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Friday, 27 August 2010

Interview with Author, Nick Quantrill

Nick Quantrill, accountant by day, is a recent addition to Hull's literary heritage. Most newbie writers blindly send their MS to publishers or agents hoping someone will decide to publish it, but Nick decided to build a readership first. He set up a website, put his work on it and received compliments for his short stories. So, when he approached a publisher, he could also send a batch of positive comments about his writing. A Hull man (for those outside the UK, Hull - population over 300,000 - is a large port on the east coast of England), he spent his early years playing football for a local team. But, approaching 30, he decided it was time to do something else and took an Open University course on social policy and criminology to help him follow his dream of becoming a writer. He’d always enjoyed crime fiction so he started writing stories in his spare time and put them on his website. In 2006 he won the Harper Collins Crime Tour short story competition.

Tell us about Broken Dreams in a few sentences.

“Broken Dreams” is my debut published novel. It features Hull-based Private Investigator, Joe Geraghty. When the woman Joe is following for a client is found murdered, he finds himself in the middle of a police investigation which stretches back to the days when the city had a thriving fishing industry. The woman is married to a prominent local businessman, so the trail leads Joe into the city’s regeneration plans. It becomes a broad sweep of the city’s recent history and maybe a look at its future. Joe’s a man with his own demons, though. His wife died in a house fire and as he digs deeper, he realises that the case might give him the answers he needs.

How did you come to write this particular book?

I’d written the obligatory failed novel and a fair few short stories, and they’d all been set in my home city of Hull. It’s the city I know best and a city which fascinates me as much as London or New York does. I needed to step things up, so my mind had been slowly turning to the fishing industry. Its legacy still defines the city to a large extent, so it was an area I wanted to hit. I read a lot of books and articles in early 2008 on the subject and found the hook I wanted.

If you have a favourite character in your novel, why that particular one?

Broken DreamsImage by stuartaken via Flickr
As “Broken Dreams” is a written from the perspective of Joe Geraghty, I have to say he’s my favourite character. I wanted to make Joe a real person, with real worries, like you and I have. Joe has to roll with the punches, like in all good PI novels, but he doesn’t encounter serial killers or beat up a never ending stream of bad guys. I think what makes him my favourite is that writing about him over a period of time gives me the opportunity to see how he develops and how he discovers more about himself. It felt comfortable from the start; there seems to be plenty of mileage in him. I have noticed that a lot of readers like one of the bad guys, Don Salford. Don’s an ageing man in “Broken Dreams”, but I just might use him elsewhere or in another project...

What are your writing habits?

I work full-time, so I suppose my writing habits are based outside of the 9-to-5 cycle. I tend to write Monday to Thursday nights, usually once I’ve eaten, through to about 10pm. By the time Friday night comes, I’m only fit for sleeping. I usually work hard over the weekend, getting a lengthy writing spell in on at least one of the days. Outside of that, it’s whenever and wherever I can. If I’m on holiday, I’m usually writing something. If I have some of my lunch-hour free, I’ll write. If I’m not writing, I might be researching or reviewing. There’s always something to do. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I just try to make the best of what time I have available.

Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment? Where do you actually write?

I often find myself gazing at inspiring views, thinking it’d be great to look out over The Lakes, The Peak District, Manhattan etc etc as I write, but I think I’m learning that it’s more about the striving. If you stop striving and feel satisfied, you might as well give up. I currently write on a laptop in my front room. That means my wife is also in the room, going about her business, and I’m usually bothered by my cat, who seems jealous of the fact she’s not the on my lap. In an ideal world, maybe having my own study would be a nice compromise.

Do you have support, either from family and friends or a writing group?

I always thought writing would be a quiet pastime, which in many ways it is, but I’ve learnt that you’re anything but isolated. In terms of actual writing, I rely on my wife and a friend to give it to me straight before it goes out to a wider audience. I’ve never really felt the need to be part of a writing group. I’m much happier trusting my own instincts. In a wider context, my publisher has been great in helping me improve my work and I’ve always relied on an excellent support network for developing my website and photography etc.

Do you think writing is a natural gift or an acquired skill?

I think it’s very much an acquired skill, but you can acquire that skill in different ways. Formal learning, be it in education or in a writing group is an obvious way of honing your craft, but I’ve always been a prolific reader. I’ve tried to learn the nuts and bolts of writing by studying the good and the bad within the published world and then apply it through practice. I’m not sure you can become a writer without being a reader. I suspect being a genre writer makes it easier to see the path you need to take, but even if you buy into the concept of having a natural gift, it’s nothing if it’s not backed up by hard work.

What is the single biggest mistake made by beginners to writing?

I think it’s expecting too much too soon. I often have people tell me they’re writing a novel, but when we get into the detail, they often confess they’ve never attempted so much as a short story beforehand. It’s like running the London Marathon because you fancied a jog one morning! I know it’s hard not be impatient, but writing short stories helps you learn how to write something from start to finish in miniature. I suspect the vast majority of unfinished novels remain unfinished simply because the writer hasn’t developed the tools to get from A to B. I think you’ve also got to accept that you’ll put a lot in at the beginning for what seems like little in return. I cringe at the thought of some of the earlier stuff I produced, but it was a foundation to build on. Patience is the key.

What are you writing now?

I’m just finishing the next Joe Geraghty novel, ‘The Late Greats’, which will hopefully be published summer 2011. “The Late Greats” sees Geraghty searching the city for a missing musician before his band’s big comeback is compromised. It’s a story about friendship, loyalty and asks what really counts as success. I’m turning my thoughts to book three and will hopefully be on with it by the autumn. I’m also busy working on short stories. “Sucker Punch”, which is a Geraghty short, will appear in the 2011 “Best of British Crime Anthology” alongside the likes of Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith and Simon Kernick, and another Geraghty short, “Police and Thieves”, will be appearing in an American collection around the same time.

Do you have a website or a blog that readers can visit?

I have a website, www.hullcrimefiction.co.uk, which has all the usual stuff on it - there’s an extract from “Broken Dreams”, free short stories and interviews to read. I don’t have a blog, but I’m available on Facebook. I’m not difficult to find!

Info

“Broken Dreams” is available from all good bookshops priced £7.99 (Caffeine Nights Publishing).

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