Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Writers Talk About Writing - Nick Quantrill

(next up in the series of interviews, Nick Quantrill. Once you've finished reading what Nick's got to say, why not read the whole series?)

Nick Quantrill is a crime writer from Hull, a largely ignored city on the north east of England. Some would say its reputation is well deserved, but he chooses to ignore this. He lives, works and will probably die there. It’s home...

We're in a lift, I'm someone important (come on, pretend), you've got thirty seconds (tall building, slow lift) to tell me about your latest book.

Seeing as we’re the only two people in here...”The Late Greats” is my second Joe Geraghty novel. Joe is employed by a reforming 1990s band to act as sort of minder/general dogsbody.

It goes wrong pretty quickly when the front-man of the band, Greg Tasker, disappears. As Geraghty races against time to find him and digs deeper into Tasker’s life, the more he questions the nature of success and what really constitutes happiness. As Geraghty’s own situation starts to change, these are questions that he could equally apply to himself.

Uh-oh. Not sure lifts are meant to stop suddenly between floors like this. Guess we've got a bit more time. Ignore the flickering lights and creaking sounds above us. Would you like to tell me about other books or stories that you have available?

The first Geraghty novel, “Broken Dreams”, is available now (Amazon UK | US for Kindle, UK | US in paperback). Although the novels stand alone, I hope readers can see some growth and change in Geraghty. “Broken Dreams” is more specifically about Hull, as the story links to the decline of the city’s fishing industry and looks at its current regeneration. I keep my hand in with short stories which can be found in all the usual online and print places.

Please stop repeatedly pressing the emergency button. The comment about building a ladder of bones to reach the ceiling hatch and get out of here was just blue-skies thinking. So, what are you working on now?

Sorry about that...I’m only slightly scared now. If we ever get out of here, it’ll be back to work on the third Geraghty novel. I don’t want to reveal too much, but Geraghty’s brother finds himself in the middle of an operation to smuggle cigarettes into the country through Hull Docks. With nowhere else to turn, the problem soon becomes Geraghy’s problem. I’m starting to think about what comes after that. It may be more Geraghty, it may be something different. I’m always working on short stories and there are one or two interesting things bubbling away in the background. Ask me again in a few months...

Your website is called Hull Crime Fiction, Broken Dreams is set in Hull, and you've been made Writer-In-Residence at Hull Kingston Rovers. By any chance, is sense of place important to you in your writing? If so, why?

Very much so. To me, crime fiction is about the real world. It’s a fantastic way to look at contemporary society and issues. That’s something which fascinates me, so it seemed the most obvious thing in the world to me to write about my city. The great advantage of this is that I know the place intimately. I’ve lived here all my life. I can make sense of what I see and feel, but it does of course bring challenges. I try not to be complacent or judgmental about the city, but sometimes it’s necessary to take a hard look at it, and that’s not always well received.

Joe Geraghty, your lead character in Broken Dreams, is a PI. Do you find it a challenge to break fresh ground with a PI protag, and how do you think you've done so?

I think the key to this was that I didn’t think too deeply about it. Prior to “Broken Dreams” I wrote a police procedural novel which didn’t really work. The lesson from it was that I needed to be able to side step the realities of the job and have a character that could move about with freedom. A PI seemed perfect. I’ve read Chandler and Hamett, but truth be told, I’ve never been a big reader of American noir, past or present. It felt like I was coming to the idea with little more than the standard preconceptions of the genre. I researched a little about the realities of being a British PI and took it from there. I knew I wanted Geraghty to be a normal guy who’s trying to make a living and isn’t a superman. If he gets hit, he goes down. If Geraghty is seen as being a bit different to the usual PI, it’s probably more through my ignorance than judgment.

What pushes your buttons in crime fiction? Conversely, what bugs you?

I’m a fan of location. I love Graham Hurley’s DI Faraday series which is set in Portsmouth (me too, Ed.) and I think Lee Child is very underrated in respect of bringing the different terrains of America to life. I suppose I always want the complete package to run alongside that – character, plot dialogue and pace. The vast majority of what I read is crime fiction, but I read widely in the genre. What bugs me is overly descriptive writing. I want to feel places and characters through their actions. I don’t care what colour their toothbrush is. There’s more than a little truth in Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing.”

