An Interview with Nick Quantrill

Article published on November 20, 2013. Reviewed by Mike Stafford

Joe Geraghty isn’t your typical outcast PI. Though he has his demons, he’s ostensibly a regular guy in an irregular job. Was that in reaction to the norm, or just how the character occurred to you?

It was probably a bit of both. Before I wrote the first Geraghty novel, I’d effectively tried him out in a few short stories, albeit with different names and set-ups. It was immediately obvious that transporting the archetypal characteristics of a PI to contemporary Hull just wasn’t going to work. With hindsight, I have no idea why I thought it would work. Around the same time I read Ray Banks’ excellent Cal Innes series, so I started to see the possibilities of what you could with a present-day PI tale set in the UK. From there it was a case of working out what was important to him in terms of values, and just as important, what wasn’t.

On a similar note, is it ever possible to write PI fiction without dancing with the ghosts of Chandler and Hammett?

Possibly, as I’ve read very little by them! I enjoyed what I read, but I much prefer contemporary crime novels. It just seems much more direct and relevant to me. With Geraghty, I deliberately wanted to stay away from the wise-cracking, the femme fatales and the usual tropes of PI fiction, but I hope the one thing that remains constant is humanity. People turn to PIs in time of need, maybe when more conventional routes have been exhausted. In PI fiction we often see people pushed to the edge. I don’t think you can get away from that, or would necessarily want to.

We read in the Hull Daily Mail earlier this year that you expect The Crooked Beat, to be the last in the series. Is that still the case? And if so, what will you be working on next?

Three novels felt about right for Geraghty. He’s a man who needs to make a living, but how many times can he take a kicking before deciding a different career path might be more enticing? I should qualify it, though, by saying the deciding factor will always be the story I want to tell. Some stories just demand a character who can stick their nose into something murky, but without having the authority of a police officer. The novel I’m working on is a crime story, also set in Hull, but the protagonists are very different.

Hull tends to get a lot of stick, but your love of the city is evident in the book. If you were pitching the city to potential visitors, what would you say about it?

You’re right on both counts. Hull’s my home city and I love the place, though I wouldn’t feel I was doing my job correctly if the local council fully approved of my work. It’s difficult to be objective, but I hope the general perception of the city is starting to change. Culturally, there’s plenty of stuff going on. The literature scene is thriving, theatre is booming, the art gallery has hosted international standard exhibitions and we’re on the shortlist for 2017 UK City of Culture. Given we’re hidden away at the end of the M62 corridor, you’ve got to make the effort to visit, but if you do, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Actually, don’t come. I like being able to park my car in the city centre on a weekend…

Though usually considered a pretty seedy profession, post-Leveson it looks like PIs might be at risk of getting an even worse reputation for themselves. Is that something you’re conscious of when writing a PI protagonist?

Not for me. First and foremost, I’m writing a character, so I wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about the public perception of the job. The post-Leveson landscape may well give writers more to think about in respect of PIs, though. If legislation regulates the industry, then it will have to be reflected in fiction. A writer will have to work harder to circumvent the rules. I’m shooting from the hip, as I’m no expert, but I can only see it pushing aspects of the job further into the margins and making it more dangerous for all concerned. I’m sure we can all agree that the phone hacking scandal was reprehensible, but let’s go after the right targets.

As with all good crime writing, The Crooked Beat makes the location seem the perfect place for crime. As a Yorkshireman, what other places in God’s Own County would make good settings for crime?

I think Yorkshire is massively underused in crime writing. It’s such a diverse place and there’s so much to go at. Leeds is a metropolitan city that seems to have reinvented itself around the financial sector, Sheffield has a distinct and multi-cultural feel to it, Hull is a port and places like York and Whitby are amazing backdrops to any story. You’ve also got wide open spaces and coastline. Wherever you look, you’ve got countless stories and amazing backdrops.

One of the key themes in The Crooked Beat is the relationship between the generations, be it fathers and sons or mentors and proteges. Not having lived in their era, are we ever able to morally judge the actions of the generation before us?

Very good question and you’re right, it was definitely something at the forefront of my mind as I wrote The Crooked Beat. I certainly didn’t set out with the intention of making judgments. I’m not really interested in looking at what I think of as being institutional behaviour. However bankrupt their actions seem to us, I’m not sure I want to set them against present-day standards and norms in the hope of gaining some understanding. It’s about context for me. Some writers, like David Peace, are brilliant at unpicking the issues and examining them. I was more interested in the relationships between people, like the father and son issues in the novel. To my mind, they transcend time in a way societal change maybe doesn’t.

Nick Quantrill was born and raised in Hull, an isolated industrial city in East Yorkshire. His Joe Geraghty novels are published by Caffeine Nights.

A prolific short story writer, Nick’s work has appeared in various volumes of The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime. In 2011, Nick became the first person to hold the role of ‘Writer in Residence’ at Hull Kingston Rovers, contributing exclusive fiction to the match day programme and assisting with the club’s literacy programme.

When not writing fiction, Nick contributes reviews and essays to a variety of football and music websites. He lives with his wife, daughter, cat and the constant fear Hull City will let him down.

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