Ask the Author: Erin Young

British author Erin Young discusses her inspiration for her new crime thriller novel ‘The Fields,’ an Iowa-centric story released last month.



Ariana Lessard, Arts Reporter

Until the recent release of her newest novel The Fields, Erin Young wrote almost exclusively historical fiction. However, The Fields, published on Jan. 25, breaks this trend, as the British author conquered the challenge of writing a thriller novel set in Iowa. Young, known for her ability to capture landscapes on paper and transport the reader, focused on apt descriptions of not only rural Iowa, but also Cedar Falls, Waterloo, and Des Moines. On Feb. 18, Young will participate in a virtual Prairie Lights reading and discussion to talk more about The Fields.

DI: Considering that you’re from the U.K., I wanted to know what inspired you to write a story set in Iowa?

Young: I didn’t know when I first had the idea for the story that it would be Iowa. It all came about after I read an article in a British newspaper, pretty much five years ago to the day, which was talking about the sort of the dangers of big agriculture and some of the issues. It was quite a disturbing sort of article, and it raised a few points that made me think this would make a fantastic story, and a lot of it was around corn production. And so pretty much that’s when I thought this would make a great novel. The first thing I did was to look up World’s Biggest corn producer, the United States, and then I looked up the biggest producer in the U.S. — and that’s Iowa. So it really just sort of bounced quite neatly into it. But it certainly wasn’t something that I knew immediately, as soon as I had the idea that sort of came about as I embed a bit more and started to understand where this book would be best set.

DI: What are you hoping that people will take away from The Fields?

Young: I mean, first and foremost, I hope they just enjoy the ride. It’s, you know, it’s my first crime thriller. I’ve written historical fiction before, but crime thrillers have always been one of my favorite genres. And I quite like to for me, you know, really getting down into a bit, particularly around. I mean, I just I love landscape and unsettling sort of description and interesting kind of communities in the books that I like to read — crime thrillers. So I guess, you know, for me as well coming to Iowa from having known nothing about it before I started researching and before I went there, to do the research, you know, for me, it was such an interesting experience, and it was such a new place. That is what I hope I’ve done and what I think, well, certainly the early reviews seem to be coming, commenting a lot on the fact that the landscape itself is quite a character in the book. And I really wanted to kind of create that especially for people who’ve never traveled there, who’ve never been there. So I kind of hope I’ve brought Iowa to life on the page in a way that I kind of experienced it myself for the first time. And I guess I hope it sort of makes people think as well. I like to come away from a book with a sense that I’ve learned something, and that maybe I’ve been challenged in some ways my you know how I’ve looked at things, maybe I look at them a bit differently now. Or maybe I’ve just found something kind of interesting and surprising. So I guess all of those things are sort of, you know, a good sense of place and atmosphere and hopefully just, you know, they’ve enjoyed turning the pages.

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DI: What part of the story did you enjoy writing the most?

Young: I think probably the landscape of it, because I was so inspired and affected by that, I mean, I went out to Iowa in 2018 in the summer and traveled around the states and went to the state fair in the state capitol, and up into the north up around Okoboji, and which features briefly in the novel, I mean, pretty much everywhere. I think, in fact, everywhere that’s in the novel, I spent some time in myself. So, you know, it was that was a real joy for me to be able to kind of just soak up that experience while I was out there and then really know that you know, because it’s great these days having Google and, I mean, writing historical fiction is very different to my experience of writing contemporary crime because writing historical fiction, especially from the periods that I used to write about the medieval period, there’s really not that much online and certainly not much that you can fully trust unless you know the source that it comes from. And so you have to do an enormous amount of kind of archive type research and you know, really dive down in the kind of academia side of things. Whereas with a crime thriller now, I mean, I can. Last week, I really needed to know exactly how a bill passes through legislation in the Iowa State Capitol, and I can literally go onto the Iowa State Capitol website and read the exact scenario that I’m trying to create in my novel and understand exactly what happens, and then I can bring, hopefully, that ring of authenticity to the book, which I’m really keen to always try to do, especially having written historical fiction, I think that has made me always very conscious about trying to be as authentic as possible even though it’s fiction. and so I think there’s a lot that I can do for this genre, just on the internet, but for me, I feel that the novel really came to life because I went there and because I walked the ground and smelled the smells and ate the food and talked to the people. So I think for me, that’s probably the landscape of it. The atmosphere of it is something that I really enjoyed because I felt like I had something to sort of bring to the table as it were.

DI: Your publicist mentioned the novel being developed into a TV series. Can you tell us more about that?

Young: I can’t say anything much at the moment. It’s all still under wraps. I’m kind of hoping there might be an announcement soon, so I should be able to talk about it, but it’s one of those things where the TV company wants to do their own announcement at some point and you know, you sign all these NDAs and you’re not supposed to talk about it. What I can say is I’m incredibly excited, obviously, about the prospect. So fingers crossed, and we’ll see, but yes, I hope it will wind up on the screen at some point.