Today I’m pleased to welcome author David Hewson to the blog. David is the best selling author of the Nic Costa series set in Rome, the Pieter Vos series set in Amsterdam and the best selling The Killing series, based on the original TV series. David’s latest novel to feature Amsterdam detective Pieter Vos, Little Sister, was published by Pan Macmillan on 5 May 2016.
David kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Little Sister.
Little Sister is a story mostly set just outside Amsterdam in a lovely area called Waterland, a place of quiet fishing villages on the banks of what used to be the Zuider Zee. Since it’s my role in life to bring dastardly fictional deeds to beautiful real-life locations I make this the scene for an exploration of the fallout from a horrible tragedy. Ten years before the family of Mia and Kim Timmers were murdered and they, as children, were found to have killed the man they believed responsible. Now they are being released from the institution where they’ve been kept. As soon as they get the chance they vanish, along with their nurse. Pieter Vos is drawn into a case long thought dead, one he never worked on before. He soon realises that the accepted version of what happened to the Timmers family makes no sense at all, and there’s been deceit and deception about the case, perhaps leading all the way back to someone he’s very close to in the police. It’s a story about guilt and memory as much as crime.
2. What inspired the storyline?
I don’t think anything specific inspires any of my stories — I certainly never reach for old newspaper clippings to kick them off. I tend to choose a thematic goal. In this case I wanted to write about how people — good innocent people — feel when they acquiesce, turning a blind eye to something they know is terrible hoping it will never come back to haunt them. That’s at the heart of the story.
3. Your Nic Costa series was set in Rome, The Killing series set in Copenhagen and Pieter Vos lives and works in Amsterdam. Your standalone novels have been set in Florence, Venice and Seville. How important do you think location is to a story? Do you find that the locations become characters in their own right or shape how the story will be told?
I find the locations first and the stories follow usually. And the location is paramount — if you could take any of my books and transfer them to somewhere new then I’ve failed. On the other hand I’m not trying to write a travel guide so I don’t really feel the ‘location is a character’ model works for me. I want people to see, hear, feel and smell the place, but what’s most important is that the local characters work. Amsterdammers, people in Copenhagen and Romans are all very, very different people and I need to let those differences shape their response to the story.
4. You have written three series featuring different protagonists. What do you find are the benefits and downsides to writing a series? Is the fear there that you know the characters too well or can they still surprise you? Was there more pressure when writing about Sarah Lund given she was already a formed character in many readers minds following the TV series and did it alter how you wrote The Killing novels?
I honestly don’t feel constrained by the series format because every one of these books is different. They just happen to have the same basic cast. In Little Sister, Vos’s assistant, Laura Bakker, becomes a major character in her own right, and the location is very different from the urban winter grittiness of The Wrong Girl. With Lund I had a free hand to change what I wanted — I wouldn’t have taken it on without that. So I altered a lot to try to make a TV story in book form: endings and to an extent Lund herself, who’s a bit more warm and likeable in the books than on TV.
5. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?
I sort of half plan, starting off with rough way points for the story and an imagined ending (which always changes). In fact everything changes as the characters begin to turn real and demand a say in the way things are going. Which is essential; only when they have a touch of free will do they become human (though they must always remember I am god of their particular world). Usually it’s about six months beginning to end.
6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Well I live in beautiful Kent countryside and have a massive garden so there’s lots to do there (spent most of the weekend trying, and failing, to put in an irrigation system for greenhouse tomatoes). My favourite pastime away from home is exploring Italy on foot and by public transport, staring at buildings, paintings and history. The Romans have a saying: non basta una vita. One lifetime is not enough. And it isn’t.
7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
Hmmm… toughie. Either I, Claudius or Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli (the latter a book that deserves to be better known than it is).
8. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Not sure about that but I can definitely tell you the strangest question I’ve ever been asked, and I’ve had it more than once: Why do your characters have foreign names when English ones would be so much easier for readers to remember? Er… because there aren’t many people in Rome, Copenhagen and Amsterdam called Fred Smith.
Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.
About the book
“Her death will haunt us forever. Now the price must be paid.
Kim and Mia Timmers were just eleven years old when their family was killed. The sisters were accused of murdering the lead singer of a world-famous pop band in the Dutch fishing village of Volendam, believing him to be responsible for their family’s deaths. The evidence seemed irrefutable at the time and the sisters were imprisoned in Marken, a local psychiatric institution. Now, ten years later, they are due for release.
Pieter Vos, a detective with the Amsterdam police, is given cause to re-open the case when the girls disappear along with the nurse responsible for escorting them to a halfway house. When the nurse’s corpse washes up on the beach at Marken, it becomes apparent that the institution holds the key to the investigation. And it seems that Vos’s boss, De Groot, has something to hide which is relevant to the case.
Then, the case takes an unexpected turn when it becomes clear that someone is posing as Little Jo – Kim and Mia’s other sister – who was supposedly murdered along with their parents ten years ago . . .”
Little Sister by David Hewson is out now, published by Macmillan, price £14.99 in hardback.