Patrick Hill, one of the partners in Charles Marlow, was the person who alerted me to the existence of Death in Deià, the new fast-paced thriller by David Coubrough. He’d seen an ad for the book on the London Underground. I was intrigued, especially as I’m pretty sure that this is the first time the word ‘Deià’ has appeared on London public transport.
I reached out, as they say, to David and we had a chat. Charming, relaxed and self-effacing, he’s a pleasure to speak with.
David’s first book Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice was published by Peter Owen, a publisher with an honourable history, in 2016. Death in Deià came out this year and is published by Galileo.
I started by asking David how he became a writer.
I always wanted to write. But I ended up going into hospitality and spent most of my career in the industry. In my mid-50s, five to seven years ago, I thought ‘I really want to get in and do some proper writing’. I sketched out the plot for my first book, drawing on memories of childhood holidays in Cornwall with a group of families that abruptly came to an end when us children became teenagers. I wrote it over a year to 18 months. It took on a life of its own and was great fun to write.
Not many people have their first book published. Was it hard?
It was a challenge, yes. I had no connections. I got hold of the Writers & Artists Yearbook and started contacting agents. I didn’t exactly feel the love. There wasn’t a great deal of response until an agent named David Godwin contacted me. He’d read my manuscript and really liked it and suggested we meet. We did and this lead to a publishing deal with Peter Owen a year later. Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice went down quite well and now seems to have a cult following. It’s been picked up by crime websites, TripFiction and Goodreads. The book did well enough for David to say, “Come on, you need to follow this up”. Incidentally, David Godwin represented Howard Marks and handled his autobiography Mister Nice. As you know, Marks ran his criminal empire from Mallorca for some time and was arrested on the island.
What would you say writers wanting to be published need most?
Persistence. A doggedness where you don’t say no. My own feeling was that, although what I’d written wasn’t Tolstoy, I thought it was good. Because I’d been in business for 30 years, I didn’t actually fear rejection. If I’d been younger, it probably would have been different. Practically, I would say that it’s hard to get a publishing deal without an agent. But the biggest things are persistence and a thick skin.
Where did you find the inspiration for Death in Deià?
From successive holidays in Deià. My wife and I have been coming to Mallorca for over 30 years. She inherited an apartment in Santa Ponsa. We used to hire a car and tour the island. Eventually we found Deià which I thought was an incredible place. For several years, we’d come up to Belmond La Residencia for brief stays. We then thought it would make more sense to hire a villa and began renting one on the road down to Cala Deiá where we had three or four holidays. The plot for Death in Deià came to me there. It sort of took me over for about eight months.
Would you say there’s something about being in Deià that’s especially creatively inspiring?
For me, yes. I had incredible ideas coming through that I didn’t have before. Without being cheesy, I definitely think there’s something about the Tramuntana mountains. I’ve always felt that this place has to be God’s own gift. I just find it very uplifting. There are places in the world you go to and just think ‘well, this is all there is to this place’. But Deià is something else. It’s really quite special. You know, the view to the mountains and down to the sea.
What has been the response to Death in Deià?
Sales are in the thousands and I’ve been flattered by the response.
I liked the way the twists and turns of the plot took in all kinds of places on the island.
What I tried to convey is the juxtaposition between somewhere like Playa de Palma and Palmanova and Deià. There are also places like Banyalbufar that are just so charming. A few years ago, we went to Gran Hotel Son Net near Puigpunyent and I thought this is a different Mallorca all over again. And then, of course, there’s the Old Town of Palma. It’s just a tremendous tapestry of contrasting places and cultures within one island.
What is your writing routine?
I’m semi-retired now and only have to spend a couple of days a week on my non-executive director roles. The rest I can spend writing, although I’m not one of those people with a fixed routine. Writing is non-formulaic and can be leisure and work, which is one of the things that makes it such a huge source of pleasure. If I’m under a deadline like I was with Death in Deià, I have to be more disciplined and aim for a certain number of words a week.
Who is your first reader?
My wife, Victoria. She’s quite critical of my writing, which is good. She took up painting in her mid-50s, partly because she got fed up with me losing myself in my writing. Alan Hydes, artist in residence at Belmond La Residencia, tutored her. Not surprisingly, Victoria’s much more visual than me. So, for example, when she’s criticising my dialogue she’ll say something like “People don’t really speak like that. Close your eyes and listen. What do you see and hear?”
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel that is mainly based in Tuscany but has a strong connection to Death in Deià. I got the idea on a painting holiday to Florence with some friends of ours. I wasn’t painting so I had plenty of time to dream up a very Agatha Christie murder mystery idea. With this book, I’m slowing things down, setting the scene and building up characters before anything happens to them. I’m not rushing at the plot. My first book was criticised for being a little too complicated. I’m also working on a comedy with a media figure I know.
How does it feel to be officially a writer?
I still feel like a bit of a beggar at the feast, especially when I listen to other writers at literary festivals – people I call proper writers. They’re so incredibly professional at all the plot stuff. They’ve spent their entire lives researching their subject matter. Someone like crime writer Val McDermid, for instance, has spent lots of time in the morgue. But I don’t think I could stop now. I’m now conditioned to be forever watching people on the Underground, looking at the way they rub an eyebrow as they’re talking, making mental notes about how they interact, jotting down notes.
With that, we stopped talking writing and turned to Deià’s remarkable musical history. David’s a keen music fan, especially prog rock and 1970s music. I was happy to turn him onto Different Every Time, the masterful biography of Robert Wyatt who, as some of you might know, learned to play the drums in Deià.
Half a Pound of Tuppenny Rice and Death in Deià are available from Amazon.
Read more about David Coubrough here.