Bestselling crime writer Peter Robinson talks about battling homesickness in Canada, novel number 22 and the success of DCI Banks on the small screen. By Hannah Stephenson
British crime writer Peter Robinson talks DCI Banks, battling homesickness and his hero’s origins.
Peter Robinson laughs at the recollection of his first meeting with actor Stephen Tompkinson, who plays his creation DCI Banks in the hit British TV drama. The actor offered to meet Robinson at his home in Toronto, Canada, where he lives for much of the year with his wife Sheila Halladay – but it was winter, and winters in the North American country are pretty cold.
“Stephen wanted to talk about the character and offered to come over from England to Toronto to see me in the middle of winter.
“I said, we’re going to Tampa [Florida], so he came over to see us there instead, which was a much
sunnier place to do his research,” says the writer.
The bestselling author, whose 22nd Banks novel, Abattoir Blues, was published recently, also has a home in Richmond, North Yorkshire, UK, which he returns to two or three times a year to avoid homesickness (he was born in Armley, Leeds) – and to stock up on Yorkshire Gold tea.
During his stay in the UK this summer, Robinson appeared at both the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival and Edinburgh International Book Festival, making the most of the Whichever way we go, everyone thinks we are on holiday,” he says.
Now 64, Robinson emigrated to Canada in 1974 to continue his studies after completing an English Literature degree at Leeds University. He went on to do an MA in English and creative writing at Canada’s University of Windsor, with American author Joyce Carol Oates as his tutor.
For years, he wrote only poetry. He created Banks to stave off the homesickness he was feeling, imagining himself back in North Yorkshire. “At night, I would write crime just to relax. Before crime fiction I was writing poetry and had a parttime teaching job, which was enough to get by,” he says.
Since he introduced Alan Banks 27 years ago, in his debut novel Gallows View, the character has changed, says Robinson.
“He was a lot more brash in the early books, but now has less of that youthful energy and, as he’s got older, there have been changes in his life. He’s moved
‘I understand Banks as I have written about him for so long, but I don’t plan the books’ plots’
chance to stay connected with fans. Clearly, there is a lot he misses about England when he is not there.
“I miss the view of the Dales, the walks and pubs. In Canada, I live in the city and it’s great. My wife’s family and friends are there. It’s two sides of a coin. from the town to the country. He’s become more melancholic. He’s not as excited about getting his teeth into a case as he once was.”
In his latest book, the story begins with an unexciting theft of a tractor – hardly a job for DCI Banks and his homicide team. But at the same time, police are investigating a mysterious bloodstain in a disused hangar, and two local lads are missing. Soon the officers find themselves branching in all directions in a race against time.
How does Robinson keep his fictional detective fresh?
“I throw a load of [stuff] at him and see how he handles it,” he says wryly. “Banks has unfolded very slowly over the years, which still leaves me plenty to work with.
“Sometimes the situations I give to him make him brood about things, and I don’t know how he is going to react. I understand Banks because I have written about him for so long, but I don’t plan the plots of the books.”
Robinson says ITV programmemakers were keen to include him in the