Wednesday 30 July 2008

Great Book Week

Had me an excellent week for accumulating some quality reading. My little sis, Lisa B, feels guilty for missing another one of my birthdays as she's swanning around Australia at the minute. So her gift this year was very generous. Three books I'm practically salivating over.

Declan Burke's Eightball Boogie. I've been meaning to pick this up for a while now, and since I've recently completed A Gonzo Noir and enjoyed the heck out of The Big O few months ago, now's a great time for it. Plus I like pool. Wrote me own story, in which the game featured heavily, a few years ago. Pool Sharks. Got some good reviews for that one. Might post it here some day.

Ken Bruen's The Guards. I read Priest after happening upon it in a second hand bookshop quite some time ago. Thought it was a very powerful tale and that Jack Taylor was a hell of a character. And I really got a kick out of Bruen's dark but sparse style. Reading it was a masterclass in crime fiction. So I promised myself ages ago I'd go back to the start of the series and read it in order. Can't wait to crack it open now.

David Park's The Truth Commissioner. An excellent choice by my sis, as it's a very important (from what I'm hearing) post-Troubles novel. Kind of the whole idea of this site summed up in a critically acclaimed and very attractive hard back tome. This one must be read and critiqued post-haste.

And I'd made a couple of bargain purchases myself this week. Picked up a book by Gautam Malkani because I liked the look of the cover. I subjected Londonstani to a random page test and liked the energy in the writing, so I dumped it in the shopping basket. Also found a copy of Jason Starr's Cold Caller, so I asked the missus for a lend of a few quid an bought it too.

Then when I got home I found a package that had been flown all the way from sunny California. Inside? Two more books! Timothy Hallinan's A Nail Through The Heart and The Fourth Watcher. Both signed by the man himself, thanks to a competition held by Peter over at Detectives Beyond Borders.

Now all I need is a big-ass holiday and a pair of backup specs.

Tuesday 29 July 2008

CSNI -- We Haven't Gone Away You Know

Things have been a little quiet around here the last few weeks. This may happen from time to time as there are only so many hours in the day and I'm still trying to be a crime fiction writer as well as a reader/blogger, family guy, full time public servant and amateur mountain biker. This week and last I donned the crazy writer cap and I have mostly been reworking the novella that inspired my screenplay, The Point. I set out to expand it into a short novel in a bid to sell it as a standalone. Previously, I'd been attempting to flog it as the main attraction in my short story collection, but as I've yet to sell a novel, nobody wanted to touch that with a ten foot sewer rod. And the effort has paid off. Sort of. The Point will be, once I've finished work on two new scenes, a 40K word novel. Great! My third book! Except, 40K is only just crossing the technical wordcount for a novel.

In reality, books this short are pretty unattractive to publishers. The real sweetspot is about 70-80K and up, depending on the house. Two places have agreed to take a look, but after they have, rejected it (not pessimism -- simple probability), what the hell am I going to do with it? Anyone? Seriously, this is not a rhetorical question. I'd like a sensible answer to this. As a marketable commodity, it's got a unique selling point, in that there's a very good chance that The Point will become a film in some shape or form in the future, but again, t'is only a tiny wee 40K. The simple answer, I suppose, would be to add more words, but for the life of me I can't think of anything that would constitute as obvious padding. I don't know.

Anyway, why am I bothering you lot with this ramble? You're here to read about the ones who have sold their books, right? Well, stay tuned. You won't be disappointed. This week I hope to have a review of Lucy Caldwell's heart-wrenching Where They Were Missed, further reviews contributed by those fine CSNIers, Mike Stone and Tammy Moore, and I have made contact with one Eugene McEldowney who's agreed to answer a few questions for us. So keep clicking here, NI crime fans. We're getting back on track.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

A Wee Review - A Gonzo Noir by Declan Burke

Declan Burke recently threw his hat into the self-publishing ring. His offering? An internet novel by the name of A Gonzo Noir. The first instalment was featured on his excellent blog, Crime Always Pays, on the 29th of May 2008 and the final part made its way onto the dedicated A Gonzo Noir blog on the 21st of July 2008. The novel instalments were posted regularly, and Burke’s aim was to have the finished product floating about the blogosphere within three months. He shaved a month off his timetable, and for that I’m thankful, because I couldn’t get enough of it and was dying to get to the end.

Not long after I read the first, and highly polished instalment, I emailed Declan Burke and asked him why he would give away a novel length manuscript for free. His answer was unarguable. “Why Not?” he said. “Fair enough, then,” said I. But he also put together a post on his blog detailing his reasons, which centre on the “Why not?” premise, but may bring more satisfaction to the more inquisitive among us.

