10 minutes with: student author David McCrae

Belén Casañas

A Dutch family in London. Its members involved in the heroin trade, exposed to crime. Violence, dual identities, lies, manipulation and confrontation surround the family. Uncle against nephew, ruthless cunning against hopeful aspirations. Either they overcome their differences, or the illicit family empire suffers a tragic end.

‘Innocence Lost’ is a riveting crime thriller, written by University of Glasgow undergraduate David McCrae. Third year Psychology student and President of the Psychology Society, David is a writer in his free time. He started the novel as a fresher, wrote a good first draft during his first year at university, and published it at the end of his second year. He is now working on the second installment of what he intends to become a trilogy. Glasgow Guardian met with David to talk about his experience as a writer, and the difficulties of publishing a novel.

Guardian: ‘Innocence Lost’ is a well-rounded novel – it has intrigue, violence and conflict, and hope and aspiration at the same time. How did the plot come together?

McCrae: I ideated it a long time ago, but it was never more than a plan for the future. One day, I got inspired and started putting my ideas onto paper. Same with the characters – the family existed in my mind already when I was a kid. I always wanted to write a story about a family called the Van Stormblades, and the idea for a Dutch crime family came from that.

Guardian: What inspired you to become a writer?

McCrae: I’ve always loved reading, and all the books I read as a child have somehow influenced this thriller.  Although my favourites were books of the fantasy or medieval genre, like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, which have nothing to do with the novel, they did inspire me to create my own world with my own characters, and lose myself in them.

Guardian: Is this the first piece you have written?

McCrae: Yes and no. I always had many grand ideas about possible novels, and I have written bits and pieces before, but I never managed to complete a whole novel. ‘Innocence Lost’ was in my mind for years before I started it. I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’m very happy to say I am actually a writer now.

Guardian: About these ups and down, what were the main difficulties you encountered when writing the novel?

McCrae: Motivation. Very often I thought I was writing pages and pages of something that no one might ever read. Finding a reason to sit down and write was definitely the hardest part.

Guardian: You haven’t mentioned lack of time as a difficulty, which for a full time student is a scarce resource. How do you find the time to write?

McCrae: We all have some hours in the day when we simply procrastinate. After classes and other activities, we all go online, watch TV and so on. That’s the time I used to write the novel. I usually spent around two hours a day, and aimed for a thousand words. It is easier said than done, but there is always time to do something if you really want it.

Guardian: Some would say that with everything that has already been written, it is hard to be truly original. How do you think you managed to stay away from clichés?

McCrae: ‘Innocence Lost’ is a very personal novel, and definitely a part of me. I always observe the world around me; if I see a group of people, I imagine what they are talking about. When writing, I tried to think abstractly and outside the box, instead of being in full control of the story. This allowed the characters to develop themselves, and the story, too. Only in this way can a novel have unexpected outcomes and intriguing cliff-hangers.

Guardian: What do you think is the strongest point of the novel?

McCrae: Definitely the characters and their development, psychological depth and complex relations, but also the ending. I don’t want to give it away, but the whole novel is full of tension and small climaxes that build up to a totally unexpected ending. Friends have told me that the imagery I used was very powerful, and so was the manipulation of language, that adds to its thriller characteristics.

Guardian: Would you say your characters reflect your own personality? Or were they inspired by people you know?

McCrae: All characters have borrowed from my personality, but at the same time they are all different to each other. I cannot say that any one of them is a pure reflection of me, or that I relate more to one than to the rest. At all times, I tried to create new personas, so none of them are inspired by anyone I know. Also, after a while characters start developing themselves and it is no longer completely up to me what they would say or think. I guess it is inevitable that characters end up somehow similar to their creator, so if someone who knows me reads the book, they will see bits of me reflected in everyone. But not of themselves. [laughs]

Guardian: Regarding the difficulties of publishing a book, what encouraged you to do it? And what obstacles have you encountered as your own publisher?

McCrae: Friends and family gave me good feedback, and that motivated me to publish it. It makes all the effort worth it. However, all the advertising and selling is completely up to me, which is very hard. For now, I’m focused on finishing the second part which will come out in September.

‘Innocence Lost’, the first book of the Sneijder Trilogy, by David McCrae is available as an ebook on Amazon.