Thursday, 26 November 2015

Guest Post - Anthony J. Quinn

I'm very much a believer in writing first and researching later. The danger of writing historical fiction is that as a writer you run the risk of disappearing down a wormhole into another era, never making it back with a clear-cut, compelling tale to relate. I've been obsessed with WB Yeats and the Sligo setting for years, as well as Michael Collins and his role in the War of Independence, and the temptation was to succumb to excess and include a rich tapestry of historical minutia.

    However, writing historical fiction, especially a mystery story, should be like steering a boat with a leak in high seas. Many loved items have to be chucked overboard with every page you write. Amusing anecdotes and fascinating details that don't animate your principal characters and move the plot along have to be discarded with impunity.

  That sense of urgency which comes with keeping the literary boat from capsizing at all costs is a protection against procrastination and getting lost in the past.

   A guilty feeling of transgression haunted me during the writing of both The Blood Dimmed Tide and Blind Arrows. I worried that I might be doing some of Ireland's most famous historical characters a great disservice in entangling them in plots involving ghosts, spies, smugglers, corrupt policemen and 'lust murderers'.

  In regards to Yeats, his life and his work, have been obsessions of mine since early adolescence, and the story about his fascination with spirits and his strange relationship with his wife Georgie was irresistible.  It surprised me that no one in literature, drama or film has given his life a fictional treatment or tried to transpose his supernatural investigations into a mystery tale.

     However, Yeats has been much derided for his 'creepy' obsession with the supernatural, and his interest in the magical powers that might be acquired through esoteric knowledge has alarmed many literary critics over the years. It eased my conscience to think that I was at least portraying this side of his character sympathetically. This was what I promised WB Yeats at the start of writing The Blood Dimmed Tide. Whether or not I delivered is another matter.

    I hope I am saved by the fact that many of Yeats' friends found him unknowable. Irish writer Sean O'Faolain famously said of him: "There was no Yeats. I watched him invent himself." In that sense, he is impossible to capture within the covers of a biography, which is a great problem for his biographers, but a golden opportunity for a novelist.

   Yeats will always remain an enigma. He was one of a group of extraordinary and mesmerising figures that made London at the turn of the century an emporium of exotic cults and psychic societies. He was the closest thing we have to a supernatural sleuth, always seeking answers, always probing the evidence before him, always odd and unpredictable in his behaviour - which I hope makes him the perfect hero for a mystery story, especially one that involves ghosts, spies, smugglers and corrupt policemen.

  Writing about Michael Collins in Blind Arrows, I wanted to give a more nuanced depiction of him and his role in the War of Independence. Neil Jordan and Liam Neeson's film portrayal was so captivating with Collins depicted as a John Wayne style hero, that I struggled to keep Collins from overtaking the book and dominating all the scenes that mentioned him.

Lastly a word about Silence, the third in the Celcius Daly series, which was published on November 5. It's the most important and ambitious book that I've written. I've always tried to write about the Troubles in oblique and unexpected ways, wrapping up that very dark material in what I hope are entertaining crime thriller plots, the conventions of which have helped me excavate some very haunting personal experiences. In Silence, I found the subject matter so disturbing that I wanted to run away from it many times, but I'm glad that I stuck with it. Already, the Sunday Times has called Silence 'a masterful meditation on the corrosive legacy of the Troubles', and the Sunday Express has picked it as one of the best crime books of the season. It's great to see fiction so rooted in the Tyrone and Armagh landscapes, and its people, praised by the big London newspapers.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Make Some Noise For The Silent Dead

Claire McGowan's third Paula Maguire novel, The Silent Dead, was published today. And you'll find a post on her blog about this and the journey to the publication of her fifth(!) book in three(!) years.

And people thought I was prolific. Good to have somebody out there like Claire showing the rest of us how it should be done.

I look forward to catching up with Paula and the rest of the folks from Ballyterrin.

Here's some book blurbage:

1 May, 2006 – a small town is shattered by a devastating bomb. 16 people die – yet the suspected bombers walk free. 
2011- as the fifth anniversary approaches, the five terrorists disappear. And start turning up dead, killed in the same ways as their victims. Buried alive. Beheaded. Burned to death. 
Paula Maguire, heavily pregnant and struggling, has to ask herself: does everyone deserve justice? And what does justice even mean when the victims are remorseless killers? 
The third book in the Paula Maguire series sees her pushed to her limits, both at work and in her private life. Can she find the missing before it’s too late – when she’s not even sure if she should?