The plot is a very interesting one. Not a straight crime story by a long shot. Burke has mixed biography, crime and speculative fiction to create a genre-sprawling novel that defies classification. The novel opens with a disgruntled character from one of Burke’s ‘trunk manuscripts’ paying a visit to the author to demand he be released from the limbo that is the unpublished story. Burke protests that he is done with the story and has other things on his mind, such as his new family and the impending Harcourt deadline for the sequel to his novel, The Big O. The character, once known as Karlsson, has decided to call himself Billy, revamp his appearance and outlook on life, and has brought new plot suggestions to add a real kick to a dead story. Some highly explosive suggestions!

At the outset, this novel fascinated me because it came across as an experiment in redrafting. As a writer, I have an innate interest in the processes of other writers, and so this idea struck a chord. But a couple of instalments in, it became less about my curiosity in the workings of Burke’s redraft and all about the story he was telling.

Take Billy, the novel’s central character. At times he’s a sleekit wee weasel who makes your lip curl, and at others he’s a likeable and witty bloke you wouldn’t mind having a pint with. He’s the king of twisted rants and deeply cynical thought and I found myself a little freaked out by the amount of times I nodded along with his insane beliefs and suggestions. That might say more about me than Billy, but I think it also says a lot about Burke’s ability to create a three dimensional character and make him wholly appealing and unappealing in equal measures.

The style is very interesting too. First person point of view is shared by Billy and Declan throughout, with the lion’s share going to Billy. At first I worried that this might become confusing, but Burke’s ability allayed this small anxiety. He made all the POV switches very clear and ensured that confusion didn’t interfere with my enjoyment.

My only criticism is in the physical form A Gonzo Noir takes. Usually, I wouldn’t read anything longer than a blog post or short story off the computer screen. I’m a bibliophile and always will be. I refuse to believe the eBook is the wave of the future. Give me hardcopy every time! However, A Gonzo Noir spits in the eye of this criticism, because it’s the first novel length work I’ve ever read online. A pretty good recommendation in itself. Still, if this thing ever makes it as a printed publication, I’ll be first in line to spend my hard earned beer-tokens on it.

So all in all, A Gonzo Noir is a slightly psychedelic trip into the workings of Declan Burke’s rather odd mind. The characters leap off the screen and the ending twists again and again with more enthusiasm than Chubby Checker and the Fat Boys ever mustered. I’d tell you to run out and buy it now, but you don’t even have to do that. It’s blummin’ free! So get on over to the blog hosting A Gonzo Noir before the author catches on and holds it to ransom.

Monday 21 July 2008

An Interview - Lucy Caldwell

Lucy Caldwell was born in Belfast in 1981. She won the Peggy Ramsay Award for playwriting and was selected to be a playwright in residence at the National Theatre. Her latest novel Where They Were Missed is published by Penguin (2006) and made the final list for the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2006.

(Young, talented and beautiful. I want hate her, but having read the first four chapters of Where They Were Missed yesterday I cannot in good conscience refuse to feature her on CSNI. No matter how jealous I am of her achievements. -- Gerard.)

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

My main project at the moment is a new play called Carnival for the forthcoming Belfast Festival about a travelling troupe of circus performers that comes to town. I’m also doing the final edits to a novella, The Furthest Distance, which is due to be published this winter. I’m working on a radio play for BBC R4 about two young students falling in love against the backdrop of Tiananmen Square and attempting my first ever translation – of a contemporary Spanish play. And, somewhere in the background, the rewrites of my second novel are ticking over, too, along with the sketches for a couple of not-too-distant theatre commissions. Sometimes it all feels like trying to juggle too many balls whilst riding a unicycle along an impossibly high tight-rope wire. But other times I feel so buzzing with ideas that not-writing seems the impossibility.

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

Ok, so here’s today. Glare at insolently-blinking cursor on Word document. Realise have been glaring at cursor for almost an hour. Glare at pigeons strutting cockily on balcony. Glare at messy heap of invoices and tax returns on table. Sweep messy heap of invoices and tax returns on table into less-messy heap on floor. Feel marginally better. Decide to make another cup of green tea. Watch tea leaves unfurling. Feel soothed by sight. Make a to-do list, careful to make the first few things already done. Feel an utterly unwarranted and irrational but pleasant sense of accomplishment. Make a phone call or two. Write an email or two. The day is getting better. Gaze hopefully (and forlornly) into the biscuit tin in the hope that it’s grown some chocolate biscuits in the ten minutes since I last checked. Read the Guardian theatre & arts online blog. Google (I am copying this directly from my last-searched-for list) Phineaus Barnum, mermaids, the Tredozio region of Bologna, the forthcoming A/W ’08 Marc Jacobs footwear collection (sigh), Abe Books, the MySpace site for Mazzy Star. Realise that it’s already almost midday and so far have deleted more words than have written. Give up and go to yoga.

