The Crime Review was lucky enough to get to ask Chris Ould, author of the Faroes novels (which are some of our favourites of the last year — check out the reviews of the series here)! We asked a few questions about the novel, his inspiration, and his favourite crime series.
The Crime Review: THE KILLING BAY is the second novel in your Faroes Novels series, and immediately you notice the unusual bleak beauty and culture of the islands; it heavily shapes the stories and its own palpable presence. What inspired you to set these novels in the Faroes?
Chris Ould: In the first instance it was the fact that I knew very little about them that made the Faroes intriguing. I’ve got a magpie brain, so somewhere in the past I remembered reading that the islands were very remote, that the inhabitants spoke a unique language and, well, that was about it. So, when I started thinking about writing a novel set in a remote or isolated community, the Faroes came back into my head. I like to challenge myself, too, so the fact that I’d have to do research and learn something new was a bonus.
The Crime Review: It seems like a perfect setting for a detective series. This series is also unique in that it features two detectives who work largely separately – Hjalti Hentze in the Faroes, and DI Jan Reyna, who was born in the Faroes but grew up and became a detective in the UK. Why did you choose to balance these stories between the two of them?
Chris Ould: To some extent the initial decision to use a dual narrative was a matter of pragmatism. I realised that it would be impossible for one character to fulfil the role of stranger in a strange land – which was definitely an element I wanted – and at the same time be so familiar with the place that he had legitimate access to the police investigation. So very early in the planning stage I found myself with two characters, both of whom had a different perspective. In many ways it gave me the best of both worlds because it meant I had fairly unrestricted access to all parts of the story.
The Crime Review: One of the things that I love about seeing both Hentze and Reyna in the novels is the complementary contrast between the two of them – Hentze with his calm, thoughtful nature, and Reyna’s restless need for motion, but both have similar thought processes and moral code. What are your favourite qualities of each of them, and what is the best thing about writing them together?
Chris Ould: My favourite qualities about each are what makes them work well together, I think: Hentze for his considered, compassionate nature; Reyna for suspicion and cynicism. Having two chalk and cheese characters is always a good way to keep their relationship dynamic and slightly edgy, but in Reyna and Hentze’s case I think the best thing about them together is the fact that they’re both on an equal footing. Given the circumstances, rank isn’t an issue between them, so neither one can automatically take the lead. That means they have to work out a way of interacting that isn’t based on one being the obvious boss: they have to cooperate if they want to get anywhere. I like that because it gets away from the convention of a lower ranking sidekick being told what to do.
The Crime Review: The extended cast of characters, and Reyna’s family (and their history) are also rich, varied and fascinating. Do you tend to empathize more with Hentze, Reyna or one of the other characters?
Chris Ould: That’s a really hard question to answer because I’ve never really had to decide between the two, and in the end I think I’d have to be even handed. I can empathise with Reyna because, although he’s prickly and intensely private, he’s also something of a lost soul. On the other side, I have a lot of time for Hentze’s groundedness and his essentially straightforward world view. I also rather like writing Sophie Krogh: not particularly out of empathy, but just because she’s irreverent and likes teasing Hentze.
The Crime Review: THE KILLING BAY features a group of environmental activists using guerrilla protest tactics in order to attempt to stop the traditional whale drive. Was there anything in particular that inspired you to examine this topic in this novel?
Chris Ould: Real life was the starting point. I was in the Faroes in 2014 when Sea Shepherd were doing their best to get themselves arrested by disrupting the grind. It was impossible to ignore what was going on and I became interested in their tactics, and in the Faroese police department’s response to the protests. From a writer’s point of view it was a very good time to be in the islands, but having found a background against which to set the story, I didn’t want the book to be primarily about the issue of the grind. I was more interested in what happens when people’s genuine and sincerely held beliefs are subverted by others who are only interested in furthering their own ends.
The Crime Review: It’s a fairly unique topic for crime fiction. And speaking of… do you read crime fiction in your spare time? If so, do you have favourites – authors, series or novels?
Chris Ould: I understand the concept of spare time but I don’t get a lot of it, so I tend to read intensely for a short period, and then hardly at all for some months. It’s hard to read while you’re writing. Crime-wise, I’ve liked Arnaldur Indriðason and Malcolm Mackay for some time and more recently Quentin Bates and Ragnar Jonassen have become favourites. I do enjoy series because you know you’re going to be re-engaging with characters you already know and like. I think it gives you a sense that you can sit back and relax in good hands. If I’m reading outside crime fiction I have a weakness for the slightly fabulist and offbeat, like Andrew Miller’s “Ingenious Pain” or Patrick Süskind’s “Perfume” – quite old now, but so is my reading list.
The Crime Review: No wonder you are so busy — you are also a BAFTA-award winning screenwriter. Do you have a preferred medium? Are there any lessons that you learned writing for TV that have transferred into your novels or vice versa?
Chris Ould: Scriptwriting is a much faster process. From commission to transmission is usually less than six months, so you see the result very quickly which gives you a nice sense of completion. By comparison novel writing is glacially slow but (usually) less stressful. Writing a novel also gives you much greater control over how you tell the story and what you want to say. In terms of transferable skills, I think I’m much more at ease with dialogue in my novels because of the scriptwriting, and I plot books in much the same way I would structure a screenplay. It enables you to avoid falling into too many traps or going up too many dead ends once you start writing.
The Crime Review: That definitely pays off in the tight writing of this series! THE KILLING BAY has just been released and I am already excited for the next instalment. When can we look forward to the next book? Do you have any other upcoming projects that readers should watch for?
Chris Ould: That’s really nice of you to say. The final novel in the trilogy is The Fire Pit, which will come out in exactly a year, always provided I get it finished on time. After that I have a couple of projects which have been floating around for a while, trying to take my attention away from work on the Faroes novels. It’s too soon to say more than that because they’re still at that delicate, formative stage, but both interest me a lot, which is always a good sign. Watch this space!
Thank you so much to Chris for taking the time to answer our questions about THE KILLING BAY and his writing process! We can’t wait for THE FIRE PIT, and are looking forward to your next projects.
The Crime Review is excited to take part in Chris Ould’s blog tour for THE KILLING BAY! Thank you to Titan Books and Mr. Ould for including us as part of your tour. Visit the other blogs that participated for more information about the book!