29th Jul2013

Interview with Eva Dolan

by Lloyd Paige

eva dolan


Eva Dolan is an Essex-based copywriter and intermittently successful poker player. Shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger for unpublished authors when she was just a teenager, Long Way Home is her debut novel and the start of a major new crime series.

1. Hi Eva, welcome to Today’s Paige. I understand that you had quite a liberal upbringing, tells us a bit about it?

Hi Lloyd, thanks for having me. It was incredibly laid back, just the right side of bohemian – my mother never wore purple velvet but my father had a folk singer’s beard and a flute. They were into the whole self-sufficiency thing, which was quite unusual in Essex in the eighties. We were right out in the sticks, chickens scratching about, huge veg patch, homebrew in the pantry – yeah, there was a pantry, with a chest freezer and the occasional brace of pheasants hanging over it.

My parents believed that if children are raised without rules or boundaries they’ll never have anything to rebel against so they just won’t bother making any excessively stupid gestures. In retrospect it was a pretty risky strategy but it’s worked out okay.


2. Where would you say that your interest in writing stemmed from?

I was a really bookish little girl. Roald Dahl was the first author I loved with a vengeance; so twisted and cynical. That’s probably where my interest in crime writing began actually. Nobody is quite what they seem in Dahl’s books, he teaches you to question everything, trust no-one. He may have warped my worldview forever. After that I became obsessed with Greek and Norse mythology for awhile, big themes, sweeping narratives, all of that murder and mayhem and trickery. One of my most treasured possessions is a beautifully illustrated copy of The Odyssey I was given for my tenth birthday and a little of that bled into Long Way Home.

I think it’s inevitable when you read a lot from an early age that you’ll eventually try writing something.

3. Why have you got an allegiance to the Crime Fiction genre instead of say, Romance or Young Adult Fiction?

Growing up I desperately wanted to be a cat burglar. Unfortunately I didn’t know any aging thieves who’d train me and I couldn’t find the right outfit, so I channelled my criminal tendencies into writing instead.

4. Crime fiction often follows a specific formula which has proved to be successful. Do you try to push the boundaries or do you take the line of, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it?

Pushing the boundaries is very appealing but increasingly difficult because transgression has been absorbed into the mainstream – murderous children, serial killers as heroes, bent coppers – it’s all been done. I actually think working to a recognised formula without being formulaic is the tougher ask right now. But if you’ve got a gripping plot and strong characters, the traditional police procedural is the perfect vehicle to tell a good story.

I’ve always enjoyed reading well crafted detective novels and there’s something reassuring about opening a new Rebus or Wallander and knowing you’re in safe hands. If I can inspire that feeling in readers futuristically I would be absolutely delighted.

5. You were once shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award, was that a great boost to your confidence?

At the time I really had no idea what a big deal it was so it didn’t actually have much effect. I was just too young to take it seriously, and when I look at what I was writing back then it is painfully immature. The award has kick-started a lot of careers though and I’d urge all aspiring crime writers to chance their luck on it.

6. Your book, Long Way Home, is due to be published by Harvill Secker in 2014. Congratulations. How are you preparing yourself for the big day?

Thank-you kindly. 2014 Is so far away that I’m trying not to even think about it. Book two is on the go now, so when I finally emerge from the manuscript Long Way Home should be close to release. I am on a strict drinking regime to prime my liver for the published writer’s life though. Not going brilliantly – two vodkas and I get a bit silly – but by this time next year I hope to see a marked improvement.


7. The plot of Long Way Home kicks off with the death of a migrant worker. What was your inspiration behind the subject matter and the characters of DS Ferreira and DI Zigic?

The original inspiration came in a little pub outside Colchester – always a great setting for criminal undertakings. Two men were discussing the business practices of a gangmaster one of them worked for, how much money he was making off the top, how much he charged for their accommodation and transport, which was bad but expected. Then they got on to his ‘management style’ and the casual brutality used to keep the workers in line infuriated me; beatings discussed in a matter-of-fact tone, like they were no different to verbal warnings on a regular job. After that it got very dark.

I wrote a short story based around it but the characters involved felt like they had more to say, so I went back to it a few months later and the short became the opening chapter of Long Way Home.

