Article published on September 4, 2012.
Are you a bookgeek?
Unashamedly so! I love books with a pathological obsession and taken extraordinary pleasure in knowing bizarre trivia about obscure novels I’ve picked up for a quid in a charity shop.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given (and do you follow it)?
That’s a hard one given I was a journalist for so many years and made my living from a different kind of writing. But the writer hunter Davies once told me ‘don’t get it right, get it written’ and there’s probably something in that worth paying attention to. Essentially, you can polish afterwards. Get te damn thing down on paper first.
Which authors do you find most inspiring as a writer?
From a plot point of view, Rankin, Connolly and Billingham are the best around. When it comes to the sheer beauty of words, Sebastian Faulks takes my breath away. Stav Sherez is the closest we have to somebody who bridges the divide. Check him out.
Do you have an audience in mind when writing, or do you just write for yourself?
I do, but it’s probably wildly inaccurate. I suppose i write for people who are capable of switching the telly off and picking up a book. I write for people who like reading crime novels but have at least one BBC4 documentary on their Sky planner.
Where do you write, and why?
I have an office at home with all the essentials. Computer, millions of books, wrestling figures …
Tell us the book you most wish you had written.
Ooh, you bastard. Where do I begin? The crime novel I wish I had written is anything by Agatha Christie. The work of literature would be Birdsong. And for pure mercenary reasons, I’d put my name to Fifty Shades.
McAvoy is a scrupulously decent detective, a far cry from the prevailing archetype. Was it a conscious decision to buck the trend, or did the character just evolve that way?
A bit of both. I do get a little sick of protagonists being a little bit paint-by-numbers. I wanted McAvoy to be believably exceptional. Does that make sense? I wanted him to be the guy you would want to investigate if something happened to you or yours.
In terms of style, The Dark Winter is pretty poetic.Are we ever likely to see you make a leap into fully-fledged poetry?
I have a show box full of poetry I’ve scrawled over the years but it’s pretty dreadful, and there’s no real market for poetry so i think i will probably stick to stuffing unnecessary prose into my books until my editor tells me to stop.
Unlike McAvoy, the rest of the coppers in The Dark Winter are hardly white knights. What sort of feedback have you had about the book from your police contacts?
I got to know the police during my years as a journalist so it’s a professional association rather than being best of friends. I can’t say I’m worried about them not liking it. There are decent coppers, half-decent coppers and nasty bastards who want power and a badge. I hope the book reflects that.
Crime fiction, like a lot of art, can be rather London-centric. Do you think being a northern writer of a book set in the north contributed to your difficulty finding a publisher?
I came up with all sorts of reasons for being rejected when i was trying to get published, and the Northern thing was one of them. That was easier to tell myself than the books were shit. Now I’m published, I honestly don’t know. The funny thing is though that people seem to be enjoying it because it’s Northern. Readers have pointed out that the tone and setting feel more like Scandinavian crime than traditional British crime fiction, but they can actually pronounce the names and places without getting a migraine.
You’ve got the bones of the first ten McAvoy novels drawn out in your head already. Care to tell us anything that might whet our appetites for the rest of the series?
Buy me a few drinks and I’ll tell you the lot! Until then, let’s just say things will get steadily harder for McAvoy. But he’s a big guy. He can take it.
Ask a Policeman, by Members of the Detection Club