In her fifth crime novel in as many years Eva Dolan, This Is How It Ends (Bloomsbury, £12.99), tackles gentrification and social cleansing and delves into the world of community activism. She tells Big Issue North how a relentless writing schedule allows her to tackle current affairs in her fiction.
Your two main characters, Ella and Molly, are activists who camp out in a London tower block to protest against social cleansing in the area. What research did you do into the world of community activism?
I always start my research process with friends and their contacts and that was even more important than usual with this book because a lot of activists are – rightfully – suspicious of people who show an interest in their actions. I spoke to friends who’d been in various protests over the years and they gave me a sense of the solidarity and fierceness that comes with the fight, but none were directly involved with the anti-gentrification movement, so I fell back on some excellent books. Evicted by Matthew Desmond and Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere by Paul Mason were influential and fascinating reads. And following the activities of campaign groups around London, fighting gentrification and eviction, was vital for getting a sense of the human stories behind the reporting. Regional press coverage was also great and reminded me why local papers are so vital in holding our politicians to account.
The novel is told from the perspective of both characters. However Molly’s chapters go forward in time and Ella’s go backwards. What made you decide to tell the story in this way?
After writing four books in the Zigic and Ferreira series I was feeling constrained by the structure of the detective novel. It was about pushing myself, as much as anything else. I wanted to write a book about two women with a close and complex friendship, so I could explore how the same relationship can mean very different things to the people in it, contradictory things, even. The forwards-backwards structure was integral to that.
The themes you explore in the book seem all too real in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. How did you feel when news of the tragedy broke?
Like everyone else, I was absolutely stunned and horrified by what was happening, the sheer speed of it and the apparent hopelessness of the situation. It was nightmarish. And now, the aftermath is another horror, with people still in temporary accommodation and donated funds being left in bank accounts rather than being distributed to the people they were intended for, who desperately need them so they can start to rebuild their lives – it’s disgusting. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll see anything change as a result of this tragedy. It’ll just be business as usual and fuck the little people.
Your previous work has explored social issues such as immigration and the ramifications of right-wing rhetoric in the mainstream media. How important is it for you to base your work against a political backdrop?
The political backdrop is the most important thing to me when I’m starting a new book. I feel enormously privileged to have this platform as a working-class woman with very little formal education. People like me are largely voiceless in modern British society, or if we’re lucky, we’re doing working-class caricature. I’ve been very fortunate to have a brilliant and supportive editor in Alison Hennessey, who has always encouraged me to write what enrages me and to explore issues which are often overlooked in crime fiction.
The Zigic and Ferreira books, which were based in a hate crime unit, covered a lot of material which felt fresh to the page but was deeply entrenched in society and causing a lot of suffering. I felt like somebody should be writing about it.
I’d wanted to write about gentrification and the social cleansing of affluent cities like London for a few years and finally got chance with This Is How It Ends. It’s also been great writing characters who share my politics. Molly is basically the 60 year old I want to grow into.
As well as an author you are a successful poker player. Are there any similarities between poker and storytelling?
I’m strictly a small stakes player – in case my dad’s reading this – and mostly play online. It’s a good way of clearing my head before I start writing because it demands absolute concentration. But I love live poker, especially playing with other crime writers. We’re professional liars so very cocky about our abilities to bluff and read each other’s tells. I’m terrible live in comparison to online. Like so bad you’d think I was hustling. Live poker is storytelling. I think that’s why so many authors are drawn to it. It’s all about the management of information flow, planting red herrings, luring your opponents into guessing incorrectly – the same game you play with readers.
You were shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger for unpublished authors when you were a teenager. What drew you to the genre, and what keeps pulling you back?
For me, the major draw of the genre is that a single crime can draw in every level of society, which makes it perfect for exploring how the political becomes personal. With subjects like modern day slavery or growing inequality you need to render them on an individual level to do them justice. You can say “London house prices are outstripping the wages of the working class” but that’s dry. Crime allows you to take readers into the life of a woman who’s about to lose her home and show how desperately she’s prepared to fight for it – how that fight can draw in a whole community and how easily it might lead to murder.
This is the fifth book you have had published since 2014. How do you keep up the momentum?
It is a pretty relentless schedule, but I generally get the summer off and spend it on the festival circuit, which is always invigorating. The big advantage of doing one book per year though is that I feel like I can tackle big themes in society as they’re happening. I want my work to feel like it was written a moment before you pick up the book.
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