Tell me, as a writer in residence at Hull Kingston Rovers, do you have to live in a little cupboard under the stands? I will be very disappointed if the answer's no. Tell us a bit more about what this all involves, how you got into it, and how it's been received.

Sadly, Health and Safety expressly stopped me from living under the stands at Craven’s a shame. I wanted to give Geraghty a sporting background, and although football has always been my game, I realised I could say more about Hull by drawing on the rugby league rivalry which divides the city in two. My publisher, Caffeine Nights, are very proactive and approached the club to see if they’d stock “Broken Dreams” in the club shop. Somehow, that conversation ended up with me being appointed the club’s first ever ‘Writer in Residence’. I’ve been given me a regular slot in the programme, and as I’m predominantly a fiction writer, I’ve created a set of short stories which revolve around notable games and players. I think of it as being a warmer version of “The Damned United”. Alongside that, I’ve gone into local schools with the club to help kids with creative writing lessons. It’s been brilliant so far. The supporters seem to enjoy the stories and the response from the children and the schools has been heartening.

Print publishing is a doomed but still predatory dinosaur rotting from the feet up. Ebook publishing is the vomiting out of the world's slushpiles onto the market. In the ongoing war of words and hyperbole, where's the happy medium to be found? Where do you think the publishing business is heading over the next few years, and what are you doing to be ready for it?

There’s a hot potato...I think the happy medium is found with independent publishers like Caffeine Nights. Paperbacks aren’t ever going to go away, even if our choice is being restricted by a handful of major retailers. Switched on publishers know there’s still a market if you promote efficiently, but only a fool turns away from the possibilities ebooks offer. I’m pleased my publisher embraces both formats and retains an open mind. I’ve always had friends in bands who’ve self-released records, so I’ve got a fondness for the DIY ethic. The obvious proviso attached to self-publishing, be it ebook or paperback, is that the product needs to be as good as it can be. I don’t know what you do about poorly written and presented ebooks, though. There are plenty out there and it’s a shame if they put people off searching for the good stuff that is most definitely available. I don’t foresee a massive change to things over the next few years. I think the committed reader will still buy in bookshops and the casual reader will pick up their holiday reads in the supermarket. I don’t think we’ll see a major shift until the price of an ebook is much more reasonable. Why should the ebook version retail at the same price as the hardback or paperback? It’s nonsense.

Do you do much promotion for your books? What do you think is the most effective thing you've done?

I think it’s difficult to balance it against the time you need to write, but it’s a reality, so I do as much as I can. The obvious thing is to try to use the time wisely. I do as much as I possibly can in the real world and am lucky to have the support of my publisher. I’ve done book signings, library talks, literature festivals, spoken word nights in pubs, community fairs, radio, television, newspapers – you name it, I try avoid saying no to any offer. Online, I try to take advantage of interview and blog opportunities, but more importantly just network and feel part of a community. I think the key to online promotion is to set the boundaries you are comfortable with. I try to promote things I’ve genuinely enjoyed and not bombard people with repeated adverts for my own books. In terms of effectiveness, it’s been the lucky breaks which have paid off the most. The Hull KR position and being included in the “Mammoth Book of Best British Crime” alongside the top names in crime writing have really helped raised my profile. It’s all interlinked and it all comes together to create an overall picture.

Are you 'out' as a writer of fiction with work colleagues/family, and if so, what reaction did you get?

I’m most definitely out and proud these days, but it wasn’t always so. Before I was published I told very few people that I was writing. I suppose it was part shyness (something you need to get over pretty quickly...) and part I felt I hadn’t earned the right to call myself a ‘writer’ until I had something to show for it. It only really became common knowledge when I signed the publishing deal with Caffeine Nights. The reaction has been very positive. At first, everyone wanted to know all about it. After a while, people forget or just don’t care too much, and that’s fair enough. Writing is a major thing to me, but to other people I’m a father, husband, son, brother, friend, workmate etc.

Gibbons or tigers? (NB this question is to help me in compiling my List of People Who Are Wrong).

Easy – tigers. I was born in the Chinese year of the tiger and I’m a massive Hull City fan. No jokes about pussycats, please...