Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered
While we are a book distributor, we also love podcasts. Love ’em. They’re like, 72% of our morning conversations every day. We love them so much that we’ve converted
most of our friends and family into murderinos (SSDGM), debated the best Friend of the Pod (Dan Pfeiffer 4ever), and Janet has even started her own podcast. Arguably our favorite genre of podcast is true crime, so imagine our delight when our two passions—books and murder pods—came together in one of our top books of the summer.
Six Stories (Orenda Books) by Matthew Wesolowski takes modern mysteries to a new level. Told through a series of six interviews, fictional podcast celebrity Scott King tries to unravel the truth surrounding the murder of a teenager in 1997. As ravenous addicts of both crime and pods, we had to talk to Matt about the process of writing Six Stories.
How did you first get into podcasts? And to writing?
I think the first podcast I ever listened to was the Ricky Gervais Show with Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington. I used to listen to radio station podcasts after that solely for the comedy—Adam and Joe, Russell Howard and Jon Richardson on BBC 6 Music.
Then it was Welcome to Night Vale, which blew me away as it was like nothing I’d ever listened to before. For me, this was signaling a new wave of storytelling. I was desperate to attempt to write an episode of Night Vale and submit it, but came far too late to the party when all the cool people were chatting on the stairs and they were no longer accepting submissions. I loved that fusion of Lovecraftian horror and public service broadcasting. From such a niche and literary idea that has blossomed into world-tours, books, and live tours show just how powerful good writing can be. Welcome to Night Vale spear-headed the podcast movement for me and deserves its success.
I don’t remember listening to anything serious or indeed factual before someone recommended me the first season of Serial and my love for true crime podcasts was born. Serial‘s format, for me, was an entirely new way of telling stories. Sarah Koenig has a really endearing way of presenting the show. You feel like you’re along for the ride with her, and this, for me, was the hook. I think this was why I loved Serial so much and why it was such an influence; I wanted to reflect that new way of telling a story in my own writing.
As for writing, it’s something I’ve always done, something I’ve always had to do from a young age. It’s hard to explain; I’ve had a lot of different jobs: chef, school teacher, shop assistant. Yet writing has always been my constant. I feel like I have these stories bubbling up inside me that are desperate to come out, that cry out to be told. Whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen. It’s probably best that my teenage vampire stories remain securely sealed in their crypt!
How have podcasts influenced your writing?
I think as a race, oral storytelling is deeply ingrained in us, and podcasts are another way of passing on these stories. I’ve always been fascinated with folk tales and mythology. Every culture on the planet has its own legends, and in the modern era, comedy, science, and true life experiences are predominant themes in the higher echelons of the podcast charts. It’s a shift in subject, but we’re still telling stories, sharing experience. I think this is why the podcast has become such a prevalent force. I believe that we need stories, and there’s something ingrained in us that likes to hear our stories told. That’s why I think podcasts are so powerful, popular, and influential.
Listening to podcasts has certainly influenced my style of writing. I feel that there is a certain tone—a rhythm that makes a podcast listenable, just like it would have been in ancient times to hear certain sagas and songs. It’s this rhythm that I have tried my best to become attuned to and reflect in my writing.
Lastly, I like the true-life element to podcasts. This is something that I have tried hard to capture in my writing. In real life, endings aren’t necessarily resolved, the bad guys don’t always get their comeuppance, and the good guys often lose. I try my hardest to bring this element of reality into my storytelling. I’ve always wanted to write a fictional “true crime” novel but couldn’t find a way of making it sound authentic. When I began writing Six Stories as a true crime podcast, it felt I had finally found my way.
Has your writing or reading habits inspired your choice of podcasts in turn?
Oh completely. I’ve always been obsessed with true crime. I began reading about serial killers in my teens and never stopped. I love how much, despite the subject matter, a good true crime author such as Brian Masters can tell the story. It’s an art unto itself, presenting facts without sensationalising or being gratuitous. Finding new true crime podcasts that can do this as well always brings me a great deal of pleasure.
I also to listen to a lot about the paranormal—another subject I’m passionate about, but oddly I prefer to read about that sort of thing in books and magazines.
