The seemingly endless weeks of football’s Euro 2016 tournament are finally over. English crime writers Nick Quantrill and David Young were following it avidly – despite the fact that England went out with a whimper. But they still had players to cheer on because both are Hull City fans: and former Hull favourites Robbie Brady and James Chester starred for the Republic of Ireland and Wales respectively.
So, football and crime writing. Do they go together? And what’s this we hear about a resurgence of the city of Hull’s fortunes, casting off its ‘crap town’ past to become the 2017 City of Culture – with a Premier League football club to boot. Nick and David take up the story.
NQ – I love Hull, me. I love the fact we’re at the end of the line and it’s an out of the way place that people need a reason to visit. I love it because when people do visit, they always without fail are surprised by what we have to offer. To me, it’s a city that does its own thing, mainly because it has to. It also has all the ingredients you require when telling stories – it has a rich history, it’s loved and lost, it finds ways to forge new futures and adapt. Like you, I’m also a big football fan and Hull is a tough, working class city which has always expressed itself through sport. But David, you’re not even from Hull really, are you?
DY – No, but I sort of am. I was born in Cottingham, which is really a suburb of Hull, in a nursing home at the end of the road where my parents lived for most of their lives. However, when I came into the world the family was living in Hull proper, and my father and grandfather owned a builders’ merchants in the centre of the city. So I do have a bit of pedigree. I was farmed out to a boarding school less than forty miles away in York aged just nine – a miserable time, and it pretty much cut my roots. But my link has always been supporting Hull City. From memory I started supporting them in 1967 as a nine-year-old, and one very early Christmas opened my Hull City kit early and slept in it all night, and always dreamed of them playing in an FA Cup Final, a dream which came true in 2014. Nick, are you Hull through and through? All your novels are set there, correct?
NQ – They are, but let’s talk about Hull City! I was also a nine years old when I first taken to a match, but it was in 1984. It was a 0-0 draw with Reading, which until recent years has seemed symbolic of the dross regularly served up by the club. Did you cry at Wembley when we first won promotion to the Premier League? I might have shed a manly tear. I am Hull through and through, as you say. Writing wasn’t something I’d always wanted to do, but when I did make the decision to start, exploring my home city felt like a no-brainer. Although I don’t write police characters, the inspiration was Ian Rankin’s DI Rebus series set in Edinburgh. To coin a cliché, the city becomes a character and I wanted the same. I live in Hull, so I wanted to make sense of it, understand what makes it tick. I’m also lucky the city has undergone such huge change over the last ten or so years. It feels like a gift. David, you ignored Hull as a possible location for your series, and opted instead for somewhere further afield …
DY Yes. I guess I was interested in the communist bloc from my university days. Or rather polytechnic days as I flunked out of a Geology degree at Bristol Uni and ended up at the poly – but managed to specialise in history, which I didn’t even have an O-level in (I think the entrance requirements for polys in those days was 2 ‘E’s in anything at A-level). My dissertation was on British attitudes to Stalin’s 1930s purges, and then I became interested in East Germany when I was playing guitar and writing songs for a little indiepop band nearly thirty years later, and blagged a tour of German venues. In between gigs I read Anna Funder’s Stasiland which sparked the idea for a detective series set in the former GDR, starting with Stasi Child. At that time, I don’t think there was one – at least not in English as the original language. But in doing so, I set myself some problems – particularly in terms of research. Nick, do you enjoy the research part of your books? And your protagonist Joe Geraghty is a rugby league player, isn’t he? Isn’t that heresy for a Hull City fan?
NQ – Research?! No, I’m not a huge fan. I can see that it’s very important to your work, though. I also keep away from writing police characters, so maybe there’s a theme developing there. More seriously, the police sub-genre is so overcrowded, you need a really strong hook to make your work stand out. Setting your work in East Germany certainly ticks that box and Karin Muller is a great character. I figured a Private Investigator was the answer for me, mainly because they have a lot more freedom than a regular cop. You’re right, though. Joe Geraghty is an ex-rugby league player, and the sport doesn’t always peacefully co-exist with football in the city. It was a pragmatic decision in truth. Rugby league is such a defining aspect of the city, one that literally divides it in two via the River Hull. I knew I could draw more of the city’s character out by using that mechanism. So what did you do for research, David? And are you going to try to shoehorn Hull City into one of your novels – couldn’t they go on a friendly tour in 1970s East Germany?
DY Ha ha! I did consider that actually for the third book in the series, which I’m writing at the moment. An Australian-based Manchester City-supporting journalist has insisted I get his team in, along with a character based on him. So I thought about having Man City, Hull City, and the team where the novel is set – BSG Stahl Eisenhüttenstadt (which loosely translates as Steel Ironworks City) – in a three-way ‘City’ tournament. Football does feature in the story, as Stahl were relegated several divisions because of illegal payments to players – which I’ve used in the plot. So a lot of my research is just visiting weird and wonderful places like Eisenhüttenstadt, which is expensive but huge fun. It used to be Stalinstadt, and was the first East German socialist new town. My second novel (as yet untitled but due Feb 2017) is in another new town, Halle-Neustadt. My research also involves meeting and interviewing former East German detectives, and the country’s most famous real-life murder case – the Crossword Puzzle Murder – happened in ‘Ha-Neu’ in the early 1980s. It was a real privilege to meet and talk to the detective who led the team that solved that one, thanks to a partially-completed crossword puzzle found with the body. It’s still the largest-ever handwriting sample collection exercise ever undertaken – more than half-a-million samples. I’m very lucky to have got that level of cooperation for my stories and long may it continue! I hope to continue the series for many books, but you’ve started a new series? Is it another Hull novel?
NQ – I have and it is. “The Dead Can’t Talk” features new characters, Luke Carver and Anna Stone. He’s ex-Army and recently out of prison, she’s a disillusioned cop on the brink of leaving her job (see, I’m totally dodging the research thing again!). Stone’s sister is missing and it transpires the only person she can turn to for help is Carver, the man she put in prison. It’s full of conspiracy, murder, blackmail and all the good crime stuff. The derelict and crumbling Lord Line building, one of the last remaining symbols of the city’s fishing industry, also features. Hull feels like a city with plenty of stories still to tell. When I started writing about a decade ago, I didn’t know of any contemporary writers in the city, but it feels like the place has exploded recently – Russ Litten, Louise Beech, Brian Lavery, Cassandra Parkin, Lee Harrison and of course yourself – the list goes, and I think that’s great, and goes a long way towards making Hull a proper and deserving City of Culture.
You can find Nick on Twitter HERE
You can find David on Twitter HERE
If you like you could purchase Stasi Child right HERE
And you could purchase The Dead Don’t Talk HERE