Jeffery Deaver: ‘It’s important to go beyond the printed page’

American crime writer Jeffery Deaver discusses his James Bond novel Carte Blanche, and why the clues to his latest thriller can be found in certain pop songs. By Thomas Quinn

Like his characters, Jeffery Deaver doesn’t mince his words. So when he compares himself to the likes of Balzac, Rembrandt and Shakespeare I sit up and listen. “I call myself a manufacturer,” he explains. “I produce books. It’s an approach that applies to genre fiction, primarily, but I think you can say something similar of all types of writing.

“Balzac, Rembrandt and Shakespeare – they were all producers. They made products that they sold. Now, they call it art.”

Deaver writes crime fiction – thrillers you want to race through – and he’s bloody good. But whether or not “they” will end up calling his books art is another thing. What’s beyond doubt is the 62-year-old American’s success. One million copies sold in the UK alone. A string of number-one bestsellers around the world. This didn’t happen by chance. Deaver is a businessman constantly looking at new ways of flogging his wares.

When I was younger I was inspired by the likes of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan

“I believe in the confluence of media. It’s important to go beyond the printed page,” he says. He loves the internet and social media, and happily teamed up with the Ian Fleming estate to produce a new, hugely enjoyable present-day 007 novel in Carte Blanche.

For XO, his new Kathryn Dance mystery, he wrote an album’s worth of songs full of clues relating to the plot – then teamed up with a Nashville producer to record them and make them available for download.

“When I was younger I was inspired by the likes of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan and spent a lot of time writing songs and performing,” he says. “Eventually I realised I had no significant musical talent. But I’d already fallen in love with the sonic quality of words.

“The delivery mechanism has changed,” he adds of pop music. “I don’t buy albums any more. Like most people I go online and download tracks. But pop still has the power to speak to people. The quality is still there.”

XO features a country and western singer in the Taylor Swift mould, who attracts an unpleasant male stalker. He becomes the prime suspect when members of her entourage begin to be bumped off, but there are more twists in this tale than at a rattlesnake disco.

Before writing ‘chapter one’, Deaver plans his books methodically, slaving away for up to eight months to produce a 150-page outline detailing character traits, plot twists and clues. He loves the science of detection.

One long-running character, Lincoln Rhymes (played by Denzel Washington in The Bone Collector), is a paraplegic forensics expert with Sherlock Holmes-style insight and intuition. Meanwhile, Kathryn Dance is a leading expert in “interrogation and kinesics – body language”.

He laughs at the “idea of a writer sitting down and staring at a blank screen looking for inspiration”.

Denzel Washington and Queen Latifah in The Bone Collector, the Hollywood film adaptation released in 2000.

“That isn’t what I do,” he says. “I’m not a disciplined person. If you saw the lawn in my yard you’d see that I don’t like mowing the lawn. I just love writing – and you have to enjoy writing. There are things about being a writer you can’t teach, like empathy.

“But the craft element of writing? Absolutely, that can be learned. Ninety per cent of the job of turning a novel or a play into something that will work is down to craft.”

Deaver pours cold water on the idea of his writing another Bond story, pointing out that his readers expect him to carry on writing books with his own characters. But he remains a huge fan of Fleming’s creation.

“I deliberately didn’t pay any attention to the films. Instead I went back to the original novels,” he says. “The appeal of Bond is, in a crisis, he is the guy you want at your shoulder. He will do anything he has to to succeed. And because of that, he enjoys living in the moment.”

If he was real, 007 would be a Deaver fan.

XO is out now in hardback (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99). Carte Blanche is out now in paperback (Hodder & Stoughton, £7.99)