I’m excited and honoured to welcome mystery and suspense author Simon Lelic as my special guest here on Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…! Simon’s novels Rupture (AKA A Thousand Cuts) and The Facility have won him fans around the world, and I’m so pleased to have had the chance to ask Simon a few interview questions:
What drew you to writing crime fiction (as opposed to another genre)?
To be entirely honest, I wasn’t drawn to any genre in particular. With Rupture, for example, I certainly didn’t set out to write what many now regard as a crime novel. My intention, rather, was to write a novel with bullying at its core. The crime has occurred even before the novel gets underway, and the investigation that follows simply seemed to me the most effective way to construct an engaging story around my central premise.
That said, I certainly don’t have any problem with people describing Rupture in these terms. Quite the opposite: I actually feel very flattered. Crime, it seems to me, is a rich and diverse genre, with a dedicated and hugely knowledgeable readership. To be shortlisted for a CWA Dagger, in particular, was a massive thrill and, again, tremendously gratifying.
Which is all just as well, I suppose. In retrospect, by choosing a detective inspector as the one of the main protagonists of my first novel, I suppose I was asking to be filed on the crime shelves!
How does your background in history and journalism inform your fiction writing?
Journalism prepared me most significantly for the discipline of writing. For some writers, I am sure, the act of tethering yourself to the keyboard, even on those days you are convinced you have nothing to say, is the toughest part of the job. As a journalist, with a page to fill and a deadline to narrowly avoid missing, you become practised at tapping keys until the working day is done. Being a journalist also teaches you about writing succinctly, precisely, and about not patronising your readers: all useful skills for a novelist. On the other hand, journalistic writing is often formulaic – stylistically, grammatically, structurally – and the best fiction, I think, creates its own rules. Shaking off the style-guide habit was initially something of a challenge for me.
As for my background studying history, I would say it has definitely made me more efficient at research. Then again, so has Google. Far more significantly, it has opened my eyes to how far we, as human beings, have come – and how much further on we might now be. Take The Facility, my second novel. It is set several years in the future but it might just as easily have been set in the fourteenth century. Or the fifteenth. Or in the decades in which I grew up. I won’t say too much more on this as I don’t want to give away the plot. The point I am trying to make is that the issues that seem to grab me tightest are around lessons we should already have learned but haven’t. This is most evident in The Facility but applies to Rupture and my newest draft too.
Do you plan to turn either Rupture or The Facility into a series? Or do you intend to write standalones? Why?
The short answer to the first part of your question is, no. It was never my intention to embark on a series and at the moment nothing has changed. On the other hand, never say never. It was not my intention to write a crime novel, after all, and look how that turned out! Without wishing to give away the denouement of Rupture, I have a fair idea about how Lucia moves on from events in the novel, and certainly there is another story in the next stage of her career for her to discover. What that story might be, and whether I feel an urge to tell it, I cannot yet say. Lucia will not be in my next book, nor probably the one after that. But after that? We’ll see . .
What elements do you look for in a good crime novel? What matters most to you?
The same thing, actually, I look for in any novel. Good writing, above all. If something is not well written, I will not finish it unless, for some reason, I have to. Characterisation is equally vital: why spend four, five, six or more hours in the company of someone you do not, at the very least, find interesting? Plot and premise, to me, are less important. Less – which is not to say unimportant. A book without some narrative tension and drive is almost as easy to abandon as a book that is lazily written. But plot alone is not enough. Good writing might carry you through.
Which kind of crime fiction do you most enjoy reading? Why?
I feel I’ve had something of an education in and around the genre recently, because before Rupture was published I will admit I would seldom linger beside the crime shelves at my local bookshop. Which, it turns out, was a huge oversight on my part. Almost by accident I have discovered some terrific writers who, for one reason or another, are publicised as writing primarily in the crime genre. Ryan David Jahn, for instance. Acts of Violence was extraordinary, and I have heard rumours that his forthcoming novel is even better. Scott Turow and Tana French, too, are both fantastic writers, and CJ Sansom has become my holiday reading of choice. I’m not sure I can pinpoint a type of crime fiction as such, but these writers are among those I have relished reading recently and might previously have overlooked.
What are some of the trends you see in crime fiction?
I’m afraid I really don’t think I am best placed to say (see above!). Other, perhaps, than to highlight one trend that my experience seems to exemplify: a blurring of boundaries between crime fiction and ‘literary’ fiction. And it is a trend that should, I feel, be welcomed. Labels of all kind have their uses: in a world tyrannised by choice, they keep us from feeling overwhelmed. But they can be misleading too. They can build barriers, boxing us in or, worse, out. In my experience as a reader, I can certainly testify to that.
Thanks so much for this interview, Simon! Rupture is published by Picador and is available now in paperback. The Facility is out now in Mantle hardback. For more information about Simon Lelic and his work, visit Simon's Book Tour page at UK & Beyond Book Tours.