Sunday 3 August 2008

A Noir Original - Steve Deighan Interviews Allan Guthrie

Allan Guthrie is a crime writer living in Edinburgh. Born in Orkney, Allan’s take on the harsh, dark themes of underworld crime and spontaneous brutality has earned him a spot as reviewers’ favourite of the genre, writes Steve Deighan.

His latest new novel, Savage Night, was released in the UK by Edinburgh publisher Polygon in March, that’s set to be just as menacing as his last. When not writing, Allan serves as a literary agent for Jenny Brown Associates. Visit him at

SD: Allan, you were described as one of “crime fiction’s hottest new writers” after the release of your first novel, Two-Way Split, back in 2004. Since then, you’ve gone from strength to strength with further novels and international acclaim, proving that you’d left nothing down to chance. Has this affected you in terms of the way you write and if so, why?

AG: I wrote my first two published books without a contract and with very low expectations of getting published. After receiving rejection letters running to three figures, receiving any kind of critical acclaim for either book was as welcome as it was unexpected. I can’t say that it had any obvious or direct effect on subsequent novels, although praise is always motivational!

SD: Your second novel, Kiss Her Goodbye, was published under the Hard Case Crime imprint in early 2005 and has since received rave reviews and incredible award nominations. You’re a favourite with what’s described as “noir thrillers” and you’ve been compared to many other writers of the genre. Would you describe your storytelling the same way the critics have?

AG: I tend to write from the perspective of criminals and victims rather than detectives, so I’m telling a different kind of story from the more traditional crime novel. It can be gritty and brutal at times, but it can also be tender and funny. A reviewer described my last book, Hard Man, as “hilarious and horrifying”. I’d happily go along with that.

SD: Publishers are fearful when it comes to accepting new authors, and you’ve said that today’s publishing is more-or-less of a bestseller culture (we are ‘fortunate’ to have Rankin and Rowling to highlight this!) Is there a massive amount of pressure on writers to produce better stories with each book? Have you been or do you think you’ll ever be in that situation where you’ll think, It’s not good enough, I need to improve?

AG: I always think my writing needs to improve. I write countless drafts of each book. I even have drafts of my first novel at home that were written after it was published. I don’t feel any pressure other than from myself, though. To succeed in the real mass market these days it helps if you write police procedurals or big high-stakes thrillers, but my publishers have been great about allowing me to do what I do best and build an audience on the basis of offering something a little unusual.

SD: Your new novel, Savage Night, came out in March (2008). It’s about a “blithe haemophobic psychopathic ex-con” and a whole load of blood, grit and steel that’s already left early reviewers praising you as if Joe Hope had visited them! Although writing under the crime theme, you’ve mentioned this book also borders on the scarier side of things, which should serve a treat for horror fans, too. Was this direction given thought to begin with, or did the story take you there?

AG: I almost always start with a blank page and let the characters dictate the story. So there was no plan to write anything other than a crime novel. There’s a real affinity between noir and horror, though. It could be argued, for instance, that noir is horror without the supernatural. And while there’s certainly nothing supernatural in Savage Night, the opening scene does involve a guy coming home from the pub to find a headless corpse in a bathtub in the middle of his sitting room, which is undoubtedly horrific.

Thank you Steven Deighan!

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