TIMOTHY WILLIAMS INTERVIEW

Author of the Commissario Trotti Mystery Series

© 2004 italian-mysteries.com
April 2004

Topics
General Backgound
Writing Technique
Other Mystery Writers
Publishers


Timothy Williams Book List
Converging Parallels  •  The Puppeteer
Persona Non Grata  •  Black August  •  Big Italy

General Background of Trotti Series

Q:  When did you live and teach in Italy?
Williams:  I spent about four years in Italy in the early seventies, working at the universities of Bari and Pavia. I was thrown out of both because I complained that I was not getting health coverage.
Q:  How did you come up with the idea for the Commissario Trotti Series?
Williams:  There was no intention to write a series and Trotti was killed in the first draft of Converging Parallels. The people at Gollancz insisted he stayed alive.
I was teaching at the University of Pavia and being paid with a scholarship - although I was supposed to teach as any other teacher and although I was never asked to do any research. My wife and I could just about survive on the monthly scholarship payment but when I started being taxed, I had no choice but to react. I didn't get very far with the university and so went to the work inspector and it was there I met a man on whom I was to base Piero Trotti. In a place where every public service seemed to be compromised by inefficiency and corruption, this inspector was a breath of fresh air. He took my case on - I had already gone on strike on my own - and won. Unfortunately, by that time I had been kicked out of the university and was no longer in Italy.
The inspector became a good friend. His political sympathies were right wing, if not indeed fascist. But since the university was allegedly communist, it didn't take much insight to realise I was living in a looking glass world.
Q:  What research was required for each book and did you return to Italy to carry it out?
Williams:  I am lucky in having had over these last twenty years friends who have always been willing to talk politics and help me get things right. The character of Piero Trotti is closer now to a friend on Lake Garda than to the work inspector.
Q:  Your Trotti Series is obviously set in the city of Pavia. Why did you not mention this in your books?
Williams:  Pavia is on the Ticino and not on the Po. I wanted to keep my city on the Po, so that readers had a better idea of where the city was. Also in those pre-internet days, it would have been impossible to have observed geographic exactness. CP was written in the Caribbean, four years after I had left Italy. Indeed, I had already left Italy before the Moro kidnapping but was back there on holiday during the search for Moro.
Q:  Please comment on the following characters and which of them were based on real people: Trotti, Agnese, Pioppi, Anna, Magagna, Pisanelli, Spadano, Belloni, Gracchi, Lia Guerra.
Williams:  
Most of the names come from people who were friends at Pavia. My wife and I were lodged in a university college and many of these names are now highly respected doctors in Italy.
Q:  How did you get the background information on the different branches of the Italian police and your insights into the Italian form of justice and corruption?
Williams:  
I did look at a few books but essentially made things up as I went along and then checking with friends. I am a writer who loathes being in front of the computer and doing research is for me an excuse for not writing. So I do little research and have no excuse for keeping away from the workface.
Q:  Give us a synopsis of your new #6 in the series.
Williams:  
Trotti is travelling to Rome for Pisanelli's marriage when he innocently buys a hot chocolate for a young girl waiting for the train. It turns out that she is the daughter of Valerio Gracchi whom Trotti once threw in jail (in Converging Parallels). She asks Trotti to help her trace her father but Trotti soon discovers that Gracchi is dead, probably murdered by the mafia in Trapani, Sicily. Before long, Trotti finds himself being hunted by a killer from Trapani.

Writing Technique

Q:  Where do you get the ideas for your plots?
Williams:  
As I go along. I like to let the characters create their own momentum. Never remember Chandler's dictum that when things get dull, have a guy with a gun coming through the door.


Q:  When you start a book, do you know the ending?
Williams:  
The only novel whose ending I knew was Converging Parallels. I find that if I get the characters right, the plot will write itself. I'd love to be able to do the tight plotting that you find in Hammett and the Continental Op.
Q:  Typically, how long does the first draft take? How much rewriting? Feedback from editor?
Williams:  
There is no first draft - as I am permanently going back to the beginning. I find that by rewriting and looking into the style, I am also rethinking the characters and the plot. Apart from the first novel, there has never been any change imposed by an editor. Indeed, no one ever sees the story in progress.

Other Mystery Writers

Q:  What’s your opinion of other authors who write mysteries set in Italy: Donna Leon, Michael Dibdin, Magdalen Nabb, Andrea Camilleri, Iain Pears, Edward Sklepowich?
Williams:  
I have read one Donna Leon but her approach is different from mine. I don't see myself as a foreigner writing about an Italian but as an Italian writing about an Italian in English. Chandler said all writers should be reading Shakespeare - remember the lady in Thurber who has identified the murderer in Macbeth? I find that as I get older, I read less fiction and more biography.


Q:  Are you a mystery fan? Who is your favorite writer? Do you read for pleasure?
Williams:  
People ask me why I write crime. It has never really occurred to me to write anything else. I have always liked crime and I don't think it's the car chases but more the psychology to deceit and discovery that's fascinating. Ultimately all fiction is really about people and plotting is an excuse for writing about people. Chandler is easier to read and more memorable than Hammett because his characters are better presented than Hammett's. Good crime is good fiction. On the other hand, I have never been able to read Agatha Christie. She has all the emotive interest of a crossword puzzle.
If there is one writer who has influenced me it's Elston Trevor aka Adam Hall. I don't think any writer has ever mastered chapter ending like him. The Berlin Memorandum/Quiller Memorandum can be read over and again.

Publishers

Q:  Was it difficult selling your publishers on the original Trotti mystery series? Any success with getting #6 published?
Williams:  
I was in Rumania when I finished my first novel. I sent it to various people. One of the publishers while turning it down suggested that I contact an agent he knew. The agent read the book, agreed the book was not commercial but asked me to send my next offering - which was the first Trotti novel. My agent immediately found an editor at Victor Gollancz who insisted that Trotti should not be killed off but that he should be turned into a series. For all the people who like Trotti, the good news is there is a new novel in the pipeline. In this book, a retired Trotti goes to Rome for a wedding only to discover that a Sicilian killer is out to murder him.


Q:  Why did St. Martin’s press title the first three books after cars?
Williams:  
I think it was something to do with finding an identifiable thread for all my books in the US. Unfortunately, I am a slow writer and my output has been too irregular for publishing houses who want a book a year.
Q:  Were the Trotti books translated into other languages? How about Italian?
Williams:  
Mondadori published Converging Parallels - but cut out all references to Aldo Moro. Given that "Converging Parallels" was a quote from Moro, I think Mondadori successfully emasculated my book.
Q:  Which of your books is your our favorite?
Williams:  
My favourite novel is not a Trotti novel but a novel set here in the French Caribbean with a lady juge d'instruction/DA. The plot is based on a true story - a man who was sent from Guadeloupe in 1940 to Devil's Island in French Guyana. Although the penal colony was abolished in 1946, he did not return to his home until 1980. An old and broken man, he is then accused of killing his ex- boss' son. Of the Trotti books I like Big Italy because it gives - I hope - a fairly good idea of what was happening in Italy in the early nineties.

Timothy Williams Book List
Converging Parallels  •  The Puppeteer
Persona Non Grata  •  Black August  •  Big Italy

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