And sadly, this is an all-too-credible picture of a typical aimless working day! I find that I work best in intensive bursts, or on attachments or residencies. When writing’s going well, I will write for sixteen, eighteen hours straight, unable to sleep, forgetting to eat, feeling lucid and alive and fizzing with energy. But the rest of the time – the dull, uninspired, treading-water periods – it’s a battle to sit down and concentrate; to force yourself to do editing (where all the real work of writing happens), proof-reading, working out knotty problems or plot twists or translations… I do try and follow office-ish hours, and Graham Greene’s trick of making yourself write a certain number of words a day, but I was very heartened to read recently an interview with Claire Keegan, a writer I adore, saying that of course she didn’t write every day – “I’m not a banker,” was the gist of what she said; “writing doesn’t work to office hours.” My days are haphazard and unpredictable and all too often extremely mundane.

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

Oh dear. Given what I’ve just said I do when I AM (supposed to be) writing, I am embarrassed to answer this! If I’m stuck, I go for long walks – I love wandering through the streets of London – or do yoga to clear and still my mind. I read a lot, I go to the theatre a lot; I compose and practice my speech for when I win the Booker prize. Actually, you know, I think I am always writing, even if I’m not physically sitting typing at my computer. I walk through the streets letting stories and plots spool in my head, listening to characters in plays that I’m writing or might write talk or argue with each other; I scribble down phrases or ideas in notebooks and on the backs of receipts or the inside of my underarm; I zone out of conversations because I’ve just had another idea for a story. I underline phrases in books I’m reading because they’re so perfectly crafted or because I might use them as an epigraph; I lie awake at night because the stories and people in my head just won’t let me be. Sometimes I wake with a jolt – or stop dead in the middle of a supermarket aisle – and realise that I’ve somehow solved a problem I didn’t even know I was still thinking about. So perhaps writing is something that you can never really turn on or off…

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

Read, read, read and write, write, write. Write every day. For years I had some words by the crime writer Walter Mosley pinned to my noticeboard – he said that if you don’t keep a story alive by feeding it and paying it attention every day, it will die, and you won’t be able to resuscitate it, and I have found this to be absolutely true. And I suppose – a bit like the Winona Ryder principle – it’s nice to bear in mind that if you’re ever caught on the wrong side of the law you can always claim it’s for legitimate research?!

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

We’ve got a cracking crime writing scene in NI – new books by Colin Bateman and Ian Sansom are always worth looking out for. A non-fiction book called The Hounding Of David Olawule by a writer called Kester Aspden, which I raved about when it came out in hardback a year ago, last week won the CWA Gold Dagger award. And I can’t wait for Clare Clark’s next book, which should be due out next year – she’s a fantastic writer of historical crime fiction.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

A book of Romani folk-lore and proverbs; a brilliant non-fiction book by Diane Ackerman called A Natural History Of The Senses; Tom Murphy’s Collected Plays 3, Lorrie Moore’s Collected Stories, Kierkegaard’s novella The Seducer’s Diary… I always have various different books on the go for different moods (or handbag sizes!)

Q7. Plans for the future?

See question number one?!

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

Yeah. I’d write a first novel that gets on Richard & Judy and tops the bestseller lists for weeks, instead of one which is yet to earn me my first royalty payments.

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

I’d like to say how glad I am that Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children won the Best Of The Booker – I thought it utterly deserving of the prize. On a similar note I’d like to say how brilliant Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities is: it’s a book every writer, or wannabe writer, or reader, should read. I was re-reading it last night – I keep it on my bedside table, in fact, although I can quote huge chunks of it by heart. But talking of bedside tables, I’m glad you didn’t ask me what books are currently on mine because I’d’ve had to lie. Because (Calvino and one or two other favourites aside) I find that the books that pile up there tend to be the dense, heavyweight, intellectual sort of books that you always mean to read but somehow never get around to (or can’t quite face) starting, and you sound incredibly pretentious when you list them… Apart from that, I’d just like to say thanks – you’ve very enjoyably used up my thousand words for the day and now I can go and drink rose in the park with a clear (ish) conscience.

