Back in 2006 when you were first starting out, you mentioned feeling isolated as a writer in Hull. How does its writing community of 2014 compare?
It’s very different. In 2006 it felt like very little was happening. It’s difficult to say if that was the reality of the situation or if it was my perception as someone starting out writing crime novels. The writing community today certainly feels confident in its own skin. Maybe a lot of that is down to the impact of social media, but there’s been an increase in the provision of literature events in the city, so there’s an outlet there to chat, discuss and drink...
How well do you think Hull lends itself as a setting for crime fiction?
I think it’s fantastic. When I started my first novel, I never thought about setting it anywhere else. It seemed bizarre to me that so little had been written about it, especially in a contemporary sense. It has both an urban and rural landscape and a fascinating industrial history that you can bend to crime fiction. Oddly, I think its isolation at the end of the motorway is a real strength for writers. You only really pass through if you have a reason to visit, so it becomes a sort of secret place, and I think readers enjoy exploring places they don’t necessarily know.
You only really pass through if you have reason to visit, so it becomes a sort of secret place
The catalogue of Hull writing seems to be expanding almost every week, but a couple of writers stand out for me. In terms of crime writing, David Mark’s DS McAvoy is rightly piling up the sales. David really brings the city to life in his books. It just feels right. Russ Litten’s “Scream if you want to go faster”, set in the aftermath of the 2007 floods and culminating at Hull Fair, captures the character of the city through a revolving cast of characters. When people want to know what life was like in Hull in the early part of the 21st century, this is the book they should turn to.
I think of Hull as being a character in the Geraghty novels, so I hope the change comes through on the page. I suppose all places are constantly in a state of flux, but it feels like the recent changes in Hull are very pronounced. The first Geraghty novel, “Broken Dreams”, was essentially about the echoes of the death of the fishing industry in the city, and I hope that’s reflected in the characters. By the time the trilogy closes with “The Crooked Beat”, I’m looking at the docks and the renewed hope the new industry brings. You’ll always have winners and losers in any situation, especially when large amounts of money are at stake, so for me it’s about finding the grey in the situations.
I’m hoping City of Culture will really thrust Hull forward in a way we haven’t seen before. They key for me is that it’s led by Hull people and projects. We don’t want to simply hire people in and then see them disappear a week later. It has to reach out to and be enjoyed by every resident of the city. I’m sure it’ll lead to more writing talent emerging, as well as new artists in all manner of different fields. It’s certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity to get projects off the ground and do what you want to do.
You’re right. Geraghty is very much rooted in the city, so I’m not sure he’d function very well outside of its boundaries. The novel I’m working on features different lead characters and they have different relationships with the city, so they give me more options in the future. That said, I thought the novel I’m on with would see sections of it set outside of Hull, but I can’t escape it. The heart of the novel belongs to the city. It seems I’ve still got plenty to say about the place…