As those of you who read my reviews know I recently enjoyed the Long way home by Eva Dolan set in my home town of Peterborough. So I was delighted to be offered the chance of a question and answer session with Eva prior to her appearance at the festival.
1) Why did you choose Peterborough as the setting for your novel?
The subject matter of Long Way Home – the murder of a migrant worker and the wall of silence met by the police in that community – dictated the location. Peterborough has a sizeable population of economic migrants from all over Europe and as the city is quite small it makes for an interesting social situation. It’s one of those places most people only see through a train window as they wait at the station or in the news when journalists want to look at the issues around migration, so it was familiar without being well known.
It was a new setting for crime fiction too and I liked the idea of having a city all to myself, one with a long and illustrious history based around the cathedral and a declining manufacturing industry which has left Peterborough slightly stranded and directionless in the 21st century. Also the surrounding Fenlands tugged at me. Tens of thousands of acres of black earth and steep, treacherous drainage ditches, villages standing isolated under those huge horizons – it’s a landscape built for nefarious deeds.
2) Did you start the novel knowing you were writing a series or was it something that you decided as you wrote?
I hoped it might grow into a series but writing is such an unpredictable business that I simply didn’t know what was going to happen.
Starting out I had a clear vision of my detectives, both outsiders to differing degrees, dealing with a community where the police are distrusted and avoided at all costs; DI Zigic, a family man and a solid professional, aware that his promotion to heading up the newly formed Hate Crimes department was based on his third generation status, an immigrant now in nothing but name, and DS Ferreira, born in Portugal, raised on the Fens in a series of caravans and bedsits as her parents scraped together enough money to give their children a better life. She is closer in experience to the victims they work with and her sympathy has a tendency to boil over into anger.
As Long Way Home progressed I began to realise these were characters I wanted to write more about; they kept revealing little secrets and personality kinks I hadn’t considered in my notes, while the world they were entering – of slums and brothels, gangmasters and thugs – kept moving into new, ever seedier, corners.
I wanted to stick with that world, and my characters, and hopefully readers will feel the same way.
3) Often writers say they get rejected a number of times before finally getting published, was this the first book you wrote or are there other unpublished novels that came first?
There are lots! I have a hard drive stuffed with unpublished novels, two other series spanning five books, standalone police procedurals and what would now be termed domestic noirs, countless partials and outlines. Mostly they were never rejected because nobody has seen them but me.
The book which hooked my agent is the only one which went out on submission and it received some very kind and complimentary rejections which, although disappointing, encouraged me to keep going. Ultimately that book just wasn’t good enough to stand out from the crowd and it was an important experience for me. I realised that getting published meant doing something a bit different, showing editors a world they hadn’t seen before – Long Way Home felt like that new and unusual something as I was writing it and thankfully it caught the eye of Alison Hennessey at Harvill Secker.
4) What other writers do you enjoy reading and is it mainly crime or other genres?
Too many too mention them all but I love the hardboiled classics like Chandler and MacDonald, Patricia Highsmith’s psychological thrillers, Ian Rankin, John Harvey and Martyn Waites for their social crime novels and when it’s escapism I’m hankering after, Jason Goodwin and Boris Akunin. The crime genre is positively humming with talent and the new writers coming up are producing an eclectic mix, Sarah Hilary and Luca Veste’s fresh detectives look set to run for a long time, James Oswald and Lauren Beukes are producing fantastic crossover novels and the British scene especially is bristling with gritty talent; the likes of Kevin Sampson, Howard Linskey and Tom Benn.
I think it’s important for a writer to read widely in the genre but outside it too. The author I reread most often is Emile Zola – his Rougon-Macquart series contains the whole of human nature as it slams up against modernity and mechanisation, concerns which we’re still dealing with a hundred years on. Lately I’ve really enjoyed The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman and Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove – both excellent summer reads for people who want a bit of substance by the pool – and I adored The Goldfinch, completely ripped through it.
5) What is your next novel about and when is it due out?
The next Zigic and Ferreira book – still stubbornly untitled – is out in early January. Here’s the blub…
‘The car that ploughs into the bus stop early one morning leaves a trail of death and destruction behind it.
DS Ferreira and DI Zigic are called in from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit to handle the investigation but with another major case on their hands, one with disturbing Neo-Nazi overtones, they are relieved when there seems to be an obvious suspect. But the case isn’t that simple and with tensions erupting in the town, leading to more violence, the media are soon hounding them for answers.
Ferreira believes that local politician Richard Shotton, head of a recently established right-wing party, must be involved somehow. Journalists have been quick to acclaim Shotton, with his Brazilian wife and RAF career, as a serious contender for a major political career, despite his extremist views, but is his party a cover for something far more dangerous?’
6) Are you looking forward to the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Festival?
I am hugely looking forward to it. Lots of drinking and gossiping with lovely writing folks and an excuse to buy a new capsule wardrobe, it’s the highlight of the summer!
Last year was my first at the festival and the atmosphere was amazing, so warm and welcoming, authors chatting with fans and bloggers, a really chilled out affair – I’d urge any crime fan who hasn’t been yet to make the trip, even if it’s just for a day. The organising committee have attracted some massive name – JK Rowling, Lynda LaPlante, John Harvey and lots more – and, being Harrogate, where the wits are quick and the drink free-flowing there are bound to be fireworks on some of the panels…
On a personal level I’m honoured and delighted to be part of Val McDermid’s New Blood event, alongside three outstanding debut novelists; Ray Celestin, Helen Giltrow and Nicola White. Their books are all very different but equally original and compelling. Hopefully we’ll keep the audience well entertained for an hour.
Thanks very much to Eva and Vintage publishing for their time, and don’t forget to enter the competition to win a copy of Long Way Home.