Thank you, Lucy Caldwell!

Thursday 17 July 2008

A Wee Review - The Dead Yard by Adrian McKinty

The Dead Yard is the second of Adrian McKinty’s ‘Dead’ trilogy featuring Michael Forsythe, and is bookended by Dead I Well May Be and The Bloomsday Dead. The American release of The Dead Yard was picked as one of the twelve best novels of 2006 by US Publishers Weekly. Not the best crime novel. The best novel! And the audiobook version won audiobook of the year. Inside information suggests that it didn’t sell incredibly well in the UK by comparison, and this reader has some difficulty understanding why.

The Dead Yard sees the hard-as-coffin-nails protagonist, Michael Forsythe’s, return to action. For five years, since his violent deeds in Dead I Well May Be, he has lain low in the Witness Protection Programme. Unfortunately, his itchy (ahem) foot takes him to Tenerife, and because trouble follows him like ‘sharks trailing a slave ship’, he finds himself right in the middle of an Irish vs. English football riot. He does what he can to keep out of it, but gets scooped by the authorities. He’s in a lot of trouble. Especially since he’s wanted in Mexico for drug trafficking and escaping a Mexican prison. In the face of ten years jail time and then extradition to Mexico, when an offer is extended by the English government he really has no choice. In exchange for his guaranteed freedom he agrees to go under cover and infiltrate an IRA sleeper cell in New England, America. Bad enough, but don’t forget to factor in that the Irish Mob in New York has a price on his head. Can it get worse? Well, yeah. This is Michael Forsythe we’re talking about. It’s about to get deadly.

I happened to read this book slightly out of sequence with the other two Forsythe books. The Dead Yard, however, is certainly the more standalone of the trilogy. There are some hints of what is to come in The Bloomsday Dead, but no spoilers. Just a book full of shit-hot writing. McKinty’s prose is a thing of beauty. Awe and envy-inspiring poetry. And then, next to this beautiful use of language, McKinty’s protagonist and subject matter provide you with enough ugly to spin the yin-yang symbol out of orbit. Michael Forsythe imagines himself as Death’s apprentice more than once in this gripping tale, but I think he’s downplaying his status. The boy is Death with a limp. He’s a literate, scary, emotional, violent, wonderful, horrible enigma of a thug. A Belfast protagonist to be proud and ashamed of. A fascinating bastard. I’m a little depressed that I’ve read the whole trilogy and that McKinty has put an end to the Forsythe series. But there’s a logic behind the author’s decision. One more dance with the Grim Reaper and readers might yell, ‘Oh, come on!’ and click off. There are only so many times you can expect Forsythe to get through the fug of violence that follows him around.

So, here I am, trying to dream up a criticism of The Dead Yard to balance this review out a little. But I’ve come up blank. Maybe because it was the most recent read, but this could my favourite of the ‘Dead’ trilogy. Which begs the question once again, why is The Dead Yard the least popular of the three Forsythe books in the UK?

I’ll speculate a little.

Maybe it’s because this is McKinty’s ‘Troubles’ book. Yes, it plays out in America, but this story is set on the verge of the IRA’s 1997 ceasefire, just before the Good Friday Agreement. A shaky peace deal is on the horizon. The English government wants to stamp out a maverick group, known as The Sons of Cuchulain, before they destroy the budding Peace Process. We have seen a hell of a lot of work based on the ‘Troubles’. Ireland and the UK are coming down with IRA stories. Some are better than others, and in this case, much better, but at the end of the day, people are looking for new settings and themes. America, however, still has quite an interest in this kind of thing, especially among the Irish-American communities. With the luxury of distance, they maybe have a romantic idea of the struggle and are open to more from this sub-genre. And McKinty has given it to them in spades.

My conclusion; if you’re going to read one more work of fiction based on the ‘Troubles’, make it The Dead Yard by Adrian McKinty. It’s a Belfast/Boston blinder.

Saturday 12 July 2008

The Twelfth

Grand Viz of Crime Always Pays, Declan Burke, left me a very nice comment in my last post wishing me a happy Twelfth of July. If you don't know anything about the grand aul marching season, check this wiki.

Anyway, CSNI is a cross community website that judges NI crime fiction aficionados on their proficiency in the written word, rather than their religious background. So be thee a proud protestant, such as Bateman or McKinty, or a good-living catholic, á la Downey or Bailie, you're all welcome here.

