Crime writer Nick Quantrill’s stories have appeared in Radgepacket. His novel ‘Broken Dreams’ looked at Hull’s past and future, and the death of the city’s fishing industry, exploring the problem of how the city can build a new future for itself. His new novel ‘The Late Greats’ is out with Caffeine Nights Publishing. It deals with the comeback of a band. As journalist Joe Geraghty is employed to negotiate between two different camps, he realises he could lose everything.
Nick met me at The Slaughterhouse here we talked about the class system and surveillance in the UK.
Do you think there are fundamental differences between UK and US crime fiction and if so what are they?
I don’t think I’d describe the differences as being ‘fundamental’. I think all good crime fiction, be it from the UK or the US, shares common characteristics – it’s all about strong characters, exciting plots and playing with interesting ideas. At the top of the tree, I see writers like Michael Connelly and Ian Rankin as being the different sides of the same coin. Good writing is universal. Away from the big hitters, maybe it’s more a case of we differ in the way we tell our stories. Thankfully, guns are relatively rare in the UK, so we generally settle our differences a little differently. It’s just a cultural thing. Having a sense of who you are and where you come from in terms of being a crime writer is definitely a strength in my eyes. It’s a rare writer who can bridge the gap and be convincing.
Do you think the best detectives have strong criminal shadows?
I suspect it may be an essential part of their make-up. To catch a criminal, a detective needs to know the criminal, know how they think and know how they’re likely to act. And if a detective can anticipate a criminal, it’s only a short jump to a skewed sense of morality. That’s where it turns in my mind – how far will a detective go to get ‘justice’? What is ‘justice’? Do the end results really justify the means? The detective walking a fine line between right and wrong is a key component of crime fiction writing for me.
Tell us about ‘The Late Greats’.
“The Late Greats” is the second novel to feature small-time PI Joe Geraghty. Joe’s job appears to be quite simple. New Holland, a famous Hull band from the 1990s are reforming and allowing one privileged journalist to document the process. Joe is employed by the band’s management to act as a buffer between the different parties. However, the job changes when the band’s front-man, Greg Tasker goes missing. As the stakes increase, Geraghty has to choose his friends wisely, as it threatens to undermine everything he holds dear. The first Geraghty novel, “Broken Dreams”, was very a novel about my home city and looked at the way it was trying to reinvent itself after the demise of its fishing industry. “The Late Greats” is less directly about, rather more about how the city views itself in a wider context. It asks what constitutes success and happiness. Questions which could easily apply to Geraghty himself.
Do you think writers are motivated by a fear of death?
Speaking for myself, it’s not a motivation for writing, though the nature of crime writing does often bring death to the fore and there’s an element of playing God with your characters. I try to stay away from serial killers in my writing, so the body count is never particularly high and maybe as a consequence, it does carry weight with me when death occurs in my work. The end result is that I probably spend a bit too much time thinking about death, but it’s in the context of fiction and what works for the story. Looking at the question from a more personal angle, I’m partly motivated by the fear of death. I hope I’ve got many decades in me, but I want to be able to tell my daughter that I made some kind of mark on the world, however small, and leave something behind that talks a little about life in my home city at this point in time.
Do you think the prevalence of the cult of the celebrity is destroying peoples’ appreciation of books and what strategies do you think are necessary for a writer to combat obscurity when competing with it?
I try to take the view that if people are reading, it’s a good thing. Naive? Maybe. Obviously, my preference is that people are reading something with a bit more substance than Katie Price’s latest autobiography or ghost-written novel, but ultimately, who am I judge? I think the celebrity genre appeals to a particular group of readers, so there’s little value in trying to
compete with it. First and foremost, all you can do as a writer is produce the best book you can. If you know your market, you can promote it efficiently. A big budget helps, but social media is free and a good publisher will always look for new and different opportunities. When I wrote “Broken Dreams”, I decided Joe Geraghty’s background was to be that of a former rugby league player. A year later, Caffeine Nights had me installed as ‘Writer in Residence’ at Hull Kingston Rovers, a position which both helps my profile and allows me to contribute to the promotion of literacy in my local community.
Is there a particular experience that has had an influence on you as a writer?
