Yorkshireman – and Canadian – crime writer Peter Robinson is back in the county. Nick Ahad spoke the creator of DCI Banks.
The success of crime writer Peter Robinson is demonstrated by the fact that he is referred to here as a British crime writer and in Canada, as a Canadian crime writer.
Not to put him on the spot, but the first question has to be, therefore, what does the creator of DCI Banks consider himself to be?
“Well, I live between here and Canada. We have a house in Richmond, but my wife’s from Canada and we live there for most of the year. When I’m in Canada and coming back to Yorkshire, I refer to it as ‘coming home’, but when I’m here and I talk about us going back to Canada, then that becomes ‘going home’,” he says.
It’s the sort of diplomacy you would expect to witness from Robinson’s most famous creation. Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks was first introduced to the world in 1987 with the novel Gallows View.
Moving to a small North Yorkshire town from the Met’s Unsolved Crime Squad, he has raised a family and uses creative solutions to his interrogations – but as a little scrapper, isn’t afraid to use any means necessary to solve a case.
The character has resonated with readers since his first introduction and the 21st DCI Banks novel, Watching the Dark, is due out next month. In 2010 TV audiences met Banks in the shape of Stephen Tomkinson, who played the role in a series based on the books and shot partly in Leeds.
This weekend Robinson is in his Yorkshire home, at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and the writer has a secret for those attending
the hugely popular festival, run under the banner of the Harrogate International Festival.
“All the best stuff happens in the bar,” says Robinson.
“The panels are great fun and it’s interesting meeting readers, but I really enjoy catching up with fellow writers in the bar, that’s where the good stuff happens.”
Born in Yorkshire, after studying English Literature at the University of Leeds, he went over to Canada to study for an MA in English and Creative Writing, where he was taught by the novelist Joyce Carol Oates, before returning to the University of York in order to study for a PhD.
So the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival is, if he puts his foot firmly in one camp, a homecoming for the writer.
“It’s one of the top festivals to do. Because there are so many festivals now, you could spend all your time appearing at them and not actually doing any writing,” says Robinson.
“There are some good ones in America and Bristol has one, but Harrogate is pretty much up there, it still is the main festival for crime writers.
“And it is nice for me because it’s just down the road from where I live.”
With 21 books to his name and no let up in the now one-a-year publishing schedule on the horizon, are festivals like Harrogate a welcome distraction from sitting at his desk, ploughing through another mystery for DCI Banks to solve?
“That’s how it all started really. I started writing the books a little bit out of a sense of homesickness.
“I was in Canada and missing Yorkshire and sitting in my study, writing about a small town in Yorkshire was a way to transport myself back here while I was there,” he says.
Almost immediately he knew he had hit on his hands and the books became a huge success, having now been translated into almost 20 languages.
Does the pressure of all those former stories ever become unbearable, when he sits down to craft DCI Banks’s next adventure? “The truth is the best part of my job is when I get to sit around making up stories all day without anyone to answer to.
“I know there are deadlines and editors waiting and all that, but making up the stories, that’s the best bit.”
A life in crime writing
Gallows View (1987) was short-listed for the John Creasey Award in the UK and the Crime Writers of Canada best first novel award.
Peter Robinson is at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in an ‘in-conversation’ event with Ian Rankin. The festival, with all events held at The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate runs until Sunday, with author events, discussions, and Q&A sessions. Guests include Harlan Coben, Kate Mosse and Val McDermid.
Details on 01423 502116.
Watching The Dark, published by Hodder and Stoughton, is released on August 16.