Tuesday 27 July 2010

Sex, Dubs and Rock 'n' Roll

Thought I'd share the cover of an upcoming anthology one of my short stories has made it into. Purty, ain't it? Edited by Maxim Jakubowski, SITC: Dublin also features stories by Ken Bruen, Colin Bateman, Sean Black, Stella Duffy and others... Pretty good company, am I right?

The collection, I'm very reliably informed, is due back from the printers in a matter of weeks and is on schedule for a September release. It can already be pre-ordered now at Amazon, though...

And in other quite related news, I've also managed to blag my way into the Best British Crime antho (the 8th volume) that features crime fiction stories published in 2009. My story's a crazy little tale of Rock 'n' Roll excess. This collection is also edited by Maxim Jakubowski and the 7th volume had stories by Alexander McCall Smith, Colin Dexter, Christopher Fowler, Robert Barnard, Anne Perry, Peter Lovesey, Ken Bruen and Allan Guthrie. I'm more than a little excited about this sale. Can't wait to see the table of contents for this new one. I heard a rumour that Nick Quantrill has a story in it but that's all so far...

Monday 19 July 2010


Right, let's face it. This blog has gone downhill in the last few months. I'm big enough and ugly enough to... who'm I kidding? I'm not ugly. I'm just tired and prematurely greying. I know that whole "big enough and ugly enough" thing is just a saying and all but this post isn't about self-pity. It's about things changing a little.

So anyway, as I was saying, CSNI has lost some of its raison d'etre. This used to be a blog where I posted reviews, interviews and news about the upsurge of Northern Irish crime writing. Now it's that thing I feel guilty about doing a half-assed job at. And it's not going to improve much now that we've got fifty percent more kids in the Brennan household (see evidence below).

For two years the blog went strong and seemed to get quite popular (considering the niche-market nature of the subject matter) and put me in touch with pretty much all of my favourite Irish crime writers. And I like to think it made me some real friends too. But I simply no longer have the time to hunt out new and established writers to bother them for interviews or offer them a place to spread the word about their work. So I'm rebooting the site as a personal blog.

I'll still spread the word about NI crime fiction when it falls into my lap, and I welcome anybody to get in touch with me through the blog, but I'm now focussing the ever-diminishing amount of spare time I have on promoting my own writing and other writing-related projects through CSNI.

The release of Requiems for the Departed, a book I consider to be the tangible product of the two year project that was CSNI 1.0, seems to be as good a place as any to draw a line under the original mission statement of the blog (you know, the one that went, "Primarily devoted to the boom in post-Troubles crime fiction, yadda, yadda...") and launch the new one (which I admit needs a bit of a spit-shine); "It's mostly about me now."

I figured that the remaining visitors to CSNI deserved to know about this...


(My wee family -- left to right, Jack, Oscar and Mya)

Friday 9 July 2010

Black on the Box

Tony Black has got some very interesting stuff going on here...

And here...

My Father's Coat - 1st Cut from Pete Martin on Vimeo.

I was thinking about asking my multi-media multi-talented brother to have a go at doing some sort of promo vid for Requiems for the Departed, though I got a little sidetracked by recent events (I'll post about that in an hour or two for the benefit of those readers who haven't hooked up with me on Facebook).

Of course, it'd never have the professional and polished look of Tony Black's videos... no offence to my bro, but he just wouldn't have the resources for that. But I'm interested in knowing if people think this kind of thing is worthwhile. And if I ever did get something like this sorted out, after I post it on the blog, what else would I do with it?

Answers on a postcard or in the comment box. Whatever suits you.

Thursday 1 July 2010


I can’t remember how small I was when I first came across the legend of St Patrick having rid Ireland of its snakes, nor the book in which I read it — although I can almost make out, in my mind’s eye, the open spread of text and the black-and-white illustration that filled the upper half of the left-hand page. My guess is I must have been seven or eight. What fascinated me about the legend at the time was not so much the mere banishment of the snakes — that seemed to my youthful mind the kind of feat any self-respecting saint could knock off before breakfast — but the fact that Patrick was supposed to have gotten rid of them all. This still seems to me the crux of the miracle. Surely snakes are like lice and fruit flies and memories of old embarrassments: try as you might, you can never quite eliminate the last of them.

