Monday 8 September 2008

An Interview - John McAllister

John McAllister holds an M.Phil. in creative writing from Trinity College, Dublin and has being doing readings and giving lectures in creative writing for some years.

He has published poems and stories worldwide, and has read in places as far apart as Cork and Boston, Mass.

Major Publications:
THE FLY POOL and other stories (Black Mountain Press, 2003)
LINE OF FLIGHT, a novel (Bluechrome Publishers, 2006)

John was also joint editor for: BREAKING THE SKIN, twenty-first century Irish writing, (Black Mountain Press, 2002), and the editor of HOMETOWN (ABC Writers Network, 2003)

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

The news is catching up with me. I am writing a novel (working title THE MAFIA FUND) about a Russian attempt to control the economies and judiciaries of the Western World. This is the Cold War all over again, but now the ‘big guns’ is the Russian Mafia. Their first step is to take control of the only other international crime organisation, the Italian Mafia. As a sideline, the Russian plan to steal the contents of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

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

My day starts at six o’clock. I write until seven then I take my wife a cup of tea. At seven thirty we argue who is going to get up first. I start writing again at eight thirty and usually stop at eleven to take the dog a walk. I work and rest and correct Open College assignments for creative writing students until tea time. Serious planning of my writing I do for ten minutes before I go to bed at about eleven thirty. I actually plotted my published novel LINE OF FLIGHT (Bluechrome) that way. Ten minutes a day for three months and the story as finally told was more or less complete.

Two day as week I go into my old accountancy firm and work from eleven to five. Wednesday afternoons I attend the Queens writing classes. Usually on a Tuesday night and one Thursday a month I facilitate writing classes.

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

Read books, visit friends, chase greyhounds, watch whatever my wife wants to see on television. Currently it’s ‘Hairspray’. I slid out of that one to write this. I usually, more or less, take the weekends off.

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

Forget the crime. Focus in on character. Think of it this way. What would happen if a gunman pulled a gun on?

A You
B The hero of ‘Die Hard’
C Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

You’d probably faint with shock. ‘The Die Hard’ hero would put the gunman’s lights out. Mother Theresa would pray for him.
As I say: Character – Character - CHARACTER

Q5. Which crime writers have impressed you this year?

R. J. Ellory’s book ‘A Quiet Vendetta’ An absolutely fantastic book. I read it on holiday and went straight back to page one and started again. Ellory writes beautiful English and his plotting is absolutely superb. I came home and bought the rest of his published books.

I think ‘A Quiet Vendetta’ is based on ‘The Ice Man’ by Philip Carlo. The biography of a horrendous Mafia killer. Ellory’s hero is quiet and controlled where the real hit man was pretty unstable.

Having said that, I had intended to keep Sam Millar’s latest book ‘Bloodstorm’ for my holidays. Unfortunately, I couldn’t resist having a peek – and of course I finished it. More of ‘Karl Kane’ Sam, please. Say for my Christmas holiday.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

R.J. Ellory’s ‘Ghost Heart’ I’ve just got a few pages read so I can’t tell you much about it. I have just finished a reread of Jennifer Johnston’s novel ‘Foolish Mortals’. Her writing is so far removed from anything I do that I can only read and admire.

Q7. Plans for the future?

This sounds a bit daft. I finished the first draft of THE MAFIA FUND at Christmas. I intended to take January off then re-plot and do characterisation and get back into the second draft by Easter. However, a few years ago I published a collection of short stories, THE FLY POOL (Black Mountain Press). The first five stories were about an old policeman in the nineteen-fifties, Sergeant John Barlow. A friend of mine kept nagging for a new Barlow story – and I’ve got to admit that most people who mentioned the collection, focused in on Barlow - so in January I sat down to write one more. 56,000 words and six months later the third draft of that story(?) is finished. I’ve just sent it off to a publisher. I call it A SOFT HANGING. My friend who encouraged me to write the story in the first place, helped me come up with that title. It was the least he could do.

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

To be honest, I don’t think so. I’m not being arrogant when I say that. I had to grow up the way I did, mature the way I have. Make every stupid mistake in the book and then invent some more. I think, if anything, I’d have done a lot more structured reading.

Q9. Worst writing experience.

Reading a story about date rape (SCORING) to a room full of women.

Q10. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

Writing isn’t easy. It’s like banging your head off a wall. Lovely when you stop. BUT when you’ve done a solid piece of writing you can get a lift that transcends any high available in drugs. The wonderful thing is that it can be repeated day after day after day. And it is utterly utterly addictive.

Finally to paraphrase Damon Runyon. If you want to be a writer, what are you doing reading this? Why aren’t you writing?

Thank you, John McAllister!


Michael Stone said...

You've sneaked in a new question, Gerard: Q9. Worst writing experience.

Reading a story about date rape (SCORING) to a room full of women.

And what an answer! Was I mean to laugh out loud? Well, I did anyway.

Gerard Brennan said...

Mike - Well spotted, sir! It was actually Mr McAllister who slipped that one in. But it's a good one, so I'll be including it in all future interviews.

I think laughing out loud at the answer is just about appropriate.


adrian mckinty said...

Its a good question.

I have found that the ratio of humiliating writing experiences to ecstatic writing experiences is about 7:1 which was also curiously my rejection/acceptance rate when I'd ask girls out and its also the odds of any horse I back in a race living out the day.

Funny old life.

Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian - They do say 7's a lucky number.

Funny old life, indeed.