Great reads

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

Friday - - Contents -

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

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