Today I’m hosting a stop on Louise Beech’s fantastic THE MOUNTAIN IN MY SHOE blog tour.
Louise has gathered a couple of her fab writerly mates – Russ Litten and Nick Quantrill – from her home town of Hull into the tour bus for a chat about crime fiction, their books and writing. It makes for a fascinating read …
So, lads…. crime fiction. What is that and what does it mean to you? What drew you to writing it?
NICK: For me, crime fiction is a way to explore the world around me, try to make it sense of it. It can local, national, international, but I think it’s the best genre for doing the job. I’ve always been a crime reader, so writing it was the logical next step.
RUSS: I like crime fiction and I read it, but I don’t write it and have never had any real desire to do so. My second book “Swear Down” was marketed as a crime book but I didn’t consider it in those terms. There’s actually more crime in my first novel. I suppose the reason Swear Down was considered crime fiction was because it has a policeman as one of its central characters. But it’s a book about friendships and families more than anything.
LOUISE: I fell accidentally into it! It was a complete surprise when publisher, Karen Sullivan, told me that The Mountain in my Shoe was a psychological thriller. I was dead chuffed though. If it puts me in the same gang as you guys, well, then it can’t be bad…
What do you think are the limits of genre-writing, if any, and do you try and conform, or do it your own way?
RUSS: I don’t really think about my own writing in terms of genre. I certainly don’t attempt to conform or subvert limits, I just tell the story that’s bugging me, whether that involves a policeman or a ghost or someone who is in love or whatever. As a reader, I get a bit bored by books that follow standard tropes and cliches and crime fiction can often be guilty of that. The covers put me off, especially British crime fiction. They all seem to have the word “blood” in the title and have dark foreboding imagery. It’s all a bit formulaic. The Americans seem to be better at it. I like people like Daniel Woodrell or Denis Johnson, who write about crime and criminals but without any of the standard trappings or cliches. The actual prose style tends to more interesting too; fresh, inventive, lively.
One thing that was made clear to me when writing Swear Down was how hemmed in the police procedural can be. If the work is going to be realistic, you’d have your star cop spending most of the time sat on their arse in a van or knocking on doors. This is probably why most crime fiction cops are “mavericks” or people who bend the rules. Because if they followed all the rules the book would be dull beyond belief. I’d like to see more British crime novels take the point of view of the criminal. Maybe they do exist and I’ve just not read them because I’ve been put off by the covers.
NICK: I don’t think any genre-writing necessarily has to have limits. We’re constantly seeing novels that challenge what we think a crime novel should be, what it should contain, how it should be constructed etc. You could maybe argue all genre writers conform to a certain degree, as there are fundamental expectations, but essentially we all do it our own way.
LOUISE: I agree totally about doing it our own way. That’s the only way I can do it. I tell the story how I instinctively feel it needs to be told, and if it ends up fitting a certain niche, I suppose that’s great. But I don’t try and aim for it.
What do you think about how the genre is expanding? Psychological Thriller, a very open sub-genre, covers so many novels now, so it’s a huge market. How to stand out?
NICK: We’ve always had psychological thrillers and no doubt always will, but it’s undeniable they’re having a moment of popularity at the moment. Maybe that says something about us as people now, maybe it’s clever marketing? I don’t know, but I think you stand out by developing your voice. If you follow the market, there’s every chance it will have moved on before you finish your novel.
RUSS: I have no idea. I think even the marketing people have trouble with that. In fact, I don’t think they are interested in standing out. They just look for a bandwagon and hurl themselves aboard. How else can you explain the amount of books currently with the word “girl” in the title? One of my favourite books of the last few years is Hawthorne and Child by Keith Ridgway, which features two detectives driving around London trying to piece together seemingly unrelated tales, but it’s very far removed from what could be considered traditional crime fiction. A book like that is never going to fly to the top of any best seller list because it’s so hard to pigeonhole. But I can’t concern myself with any of this as a writer, because I’d end up second guessing myself and worrying about what I should be doing and writing with my head rather than my guts. That would be no fun to me at all.
LOUISE: Standing out for me is all about voice. Our own unique voice is all we have. Most stories have been done. Most twists, most reveals. But no one can write the way we do. That’s our way to rise to the top.
A sense of place matters, and of course we’re all from the champion city of Hull, and we’ve all set novels there. Why Hull, apart from being home? What does this place lend to crime – haha!
RUSS: I set my first novel in Hull because all my initial stories were based on autobiographical experience. Plus, I am very lazy, and research takes up too much valuable time. Far better to look out the window and draw upon memory. I’m not sentimental about Hull, but I do think it’s a great place to live if you’re creating something. You can be free of distraction and influence. I hope all this 2017 malarkey doesn’t make us self-conscious.
As for crime, well, Hull is a port, which makes it open to all sorts of mischief. It’s also a place with high levels of poverty and unemployment, which generally leads to the law being broken. The one thing Hull hasn’t got is organised crime, which is why most of the drugs that get sold in the north of England get imported into Hull by people from other cities, taken away to be stamped on and then brought back into Hull to be retailed. Most other cities with docks have organised cartels with links to oversea importers. It’s a mystery why Hull doesn’t have this.
NICK: In truth, it’s because it’s home. It’s the only place I’ve lived, so I felt confident I could tackle trying to understand it. Regardless of that, it’s a great location for a crime novel. It has swathes of deprivation, it has pockets of great affluence, it’s isolated, it has a port…the list goes on! That said, I’m working on a novel set outside of the city, so we’ll see how it goes…
Anything non-crimey you’d really love to turn your hands to?
NICK: I don’t really have thoughts about cheating on crime very often. As a genre, it offers such versatility and opportunity. It feels like it offers all I want when I sit down and right. I quite fancy writing a Young Adult novel, though…
RUSS: I’m finding myself being drawn back constantly to short stories. Whether that’s a result of my own naturally limited attention span I don’t know, but I’m currently wrestling with a way to combine prose poetry, flash fiction and the short story. I find music to be the best medium for that at the moment. You can be concise and vivid and still make something that stands up to repeat visits. As for the novel, I am currently wrestling with a love story. It’s the oldest story in the world and I want to see if I can tell my version in a voice that rings bright and true.
LOUISE: Erotica is calling me. Soon I might listen….
And favourite crime writers, and why?
RUSS: Americans mainly. Richard Price, Daniel Woodrell, Jordan Harper … but they aren’t really crime writers, they write about criminals. The best British crime books I have read are by Derek Raymond and Ted Lewis.
NICK: I could be here all day! The ones I always go to are Ian Rankin (sense of place, character, the whole package), Elmore Leonard (dialogue), Lee Child (pace and action), Michael Connelly (complex thrillers wrapped up as bestsellers)… the list is endless…
LOUISE: You probably can’t go far wrong with Russ Litten or Nick Quantrill. Look them up if you haven’t….
Yes, definitely look them up!
A huge thank you to Louise, Nick and Russ.
LOUISE BEECH’s latest book is THE MOUNTAIN IN MY SHOE. You can buy it here from Amazon. And be sure to follow her on Twitter @LouiseWriter
NICK QUANTRILL’s latest book is THE DEAD CAN’T TALK. You can buy it here from Amazon. And follow Nick on Twitter @NickQuantrill
RUSS LITTEN’s book SWEAR DOWN can be bought from Amazon here. And follow Russ on Twitter @RussLitten
This is a stop on the THE MOUNTAIN IN MY SHOE Blog Tour. To find out more about Louise Beech and her books make sure to check out all the great stops …