In this latest interview in the series, London-based crime writer Anya Lipska, author of Where the Devil Can’t Go, a novel set amongst the Polish emigrant community of the East-End, talks to me about all things literary and some things, well, let’s find out!
So, Anya, tell me….
What is the most inspiring book (any genre) you have read and why?
Sorry, but I have to choose two. The Odessa Files by Frederick Forsyth is the book that first opened my eyes to how exciting a thriller could be. My Dad had a high cupboard where he kept his ‘adult’ books. In the school hols, the minute he left for work, I used to climb onto a chair to reach this treasure trove. There was Lolita, The Ginger Man…all the usual suspects, but Odessa was the revelation. I read it under the bed covers with a pocket torch, under the laurel bush in the garden, anywhere I could. In his pomp, Forsyth was just the master of great storytelling.
My other inspiring book is, cheekily, a trilogy – Rites of Passage by William Golding. It’s a ripping yarn about a long 19th Century sea journey full of danger and colour, as well as an insightful commentary on class and hierarchy, and a coming of age story about an initially callow young man whose outlook and moral sense are transformed by the events on board ship. It’s one of those books that will stay with me forever.
What is your favourite crime novel?
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.
Apart from being a ‘good read’, what feelings would you like your readers to come away with after having read your work?
I think the mark of a really good book is for it to stay with you: so if the themes and characters in my work endure in the reader’s mind for a bit, I would be very happy.
What kind of writing annoys you the most and why?
Lingering depictions of sadism or violence. I think it is important – essential even – to see violence and/or its consequences: that’s what gives crime writing its meaning. What doesn’t work for me is when it’s there not to further the plot but simply for the sake of a prurient thrill.
Is this modern age, writers are having to engage with social media and become their own self-promoters in a way that didn’t exist even 5 years ago. Is there still room for the talented misanthrope or does success now depend on being socially adept?
Good question! But on reflection, I think that Twitter is actually the shy person’s friend, because it’s much easier to approach people you admire, or like the sound of, in neutral cyberspace. Imagine what it was once like to have to phone someone up ‘cold’ and risk an embarrassing slap-down! Twitter also offers an extraordinary opportunity to make contact with fellow crime writers. I’ve been blown away by the generosity of the scribbling community I’ve met on Twitter – people like Rachel Abbott and Emlyn Rees being just two examples of the many fellow writers who I’ve found to be hugely supportive and generous.
How important is the depiction of factual or historical accuracy in writing or do you think writers should have complete carte blanche in what we invent?
It’s a question that goes to the heart of my writing. Although Where the Devil Can’t Go is set in contemporary London, part of the plot is rooted in Seventies and Eighties Poland when the country was under Soviet control, so l read an enormous amount about postwar Poland and the Solidarity movement that eventually restored democracy. I did, of course, use artistic license, but I didn’t do anything that altered the history in any fundamental way: that would offend against my journalist’s training! For instance, I mention a dissident priest who was abducted and beaten to death by the security forces in the Eighties. Essentially that’s a true story – Father Jerzy Popieluszko was brutally murdered by the regime. I changed his name and some of the circumstances, but not the essentials. Had the Communists not indulged in that kind of behaviour I think it would be wrong and misleading about the nature of that era to invent it. Personally, I like to learn stuff from books, even novels, and if I find out someone has totally invented the fundamentals I am outraged!
Why do some writers stand the test of time and others don’t? Is it really down to luck or zeitgeist or some other factor?
All of the above, I suspect. Everyone knows Chandler, for instance, and that’s partly because he was a brilliant stylist with a wicked wit, but it also has to be because Bogart and Bacall brought his writing to millions. Were there other Thirties noir writers as good? Absolutely. But the luck and zeitgeist factor weren’t with them.
When did you first start to write fiction?
My first real attempts came in my twenties and thirties, though I blush to recall the results. Maybe I was just a later developer, but it took me a while to find my ‘voice’ – which is the first essential for any writer.
What led you to believe in yourself as a novelist?
The wonderful Andrea Best, of Random House Germany, raving about ‘Devil’ – and giving me a deal! Of course, there had been plenty of moments along the way when people whose opinion I respect – like my agent – loved the book: but I have to say that, for a really compelling vote of confidence, a bank transfer is hard to beat.
Which crime novelists occupy the most of your bookshelves?
I adore European crime. To name just a few: Andreas Camielliera, creator of the fabulous Inspector Montalbano, full of heart and humour (and good food), now brilliantly adapted for TV; and Fred Vargas (French) and Marek Krajewski (Polish) for their sheer originality and distinctiveness. I’m also a fan of US crime: I’m a big fan of James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, and from the wonderful 1930s, Chandler & Hammett. In the UK, my fave crime read of last year was Snowdrops by A D Miller.
Any embarrassing novel-buying moments you’d like to share?
I refuse to be embarrassed by any book purchase, so long as it does what it says on the tin! A great story is a great story and sometimes all you want is a ripping yarn for the plane or poolside. When I’m really poorly I get out my tattered old Just William books: even with a killer dose of the flu they are still laugh-out-loud funny.
Do you have much creative input in your cover design?
Yes, because in the UK at least, I’m in charge. I loved working with my designer on selecting an image and watching her cast her spell over it. I know some published authors have barely any input to the choice of cover so that is one major advantage of indie publishing…
If you could spend a day as anyone, real or fictional, contemporary or historical, who would you chose and why?
I’m not sure I’d want the responsibility of being someone because then I’d have to choose Stalin or Hitler and immediately go and top myself…but if I could be an observer in a particular era, I think I’d choose the Roman Senate in the time of Julius Caesar, with a side-visit to Roman Britain (by BA rather than galley if you’ll allow it).
I’ve always loved Robert Graves’ I, Claudius novels, and also ripped through Twelve Caesars by Suetonius – which is written in a surprisingly immediate and accessible style. And, thanks to Project Gutenberg, it’s free to download.
What is your ultimate authorial ambition?
Blimey. I suppose it has to be to write a book that people say changed their life.
Does crime fiction have a responsibility to expose to public consciously, unsavoury aspects of society that are misunderstood and hidden and can crime fiction play a part in changing society for the better?
I think that any book that sets out to ‘send a message’ is in big trouble…but of course writers, like everyone, have a moral sense, and moral and ethical issues and dilemmas that arise out of real life are at the forefront in crime writing.
And last but not least, what would your final meal be in the condemned cell?
I’m tempted to say liver with fava beans and Chianti. But as I’m a Very Greedy Person this deserves a serious answer. So, fresh crab with a bottle of Pouilly Fumé, to be eaten while watching surf crash onto a moonlit beach (through the barred window.) And for pud, chocolate cake with a hacksaw blade inside…
For more information about Anya Lipska and her debut novel Where the Devil Can’t Go , please visit http://www.wherethedevilcantgo.com
You can also buy the book from Amazon http://tinyurl.com/cwd7nct
Follow Anya on Twitter @AnyaLipska