Grantown's Wee Crime Festival guest writer Hania Allen turned to Dundee for Polish detective Dania Gorska's patch
WHEN Hania Allen attends the Wee Crime Festival in Grantown this weekend, it is likely the observant crime writer will spot an intriguing location or landmark to inspire her.
Her latest novel Clearing The Dark – featuring her Dundee-based Polish detective Dania Gorska – opens when a small dog digs up a skull in the deserted grounds of a grand country house.
“I am a great believer in getting a good sense of place,” Hania revealed.
A good example is the location for her first novel which clicked for Hania in 2005 when she visited an ice hotel in Swedish Lapland with a friend and something sparked her curiosity and arrived with a book idea attached.
“You could sleep there in sleeping bags on blocks of ice and reindeer skins with tiny lights in the room, but there were no doors. I remember saying to my friend ‘What a marvellous place for a crime novel, anyone could come and murder us!.”
Hania went on to write and publish The Ice Hotel herself. But it wasn’t until she went on a writing course, read out some of the book and found a fan in writer and agent Allan Guthrie who recommended Hania to Scottish agent Jenny Brown, that a writing career became a reality.
But the way to her current crime series set in Dundee was still some way off.
“My parents were both Polish refugees who met after World War Two here in the UK,” Hania said.
“We lived in Liverpool, but my father had been based in St Andrews during the war.”
Hania returned there to study for a degree in physics and astronomy, moving into IT and information management and joining the university’s senior management team.
Her first series featured London-based investigator Veronica Von Valenti, but a publishing hiccup led to Hania reaching back to her Polish roots to start something new.
“The publisher’s writers all lost a year’s worth of royalties and a few writers simply gave up writing after that,” she said. “Fortunately I was determined to carry on. I cast about to think if this could be a change of direction for me and I had in mind a thriller based on wartime radio operators, the Red Orchestra.
“I read about this one man in Switzerland. He sent to the Soviet Union the information that the Germans were about to invade. Essentially he gave the army dates and times of exactly when the invasions were taking place.
“Yet to this day they don’t know where the source of the information was. It could only have been someone in Hitler’s high command and he went to his grave without giving up the name. For a crime writer it is such a great story.”
But fate had another idea, as a trip to the London Book Fair by Hania’s agent Jenny Brown, saw her learn that the publisher Constable, part of bigger publisher Little Brown – was looking for someone to write a book featuring a Polish detective.
The writer remembers: “Jenny said to me ‘It’s got your name all over it’.
“I was all fired up to write the Red Orchestra book but I thought ‘You don’t turn down Little Brown!’.
“My other books had all featured a female protagonist and I thought for a change I would have a male, a Polish detective who was going to be tall and blond and good-looking and have those exquisite manners that Poles still have – bowing and standing up when a woman walks into the room, things I remember from my father and his generation.
“Then I had a callback from the publisher saying ‘Actually, what we want is a female detective!’.”
But Hania had a clever idea.
“I thought she could have a brother – an investigative journalist. He is also tall and aristocratic and I thought as an investigative journalist, he could be a Watson for her Holmes!
“It essentially means that you are writing two stories in one book, so I have to think quite carefully about it.
"But it’s been great fun. I’ve just submitted my third book in the series which is called The Family Business.”
Hania Allen takes part in session The Remains of the Day with Inverness writer Margaret Kirk, both interviewed by Sandstone writer Lesley Kelly on Saturday (November 2) at 10am at The Pagoda, Grantown.