Last week I had the pleasure of meeting up with the lovely Val McDermid for a good long coffee and catch up thanks to the joys of twitter and knowing she was in the vicinity. I hadn’t seen her since she came and talked at Bookmarked Literary Salon last year, so we had much to discuss. When I got back I suddenly thought ‘hang on, didn’t I do a Savidge Reads Grills… with Val?’ It turned out I had last year when her latest novel ‘The Retribution’ came out and then very naughtily hadn’t used it, probably because I had done an interview with her for We Love This Book. Well ‘The Retribution’ is out in paperback now, you can see my review here, and so I thought that I would post it today as it seemed timely.
For those crazy people who haven’t read a Tony Hill novel yet, how would you describe the series of books he features in?
The Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novels are dark psychological thrillers that explore the extremes of what human beings are capable of doing to each other. Tony is a psychologist who profiles for the police, Carol is a senior detective. Tony explores crimes by worming his way into the head of the killer; Carol uses more traditional detective techniques. He is motivated by compassion and empathy, she is motivated by justice. And at the heart of the books is the relationship between them, a relationship that is complicated by the damage they have both sustained in the cases they have worked.
Do you think people can come into the series at any point, especially with ‘The Retribution’ which sees one of Tony Hill’s old adversaries’s returning to the scene?
Each book in the series can stand alone but if you start at the beginning and read them in order, it will be a richer and more complete experience.
Have you ever liked one of you criminal characters, you see I think Jacko Vance is a brilliant psychopath… though that might say more about me as a reader maybe?
I don’t like them in the sense of wanting to go out for a beer with any of them. But I feel a sense of satisfaction when I think I’ve achieved a villain that feels like a three-dimensional character. Even if all three of those dimensions are pretty dark!
Each of your books is very different, be they in a series or a standalone, where do the ideas generate from? Does the murder come first or the story itself?
Occasionally it will be the murder, in the sense of a scenario for the crime or even an unusual method (such as the murder of the footballer in Beneath The Bleeding). But mostly it’s a situation or an interesting piece of information that sets me off on the ‘what if?’ game. Sometimes it’s an anecdote told by a friend, or a throwaway line in a radio programme or a magazine article. It could be anything, as long as it piques my interest.
And how do you know if the story is one for a series or one that needs to simply standalone?
I can tell from the shape of the story, pretty early on. Rule of thumb – if it’s a serial killer, it’s probably Tony & Carol. If not, it’s going to need a whole new cast of characters.
Do you think Lindsey Gordon or Kate Brannigan will be coming back soon? Is there another series waiting in the wings?
I don’t know. And I don’t know. It depends what shouts loudest inside my head. I know the next two books will be a standalone followed by another Tony & Carol, and that’s all I can say right now.
How did it feel when Wire in the Blood the series was made, is it hard to see your work adapted?
I was very well served by the adaptation. I thought we ended up with excellent TV that felt like it occupied the same fictional landscape as the books. Coastal Productions took an unusually collaborative approach in the development and making of the show, and that is a large part of the reason it ended up being something I was very comfortable with.
How relevant do you think book blogging is to the publishing industry? Do you ever pop and see what people have thought of your books or is it something you avoid at all costs?
It’s a great way of getting the word out about books that excite and fulfill readers. There are so many books out there and relatively few are reviewed in the traditional media. There’ s a huge range of bloggers but once you find a few who are in tune with your own tastes, it can be a fast track to finding new writers to enjoy. I have my own personal preferences, and yes, it’s gratifying to read good things about my work.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do?
I first knew I wanted to be a writer when reading the Chalet School books revealed that being a writer was a proper, paid job, not just something people did out of the goodness of their hearts! I came from a very non-traditional background for a writer – I grew up in a working class family in a mining community. But I was always encouraged to read, to educate myself and to work hard. All of which came in very handy. I had a couple of false starts in my creative writing career – including enough rejection letters to paper the bathroom — but once I began to write crime fiction, it all came together.
Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written in a book?
Nothing I can think of except maybe one dedication! And no, I’m not going to tell you which one.
You have always loved crime fiction, what is it that you love so much about the genre?
I love that it gives me the opportunity to put characters under pressure and see what that makes them do. I love that moment of delight when I finally get the plot to make sense so that all the other elements of the book can fall into place. I love that there’s room to write decent prose while still moving the story along. And I love that crime writers take their work but not themselves seriously.
Do you ever think a crime book will win the Booker Prize?
Why does it matter? Really, crime writers and readers need to stop being so chippy about this. We know the quality of the best of our genre. We don’t need the imprimatur of the Booker or any other prize to justify ourselves.
Which books and authors inspired you to write?
Elinor M Brent Dyer, Robert Louis Stevenson, Norman MacCaig, Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Sarah Paretsky. And many, many others.
Are there any books you wish you had written yourself?
Which contemporary authors do you turn to?
Margaret Atwood. Ali Smith. Reginald Hill. James Sallis. James Lee Burke. Kate Atkinson. Michael Robotham. Andrea Camilleri. And many, many others.
Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?
I get out of bed, I shower, and I drink two cups of coffee. I eat bacon and beans and a portion of fruit. I go out to the office, turn on the music and start the writing day revising what I wrote the day before. That’s pretty much it.
Which one book must all Savidge Readers run out and buy right now, which is your very favourite?
I don’t have a favourite. I really don’t.
What is next for Val McDermid?
A standalone called The Vanishing Point. Then another Tony & Carol. And maybe another radio drama serial, because I really enjoyed the one I did this spring.
A big thanks to Val for doing this. If you want to see any of the other previous Savidge Reads Grills then do pop and have a look. Reading this interview back and seeing Val last week has reminded me I must read ‘Wire in the Blood’ very soon. Which of Val’s books have you read? Have you stuck with the series, the standalones or both?