Q&A with Decima Blake, author of Hingston’s Box

Contributed by Decima Blake

Author

Fri 4 Dec 2020

This week we talk to crime writer, Decima Blake

Q: Hi Decima Blake, how are you doing? How was your lockdown?

I’m doing okay. Thank you for asking. Lockdown was mixed. My dad died last month following three years of illness, and lockdown made things more difficult, especially during his extended hospital admissions, which began in March. I also signed a contract with my publisher for the first book in a children’s series, which will also be published next year, so there are some good things to look forward to.

Q: You have now completed your second novel about DS Hingston, Hingston: Smoke and Mispers. What was your inspiration for writing again about this character?

When I created DS Hingston, I intended for him to return. In my first novel, Hingston’s Boxreaders were introduced to DS Hingston at a challenging time in his policing career. He had been investigating the disappearance of twin teenage boys, and, unusually, there were no leads.

Books2All Q&A - Decima Blake author of Hingston's Box
Hingston’s Box published by Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie (2016)

Since the investigation began, DS Hingston had suffered from night terrors. Following an incident at his Met Police History Society evening, he was signed off work and put on sick leave. That’s where the story started. The mysterious appearance of a small brass key within the twins’ case file led DS Hingston in a new investigative direction that he could pursue away from work, in secret. DS Hingston is shown at his most vulnerable and, by the end of the novel, he is quite a changed man. Most significantly, he’s a better detective as a result of the new things he has learnt.

I aimed to introduce Hingston, the person, first and the detective second. Hingston: Smoke and Mispers follows on less than a month after the first book finishes. DS Hingston is back on form, the subplot is continued, several characters return, and there is a new main character. Two new periods of history inspired the latest investigation, and this saw me back at the National Archives, reading plenty of books and a dissertation. It also got me out on foot around London and Cambridge.

Q: Previously you worked in child protection. In what ways, if any, did this experience lead you to become an author?

I wrote Hingston’s Box while working with the police and before moving from investigation and wider safeguarding into child protection. It was a specialism I’d been interested in for many years because my career began in education. Child safeguarding had, therefore, been a focus for me from the start.

In part, my education led me to become an author before my cumulative experiences finally got me there. I was fortunate to have two highly motivational English literature teachers. During my A-Level, when plots, subplots, and characters were scrutinised, I became interested in the structure of stories and creative writing. Stories are a fantastic way of learning, and a great book can inspire and entertain, which makes learning easier.

DS Hingston’s investigations are true to police procedure. I wanted readers to experience what it feels like to be a modern-day detective: it’s hard work but rewarding. There’s a lot of compassion and energy put into safeguarding and, whilst great results can be hugely exciting, it can be frustrating and exhausting at times. My aim has always been for the reader to investigate with Hingston; the offenders’ innermost thoughts remain unknown, and there are no sneaky insights to get the reader ahead of the game!

Q: You worked with teenagers earlier in your career. Can you tell us a bit about what you did? 

I worked with 11-16-year-olds, assisting them with literacy, maths and science. I thoroughly enjoyed working with young people and identifying how they could reach their potential by adapting learning styles to meet their needs best. It was very rewarding, especially when they exceeded their expectations in tests and exams. There’s a lot to be said for developing self-belief and encouraging the enjoyment of a subject.

Q: How have things changed over the years since you worked in education?

There have been a few significant changes that spring to mind. The introduction of a far more sophisticated and meaningful Personal Social Health and Economic education (PSHE), plus greater recognition of special educational needs and new technologies introduced.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you can give a child who wants to pursue their love of creative writing?

Keep learning, pay attention to the detail, apply what you learn and aim for continuous improvement.

Books2All Q&A - Decima Blake author of Hingston's Box
Hingston’s Box author Decima Blake at Waterstone’s book signing

Q: 1 in 8 schools across Britain do not have a library – have you had experience of the educational inequality within the school system or met anyone who has?

I know from my experience in child protection that PSHE education varies between schools. From a safeguarding point of view, and in today’s society where mobile technology extends risks into the home from various sources, a meaningful PSHE education is increasingly important.

Through the media in recent years, we have seen how many young people’s lives have been negatively changed or lost due to crime, exploitation, drugs, and abuse. I believe it’s vital that all schools provide a consistent and high-quality educational package to help children and young people keep safe and healthy, along with guidance on how to help protect others and where to access support.

Q: Apart from your own books of course, what book or books do you think all children in schools should be given to read?

I would recommend The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, not only because it’s a detective novel, which encourages the development of important analytical skills, but it explores social history and diversity: relationships, trust, greed, criminality and the merits of a fair trial – all of which are as relevant today as when the book was written in 1868. 

Q: Ok, so the final question, Decima Blake – if all the libraries in the world were burning and you could only save three books, what would they be and why?

What a difficult question! With children in mind, I would save Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson because it’s a delightful story that continues to entertain vast audiences with wonderful characters, descriptive and imaginative settings, meaningful relationships and adventure. It’s educational for children and resonates with many adults who, like me, remain a fan of the Moomins.

The second book would be London Characters and Crooks, a sizable selection of highly descriptive interviews conducted by the Victorian journalist Henry Mayhew. The accounts of hundreds of London’s poor are raw, emotional, memorable and very re-readable.

The third book I would have to make a dash for is Agatha Christie’s, And Then There Were None, a personal favourite for its suspense and iconic setting on the fictional Soldier Island.

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