“Many people have had contact with a Polish builder or cleaner, but probably know little about their country`s rich culture and recent history”. This is a quote from an interview in the British press when you published your first novel. You stated that we were very interesting literary material. In fact you constructed this material very exactly. All the historical, political threads are believable and one of the biggest strengths of your novels is the authenticity of the Polish characters. We eat, drink, swear and think like Polish do. We are traditional, but we are hard to tame very often. How did you learn so much about us?
- I guess I have a head start being married to a Pole! Like Janusz Kiszka, my main character, my husband has been here since coming over in the Eighties, so much of the background, especially the political events of the Solidarnosc years come directly from his experience, and from the many books he has lent me to read over the years. Then, of course, when I was researching the book I made sure I spoke to other Poles, many of whom are more recent arrivals, so I could understand the differences – and yet the common factors – between Poles of different generations who come to the UK to live and work. I was also privileged to meet an elderly Pole who sadly has died now, who spent time in the Gulag in the Fifties. My mother-in-law was another great source as she represents a slightly older generation and knows her folklore, her traditions - and is also a terrific cook of Polish dishes, as I find out every Christmas Eve.
How did you create Janusz Kiszka, the main Polish hero of your books? Why do you root his origins to the Polish communism era, riot police and martial law? Do you perceive people from that epoch as smarter, because they were more experienced by life?
- I liked the opportunities that a character who has been forged as a young man in such a tumultuous period of history offered. There’s a paradox, I think, in that many people who live through a dangerous liberation struggle have a terrible time and live under the shadow of their experience for the rest of their lives. At the same time, they perhaps miss the passion and energy and sense of common purpose that the fight for liberty brings.
You write about Polish people, and there are English Londoners in your books as well. You present them seriously and humorously, with perfect distance. How English readers comment on these literature procedures?
- I have lived in the East End where the books are based for more than 30 years – and I’m glad to say I have yet to receive any criticism of the portrayal from my East End neighbours! But just as with my Polish and other nationalities, I present London bad guys - and good guys.
You describe Poles in the context of dark, criminal events. Do these events have a source in the archives of the Metropolitan Police?
- No, not especially. Crime knows no specific nationality, and I just pick the ones that make good stories. When I do make a crime story with some specific reference to Poland it is properly researched – such as the predominance when I was writing book one, of synthetic drug (like Ecstasy) production in Poland and some Eastern European countries.
Did you meet a “prototype” of DC Natalie Kershaw, a young policewoman who is the main English hero in your books?
- No, like Janusz she is a work of imagination. I do however have a good contact who was a murder detective who fills out the details of police life for me, and she was kind enough to say that when she reads DC Kershaw, it is like reading about her life.
Janusz Kiszka and Natalie Kershaw have appeared in two crime stories so far. Will they appear again in the next novel?
- Yes, they will find their paths crossing again when Janusz has to turn to DC Kershaw for help on a very personal and devastating case…
You participate actively in the promotion of your books and crime literature. What impressions do you get when meeting readers?
- I feel a great responsibility to “get it right” since I am writing about another culture so it was a bit daunting doing my first events with Polish readers. But I am pleased to say that I have had very positive feedback. The best thing is that Poles I have met seem genuinely pleased and surprised that a Brit – and many British readers, too – might be interested in their culture and history.
As to the UK readers, they seem genuinely fascinated and keen to learn more about Poles and Polish history and culture, including what foodstuffs they should try from their local Polski sklep! If my books do succeed in giving UK readers a better insight into the Poles we live alongside, then it’s all been worthwhile.
ANYA LIPSKA – a journalist, TV producer and scriptwriter for well-respected documentary series such as the BBC`s Panorama and Dispatches on Channel 4. Based in London, her crime novels “Where the Devil Can’t Go” and “Death Can`t Take a Joke”are detective mystery and political thrillers drawing on the author’s first hand experiences of the lives of Polish immigrants in London`s East End. In November 2014 “Where the Devil Can’t Go” has come out translated into Polish under the title “Toń”.