It’s been a fantastic year for author interviews on my blog, and I’m very excited to welcome my final guest for 2017.
His much-loved detective, DCI Alan Banks, has fans worldwide and this year Peter Robinson celebrated the 30-year anniversary of the first book in the series, Gallows View, as well as publishing the latest novel, Sleeping in the Ground.
I’m indebted to Peter for taking time out from his very busy schedule to sit down and have a chat with me today.
What attracted you to writing in the crime/thriller genre? What do you love about the genre that keeps you going back for more?
It was reading that first got me interested in crime fiction. Before that, I wrote only poetry, but in the early 1980s I discovered the work of Chandler, Simenon and the Swedish couple Sjöwall and Wahloo. I saw that crime fiction had a far broader sweep than I had previously thought from my experience of Agatha Christie and other Golden Age writers.
I suppose what keeps me going back for more, both as a reader and a writer, is that the best crime fiction tells a good story and keeps you turning the pages, but it can also do more, perhaps says something about the society we live in and about human psychology.
Do you outline/plot, or do you prefer to start at the beginning and see where the story takes you? Why do you prefer this method of writing?
No, I don’t outline. For me, that would feel like joining up the dots. I begin with a strong visual idea of a body in a place—and the place is important—then Banks and his team proceed to ask questions about how and why this came about.
With any luck, one answer leads to another question. I don’t always know where the story is going to take me, which makes every day a new adventure. Sometimes I do get lost or stuck, then I need to take a break and read over what I’ve done.
What does your writing space look like? Do you have any pre-writing rituals to get you “in the zone”?
My favourite writing space, where I am right now, is by the window of the upper room of a cottage on a lake in Northern Ontario. I look out over the water and the trees and hills beyond.
At the moment all is tinged with the autumn colours—lemon, russet, and still plenty of green. I have no special rituals, but I usually put some music on before I get started. More often than not it’s chamber music—a string quartet, or violin sonata—but sometimes I’ll play jazz or symphonic music, as long as there are no words to distract me.
How do you structure a typical day to ensure you avoid distractions and hit your word count targets?
That’s not possible any more.
My progress tends to be much slower in the city because of distractions, whereas up here at the lake there’s no telephone, cable TV or Wi-Fi connection. I have to do all the communicating via the smartphone. I’m not saying it’s primitive. It isn’t. There’s electricity and propane for heat, so it’s useable all year round. I watch DVDs and spend plenty of time sitting out front reading. But this is where I get most of my work done, and the longer I’m here the more I get done because of the isolation.
The rest of the time I find myself doing events, promotion and so on, so I lose any impetus I might have going for my writing. I don’t have word counts, so they’re not a problem!
You’ve got a great feature on your website that includes the playlists for some of the Inspector Banks novels – how did that idea evolve, and do you have a particular favourite track that you always return to when writing?
Yes, and I’d like to get more playlists up, too, though it means going through copies of all the books and noting down music mentioned. I think that Kirk, who manages the web site, suggested the idea to me a while ago. I don’t have any favourite tracks I always play, but I do like the sound of the viola and cello very much. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy string quartets!
You’ve had a punishing book tour schedule this year, something that you have to do for each new release. What do you do to relax and keep that creative spark going in between hotels and flights?
This year was unusual in that it was the 30th anniversary of the first ever Banks book, Gallows View, which was published in 1987.
I did 30 events in 30 different cities and towns around the UK over a period of about two months.
There really wasn’t much of a chance of getting any momentum on writing during that, though I did make a few notes relating to the next book. Mostly, I caught up on reading and listened to music—even music with words! I watched a few movies and a bit of TV here and there, and managed to have some pleasant dinners with old friends on the way. It’s a very different part of the job from writing, which is by its nature a solo task, so I find the best thing to do is just throw myself into the whirl of it and enjoy meeting the readers and doing q and a’s and so on. It provides a good balance for the isolation of writing.
You’re known for throwing everything including the kitchen sink at DCI Banks over the years – are you ever tempted to give him an easy life, or do you think that would be detrimental to the appeal of the character?
Well, I’m not sure anyone has ever thrown a kitchen sink at Banks yet, but I’m not saying it will never happen! I do try to give him pleasurable moments, though they never seem to last. He’s probably the sort of person who would get bored with an easy life anyway, which may partly explain why he does the job he does.
Finally, where can we buy your books?
It depends where you are. I did a lot of events for independent book shops around the UK, and they’re always a good place to start, if you have one locally. In Toronto, we’re lucky to have Sleuth of Baker Street still with us after all these years. I haven’t been to the USA recently, so I’m not sure what things are like there. Of course, Waterstones is a good bet in the UK, as is Dymocks in Australia and Whitcoulls in New Zealand. And if you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, there’s always the ‘A’ word.
Peter, congratulations again on the 30th anniversary of DCI Banks' first outing, Gallows View and the new release, Sleeping in the Ground. Thanks for taking time from your schedule to chat with me today!