Killing For England - Q and A
Iain McDowall grew up in the industrial West of Scotland but now lives in the English Midlands and sets his crime novels there. Killing For England is the 4th book in his highly-regarded Crowby series.
Q Killing For England deals with racism, race murders and the menace of the Far Right. In your earlier book, Making A Killing, you used a sub-plot to look at Britain’s illegal trade in weapons of repression. Do you think the crime novel is a good vehicle to explore the big issues of the day?
A A lot of crime fiction is just right-wing hokum – hard-bitten cops doing ‘what it takes’ to put away ‘scum’ and ‘low-life'. But alongside the reactionary stuff, there’s also an honourable tradition of crime novels willing to confront difficult social and political issues without knee-jerk responses of that simplistic kind. I’ve positioned myself in that tradition to a certain extent and I’m trying to live up to it.
Q Killing For England also seems particularly timely right now – when immigration and asylum are major political issues and Far Right parties are breaking into the political mainstream.
A The political mainstream, as you describe it, has a lot to answer for right now. The two major parties here in the UK seem to be engaged in a bidding war to see who can talk the 'toughest' on these issues. When establishment politicians are saying its OK to be 'concerned' about immigration, it's hardly surprising that, nationally, the extremist BNP are doing better than ever at winning grassroots support.
Q Some readers might be surprised by Rick Cole, your main Far Right protagonist. He’s not un-intelligent, runs his own business - and to the outside world, he comes across as a decent, hard-working family man.
A Fascists don’t conveniently walk around with two heads and six arms. They’re very ordinary people apart from their ‘politics’. And fascism doesn’t only appeal to the under-educated and the socially disadvantaged. It’s much more dangerous than that – a concept I thought it was very important to get across in the book.
Q You studied philosophy at university and went on to pursue an academic career as a lecturer and researcher. Did your interest in philosophy influence you when you turned to crime writing?
A To an extent. Everything you’ve ever done influences your writing - although it's just as difficult to apply philosophical theories inside fiction as it is to apply them in 'real life'. I’m interested in people’s deep motivations, the ones they may not be aware of themselves or only glimpse darkly. I try to make my characters stand up and walk around like real human beings, not just Cluedo-style cardboard cut-outs.
Q You didn’t come from an academic family background however.
A No, Kilmarnock was still in its industrial heyday when I was growing up there. My dad worked in one of the local factories until he retired and I was one of the first kids in my street to stay on at school beyond the age of 16.
Q And that upbringing has influenced you too?
A Of course. I grew up on a council estate in the days when communality and neighbourliness were still at a premium. Plus the poetry of the local lad, Robert Burns, was always around at home, with its aspirations for social justice and egalitarianism. In the Crowby books, particularly in Perfectly Dead, I write about the sink estates that emerged in a later generation – after the post-war consensus collapsed.
Q I really enjoyed Killing For England. It’s tightly-plotted, fast-moving and shot through with your trademark bleak humour. Before I read it I was concerned that there might be something preachy or worthy about it. But nothing could be further from the case.
A Thanks. A novel stands or falls by being a good novel or a bad one. There’s no extra points for being on the right side. Which is exactly as it should be.
© Iain McDowall and Henry Pellling, 2006. All rights reserved.