Neil Cross is a British novelist and screenwriter best known as the creator of the multi-award winning international hit BBC crime series Luther, starring Idris Elba, and the international hit horror movie Mama.
Neil was born in Bristol in 1969. He lived in Edinburgh, Brighton, Leeds and London before settling down. He is the author of several novels including Always the Sun, Burial and Captured, and his bestselling memoir Heartland was shortlisted for thePEN/Ackerley Prize in 2006. He was lead scriptwriter for the acclaimed series 6 and series 7 of the BBC spy drama series Spooks. He is the creator and sole writer of Luther, for which he has twice been nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing and which screens in more than 160 territories worldwide.
He continues to write for the screen in Britain and the United States. Recent projects include a new pre-apocalyptic crime drama, Hard Sun, forthcoming on BBC One in the UK and with Hulu in the US; a new series of Luther, expected to screen in 2018, and a reboot of the iconic 80s movie Escape from New York for 20th Century Fox. Further projects include two episodes of Doctor Who; Crossbones, the action adventure-series for NBC starring John Malkovich, and a number of yet-to-be announced feature projects. Neil was included in Variety magazine’s prestigious list of “10 Screenwriters to Watch” for 2011.
While working in England and Los Angeles, he continues to live Wellington, New Zealand with his wife and two sons.
What is your birthdate?
I’ve been an industrial archaeologist, a guinea pig for a multinational pharmaceutical giant, a nightshift worker in a supermarket. I ran a market stall. I was a bookseller. I also worked for several years in the sales department of a large publishing house.
High school and/or college
I went to a few schools. The last of them was Brislington Comprehensive in south Bristol. Eventually, I went to Leeds University.
Name of your favorite composer or music artist
For good or ill, the Cure were the soundtrack to most of my life. So were the Chameleons. I still listen to music every day, but the ferocity of my raw devotion to these bands could never be recaptured – and nor should it.
The Exorcist, Jaws, the Indiana Jones movies, the Bourne Supremacy
Favorite television show
(Edit: The next bit was written while the 10th Doctor was still at the TARDIS console. All sentient beings are of course aware that Matt Smith’s Doctor is even better … something I once would not have believed possible. Now my episode of Doctor Who has been announced, certain people on the internet have already contrived to misunderstand this. Geronimo! N.C.) David Tenant’s Dr Who is the best television show in the world – and I should know, I watch more TV than could possibly be good for me. I tried to resist saying the Wire because God knows I’m bored of hearing writers extol it. I’m not keen to add to their number, but in this case, they’re right; the Wire is outstanding. In the interests of balance, I should add that I love America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway and Top Chef. (Another edit. Pedants who stumble across this, please note: “David Tenant’s Dr Who” may not be the most elegant sentence ever written; after all, the above simply reproduces an interview dashed off in five minutes several years ago. But surely, however inelegant the construction, it’s clear from context that “Dr Who” refers to the show, not the character. If you are such a pedant (God help you) you may as well note this: although these days the character is quite properly referred to only as “the Doctor”, for many seasons the credits named him as “Doctor Who”, occasionally “Dr Who”. In fact, had this never been the case, the show’s title would of necessity carry a question mark.
Normally, I don’t bother responding to idiocy like this, but Doctor Who — and the Doctor — matter to me a great deal.)
How would you describe your life in only 8 words?
The life I dreamed of, with less sleep.
What is your motto or maxim?
I can’t imagine ever being in a position where I might need one, or could use one without looking like an imbecile. “A guilty conscience needs to confess,” you say. “A work of art is a confession.” You think you sound like Dorothy Parker, but actually you sound like the windy old buffoon you so patently are.
I wouldn’t mind having my own catchphrase, though, if I could only think of one that wouldn’t get on my family’s nerves after about five minutes. So it would probably be – “I’ll put the kettle on, shall I?”, or; “Yes, you can play on the Wii.”
How would you describe perfect happiness?
Being at home, together with my wife and my sons on a day when I’ve written well and there’s something really good on TV.
What’s your greatest fear?
Exactly the same as everyone else’s.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
At home on a sunny day, writing well.
With whom in history do you most identify?
That’s a dangerous game to start playing. I don’t identify with (or even slightly resemble) any of my many heroes. It worries me that, because I’ve never had cause to be brave, I might lack the capacity. So I most identify with the scum and the cowards, fearing that, but for an accident of history, I’d be walking amongst them.
Which living person do you most admire?
See Dr Who, above.
What are your most overused words or phrases?
“tea”, “cup”, “kettle” and “that bloody dog.”
What do you regret most?
In order for me to be right here, right now, everything that ever happened had to happen exactly the way it happened. Change one factor, change everything. That’s not New Age balderdash, it’s chaos theory – it’s life. I very much like where I am now, so how can I regret anything?
If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
The ability to touch type. The ability to draw, paint, sing, play a musical instrument, fix things, make things. But the fact that I never bothered to learn a single one of these things would appear to indicate that, really, I’m not that interested in any of them.
What’s your greatest flaw?
The constant fear of loss and the sense of time slipping away.
If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
Me, for all that.
Who is your favorite fictional hero?
Yossarian, Indiana Jones, David Tenant in Dr Who.
On Books and Writing
Who are your favorite authors?
Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Carver, Joseph Heller, Paul Theroux, Graham Greene, Angela Carter, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly, Anne Tyler.
Is there a book you love to reread?
I re-read Raymond Carver every year, with undiminished awe.
Do you have one sentence of advice for new writers?
It’s a truism because it’s true: writing is re-writing.
What comment do you hear most often from your readers?
How can someone so normal write such disturbing stories?