She Writes: Eva Dolan — Bodies in the Library:
The First She Writes post is here! After months of planning, I could not be happier to be staring this new feature series with you all, especially taking into account the author that has kindly agreed to inauguarate the series: Eva Dolan. I have been a fan of Eva Dolan for some years now. She is is British crime writer, and according to her Goodreads author page an intermittently successful poker player. She is based in Essex where she combines her passion for writing with her job as a copywriter. Even though not much is known about her personal life, she was shortlisted for the CWA Dagger for an unpublished work when she was just a teenager. Now, she is the author of the critically acclaimed Zigic and Ferreira Series, in which Dolan has introduced an ethinically dieserved investigating duo that challenges the whiteness of previous crime fiction. The stories featured in the four novels that compose the series until now are also part of what makes Dolan’s writing unique, as she has rescued crime fiction’s focus on social injustices. Hence, the Zigic and Ferreira series heavily feature contemporary issues as the two detectives work for the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit and they usually encounter racially-motivated crimes, prostitution, disability and, of course, gender prejudices. Dolan is also the author of the stand-alone novel This is How it Ends, to be published by Bloomsbury Raven in January 2018. And now time for Eva Dolan to take the stand and inaugurate the first She Writes post! Currently on your nightstand? Because I write at night and pass out pretty much as soon as I’ve finished I’m not a bedtime reader with a big stack of books piled up on the table. Oddly, the bedroom is the only room in the house which doesn’t have huge stacks of books in it. So, my nightstand is a mess of whatever was in my pockets when I took my jeans off, discarded jewellery and train tickets and a ridiculously large collection of lip balms. Favourite book by a woman writer? It changes all the time because I’m not a big re-reader and have a terrible memory, so books don’t tend to stay with me even when they’re absolutely fantastic. Right now, it would be Circe by Madeline Miller. I was lucky enough to snag a proof copy a couple of months ago and I just inhaled it. I feel like I’m not quite capable of doing the book justice, but it is basically perfection. The story of Circe, goddess of sorcery, who was banished to an island by her Titan father for being difficult and independent minded and wild. Isolated and forgotten by the gods, she discovers and develops her skill in witchcraft, while she craves the company of mortals but finds herself made vulnerable by their presence in her home. Inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, it’s a beguiling novel, beautifully written, and one which will stay with me for quite some time. It isn’t out until April but in the meantime I would heartily recommended Madeline’s previous book, The Song of Achilles. Where do you find inspiration to write? I’m a rage-driven writer. It takes a lot of energy to write a book and I need to feel that fire in my belly if I’m going to spend a year on a story, so I tend to begin which something which is making me burn with a white-hot fury. Sadly, I’m having no problem finding subject matter at the moment, as we seem to be living in an increasingly polarised and vicious country, with very little cause for hope. The Zigic and Ferreira series grew out of the rise in Hate Crimes and were fairly dark books, but there was always a lightness at the end, because they’re police officers, so the bad guy gets punished and the balance is set right again. That increasingly feels naïve to me. And the new book, This Is How It Ends, is very different because I wanted to move away from the easy resolutions and moral certainty of the detective novel. This Is How It Ends is set among activists, people who take to the streets and when peaceful protest doesn’t work they move onto other tactics. It’s about two women who operate in a legal grey area but consider themselves to be morally in the right because they are fighting for a bigger cause against an establishment which doesn’t play by the rules. Until they have a dead body on their hands, then their sense of morality and of loyalty is put to the test. What is your routine for writing? I write one book per year so it’s quite an intense routine in a lot of ways. Each book takes between two months and four months to incubate, usually alongside writing the previous one. Then four months to write an another four grinding through edits. The actual writing of a book is a whole other level of immersion though. I write at night, so during the process I live my life upside down. Up around midday, an hour of yoga and meditation first thing, if I can manage it, then all the regular stuff gets fitted in – family and shopping and professional housekeeping, essential Netflix binges and trying to keep my TBR pile under control. Around ten I go for a run and then settle in to write, once everyone else is in bed and all the psychic debris in the atmosphere has cleared. In a four to five hour stretch I’ll edit everything I wrote the night before and then do around 2000 new words. After that I’m asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. Name three things you can’t live without when writing: Lavazza espresso, sometimes with a splash of amaretto, liquorice paper rollies, which I quit between books and have now started smoking again with renewed commitment, and a dun-brown, wool cardigan which is two sizes too big, a bit manky and doesn’t go with any of the other writing clothes I wear it with. Or maybe it actually goes with all of them? Being a full time writer is precisely as glamorous as I expected it to be! What are you reading next? I’ve just finished Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz – it was a great recommendation picked up at Golden Hare Books in Edinburgh, published Charco Press. It’s a fairly slim novel, but deeply impactful, about motherhood and lust and the binds of domesticity, and it’s had such an annihilating effect on me I’m struggling to find something to follow it. After such a profound emotional assault, I’m going to need a complete change of mood and subject matter, so I’m going to finally read Shelter, the debut novel by Sarah Franklin. It’s set in 1944 and follows a woman as she leaves her bombed out home and becomes a ‘lumberjill.’ I’m fascinated by the traditionally male roles women took over during wartime, so am really looking forward to this book. It’s had rave reviews and lots of authors I admire have loved it, so am confident I will too. What does being ‘a woman writer’ mean to you? I don’t think of myself as a woman writer so much as feminist writer, because I think being a woman isn’t enough to guarantee that you’re actively engaging in the important issues. Writing specifically within the crime genre it means I make sure I’m not playing into all the lazy and sexist tropes which typify the worst kind of novels out there – no beautiful dead women, laid out like so much pale meat, no clichéd, troubled detectives who are somehow irresistible to the ladies despite their vice-ravaged looks and massive attitude problems, and absolutely no pornified sexual violence on the page. This isn’t exactly work though – they’re not factors I have to specifically consider – as my first instinct is to do the opposite of the usual anyway. So my new book centres on two complex and flawed, female characters who are circling each other in a kind of proxy mother/daughter relationship, while being deeply involved in grassroots political activism. And trying to get away with a murder. It’s a more overtly female book than the ones in the Zigic and Ferreira series, and it’s been a far more satisfying book to write, in large part because of that focus and the opportunity to write about women who are not defined by their romantic lives or domestic arrangements or the fact that they were found dead and naked on the side of the road. Words of wisdom about writing for your younger self: Oh, my god, I’m so divided on this. I was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger when I was nineteen, but didn’t pursue the opportunity at the time because I didn’t think I was a good enough writer; too young, too inexperienced, writing work which was too derivative. If I could talk to nineteen year old me I’d be tempted to tell her to go for it. She probably was good enough and if she wasn’t quite there then an agent and editor would have guided her and used her youth to sell whatever she produced. But…that feels wrong and I suspect now-me wouldn’t want the career that early blooming might have led to. So, on balance, I think I’d tell her to stick with what she’s doing. Write those dozen books and put them in the drawer. Read wide; read the best to make you better and the worst to learn from their mistakes. Do other things and bring the experience back to the page with you. I’d tell her, ‘You’ll get there, girl. On your own terms and you’ll be proud of what you’ve written.’ You can follow Eva on Twitter by clicking here, and find her at Goodreads here. Meanwhile, you can read my review of Tell No Tales (Zigic and Ferreira #2) here, and After You Die (Zigic and Ferreira #3) here.