Sunday 16 August 2020

An interview with Denise Mina

    Ayo:- Your last couple of books Conviction and The Last Drop and have been quite different from your other books. What made you decide to to make a foray into true crime as the background to the books?

    Denise:- I have always used true crime stories as starting off points, I think a lot of writers do read the newspapers or keep their ears open for striking incidents, so it was more a question of degree than a volt face. I have always loved the form of true crime though and I think knowing that a story is largely true can add to the resonances for a reader like me. 

    Ayo:- The Long Drop is a reimagining of the trial and of the drunken night the two men spent carousing in Glasgow, Convicton about a true crime podcast and sexual violence whilst your latest book The Less Dead is about violence against women inspired by a series of real murder cases. What made you decide to write about this particular topical issue?

    Denise:- Books have to be written a year or so before they’re published so if the topic in them seems timely it’s usually just good luck! With The Less Dead it was the Staunch Book Prize which was established to draw attention away from crimes of violence against women by rewarding books that did not do that. It was very well intentioned but I think neglected the fact that victims in the real world are valued differently. I wanted to write about that and about a woman who couldn’t choose not to face up to her own privilege. 

    Ayo: Do you believe that violence against women is taken as seriously as it should be?

    Denise:- Yes, but only against some women: white middle class stranger women. Everyone else gets a lesser service and that’s not just from the police or the courts. It’s from the public and from juries and from newspapers. If domestic violence was taken as seriously as it should be other crimes associated with it could be stopped. Crimes of violence against sex workers are treated as if they are inevitable. They’re no more inevitable than football violence.

    Ayo:- Are you often struck by the different ways in which books can be interpreted by those who read them and have you any thoughts on the way you expect The Less Dead to be interpreted?

    Denise:- I believe a book is half the work of the writer, half the work of the reader – readers bring the prism of our own experience and our own prejudices with us to every book. I don’t believe in original intention with book interpretations. Of course, sometimes people tell me what my book is about and I’m secretly thinking they’re completely wrong but I wouldn’t say that. For me the best writers ask questions that raise more questions. Boring writers tell you what to think. Some people are already very offended because I’ve used the terms ‘sex worker’ and they don’t think it should be classed as work, which I understand but I think if people are going to be legally protected the categorisation is useful.

    Ayo:- In all your books you appear to have this nuanced approach to seediness. Is this deliberate and do you feel that it is inevitable due to what you are writing about?

    Denise:- The great thing about crime fiction is that the story can go anywhere and I like there to be contrast in my books – from the top to the bottom. I’m always aware of how visceral the city is and how seediness can lie anywhere.
    Ayo:- What was the most interesting thing that you’ve found out while preparing to read a book that you’re working on?

    Denise:- The ring road around Glasgow (M8) was proposed after WW2 to contain a Bolshevik uprising. It was felt that Glasgow was the city most likely to fall to the Communists and the road was built so that the city centre could be cut off by the army.
    Ayo:- While you’re never one to repeat yourself, The Less Dead, on the surface, reads as a very different kind of thriller for you. How did it come about?

    Denise:- Several of my family members are adopted and quite recently made contact with their birth family, so there was that experience going on in the background. There was also the series of murders of sex workers in the 1980s and ‘90s that really bothered me. The last person to be murdered was a lovely person and came from a really sweet family, it was devastating for them, but I kept thinking about the women who had been killed before and how little of the same sort of coverage there was because so many grew up in care. They didn’t have nice families to go on Crime Watch and if felt wrong.
    Ayo:- What generally sparks the idea for what you want to write about next?

    Denise:- Usually I stumble on a story that makes me wonder ‘what does THAT feel like?’ It can be a bit of a newstory or something over heard in conversation. If I find it intriguing I think a reader might.
    Ayo:- I believe that writing crime fiction and reading crime fiction is a good way of having an insight into society and its ills. Do you agree that this is the case and do you think that today's crime writers do so.

    Denise:- I do agree but crime fiction is such a broad church. Some is sociological or criminological. Some criminological crime friction is completely wrong, for example, profilers are a bit useless on the ground but they’re all over crime fiction. You can’t find a murderer by correctly guessing he lives with his mum, can you? Some crime fiction is basically a puzzle and some is a very familiar story that we’ve heard a hundred times and I do love that sort of crime fiction as well. It would be a shame if we were all writing the same things.
    Ayo:- Over the years you have won many accolades for your writing how does your success make you feel as a writer?

    Denise:- I don’t feel successful but I do feel incredibly lucky that I get to do this for a living. That sounds trite and ever so humble but the longer I do this the more I’m aware that better writers than me stopped or got ill or got dropped or made a load of money and forgot to write the next book, got sucked into teaching or whatever. Sometimes I get all my prizes out of the cupboard and look at them to remind myself how incredibly fortunate I’ve been.
    Ayo:- Bearing in mind the issues that you write about do you think that there is such a thing as an apolitical writer?

    Denise:- No. All fiction is political. What we perceive as neutral is just closer to the status quo. I can’t believe we still have police procedurals with a resolution of the cops shooting the suspect. 
    Ayo:- Are the narratives of crime and justice still as important to you today as they were when you wrote Garnethill?

    Denise:- More so. I think I’m more nerdy about them and the hunch I had that they mattered -that the way we constructed victims and notions of justice in narrative fiction was important – is even more acute now. I see legal policy being made on the basis of fictional constructs. 
    Ayo:- What do you think about the state of crime writing today and do you think that it has become more gratitious?

    Denise:- It’s hard to answer that because I’m not really all the way across the genre. It’s vast now! I remember when it was just you me and Val McDermid, I don’t know how you do it!
    Ayo:- What question would like to be asked but never are?

    Denise:- Are you grateful? I think we should all ask ourselves that but it’s a bit existential. Anyway the answer is – not enough.

    Ayo:- What next?

    Denise:- OOOOO! I’m writing a follow up to Conviction called Confidence. Someone has found a document that proves Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the Romans, they kill themselves and then the document ends up on the international market for historic artefacts. I’m very lost in that whole world right now!
The Less Dead by Denise Mina (Published by Vintage on 20 August 2020)
 When Margo goes in search of her birth mother for the first time, she meets her aunt, Nikki, instead. Margo learns that her mother, Susan, was a sex worker murdered soon after Margo's adoption. To this day, Susan's killer has never been found. Nikki asks Margo for help. She has received threatening and haunting letters from the murderer, for decades. She is determined to find him, but she can't do it alone...

The Less Dead can be bought here.

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