You are here

Graham's Question and Answers with Waterstone's

1) Your books are predominantly set in the Portsmouth area - what makes it such a good setting for crime fiction?

I’ve always thought of Pompey as gold dust for any novelist but it wasn’t until I started writing crime fiction that I realised the real potential of the city. For one thing, the island setting gives it a unique sense of definition: it really is a place apart. For another, it’s a very dense muddle of warring tribes, and lives that often seem to be in a state of perpetual crisis. Pompey is uncursed by money. People often struggle to get by. Whole areas are increasingly blighted by family breakdown, substance abuse, petty crime, and grinding poverty. At the same time there’s a resilience and rough wit about Pompey families that can make living in the city a very warm and rewarding experience. There’s something else, too. The deeper I’ve dug beneath the surface of Pompey lives, the more the city becomes a small but perfect replica of the UK as a whole. That special mix of history, stubbornness, pride, laughter and violence can tell you a great deal - both good and bad - about the word British.

2) Have you had any local experts help you with your research ?

In the first place, I did an enormous amount of research alongside sharp-end cops. This wasn’t easy, not least because most of them were sensibly waiting to see what I made of them on the page. But once the first book - “Turnstone” - was out there, and they sensed the lengths I’d gone to get their culture right, then they began to open up. This was hugely important from my point of view because word of mouth spreads very quickly in a city like Pompey and as the series began to develop it became easier and easier to enlist hands-on research help from all kinds of local people, expert and otherwise. 

3) What is it that attracts you to the crime fiction genre ?

In the first place, very little. The series wasn’t my idea and after the freedoms of writing one-off international thrillers I had profound doubts about banging myself up with a bunch of fictional detectives. As it’s turned out, though, the characters and the setting – with a great deal of help from our Thatcherite times – have given me fictional opportunities I’d never dreamed about. It’s impossible to be a working cop in Pompey and not realise the state we – collectively – have got ourselves into. And that’s a wonderful starting point for any book.

4) How important is it for your books to be realistic ?

Realism is where these books begin and end. In a previous life I spent twenty happy years making television documentaries and the best part of that job was the research stage, pre-filming, where you had the opportunity to get alongside all manner of individuals and try and figure out what made them tick. It was only later that I realised that this is exactly the challenge that faces the working novelist. You have to get out of your comfort zone. You have to be nosy. To some degree – as much on the page as on the screen – you have to take an imaginative risk or two and become other people. And that conjuring trick will only work if you make these people, these characters, real. 

5) Would you rather be mediocre and rich, or brilliant and poor?

Brilliant and rich. Another fantasy.

6) Who would you like to play Faraday in a TV series / film adaptation?

Someone asked me exactly the same question recently and I find it really hard to come up with a name. I’ve lived with Faraday for ten years now and in some ways we’ve both aged together. It’s a complex relationship, necessarily intimate, and I’m not at all sure I want it jeopardised by the intrusion of an actor – no matter how gifted. I often find the same thing happening when I read other peoples’ books. I’m comfortable with this or that character in my head. The last thing I want is a casting director kidnapping my baby.

7) Which 3 books would you take to a Desert Island and why?

“The Quiet American” by Graham Greene because he seemed to me to capture the essence of the imperial folly. “The Siege of Krishnapur” by J.G Farrell because he did much the same thing in richly comic terms. And Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” because it made me determined to become a writer.

8) Did you ever want to be a policeman?

Never. Not that they’d ever have me.

9) Do you think there is such a thing as” the perfect crime “?

Nearly. For the full story follow D/C Paul Winter in “One Under”.

10) What’s the worst / best thing that’s ever happened to you which changed your life in some way?

The worst thing was waking up in the Falkland Islands eighteen years ago, making my way blearily to breakfast, and listening to BBC World News telling me and the rest of my film crew that TVS had lost the franchise and we were all out of a job. That morning, walking to the first location, sympathetic islanders tossed us coins from passing cars for our Repatriation Fund. The best thing, several months later, was the moment my wife and I decided to take our chances in the world of fiction. Writing novels is the most precarious job in the world. And I’ve never been happier.