Today I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Quentin Bates to the CTG blog for a chat about his fabulous Nordic crime novels and new book – Cold Steal, the atmospheric setting for his books – Iceland, and to find out more about his writing process …
As well as writing the fabulous Nordic crime novels featuring police officer and single mother, Gunnhildur Gísadóttir, you’ve had successful careers as a trawlerman, a teacher and a journalist. What was it that attracted you to becoming a novelist?
I wasn’t actually a teacher for very long and abandoned it as quickly as I could… But I’ve been writing for a living for a long time now, journalism and a few non-fiction books, mostly extremely dull technical stuff about shipping. I had always seen fiction as something of a mug’s game, extremely hard to get published and maybe even harder to stay published, so it was a challenge I couldn’t resist. I didn’t seriously expect the first Gunna story to get published, and certainly didn’t expect it to turn into a series.
Your new book, Cold Steal, is out this month. Can you tell us a bit about it?
This one involves a fairly disparate group of characters, including some of Iceland’s immigrants who I find interesting – having been in that position myself along time ago as an expat living in Iceland. There’s also a burglar who has been a thorn in the police’s side for a long time as he is exceptionally careful and leaves very few traces and is very successful until he breaks into the wrong house one night and finds himself facing far more than he had bargained for. Then there are a few killings, including a businessman and a few people placed in the difficult positions that call for desperate measures.
Your Iceland-set books always have a fabulous sense of place about them, what’s your secret to creating this?
I think it’s weather. Icelanders may live in centrally-heated houses, but they still live on the edge of the habitable world and weather has always been crucially important to survival in the past when it was a nation of fishermen and farmers, and a hard winter could mean not making it through to spring. So people are extremely conscious of weather; it’s in the blood, and Icelandic weather is extraordinarily changeable as it can rain, snow and hail all in one day, interspersed with blazing sunshine. I’m infected with this weather consciousness as well so I always have weather at the back of my mind and especially when I visualise a scene. One of my first questions to myself will always be what was the weather like?
Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?
I’ve done both, the seat-of-the-pants method and the intricate plotting, and neither of them suit me. I’m somewhere between the two and have a fairly loose outline of what I want to touch on, like as series of waypoints, but not necessarily with a direct route between them. I don’t get on with over-plotting as I like the flexibility of using a good idea as it crops up along the way, and I don’t normally know quite how things are going to end until I get there.
What advice would you give to those aspiring to publication as crime writers?
This is purely personal advice, and everyone’s experience is different. I’d say just get on with it and stay with it. Don’t wait for a muse to strike, as if you do that, then she won’t. Try and do something every day as that keeps things ticking over in your mind. Unplug the router if that’s what suits you. And just enjoy it, laugh at your own jokes. If you don’t enjoy your own work, then probably nobody else will. Don’t go to anyone who loves you for an opinion. People who know what they’re talking about will give you advice, and it’s very much worth listening carefully to what they say, but also take notice of your own instincts and stick to your guns when the moment is right.
And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?
I’m not sure at the moment. There’s a kindle-only Gunnhildur novella planned for later this year although I’m not sure yet when that will appear, probably in the summer some time. There is more Gunna in the pipeline but I’m still mulling over ideas at the moment and I really do need to pay the day job more attention. November this year is also Iceland Noir, the tiny crime fiction festival in Reykjavík that I’m involved in organising with Icelandic crime writers Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson and Lilja Sigurðardóttir. It’s something of a labour of love, but we did the first one last year and it was just great – because when crime writers get together they do tend to be a lot of fun. They’re not precious or pompous, and they can be extraordinarily irreverent – these are people it’s just great to be around. That’s what happens when people who spend their days sitting over a laptop dreaming of murder get let out into the daylight. There’s an interesting line-up for this year, including rising stars Johan Theorin and Vidar Sundstol, and some more intriguing writers, and hopefully we’ll be able to add more between now and November.
Thanks so much to Quentin Bates for dropping by. To find out more about Quentin and his Gunnhildur Gísadóttir Iceland-set crime series pop on over to his website at http://graskeggur.com/
And to learn more about the wonderful Iceland Noir crime fiction festival click here http://www.icelandnoir.com/