Highlights of QDP 2016: Part 4

This is the second part of the summary of panel debates which I attended, and also the final part of the Quais du Polar 2016 posts. You will be relieved to hear that, no doubt, but I really have saved the best till last. You can also listen to all of the panel discussions (in French and English) via this link. You can also read some more scoops about all of these authors on the Crime Fiction Lover website.

Writing SeriesOlivier Norek (winner of this year’s QdP prize with Victor Coste), Arnaldur Indridason (Inspector Erlendur), Jo Nesbo (Harry Hole), Sara Gran (Claire DeWitt), Deon Meyer (Benny Griessel), Craig Johnson.

SeriesPanel

This was in many ways billed as the ‘Dream Panel’, with all the star names of internatonal crime fiction, but in actual fact it was disappointing, because there were too many panellists, there was not enough time to go into any depth and it was a bit of a PR exercise for some of them. The panel was split between those who had always intended to write a series (Sara Gran, Olivier Norek) and those who had started out with just one book (Indridadur, Nesbo, Craig Johnson) or even with a different character (Deon Meyer). Here are the more amusing or memorable quotes:

JN: I chose the name Harry Hole because that was the person that my mother used to scare us with if we weren’t home by 8. Many years later, I did meet the Hole she was referring to, and he was scary even though he was very old by then. As I shook hands with him, I kept saying: ‘But it’s not 8 o’clock yet.’

Craig Johnson & Indridason chatting before the event.
Craig Johnson & Indridason chatting before the event.

CJ: I created this overweight, overage, overdepressed character – just like all of us here – well, except for those skinny ones at the other end. He’s not an alcoholic – yes, he drinks a lot of beer, but it’s such bad beer that you can’t get drunk on it, you just get fat. And the way I keep him from aging too quickly is that each book is set in a different season of the same year, so he ages four times as slowly as me…

AI: Erlendur is a bit of a strange name in Iceland, and that was deliberate, because I wanted him to feel foreign, alien, out of time and place. There is an advantage to having Iceland as a background – we have long, dark winters and short, cold summers, and a murder every two years, so I had to get Erlendur to reopen a lot of cold cases. Of course he is depressed and haunted – happy people have no history, it would be the end of the story for writers.

Sara Gran and Deon Meyer
Sara Gran and Deon Meyer

DM: I was adamant I did not want a series with the same guy being put through hell in every book, but Benny just insinuated himself back into the story. So sure was I he was only going to appear in one chapter, that I made him drunk in the first book and then had to work with that cliche. But I don’t want to take him too much out of Cape Town – he shares all my passion for that most beautiful city in the world.

SG: I wish I could claim great foresight and cleverness in choosing Claire DeWitt’s name, but it only occurred to me much later that Clarity and Wit or Wisdom are the paths she seeks in life and detection.

Olivier Norek
Olivier Norek

ON: Victor is the name of my younger brother, and my character is morose because he is like a sponge absorbing all the dark atmosphere of his experience with criminals. I was exactly like that when I was a police officer, working in Dept. 93, which is the most notorious in France, with twenty times the crime rates of other places. Yet at the same time it’s a lab of creativity – the birthplace of French rap, streetdance and graffiti art.

An Hour with David Peace

This was the best session I attended: perhaps because it gave us the opportunity to explore things in more depth, but no doubt also because he is such a thoughtful and modest author, focusing far more on the work itself than on his own person. Here are just a few of the interesting things he said:

About reading aloud as part of the writing process:
Yes, I always do that eventually. In the case of ‘Red or Dead’, I was also fortunate enough to have tapes of Bill Shankly speaking, which his ghostwriter lent to me, so that enabled me to get a feel for his rhythm of speaking and thinking. But I also wanted to use repetition and ritual to show how he made the team effective, through constant daily effort and training every day. Besides, I want readers to read with their whole bodies, not just their head, so I try to make it a living experience for them, to make them feel they are part of the text.

QP20168About always writing about losers and underdogs:
I suppose I do, retrospectively one might say I’ve written nine books about failure.  But that’s because I believe that a team learns more in a defeat than in a victory, and I try to understand who we are as human beings in my books, and for most of us it’s a history of defeat, loss and failure.