So, in the spirit of cross-community crime appreciation, Happy Twelfth of July, everybody!

Friday 11 July 2008

Last Chance

This could be your last opportunity to hear my silky Norn Iron accent via the wonder of the worldwide web. I'm pretty sure that the BBC's Listen Again links only last for seven days. So, to hear what I have to say about post-Troubles crime fiction, go here, then hit the Listen Again link in the top right corner (the crime bit starts just about 15 minutes in).

Also, on the topic of radio, check Colin Bateman's blog for a tiny bit of info on a radio drama he's working on (entry dated 10/07/08).

And Adrian McKinty is blogging again. This time about the new book, Fifty Grand. He's also posted a link to a very interesting article about his time in Cuba.

So that's two established Northern Irish crime fiction writers happily blogging away. Newcomer, Stuart Neville is also posting about his writing experiences at randomish intervals. But what about the rest of you lads? Okay, so Mr McGilloway posts on the Macmillan New Writers blog from time to time, and has been known to guest blog at Crime Always Pays (as has McKinty and Millar), but what of Bailie, Downey, Johnson et al? Are they not going to get in on this time bandit?

Your public awaits, lads. Get blogging.

Thursday 10 July 2008

A Wee Review - The Fourth Man by K O Dahl

The Fourth Man is the first book by the premier Norwegian crime writer, K O Dahl, to be translated into English. It is one of the Oslo Detective novels which centre on the cases of Detective Frølich and his boss, Detective Gunnarstranda. A quick google reveals that The Fourth Man is actually the fifth book of the series. This is quite often the case in series translations, but in this instance, reading out of order takes nothing away from the book. I experienced no confusion and had a very strong idea of each character, so I assume Dahl writes this series in standalone novels.

During a sting operation, Frank Frølich is forced to break his cover in order to rescue a civilian who has wandered on to the set up. In a dramatic turn of events, Frølich throws himself on the girl to protect her from harm. When the dust settles, the civilian, Elisabeth Faremo, introduces herself to Frølich, and so starts his troubles. When it comes to light that Elisabeth is the sister of known gangster Johnny Faremo, Frølich’s superior, Gunnarstranda, warns him that something is rotten in Denmark. Or Norway. And when Elisabeth uses Frølich’s name in court while providing her brother with an alibis, Frølich has his own doubts too. I don’t want to reveal any more, for fear of robbing the novel of some of its impact, but the story continues in this vein, twisting and turning towards an ending that threatens to destroy all that Frølich stands for.

I cracked open this attractive paperback with a tiny bit of apprehension. I have to confess that I have a slight prejudice against translated works. It seems to me that some of the nuances must be lost in, well, translation. But the opening chapter played out in such a beautifully noir style that all my doubts were banished immediately. In fact, I fell for Elisabeth Faremo myself during the opening, which only added to my emotional investment in the novel.

Frølich made for quite a good protagonist. Sure, there’s nothing hugely original about a disgruntled detective with a taste for booze and a maverick attitude towards procedure and authority. But his obsession with Elisabeth Faremo lent him a whole new dimension. And he was a bit of a hard nut too, which is always good.

Something that did bother me a little; there was no real humour in the book. Maybe I’m just used to the Northern Irish take on tragedy, but it seemed to me that every single character was in need of a good dose of anti-depressants. Though, in my opinion, that was the book's only real weakness. The plot was solid, with the standard red herrings and unexpected twists. A good cast kept things interesting. I felt like I learned a little about Norway. And I thought the ending was brilliantly played out.

So, The Fourth Man: Norwegian noir with a hard, world-weary edge. I look forward to more of the same. And I’ll have it, in the form of The Man at the Window, Dahl’s second English translation, and another Oslo Detectives tale.

Wednesday 9 July 2008

Review This!

Our Adrian McKinty has been very busy on the aul Blogosphere recently. In the less than a week he's informed, raged, philosophised and advised.

The majority of the material centres around a rather snooty review of McKinty's The Bloomsday Dead. Now, you should all know by now, my opinion on Adrian McKinty's novels. No? Well, start by reading my review of The Bloomsday Dead. Or even better, just go buy the entire Dead Trilogy featuring the unkillable Michael Forsythe, and read it yourself. I mean, at the end of the day, it's your opinion that counts. I'm only here to tell you what I like about the crime fiction I've read. If what I say helps you choose your next book, then happy days.

