Not that I have experienced problems like his personally, but I’ve had two good friends who had – they didn’t make it.

My aim was to create a character with an interesting and different side to his life and character. I wanted to make Tregunna vulnerable and human, but also controversial. I wanted him to be a man who is kind, warm and sympathetic, but who is not always able to show his emotions, which is why the other characters in the book, the readers, may not like him. I am an open-minded person and I believe you can write about everything. I wanted to lift a bit of the taboo surrounding severe illnesses, I wanted to make people understand the impact it has on your day-to-day life, your pride and dignity.

Going back to Andy Tregunna’s complex character, one minute he’s cutting and witty. the next he’s rather selfish and distracted. How much time did you spend and what techniques did you use for the character development of your protagonist?

I don’t spend time on techniques creating and developing characters. They’re all people I invent in my head and that is where I keep them alive (unless they get killed…). I imagine how each character feels, how he/she responds to and reacts in certain circumstances. While in the process of writing, these characters are my extended family, my friends, my acquaintances.

“Some authors plot every chapter and know exactly what will happen and when. I don’t do that. I let the story lead me”

Tregunna – ‘cutting and witty’ – I try to use a sarcastic, ironic and sometimes even cynical tone because I like to avoid the obvious. ‘Selfish’ – It may seem cynical, but in my opinion everyone is selfish, only one is more (or less) selfish than the other. By writing Tregunna in the first person, it is easier to express his thoughts, feelings and opinions. And as for him being ‘distracted’ – wouldn’t we all be distracted when we have to do our job, go on living like normal when you have so much else on your mind?

How long did it take you to research, write and produce the book?

The actual writing doesn’t take long. A few months maybe? Research is something I do along the way. Some authors plot every chapter and know exactly what will happen and when. I don’t do that. I let the story lead me, rather than the other way around.

I start with vague thoughts, which slowly evolve into a basic idea with an ending. Anything between is grey area. I play with characters, I invent more (or less) as I go or as I feel or need. Sometimes I plan to have a person killed in the first chapter, however, for some reason, he/she is still alive at the end of the book. The odd word in a conversation from a character can easily start its own life, so to speak, and lead to the appearance (or disappearance) of another one.

Although, especially with crime novels, I know roughly where the story will be in the end, I am not always so sure about the identity of the murderer. I normally have a few characters that fit the bill, but it’s only at the end that I decide who it actually is. You need to keep the reader thinking, guessing, and I believe that, unconsciously, I will point the reader towards the murderer. So, if I don’t know myself, I can’t point the reader in the right direction.

Research nowadays is quite easy. When you come across something you don’t know much about, you can easily find it on the internet. If I can’t find the right answers, I either decide to drop the issue, try to be vague about it, or if it is essential for the story or plot, I ask someone, a real person, for help and input.

“With Tregunna, I am more or less in control of everything.”

Poster for Carla Vermaat

The poster for Tregunna

When you decided to self-publish Tregunna, what were the main things in terms of service that you were looking for?

Self-publishing is new to me. I publish one or two books every year with my Dutch publisher and that works fine with me, but it is different in the UK. Here, you need an agent, who is difficult to get through in the first place. Once you’ve found one, it seems like from then on they take control. Of course agents are there to make money. I wouldn’t mind a few more pounds or euros in the bank, but writing itself is more important to me. And as a true Dutch person, I prefer to be free and not restricted by someone else.

With Tregunna, I am more or less in control of everything. I decided on the cover, what and how I want it, the story and the characters. I am aware this route will involve more than just writing, but it will be a challenge as well.

Tregunna feels like a bigger story than just the one book. Are you planning on writing any more and creating a series?

Initially I thought this book would be a one off. I even toyed with idea of making him die in the end – not as a result from the illness, but, ironically, from something else, perhaps something to do with his job.

But I started to like the man and it feels like his journey hasn’t come to an end – yet. There are still the issues with his health of course, but his determination to do his enquiries is also a field I want to explore. I am not saying I have created a series, but yes, I have recently started research for a second book about Tregunna.

Bookmarks for Carla Vermaat

The bookmarks for Tregunna

Would you follow the same road, publishing the next book yourself too, and use TJ INK again?

The girls at TJ INK have been brilliant to me and I loved doing this myself and keeping it all in my own hands, rather than falling into the hands of a literary agency. So yes, for the next book about Tregunna I will definitely go to TJ INK again.

What have been your major obstacles that you’ve faced during the writing and publishing journey?

The only obstacles I experience are the days I have no time to write.

What, in your opinion, are the key aspects to writing  and producing a good book?

Write the book you would like to read. Make use of your own skills, talents and knowledge. Use subjects within your limits. Develop your own style. Believe in it!

Do you have any advice for people thinking about writing a book?

Writing is a blessing as well as a curse. You love it and you hate it. You can’t wait to start a new story and at the same time you can’t wait to finish it. You struggle, curse and hate it along the way. Once it is finished you feel at a loss and you’ll have to go through a process of mourning like you’ve lost one of your best friends.

“Above all, [write] for your own satisfaction in the first place.”

But, like with everything in life, if you want something, go for it. Do it, try it. If you don’t try, it will never happen. Or don’t do it and stop thinking about it.

A lot of people say they have experienced so much in life that they could write a whole book about it. I can say it is more difficult than you think to fill a couple of hundred pages without repeating yourself, keeping the story interesting enough to stop the reader from putting it aside. But above all, do it for your own satisfaction in the first place. Don’t think about publishing – yet. Enjoy doing it and the rest will come, all in good time. Bear in mind that if you enjoyed the process of writing, then your readers will enjoy reading it.

And finally, what would be your ‘desert Island’ book?

The easiest question to answer! I would definitely bring a book with blank pages. I can’t imagine a day without being able to write.


Carla with her painting


If you want to find out more about Tregunna or pre-order a copy then click here.