Interview: Jake Woodhouse

JWNew author Jake Woodhouse recently secured a publishing deal with none other than Penguin Books. Set in Amsterdam, his debut novel is After the Silence and will bring us a dark tale of child abduction, paedophilia and a new detective called Jaap Rykel. It’s also a novel about how people can be stalked by shadows from their past. Jake talked to Crime Fiction Lover about his life and influences.

Oboes, winemaking, writing – for someone relatively young, you seemed to have packed so much into your life so far. Tell us a little about what you did before you became a crime author?
When I was 16 I heard a piece by Mozart featuring an instrument which made an amazing sound, and I was instantly captivated. I had to ask someone what it was, and it turned out to be the oboe. Luckily I managed to borrow one and got hooked straight away. This was all a bit strange – I was a long-haired youth who listened to heavy metal and spent all my spare time skateboarding so the oboe didn’t really fit in. Nevertheless, two-and-a-half years later I won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music in London.

I spent most of my degree playing concerts all over the place, and then followed that up with a two year postgrad in Amsterdam. I’d also started making baroque oboes. I’d set up a workshop in a garden shed, so I had those two careers running parallel. But I just got bored eventually, playing the same music over and over again, and I started to look around for something else to do. I did my last tour in Germany, and at the final concert in Berlin my then girlfriend (now wife) and I put our oboes away and haven’t taken them out since!

We went to study winemaking in New Zealand, and then I worked as a winemaker for a few years in Italy, before coming back to the UK with no plan. I ended up getting a job in a shop before starting my own wine business, and after a fair amount of hard work it started to become successful. The thing is, I was getting bored by then, and I realised that although I’d always assumed I was going to be a writer I’d not done anything about it.

Why choose Amsterdam as the setting for your Jaap Rykel novels?
It wasn’t so much a conscious choice, or I don’t remember it as such. But I’d really enjoyed my time there, it’s a great, compact city, so I guess when I sat down to write it just came out. It’s also Western Europe’s murder capital, so unlike all the Scandi crime which comes out of countries with, I think, relatively low murder rates, it just felt right.

Are you a crime fiction reader? Have any of the great writers influenced your style?
I was always a reader, but not necessarily of crime fiction. I don’t know if any of the great writers I’ve read have influenced my style, I’ll leave others to judge that, but there’s something about reading a superb book which has always made me want to write. There are writers who I’m in awe of; TC Boyle is an American author whose books and short stories I’ve always loved, and more recently I discovered David Mitchell’s work. Neither of these guys are crime writers, and yet they write books just as compelling as any thriller.

Jake-Woodhouse-After-The-Silence-263x402You say you were brought up without watching TV. Do you ever feel the urge to catch up on some of the great TV crime shows?
Not having a TV as a kid certainly helped with reading, I read a lot! I do have a TV now, and I have watched box set crime dramas like The Wire, The Killing etc. I tend not to read much when I’m writing, so being able to get immersed in a box set is a very useful tactic to help me turn my brain off, for an hour or so at least.

Give us some idea of your writing regime. Are you a nine-to-five man, or do you go with the flow?
I’ve tried to do nine-to-five but it just doesn’t work for me. I’ve learnt over time that if I’m not excited about what I’m writing then there’s really no point forcing it, I’ll only end up going back and deleting it later on. So I tend to work in intense bursts of activity, which can be short, or last for days or weeks depending on how well it’s flowing. Having said that, when I’m editing, or checking proofs, basically any part of the writing process which isn’t pure creation, I try to be more structured.

Do you still find time to play, or listen to music?
I do listen to music, but not that often, and I don’t play at all.

The inside cover of After the Silence says that you live in London, but have a young gundog. This is intriguing – tell us more!
Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into… My wife and I fell in love with an unusual breed, the Brittany, and were surprised that there were so few around. We now know why, as they’re kind of crazy, and ours turned out to be a real handful. She’s a high drive dog, and despite being fairly small, is a perfectly oiled killing machine. We were told by several professionals that we’d never get anywhere with her, and that we should probably give her up… But we refused to do that, difficult as she is. The upshot is that I’ve had to learn a lot about dog training and behavior over the last year, and we’re actually getting somewhere now. Teaching calmness to an animal which wants nothing more than to sink its teeth into anything which moves makes writing a book seem easy!

What’s next for Jake Woodhouse?
I’ve just finished the first draft of book two of the quartet, Into the Night, so I’m leaving that alone for a month or so before going back to it. It’s really important to have time away, I find it’s only when you come back to it that you start to realise how much work is still needed. But I’m not having a month off, I’m actually doing some work on book three, Before the Dawn, and already thinking about book four of the quartet, and beyond…

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