There's also been a tantalising tweet about Paula no. 4 today... Fair play to ye, McGowan.

Five Questions - Desmond J. Doherty

Desmond J. Doherty and Eva Gabrielsson

Desmond J. Doherty was born in Derry and is a solicitor in his own law firm. He has extensive civil and criminal law experience. Over the years he has been involved in a number of high-profile inquests which include the Dublin and Monaghan bombing and the Omagh bombings. He has experience in various courts and tribunals including the Special Tribunal for the Lebanon and the International Criminal Curt for the former Yugoslavia.

‘Deadlight’ is the third in the Valberg trilogy.

Gerard: It’s well known that Scandinavian crime fiction has been popular for some time. You’re the only CSNI regular who has a foot in the Northern Ireland and Sweden via your main character, Detective Valberg. Is it safe to assume you’ve been influenced by the likes of Stieg Larsson?

Desmond: 'Is it safe?' Very safe. For sure. Henning Mankell before Stieg Larsson and now of course the great Norwegian, Jo Nesbo. But the deeper you dig and the further you go into Nordic Noir the list and talent of all those fantastic authors is endless. Valberg has been described as someone from Nordic Ireland! We are so close to Scandinavia. How could any crime writer not be influenced by our Scandinavian neighbours who have great PR. While the Nordic authors expose the deep divisions in their society, the divisions that we have lived with and grown up with here make for fantastic dark and violent crime fiction.

Jørgen Jaeger

Gerard: So, as the photographic evidence suggests, you’ve been to Norway recently. And you met Mr Larsson’s widow. Would you consider that a high point in your career?

Desmond: The high point went even higher after Eva asked me to sign all three Valberg novels for her. She was delighted to be the first person to receive the third Valberg novel. We were on a panel together for a group of mainly Norwegian lawyers dealing with Human Rights and the rights of authors dead and alive. Eva's position is outrageous. Under Swedish law she has been treated appallingly and we all should support and stand by her. Hearing how Stieg's three novels came about and his writing process was bewildering. I never thought I'd be in such a privileged position to be with Eva and personally speak about and ask about Stieg's work. I hope to get Eva to Nordic Ireland next year.

Gerard: Valberg’s career as a PSNI detective has more highs than lows. Do you consider him to be a true representation of a cop from Northern Ireland?

Desmond: Remember, when he does go low it's very low. Sometimes I feel I won't get him back. He's more of an eclectic mix of lawyers and police officers I've come across over many years of experience here and elsewhere. He's not based on any one individual I know. I think his scorn for procedural propriety in this day and age of form filling and pettifoggery would mean that he wouldn't survive long in the PSNI. He's a fictional representation of a police officer from here. I think his emotions and feelings are true to all of us however. Fans of the books say, 'He's some boy...isn't he.' Every time I hear that I pause as I wonder are they being complimentary to Valberg or O'Driscoll. Some of the readers like both of them.

Gerard: Part three of your series is clearly the most high-octane to date. Anybody who’s read the first two will know that says quite a lot. Do you think the series has a definite end in sight or do you plan to torture your poor characters for a few more years?

Desmond: I wanted to move and develop the characters with time. Valberg moves on and so do the police officers and lawyers around him. Therefore the story moves on too. Deadlight for me was high-octane with emotion, as well as action. I had a plan all completed but I really just followed my gut with the story.'Emotional content. Not anger.' I wanted to bring the O'Driscoll affair to some sort of conclusion. That was always the desire. But I found it hard to let the main characters go as they have so much to say and develop. I wasn't under any pressure to write a fourth in the series but I couldn't stop writing when I finished Deadlight, so continued.

Gerard: If not Valberg, who else?

Desmond: Amanda Cleary-the Derry Journal journalist. I really like her. She is the one character who everyone trusts and who comes out of the whole debacle with her integrity and dignity intact. On the other hand the lawyer who sleeps with her eyes open,  Miss Maguire, has a series of her own in my head. She is wild and beguiling. Yes. Lets have more of her. I've written a short story in a collection I'm working on called, 'Inquest.' It's all about Constable Michael Bell and what happens to him on his first day in CID. He's just one of the characters that I'd like to take further. As for Jon Valberg, he has good and bad days. A lot of dark and not much light but his gallows humour allows him to survive. That is a very Irish and Scandinavian trait.

