Monday 15 September 2008

An Interview - Declan Burke

In preparation for the imminent US release of Burke's The Big O, I've decided to rerun his interview which was originally posted in May of this year.

Declan Burke is the author of The Big O (2007), which has been described as ‘an Irish Elmore Leonard with a harder Irish edge’, and not only by Declan Burke. He lives in Wicklow with his wife, Aileen, and new little girl, Lily, and is not allowed to own a cat. Boo, hiss, etc. He also runs a blog dedicated to Irish crime fiction, Crime Always Pays.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

A: I swore I’d pack in writing for six months after Lily was born, and I lasted about three-and-a-half weeks. As a compromise, I’m not actually writing; I’m redrafting a story that goes under the ludicrously pretentious working title of A Roominghouse Madrigal, which I’ve stolen from Hank Bukowski. It’s about a hospital porter who decides to blow up the hospital where he works.

Q2. Can you give us an idea of Declan Burke’s typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

A: Hmmmm … up to the armpits in ideas? Up to the little toenail, maybe … Right now my writing ‘day’ starts at 6.30am, and I get about an hour-and-a-half done before I have to head off to work … or, should I say, ‘work’ – it involves watching movie screenings. That’s fine at the moment, because I’m redrafting … If I was actually writing, I’d be doing three hours a day, seven days a week. I have to write first thing in the morning, preferably early enough so that everyone else in the house is still asleep. With the new arrival pootling around, I don’t know when I’ll get the time to get back into that routine, but I don’t mind too much – (a) she’s worth it, and (b) I’ve at least three novels I really should be redrafting anyway.

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

A: Change nappies, mostly. I also spend quite a bit of time reading, for pleasure, work and research (if I’m lucky, all three at once). I review movies for a living too, and theatre. The blog, Crime Always Pays, is time-intensive but hugely enjoyable, as is surfing other blogs. I like watching football and hurling on the TV – I used to play quite a bit of both in my misspent youth. And I like good TV, science and history documentaries, good sitcoms, occasionally a movie. I’m also an incredibly bad but very enthusiastic gardener. And a scoop or two with the lads is bearable enough once in a while.

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the crime fiction scene?

A: Always be writing. The crime fiction ‘scene’ isn’t any different to any other, and the same principles apply, or principle … keep writing. I had to write a whole lot of rubbish out of my system over ten years or so before I got down to the quality, mother-lode rubbish … Also, take every opportunity to engage with any writer who’ll talk to you, and keep your ears pinned back. Very little of what anyone else says will be of use to you personally, because ultimately you need to do your own thing, but it’ll help you to not make the same mistakes they did. And buy a copy of John Gardner’s On Becoming A Novelist.

Q5. Which crime writer(s) have impressed you this year?

A: The writers I’ve been tempted to take out a hit on over the last year are Adrian McKinty, Allan Guthrie, Brian McGilloway, Ray Banks, Gene Kerrigan, Sandra Ruttan and John McFetridge. There’s been loads of other really good writers, of course, but those names are all relatively new on the block – to me, at least.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

A: I generally have a few books on the go, for a variety of reasons. Right now they are: Fifty Grand, Adrian McKinty; The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy; Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie; The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Capra; The Dalkey Archives, Flann O’Brien.

Q7. Plans for the future?

A: At the risk of being mawkish, and bearing in mind that Lily is only a month old, I’m hoping to be the best dad I can be for the foreseeable future. Other than that, I’m looking forward to seeing Harcourt’s version of The Big O, which comes out in hardback in the U.S. in August; finishing the current redraft of the hospital porter story; starting another redraft, of a story set on Crete, which has attracted some tentative interest; and then redrafting the sequel to The Big O, currently titled The Blue Orange, which is due with Harcourt this coming October.

Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

A: I wouldn’t have let my first publishers, of Eightball Boogie (2003) take full control of the publicity / promotion end of things; I’d have taken on the responsibility for that. At the end of the day, no one is going to care more about your book, or work harder for it, than you. Otherwise, even though it’s been fairly low-key to date, I’m happy with the way things have gone – the books could be better, of course, but they were as good as I could make them at the time, and it wasn’t for lack of effort or imagination that they weren’t better. Besides, if things had gone differently, I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve met along the way, which sounds vaguely Zen-ish … and I’ve met some terrific people. Actually, scratch that – I’ve met a ton of terrific people. And yes, I’ve weighed them all, and they add up to exactly one ton …

Q9. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

A: Kudos on Crime Scene Northern Ireland, sir. Just in case everyone else is too dazzled / awed by your brilliance to mention it, you’re doing a fantastic job up here. Many and rich shall be your rewards when that karma boomerang comes whizzing back this way …

Thank you, Declan Burke!


colman said...

Has this photo been air-brushed, as I can only see one chin in it?

Gerard Brennan said...

Hah, Colman, you cheeky pup. But I suspect it has. He looks a bit like John Cusack in it too, don't you think?


Michael Stone said...

What are the shades hiding, that's what I wanna know? Judging by your user pic (top right) NI crime writers could well be devils in disguise.

By the way, entertaining answers, Declan.

Gerard Brennan said...

Devils in disguise, eh?


Heh... that's ridiculous.


I have to go. Bye!


colman said...

John Cusack???????
Nah.........John Belushi.....hmmm

Declan Burke said...

Colman? Rapiers at dawn, Kew Park, Saturday morning. If I'm late, start without me ... The shades are hiding a minor hangover, Michael - we were on holiday in Turkey at the time. Pamukkale, to be precise, the milky-white ponds of the ancient Greek city where, legend has it, Cleopatra bathed in asses' milk. How's that for an interesting answer? Oh, and if you click big on the pic, you'll see Mrs Viz reflected there as she wields the camera ... Cheers, Dec

Michael Stone said...

Pummakkale, eh? Do they still let you paddle in the calcium pools? I'll never forget the less than romantic sensation of warm silt squeezing up between my toes. Fabulous place. There was also a natural pool nearby, green and fizzy and filled with Roman ruins. Swimming underwater was like immersing yourself in Limeade.

colman said...

rapiers at dawn....shit I've done it now......apologies, I retract you handsome beast

adrian mckinty said...


he was calling your bluff, i'll bet the last time Dec saw the dawn was during the 94 world cup.

Declan Burke said...

Much obliged for the re-publication, Gerard ...

Adrian? I'll have you know I've stumbled home pie-eyed through Aurora's silken tresses many's a time since '94. Although never by choice. Cheers, Dec

Gerard Brennan said...

"... Aurora's silken tresses..."

Nice. You should be a writer or something, Dec.