Denise Tyler talks to Brighton author William Shaw about his latest novel, Dead Rich, and how Sussex suits his way of life
For The Trawlerman, book four in the Alex Cupidi detective series, you went out on a commercial trawler for research purposes. Your latest book, Dead Rich, a standalone thriller, is based mostly on a Russian billionaire’s superyacht in the Caribbean. Did you get to go out on one of those too?
Sadly not, no, as it was lockdown! I spoke to a couple of superyacht designers though to check some of my ideas and one of them said, ‘oh, I wouldn’t have done that if I was designing your yacht’. But the fact is, these people ask for anything so you give it to them. I was actually on holiday in Greece when I got the idea for Dead Rich. You can’t help but notice how many super yachts there are and how weirdly obscene that is. Greece had just come out of one of the most horrible recessions at that time and they had these huge great superyachts parked in every port just to really rub their noses in it. I was surprised people hadn’t targeted the superyachts as a kind of visible symbol of what wrecked Greece at that time; they represent such unfettered, globalized power and I wanted to explore that.
You’ve described book groups as ‘an amazing phenomenon’ and ‘one of the biggest quiet cultural revolutions that’s taken place in this country during my lifetime.’ Why is that?
I love to visit book groups; it means that there’s seven or eight people who actually read your book, which is always a plus. But what’s really interesting is that it’s a cultural activity where you have to invest seven to ten hours reading time before you even go to your book group. If you had to do that before going to the cinema, cinema attendance would go down. It’s not just the cultural thing of that one evening, it’s how much investment you do to become part of that group of people. You get people who have completely different worldviews, completely different backgrounds, sitting in somebody’s living room or in a library or a pub discussing a book because they’ve all earned the right to have a say. I think that’s a really positive and hopeful thing. It means books have become things you read to connect with other people, not just things you read to connect with your inner self and I think that’s really interesting. And if it happens to be your book that’s part of that, then you’re kind of ludicrously privileged.
What was it that brought you to live in Brighton?
We were living in Hackney and it was lovely, but it was just easier when the kids were little to move here; it’s a great place to grow up in. I’m from Devon originally and when I moved to Brighton as a student in the 80s I think it was the biggest place in England I’d ever lived and Brighton’s not huge! I’m not a natural big city person and had been wanting to get away from London for ages, but my partner worked in London in the arts so we needed to be somewhere we could get to London from. It was a great move for us at that stage.
What do you like most about living in Sussex?
Everybody comes down to Brighton thinking that it’s all about the sea and then they discover the Downs. It’s really interesting how you start facing one direction and then you turn around and there they are. They’re the most unique bit of our land here; they are just totally brilliant. We do Airbnb sometimes in our house and we get all these Japanese and Chinese tourists and all they want to go and see is the white cliffs and you think ‘that’s nuts’! I think the more you’re in the Downs, the more you see, especially this time of year. When the light’s low in winter and you’re walking through the Downs you really see the sort of weird curves of the hills and everything goes a bit Ravilious on you before you know it.
You clearly like being out in the countryside. Where are your favourite places for a mid-ramble lunch?
For years we used to go either to The Ram [in Firle] or The Shepherd and Dog at Fulking because they’re great places for walks, as is The Five Bells at Chailey. There’s also a very nice pub in Hove called The Dyke which does an excellent Sunday roast. We often go out to Newhaven where we have friends and walk up on the hills from the fort back towards Saltdean. Newhaven Fort is a very interesting place. It has a good couple of hundred years of history and all these eerily falling down bits which just makes you want to make up stories about it.