Half a century later and an ocean away, that childhood fascination has given rise to the story ‘The Life Business’. I don’t think any other story of mine has taken quite so long in the nurturing.

Other elements from my youth play their part in the story. At the time in which ‘The Life Business’ is set Magilligan Point — later to be the site of a high-security internment camp for terrorist suspects during the troubles and now, I gather, a low-security prison with a focus on (and reportedly impressive reputation for) rehabilitation — was a run-down British Army camp. I have no idea what other purposes it might have been put to, but one of its uses was as a training base where, during the holidays, school Army cadet forces could send contingents of teenaged boys like Peter Greenham.

And, in fact, like me. Although all the people and situations in the story are born from my imagination, as is the story itself (and most emphatically Peter bears no resemblance to the teenaged me), the described layout of the camp is as close as my memory will permit to the real thing. Certainly the details of the lavatory building are seared into my brain: that intimidating outhouse really existed, and rather than use it we cadets did indeed pepper the surrounding landscape with unpleasant surprises for future foot-travellers.

One other vividly recalled element of my fortnight at Magilligan I was unfortunately unable to work in. This was an Army-issue mechanical potato peeler, a device that weighed about a tonne and in which I foolishly displayed interest the first night we were there, thereby defining my kitchen duty for the next two weeks. Imagine if you will a hand-operated tumble dryer, the metal inner surfaces of which have corrugations like those on a file, although larger. You tipped in a bucket of potatoes, cranked like a mad thing for twenty minutes, and were rewarded with . . . well, you couldn’t exactly say the potatoes had been peeled, but much of the skin was off them. Then you had to empty the device of all the scrapings. I think I was still finding the occasional tiny fleck of potato skin in my hair a week after I’d got home.

I visited Ireland, both north and south, a number of times during my teens, and developed a great fondness for the land and for almost all of the people I met there. Eventually, alas, it became too dangerous for a mainlander to visit, so I acquired myself an Irish girlfriend instead. But that really is a completely different story.

Requiems for the Departed is now available worldwide, with a 28% discount in the US through Barnes & Noble and free shipping worldwide through The Book Depository. So no matter where you are in the world, you can get your hands on some top quality Irish Crime and Irish Myths easily! Our paperback edition is also still available at the Morrigan Books site too, along with the limited edition hardback (now down to less than 30 copies available).

John Grant

John Grant is author of some seventy books, of which about twenty-five are fiction, including novels like The World, The Hundredfold Problem, The Far-Enough Window and most recently (2008) The Dragons of Manhattan and Leaving Fortusa. His “book-length fiction” Dragonhenge, illustrated by Bob Eggleton, was shortlisted for a Hugo Award in 2003; its successor was The Stardragons. His first story collection, Take No Prisoners, appeared in 2004. His anthology New Writings in the Fantastic was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award. His novella The City in These Pages, an Ed McBain homage/cosmological fantasy, appeared from PS Publishing early in 2009; another novella, The Lonely Hunter, is to appear from PS later this year.

In nonfiction, he coedited with John Clute The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and wrote in their entirety all three editions of The Encyclopedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters; both encyclopedias are standard reference works in their fields. Among his latest nonfictions have been Discarded Science, Corrupted Science and, in Fall 2009, Bogus Science.

As John Grant he has received two Hugo Awards, the World Fantasy Award, the Locus Award, and a number of other international literary awards. Under his real name, Paul Barnett, he has written a few books (like the space operas Strider’s Galaxy and Strider’s Universe) and for a number of years ran the world-famous fantasy-artbook imprint Paper Tiger, for this work earning a Chesley Award and a nomination for the World Fantasy Award.

A Scot by birth, he now lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and an alarming number of cats; their back yard features more wildlife than the average zoo, up to and including wild turkey and black bears, both of which are frequent visitors in season. His website is at http://www.johngrantpaulbarnett.com/.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I'm working on my next nonfiction book, which is to be published next Spring by Prometheus. Provisionally called Denying Science, it follows along the same stream of thought, as it were, as my earlier books Discarded Science, Corrupted Science (particularly), and Bogus Science. I'm also writing the 500 or so artist/illustrator entries for the new (massive, online) third edition of the Clute/Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which this time has David Langford as a primary editor alongside the other two. Oh, and I'm writing a chapter about time travel stories for an academic book on science fiction's subgenres. That's in addition to the usual drizzle of short stories and such. It's a busy time.

