C J Farrington – Q&A

C J Farrington is the author of Death on the Trans-Siberian Express . His latest novel, Blood on the Siberian Snow, was published by Constable on 29 November 2022.

He kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Blood on the Siberian Snow.

Blood on the Siberian Snow is the second of my crime novels, following Death on the Trans-Siberian Express (published in hardback in November 2021, and out in paperback now). The novels focus on the trials and tribulations of railway engineer and aspiring author Olga Pushkin, whose rail-side hut serves as the base for the criminal investigations she undertakes in partnership with Vassily Marushkin, sergeant-in-charge at the police station for the tiny Siberian village of Roslazny. Having narrowly escaped death at the hands of serial killers and corrupt policemen in the first novel, Olga now faces exile from her Siberian home – but fate intervenes in the form of a disastrous railway accident combined with immense blizzards that cut the village off with a suspected murderer inside. With Vassily distracted by Olga’s long-lost friend Nevena Komarov, she has to find ways to investigate by herself – but it isn’t long before her own life is put at risk…

2. What inspired the book?

The series was inspired by a journey that my wife Claire and I took on the Trans-Siberian railway back in 2015, travelling from Moscow to Beijing and beyond, with stops in places like Irkutsk, Yekaterinburg, and Ulaan-Bataar, and a subsequent trip to the Silk Route in Uzbekistan by rail, travelling down from Moscow and back to St Petersburg. We met a real-life Olga on the first trip, near Kirov, and she clearly stuck in my mind, later coming to life as almost a fully formed character one night when I was walking my baby daughter Acacia to sleep. I quickly dashed off the first paragraph of Death of the Trans-Siberian Express and sent it to my agent Bill Goodall – Bill loved it, so I kept writing, and before long the series was acquired by Krystyna Green at Constable/Little, Brown – a dream come true after several years of querying other manuscripts.

3. Do you plan before you start writing or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

A bit of both! I try to plan in as much detail as possible to guide where I want the story to go in terms of overall plot, narrative and character development – but things always look different when you get down into the weeds, and I frequently realise that something I’ve planned out is the opposite of what’s needed on the page. When characters take on a life of their own, they can surprise you with what they do and say!

4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that still surprises you?

I always forget how far in advance everything has to be planned in publishing! With Blood on the Siberian Snow still not released [at the time of writing] (it’s out on the 29th November), I’m already having to settle the title for the third book, which won’t be published until 2023. Having said that, it’s good to have deadlines to work towards.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

My day job is running comms for a ClimateTech startup, SATAVIA. It’s a green aerospace company, focused on airline contrail prevention (contrails have a strong global warming effect) – so the kind of writing involved is totally different. I find a change really is as good as a rest! Otherwise, I do quite a lot of music – for a long time my main aim in life was to become a successful composer, instead of a novelist – and spend the rest of my time looking after my three small children, Acacia, Xavier and Irah, each of whom is a dedicatee of one of the three Olga Pushkin books.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

Tough question! It would probably be either Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus or Goethe’s Faust. The Faust legend has immense resonance across human history and especially (I’d argue) in the present day, since we bargain away so much time and autonomy in exchange for our (frequently pathological) relationship with digital technology in general and social media in particular. Both Mann and Goethe, in their very different ways, sum up human knowledge and philosophy as it existed in their day, and create whole worlds within worlds – an inexhaustible richness for a lifetime of reading and re-reading.

7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

I would like to have been asked more about the role of politics in my writing, which has only been picked up on in a couple of reviews – e.g. Mark Sanderson for The Times, who described Death on the Trans-Siberian Express as a ‘quirky and colourful take on the corruption and tragicomic antics of Putin’s kleptocratic state’. Before moving into ClimateTech, I was an academic for over ten years, lecturing on British and American politics following a PhD in political science, so politics has always loomed large in my fictional writing. I always welcome opportunities to talk about this aspect of my work – and now more than ever, following Putin’s wholly unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. I’ve been thinking for quite a while about how writers can engage more directly with politics, but the question presents itself in a far more pressing manner now that Russia seems to have embraced Putin’s barbarous war (if the polls can be believed). My Olga Pushkin books have always been heavily critical of the Kremlin, but Book 3 will see yet more direct engagement, including a homage to Gogol’s Dead Souls (Gogol was Ukrainian). I would like to see more authors looking up a bit from their immediate circumstances and engaging more directly with politics on the page, and even by getting involved with politics themselves. After all, there are plenty of fabulists at Westminster – why not have some professionals there, too?

About the Book

Winter has come early to the tiny Siberian village of Roslazny, but for Olga Pushkin, aspiring writer and Railway Engineer (Second Class), it only makes leaving the harder. Olga is being forced overseas by her jealous superior, and now faces two years in exile from her beloved rail-side hut, her white-breasted hedgehog Dmitri, and Vassily Marushkin, sergeant-in-charge at the tiny Roslazny police station.

Fate seems to intervene when Olga’s train crashes outside Roslazny, shutting the line and killing two on board – local celebrity Danyl Petrovich and his wife, Anoushka. But Vassily Marushkin soon discovers that the Trans-Siberian locomotive was derailed on purpose. As the weather closes in, trapping the villagers – and the suspects – inside, Vassily begins a murder investigation in which Olga and her long-lost friend, Nevena Komarov, soon become closely involved.

But murder and extreme weather isn’t all Olga has to deal with. Recalcitrant publishers, haunted police stations, and embarrassing online exposés combine to make this early winter a particularly challenging one – with the threat of a forced departure still looming as soon as the weather lifts. Can Olga find out who killed the Petroviches, secure the release of her book, exorcise the ghost, and save her job, all at the same time?

You can buy a copy of Blood on the Siberian Snow at Bookshop.Org here. (This is an affiliate link so I may make a few pence if you buy through it).  It’s also available from your local independent bookshop or Waterstones.

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