About writing social commentary:
I see more of what I do as painting portraits of a certain time and place. I don’t differentiate that much between fiction and non-fiction – you can never get away from the subjective, history is dishonest if it presents itself as objective and true. There are always multiple narratives, and I try to reclaim those stories that often get lost. I find John Dos Passos a great inspiration for recreating living history, and White Jazz by James Ellroy also succeeds in doing that – it’s one of my favourite novels and I dream someday of writing something that is half as good as it. Crime is interesting because of what is says about the society and time in which it took place. I have no interest in serial killers – he is the least interesting aspect of a story, I am more interested in how the victims became victims, how the deaths and fear affects people and the investigators.

About his political beliefs:
I don’t think anybody is interested in that. [Upon being told they are] I feel like a taxi driver sounding off about things… Yes, I am a socialist as part of my DNA. I just believe that everybody is equal, a very simplistic view of socialism, and we should all behave as such. We just choose not to do it. The working class community I come from, built around certain industries, no longer exists. I don’t intend to show a nostalgic picture of it – there was plenty wrong with it too – but I think people nowadays are yearning for a return to basic decency.

Old World, New WorldParker Bilal (Egypt/Sudan), Colin Niel (French Guyana), Caryl Ferey (Argentina/Chile), Nairi Nahapetian (Iran), Olivier Truc (Lapland)

From left to right: Colin Niel, Nairi Nahapetian, Caryl Ferey.
From left to right: Colin Niel, Nairi Nahapetian, Caryl Ferey.

The panel moderator was late for this session, so Caryl jumped in and pretended to replace him. This was a very good-humoured and fun panel, perhaps because most of them knew each other and everybody spoke French (including the very cosmopolitan Parker Bilal).

Caryl Ferey taking over as moderator.
Caryl Ferey taking over as moderator.

PB: Makana is a Sudanese exiled in Cairo and that POV of an outsider is very useful. I try to paint a picture of the region and look at the roots of the Islamic crisis we see nowadays.

CF: I am largely self-taught, never listened to much in school, so I have to really read up on things once I decide upon a country to set my novels in [he has set books in NZ, South Africa, Argentina and now Chile.] I love to read those things that no one else bothers about: Ph. D. theses, geographical and historical texts, and then go and visit those countries and be able to ask better question.

NN: I came to France as a child, but after 15 years I was allowed back into Iran and started doing factual reports on it (as a journalist). But I found myself veering more and more into fiction – especially once I was no longer allowed back into the country. I try to combine the Persian style of storytelling with about 1% of facts – the opposite of journalism, which is about the maximum of facts. Of course, in Iran there is the ‘moral police’ in addition to the normal police, and I try to describe daily life, far removed from the image you get of the country from the Western media.

Olivier Truc and Colin Niel (left to right).
Olivier Truc and Colin Niel (left to right).

OT: I’ve always been attracted to meeting people and having in-depth conversations, but my editor would never agree to my immersing myself in the field for 6 months. Luckily, I had the opportunity to do some documentaries about the Sami people and about the reindeer police. Fiction appeals far more to emotions than reason. It’s not truth itself which is important, but the texture of reality. You have to use the facts in service to your story.

CN: I worked for many years in French Guyana, a fascinating region with many ethnicities, 50% unemployment, booming population growth, cocaine trade constantly recruiting people and refugees from the civil war in Suriname being rejected by most of the country. The French administration refused to call them refugees: they were called people temporarily displaced from Suriname, as if that label made things better. I rely on facts and use a lot of sources other than personal experience, but ultimately it all has to be credible rather than true. We have to feel close to the characters described, even if they are living in very different conditions from us. I really want to present a mosaic of the cultures and characters inhabiting that territory and how much more complex things are than the easy stereotypes we like to use about a country. You might call my technique ‘pointillism’, presenting a gradual portrait of a country, without taking sides or judging or trying to prove something – that’s not the scope of fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Got You Hooked on a Life of Crime, Stephanie Rothwell?

It’s Monday, the start of a great week for all, I hope, and time to introduce another member of our virtual crime fiction book club. Stephanie Rothwell is an avid and discerning crime fiction reader, and a big fan of long-running series. I convinced her to answer a few questions about her reading pursuits and give us some ideas for our already groaning TBR lists!

StephSteph, how did you get hooked on crime fiction?

I started reading crime fiction when I was a child. Enid Blyton, especially the Adventure Series, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the Three Investigators  were all favourites.