Desmond J. Doherty is published by Guildhall Press. Check out their website for more information on where to buy his books.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Luca Veste Comin' to Bel-fast, eh?

Go to No Alibis tomorrow because this:

Luca Veste
In Conversation with Steve Cavanagh
Wednesday 18th November at 6:30PM
Tickets: FREE 

"No Alibis is pleased to invite you to celebrate the launch of Luca Veste's new novel, BLOODSTREAM, on Wednesday 18th November at 6:30pm.

Social media stars Chloe Morrison and Joe Hooper seem to have it all - until their bodies are found following an anonymous phone call to their high-profile agent. Tied and bound to chairs facing each other, their violent deaths cause a media scrum to descend on Liverpool, with DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi assigned to the case.

Murphy is dismissive, but the media pressure intensifies when another couple is found in the same manner as the first. Only this time the killer has left a message. A link to a private video on the internet, and the words 'Nothing stays secret'. It quickly becomes clear that more people will die; that the killer believes secrets and lies within relationships should have deadly consequences...

Luca Veste is a writer of Italian and Scouse heritage, married with two young daughters, and one of nine children. He is currently studying psychology and criminology at University in Liverpool.

His debut novel - DEAD GONE - was released by Avon/HarperCollins in December 2013/January 2014. Part psychological thriller, part police procedural, it introduces the detective pairing of DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi. The second in the series - THE DYING PLACE - was released for ebook in October 2014, with the paperback following in December. He is also the editor of the Spinetingler Award nominated charity anthology 'Off The Record', and co-editor of 'True Brit Grit', also an anthology of short stories for charity.

A former civil servant, actor, singer and guitarist (although he still picks it up now and again), he now divides his time between home life, Uni work and writing.

Book your place early to avoid disappointment, by emailing David or by calling the shop on 9031 9607."

So there you have it. Luca Veste and Steve Cavanagh. It'll be a cracker.

And, to whet your appetite, there's a very entertaining "Writers in Conversation" piece over at The Writer's Workshop featuring the dynamic duo. Check it out.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Crime Fiction Detected in the Foyle Film Festival Newsletter!

Friday 20th November, 7:00pm


This event will take place in Eighty81, Ebrington.
An Evening with Des Doherty, Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry, hosted by BBC NI's Marie Louise Muir.
A corrupt lawyer is nailed to a chair in the middle of Ebrington Square in Derry. Why? DCI Jon Valberg wonders if it is an early entry for the Turner Prize in the city’s Year of Culture.
‘Gerry, have you, or someone else, made a last-minute entry for the Turner Prize? If so, it’s sure to win.’
Publishers Guildhall Press launch Desmond Doherty’s much anticipated third Valberg novel, ‘Deadlight’, at the location of the book's dramatic opening scene in Ebrington.
The Valberg titles have been praised for their visual and cinematic style, most notably by world-renowned author Lee Child, originator of the Jack Reacher character, who commented: “First rate writing, one to watch.”  The Valberg series has recently been optioned and will be adapted for the screen by award-winning writing duo Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry.
BBC Arts Extra presenter Marie-Louise Muir will interview Valberg creator and author Desmond Doherty on the writing process and chair a panel discussion regarding the transfer of Valberg to the screen with screenwriters Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry and local producer, Mark McCauley.
‘Deadlight’ will be released by Guildhall Press on Friday 20 November 2015.
Venue Partner: 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Guest Post - Wayne Simmons

Back to the Future: Why I wrote a Slasher Horror Book

When I was a lad, growing up in Portadown, there wasn’t much to do on a Friday night that didn’t involve getting into bother. Usually, we’d just hit the local video shop. We’d make straight for the horror section, scan the shelves for the goriest looking, most outrageous cover we could find and take it to the counter. Now, this was the late 80s. A different time, if you like. A twelve year old kid looking to rent a Certificate 18 film meant nothing back then. As long as you had your da’s card, you were good to go.

We watched a lot of horror. All the Fridays and Nightmares and Halloweens. A fair bit of really bad, low-budget stuff that we probably didn’t make it all the way through (although, we’d try our damndest: there was a charge if you left a video back without rewinding it first. Chances were, if you ejected that bad boy in a fit of rage halfway through, you weren’t going to remember to rewind it later).

