Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hitchcock scenes in the subway and secret police in the audience: a 9mm interview with Anya Lipska

Welcome to our latest issue of 9mm, the long-running author interview series here on Crime Watch. Last month we hit the 150 interviews mark, and I took a moment to pause and reflect on all the fantastic authors who have been interviewed thusfar, and where I could take 9mm in future.

I've really enjoyed interviewing so many fascinating crime writers, and hearing their stories about books, writing, and broader life. I hope you have too.

Today I'm very pleased to share my recent interview with the wonderful Anya Lipska. A London-based television producer, Lipska writes a gripping crime series that delves into the experience for Polish immigrants in modern Britain. Centred on Janusz Kiszka, an unofficial 'fixer' to East London’s Polish community, and rule-breaking detective Natalie Kershaw, the series began with WHERE THE DEVIL CAN'T GO in 2013, followed by DEATH CAN'T TAKE A JOKE and A DEVIL UNDER THE SKIN. The BBC has acquired the rights and is looking into developing the book series into a television drama.

Barry Forshaw, one of Britain's leading crime critics, has said "Lipska is at the forefront of a new wave of culture clash crime writers", and leading man Janusz Kiszka has been described as "a latter day Philip Marlowe in an army greatcoat". There are plenty of readers eagerly awaiting the next book in this fresh and intriguing British crime series, but for now Anya Lipska becomes the latest crime scribe to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
That’s a toughie – there are so many great ones to choose from. But if you were to put me in a half-Nelson… in the UK, it would have to be Ian Rankin’s fabulous old curmudgeon Rebus, who I like to think shares a bit of DNA with myown fixer/detective Janusz Kiszka. Stateside I’d go for Dave Robicheaux in the bayou-set series by James Lee Burke. I love the deep attachment they have to their very different settings, something I relate to as a reader – and a writer.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
It was one of the William books by Richmal Crompton. He is such a great character: an unruly boy who drives his family mad, but also a free spirit driven by a powerful sense of justice.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I’m a journalist by training and then became a TV documentary producer, so I’ve probably written millions of words over the years. Not the kind of writing to make the heart beat faster, but a great apprenticeship, learning the basics of putting one word in front of the other,how not to use three words where the single correct one works better, or long words where short ones do the job.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I love travel – whether within the UK or overseas. I’m just back from Barcelona and my next destination is Gdansk, a wonderful medieval city and birthplace to the Solidarity movement, where I can also do useful research for the Kiszka books. Whenever I hit a writing roadblock, the best medicine is a change of scenery – I always come home inspired.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
London’s East End where I live has some incredible post-industrial landscapes that I find strangely beautiful – places like the undeveloped stretches of docklands east of Canary Wharf. Also, my local tube station, Leytonstone has a subway lined with stunningly intricate scenes from the films of Alfred Hitchcock, our most famous local, created out of mosaic tiles.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
When I was young, some awfully kind people said I looked a bit like Sigourney Weaver, so umm, I’d take that– especially in her guise as Ripley in Alien… Loved her implacable grit.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Gosh, I’m tempted to say my debut, since nothing quite beats the thrill of writing your first book… But I think I’d actually choose A Devil under the Skin, the third in the trilogy – because I like to think I’d learned my craft a little more by then? Not that I ever stop learning how to write: that’s a lifelong project…

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
When I got my first deal – from Random House in Germany – I took my OH to The Wolseley, a stunning but not stuffy 1900s brasserie in Piccadilly. He deserved it since if I hadn’t married a Pole I’d never have had the idea of creating a Polish √©migr√© detective.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I was invited to speak about my work to around fifty Poles in Toxteth Library, Liverpool which, given I’m a Brit by birth writing about Poles in the UK, made me feel a bit of a fraud... I was later told there was even a former secret policeman from the old Communist regime in the audience, just like one of the characters in my first book, so that was a bit spooky. In fact, the response was amazing: they seemed delighted that somebody was taking an interest in their history and culture.

Thank you Anya, we appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch. 

You can read more about Anya and her books at her website here, and how her tale fit into the broader Polish crime writing landscape in this great feature from The Independent here.

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