I find my reading habits are influenced by what I listen to now in that I have started to turn away from crime fiction and back to horror and speculative fiction instead. Maybe it’s overload with the true crime shows? The two have to be separate in my mind; both of them are escapes into a world of brutal reality or speculative unreality—depending on where the mood takes me. I’ve certainly read a lot more variation in the fiction genre, and that can only be a good thing.
What inspired you to use a podcast format for Six Stories?
It was this idea of a new form of storytelling. I felt it was fresh. It felt like the podcast genre was new and exciting territory. To be honest, I didn’t even know if it would work to write a book in this style, but I wanted to try it. As soon as I had the idea for a podcast series in book form—Scarclaw Fell, the murder, the six stories themselves—they all just fell into my head, as if they’d been waiting for their cue. At the heart of it, though, Six Stories was an odd little experiment that I shelved as soon as it was finished, as I thought no one would even consider it. My thinking was when an established, talented writer wrote a podcast style novel, I could say to myself that at least I tried it first!
What are your plans for future books? Will you continue to use a similar format for further Scott King stories, or possibly adapt the book into an actual podcast?
The loose prequel to Six Stories, Hydra will be released soon and I’m already chipping away at number three. That might be the lot, I don’t know. I always said Six Stories would be the only one!
Hydra was actually the direct result of a podcast. I listen to a lot of true crime when I’m doing housework, and it was whilst mopping my kitchen floor that another series just tumbled down into my consciousness. I had to stop with a half-mopped kitchen and scribble some notes down before it vanished like a dream. Scott King was only supposed to be a vessel for the story, never really a character in his own right. I picked his name so arbitrarily—the same initials of Sarah Koening, Scott being a male name and King the surname of my literary hero. It is in Hydra that he as a character starts to show a little more of himself.
Everything else I have written has been in a fairly conventional style. I’ve had a fair bit of success with short stories, a few published in some US and UK anthologies. I also have a great many unpublished horror manuscripts on my hard drive. They will probably never see the light of day. There’s a crime novel almost finished that is written just like any other book. It’s maybe the bleakest, most horrible thing I’ve written! It’s fun to flit between different styles; I feel it keeps me on my toes.
As for an actual podcast, my girlfriend and I are planning to make one! She’s a maxillofacial doctor and very science-minded, whereas I’m into monsters, ghosts, and UFOs. We argue…um…I mean debate this stuff all the time, and sometimes it’s funny so we thought why not record it? I have no idea whether this will be of interest to anyone…so look out for Science and Monsters coming soon…maybe…
What are your favorite podcasts?
This changes constantly depending on what is out there and what mood I’m in. I have a few I’m currently listening to and loving. By the time this goes onto your website, I’ll be cursing myself for not mentioning another one!
Someone Knows Something—A CBC true crime podcast presented by David Rigden who investigates cold cases a little bit like Scott King! I actually discovered this long after Six Stories was published. I was massively impressed with how beautifully this podcast is put together. David Rigden uses language beautifully. He weaves the facts and interviews around an almost literary narration and it’s utterly compelling. There are currently three seasons of Someone Knows Something and they are definitely worth a listen.
Casefile—This is an Australian podcast about true crime; simple and straightforward, recorded by an anonymous man. Known as “Brad,” the presenter is utterly compelling in the way he presents the stories. Interestingly, I read an interview with him on Vice (as I was writing this very post) and was shocked with how similar his attitude is to Scott King’s:
“I want to let the facts speak for themselves, which is why I stay out of the way of the story…The show doesn’t focus on a host figure. It isn’t about anyone or anything other than the story.”
— Meet the Creator of Casefile, Australia’s Biggest Crime Podcast, Monique Myintoo, Vice
Felon—This is another Australian true crime podcast that covers “the underbelly of the land down under.” I have a real love (if that’s the right word) for Australian true crime since I started listening to Casefile and this podcast is another one that tells absolutely brutal stories in a mesmeric way. Highly recommended.
Finally Sleep With Me—which is probably quite well known, a sleep podcast described on its website as “A Lulling, Droning, Boring Bedtime Story to Distract Your Racing Mind.” I have huge problems with insomnia and this podcast is soporific lettuce to my racing Peter Rabbit mind.
What I think links all these podcasts is the storytelling, the inherent craft of their presenters. Like the bards and poets of a bygone age, I really feel like the podcast form has picked up again, our love for the told tale.