And if you want more than my opinion, try Crime Always Pays, Critical Mick, Detectives Beyond Borders, Crime Scraps, Euro Crime, Petrona, The Rap Sheet, It's a crime! (Or a mystery...) or In Reference to Murder. And there's more out there. Ordinary Joes and Josephines with good taste in books. Forget the snobs. Us bloggers are the wave of the future.

Monday 7 July 2008

An Interview - Stuart Neville

Stuart Neville has been a musician, a composer, a teacher, a salesman, a film extra, a baker and a hand double for a well known Irish comedian, but is currently a partner in a successful multimedia design business in the wilds of Northern Ireland. He has published short stories in Electric Spec and Every Day Fiction, but it was a piece in the online crime fiction zine Thuglit that caught the attention of legendary New York literary agent Nat Sobel. THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST, Stuart's first novel, is currently the subject of many emails between the author, his agent, and various editors. James Ellroy described it as: "The best first novel I've read in years … It's a flat out terror trip."

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I'm just starting to rev up the writing engine after it lying idle for a few months. I've been surprised by how much business there is in working with an agent like Nat Sobel, and the very stressful process of selling a book. Things like the submission package and marketing plans have been taking up my time recently, as well as kicking around ideas for the next novel. So, I've been digging out some short stories that need finishing, just to get that part of my brain working again.

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

Because my agent is in a different time zone, along with most of my network of writing friends, I usually have to take care of some correspondence first thing in the morning. As soon as that's done, it's off to my office in Markethill. I'm a partner in a multimedia design business there, and that can often push me beyond the usual nine-to-five hours. I get home, eat badly, ignore the piles of laundry and dishes, catch up on more correspondence, and hopefully start writing. I usually work quite late into the night if I've got a project on the go.

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

I play guitar and watch movies, mostly. Outside of writing and reading, music and cinema are my two great loves. I've taught guitar for twenty years, but it's being phased out now because I just don't have the time for it anymore. I had been gigging fairly regularly with a singer-songwriter called Nina Armstrong up until the end of last year, but that's also fallen by the wayside due to various circumstances. I always have a guitar within reach when I'm writing; I noodle on it the same way people will doodle with pen and paper as a way to help me think. And it came in handy when I needed music for my book trailer.

As for movies, I have a stupidly large DVD collection. Everything from art house to blockbusters, from Billy Wilder to the Coen Brothers. I spent a couple of years trying to break into writing music for film, and got a little bit of work, but I can tell you it's an even tougher business than publishing.

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

It sounds rather glib, but read and write as much as you can. It takes time to learn your own voice. You can't rush it. The biggest thing, though, is give and receive critique. Taking subjective criticism isn't easy, no one likes to hear their baby isn't perfect, but the ability to stand back from your own work and see its weaknesses is the difference between a professional and an amateur. The two people you'll work most closely with to get a book published are an agent and an editor. When they pick your writing apart, they'll show no mercy. They're not interested in sparing your feelings; they want to make the book the best, and most saleable, it can be. The first time I sold a short story, the editor (the wonderful Betsy Dornbusch of Electric Spec) asked me to cut an entire section. When I first hooked up with Nat Sobel, he had me rewrite the novel from start to finish. If I hadn't gone through the mill of receiving and acting on critique before I got that far, I might not have had the ability to stand back and say, "You know, maybe they're right." If you're precious about your writing, if you're unable to extract your cranium from your rectum, then you won't get very far.

There are plenty of online venues for sharing your work with other writers. One of the best is I sold my first short when Betsy Dornbusch read it there. The short that went on to become THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST got its first airing there. Then the short that sold to Thuglit, and subsequently prompted my agent to contact me, first appeared there. Critique is not only good for your writing, it's also great for networking.

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

I've only recently read Ken Bruen for the first time. An American friend, an excellent writer called Chris F. Holm, recommended BUST by Bruen and Jason Starr to me. It's published under Dorchester's Hard Case Crime imprint in the USA, and I haven't enjoyed a book so much in years. I'm not sure how much is Bruen, and how much is Starr, but it's a cracking novel, and its sequel, SLIDE, is just as good. Both foul-mouthed, nasty, joyously trashy little treats. The third instalment, THE MAX, is due later this year. I'll definitely be investigating Mr. Bruen's work further. I've also been going back over some James Ellroy; American Tabloid is a masterpiece I've recently reread, and enjoyed even more the second time around.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

I'm reading THE CHOIRBOYS by Joseph Wambaugh. It's not at all what I expected. It's really a collection of short stories revolving around a set of characters, rather than a straightforward novel. After that, it'll be James Ellroy's THE COLD SIX THOUSAND for the second time. My To-Be-Read pile is quite large.

