Name: Eva Dolan
Author of: LONG WAY HOME (2014)
TELL NO TALES (2015)
AFTER YOU DIE (2016)
WATCH HER DISAPPEAR (2017)
THIS IS HOW IT ENDS (2018)
On Twitter: @eva_dolan
Eva Dolan was shortlisted for the CWA Dagger for unpublished authors when only a teenager. The four novels in her Zigic and Ferreira series have been published to widespread critical acclaim: Tell No Tales and After You Die were shortlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award and After You Die was also longlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger. She lives in Cambridge.
Thank you, Eva, for taking the time to chat with us.
Let’s start by talking about your latest novel, This is How it Ends. Can you tell us a bit about the book, and where it came from?
This Is How It Ends is a standalone thriller set in London, it follows Molly, a veteran activist who’s being evicted from her home by developers, and her protégé, rising political blogger, Ella. When Ella accidentally kills a man Molly helps her to hide the body in a lift shaft. The body doesn’t say hidden for very long and as the police investigation draws closer to them the bond they’ve formed begins to fray.
This is How it Ends has a very complex structure: it opens with a dead body, and two stories fork off from this event – one that moves forward in time, and examines the consequences of the death; and one that moves backwards in time, and explains how we got to this point. How did you approach the writing, and how much of the outcome did you know when you started writing? I’m particular interested in how you approached Ella’s chapters.
Getting the structure right was initially quite tough. Ella’s chapters unspooling backwards created an interesting challenge – how to maintain narrative drive when the reader knows what happened in the first couple of chapters. It became about showing what Ella did on Monday then her motivation for her actions arising on the Sunday, basically. It gave me the opportunity to gradually unpeel Ella’s layers, letting the reader share in Molly’s growing unease as they and she catch Ella out in each small lie.
I did know the ending when I first started planning and that was a big help. It would have been impossible to pants this book.
You’re best known, perhaps, for your Zigic and Ferreira series novels. How different is writing a standalone novel with a whole new slate of characters?
Writing a standalone was hugely liberating. I enjoyed being free of the constraints of the police procedural and the basic skeleton of an investigation which has to be respected. But, more so, it was being freed from the moral landscape of the detective novel that drove me on with this book. Molly and Ella are people who operate at the edge of legality, motivated by a sense that the law is against the little guy in their situation. It was nice to write characters who share my political beliefs this time around.
The book’s premise is a very timely one – the gentrification of London, and the extortionate prices which mean that local people can no longer afford to live here – but there is a lot of history involved, particularly in Molly’s story. How much research did you have to do, and did you find anything here that took the story on a different route to the one you’d initially imagined?
I did quite a lot of research when I started seriously planning this book, but information was actually fairly light on the ground. So I read a lot of non-fiction books about gentrification and neo-liberalism, subjects I’m interested in and ones that underpin Molly and Ella’s beliefs. I also tried to dive into material on anti-gentrification protests going on in London, which was stymied slightly by the fact that a lot of the political decisions which drive protest aren’t transparent and therefore not easily accessible by authors. The Guardian is the only national paper covering these issues in any detail and the back issues were invaluable jumping off points.
What’s next for Eva Dolan? Can you talk about what you’re working on, and what we might see from you in the near future?
I’m deeply superstitious about discussing works in progress, sorry. In the early stages it feels like talking about them will somehow break the spell and they’ll fall apart. What I can say is it’s another London-set standalone thriller, political but sited in a very different social circle to This Is How It Ends. It follows three women who are locked in a power struggle with each other and the system.
What authors or works have influenced you as a writer?
With the Zigic and Ferreira books I was directly influenced by other detective series – the Rebus books played a huge role in shaping my ideas on how the series should work, also Mark Billingham’s Thorne novels and John Harvey’s social realist take on the police procedural.
This Is How It Ends is a very different book though and doesn’t really have direct influences like Zigic and Ferreira did. I suppose Patricia Highsmith was the one big influence squatting away in the back of my mind. She’s cited by so many authors for good reason. Her work is psychologically intense, incisive and original and her prose is unfussy almost to the point of being simply functional, and yet somehow it’s much more than that. She’s a tough author to pin down and I think that’s why her work persists.
And as a follow-on, do you have a favourite book, something that you return to on a regular basis?
I’m not actually a big rereader. There are just too many brilliant new books coming out every month and so many classics I want to read that going back to books seems a bit indulgent. I’m horrified how many unread books are on my Kindle and I daren’t even count how many physical ones are in my TBR room. I have reread Patricia Highsmith’s Ripliad a few times though.
What does a typical (writing) day in the life of Eva Dolan look like?
It’s a writing night rather than a writing day, because I’m totally nocturnal when I’m working. I go for a run around ten pm, then a quick smoke and an espresso and sit down to start typing at midnight. First up I reread and edit the previous session’s pages, then plunge on into new stuff. I only write for about four to five hours but because it’s so peaceful I tend to get quite a lot done, anything from 1500 to 3000 words depending on what kind of scene I’m writing. By the time I’m finished I’m so exhausted I fall asleep within a few minutes. It’s disruptive working like this but I’ve tried doing a standard nine to five and it just doesn’t work for me.
And what advice would you have for people hoping to pursue fiction-writing as a career?
I’m the last person who should give advice to aspiring writers. I did everything wrong – spent fifteen years teaching myself how to write, sent an unfinished MS to agents, focused on aggressively uncommercial storylines – so, my advice would be look at that list and do the opposite.
What are you reading now, and is it for business or pleasure?
I’ve just started Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, which is definitely for pleasure and so good it might actually be bad for business as it could intimidate me into writer’s block. Some authors shouldn’t be read while you’re working…
If This is How it Ends – or the Zigic and Ferreira novels, for that matter – was ever to make the jump to the screen (big or small), do you have any dream cast or directors?
The tv rights to This Is How It Ends were snapped up last summer and there is some amazing talent already attached. I can’t really say more at the moment – there’s an official announcement due very soon – but I couldn’t be happier with the people who have come on board.
And finally, on a lighter note…
If you could meet any writer (dead or alive) over the beverage of your choice for a chat, who would it be, and what would you talk about (and which beverage might be best suited)?
I’m pretty happy with the writers I’m lucky enough to go drinking with, to be honest. And I have a terrible feeling that if I met any of my dead literary heroes they’d be underwhelming at best and total dicks at worst. I mean, who could possibly live up to the hard-drinking, hard-laughing standards established by my crime writing peers?
Thank you once again, Eva, for taking time out to share your thoughts.