Thing is, watching those movies shaped me into the man I am today. It got me into horror which got me into writing which is now something of a career. Later in life, I would revisit some of those titles, and many more like them that I missed along the way, and it would become something of an obsession. Video shops were on their way out by then so I’d be hitting HMV and Amazon and whatever second hand shops I ran into, and I’d lap up whatever 70s and 80s horror I could find. Somewhere along the way, I heard about Giallo, the work of guys like Dario Argento, and the net was cast even wider.

I became just as obsessed with slasher horror as I had been with zombies ten years or so prior.

Soon, the cogs within the ol’ creative brain began turning. An idea started to form and I grabbed a pen, jotted some stuff down. Meanwhile, I was chatting with old friend and fellow horror hack, Andre Duza, and shared some of my ideas with him. Before long, we were working on the project together. Maybe I asked him to weigh in on it or maybe it just happened: we’re talking slasher horror, here, so the urban myth may have replaced the actual truth in my brain. One thing’s for sure, once Andre became involved, we really started to motor. The characters, the setting, the story: it all came alive to us and much of it echoed those old movies that I would watch back in the 80s in Portadown and Andre was watching at the same time over in Philadelphia.

Voodoo Child was born on Halloween 2015. It’s been described as 'the literary equivalent of the classic horror films of the 80s' by Harry Manfredini, who scored some of those films that inspired me so much back in the day. And hell, Steve Johnson who did the special effects in those movies; the kind of stuff that had us fist pumping the air or recoiling in disgust as kids; had equally nice things to say on the book, too.

Which, in a really cool way, brings us full circle.

So, why did I write a slasher horror book? Because I had to. I’ve always described myself as being in this somewhat sordid business of writing because I’m a fan. I’m a fan of zombie horror so I wrote four zombie horror books. I’m a fan of crime and noir so I wrote The Girl in the Basement. I love Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner so I wrote my own tech noir, Plastic Jesus. Voodoo Child is my love letter to the slasher horror genre. To John Carpenter and Dario Argento and all the rest of those guys that rocked my world back in the 80s, and still rock it today.

I hope you like it.  

Author: Andre Duza & Wayne Simmons
Publisher: Infected Books
Release Date: 31st October 2015
Cover Art: Alex McVey
 'The literary equivalent of the classic horror films of the 80s. ' (Harry Manfredini, Film Composer: FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE HILLS HAVE EYES II, WISHMASTER)
You've been warned!

Stay away from Blackwater, Louisiana. Behind the smiles and the southern hospitality lies a dark secret.

You've been warned! 

Don't go in the woods. They're haunted.

You've been warned! 

Don't go in the lake. There's a dead witch beneath those waters.

Lori Sawyer was raised in these parts. The biracial descendant of a Voodoo Priestess, she's known as "witchy girl" to her friends, Abby and Roxy. But to Lori, Blackwater is a sacred place, a crossroads of old southern, African, and French spirituality to be celebrated, not feared. In fact, it's just the sort of environment to help free Abby from the memory of witnessing her boyfriend's murder.

And from the guilt of having killed him.

In 1985 three friends will embark on a weekend getaway that will change their lives forever.

"Duza and Simmons have succeeded WILDLY in re-creating a classic horror flick from the '80s - on the page! And if anyone knows about '80s horror... it's me." Steve Johnson (Special FX Legend: THE HOWLING, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, GHOSTBUSTERS)  Buy it Now from only £1.99:
Signed paperback available from Infected Books store from only £7.99 (incl UK postage):

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Rain Dogs -- A McKinty Sneak-Peek

Adrian McKinty has posted the covers and the first six chapters of the next Sean Duffy mystery.

Rain Dogs (a title intentionally borrowed from Tom Waits, I'd wager).

This is better than good news. It's great. Get thee to McKinty's blog.

I'll post one of the covers below. You've to go to McKinty's blog to see the other.

Go to McKinty's blog!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Five Questions -- Brian McGilloway

Brian McGilloway was born in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1974. After studying English at Queen's University, Belfast, he took up a teaching position in St Columb's College in Derry, where he was Head of English.

