is one of the best known, and best-loved, British
crime writers, though he also has a strong following in the US
and on the continent. His latest book is Far
Cry and Bob Cartwright caught up
with John while he was touring the UK
to promote the new book. Predictably, the meeting
took place in Charlie Resnick’s old stamping ground, Nottingham.
I was surprised to read in
your biography that
you were actually born in London. I suppose, like most
people, I have always associated you with Nottingham. Are there any more
surprises lurking in your early life? When, for instance, were you
the writing bug?
It’s odd, this. I
remember always buying little
notebooks when I was a kid, but not writing much in them; and then,
when I was
at secondary school and at college I set up or edited newspaper, so if
going to be any kind of a writer, it would have been a journalist, but
never happened. I recall starting to learn shorthand once and just not
it at all, so maybe that was why it never happened. By then
teaching – that was in the mid-60s – and, a few
articles for education
magazines, and some seriously bad poetry aside – I
didn’t write anything until
the mid-70s, when, under Laurence Jame’s tutelage, I wrote
the first of two
biker books for New English Library.
think it’s fair to say you
came to prominence in 1989 with
the publication of Lonely Hearts, the first in the Resnick series.
your career as a writer started well before that with some crime
with a much greater output westerns and a couple of war books. Can you
a bit about those early efforts?
As I’ve suggested,
the late Laurence James, who had
been at Goldsmiths’ College with me in the early 60s, and had
gone on to be an
editor at New English Library before becoming a writer, was the main
here. Laurence knew I was looking for a change from teaching and
try my hand at writing; NEL wanted another ‘Mick
Norman’ biker book from him,
but he’d moved on to other things, so he recommended me in
his place and ‘Thom
Ryder’ was born – for two books, anyway.
After that, mostly in tandem
with either Laurence
or another editor-turned-writer, Angus Wells, I wrote some forty or so
under a batch of shared pen names, along with some fairly desperate
turn out convincing paperbacks about mercenaries or bands of soldiers.
more luck with teenage romances!
The thing about that period,
which lasted, I
suppose, for no more than five or six years, is that, because I was
roughly 50,000 words a month, I got in an awful lot of practice
– and was being
paid to do so. And I think the most important thing I learned
– though I still
couldn’t pin it down in words – was how to get
readers to turn the page.
Something about pacing and rhythm and narrative expectation.
did you come to
focus on crime fiction? I imagine you must have made that choice before
realizing that the Resnick series were going to be so successful.
Well, I’d tried
earlier, with four books about a
private eye called Scott Mitchell, which were pretty unsuccessful, and,
other desultory efforts aside, I didn’t think about writing
till the late 80s, when I sat down with the writer Dulan Barber [also,
Laurence and Angus, now dead, Dulan wrote crime fiction as David
horror as Owen Brookes] to think about the character who became Charlie
Resnick. I’d just finished working on TV series called Hard Cases, which was set in Nottingham, where I was then
living, and was about the probation service, with a multi-narrative
very much modeled on Hill Street Blues.
This, and the fact that I’d been reading and enjoying a lot
of Elmore Leonard,
made me want to have another crack at crime fiction –
hopefully, using the pace
of those American models but in a recognisable English setting.
probably being a tad
conservative but of all your crime fiction characters Charlie remains
favourite. I am sure you’ve been asked this hundreds of
times, but how did you
come up with a detective of Polish origin, based in London with a fondness for
I think you mean Nottingham. I was very aware that
there was quite a large Polish population in the city, mostly families
come over around the time of WW2, and I liked the idea of Resnick
background – then, because he would have been brought up in
would know it well yet be, in some respects, an outsider. The deli
sprang from that and so, less obviously, did the jazz. They were both
signaling that he was a little different from the usual home-grown
had a quite rich appetite for music and food. Plus, I’ve
always liked to write
about jazz whenever I could – even back in the early days,
one of my
mercenaries, as a kid, had trailed Charlie Parker all round New York, surreptitiously
recording every note he played.
out of the
three characters – Resnick, Elder and Grayson –
which is your favourite? And
which one was the easiest to write for?
Well, Resnick was and is, if
only because I’ve
written about him so much; with both Frank Elder and Will Grayson,
able to write about the parent-child thing, which, as an older father,
something of a preoccupation in the past ten years.
an old chestnut
of a question, how do your plots materialize? Just to give it a bit of
to what extent do the different heroes generate different kinds of
It varies, but to hark back to
the previous answer,
Frank Elder came out of a short story called, I think, “Drive
North”, in which
Elder and his wife and early teenage daughter move from London to
and there was something about that set of relationships which made me
return to it, and so the fact that those relationships, especially the
between Elder and his daughter, would be central to the books, to a
extent determined the plots. Certainly, that was true of the first, Flesh & Blood. Then, once
the relationship as far as it interested me by the end of Darkness & Light, I had no real
urge to write about Elder
With the new book, Far Cry, the story came first, but as
soon as I knew it involved
children, I knew I had to use Grayson, as he has two young children
I don’t think I
could have written Cold in Hand,
without the character of
Resnick – someone I felt I knew well over a period of time
– being on hand to
flesh it out.
wrote ten Resnick
books, roughly one a year for ten years. That must have been pretty
for you and for Resnick.
Yes, and it would have done
both of us good to have
taken a break before we did, but you know how it goes, publishers, on
once they’ve embarked on a series, want the product to be
there, year In, year
out. Thankfully, partly due to the success of the books since Flesh and Blood, and due to having an
enlightened and sympathetic editor, Susan Sandon at Random House,
I’m no longer
trapped in that situation.
TV series of Resnick
was probably the first to feature a contemporary crime fiction series
certainly the first one that really grabbed me. I think it was probably
the first one to encourage publishers to see crime fiction not just in
books sales but TV rights. Was that apparent to you at the time?
