‘Instead of writing, I thought about his character. Who he was, how he was able to move between all parts and layers of life in Renaissance Florence.’
City of Vengeance
By D. V Bishop
Published by Pan Macmillan
Congratulations David on the publication of City of Vengeance! It’s been quite the journey getting your book into print, but an encouraging one too for budding writers. Could you tell us more about your road to publication?
City of Vengeance was inspired by an academic monograph I chanced upon in a bookshop near the British Museum, which argued the criminal justice system in late Renaissance Florence was roughly similar to a modern police force. That set off a big lightbulb in my head, but I spent years researching and not writing the novel. The more I learned about the period, the more I realised how little I knew. I wanted to do the story justice, so I did other things instead – writing episodes of Doctors for BBC 1, audio dramas featuring Doctor Who, graphic novels and award-winning short film scripts that never quite got made.
To force myself into writing the novel, I started a Creative Writing PhD part-time via distance learning at Lancaster University in 2017. That gave me deadlines and a supervisor to offer feedback. The following year I entered the Pitch Perfect competition at the Bloody Scotland international crime fiction festival at Stirling. To my surprise I won, which galvanised me to hurry up and finish my first draft. More drafts followed and in Spring 2019 I started querying agents. Happily the wonderful Jenny Brown offered to represent me, and the book went on submission to publishers. Several made offers, but I chose Pan Macmillan – the home of Colin Dexter, Ann Cleeves, Ian Fleming, Lin Anderson and many others.
With historical fiction, a writer has to undertake a lot of research to bring authenticity to the world you’re creating. Did you enjoy this process?
Yes, too much at times. Research is utterly addictive because you discover so many fascinating things you never knew, facts that challenge your perception of history. My biggest problem is knowing when to stop researching and start writing, because it’s such a useful work displacement activity. My book shelves are groaning beneath the weight of books I have read, and those still waiting for my attention.
Your book is set in 16th century Florence. Did you already have a relationship to the city?
I grew up in New Zealand but had always wanted to see Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance. My first visit was in 2001, and I return every few years. Now I’m writing about the city, I have even more reason to go back – once the pandemic is over.
Your novel is a thriller as well as historical fiction. When writing, how did you strike the balance between your world-building and your pacy plotting?
My writing naturally tends toward pace, thanks to a background in journalism where lean writing is essential and a career in comics, where concision is crucial. I have to make a conscious effort to describe environments and characters, perhaps because I tend to send the story as a film playing in my head. I have to remember the readers can’t see what a tavern or a convent or a stabbing looks like unless I write it down.
You have quite the protagonist in your investigator Cesare Aldo. Can you tell us about his creation?
The fact I spent so long not writing City of Vengeance was to Aldo’s advantage. Instead of writing, I thought about his character. Who he was, how he was able to move between all parts and layers of life in Renaissance Florence. I knew he would be an outsider of sorts, but his sexuality means Aldo’s life is always at risk. Being what we now call a gay man at that time and in that place made you a criminal. So Aldo is both law enforcer and law breaker. When I realised that about him, a lot of his characterisation fell into place. He has a code he follows, things he will and won’t do. He’s a former solider, able to fight for his life when required, and he will kill if he deems that necessary. That makes him dangerous if cornered.
Who do you see playing him in a TV or film adaptation?
Twenty years ago the answer would have been Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings films. Now I think Shaun Evans who plays the young Morse in the TV drama Endeavour would make a wonderful Cesare Aldo. He’s a great actor, able to convey so much without saying a word – perfect for the often taciturn Aldo!
You’re currently working on a sequel. How far along do you see Aldo’s fortunes unfolding? Do you have a series arc in mind, or are you taking it on a book by book basis?
I have plans for the first four novels, which follow the seasons – winter 1536 in City of Vengeance, spring 1537 for the next book, and on into summer and autumn. There is a clear arc across those individual stories, which I hope readers will want to follow with me and the characters.
What historical fiction and thrillers have influenced you in your writing?
Abir Mukherjee’s novels set in early 20th Century India were a touchstone, the story of a good man working for a bad system of justice. The Leo Stanhope mysteries by Alex Reeve set in Victorian London showed that historical thrillers could have unexpected detectives. Books by Antonia Hodgson and Laura Shepherd-Robinson were also influential, as was the master of historical crime C. J. Sansom – we’re all following in his footsteps, one way or another.
What are you looking forward to reading next?
I’ve just finished an advance copy of Robbie Morrison’s Edge of the Grave, a cracking police procedural set in 1930s Glasgow which is coming out next month (March 2021). That really lives up to the ‘no mean city’ adage, and has all the deadpan humour you would expect of a great Glasgow novel. And I’m eager to read the next book by Liam McIlvanney, which is a sequel to his prize-winner The Quaker.
City of Vengeance by D. V Bishop is published by Pan Macmillan, priced £14.99.