His first novel, Borderlands, published by Macmillan New Writing, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger 2007 and was hailed by The Times as 'one of (2007's) most impressive debuts.' The second novel in the series, Gallows Lane, was shortlisted for the 2009 Irish Book Awards/Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year. The third Devlin, Bleed a River Deep, was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of their Best Books of 2010. The first DS Lucy Black novel, Little Girl Lost, became an Amazon Kindle No 1 Bestseller in 2013. The follow-up novel featuring Lucy Black, Hurt, is published in November 2013.

Brian lives near the Irish borderlands with his wife and their four children.

Gerard: Preserve the Dead features Lucy Black, your PSNI series character. Now, I very much enjoy your Inspector Ben Devlin books (set on the other side of the Irish border), but I really do prefer DS Black. She has a little more grit in her belly, I think. Have you heard this often? Do you have a favourite yourself, or is that like ranking your kids?

Brian: Thanks Gerard. It’s strange because there's no consensus. The Lucy books have obviously done better in terms of sales and that, but I still get emails from people saying they like the books but would love another Devlin again soon. I suppose the books have different qualities. The Devlin books tend to be more reflective on account of being a first person narrative whereas the Lucy books move faster because they’re third person. In terms of which I prefer, I couldn’t say. I do miss Devlin, and I like writing in that voice which is, truth be told, not a million miles away from my own, with a few minor differences. But I enjoy writing the Lucy books very much and like her as a character and the way in which she’s developing across the series - and I do have a definite ending for her story. And I’m very fond of her mum, even if she isn’t. The Devlin books are constrained a little by his family life and by the fact that his kids are growing up and have to impact on the narrative; Lucy is freer to do things than Devlin is because there’s no one waiting for her to be home at a certain time. That probably means that Devlin would have a much healthier work/life balance!

Gerard: I suppose you could argue, though, that Devlin has a hell of a lot more to lose than Black... Time will tell, I suppose. So you've an ending in mind for Lucy? That's interesting. Are you able to project/predict how many more volumes it'll take to complete her tale?

Brian: To an extent, I guess. Devlin has mostly managed to keep his family and professional life separate - though what happens in one is normally reflected in the other. It’s a deliberate choice - it’s too much of a cliche to have the family in peril in every single story. It happened in Borderlands, which was my first, and I think that’s really it. Much more interesting for me is how he balances the two sides of his life, like plates spinning. As for Lucy, she does have her own network of sorts and, as the books go on, that will continue to grow. She was an outsider in Little Girl Lost. By this new book, she’s beginning to make friends, some in more forced situations than others and is having to be more honest with some others about her relationship with her mother. Lucy has withheld one too many secrets in this book and gets called out on them. She needs to learn to be more trusting. As for the ending, I had thought 5 books, but as I’m working on the fourth at the moment and I’m no much nearer the ending, that might change. Ultimately, Lucy’s story will be tied to the story of Mary Quigg, the little girl who is lost in the book of that name. From the start I knew where I wanted the Lucy books to end; I don’t have that with Devlin. I guess in both cases, they’ll end when I have no more stories to tell for those characters.

Gerard: Two multi-novel series seems like a hell of a lot of story to hold in your head. Do you ever wish that you could write a standalone just to take a break from the long game? Maybe even write in a different form?

Brian: Yes. To be honest, Little Girl Lost was intended as a stand lone for a break from Devlin, but I found that after I’d finished it, I wanted to find out more about Lucy and her story still had some distance to go. I do have an idea for a standalone that I started last year but the story wasn’t ready - I intend to revisit that when it’s more fully formed. I suppose the big problem with two series is trying to ensure that one does;t end up morphing into the other. Keeping them distinct, with the voices of the main characters clear and different is a major concern when I’m writing them. And at times I have an idea and think it’s great, then realise the next day that I already used something similar in one of the Devlins. As for writing outside of crime - I’ll write whatever the story is that I have to tell. If it so happens that that story isn’t a crime one, then so be it. In term of forms, I’m doing some screenwriting at the moment which I’m enjoying very much. It’s more concentrated than writing the novel as you have to know where it’s going from the start, whereas I rarely do with a book. The timeframe is much tighter, too, though it’s much more collaborative than a novel. Certainly its something I’d like to develop further if I can.

Gerard: Something I noticed about Preserve the Dead is that there seemed to be a little more tongue-in-cheek humour than in the prequels. You had a little fun at the expense of English teachers in an early chapter that made me smile. Was this intentional? Perhaps a way to further separate Lucy Black from Ben Devlin?

