It’s less than a week until our First Monday Crime Summer Bonanza when we’ll have TEN authors! To get us in the mood I have an interview with one of our panellists – Peter Hanington. Peter is the author of A Dying Breed. As well as the interview, I’ve also had the chance to read and review his latest novel – A Single Source.
So Peter, tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a journalist, first for print and on a local newspaper and for the last 25 years a BBC radio producer. I’ve worked at GLR, 5 Live, Radio 4 (mainly on Today) and most recently at the World Tonight and Newshour on the World Service. I write under the heavy influence of the likes of Greene, Ambler and Highsmith and I try to write a little every day, even if its only a few words or a half formed idea. I’m married to Victoria Scott and have two children (19 and 24) one of who is travelling in South America and the other is studying Spanish and Politics in Glasgow. This is my second book, the first A Dying Breed was Sunday Times thriller of the month and is under option from Company Pictures.
How has your career as a news journalist impacted your writing?
Its at the root of it all really. When I started at Today I used to regularly become hypnotised by the wire service reports…story after story from all corners of the world which would march across my computer screen. It often seemed that these snap shots of drama, hope, horror could and should stand further examination and eventually that’s what I ended up doing…picking a handful of stories, fictionalising them and pulling them together to make a wider tale. The day job helps inspire but it also makes finding writing time tricky.
There are three plotlines in A Single Source. So, a purely practical writing question – how did you write this book? Which story came first?
I knew I wanted to bring my central character, William Carver, forward in time after his first appearance during the Afghan war and 2011 and the Arab Spring seemed an obvious choice. The refugee / migration crisis which as you say forms a second plot line springs naturally from that and for the last couple of years we have had refugees from Syria and Uganda (not Eritrea yet) living with us through the Refugees at Home charity and I wanted to try and write a little inspired by their various experiences. The third arms dealer element is also based in fact and inspired by some of the moral decisions that politicians were struggling with (or not struggling with at all) at that time. I mapped the three stories out on flip chart paper pinned to the walls of the shed and then over time found ways to bring the three together. A few reviews have described the book as something of a jigsaw and it isn’t the easiest read in the world but hopefully it rewards people sticking with it.
Although the novel is set in 2011 at the time of the Arab Spring, it’s still relevant today. Migrants were found off the coast of Kent this month and more died in the Mediterranean. But there’s less news coverage now. As a journalist and an author, how do you get the story heard amongst the clamour of everything else?
I think this is huge question… the refugee / migration crisis is going to become more urgent in coming years and is really a challenge to our humanity. I worry that some of the coverage is lazy and some is simply racist – the journeys these people are making are incredible, the reasons they are leaving are complex and the tragedies that are befalling them along the way are truly awful. Some of the media’s response (and a worrying number of politicians’ responses) is having a dehumanising effect that should make us all fearful and spur us to action.
To finish – on a scale of 1-10, how excited are you about appearing at First Monday Crime?
Its a stone cold 10.
Thank you Peter for taking the time to answer my questions. If you want to hear more from Peter then come along to First Monday Crime next week on the 3rd June. Make sure you reserve your seat by clicking here.
I’ve had the chance to read A Single Source. Before I share my review, here’s the blurb.
Veteran BBC reporter William Carver is in Cairo, bang in the middle of the Arab Spring. ‘The only story in the world’ according to his editor. But it isn’t.
There’s another story, more significant and potentially more dangerous, and if no one else is willing to tell it, then Carver will – whatever the consequences.
A Single Source tells two stories, which over a few tumultuous months come together to prove inextricably linked. There are the dramatic, world-changing events as protests spread across North Africa and the Middle East, led by a new generation of tech-savvy youngsters challenging the corrupt old order. And then there are two Eritrean brothers, desperate enough to risk everything to make their way across the continent to a better life in Europe.
The world is watching, but its attention span is increasingly short. Carver knows the story is a complex one and, in the age of Facebook, Twitter and rolling news, difficult stories are getting harder to tell. If everyone is a reporter, then who do you believe?
A Single Source is the second William Carver book by Peter Hanington but it’s the first one I’ve read. Set in 2011, there are three plotlines based in Egypt, London and Eritrea. It took me a while to get into the book with three different storylines but I’m glad I persisted.
My favourite of the three is the Egyptian thread. The Arab Spring is in full flow and has reached Egypt. William Carver is one step ahead of the rest of the news journalists and is already making local contacts through Zahra, the receptionist at his hotel. I don’t want to give too much away but Peter Hanington has managed to recreate the tension of the Arab Spring – excitement mixed with real danger along with the belief that things really could change.
In Eritrea, brothers Solomon and Gebre are encouraged by their grandfather, Gabriel, to leave and travel to Europe. He has insured their safe passage at huge financial cost. We don’t often hear about migrants and refugees until they’re near our coastline. A few weeks’ ago two dinghies were found off the coast of Kent with migrants, thankfully alive. But more migrants had died prior to that in the Mediterranean. Through this storyline, we see the terrible predicament that people go through, risking everything for a better life.
Rob Mariscal, a former radio news editor, is now the Communications Director for the MoD. He’s good at spinning stories but he finds himself caught in a web of deceit. He’s tasked with taking down the person who’s threatening to expose a scandal that could rock the Government – William Carver.
To begin with, it’s hard to work out how these stories are going to mesh together but Hanington slowly does this, before picking up pace. A Single Source really packs some punches and is harrowing at times. Although this is fiction, Peter Hanington’s journalistic experience shines through and it feels all too real. This book may be set in 2011 but it’s still just as relevant today. Looking back, and I think the book hints at this, we have to ask the question, did the Arab Spring really achieve freedom? Or was it a perceived freedom which kept power in the same elite hands? I can’t think of another book (fact or fiction) that has made me think so much about today’s world. I’m intrigued to see what Peter Hanington comes up with next.
You can buy A Single Source here or buy it on the night and get it signed!
About the Author
Peter Hanington worked for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for 14 years and throughout the Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts. He initiated the special guest editor programmes and worked on special projects including collaborations with the Manchester International Festival and Glastonbury.
He still works for the BBC and lives in London.