Q7. Plans for the future?

To make a dent in my To-Be-Read pile. And finalise a book deal. It's been a stressful few months, and it's now reached the endgame - if bagging an agent was like the Good Friday Agreement, then getting a publisher is like the St. Andrew's talks, all protracted negotiations and brinksmanship. Once the deal's in place, I'll be starting in earnest on a follow up to THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST which will introduce a new character into the same world with a view to creating a series. It's something very new and I'm really excited about it, so watch this space.

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

I sometimes wish I'd started earlier. I've wanted to write ever since I was a kid, but then I discovered guitars and Van Halen, so my teens and twenties were lost to the belief that rock stardom was just around the corner. Plus the insecurity of wondering if someone like me had any hope of writing anything worthwhile held me back for a long time. Having said all that, I think it takes a certain number of miles on the clock to make a writer. You need some life experience to draw on. I've started various novels over the years, but none ever got past a few chapters. But about three years ago I went through a difficult time that forced me to examine who I was as a person, and I guess it was that experience that planted the seeds for me starting to write seriously about twelve months later.

So, the short answer is no!

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

You forgot to ask me what the best Van Halen album is. It's 1984, of course.

Thank you, Stuart Neville!

Sunday 6 July 2008

Media Frenzy

BBC Radio Ulster's The Book Programme ran a piece on Northern Irish crime fiction on Saturday morning. Naturally, they contacted Colin Bateman to say a few words, since he is the man as far as our wee sub-genre is concerned. But they let their standards slip just a little and let me in too! And you can listen to it anywhere in the world thanks to the handy Listen Again feature on the BBC website. If you're a bit impatient, the crime fiction piece is about 15-20 minutes in. Just forward it on. It's a good show though, so you should listen to it all. Here's a link. It should be available until next Saturday.

And did you get the Belfast Telegraph on Saturday? There was a pretty cool interview with one Adrian McKinty in it. Apparently, if you see him at a lapdance club, he's just doing a bit of research. Unfortunately, I can't find a link to it on the Bel Tel website. Gah!

Here's a picture of it instead.

My wife's camera is pretty darn snazzy, so if you click on the image to enlarge it, it's actually quite readable.

Friday 4 July 2008

Verbal Magazine - Issue 15

This month's Verbal is now available in PDF on their website. It meets its usual high standards, despite the fact that they've printed my reviews for Adrian McKinty's The Bloomsday Dead, Aifric Campbell's The Semantics of Murder and Colin Bateman's Orpheus Rising.

You'll also find a review of John Connolly's The Reapers, penned by Tammy Moore.

And, if you live in the North of Ireland, be sure to pick up tomorrow's Belfast Telegraph. They have an article on crime fiction by Adrian McKinty! If you can't pick up a copy, I'll provide the highlights in the near future.

Thursday 3 July 2008

Discrimination Rife in NI Crime Fiction for Kids

(Colin) Bateman has updated his blog!

Breaking news in itself, I know. But the madness doesn’t stop there. Oh no. Things at camp Bateman have taken on a Starkey-esque turn for the bizarre. The Godfather of Northern Irish Crime Fiction™ has been accused of discrimination against albinos.

No, I’m not joking. Bateman blogs it thusly:

“Well, it seems that a school in Ballymena read the books [from The Gang with No Name trilogy], and took exception to my occasional references to Albinos and the fact that they look quite distinctive. Instead of celebrating the fact that an Albino features as a heroine - as opposed say to something like The Di Vinci Code, where the Albino is a crazy serial killer - they have taken what they perceive to be a few negative comments and launced a witch hunt, which includes recruiting the Albinist Fellowship and the RNIB and then the BBC.”

To learn the identity of the mastermind behind this campaign of insane stupidity, and Mr Bateman’s completely reasonable plan of action (presented in classic internet rant style), check out said blog entry, dated 3 July 2008 (accessed via the Latest button on Bateman’s website).

I’ve rummaged about on the Newsline website, but can’t find an electronic version of the report. If I do come across it, I’ll be sure to provide a link.


Got me some good news from Northern Ireland Screen. I submitted a bid for funding in redrafting a screenplay I've developed titled The Point. And I was successful! Not only do I get a writer's fee, but I also get a chance to meet with the development team at Northern Ireland Screen for some advice and direction.

After that, with any luck, I'll be able to interest a producer.

Much respect to Natasha Geary and Catherine McGratten of Northern Ireland Screen for the help during the application process.