Brian: I think the first two Lucy books were quite cold - especially Little Girl Lost. Part of the reason for that was that both books dealt with crimes against or involving children. Nothing about that topic suggests humour to me and as a result, both books feel a little cold to me. The Devlin books, I think, have a warmth from Devlin’s voice and from his family life which, again, the Lucy books don’t have - her family is anything but warm, although there is a thawing between her and her mother. The other thing which struck me is that, by this third book, the various agencies and teams know one another now and would be fairly comfortable with one another, so that hopefully is reflected in the banter between them. Of course it’s also a Northern Irish thing - humour in the face of horror. The English teacher joke is about all poems being about sex or death from what I remember. I’ve used that line myself in class and I know of several other English teachers who subscribe to the same theory. The poem he mentions was one that was taught to me by my own teacher, who was a poet called Paul Wilkins. Paul was a superb teacher, a fine poet and a good friend. He died a few months before Borderlands was published, but he was hugely influential in my wanting to be a writer when I was at school. The scene with Fleming is a personal light hearted nod to Paul who I imagine would appreciate the joke.

Gerard: So who gets the next outing? Inspector Devlin or DS Black?

Brian: It’s another Lucy. To be honest, I started it as a Devlin - the book is about hate and complicity in crime; a religious pastor who makes some inflammatory comments about homosexuality in the wake of which a gay youth is killed. The problem was that I made it to chapter 15 and hit a brick wall. So many of the sub plots I wanted to introduce to parallel the main plot didn’t suit the border setting or Devlin’s family life. After three weeks of struggling to move it forward I started it again as a Lucy novel and it just seemed to work - the sub plots make more sense and the setting seems more appropriate to the storyline. I would like to revisit Devlin again when he has another story, but for now the next one is a Lucy. I had played with the idea of them meeting earlier in the series, and Jim Hendry appears in Little Girl Lost, so they exist in the same world. In fact, the first draft of LGL ended with Lucy phoning Devlin to ask for help in tracking down  Mary Quigg’s killer. Henry refers to a friend over the border earlier in the book. But the two series were optioned by two different TV companies and I was warned that they couldn’t appear in a novel together or it would cause all kinds of complications with who owned the rights to which character. They shared a one off story called The Sacrifice, which I wrote for Radio 4 as part of the Derry City of Culture celebrations, but I suspect that will be it with regards a crossover.

Brian McGilloway has a brand spanking new website that you've got to check out. Right now! Also, he can be found on Twitter, and the really privileged might be able to befriend him on Facebook.

What are you waiting for?

Monday, 20 July 2015

Five Questions -- Kelly Creighton

Kelly Creighton is a poet and fiction writer with work in literary journals The Stinging Fly, Long Story, Short, Wordlegs, The Galway Review, A New Ulster, The Boyne Berries and numerous other publications.

She was awarded second place in the Abroad Writers’ Conference Short Story Competition judged by Robert Olen Butler, long-listed for The RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland short story contest and shortlisted for the Carousel Writers.

Gerard: Brian McGilloway described The Bones of It as "A brilliant crime debut, chilling, compulsive and beautifully written." Being a fan of Mr McGilloway's work, I was very keen to have a look. Did you set out to write a crime novel, or was this a case of a literary text that veered into the crime world?

Kelly: I set out to write a thriller, even although nothing else I'd written up to that point was crime, and I wasn't really sure how The Bones of It would eventually be marketed. It is the direction I went because that's what the story called for. That said, I'm very happy to have wound up in the crime world.

Gerard: I'm happy too, especially since your contribution to the Northern Irish crime fiction scene has doubled the number of women writers in our wee community (shout-out to Claire McGowan). I have heard that Lucy Caldwell is writing a crime fiction novel too, which is more great news. Any theories on why it's taken this long for our female talent to shine in the crime world?

Kelly: Doubled! That's a depressing statistic! Lately I've been reading all these articles about how 'so many women read crime', and how 'female crime writers write gorier stuff than men', and 'why today's most exciting crime writers are women', and yet here in NI, where there's a recent explosion in emerging crime writers, there aren't many women writing in the genre.

