An Interview with Author, David Young

An Interview with Author, David Young

By Sarah Morgan

Journalist-turned-author David Young has returned to his East Yorkshire roots for his latest crime thriller, Death in Blitz City, a genuine page-turner that local residents and fans of the genre have been lapping up. Here he talks about his journey to becoming a novelist.

Do you believe in fate? Sometimes it does feel as if something is pushing you in a particular direction. Suddenly you’re on one route, and then an event happens that propels you down a different path.

Author David Young, who was born in Cottingham, might not regard his life in that way, but there do seem to have been some key points that led to him becoming an acclaimed novelist. Even his subject matter has fallen into his lap.

Life could certainly have been very different if he’d stuck the science degree he started at Bristol University.

“I hated it,” he admits, when we meet to discuss his latest book, the Hull-set Death in Blitz City. “I spent most of my time reading the New Musical Express instead, so I switched to doing Humanities at the Poly. I specialised in History, and that department was reasonably strong.”

His dissertation was on British attitudes to Stalin’s 1930s purges, which was where his interest in the Cold War began. It was developed years later under unusual circumstances after looking for a way to escape the mundanity of his job as a BBC journalist.

An Interview with Author, David Young band

David on stage with his band

“Real impression”

“When YouTube started, I wondered what I could put on it,” says David. “I started doing Neil Young covers, I’ve always been a fan, and then that prompted me to start writing my own songs.

“Then I met somebody at a party who’d just come back from a tour in Germany and he was saying, ‘if you say you’re from London, they’ll book you’. So I put this to the test and blagged a week’s tour of Germany for my fictional band. I advertised in GumTree for my musicians, and most of the places that booked us were in what had been East Germany.

“This was in about 2008, and that made a real impression on me. In between gigs I was reading Stasiland by Anna Funder, which is a non-fiction account of people who suffered under the Stasi and interviews with some ex-Stasi agents.”

Back in the UK, David began an MA in Crime Fiction Writing at City University. He used the knowledge he’d gleaned about the sinister state security ministry in one of its exercises, little realising where it would lead.

“My tutor, Claire MacGowan, who’s a published crime writer, she really loved it and said I ought to concentrate on turning that into a novel rather than the one I had been doing.”

That turned out to be his debut tome Stasi Child, which won the 2016 CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger award and was long listed for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. It was also the first in a six-book series which, sadly, has now come to an end.

“You feel a bit of a sense of grief because you’ve lived with those characters. The first book sold really well, and the sales followed the trajectory of most series, which tend to decline. I think the quality was kept up, and the reviews seemed to reflect that, but publishing is a commercial business, and they (his publisher, Bonnier Zaffre) made the commercial decision that they’d had enough, at least for the time being.”

While many authors have always had a burning desire to see their work in print, David claims that was not the case for him. As with his short-lived band, he used writing as a way of escaping from his day job.

An Interview with Author, David Young death in blitz city“I was fed up with the BBC and I think the BBC was fed up with me! I’d been there for about 27 years by the end of it. Like any big organisation, middle aged men, possibly middle aged women as well, if you don’t continue to be a rising star, you get shoved into the broom cupboard, and my equivalent was when we moved to the new Broadcasting House, my allocated desk was a metre from the ladies’ loo.”

“I pushed hard for it”

He was eventually made redundant, and was told by his wife that if he hadn’t landed a publishing deal within a year, he’d have to find another job. Thankfully, almost a decade on, he’s still a full-time novelist. It’s not the first time that losing a position has pushed him down a particular route either – early in his journalistic career, he was made redundant from his job at the Sheffield Star.

“As my girlfriend at the time, who’s now my wife, lived down in Surrey and had no desire to move up to Yorkshire, I took it as an opportunity to take the redundancy and move down to London,” he smiles. “Redundancies have worked out very well for me!”

You could perhaps describe the Stasi series as being redundant now too, but its demise has at least meant that David could create Death in Blitz City, which brought him back to his Yorkshire roots.

The book introduces readers to First World War veteran Ambrose Swift, a one-armed police detective who lives in Beverley but plies his trade on the mean streets of Hull. Helping him deal with a series of particularly grisly murders involving local girls and black soldiers stationed nearby are his sergeant, local lad and part-time bareknuckle boxer Jim ‘Little’ Weighton, and Kathleen Carver, a resourceful auxiliary constable from the wilds of North Yorkshire.

The story is set after the worst bombing the city received during the Second World War. Hull itself is almost a character, so it seems incredible that originally, it was suggested that David change the location to London.

“That’s what they said, absolutely! I don’t know whether that was the editor or when he took it to the acquisitions meeting. The whole point of it for me was that it was set in Hull. That was what was distinctive – a novel like that hadn’t been set in Hull before. I pushed hard for it.”

Thankfully he was successful, because the story is a gripping one which has gone down brilliantly with local readers, even breaking sales records at the city’s branch of Waterstones.

Among the inspirations for the story were tales he was told as a child: “I definitely remember my father telling me how Hull was very badly bombed but never featured in the news and was always referred to as an anonymous north east coastal town. If you heard that, you’d think of Middlesbrough or something.

An Interview with Author, David Young greece

Yorkshire author David Young relaxing on holiday in Greece

“Drawing on some of my own experiences”

“So we were told those stories, and in the field at the back of where we lived, there was an air raid shelter, which we used to go and play in. And I have vague memories of my grandfather having a shelter in his garage.”

A self-confessed fan of the Foyle’s War TV drama, David also admits he took inspiration from that. Unfortunately, it’s looking unlikely that Swift will become the centre of a long-running series, despite there being lots of scope for more stories.

“That’s the situation at the moment. It was commissioned as a standalone. I’d be very happy for it to be a series. It’s sold very well in Hull, but I don’t think it’s sold particularly well elsewhere. Book sales depend a lot on getting into supermarkets and WH Smiths, and it hasn’t managed to do either. I put some ideas to my publishers and they weren’t interested in making it into a series.

“If a TV company showed an interest, I’m sure that would push them the other way. I was thinking of sending it to the new owner of Hull City who’s full of all things Hull at the moment. He’s a TV mogul in Turkey, where Foyle’s War does play, actually. I think his company is all reality shows and things like that, but maybe it needs a drama arm…

“In the meantime I’ve been writing a psychological thriller centred on a university reunion in Bristol. So drawing on some of my own experiences but completely fictional and set, actually, a few years later than when I went.”

So while one door closes, another could be opening. Perhaps this is fate playing its hand again – Ambrose Swift may turn out to be a one-hit wonder, but who knows, perhaps even bigger and better things are waiting just around the corner?

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