Zigic and Ferreira pretty much presented themselves once I knew the kind of territory the book was going to cover, and that it would be centred around a Hate Crimes Unit. I saw the department as a dumping ground for officers whose faces didn’t fit elsewhere – they’re of immigrant stock, Ferreira’s first generation Portuguese, Zigic is a third generation Serb, so both consider themselves outsiders to differing degrees. Ferreira has experienced first hand what it means to be an unwelcome immigrant in a small, very English community, and that has a major influence on where her sympathies lie. Zigic is better integrated, a family man, a solid professional. He may slide into drinking/fighting/whoring maverick cop territory in a few years time…but I doubt it.

8. How long did it take you to write and how many drafts of the story were completed before you were satisfied with it?

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted the story to achieve and how the plot should develop before I started writing – the notes for it are novella length – so the first draft was fairly swift. Six months for a rough MS I was happy to show my agent, then some back and forth, two more drafts across two months making the alterations he wisely suggested, and it was ready to go.

9. Many writers don’t feel they are real writers until they secure either an agent or a book deal. Did that type of thinking ever apply to you?

If you have a terrible, all consuming compulsion to write then you can call yourself a real writer as far as I’m concerned. I wrote a lot of books for – I was going to say pleasure but it isn’t pleasant, it’s hard and hellish, tear-your-hair-out graft, so I wrote the books because they were inside me and I wanted to get them out. Ultimately I always wanted to be published though.

Getting taken on by an agent was huge deal because you never know if you’re any good until a professional says so, but I didn’t really consider myself a writer until I’d signed with Harvill Secker.

10. Give us an insight into how you first create a character. Are they taken from your imagination or do you base them on the people you’ve met?

With minor characters I’m happy to steal bits and pieces from real people, a mannerism or the odd personality trait, voices tend to stay with me so I recycle those quite often, and once I have the speech pattern the rest of the character tends to develop quite organically.

With the main characters I want completely original creations though, and really I don’t want to think them through in advance, I prefer to stick them on the page and see what they’re going to do. The problem with this approach is that sometimes they do things which derail my carefully worked out plot, but usually they’re right and the plot’s wrong, so I just run with it.

11. How would you describe your ‘writing voice?’

For me crime fiction works best when the prose is lean and unfussy and I’ve always tried to write in that style.

12. Do you think that an author should write responsibly or should they be able to write with a certain level of freedom?

Writers should always have full freedom to express themselves but they should also be prepared to defend their decisions if the quality of their work doesn’t justify the liberties taken.

I believe the crime genre demands a high level of authorial responsibility. You’re writing about the worst things that happen to people, drilling down into the darkest parts of human nature, and approaching that simply as entertainment, or even worse actively glamorising it, is a bit distasteful.

I agonised about this while I was writing Long Way Home, partly because of the violence, but more because I was acutely aware of how contentious the issues within it are. Racism, political extremism, exploitation – subjects like this have to be approached responsibly because there’s a lot of ill will against migrant workers in this country and if they’re handled badly you risk feeding into that mindset.

13. What are you hoping that your stories add to the Crime Fiction genre?

Long Way Home grew out of a desire to explore a part of British life which people don’t usually see, a frequently harsh part, run by businessmen indistinguishable from gangsters, where exploitation and violence are commonplace, and hopefully the book achieves that.

If people read my work and enjoy it I’ll be happy.


14. Finally, there are two books in the pipeline but are there any more planned after that?

There are outlines for several more and hopefully these will eventually become books. Every time I sit down to research one issue, two more pop up. Readers and publisher willing I could be doing this for a while.



Synopsis

The launch of a major new detective series from the publishers of Henning Mankell, Arnaldur Indridason

and Fred Vargas

Peterborough is changing. Migrant workers, both legal and illegal, are working in the fields, the

factories and the pubs of the town. Most keep their heads down, keen to avoid trouble and DI Zigic and DS

Ferreira from the local Hate Crimes Unit know all too well the issues that come with having a foreign

name, no matter how long you’ve lived here. While Zigic ignores his father-in-law’s needling about his

Serbian background, Ferreira still burns with the resentment of years of childhood bullying for her

Portuguese name and looks.

But when a man is burnt alive in a suburban garden shed, it brings an unwelcome spotlight on to that

world, and the two detectives are faced with investigating a murder in a community that has more reason

than most not to trust the police. Against a background of simmering racial tension, Ferreira and Zigic

must work with both victims and villains alike in this brilliantly written debut from a new crime writing

talent.

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