I don't know why this is. I suppose we don't know what people are getting up to on their pcs until the work is out there for us to read. In The Bones of It, the narrator is a young man, so I'm making sure the next book is from a woman's point of view.

I hope some local women writers get in touch and let me know that they write crime too.

Gerard: I'm glad you mentioned your narrator. I thought you nailed the masculine voice. Quite an accomplishment given Scott's less than conventional personality. Did you have any difficulty writing from his perspective or did it come naturally?

Kelly: Thanks very much, Gerard! It was only after I'd started on the book that I heard a couple of people say, 'How can a woman write from a man's perspective?' and vice versa. The thought that it was strange hadn't occurred to me before that. I still don't know if it is. My stories are probably half and half. I love writing from different perspectives, different ages. That's a big part of what interests me - finding the voice. I think we all start in our own voice, writing semi-autobiographical stuff. As I go on I want to explore characters that aren't familiar to me. There has to be an emotional truth in there that I feel I understand. It doesn't have to be my truth, if you know what I mean. I knew Scott really well before I even started writing, that gave me the confidence to slip into his mindset. The book was written and redrafted in quick bursts, so that made it easier.

Gerard: Was the transition from poetry to prose difficult for you?

Kelly: It's more a back-and-forth between the two than a transition really. I write the odd poem but prose is more my thing. It's so hard to write a poem I'm ever really happy with. I'm in awe of 'proper' poets. Prose has much more freedom and it suits me better.

Gerard: So, what's the craic with the next book?

Kelly: I'm working on two books right now - one is a collection of linked short fiction and the other is a detective novel from the POV of a female detective. This summer is all about finishing the story collection because the house is full of noise and there isn't the headspace to give the novel the attention it needs. I should be wrapping up the novel by the end of the year, then I have the structure in place for the next one. If someone could just arrange more hours in the day, I'd be sorted.

You can follow Kelly on Twitter or send her a friend request on Facebook if you're feeling lucky. And you should get yourself a copy of The Bones of It. CSNI approved.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Five Questions -- Jason Johnson

JASON JOHNSON'S novels focus on people facing extreme situations over short periods of time.

His latest is ALOYSIUS TEMPO (2015), the tale of an unkempt, maverick assassin recruited by the Irish government. It's published by Liberties Press, Dublin.

Previous works:

WOUNDLICKER (2005) - a serial killer's confession - set in Northern Ireland.

ALINA (2006) - the hunt for a vanished sex worker - set in Romania.

SINKER (2014) - where drinking alcohol is a professional sport - set in Majorca. (SINKER extract available for free in 'HERE'S THE STORY' - Download from this page)

The Irish Independent describes blackly comic SINKER as "a lean, nasty, tripped-out shocker... a cracking book, a jolt to the senses like a line of flaming shots."

ALINA, says US author and critic Frank Sennett, "delivers a climax as harrowing as one might hope to find in contemporary crime fiction."

And WOUNDLICKER is "dark and gritty", says The Sunday Times.

Jason's from Enniskillen and lives in Belfast.

Gerard: I've only just finished Aloysius Tempo and I feel like there's a hell of a lot of potential for further adventures featuring this protagonist. Maybe because he seems better built to handle his self-destructive nature than your previous characters. Any chance of a sequel?

Jason: I think so. I’m hoping to write another one next year. Ideally I will write four or five adventures for Aloysius.

In each he will lose a body part or two and become a few percentage points more insane and haunted. Basically, he’s spiraling downwards, deconstructing himself. Chapter by chapter he’ll grow weaker yet more dangerous and end up being ground into the dust. This book, I hope, has teed that up.

Next year I plan to write the second installment, to send him to join ISIS on effectively a suicide mission for Ireland just on the cusp of the state’s centenary.

As a character he is going to move further beyond living and operating within established moral frameworks, so Syria seems like a good place for him to be next time around.

Gerard: Nationalism was very much a theme in the first book. Looks like that'll be the case for the future instalments too. Is this your way of wrestling with your own national identity?

Jason: You know, it probably is. My roots are Irish, English, Scottish, Maori, Protestant, Catholic and atheist. Anyone who wants to insult me has a lot of material to work with. A few of my characters have been mongrels in the Northern Ireland sense of the word, so you’re probably right.

The thing I wanted to touch on in the novel was patriotism, which is at the heart of a lot of our gut reactions here. Patriotism can be intoxicating, joyful, positive, negative, childish and laughable all at the same time, and it’s always around.

