An interview with Corinna Zifko at Quercus when AN AUTUMN HUNTING was published in August 2018.
Q: An Autumn Hunting is your fourth book in the Inspector Akyl Borubaev series. How does it feel to return to the same characters again?
A: Over the course of my books, which are best read in chronological order, Akyl Borubaev undergoes the emotional and personal changes that we all go through, simply by living. We experience joy, loss, hope, despair, and so does Inspector Borubaev. One of the things I’ve enjoyed is tracing that arc, the way we change in some ways and in others remain the same.
I write crime novels, not mysteries. I’m not interested in Cluedo stories with bodies in the library; I want to explore the whydunit, not the whodunit, not just about the crimes that occur, but the way characters respond to them. I have a great belief in redemption, but I also believe it’s only ever tentative.
I admire Borubaev for having a moral compass in a world where it’s all too easy to be amoral, even if his needle wobbles from time to time. He’s the complete opposite of Saltanat, the Uzbek ‘security agent’ with whom he falls in love. Maybe that’s why they’re such a good team.
Q: Your novels are very dark and brutal. What is it like to write scenes of violence? Do you find it challenging?
A: I live in a country that’s had two revolutions in recent years. I live ten minutes walk from where protesters were gunned down in the main square in 2010. People struggle to make ends meet and raise families, sometimes resorting to crime or working as labourers in Russia.
It’s part of my job to draw attention to such situations, and the violence of all sorts that they create. I don’t have a problem writing scenes of violence because they’re there to remind people just how awful violence is in real life, the blood, stink, terror. For me, it’s much more dark and brutal for some crime novels to turn victims into a kind of crossword puzzle for the reader to feel smug about if they solve it.
Q: You live in Kyrgyzstan. Can you give us a bit of an insight into what living there is like and also how you came to live there?
A: The thing about Kyrgyzstan is that it’s its own place, still unique in an increasingly globalised world, and I admire that. And Bishkek’s the world’s third cheapest capital city in which to live!
One of the things that interests me is what it’s like to live as an alien, to have your senses sharpened by unfamiliarity, to be perpetually wondering ‘why’ and ‘how’.
This is a very beautiful country, high mountains, the world’s second largest Alpine lake, very hot in the summer, brutally cold in the winter. Nature rules supreme, and I hope that comes across in my books. In addition, the Kyrgyz have a highly prized and respected culture, from traditional crafts to ‘manaschi’ storytellers who recite the ‘Manas’ epic 500,000 line poem in a kind of shamanistic trance.
Of course, the 21st century is here too; the internet, mobiles and so on. It’s fascinating to see how the two aspects merge; living in a yurt and watching satellite TV, for example.
I met a Kyrgyz woman and married her and ended up in Bishkek. I have a 21-year old adopted stepson, whose name, oddly enough, is Akyl (which means ‘clever’). I’m very happy to stay in Kyrgyzstan, at least until someone decides to open a McDonalds.
Q: Can you say a bit about your writing process and what your days look like?
A: I try to write every day, and my days are accordingly uneventful – cooking, laundry, shopping, reading, all those things I use to put off squaring up to the blank screen. And there’s also the snow-capped mountains to stare at out of my study window when all else fails.
My writing process? Two-finger typing, keeping the others crossed that I’m not writing rubbish.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
The next book of course; it’s who I am, it’s what I do.