The Point is a Northern Irish crime caper. Three friends from Belfast, a small time hood, a university dropout and an unemployed waster, move to the seaside town, Warrenpoint. They each have their reasons, chief amongst them being a belief that they'll be smarter than the average Point man. Unfortunately, some very bad decisions see the trio in over their heads when they get caught up in the surprisingly brutal Warrenpoint crime scene.

As an aside, an excellent Northern Irish screenwriter and general cool cat, Spence Wright, gave me a lot of help and advice in the early stages of this project (and I might be calling on him for more). Well, I found this report on Spence's movie FREAKDOG on the Northern Ireland Screen website. A round of applause, please!

P.S. Thanks to Alan McClurg who also read and offered advice on the script.

Tuesday 1 July 2008

A Wee Review - Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

The generous and scholarly Tammy Moore, one of Verbal Magazine's reviewers and writers, has allowed us the pleasure of hosting one of her reviews. Take it away, Tammy...

Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, is a relentless, disturbingly beautiful read. Flynn’s twitchy writing style is a perfect match to the nervous energy that drives her main character, the restless, fidgeting, sizzling in her own skin, Camille.

Camille Preaker is a journalist for Chicago’s fourth-largest paper. She’s broken. This is obvious early on, although we don’t learn the details of how and why – all the many why’s – until later in the book. One child has been murdered in her home town and another has gone missing; he wants Camille to go back home and cover the story.

It’ll be good for the paper. It’ll be good for her.

He’s wrong, but he means well and so Camille goes home, back to Wind Gap.

The inhabitants of the town, the ‘fervent Wind Gapians’ spend most of the novel desperately trying to pass the buck of blame to someone from outside: a hitch-hiker, a crazy in the woods, the incomers who’ve not been in the town long. I didn’t know why they bothered. It was evident to me that someone was always going to get murdered in Wind Gap, the only question was who.

The town is a morass of dark secrets and corrosive hopelessness. Southern gentility rubs cheeks with Gothic dysfunction and, seen through Camille’s eyes, everything in town is touched with the grotesque.

For a while you wonder if she is an unreliable narrator, her own damage making her paint everything as fouled, but the people she talks to seem to agree with her opinions. Wind Gap is a twisted place and the town creates twisted people.

Camille is one of them.

She’s sympathetic only because of what she’s suffered, likeable only because everyone else she encounters is so detestable.

The most detestable of all is her own family. Her mother Adora, so voraciously needy she steals bits of other people’s lives and takes their grief for her own, and her stiff, cold stepfather Alan, Adora’s mannequin who we rarely see move and who puppets her words and her lies. Last of all is Amma, Camille’s stepsister who veers between being a sickly, needy child to a vicious, bullying Lolita.

Trapped at home in her suffocating childhood home, alternately stabbed and babied by Adora, Camille struggles to keep her precarious balance while investigating the crime. Everything she discovers strikes a little too close to home, whether she realises it or not. The missing children are like her, dark and wilful and smart. When Richard, the specialist sent down from Chicago PD, asked about occasions of violence she’d seen in town she tells him about acts of sexual violence she’d seen, had done to her.

Although the murdered children weren’t molested a certain sickly sexuality runs a thread through the book: Camille’s feverish ‘use me’ sexuality, her mother’s touchy neediness towards her daughters and even the lush, fidgety prose itself.

In the end, discovering who killed the little girl’s isn’t a surprise. The reader was there long before Camille, unblinded by her history and sentiment, but that didn’t matter. It’s Camille’s fractured, hobbling journey to that point of revelation, solving the mystery of her own broken childhood, that the reader watches.

The Preaker family fortune came from the hog-farm outside of town. It disgusts Camille, rivets Amma and is the source of employment and nutrition for everyone else in town. Pigs are fattened on hormones, strapped down in farrowing pens to nurse unending litters of piglets with bloody teats and slaughtered by furious, sickened men. Maybe that’s what poisoned the town and shaped the families in it.

This isn’t a particularly hopeful book, the closest it comes to hope is the possibility that Camille might be salvageable, but it is riveting and well-written. I would certainly recommend that anyone with a taste for southern gothic and crime pick it up.

That is…as long as you don’t have a delicate stomach. Sharp Objects lacks in obvious gore, but it has no shortage of more subtle, psychologically disturbing elements.

Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore is a Northern Irish based writer of Speculative Fiction. Her first book will be published by Morrigan Books in Sept 08 and, fingers crossed, her plans for literary world domination with go live in 2011. Visit her site -