I think it was a more general build-up. I don’t think you can become a writer without being a passionate reader, and although I wanted to be a policeman or a footballer as a child, I was never far from a book. The Famous Five and then Sherlock Holmes were big favourites and no doubt instilled a love of crime stories in me. It was only in my twenties when I returned to reading that the thought of actually being a writer started to take hold. The Rebus series was very influential in my thinking. I could see that Rankin was writing page-turners that had real depth. By this point I’d obtained a degree in Social Policy, so that was also very influential in my thinking. If you wanted to discuss contemporary society, it became clear to me that crime was the tool for doing it. The actual decision to try writing was triggered by reading a very bad book, which is maybe a little strange. My thinking was that the act of writing couldn’t be all that difficult. I soon learned how wrong I was!
Do you think the class system in England still affects crime and its representation in literature?
Class, for me, is a slippery kind of concept and not something I tend to think directly about when I’m reading or writing. I think the boundaries have blurred and shifted so much, it’s more useful to think of it in terms of economic outcomes. In “Broken Dreams”, part of the focus is on a family which worked in the trawler industry. It asks the question, if your trade is ripped away from you, what do you? It seems to me that you only have two choices – you either roll over and die or you start over and thrive. Clearly, you can take a step back and point to the fact the owners of the capital and the political elite effectively bring about such situations, but I’m much more interested in consequences and how they play out. For me, the best crime writing from people like George Pelecanos has class and economics at its heart, but the way this is represented is never preachy or definitive. It’s always for the reader to draw their own conclusions.
What do you make of the rise of the e book?
As a writer, I’m in favour of any technology which allows readers to access my work in a method of their choosing. It also helps level the playing field a bit, too. Caffeine Nights are a small independent publisher, so they don’t have the money to jet me out to New York to promote my books, but with digital media, they can still reach out. As a reader, I have some reservations. My wife owns a Kindle and I can definitely appreciate that they’re a nice piece of kit. If you use public transport a lot and/or travel, the advantages are obvious. My reservations are in relation to the never ending supply of books made available for less than 99p. Whether or not the high volume/low profit method can sustain a business model, I don’t know, but I suspect if the reader is faced with a difficult search to find the good stuff, how many will bother? Overall, though, I like the fact the major publishers are pushed on to the back foot a bit, so if that’s the price that has to be paid, so be it.
How much do you think we live in a society of surveillance in the UK and how does this impact on crime?
I think the concept of surveillance is definitely increasing, both visibly and in less directly obvious ways. Rightly or wrongly, CCTV seems to be something we accept as the price for living in a free society, but monitoring through bureaucracy seems to be never ending. Targets and measured outcomes in public sector provisions like health and education come through soft surveillance and I don’t like it. It’s not the kind of society I want to live in. In respect of crime, it seems intertwined with technological innovation. The media phone hacking scandal seems to be a prime example of this. The ability to monitor private mobile phone messages is a relatively new crime, but where do you draw the line? I’m sure there isn’t a person alive who could begin to defend the hacking of a murdered teenager’s phone, but if the freedom of the media is curtailed, would we learn about things like Parliamentary abuse of the expenses system? Understanding the relationship between surveillance, crime and technology is difficult.
If you had to choose – crime writing or sport?
Can we just say I love both? No? I think it’s about changing horizons and maturing. When I was in my twenties I played amateur football at the weekend as well as on several nights. It was what I did and I loved the feeling of being able to completely zone the world out for ninety minutes or so as I competed. It was a rush, but there was always the nagging knowledge that it wouldn’t last forever. Crime writing was something which crept up on me at just the right time. You can’t replicate the energy of being in your late teens and twenties, but the more I think about it, nor should you. Things are of a certain time. Enjoy them whilst you can, but you have to move on. It doesn’t matter what you’ve achieved, it’s about what you can still go on to achieve. I found that crime writing gives me a similar rush and escape from the real world. It’s where I’m at now and it feels right. That said, I still love my football club, Hull City, and I have my season pass. I used to stand on the terraces with my mates, but now I have a daughter who I’ll want to take along in due course, so the experience will change for me again. And I think that’s how it should be.
Thanks for a great interview Nick, it’s a good introduction to your work, and good luck with ‘The Late Greats’.
‘Hull Crime Fiction’
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