August 18, 2009
First of all, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Nick is one of my dearest “cyber friends”. Although he hails from Britain and therefore disagrees with me about what “real” football is, there is one we both agree on– and that is what makes a good story.
Nick’s latest novel, Broken Dreams, introduces Joe Geraghty, a world-weary detective tucking his chin and hunching his shoulders against the blows reined on him by criminals.
Nick was kind enough to answer questions for me recently and I’m proud to post his interview here. His novel has been published by Caffeine Nights Press in Britain (http://www.cnpublishing.co.uk.com). You can also visit Nick’s Web site at http://www.hullcrimefiction.co.uk.com.
Tell us about Broken Dreams and Joe Geraghty. Is this part of a series?
‘Broken Dreams’ is my first published novel and will be available through UK-based Caffeine Nights Publishing. The lead character, Joe Geraghty, is a small-time Private Investigator who is asked to investigate Jennifer Murdoch’s unauthorised absence from her work. When she’s found murdered in her bed, things get a bit trickier for Joe, as the woman’s husband is a prominent businessman with plenty of enemies. As he digs deeper, Joe begins to understand that finding her killers may hold the key to understanding the reasons for his wife’s death. I’ve toyed with Joe for a fair while now, mainly in short stories, which is where I tend to try things out first before diving into a novel. It took me a bit of time to find a vehicle I was comfortable with for a potential series, but as things stand, my thinking is certainly to continue running with Joe.
Would you classify the novel as police procedural, mystery, crime fiction, or something entirely different?
I see ‘Broken Dreams’ as being a crime novel, though I don’t really think too much about classifications. With Joe being a PI, there are elements of noir, but equally there’s a police presence running in the background and a strong mystery element, so I must be greedy – I want to cherry pick from different areas. Ultimately, I look up to writers like George Pelecanos. His novels are recognisably crime, but first and foremost they’re about characters and situations. For me, you can draw a line back to the likes of Steinbeck in the way he writes. The themes may be different but they both feel and care about the same things. I’m not sure what kind of crime writer I’d call him; all I know is that if I could get anywhere close to his level, I’d die a happy writer.
Joe is a well rounded character, complete with the hard-boiled edge and emotional scars I like in a private investigator. Will we be seeing more of him in future books?
Definitely. I’m hard at work on the next Joe Geraghty novel as we speak and I have ideas kicking around for the one after that. Prior to ‘Broken Dreams’, I wrote a police procedural novel called ‘Black and White’, and although I enjoyed creating a set of police officers, the weakness was in trying to portray police life accurately. I knew I had to move on from that and shake things up a little. It was very much a learning experience for me. A private investigator was the logical step, as I can continue to write the same sort of things, but without the fear of getting it totally wrong. Joe’s not bound by their rules, which certainly makes it more fun for me as a writer. When I created Joe, I deliberately didn’t fill in a lot of his background. That way, I’m learning about him as I go on and it feels like there’s plenty of mileage left. Most of the short-stories I write feature Joe, so I think he’s going to be around for a while yet.
Do you do a great deal of research for your books?
I think the answer to the question is, I do as much as I need to. It was certainly important with ‘Broken Dreams.’ When I started playing with the idea of the book, I deliberately wanted to write about the decline of the fishing industry in my home city. To find a way to do that in a story, I read a fair few books on the subject and searched the Internet for the inspiration to get it off the ground. I also went on a tour of a refurbished trawler boat and listened to the guides stories and anecdotes, which gave the novel a bit of colour. The trick seems to be not to get carried away with the process. I think you need to know enough to write with some credibility and conviction. Otherwise, you run the risk of sounding a bit preachy and there’s the temptation to dump loads of superfluous information into the novel.
Your novel is set in Hull, which is also where you live. Was it challenging to set your novel in Hull? Why did you choose Hull as the setting?
I never gave it a moment’s thought. I knew as soon I made the decision to write that I’d set the stories in my home city of Hull. The place always gets a bad press in the UK – whenever there’s a poll highlighting the worst places to live or those with the worst education results etc, Hull usually figures highly in it. Part of me understands the reasons for this, but a larger part of me is angry about it. Hull has more than its share of social problems, but if you look a little closer, there’s a lot to be positive and proud of. Much like Ian Rankin makes Edinburgh a central part of his Rebus series, I want to make Hull a central part of my work and delve into its unique character. I’m not sugarcoating; I want to tell it how I see it, but the city doesn’t features very often in literature, so this is my way of saying a little about what it’s like living in Hull at this point in time.
Setting ‘Broken Dreams’ in my home city brings certain challenges. Although I’m not prepared to turn a blind eye, I don’t want to run anybody or certain areas down. If Joe is in what might be described as one of the rougher parts of the city, I don’t want to make a name for the place up, but equally I don’t want to stigmatise it in print either. I simply don’t name it. I think the positives outweigh the negatives, though. I’ve lived in Hull all my life, so I know the city well and that gives me an insight and a feel I simply don’t have for other cities. The most fun part is that I can interlock stories and characters as I go. The lead character in ‘Black and White’, DS Coleman, has a role in ‘Broken Dreams’, and it’s nice to have ready made characters to draw on when needed.
What sort of readers do you hope will find your book?
I really don’t discriminate when it comes to readers – all are welcome to read to ‘Broken Dreams’! I’ve spent the best part of four years writing seriously, and in that time I’ve published all my work for free on my website because I was determined to do something more constructive than just putting my stories in a drawer to gather dust. The Internet is great in this respect for new writers and I could give you a dozen names of excellent crime writers who publish this way. As a writer, it’s not without a bit of heartache, though. Looking back, I’d happily never see some of my early stuff again. What it did, though, was help me build a readership from day one. I’m proud that I’m still in touch with some of the people who read the very first stories and have followed things to this point. I think with ‘Broken Dreams’ I’m ready to step things up again. It’ll be available in bookshops and through all the new technologies. Hopefully, having a traditional publishing deal will open up my writing to a new and wider audience, and if anybody needs to try before they buy, there’s plenty of free stuff to read on my website. The bottom line is, I hope enough readers find my book to allow me to publish another.
When you aren’t writing, what do you read?
I’m mainly on a crime diet and always have been. Probably three out of every four books I read is crime. If I was to make a list of ‘must reads’, top of the list would be George Pelecanos, Michael Connelly, Ray Banks, Graham Hurley and Lee Child. To that, I could add countless names. I like a wide range of crime writers and I’ve always been a prolific reader. The one downside of taking my writing more seriously is that the reading has slowed down. I’m still always reading, it just takes longer to finish a book these days. I spent most of my twenties reading just for the pleasure of it, without so much as a thought about writing, but I think the range of crime novels I’ve soaked up has stood me in good stead as a writer. On my reading pile I have the latest from Mark Billingham, ‘Blood Line’, which is a real return to form, and David Peace’s ‘Occupied City’, which I’m sure like all his other books will be a difficult read, probably literally, but will show why he’s one of the finest writers around.