Aloysius grew up hating Irish society – the Troubles, the church, the ethos – so he’s a bit stuck when he gets asked if he will kill for his country, yet he can’t help seeing some nobility in it.

The book explains how he isn’t sure who his father was, that Aloysius was born to a woman who had been with both a ruthless member of the IRA and a ruthless UDR soldier.

That lack of clarity, lack of category in Irish terms, interests me. It suggests betrayal may mean something different to him than it does to the rest of us. It hopefully creates unexpected friction or unexpected ease in some of his decisions.

Aloysius’ journey basically involves him falling in love with the modern, smart, reinvigorated Ireland to which he is being introduced, but he may stop in with a mistress along the way.

Gerard: So you yourself are hard to classify. What about your writing? To me, Aloysius Tempo is a terrific black-comedic thriller. Your previous novels (Woundlicker, Alina and Sinker), while all quite different animals, contain crime elements of varying degrees, though they might not be found in the crime fiction section at a local bookshop. Do you consider your work literary fiction, crime fiction, comedy or some sort of mongrel?

Jason: Some sort of mongrel. It's about trying to cram relatively big ideas into the heads of people who don't always want them.

I always find I’m trying to write the thoughts of characters who realise they are discovering truths.

For some reason they first seem to end up finding some purity outside of themselves – great works of art, people of beauty, people who possess or who have achieved great things – and I bounce them off that. That helps give them something to compare themselves too, and generally helps them realise how far they have to go in their journey. If there’s literary lingering in my novels, that’s the only sort of thing the characters linger on.

That sounds so wanky that it may, in some small way, suggest the hue of literary fiction. But that would be unfair to the majority of the text which is, more or less, the written equivalent of dropping characters down lift shafts and seeing what happens.

There is always crime, which may suggest some hybrid of crime fiction, but I do think if I called myself a crime writer then crime writers would whisper that I didn’t really understand the genre. The same goes if I called myself a writer of literary fiction.

What I know for sure is I’m never going to write a great novel in the grand sense of the word, but hopefully I am going to entertain.

The stories are usually a bit dark, with a bit of a laugh, with some dirt and violence and hopefully a few off-road plot points. I try to be brave when I write and usually urge myself forward when I hear the voice of the self-censor in my head. I deal with the resulting shame and cringing after the book is published.

All I really want is for my books to shove people a wee bit.

Gerard: Through your four novels you've created a fascinating universe. Do you think Aloysius could ever run into Woundlicker's Fletcher Fee on a future adventure, or do you see your other titles as quite separate?

Jason: Only a writer who knows the craic could ask that question. You too, Gerard, must have entertained the idea of having characters from different novels impact on each other. (Yup! gb)

It’s fun to think about it, to see if you can come up with a plot to reanimate and connect unconnected characters you’ve enjoyed writing before.

But it would be too indulgent at the seriously low level I’m on as a writer. It would likely bypass just about anybody who read it and probably fall flat.

Characters are created at specific times with a specific job to do, so I don’t think it’s a road I’d go down. I’ve plenty of other scumbags and fools I want to write about without bringing any back.

Gerard: Any plans for a reprint of Woundlicker and Alina? Loved those books and I think more people should have the opportunity to read them.

Jason: That’s very kind of you, and no. I think they’re effectively goners, arriving just before the e-book thing did. Neither sold very many so making an argument for reissue would probably fall at the first hurdle.

Anyway, that was then and this is now.

Woundlicker was very local and set during the horrible birthing pains of the peace process. It’s far out of sync with today.

I did once look into the idea of Woundlicker as a one-man stage show, with a real Mercedes Benz on the stage (it’s set in a Merc), but no theatre people were interested.

And when I think back to Alina I think only of it being some kind of half-arsed, mis-developed statement about the cruelty of pleasure when rich meets poor or some such bollocks, so I hope it’s unavailable forever.

It’s all about looking ahead.

Jason Johnson is published by Liberties Press, a house that had the good sense to sign a band of particularly talented Northern Irish writers that includes Tara West, Jan Carson, Kelly Creighton, Bethany Dawson, Moyra Donaldson and Jason himself. Keep 'er lit, lads!

You can follow Jason on Twitter, and if you're lucky, he might even be your friend on Facebook.