Hah! What was quickly
all-too-apparent was that my
then publishers, Viking-Penguin, unfortunately failed to make much
capital out of the TV series, which, in fairness to them, was very
– only covering two books So that, for instance, they issued
a paperback of the
third in the series, Cutting Edge,
with Tom Wilkinson, who’d played Resnick, prominently on the
cover, and that
book was never filmed. The series was so short-lived on television
there was no
time for it to make a significant impact and the books suffered rather
gained as a result.
from In a True Light in 2001, there seems to be a bit of
a gap from 1998
and Last Rites, Resnick’s
until 2004 and Flesh and Blood, the
first of the two Elder books. What happened to John Harvey during those
My partner and I had a child,
and the deal was that
she would go back to work as soon as she was able and I would take time
from writing to look after the baby. Which I loved. And it also gave me
think about making a small change of direction, the Resnick books
played out in terms both of ideas and sales, I was no longer under
and I had to think of something a little bit different if I was to
So, because I was aware these things were wanted, I thought more
police procedural, and I thought longer. Elder had walked away from
and job at the end of the story I mentioned before, so he became the
would use, and then, spending three months in New Zealand helped me to
the book with, I think, a slightly different perspective.
is very different
from and at the same time a bit like Charlie. He’s not into
jazz but he is even
more of a loner than Charlie. Once again, how did the Elder character
I think I’ve already
spoken to this, aside from
mentioning that because I’d got to know the area of north Cornwall between St. Ives and Land’s End fairly well, I wanted
to use it as at least a partial setting. It was only after finishing Flesh & Blood, that we went to
there for a year, just down the lane from where my fictional character
from a couple of
walk-in parts we haven’t heard from Frank Elder since Darkness and Light in 2006. Are you
planning any more books
featuring Elder? That question occurred to me in part because you
all a bit with Cold
in 2008 when you brought Resnick out of retirement.
Resnick, as I’ve
suggested, seemed right for the
story and emotions of Cold in Hand. And it was relatively easy to write
him at length again, as I’d kept up with him with a number of
short stories and
cameo appearances during the intervening years.
Right now, I can’t
see myself writing about Frank
Elder again, but then I said that about Charlie.
and yet another
character. The introduction of Will Grayson, a family man and very much
a career copper than Charlie or Frank. Was that down to you, or was it
intentional recognition of the changing face of police detective work
emphasis on proper procedures and budgets?
Once again, there’s
a short story at the heart of
it. I wrote a story called “Snow, Snow, Snow” for a
collection out together by
Bob Randisi in the States and he liked the by-play between Will Grayson
Helen Walker so much, he said I had to write about them in a novel.
promoting the new Will Grayson, Far Cry.
For those who haven’t read it yet can you give us a bit of a
The idea for the
book came from a conversation with the novelist
Jill Dawson had written a novel, Watch Me
Disappear [Sceptre, 2006], which had its genesis in the Soham
which had happened close to where she lives. When we met, and talked
novel, the disappearance of Madeleine McCann was very much in the news,
what Jill and I talked about, in the main, was the effect that losing a
in such circumstances might have on that child's parents, and I went
our meeting with the germ of an idea for a new book, one which would be
upon the very different responses and actions of parents whose child
suddenly or disappeared.
Harvey, the crime
fiction writer, is probably among the most recognised UK author in terms of
awards. How important are awards to crime fiction writers and how does
recognition compare with huge book sales?
One pays the mortgage, the
Bob: I have
to confess that I am not a great fan of short stories and that
been evident now in some of the questions I’ve asked you. But
the sheer volume
of short stories you have written suggests that you do really enjoy
them. They also seem to provide a vehicle for you to test out
themes. Are there any other benefits of short stories for you?
You're right, they can be a
useful way of testing
out characters you think might be interesting to write about at greater
"Walking them round the block", as someone - Elmore Leonard? - once
said. It's certainly something that he does from time to time. For me,
also been a way of filling in the gaps between the novels, the Resnick
for instance, taking the time to keep up to date with some of the minor
characters - and Resnick himself.
Other benefits? By very
definition, they're short.
You can write a story in one or two weeks and then it's done. None of
10/12 months lark!
Having said all of that, I've
mostly written them
because I've been asked to contribute to a particular collection or
an editor who knows my work. This very morning, for instance, I had an
from Robert Randisi in the States, an editor for whom I've written a
stories in the past, asking me if I'd like to contribute something
collection based around the history of the strip tease. Why not?
question. You seem
to have fingers in all sorts of pies – crime fiction, poetry,
poetry and jazz,
children’s writing, publishing, parent and Notts County supporter. Which gives
you most pleasure at the end of the day? And what lessons do you have
mere mortals who can’t seem to manage our time quite as
I’ve always found it
difficult to simply sit around
and do nothing – and I’m fortunate to have found
pleasure in a variety of
things. Spending a lot of my adult life living in my own has helped to
the kind of person who plans his time so as not to waste too much of
some areas, I’m organised, I suppose, to a point some people
find slightly ridiculous.
There are concert tickets, for instance, for April 2010 already
in drawer waiting, and I’ve renewed my Notts County season ticket for next
season. Lessons? Plan. Make lists. Carry them out.
Most pleasure? Watching my
daughter working with
her sprint coach at the track. Being at the Royal Festival Hall last
along with both my partner and daughter, watching Viktoria Mullova play
Brahms Violin Concerto. Getting a letter out of the blue from someone a
days, saying how much they’d been touched by my books.
Walking, early this
morning, on Hampstead Heath. Writing a really good sentence.
review of FAR CRY
find out more on John Harvey visit his website