I began writing A Known Evil on ‘Blue Monday’ in January 2014 in a quiet moment after a day’s teaching. I am an assistant university lecturer and one of the benefits of the job is that you can usually find a few hours for other projects, if you want. As an effective freelancer, I choose how much I work, finances permitting, investing the time saved in writing.
Up to then, I’d had a little success with poetry and short stories, but I felt a growing urge to try something else. Setting out on a totally new adventure also seemed like a good way to keep any incipient blues at bay on that, allegedly, most depressing day of the year.
I had never seriously considered writing a novel but had read Ulysses and Flann O’Brien as a student and played around with some autobiographical attempts at an anti-novel but no crime. No serial killers. No thrillers. No intrigue.
So what inspired me? Around that time, I had been reading some classics in the genre for pure, escapist pleasure. Which might beg the question what was I escaping from? Well, I live in Italy, and Rome has been my home since 2001 and before that for a brief period Sicily was too. I had gone there initially as a language teacher wanting to see Europe and maybe even the world but had ended up staying.
Just as I was then, outsiders continue to be drawn to The Eternal City and its mind-blowing museums, the millennial history of the Roman Forum, the Appian Way, the charm and harmony of cobbled side-streets and cafes, the Bougainville and Jasmine scented air, warm summer evenings and cold white wine, the laid-back pace of life.
But when you live there you feel more of the dark side: the politics, the Machiavellian intrigue, the corruption and violence that most visitors will never see or experience, the problems of bureaucracy, nepotism, favours, bribes and blackmail.
In Sicily one evening I witnessed a bomb go off, likely the work of extortionists. That incident never made the papers. In Rome, when it snowed for a day in 2013, a regional councillor bought himself a 4×4, so he could ‘get around’, and all on party funds. Paid for by the tax payer. Paid for, in part, by me.
The first big immigration problem had also landed on the national agenda. It quickly became a ragged and soiled political football – scapegoating and blame were the order of the day and finding real solutions seemed a secondary consideration. The credit crunch crisis too was biting hard, while Neo-fascism too had got a shot in the arm as simple-minded nostalgia and cynical opportunism drew oxygen from what was happening in Rome and in the country as a whole. The political system was perceived as sclerotic, inefficient, ineffective and the media largely in thrall to political parties and their cronies.
But at least the mafia weren’t doing much. Or were they? Cosa Nostra was keeping itself pretty much to itself (but it’s always there) while the Neapolitan Camorra and the Calabrian N’drangheta were attaining new notoriety as the cocaine and gun-crime racking Naples and its suburbs spread northwards from its heartlands, following the money, following the power to Rome.
I realised I had more than enough to write about. In my former job as a language consultant I’d also had access to the corridors of power, state bodies, multinationals. I taught CEOs, oil executives, front line riot police and undercover operatives, and maybe even some spies. You find people open up to you when you are an outsider and you are chatting one-to-one. And you’re cheaper than a psychiatrist, all of which can be illuminating.
And then I got my big idea. A short while after that Blue Monday, in a flash, an epiphany, I knew exactly how my novel was going to end. I scribbled it all down in a flurry and knew then I had nailed it. I just had to fill in the rest. So what had started as a diversion quite quickly began to take on a solid form and I had to finish it.
About half-way through that process, my wife was diagnosed with cancer and all my priorities were turned upside down. Thankfully, normality gradually returned and I went back to the novel, determined to finish what I had started. My wife was its first reader and her insights proved invaluable, such that by the spring of 2016 I had a manuscript worth showing to the world and I began searching for an agent.
Having a track record of submitting poetry for publication, I knew that research and presentation are key, as are honing and tailoring your letters and pitch individually. It’s time consuming but a part of the job. I also had some publications I could refer to, which doesn’t hurt the CV. Then the rejections began arriving but at least I was getting answers, sometimes of a personal nature. I was confident that it would only be a matter of time.
I was also regularly sounding people out at work and a friend of a colleague, a former student working in publishing, was kind enough take a look at my first 10,000 words. She gave me some very positive feedback which I then circulated to any agents I was still waiting to hear from. It was a stroke of good fortune and I quickly had some emails back expressing real interest. In the end i was able to choose and opted to sign with Ger Nichol, who sent the book straight out. It took another four or five months to get an offer and I eventually signed to Harper Collins ‘Killer Reads’ for a two book deal.
It has been a tense, exciting, and fascinating learning process, one that requires belief and determination. Lots of determination. And often a little bit of luck.
(c) Aidan Conway
Aidan Conway was born in Birmingham to Irish Parents and has been living in Italy since 2001. He holds an MA in Irish Writing from Queen’s University Belfast and has been a bookseller, a proofreader, a language consultant, as well as a freelance teacher, translator, and editor for the United Nations FAO. He is currently an assistant university lecturer in Rome, where he lives with his family. A Known Evil is his first novel.
About A Known Evil:
A serial killer stalks the streets of Rome…
A gripping debut crime novel and the first in a groundbreaking series, from a new star in British crime fiction. Perfect for fans of Ian Rankin.
A city on lockdown.
In the depths of a freakish winter, Rome is being torn apart by a serial killer dubbed The Carpenter intent on spreading fear and violence. Soon another woman is murdered – hammered to death and left with a cryptic message nailed to her chest.
A detective in danger.
Maverick Detective Inspectors Rossi and Carrara are assigned to the investigation. But when Rossi’s girlfriend is attacked – left in a coma in hospital – he becomes the killer’s new obsession and his own past hurtles back to haunt him.
A killer out of control.
As the body count rises, with one perfect murder on the heels of another, the case begins to spiral out of control. In a city wracked by corruption and paranoia, the question is: how much is Rossi willing to sacrifice to get to the truth?
Order your copy online here.