Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Ian Hamilton on that time he made a reader cry

The author of The Couturier of Milan answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Ian Hamilton is the author of The Couturier of Milan (Spiderline)

In Ava Lee, Ian Hamilton has created a crime fighter who breaks the mould with every new book (and, frankly, with every new chapter). The 10th book in the series, The Couturier of Milan, sees the globetrotting forensic accountant uncovering some very sinister fashion crimes.

Below, Ian Hamilton takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A. How does it work? Authors give us the questions they always wish they were asked in interviews. We pose eight of these questions randomly to any new takers. Then they give us questions to add to the Magic 8 pool. And on it goes...

1. Johanna Skibsrud asks, "What are some of the biggest frustrations while you work? In what ways do you continuously fail at what you do?"

The biggest frustration is being interrupted in any way when I'm on a roll — especially when what I'm working on has lots of dialogue because the voices in my head are talking to me, and I don't want an outside party disturbing us. I haven't continuously failed at anything I'm aware of, but that could be because I'm stubborn and I don't quit until I get something right.

2. Anthony Bidulka asks, "What has been your best experience with a reader of your work?"

I was in Whistler on a panel, and there was a young Chinese woman who sat in the front row and stared at me for an hour. When the panel ended, she approached me and said she had driven from Seattle to see me. She said she was gay, and had only come out to her family the week before. She said that the Ava Lee books had given her the courage to do it. Then she began to cry, and I cried along with her.

3. Linwood Barclay asks, "Does writing come easier the more you do, or is it more difficult because you don't want to repeat yourself?"

It actually is becoming easier, and that's because I'm still learning my craft. I have no formal training or education in writing or literature. I've never attended a workshop or been part of a writers' group. But working with a very good editor and just getting experience have made the process less torturous. I've also made a point of changing my main character's life quite dramatically as the series has progressed, so repetition hasn't been an issue.

4. Joy Fielding asks, "How is crime fiction different than regular fiction?"

I see absolutely no difference. To my mind, all fiction is about telling great stories and creating memorable characters. The settings and circumstances and use of language and literary devices are the trimmings.

5. Nino Ricci asks, "Do you ever actually read your own books after they're published — apart from public readings?"

No, I don't — although — because my stories are linked and I don't keep plot notes or names — I do have to go back to sections sometimes to make sure that I'm maintaining continuity. I have listened, though, to my books in their audio versions, and it was a very strange experience because I would hear parts that I thought were well-written, but I couldn't remember writing them. And then I would hear parts that I thought were atrocious, and for some reason those were easier to remember.

6. Jonathan Auxier asks, "What book in your home library holds the greatest sentimental value?"

I have a 1946 edition of Sir Gurney Benham's Book of Quotations that was given to me by my late mother 50 years ago, and was the first hardcover I owned. I've almost worn it out.

7. Frances Itani asks, "Describe a walk that would and could feed your imagination and writing. In what part of the world would it ideally take place?"

Any walk when I have someone with me who's willing to listen to me talk about plot and character. I have discovered that talking plot and character is the most productive and creative way for me to find a book's right path. Ideas that sounded so wonderful in my head, can become absolute nonsense when I'm forced to verbalize them. If I can describe a plot and characters verbally in a way that they hang together, I'm usually good to go when it comes to putting them down on paper. As for a place to walk — alongside Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong would be my choice.

8. JJ Lee asks, "If you had to write a country song right now, what would the chorus

I need someone to talk to — I'm going crazy all alone — writing in a basement — without a friend to call my own.