Terry Hickland | Interview
Words: Conor O’Neill
Lisburn born author and poet, Terry Hickland’s book On Marian Place is receiving enthusiastic reviews within crime and thriller readers’ circles. CultureHUB sat down with the author in the Lisburn Library: to chat about the book, his hopes for it, his influences, writing habits and the publishing industry as a whole.
To those unfamiliar with the book, the brief synopsis is a German intelligence officer stumbles upon a rare piece of an antique and highly collectible writing desk. Within it, there are long lost, highly secret Nazi files regarding the plundering and theft of Jewish property during WWII. Our main protagonist, Detective Chief Inspector Detlef Schmitt, along with his love of antiquity and the classics is currently investigating Serbian criminal gangs involved in everything from murder to drug trafficking to fund the Serbian/Croat war. Yes, there are the car chases and assassination attempts, but Hickland’s prose is also full of more tender moments. His descriptive style is lyrical and aside from the violence, covert operations, and cyber-attacks, Schmitt has a loving partner and young son.
The humanity of the book is often evident as he battles not only crimes past and present but with the pressures put on his private life as a result of his career.
As with all cops with their noses to the ground, on a major, possibly internationally sensational case, Schmitt, of course, needs a nemesis. I’ll let you find out more on that when you read the book.
Finding Hickland equally relaxed and talkative, we get down to business.
What do you think is the appeal of crime and thriller novels and television programmes that draw such numbers of readers and viewers?
I think part of the time some people want to live out their fantasies; others are intrigued as to how the crimes occurred. They want to know about the murders, the robberies and the background to them. Basically, it’s driven by curiosity.
Do you think humans, in general, have a natural leaning toward the darker side?
Not everyone, but there is that among the vast majority of crime readers. They want to maybe not live out the fantasy, but to live it out for the duration of a book.
You mentioned in your bio about a chance find which led to writing the book, can you elaborate?
In 2011 I was in my mother-in-law’s house and looking through her late husband’s book collection. Ian Fleming’s biography was one of those books and I picked it up simply because he was the author of James Bond and once I’d finished it I became a bit blasé about the whole thing and thought, ‘Is that where the guy got the plots?’ He worked for the British Intelligence Agency during WWII and wrote for newspapers and drew heavily from news cuttings, press interviews etc. So I decided I would write a book myself.
The book is based in Germany in 1994 during the Serbian/Croatian war. Hickland lived in Germany for more than half of the 1980s, I ask him why he set the book during that time and how the plot evolved?
My basic interest was where did most of the Nazi gold and loot of WWII go? And if you imagine setting dominoes around a table and flick one, all the information and the plot came together. While the Serbian conflict was ongoing, there was racketeering to raise funds to prolong the war, to buy shells, guns and whatever on the black market. That did happen and it all rolled into one and came to a stop at a particular bank on Marian Platz in Germany.
I’m interested in your attention to detail, I researched as much as possible and everything checks out. The Jean-Henri Reisener bureau (only 100 reproductions were made and the original was made for French Queen, Marie Antoinette), the German 7th Army pushed back by the US 101st Calvary in January 1945, Pullach was the German Intel Operations Centre until 2014, the P38 9mm gun replaced the Luger as the standard German Army handgun, amylbarbitone was used as a truth serum, the White Rose Movement, the executions… everything is correct. You’ve obviously done your homework.
It’s a period book and any writer who wants to produce high-quality work has to do the research. I’ll give you an example: there’s two car chases in the book, I had seen the Konrad Adenauer tunnel and thought, ‘wow, that would be a fantastic place to have a chase’, but when I researched I found the tunnel was built in 2004, On Marian Place is set in 1994 so it wouldn’t have fit. Everything in my book, including the Grundig tape recorders, I went and checked out. No one can come back to me and say, ‘that wasn’t there, that didn’t happen!’ If you’re going to write a period book, write a period book, even down to the cars.
When reading the book, I was only on page 72 and commented on Facebook something along the lines the book was a ‘cross between a Dan Brown novel and Bret Easton Ellis’. I was referring to the cinematic nature of how the book reads – I mention a few scenes, in particular, to describe them here would be spoilers galore – Do you write with the camera in mind?
People say to me, ‘you write with a cinematic mind’ but I don’t write with plans for film. I just write in a scripted manner.
Do you write at set times, write in bursts? What, if any, are your writing habits?
At the weekend, when I get other things out of the way, I would go up on a Sunday and write a chapter, but after writing it [the entire trilogy in one book] it wasn’t working so I broke the book into three. I’m back on the bike again and writing the plots. This book, or trilogy, has went in a totally different direction to what anyone would have thought… it’s even shocked me!
Do you carry a notepad for quips or quotes you hear from people?
No, I hear different people and they say, ‘I have writer’s block’. A friend of mine said to me about a year ago, ‘you’re writing poetry and On Marian Place, why don’t you write a simple book?’ I said ‘right’ and after the call, within 20 minutes, the new book called The Piano Boat (it’s about a 10-year-old boy dealing with grief and set in the south of Ireland) was all worked out pretty quickly. It will break your heart, I was very emotional writing it and I was nearly in tears writing some of the scenes.
Back on topic, when can we expect to see parts two and three published?
I’m trying hard to get part two out later this year. The last book, like On Marian Place is again cinematic. If the first two were to be shot, they would be in colour. The last [of the trilogy] in my mind, because it’s set between 1939 and 1945 would be black and white.
So the trilogy doesn’t run in chronological order?
The second and third books tell the origins of the plot. Take into consideration the original was written in 2011 as one book and I ran into problems, hence the rewrite.
Once again referring to your bio, the book is self-published and you’ve met some problems because of that. Can you give the reader a bit more detail on the issues with self-publishing?
If you go with Amazon or anyone like that, the wholesalers don’t really want to know you. The book is available through Amazon or Waterstones UK. I’ve approached other big distributors in the south of Ireland who’ve said ‘hold off for the moment’. They have the book but currently have enough other titles for a while.
So enough about writing and the business world, readers will surely want to know more about your life story?
In short, I was born in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, I’m 58-years-old and married with one son. I moved to Germany in 1980 and though I had a background in transportation, I found myself labouring on building sites and immersing myself in German culture. I’m fluent in German language, but not quite up to speed with the German written word yet.
And your current work when not writing?
I’m a college lecturer and assessor in Motor Vehicle Technologies for the South Eastern Regional College. As for recreation, I love classic cars and classical music.
So there it is, in black and white, from auf weidersehen pet, to poetry, crime novelist and just possibly, sitting on a blockbuster of a book.
On Marian Place is a book I dare you not to enjoy and sit up half the night with red eyes and turning the pages almost against your will. Read the On Marian Place book review at: culturehubmagazine.co.uk/terry-hickland
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