British author Nick Quantrill opened his PI Joe Geraghty series with the 2010 Broken Dreams, set in Hull, England. Here Geraghty, a former rugby player turned private investigator, becomes involved in a murder and subsequent police investigation that involves the demise of the city’s fishing industry and explores the problem of how Hull can build a new future for itself. A reviewer for thisisUll.com felt that “Quantrill’s passion for this neglected part of East Yorkshire is evident in his writing and reminiscent of Ian Rankin’s love affair with Edinburgh.”
Nick, thanks for joining us at Scene of the Crime. Let’s start out with your connection to Hull, England. How did you come to live there or become interested in it?
It’s quite simple for me. Hull is my home city and I’ve lived in it for my entire life. It’s always just been home, but when I started to study for a Social Policy and Criminology degree in my mid-twenties, I developed a real interest in cities. Learning about the world’s major cities was fascinating, but when I started to write, I realised Hull, in its own way, could be every bit as interesting. It was like I’d woken up to what was around me for the first time.
What things about Hull make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?
Hull is a relatively isolated port on the north-east coast of England. If you Google it, you’ll receive a barrage of negative press about the place, but statistics only tell you so much. It’s a city which has its problems, especially now the major industry of fishing has all but gone, but it’s a city with a lot of heart, too. I think what makes it such an interesting place to write about is its relative remoteness. You don’t pass through Hull. You have to have a reason for visiting. On the plus side, I think that gives the place and its people real spirit and character. We don’t suffer bull-shitters very well. On the other hand, and as a direct consequence of this, we have to guard against the consequences of closing off our minds and eyes to other influences.
Did you consciously set out to use Hull as a “character” in your books?
Very much so, though when I started to write I wasn’t so sure as to how I’d achieve this. When I started to write, Broken Dreams, the first Joe Geraghty novel, I figured out there were different levels to using Hull as a character. By using real locations and places, I started to create a map of the city for readers. Going a little deeper, I realised that the ever changing nature of a city could be used to good effect. The physical use of space and a city’s infrastructure is always changing, so I tried play on this within the novel. More importantly, I came to realise that these changes came to define people in the city. Sometimes this is in a positive way, sometimes it isn’t, but when the characters begin to respond to their locations and be defined by them, that was when I felt I was making progress.
How does Joe Geraghty interact with his surroundings? Is he a native, a blow-in, a reluctant or enthusiastic inhabitant, cynical about it, a booster? And conversely, how does the setting affect your protagonist?
My lead character, Joe Geraghty, is a small-time Private Investigator who operates from an office in the historic Old Town area of Hull. Geraghty is very much a native of the city. One way of the ways I rooted him in the city was to create a background for him which saw him play for one of city’s famous rugby league clubs, Hull Kingston Rovers. I’ve played Geraghty with a straight bat – he just sees what he sees. He doesn’t pass judgment on the city, nor does he deliberately talk it up. I think Geraghty’s strong roots in the city give him an empathy with the people he meets. He understands them, and again, doesn’t pass judgment.
Has there been any local reaction to your works?
The reaction from local readers has been great. I think having the place you live appear on the page is quite a thrill. I certainly get enjoyment from reading other Hull-based work. I strive not to pass judgment on the city and I think readers respond to that. They can make up their own minds about the issues I touch upon in my work. The local media has been very supportive, hopefully for the same reasons. I’m just a normal bloke who lives and works in the city. That said, my Mum always complains that I don’t show the more picturesque side of the city, but I don’t see that as being part of my job.
Have you ever made any goofs in depicting your location or time period? Please share–the more humorous the better (we all have).
I write in the present day, so that’s not been a massive issue for me. I’m always moving about the city, so I feel comfortable in its geography. When I was writing “Broken Dreams”, it was sometimes easy to lose myself in it and forget that people outside of the city will ultimately be reading it, too. In one scene Geraghty is beaten up down a tenfoot near his flat. I received an email from my publisher, Caffeine Nights, who are based in London, asking what on earth a tenfoot was. I had to explain to them that it’s typically a ten foot wide pathway around buildings that people use for access to garages etc. I’d lost sight of it being a unique word to Hull. I’m wondering if I can get away with Geraghty eating a pattie buttie in the next novel, but probably not…
Within Broken Dreams do you have a favorite scene that focuses on the place? Could you quote a short passage or give an example of how the location figures in your novels?
I’m not one for flowery descriptive passages, so I’ve selected this short piece which sees Geraghty enter a pub on the wrong side of town (for him). It hints at the sporting rivalry between the city’s two rugby league clubs and how that starts to feed into everyday life:
“Derek clearly intended our walk to take us no further than the nearest pub, which had just opened for the day. It was
the kind of place where new faces weren’t very frequent, or particularly welcome. Derek nodded silent greetings to a few of the men stood around the bar, but no one acknowledged me. The walls were decorated with old black and white photographs of Hull FC from days gone by and photographs of old trawlers. One of the 1980 Challenge Cup Final team caught my eye. I recognised all the faces; even knew some of them back in the day. I’d learnt how to play the game alongside and against them as a boy. I wondered what they were all doing now. The rivalry between the two Hull clubs is still intense and as a former KR player, I was very much in enemy territory. I’d only ever played in one derby match, and that had been at Craven Park, our home ground. The noise had been incredible, the game so much more intense. I can still hear the individual voices calling out; encouragement from my fans, abuse from the opposition…”
Who are your favorite writers, and do you feel that other writers influenced you in your use of the spirit of place in your novels?
I’m drawn to writers who display a strong sense of place in their novels. Ian Rankin is someone I very much admire for that skill and he was definitely the first crime writer I took notice of. Not only does he evoke Edinburgh in his Rebus series, I think it’s the volume of work which allows him to be so recognised, as he’s highlighted many different aspects of the city. I’m also a big of Graham Hurley, whose DI Faraday series, for me, is the best in the UK. Hurley’s city is Portsmouth, which is also largely unfashionable, but I think that can become a strength in itself. I’m also a big fan of US-set crime fiction. Pelecanos does a fantastic job of examining Washington DC from different viewpoints and Lee Child, although British, has covered a huge amount of terrain with his Reacher series.
What’s next for Geraghty?
The next Geraghty novel, The Late Greats, is about to be submitted to my publisher, and sees him searching Hull for a missing musician who is about to re-launch his successful 1990s band. The aim is to have the city as a less obvious character than in Broken Dreams. Hopefully, the city comes through more in terms of the various characters behaviour and motivations. I see their lives and the opportunities, whether famous or not, as being shaped by living in the city. A Geraghty short story, “Sucker Punch”, will appear in the 2011 edition of the The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime alongside a new Rebus short story. To be included in such a prestigious collection is fantastic for both me and Geraghty, so hopefully people will be hearing a lot more from us both.
Nick, thanks again for taking time to talk about Hull with Scene of the Crime.
For more information on Nick Quantrill, visit his homepage.