Books·Magic 8 Q&A

'Develop a thick skin and don't give up': crime writer Peter Robinson's advice to his younger self

The author of the Arthur Ellis Award-nominated novel Sleeping in the Ground answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.
Peter Robinson is the author of Sleeping in the Ground. (McClelland & Stewart/Paul Hansen)

The culprit behind a horrendous mass murder at a small wedding has been apprehended, but detective superintendent Alan Banks can tell that something's amiss. With the help of his former flame Jenny Fuller, Banks probes the suspect's past for answers and unearths some very old secrets. Sleeping in the Ground is the latest in Peter Robinson's bestselling Alan Banks mystery series, and is a finalist for the 2018 Arthur Ellis Award for best novel.

Below, the Toronto-based writer answers eight questions from eight of his peers.

1. Spencer Gordon asks, "Why do you think literary awards get people so riled up?"

Because they're ultimately subjective, and because everyone hopes to win.

2. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "If you were to have a dinner party, which two characters from everything you've created, would you like to have sit at your dining room table and chat with?"

Linda Palmer, the poet who first appeared in When the Music's Over, and Penny Cartwright, a folk singer who has appeared in a number of books.

3. Saleema Nawaz asks, "What is your favourite part of the writing and publishing process?"

Usually the first draft, written alone, in private, without anyone looking over my shoulder, making suggestions or correcting what I write. That's the closest I get to remembering why I started writing in the first place, when I was a child. But I have come to enjoy the distractions of research, too, and the editing process is invaluable, if sometimes a little hard on the ego.

4. Sharon Butala asks, "What is the main question that you wish somebody would ask you, although nobody ever has?"

That's a bit of a cheat, isn't it? Actually, I'd rather people stop asking me the questions I've already been asked too many times, such as "Where do you get your ideas?" and "Did you have anything to do with the casting of the DCI Banks TV series?"

5. Cathy Marie Buchanan asks, "Do you know how your story will end when you begin writing?"

No. I don't outline, so I never know where I'm going from one day to the next. Of course, ideas pop up as I write — or at least I trust they will — but the stories aren't planned out in advance. I usually get some idea of the ending when I'm about three-quarters of the way through.

6. Ian Brown asks, "What was the lowest point in the writing of your latest project? And the highest?"

The lowest point always occurs around page 187, when the book starts to feel like an irredeemable mess and I begin to wonder why I started it in the first place. The highest point is when the first blank page beckons with possibilities.

7. Charlotte Gill asks, "What is your Kryptonite?"

Too much reality.

8. Kevin Hardcastle asks, "What would you say to a younger version of yourself, or another emerging writer, who doesn't know what you know now about writing and publishing, or how long that road can be?"

Develop a thick skin and don't give up. Put your bum on the seat and your fingers on the keyboard. And don't forget that the more you write the better you will become at it.


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