Hampstead Heath becomes a hotbed of crime in novelist Aga Lesiewicz’s Rebound
The Polish writer tells Alex Bellotti how a freak injury propelled her away from television into an unlikely literary career.
Ah , Hampstead Heath – for generations a literary influence on everyone from Wilkie Collins to Will Self. Adding to that list this month is Polish writer Aga Lesiewicz, whose debut novel turns the idyllic, green city oasis into a hotbed of sinister violence.
In Rebound, we are introduced to Anna Wright, a successful 30-something television executive blessed with a rich boyfriend, a house in Highgate and a treasured chocolate brown Labrador.
On the surface, she has it all, but when a romantic encounter she has with a stranger on the Heath is soon followed by a series of mysterious murders on those same hills, her life is thrown down a rabbit hole of police investigations, dark omens and deceit.
“It’s a very handsome setting,” says Lesiewicz, 53, who lives in Southgate but is a regular walker in Hampstead. “The Heath is such a fantastic place and it lends itself to whatever you want to do. There are quite a few books set on it and they’re all really different; it can be understood in whichever way you want.”
Lesiewicz’s walks on the Heath aren’t the only biographical details she has poured into the book. After coming to England to study English Literature at Lancaster University 30 years ago, she went on to work for the BBC World Service before becoming a television promo producer for the likes of Cartoon Network, Disney and Discovery.
Her career was developing comfortably until a freak meniscus tear in her knee left her unable to walk and housebound. Having written poems, short stories and even scripts throughout her life, she was inspired by the Heath to set a novel there and six months later, found an agent with relative ease.
“Some of my friends kindly offered to break my other leg so I could write my second book!” she laughs, before expanding on the draw of thrillers specifically.
“I’m a great fan of thrillers and crime fiction. My favourites are all the Scandinavian writers – Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo – and I’ve always loved the Scandi crime series, The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge. They all have very strong, independent, unconventional female characters and in my novel, Anna breaks away from being conventional and pays a price for it.
She continues: “I don’t know much about the police side, so there won’t be any ragged tormented detectives in my story or super policemen with a less talented sidekick. It’s just ordinary people who venture out into this uncomfortable grey area between good and evil, right and wrong, and it’s something we can all slip into quite easily without being a bona fide criminal.
“Suddenly you find yourself in a situation that’s completely alien, new and quite dangerous.”
With a second novel Exposure (which turns the setting towards Shoreditch and east London), Lesiewicz is quickly growing into her new career.
As she prepares to launch Rebound at Daunt Books Hampstead on Tuesday, however, her mind is still on her debut and the way it can affect the most ordinary reader.
“Crime fiction shows real people in real situations and it’s a very good way to comment on life, it’s like a social commentary. What I wanted to do was to write about the social and emotional implications of crime, but not make it into a run of the mill police procedural.
“Obviously it’s fiction, it’s not a polemical essay, but I hope readers will recognise places like the Heath, the situations, types of people and I hope that they will be thrilled and shocked, but also laugh and be amused by the whole scenario.”
Rebound by Aga Lesiewicz is published on January 14 in hardback by Macmillan.