It’s 2013 and my publisher, Faber and Faber, invites me to a bar in London to meet some of the journalists and bloggers and intelligencia who write about crime fiction. Norwegian by Night is about to published and like every other debut novelist in a similar situation, I wander around after my editor and do whatever I’m told. One guy I meet is named Barry Forshaw. I’d never heard of him, but I’m told he knows almost everything about crime writing, and definitely everything about Scandi-Crime. We shake hands. He’s friendly, he’s funny, he likes my book. These are qualities I like in a person.
So we’re chatting and it occurs to me: this is the guy who will know the answer to a question on my mind. As it happens, Norwegian by Night was not an easy book to get published. In fact, it took me years to get it published at all and many editors (I’m talking dozens here) said that while it was a good book, they didn’t know how to sell it and so didn’t want it. In America, my publisher did not place it as crime. Nor in Germany or Italy. But in Norway they did, and in the UK too. So here’s what I wanted to know: Did he consider this a crime novel?
So Barry makes the Face-of-Deep-Thought for a few moments before saying … and I’m quoting in full here … ‘no.’ He then explains, very reasonably and eloquently, why.
Flash forward to the end of the year and I win the John Creasy Dagger ‘new blood’ award, which is a prestigious award among crime writers and I’m honored. And confused. Was Barry wrong? No, I came to learn. It’s just that being right seldom matters.
Now it’s time for my sophomore effort and I have a story I am burning to tell and it’s set in Iraq.
Wait … Iraq? wonders my agent. No one will want that, she explains. Oh sure they will, you just watch, I say in my chipper American accent.
Secretly, I know that not everyone wants to read a book set in Iraq but I’m convinced mine’s different. It’s a real story, I explain, not a polemic or a fictionalized soldier’s diary. And it will be very exciting and hilarious. So I finish and I’m certain I’ve written a timely and engaging thriller.
Faber and Faber reads it and says — I’m paraphrasing — this is great, but it’s obviously not a thriller, so we’re going to move you to the fiction list which also includes Orhan Pamuk, Paul Auster, Kazuo Ishiguro and Sarah Hall. I am simultaneously elated and yet also annoyed. Because it is now clear that while my writing is serious and improving, it is equally clear that I have no idea what I’m producing.
So when asked why I’m not writing crime fiction, my response is this: I did not stop writing crime fiction any more than I deliberately started to. And for what it’s worth, I am the last person to know the answer.
The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)