A Conversation With David Hewson
Pull up a chair and listen in as I have a chat with international bestselling British crime & mystery novelist David Hewson.
Heâ€™s best known for his series of contemporary crime novels featuring Nic Costa, a detective in Rome, Italy.Â The series began with A SEASON FOR THE DEAD and continues with block-buster after block-buster.Â His first novel, SEMANA SANTA was made into a feature film starring Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino. David also wrote the second chapter of the audio serial novel THE CHOPIN MANUSCRIPT, started by Jeffery Deaver, with Lee Child and 13 other co-writers, which won 2008 Audio Book of the Year.Â David is a board member of International Thriller Writers, Inc.
JONATHAN MABERRY:Â The Rome series has been cooking for a while now and yet each book is fresh and immediate.Â How do you keep the series so vital?
DAVID HEWSON: It took me a while to realize this but essentially every book is different. I have an ensemble cast, not a single protagonist. I vary the location, the point of view, the tone, the nature of the book. Some are mysteries. Some are thrillers. Some are just novels. There’s a lot of pressure to write the same thing over and over again and you have to resist it. Otherwise you’ll get bored, and not long after the readers. I can honestly say I feel more enthused about this series now, with the ninth book halfway done, than I did five books ago. Avoiding Conan Doyle syndrome is important for series writers.
MABERRY:Â Some authors re-read their older work to try and catch their earlier spark while others look forward and seldom if ever look back.Â Where do you fit in that?
HEWSON: Something in the book you will get to read in 2011, which is currently sixty per cent done. Honestly I have no recollection of anything I’ve written. I only live in the present and the future so asking me to look back to my previous books is somewhat pointless. My good mate Linwood Barclay once emailed me to say how much he adored a scene where an Italian cop shoves a burger in some snotty FBI agent’s face in THE SACRED CUT. Looking back I think it was pretty good – but I’d forgotten all about it by then.
MABERRY:Â Your books have been translated into a lot of different languages. What have you heard from fans in other countries?
HEWSON: Translations are fascinating on so many fronts. One thing is time. They are time-shifted from what you think of as normal publication so you suddenly find yourself in Thailand talking about a book you wrote six years ago, as if it’s somehow ‘current’. Rome’s an interesting location for a series because people feel they’ve been there even if they’ve never set foot in Italy. So I tend to have that connection, one I wouldn’t have if the stories were set somewhere a bit more obscure. But if I’m honest what I hear most from all fans, foreign or otherwise, is it’s the characters that get them. They like my people, which is very flattering. The geography of it all is baffling though. Why do I sell like crazy in Holland but struggle to get a German publisher, my one big international gap these days? Beats me…
MABERRY:Â You were at the forefront of the against development by Imperial College at Wye, Kent, starting the web-site save-wye.org.Â You wrote a book, SAVED, about the success of the campaign. Did the book help the cause?
HEWSON: Saved is the self-published story of an environmental campaign I was involved in. With a neighbor I set up an investigative website looking at a plan to concrete over a very beautiful part of rural England. With a lot of help we managed to kill the project. The book was my personal account of what went on. It’s pretty dirty and educational story. I paid for it to get out there so that people in similar situations could see that these battles could be won – and how we did it. The success of Saved amazed me – we had readers from all over the world, as far away as Tasmania, saying they were using some of our lessons in their own campaigns.
But I didn’t do it for money so now you can get it for free – just go to www.scribd.com and you can see it’s one of their more popular titles.
MABERRY:Â Youâ€™re savvy on the publishing business on both sides of the ocean. Whatâ€™s keeping it afloat during the current economic crisis?
HEWSON: The same two things that have always kept it afloat – readers and writers. These are tough times economically but I refuse to be weighed down by the doom and gloom. People need stories. They’re a part of our psychological makeup and that’s never going to change until the ants take over. So publishers aren’t doling out multi million dollar contracts on a whim? Good. Most of those deals were cut by idiots. They could never have paid out.
I came into this business for a career, not overnight success or some kind of rock star status. I don’t think the fundamentals have changed, and there are lots of reasons to be cheerful too, such as the growth in audio and e-publishing, two new forms of media that didn’t exist event five years ago. We should quit moaning and get out there and help the people who are really hurting, in particular independent booksellers.Â Publishers have, to use a phrase, ‘disintermediated’ authors and readers somewhat over the years. We need to take back the night.
MABERRY:Â When the germ of a new book idea hits you, what gets it from your brain to the editorâ€™s desk.
HEWSON: I pick a place, a time, and a canvas. By canvas I mean some kind of thread – a piece of history, a story, a place – around which I can weave a story. Then I go to Rome, walk those streets until I can’t walk any more, sit down and write an opening. After that I wonder what my cast of regulars would do with the situation I’ve just created, and nudge them towards a conclusion (which they invariably refuse).
It’s as easy as that. Honest.
HEWSON: DANTE’S NUMBERS is unlike anything else I’ve written. It takes my cast of Romans and, after a start in their native city, plunks them down in San Francisco, a city which in many ways resembles Rome, in that it’s familiar even to people who’ve never been there. They think they’re in the middle of a murder mystery based around Dante’s Divine Comedy. As the story progresses we begin to realize this is only partly true, and the full picture involves a more recent myth, Hitchcock’s wonderful movie Vertigo. It’s a ghost story of a kind. I’ve no idea what people will make of it but it was a lot of fun to write.
MABERRY: Tell us about your next book.
HEWSON:Â The next book is called THE BLUE DEMON and is a fast-moving thriller set in the political furor surrounding a G8 summit in the Quirinale Palace in Rome. It embraces Etruscan history, Italian terrorism of the 1970s, and a real-life NATO plot to create stay-behind teams in the event of a Soviet takeover of Europe. See. I said they were all different!
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David Hewson photo by Mark Bothwell