Nick prefers a poison

Crime writer Nick Quantrill, portrait by Jerome Whittingham @photomoments

The flurry of Twitter activity which greeted the announcement of an interview with Nick Quantrill prompted the first questions.

Where have all these crime writers come from? And what might be the collective noun?

We agreed “a murder” would be the most apt but, somewhat less obviously, crows have already cornered that. I suggested a cosh. Nick prefers a poison, which perhaps indicates his crime writing is more serious than slapstick, favouring finality over frivolity.

The plan is for the poison ™ to assemble later this year for the second edition of Hull Noir, a crime-writing festival which first appeared during 2017 and attracted considerable attention in the midst of the fireworks, film projections and other City of Culture activities.

With no City of Culture cash this year, Nick and fellow organisers Nick Triplow and Nikki East are hoping for a bag of swag from the Arts Council and maybe from businesses who recognise the benefits of bringing hundreds of writers and readers to prowl the streets of Hull in search of the inspiration for their next best-seller.

“Very few people make a living from writing books. It’s a tough thing to do. It’s like having a part-time income from a full-time job.”

Dave Mark, then based in Hull, hit the headlines in 2018 when his novel Dark Winter played to packed houses at Hull Truck Theatre after being adapted for the stage in spectacular fashion by E52 theatre company.

But the area’s crime-writing pedigree goes back much further, to the work of Barton-on-Humber resident and former Hull Art College student Ted Lewis, whose novel Jack’s Return Home inspired the all-time classic gangland move Get Carter.

Apparently, Ted used to take refreshment at the Minerva before catching the ferry home to Barton, making the pub the ideal location for the Noir at the Bar festival fringe event.

We sat just across the marina in a booth at 1884 Wine & Tapas Bar, who very kindly invited us to enjoy their Asado Sunday menu whilst chewing the fat.

We were chatting about Nick’s domestic scenario when the starters arrived. His wife Cathy works full-time as a teacher in a primary school. Nick supplements his writing by working as a book-keeper, and juggles childcare and school runs for their daughter Alice, a football mad seven-year-old whose visits to watch Hull City would become more frequent with the restoration of concessionary child tickets.

The vegetable soup is welcomed as “tasty, filling and wholesome” and inspires Nick to learn soup-making skills himself. As modern men we consider the finer points of our culinary expertise, and whether those big, plug-in, kettle-cum-blender things are any more effective than a substantial pan and a selection of sharp blades. No such discussion about my salmon croquettes, which were clearly way beyond our modest ambitions. 

For the record, Nick declares that nothing we eat will be as good as Cathy’s home cooking, and we move on to sources of inspiration beyond good vegetable soup.

Nick references other crime writers from the area, including Louise Beech and Robert Edric, and reveals it really all started with the local music scene and the Adelphi Club circa 1993.

“I always loved Lithium Joe. When I realised they were releasing their own records and organising their own tours it really inspired me and gave me the sense that if you wanted to do something you could do it yourself. My second Geraghty book, The Late Greats, is dedicated to Lithium Joe and Scarper.”

There are three books featuring Joe Geraghty, a rugby league player turned private investigator. A fourth is three-quarters complete. There’s also an unrelated novel, The Dead Can’t Talk, and an unreleased one.

“Everybody has one in their drawer that they don’t want people to see. I had to write a novel to learn how to write a novel. It was awful really but the process was invaluable.”

Other twists and turns in Nick’s crime-writing career were a first-class Open University degree in social policy and criminology.

“It took me six years and gave me new motivation. I had been drifting at the time, working in the evenings and thinking that if I did a degree it might give me a focus. I discovered crime novels and started reading the likes of Ian Rankin. I’d been reading in text books about theories behind crime and people who commit crime and he was writing about that in his novels in a way which was much more gripping. So I got into crime writing through being a reader. I’ve never been a criminal.”

Talk of rejection letters and that unpublished debut pauses for ham with a honey and mustard glaze, for succulent roast beef with a Mediterranean rub and for a blaze of colour among the vegetables.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had purple carrots before!”

We looked again across the marina, this time towards the Fruit Market which is the setting for the next Geraghty novel and which stands as a symbol of a changing cityscape.

“It’s a fascinating area where business and culture meets. The other books have featured Hessle Road and the docks. I was lucky that people bought into the idea of a private investigator from Hull. I wanted to take the idea of the American private investigator to a city that people didn’t write about at the time. It’s a city with rich outskirts and a lot of grittier parts as well. You get winners and losers in life, and crime writing is a good way of exploring that. It’s good at transporting people to new places.

“I want to keep writing crime books because Hull is always changing. In five years, it could be completely different. I want to understand Hull as much for myself as for my writing. There may be different characters, we’ll see, but there will always be Hull in there.”

The changes have not been confined to the city. Nick has developed as a person through a crime-writing career which has taken him to festivals all over the country and helped him establish links for Hull with an old adversary.

“I went to Reykjavik and made links with a crime writing festival there, they came over for our festival and it’s a link we are keen to develop – a contemporary link between the two cities rather than talking about Cod wars all the time. 

“You hope to become an established crime writer but there are no guarantees. It’s opened up a lot of doors and I went from someone very introverted to being the life and soul of the party because I had to talk to people.

“It’s a contradiction for all writers. You do it by yourself and for yourself and suddenly you have an audience and you are the entertainment. The first few times I got up in public to speak about my work I was very nearly sick. Now it’s almost second nature. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest.”

A platter of nicely-spiced apple cheesecake and chocolate brownie bites sprinkled with blackberries and raspberries brought the conversation to a close before that picture posted on Twitter.

“I don’t smile. I’m a crime writer.”

That tweet…

[Phil Ascough]

Nick was chatting to writer Phil Ascough, over lunch provided by 1884 Wine and Tapas.