Gangster Girl, the latest gripping installment from Dreda Say Mitchell, is out from Hodder Paperbacks, £5.99, August 2010. Following Daisy Sullivan, daughter of the infamous Frankie Sullivan, as she is sucked reluctantly back into the criminal world that her father tried to protect her from, the book throws excitement and tension at you with every page you turn. This up-and-coming lawyer becomes part of a bank job that is no ordiniary robbery. Can she bring herself to use the tricks her father taught her? Can she trust badboy Rick Smart? Will she ever be more than a gangster girl? Pick up a copy and I promise you won't be able to put it down till you've found out.
Hi, Dreda. So, Gangster Girl follows Daisy Sullivan as she is pulled away from her wonderful new life towards a past she thought she’d left behind. Do you feel the same about your past, that you are always pulled back to where you came from, in either a positive or negative way?
I think we live in a time when being working class is no longer seen as a negative thing. I grew up on a housing estate in the east end of London and I see this as an incredibly positive aspect of my life; I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. I still live in the east end and it provides the bedrock of the types of stories I write about. The mantra that the only way working class people are going to be a success is to leave it all behind is not true. Truly successful people are those that are confident and grounded in the people who they are, not what someone else wants them to be. My characters are fiercely proud of their backgrounds, but it was an aspect that I really wanted to explore in Daisy - can you still be proud of who you are if your old man was a gangster?
Your ‘bad’ characters are much more than simply criminals, as well. Do you consciously strive to give them a fuller story? Do you have any sympathy with them or a secret preference for them?
Readers want to read about ‘people’ and, let’s face it, the human race are a complex lot. So I strive to do the same with all my prominent characters. I always try to give them a back-story that I hope informs who they are. Having grown up on an estate and seen some of the most intelligent men I know end up treading the path of crime, I wonder what it was about their experiences that made them go that way. I have to admit to having a liking for the ‘bad boys’. Schoolboy, the protagonist from my first novel Running Hot, I simply adore. As you’ll see, my subsequent books were also an attempt to show what happens to the life of this former jailbird. And Frankie Sullivan … well, I just couldn’t let him rest in Geezer Girls so had to have him back in Gangster Girl.
The characters of both Stella and Daisy are extremely strong. Would you say that strong female role models are important in your life?
I grew up with strong women, both in the Caribbean community and in east London. It just seems to me that in both of these communities women are very often the backbone. Definitely not the type of women you would muck around with! I also wasn’t very interested in writing about women as ‘victims’ - I hope what I’ve created are twenty-first century women who kick ass when they need to and aren’t hiding behind some bloke. And, dare I say it, I like to think I’m a strong woman too!
Gangster Girl puts people of different ethnic backgrounds into many different social and moral positions. Did you consciously try to subvert the reader’s expectations by putting Ricky in a criminal position before revealing his true, more noble, identity? Do you find that children are still being pushed into certain roles, whether to be academic or athletic?
At school I was pushed into sport (although my PE teacher would be shocked at the state of me now), rather than academic studies. Deciding to be on the school athletics team no longer must have been the first political statement I ever made. I hope we now live in a time where we actively use education to harness and promote all our children’s talents. One of the jobs of the crime writer is almost to manipulate the reader in thinking one thing when all the time it was something else, so I do this with Ricky.
You have said that the lives of the people where you grew up inspired you to write. Do you write for these people?
The lives of some of the people I grew up with provide a great springboard for my characters and stories. But I definitely do not write solely for them. I like to think that my books contain stories that have universal messages that resonate with so many people, such as redemption, betrayal, love and loyalty. My first ever fan mail was from a middle-class white man who lived in Hampstead, a million miles away from the ducking and diving east end.
The pace of the book is very fast – do you find yourself wrapped up wholly in the worlds you create, unable to stop until you reach the end?
All authors write in different ways but for me creating what I hope is a fast-moving thrill ride involves a heck of a lot of plotting beforehand. Even then, when I start writing, as I get to know my characters better, I find myself pulled in different directions by them, which is so exciting. Once I reach 30,000 words the book begins to take shape and starts to fly. The more I write, the better the rhythm gets and – hopefully – so does the story.
You have said that you grew up in a story-telling environment. Do you prefer writing to speaking when it comes to stories?
I enjoy talking; I come from a family of people who are just never quiet. But there’s something so wonderful about writing. It gives you an opportunity to play with words in a way that I don’t think you have as a speaker. Also, there’s an art to telling a good story. Some of the greatest story-tellers I’ve known in my life are people who left formal education at an early age, such as my dad. I could never match him; writing is the one for me!
And I think we're all very glad that that's the case! I can't wait to read the next installment in the series so I'll end it here and let you go back to writing! Thank you very much for your time, Dreda.
Published 05/08/2010 Publisher Hodder Paperback £5.99 RRP