Interview: Peter Liney, author of The Detainee

Peter Liney’s new novel, THE DETAINEE, is out today and he stopped by to answer a few questions about the book, and more!

peterlineyYou have a background in television, but have you always wanted to write a novel? Will you tell us a little more about yourself and your background?
Well, at the moment I’m living in my rather beautiful home town in the English countryside, a place that Hardy re-christened ‘Melchester’ (there’s value: an interview and a literary quiz question) but I guess I really think of London as my home. I have written for television but I’ve also written for radio and the stage. In fact, the first thing I had accepted – many years ago when I lived in Australia (another ‘home’) – was a poem, so I guess I just like writing of all descriptions.

Will you tell us more about THE DETAINEE and The Island? What inspired you to write the novel?
I think I was originally inspired by all those various hostages who have been imprisoned under the most awful of conditions yet never let their spirits be broken. Clancy and his friends are the same; no matter how terrible The Island, they will prevail.

But I also had some sociological concerns. How can a rapidly diminishing younger generation possibly sustain a rapidly mushrooming older one? I guess the most pleasurable solution would be for us all to get procreating, make the children who will sustain us in later life – but no, seriously, what is the answer? More to the point, is there one?

But, you know, if I had to use just one word to describe the theme of The Detainee it would be ‘Hope’.

thedetaineeWhy do you think readers will connect with “Big Guy” Clancy, and what do you like most about him?
Oooh, goodness. Clancy is the product of a rather cruel father and people’s expectations of how someone looks. If he were in one of those old black and white gangster movies, someone would’ve no doubt called him ‘a big lug’. All that was expected of him was to look threatening, and occasionally carry out one of those threats, but obviously there was always a lot more inside. I like the fact that he plainly suffers from low self-esteem – something you don’t expect from a Big Guy – and that, over the course of the trilogy, he gains in confidence, he ‘grows’. Though I guess the reason I like him most is because these days he has real integrity – which is a rare quality and one I much admire.

What kind of research did you do for the book?
Quite a lot. From the mundane of finding out what fish Clancy might catch off the Island, to how a landfill would normally be managed (particularly dangerous gasses), and most harrowingly, reading about some of the civil wars in Africa.

Why SF/dystopian? What do you enjoy most about reading, and writing in these genres?
As I said, I like many kinds of books. I have a particular weakness for out-of-control romantic thrillers – I must have some French blood somewhere. But I guess SF lends itself best to ‘What if…’

What is your writing process like? Are you an outliner or a seat of your pants kind of writer?
A bit of both. If I plot too much I feel like I’m in a strait-jacket, if I don’t plot at all, I’m like a puppy bouncing round a field.

What are a few of your biggest literary influences?
Difficult question. I’ve been through my phases. When I was in my teens it was Tolkien or Richard Matheson etc, then I became rather ‘serious’ and read a lot of Russian literature (Pastenak, Tolstoy), then I moved onto French (Zola, Flaubert). But actually, it could be where I was raised, but I can’t help but think that a writer I mentioned before, Thomas Hardy, has infused me, better or worse, for a weakness for melodrama, and, oddly, because it was really before his time, of writing very cinematically. There are very few Thomas Hardy books that wouldn’t make a good film. Much more so than Dickens, for example.

What do you like to see in a good book? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?
I like to see just a spark of originality. It doesn’t have to be the whole thing, it can just be a character, a plot point, perhaps even a phrase, that makes me stop, smile, and then maybe read it again. I think if you can’t do that, then maybe you’re not a writer, that you might as well buy a computer program to ‘write’ your next book.

When I was younger I would never put down a book. It was a crime somewhere between high treason and mass murder, but now, if it’s not doing it, I’ll go and find something that does. Life’s too short for a bad (or just boring) book.

perfumeWithout thinking about it too long, if someone asked you for a quick book rec, which book would come to mind immediately?
Easy. I worked in a bookstore for a while. I recommended Patrick Suskind’s ‘Perfume’ at least a hundred times (come to think of it, that man owes me!).

What are you currently reading and what do you look forward to reading this year?
I’m a little bit between books, but I have just started Stoner. Actually, I tend to be very impulsive with my buying. There’s nothing I like more than going into a bookshop, reading first paragraphs, maybe the second, then reading a paragraph at random. I’ve discovered lots of books that have become favorites that way. For example, ‘Dog Boy by Eva Hornung, ‘Blindness’ by Jose Saramago – both fascinating reads.

When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
Sounds a bit like computer dating. Erm, I like walking – the forest and the beach, playing and listening to music (my singing is slightly less painful than my guitar playing), photography, travelling (with my camera), and movies – of course.

What’s next for you this year?
Well, I’m going to LA for the launch of THE DETAINEE on March 11th. Then on July 3rd, the second book in the trilogy, INTO THE FIRE, comes out in the UK. And I’ll be continuing with the third book, IN CONSTANT FEAR.

Also, the choice of LA is no coincidence; I have high hopes that THE DETAINEE, maybe the whole series, will make it to the big screen. Fingers crossed.

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Peter Liney honed his strong narrative skills and attention to detail during his long career as a writer of German, Australian, British, and South African television and radio programs. In his debut novel, The Detainee, Liney has crated a dystopian world in which the state has gone bust and can no longer support its weakest members.

The Island is a place of hopelessness. The Island is death. And it is to this place that all the elderly and infirm are shipped, the scapegoats for the collapse of society. There’s no escape, not from the punishment satellites that deliver instant judgment for any crime—including escape attempts—and not from the demons that come on foggy nights, when the satellites are all but blind. But when one of the Island’s inhabitants, the aging “Big Guy” Clancy, finds a network of tunnels beneath the waste, there is suddenly hope—for love, for escape, and for the chance to fight back.

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