Matt Whyman’s new book, THE SAVAGES, just came out this month, and he was kind enough to stop by and answer a few questions about it, and more!
You have an MA in Creative Writing, quite a few titles already under your belt and have written for adults as well as teens, but have you always wanted to be a writer from a young age? What was one of the first things you can remember writing?
Honestly? I had no dreams of being a writer whatsoever. I had no idea what I wanted to do, in fact, and just fell into working as a Wireman due to a misunderstanding over my surname. I started reading seriously in my twenties, and writing stemmed from that. This was down to a need to lose myself in a story in sheer panic at not knowing my place in the world.
Your new book, THE SAVAGES, features a very unique family. Will you tell us a little more about it and what inspired you to write it?
It’s a book about an ordinary hard-working family who happen to have a particular taste in people. They’re cannibals, but only as an occasional treat that brings everyone around the table – so, nothing heavy – and the food is exquisitely cooked! We’re not talking about a horror novel either. Essentially, it’s about the father’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that his teenage daughter is dating a vegetarian.
The idea for the novel comes from the fact that I do all the cooking at home. Money was tight one year, and so I cut out all the meat from our diet because it was cheaper. The kids didn’t complain for weeks, until I told them what I’d done. Once they became aware that sausages were off the menu, they refused to eat my pinto bean chili – which had become quite a signature dish! It made me realise how rigidly we define ourselves by the food we eat, and the fun I could have with a story exploring the subject.
Why do you think readers will connect with Sasha?
Because she’s totally normal but for one small aspect of her life. Sasha has hopes, dreams and insecurities like everyone else. The only difference is that she sits a rung higher up the food chain from you and me.
What’s your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Well, I’m a plotter but only at the beginning. I’ll draw up a plan from start to finish. When I feel it’s right, I’ll slip it into the drawer and never look at it again. When it comes to any road trip, it’s good to know your destination, but the real discoveries come from making your own way there. I like a scenic detour!
What do you enjoy most about writing for young audiences?
My focus is on writing ABOUT young people, rather than specifically for them. If I worry about who’s reading my novels the voice goes all wrong. If I stay true to the character, then hopefully readers will identify with the story no matter what their age.
What are a few of your biggest literary influences? What authors or books have inspired you the most?
I go through phases of writer crushes – Herman Melville, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Angela Carter have each loomed large.
What was one of your favorite books as a child?
A Joan Collins’ autobiography I found on my parents’ bookshelf when I was about 14. Not even sorry about that!
If you could experience one book again, which one would it be?
Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It’s a thrilling read, and I’m not sure that adrenaline rush can be matched once you know how it ends.
You’ve written numerous advice columns for teens. What’s been one of the most rewarding aspects of that?
For all the fun and games I have writing fiction, I take my role as an advice columnist really seriously. I am passionate in the belief that young people deserve to have all the facts to hand about issues central to their lives – such as sex and relationships. It’s the surest way that they can make informed decisions and minimize risks. It means I never judge when it comes to providing answers. I just offer up all the choices, and sources of further help, then credit them with the intelligence to find a way forward that feels right under the circumstances.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I also a digital artist. So, when I’m not writing I’m working on commissions. I’m drawn to creating portraits of people looking relaxed in dangerous situations. You can see some of my work here. I’m also a father of four, so when I’m away from my desk I’m a seasoned clapped-out dad.
What’s next for you?
I never talk about the book I’m writing until it’s finished. Even my wife has no idea. When finished copies of THE SAVAGES arrived it came as quite a surprise to her. She’d only just got over the fact I’d published a memoir about life with our wiener dog. As an action thriller writer, I have a long way to go.
About THE SAVAGES:
The Savage family is close-knit, but everyone has something to hide—from father Titus’s shady business dealings, to mother Angelica’s dangerously compulsive shopping habits, to 12-year-old Ivan’s increasingly lethal pranks. But teenager Sasha’s secret trumps them all: she is dating a vegetarian. This trait will never fly with the rest of the Savages, who are…uniquely carnivorous.
Problems start to pile up. Sasha’s boyfriend convinces her to try going vegetarian for a month, but then leaves her for a vegan vigilante. Angelica attempts to pay her mounting credit card bill by allowing commercials to film in the family home, until one of Ivan’s pranks leaves a model dead in their bathroom. A detective hired to investigate Titus’s predatory business affairs notices the model’s disappearance, and starts to think that there may be something more sinister to the perfect-seeming Savages.
He’s right, of course—they’re cannibals.