I then moved onto Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. From then on, it was Colin Dexter, Ruth Rendell, Elizabeth George. All mainly authors who had a full series of books that I could get from the local library.
Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?
I will try anything. I do prefer a series of books based on the same characters but will read standalones as well. I’m probably more reluctant to read spy thrillers.
What is the most memorable book you’ve read recently?
‘Wolf’by Mo Hayder, because it was so believably scary. If I could pick another, it would be ‘The Lying Down Room’ by Anna Jaquiery for its originality.
If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

 

Well, it’s one that some may not class as crime fiction.!It’s called ‘The Quincunx’ by Charles Palliser. [Ostensibly a Dickensian mystery set in 19th century England, but with a modern twist of alternative ending and unreliable narrators.] I have read it two or three times and each time it fascinates me.
ipadWhat are you looking forward to reading in the near future?
I’m looking forward to reading the new books by Sharon Bolton and Peter James. I really want to get stuck into the Jane Casey books as well. I’ve heard so much about them.
Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

Currently it seems to be books about WW1, in particular ‘Wake’ by Anna Hope.

Thank you, Steph, for taking the time to answer my questions (and general nosiness). It seems there are quite a few of us who enjoy series by the same author, although we may be divided over the issue ‘read them in order’ or ‘read whichever is available’.

For more revelations of reading passions, see here. And if you would like to participate in the series, please let me know either in comments below or on Twitter.

What Got You Hooked on a Life of Crime, Rebecca Bradley?

RebeccaBradleyTime to introduce the founding member of our online crime book club to you, the ever-busy and delightful Rebecca Bradley.  If you haven’t yet discovered Rebecca’s goldmine of a blog – a fun blend of book reviews, interviews, writerly news and really interesting video links – then please be sure to visit and say Hi. Rebecca is a writer herself, as well as an omnivorous reader. You can also find out more about the Crime Fiction Book Club on her site, a virtual book club which meets on the third Wednesday of every month via Google Hangouts. I always enjoy exchanging views with Rebecca about the latest crime novels we have both read, and I hope you will enjoy finding out more about her reading preferences.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

I started reading from a young age. Like many, I loved Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books and the sleuthing of the kids to solve whatever mystery had come their way. I then progressed to Nancy Drew and was in awe of her independence. My next stop was Agatha Christie. It seemed like a natural progression and I haven’t stopped reading crime fiction since.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I tend to like series and am pretty anal about starting at the beginning of the series. For instance, when I was recommended Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta books, she was already nine books in, but I started with the first book ‘Postmortem’. The reason for this is I like to follow the character arcs. Characters keep me glued to books and to series. Outside of series, I like police procedurals. They can be UK, US, or the more currently popular Scandinavian books. Location doesn’t matter as long as the story is good and I’m invested in the characters.

What is the most memorable book you’ve read recently?

That’s easy. Cry Baby by David Jackson. It’s a brilliant US based series book with a New York Detective called Callum Doyle. Jackson writes brilliantly, with humour and with a real and deep understanding of people, which is capable of touching you when he really needs to.

I did answer that question based on the fact that we are discussing crime fiction. I do read outside the genre and have recently read some great books that have also stuck with me. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and Wonder by R. J. Palacio. I know you said only one book, but… these are one book – from different genres!

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

Only one? Did you see my last answer?! OK, it would be Karin Slaughter. Her books are so character driven I love them and just can’t wait for the next one to find out what is happening to them. It’s like waiting for your favourite TV series to air again. And she’s not gentle with them either. Just because they’re a part of the series, nothing is out of bounds.

KindleRBWhat are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

Ha! I have nearly 300 books on my Kindle and my bookshelves are nearly bending in the middle with the weight. There are so many books that I am desperate to read, I just wish I could read faster. I am looking forward to reading The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths though. It’s the second in a series, of which I read the first one at Christmas time last year. It’s something different for me. It’s not police procedural as the protagonist is not a police officer but an archaeologist. Nowadays I spend so much time trying new-to-me writers that I don’t spend the time I’d like to with series any more.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

I am becoming more and more interested in the YA genre. I initially thought it was for kids and had some negative preconceptions about it until I read one, and then another and found I loved it. YA can fit any genre that a writer wants to write in, and the books I’ve read have covered some pretty heavy topics, but have done it brilliantly well and have usually had me in tears at some point. And this brings us around the characters again. It’s a belief in the characters that draws me in and has me sobbing and I think YA can do that really well.

I generally think we should read as widely as we can. Try new things. Experiment with our reading habits. I’ve been surprised this past year with what I’ve read and what I’ve enjoyed. It’s all about the reading. Just love the reading.

Wise and beautiful words, Rebecca, thank you very much indeed for sharing your reading passions with us! Over the next few weeks, every fortnight or so, I look forward to chatting to other great readers and bloggers about their criminally good reading pursuits.