Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Key grips and candlelit museums: an interview with Valentina Giambanco

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the 20th instalment of 9mm for 2018, and the 192nd overall edition of our long-running author interview series!

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had a lot of fun talking to some amazing crime writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. What a line-up. Thanks everyone.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been part of the 9mm series, please do let me know in the comments or by message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. We've got several further interviews with cool writers 'already in the can' that will be published soon, so lots to look forward to over the coming weeks and months.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome Italian born and raised crime writer Valentina Giambanco, who has worked as an editor in the UK and US film industry for twenty years. Valentina is the author of the Alice Madison series set in Seattle and the surrounding wilderness of Washington State. Although she lives in Southwest London - a city she first moved to for English and Drama studies at university - Valentina says she fell in love with Seattle years ago, and that city and the "ruthlessly beautiful" landscapes of the Pacific Northwest "have shaped and inspired her stories in every way".

Like our interviewee two weeks ago, Marnie Riches, I actually interviewed Valentina at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in 2016. Publication was delayed when I lost some notebooks (recently recovered during house renovations). Valentina and I have checked over her interview answers in case anything needed updating, but that wasn't the case. So here you have the interview Valentina and I did on a sunny summer's in 'the big red chair' at Harrogate.

So, at last, Valentina Giambanco becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm ...


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
This is a tricky one, but I’m afraid I have to go back to Clarice Starling, even though it was a very short series. But she definitely inspired me, and the first Thomas Harris books are as perfect as a thriller can be. Things went a bit haywire after that, but if you can have a two-book series, then she’s my favourite. Also, she’s 25 in the first and 32 in the second, and she changes a lot. I also love Ruth Galloway (from Elly Griffiths’ books), because she changes through time as well. I also love the settings, the idea of Norfolk, the wilderness and sea. The history of the background. The science. The combination of elements.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I was really into science fiction, things from Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury. So it was FAHRENHEIT 451 actually: the imagery, the sense of the story being told. It was about something that was beyond the events that were happening. Somehow it just chimed.

I’m a big film nerd, and they’ve affected me as much as books when it comes to storytelling. The film was Amadeus, though the first adult film I watched was Lawrence of Arabia. Which is a pretty good place to start.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything): unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Nothing. I had not written anything that was published. Short stories scribbled, definitely, but nothing published. I worked in film, but it was a completely unrelated field to writing. My debut was 147,000 words, which tells you it was my first crack at a novel! The second was 120,000 words and the third 108,000 words.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Movies! I’m a big film nerd. We’re talking about knowing the key grip for a particular film. I’m also a big reader, and not necessarily crime. I think it’s important - because everything goes into it, as is true of any artistic endeavour - it’s really important to get my head out of crime fiction mode. I also love travelling.

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?
I’m going to talk about London, where I live now. There’s a small museum about Sir John Soane, which is three houses joined together. He was the architect for the Bank of England and a collector. He travelled and collected paintings, Italian and Dutch masters, sculptures from Egypt. He created this amazing museum in his own home, which you can visit. He bought the two nearby homes … there’s no electricity, just natural light. It’s in Lincoln’s Inn Field in London. It’s absolutely unforgettable, and once a month they keep the house open at night and just light it all with candles. If that’s not a perfect date, I don’t know what is!

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Are we talking reality or dream? Okay, okay… Mark Rylance, because he can play anything! (laughing). Oh God oh God, who would play me? Well, that’s obvious isn’t it? Meryl Streep – who else? Meryl Streep could play Batman and do a good job!

7. Of your books, which is your favourite or a bit special, and why?
A lot of people would probably say their first one, because it’s the one, the place and time where my characters all met each other. But at the same time, SWEET AFTER DEATH is very special to me too. That moment when you just capture your character. Each book has something special that makes it dear to you, but this one set not in Seattle but in the mountains. It was difficult to write, but a lot of fun. It’s named after a plant, the deer-foot, which smells sweet after you crush the leaves. It’s also called vanilla leaf.

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 first saw my book in a store, I thought someone had put it there as a joke, someone I knew. It felt utterly and completely surreal, so out of place. “What is it doing there?” That feeling never goes away, a few years later. It’s very special, seeing it exist.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
For me, it’s been the chance to meet my heroes. At Thrillerfest in 2016 I got to chat with Walter Mosley a few times, talking about writing with a man who’s been a huge inspiration to my writing. That was just fantastic. And then meeting readers who buy your books and you can just have a chat for a few minutes, this is what festivals are so important.

Thank you Valentina. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 

You can learn more about Valentina and her books at her website, and follow her on Twitter

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