Meet Kevin Wignall

Interview by: Profile Editorial Team, 12/10/2019

Kevin Wignall is a British thriller writer whose books have successfully made the transition to Hollywood movies. Since his first published novel - People Die (2001) – Kevin has been a full-time writer.

His first novel to be adapted for cinema was For The Dogs, renamed The Hunter’s Prayer for cinema. The film version received mixed reviews from critics – certainly not a reflection on the novel itself, which marries pace and energy with seamless storytelling.

More recent novels to have been adapted for film include To Die in Vienna and When We Were Lost. When We Were Lost is a YA survival novel and a coming-of-age story, featuring a plane crash in Costa Rica which leaves a party of schoolchildren facing death. The film version of To Die in Vienna (which will be titled ‘Welcome to Vienna’) is in production, with Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead role.

Jake Gyllenhaal

I’d say there are only three or four big actors in Hollywood who would be the right fit for this role

Questions about writing

Kevin, could you take us through your writing process? Many of our readers are also writers themselves, and it’s always interesting to see how writers manage their time, the sequence they go through in creating a new work of fiction – the nuts and bolts of writing a bestseller

Kevin: Sure, although my routine is probably a perfect demonstration that there’s no “right” way to do it. I tend to think about ideas in a very free-flowing way for months or even years and then once I reach the point of it being complete in my mind, I sit down to write in a mad blur, usually completing the book in about six weeks. During that time I tend to write from about three in the afternoon until around midnight.

You seem to have found the ‘magic key’ – your books keep being adapted for the movies. Do you set out to write filmically, or is this success more a by-product of your writing process?

Kevin: It’s a puzzle. People often describe my writing as filmic, by which they mean they can visualize it as they’re reading. But I never have a film in mind when I’m writing, and actually, most of my plots cause problems for the screenwriters adapting them. In terms of an insider tip, all I can say is that the film people who’ve fallen in love with my various books almost always cite the characters rather than the plot.

. . . for a while, being “big in Finland” was about it for me as a writer!

Probably all writers feel some trepidation when they release a book. Is this worse when one of your books is released as a film? How responsible do you feel when something you’ve created attracts a budget of millions and a worldwide audience?

Kevin: I did wonder how people might respond if they watch “The Hunter’s Prayer” and then decide to read the book, because as you said, it’s completely different. There’s also a scene near the end of the book that’s so shocking, we always knew it wouldn’t make it into the script. Beyond that, I see them as completely different beasts, creatively independent of each other.

You’re a full-time writer, at a time when there have never been so many novelists – most of whom are struggling to sell more than a handful of copies. It’s a very different market to the mid 20th century, for example. What advice would you give to a new writer starting out? And how do you feel about your own success?

Kevin: I’m very lucky, but I also had a run of bad luck that lasted quite a few years – for a while, being “big in Finland” was about it for me as a writer! The temptation for new writers today is to promote themselves at every opportunity, to build a profile on social media, etc., etc.. But I think the real key is to keep creating. If your first book doesn’t do spectacularly well, don’t waste time building a page on Facebook and getting hundreds of people to like it, just write something else, and keep writing. Remember, “Gone Girl” was Gillian Flynn’s third novel, and even after it had hit the big time, most people knew almost nothing about the author.

Questions about 'To Die in Vienna'

What's the storyline?

Kevin: It’s about a freelance surveillance contractor, Freddie Makin, who’s been watching a Chinese academic in Vienna for the last year. When the academic disappears and someone tries to kill Freddie, he realizes he’s seen something he shouldn’t have – only trouble, he’s no idea what it is he’s meant to have seen.

Does any of this story come from your life?

Kevin: There are always some aspects of my own life in all of my work, particularly in the central characters. I’m one of those authors for whom writing is a kind of therapy!

Which writers provided inspiration for To Die in Vienna? Or for your writing in general?

Kevin: I’m inspired by so many different writers, including those I don’t like (as in, not wanting to write the way they do…). And I continue to be inspired – just before starting work on this, I read “The Winter of Frankie Machine” by Don Winslow, a great book that made me rethink how I wanted to handle the backstory for “Vienna”.

Why Vienna?

Kevin: I know Vienna quite well and set a story in the city years ago, but had always wanted to set a novel there. Trouble is, I wanted to find a story that wasn’t just a pastiche of “The Third Man” and all the other great espionage tales of the Cold War. As soon as I came up with the story of Freddie Makin, I knew it was the perfect setting.

Jake Gyllenhaal – stars don’t come much bigger. Who did you have in your mind’s eye when you created his character? He’s also the producer, so must have loved the book?

Kevin: I didn’t have anyone in mind when I was writing it, but the minute I heard Jake was interested, I knew he was the right person. I’d say there are only three or four big actors in Hollywood who would be the right fit for this role, so to get one of them, and have him so enthusiastic, is incredibly rewarding.

Which of your books are you most fond of?

Kevin: Such a tough question, and it’s often different books for different reasons. But “Who is Conrad Hirst?” means a lot to me.

What kind of reader reaction have you had for To Die in Vienna?

Kevin: So far, it’s been great. People have responded really well to Freddie and to the female characters, and a few have asked me if the Hotel Madhouse is based on a real place (it is – The Hotel 25 Hours in Vienna). What more can you ask for as an author, that people enjoy your work so much that they want to write to you about it? It’s a good life.

Posted in: crime-thrillers-mystery