Daily Archives: July 17, 2012

Harrogate Hitlist: An Interview with Harry Bingham

You’ve written a few books before now. Why turn to crime?

A few reasons, but the main one was that I started to think hard about what a crime novel really needed. What kind of detective? What kind of mystery? What do readers want from a crime novel in a world that’s absorbed Patricia Cornwell, Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and so on? The more I started to think about those things, the more my central character – Fiona Griffiths – started to come alive for me. And after a certain point, she just took over. I literally started dreaming about the book. After two years of thinking about this book, I found myself writing it faster than I’d ever written anything before.

So Fiona Griffiths is quite a girl, huh?

Tell us about her. Right. Sure. Except … Except? Well, she’s kind of secretive about things. But she’s a Detective Constable in the South Wales Police. She’s twenty-something. Small-built. Bright as hell. Dark-haired. Um, and then there’s the illness thing. The thing with her father. A couple of strange things about her personal life. A slightly strange relationship with corpses … But I can’t say too much. A lot of Talking to the Dead revolves around various mysteries to do with its heroine, so as soon as I start to say anything really interesting about her, I have to shut up. This is a book with quite a lot of surprises.

Did you find it easy to write as a woman?

Yes, I did really. It’s odd though. The strangest thing about Fiona Griffiths is not that she’s a woman, but that her mental state is a long way different from the average. The truth is that it’s a pretty short imaginative leap to ‘become’ a woman for authorial purposes. It’s a much longer jump to ‘become’ someone with Fiona’s own strange past. I should also say, by the way, that the deepest oddity about Fiona is as weird as hell – but it’s not something I’ve invented. There’s a real condition which real people have and which you can check out on Wikipedia in due course. Oh, and writing as a woman gives you liberty to write lines you wouldn’t get to write any other way. Things like: ‘I get home sometime after two. I walk up to my front door with kitten heels and ammo boxes in one hand, gun in the other.’

There’s so much crime out there, how did you want your novel to stand out?

Not just a lot of crime, there’s a lot of really good crime. It’s also strange that in Britain Scandi crime is probably more voguish than home-grown crime and of course US authors churn out an endless array of excellent, hard-boiled, well-written crime thrillers. So it’s a tough background for new crime series. Having said that, Fiona Griffiths is obviously pretty different from your average cop. (Again: I can’t reveal why – but she makes Lisbeth Salander look like a pretty normal girl.) But I also wanted to inject something of my own into the writing. To make it tough but classy. Utterly down to earth but with a little splash of poetry. I don’t know how well I’ve succeeded, but I was certainly thinking hard about that.

And Wales? Why Wales?

Well, I’m not Welsh, but I did spend huge chunks of my childhood there – and the best chunks too. So the country is in my bones. And then Wales has this brilliant dual status. It’s a nation with its own capital city, but it’s also a less affluent and less powerful province of a much bigger union. Cardiff seems very new in some respects, but it’s also the capital of a country whose people has long pre-Roman roots. It’s also right on the edge of things. There’s a scene towards the end which takes place on the sea cliffs of West Wales, and you realise how far on the edge of things you stand, how far from London.

The publishing landscape is obviously changing fast. What do you think this means for readers and writers?

It’s changing so fast, it’s enough to induce dizziness. I think readers will always be well looked-after. E-books are cheap and easily available. The high-street chains will be radically reducing their presence soon, but you’ll always be able to get hard copies of books from the internet. The real issue is how people browse. As a teenager, I used to go into a brilliant indie bookshop and just browse the shelves or pick the bookseller’s amazing brain. How do you browse in the absence of bookshops? It all feels more hit and miss now. As for writers – who knows? Will there be a recognisable publishing industry in five years’ time? I’m sure there will be, but I wouldn’t bet too much that the existing big firms will still be there in a recognisable form. It’s a strange old time.

You don’t just write crime, do you?

I run an outfit called The Writers’ Workshop, which helps writers with their work and (when the quality is right) linking them up with literary agents. We also run a Festival of Writing, and I’ve written a couple of books on How To Write and Getting Published which do just what they say they’ll do.

How much are you looking forward to Harrogate?

On a scale of 1 to 10? About a quadrillion, I think. I’m going to team up with some Orion authors when I’m there. Authors like Harlan Coben, for heaven’s sake. It’ll be amazing.

Many thanks to Harry for stopping by, you can order Talking to the Dead here.

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Author guest blog: Kathleen McCaul on writing Grave Secrets in Goa

Published by Piatkus.

The most impressive thing about my second book does not seem to be the characters or the plot, the language or the setting, but the fact that I have a recommendation from one of the greatest crime writers alive today, James Ellroy, strapped along the front cover.

As soon as ‘Grave Secrets in Goa’ was released, the emails came shooting in: ‘what a wonderful quote’, ‘isn’t he the famous American writer?’, ‘that’s sure to give you a boost’ and from a disbelieving fellow novelist ‘How on earth did you manage that?’

In truth, it wasn’t very difficult. James Ellroy is a great writer and a warm, generous man. He said he would give me a quote and he just did it. No nagging, no cajoling, no buttering up was needed.

For me, the most impressive thing about this second novel was that it got written at all. Nothing has felt so daunting as arriving in Sao Paulo, six weeks pregnant, with a thriller to write. The due date for handing in the book already past, I wandered the streets of Brazil’s seething metropolis in a daze. How on earth was I going to look after a baby? How on earth was I going to carry on being a writer? And more pressing, how on earth was I going to keep away from the toilet long enough to at least write one paragraph more?

When I had my first book, Murder in the Ashram, accepted for publication, I was lucky enough to get a deal for a second. The first, set in Delhi, came slowly, while living in the city. This second needed to be quicker, better and in a different location. I hit on Goa.

Known for its beaches and parties, it’s a place of crime and drugs as well as beauty and good times. The perfect setting for a thriller, I thought. My Brazilian boyfriend hired a scooter and we spent three months travelling the state, thinking up ideas, talking to everyone and hatching a plot.

It all seemed to be going well until I started running to the bathroom every hour and falling into bed before sundown. Getting pregnant was not part of the second book plan – or moving back to Brazil.

Writing a thriller heavily pregnant led me to some strange places. My google searches ended in horrific stories of snatched babies and dead mothers. My boyfriend forbade me from re-reading a fourth James Ellroy book on the grounds that it would affect his child.

But I carried on and somehow managed to get the final draft in on my due date, huge and heavy and nervous. And in the end, perhaps I did a better job then I could have done at any other time. I was incredible unsociable, which made ruminating ideas easier. I didn’t drink, which meant I really did get up at seven every day. And my powers of concentration were so hindered that I had to forget about every other area of my life other then the book.

There were sacrifices. As I went into hospital, my doctor asked me how I felt about becoming a mother. I hadn’t really thought about it, I’d be too busy concentrating on murder. I hardly knew the end of my street, so little time I had to spare, intent on finishing the book before the baby was born.

But it was an experience – I think my daughter must be one of a few unborn children who have had a crime novel dedicated to them. Ten copies arrived in Brazil today, on her seven-month birthday. She’s over the moon with the box and chewing her copy to bits. I hope one day she’ll enjoy the second version I’ve put up for her; in the way it was intended.

Thanks to Kathleen for stopping by and you can check out Grave Secrets in Goa here.

Keith

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