Thursday 16 June 2011

Nick Quantrill interview: Broken Dreams

Broken Dreams by Nick Quantrill
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Nick Quantrill is a crime writer from Hull. His debut novel, “Broken Dreams”, was published in 2010 by Caffeine Nights.

Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?

“Broken Dreams” is a fast-paced crime story which examines the decline and regeneration of a neglected northern city through the eyes of PI Joe Geraghty.

What was your motivation for writing it?

I’ve always been fascinated with my home city of Hull’s reputation in the wider world. If you take notice of the media and accept the various educational and social league tables at face value, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a place full of savages. The reality is that it’s a warm city which looks after its own. Of course, it’s not perfect and our relative isolation does breed a strange sense of distrust and unwillingness to change. I wanted to capture that in a novel and the way I made sense of it was to link it into one of the city’s major identifiers, the decline of the fishing industry.

How much difference does a good cover make?

They can be crucial. We can deny it as much as we like, but we’re all drawn to covers that speak to us. All publishers want people to pick their books up, hence the barrage of covers you see in every bookshop that look like whatever is selling well at the moment. Once a potential customer has your book in their hands, you’d hope they read the blurb. If you’re lucky they might then look at the first paragraph. If you’re really lucky, they might even buy it.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

I’ve deliberately tried to stay clear of soaking up too many craft tips. Once the idea I wanted to write took hold, it changed my reading habits. My method is to always partially read with a writer’s hat on. I’m always trying to work out why I like or don’t like a particular piece of writing. The more I read, and I’ve always been a big reader, the more certainty this gives me in my own mind. If pushed, Elmore Leonard’s tongue in cheek rules certainly contain insightful advice and the idea of getting into a scene late and leaving it early is sound.  

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

I think it’s the moments when the story surprises you a little. I’m from the plotting school of thought, so I usually have a loose synopsis and then a more detailed three chapter plan in front of me when I’m writing. I tend to sketch each scene out, just so I’m clear on the point of it, but sometimes a minor character suddenly becomes much more interesting as I type. That’s brilliant when it happens.

As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?

Varied. I read a lot of crime, but I wouldn’t say I’m into a particular sub-genre. I like different authors for different things – George Pelecanos writes incredibly moving stories with a lot of heart. Lee Child ‘Reacher’ series might be ludicrous, but he knows how to make you turn a page. Graham Hurley’s DI Faraday series in Portsmouth is a fantastically realistic look at contemporary life in the UK. Ray Banks has forged ahead when it comes to ‘Brit Grit’. Michael Connelly has fused the ability to sell books by the shed load with artistic integrity. I could go on all day!

Which do you prefer – a standalone or a series?

As a reader, there’s something comforting about a reliable series. It’s like meeting up with an old friend again. I love the way Ian Rankin has put together a cohesive body of work. As a writer, I can see that it’s really hard work. There are certainly benefits as a writer – you can go that bit deeper as you learn more about your character, but it equally carries the danger of letting things go a little stale. The middle-ground might lie in Pelecanos’s trilogies and quartets, or Michael Connelly’s method of relegating his protagonist to the background in certain novels.

From an artistic rather than financial perspective, what book do you wish you had written?

It’s not specifically a crime book, but I would have loved to have written “The Grapes of Wrath”. I love John Steinbeck’s work, but this is my favourite. It has heart in spade loads, it’s pertinent (sadly, even today), it has memorable characters and it’s plain and direct. There’s no pretension to his words. Failing that, I’d take “Cannery Row”, “Of Mice and Men”, “The Winter of our Discontent”...

What do you look for in a good book?

First and foremost, I want to be entertained. To do that, I’m looking for strong characters, exciting plots and the ability of the writer to challenge my thinking about something. And it really can be anything. The great thing about books is that they can take you absolutely anywhere in the world and there’s no reason why a neglected northern town can’t be as exciting as New York. The one thing I don’t want in a book is the feeling that I’m being preached to by the author. I want to make my own judgment about a character’s or story’s morality.

Where do you find out about new books?

My day job is in Hull city centre, so I’m only a five minute walk from Waterstone’s. I tend to be in there weekly looking at what’s out in the new releases section. The Internet has been a great boost for finding out about new writing. It’s great to be able to connect with other writers on Facebook, though of course it’s a fine line between being informative and relentless self-promoting.

Do you enjoy writing?

It’s a love-hate thing. When you have the kind of day which sees everything go right, it’s the best thing in the world. The word count increases and it all seems to make perfect sense. On the days it goes wrong, it’s just horrible. The only way to keep going is to cling to the knowledge that you can always go back and re-draft another day. It’s not the end of the world. What I have found is that I love the act of writing a story, be it a short or a novel, but once it’s done, it’s done. I just want to be on with the next thing. In my mind, the next story is always ‘the one’.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

My main focus at the moment is putting the finishing touches to the next Joe Geraghty novel, “The Late Greats”, which will appear this autumn through Caffeine Nights publishing. The next book, which is also a Geraghty-led story, is well under way. After that, we’ll see what takes my fancy. I’m gathering ideas and cuttings which are slowly coming together into some semi-coherent ideas. I’ve also got a handful of short story ideas which need some thought, so always writing!

Broken Dreams by Nick Quantrill
Amazon UK, Amazon US


  1. Good stuff. Broken Dreams is a beaut.

  2. Broken Dreams is certainly one of the finest examples of British detective fiction I have read. Can't wait for The Late Greats. Love your literary influences, Nick. You can't knock a bit of Steinbeck.

  3. Smashing, really enjoyed that. Broken Dreams is a terrific read!

  4. Very good to see you here, Nick. Mr Steinbeck is someone to look up to, without doubt.

  5. A fantastic new talent...