Photo by Naoya Sanuki
Ahead of his appearance at the 2011 BCNegra crime novel festival, we got in touch with David Peace and asked him about writing and life as a best-selling author.
I've read that you started re-writing books such as those by Roald Dahl, how did this process develop into writing on your own?
Everyday I try “to practice writing” as well as to actually write. So I often take a particular passage I admire and, first, copy it out in long-hand, then re-write it in a different tense, or in a different person / voice (e.g. switching first to third, or third to second person), or remove all adjectives and adverbs and so on, to find out how the particular passage of writing works. I’ve done this since I was quite young and I hope it has helped me to become a better writer.
It's fair to say that you blend fiction with real-life fact and speculation, how for you, does real-life events help you create your novels? Have you ever written something completely imagined?
Yes, much of my first published novel Nineteen Seventy-four was “imagined” the two unpublished novels before it were also “imagined”. However, for me, there is so much of the world that I do not understand, so many real-life stories that hold so much mystery, that I can’t really see the point of making up other worlds or other mysteries. But this is a position not unique to me; from earliest times, poetry and plays have, more-often-than-not, been based on instances that actually happened. The more recent rise of the “imagined novel” is the exception.
Are you comfortable with the label crime writer and what initially piqued your interest in crime?
People can call me what they want (and they usually do). But I write about crime—“true crimes”–because I believe that crimes happen in actual places and actual times for actual reasons. These crimes—and the way in which they are investigated and reported—can often show us a great deal about the time and place—the society—in which they happened. It is perhaps naivety, or maybe arrogance, but I also believe that only through trying to understand why particular crimes happen in particular times and places to particular people do we ever have any hope of preventing them happening again. So that is why I write novels about crimes.
Why are a lot of your books written in series form? Do you find the confines of a novel too small a space to expand on your subject matter?
As I said above, I try to write to understand why things happen in particular times and particular places. And I feel the deeper you can go into a time and a place, the more likely you are to be able to understand that time and place. And often things happen over a long period of time; the Red Riding Quartet, for example, is an attempt to understand why the crimes of the Yorkshire Ripper happened in the North of England in the 1970s. And there were so many crimes, over so many years, and so to then “condense” those crimes into one book, one narrator say, would, I feel, have been a disservice to the magnitude of the horror and tragedy of those crimes.
What research did you do for your book on Brian Clough - what is your favourite Clough quote, story?
Basically, the same research as for all the books; I began with the public record of Brian Clough’s 44 days at Elland Road by reading as many of the newspapers of the time as I could. Then I read as many of the non-fiction books as I could find about both Brian Clough and Leeds United. And all these books are listed in the bibliography at the back of the novel. And then, after all that reading, I began to write my own book.
My favourite story about Clough is from 1988 or 89 when Clough was caught on TV clobbering some Forest supporters who had run onto the pitch at the end of a match. On the Saint & Greavsie TV show, Ian St. John asked Jimmy Greaves what he made of Clough’s behaviour, to which Jimmy replied, “Well, I think it’s a unique event in television history. Because it’s the only time you’ve literally seen the shit hitting the fan on TV.” There was no love lost between Greavsie and Cloughie.
What dangers lie in fictionalising real-life events, people?
Rather than dangers, I would say there are responsibilities and if you ignore those responsibilities then the danger comes. But equally those responsibilities apply to “non-fiction” books. I also think there is a great difference between writing about a public figure (e.g. Brian Clough) and a private person caught up in a public event (a victim of the Yorkshire Ripper, for example). But, in each instance, I have tried to be as accurate and responsible to the event and the person as I can be.
How do you cope with the PR and press demands that come as part of being a best-selling author?
During the initial launch and publication of a book, the PR and press schedule can be quite busy. But these days, when so many books are published and it is so difficult to even get a book reviewed, I just feel grateful people are interested enough to make PR or press requests.
Have you ever worked as a reporter, in your Red Riding series and to a certain extent in Damned Utd you have a certain interest in the local press - how important do you think newspapers and the press are in general in shaping the tone of crimes such as those of the Yorkshire Ripper and events such as the Miners' strike?
I have never worked as a reporter but, as I said above, the newspapers —both national and local—are the places where I start my research for each book. And, of course, the press and media do shape the tone of crimes and events. But all the books I have written so far have been set in the age before 24 hour news coverage, the internet and even mobile phones, in times when it was maybe easier for a smaller press and media to shape the tone of a story. It was interesting to me during the recent Student Demonstrations in the UK, and also in the investigation into the murder in Bristol of a woman named Joanne Yeates, how “fractured” the media reporting was and the role that internet services or tools such as Facebook or Twitter played in the coverage of these events.
How do you feel about your work being made into TV series or films— how involved to you get and do you watch the final results?
I wasn’t involved in either the Red Riding TV films or The Damned United film – mainly because I was living in Japan at the time – but I feel extremely flattered that so many very talented actors, screenwriters, directors and producers wanted to adapt my work. And I think I was very lucky with the end results, too.
How are you finding living back in the UK after such a long time in Tokyo - will being back in the town of your childhood inform your writing differently?
To be honest, I am just trying to concentrate on finishing the third Tokyo book.
Have you been to Barcelona before, how well do you sell in foreign countries and how are you received?
Yes, I’ve been to Barcelona before and I am very much looking forward to coming back. I’ve been very lucky with both the sales and reception of my books in foreign countries, particularly in France, Italy, Germany and Japan.
David Peace will be in conversation alongside Craig Russell and RJ Ellory on February 2nd, 4pm at La Capella (C/ de l'Hospital 56).