I should also mention this cute illustrated rhyming book for kids about a velociraptor for which I've done the doggerel (the illustrator's set to be Chris Baker, a.k.a. Fangorn). It's currently being shopped around publishers.

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

I'm not sure I can, to be honest. I get up in the morning; go through countless e-newsletters and the like, filing pieces that could come in useful for any of the various nonfiction books I have on the stocks; do necessary e-mail and some chattering with the informal list I belong to, The Spammers; drag myself to the exercise bike for a while; then, if I'm on a deadline or I'm really involved in my current piece of writing, I write for what can seem an obscene number of hours; conversely, if there are no deadline pressures and I'm working on something boring, I do my best not to skive. There's no set pattern, in other words.

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

I read. I'm a cricket nut, so follow the sport as best a US resident can on cricinfo.com. I listen to music. I also watch movies, mainly – when Pam allows it – golden age films noirs and neo-noirs. One of my down-the-line projects is a book on noir cinema – so, you see, I can count my couch potatoing as research!

(I wrote a little book on beer a few years ago. At the outset I had this excellent research plan outlined in my head. Alas, it was vetoed.)

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

Don't be tempted to self-publish, even though doing so is cheap and (with the advent of e-books) becoming cheaper. You'll be told tales of how self-published authors have made major breakthroughs; but those successes are the one-in-a-million exceptions – you're looking at a winning-the-lottery-level outside chance. More likely, self-publication will destroy your career before it has even started, because people will assume your book is, like 99 out of every 100 of the other self-published novels on offer all over the internet, complete crap.

Q5. Which crime writers have impressed you this year?

I assume the question means "within the past twelve months or so". It's still a hard one, though.

I was engrossed by Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Angel's Game, which I imagine could be described at least loosely as a crime novel. I read (on occasion reread) and enjoyed various crime novels by some of the usual suspects – Ruth Rendell, Peter Robinson, Harlan Coben, Robert Barnard, John D. Macdonald, John Dickson Carr. Other crime books, not necessarily good (and in some cases lousy), that stick out in my memory for one reason or another include: Peter Lovesey's Diamond Solitaire, a charming sequel to his equally charming The Last Detective; James Hadley Chase's I'll Bury My Dead, the first Chase novel I've read and probably the last (it was sort of fun and I'm glad I did it, but . . .); Stephen Humphrey Bogart's Play It Again, an attempt at a hardboiled detective novel by Bogie's son (somewhat better than its exploitative title might suggest, but the guy should see someone about the issues he seems to have with Lauren Bacall); Dorothy Bryant's Killing Wonder (regarded as pioneeringly feminist back in 1981, but readable today as a pleasing mystery with a laudable tang of wry social satire); John Searles's Boy Still Missing (grossly overwritten in places – many places – but it still somehow succeeds by the end in being both riveting and moving and real). I know there have been lots of others but, as I say, these are ones that come to mind.

Best of all among the crime books I've read in the past few months, aside perhaps from the Zafon (it's kind of apples and oranges to compare the two), has been Stieg Larrson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A curious thing: One day someone on one of the LinkedIn groups was urging me most strongly to read this book, of which at the time I'd only vaguely heard. That evening Pam and I went into NYC to see an Interstitial Arts presentation at the fantastic Manhattan bookstore Housing Works, all of whose proceeds go to helping the homeless. Pam shot straight off to the loo when we got there, leaving me by a book trolley of recent arrivals. Idly, my eye fell on these, and you've guessed what it was . . . at a mere $6 for the near-mint hardback! I felt that someone up there was trying to tell me something so bought the book on the spot – and am extraordinarily glad I did so.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

In my leisure time, Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife – although really it's not leisure reading but towards this essay I'm writing (op cit.) on time travel stories. During working hours I'm reading – as part of the research for Denying Science – James Hansen's Storms of My Grandchildren, a book that's frightening on two scores: it lays out what's really coming down the pike as our planet's climate changes, and it recounts some pretty vile persecution and intimidation, both officially sanctioned and "freelance", that scientists can face should they insist on reporting the results of their science rather than bending the truth to suit other people's ideological preconceptions.

Q7. Plans for the future?

As noted above, I want to do a major book on film noir. I'm also developing ideas for books on past predictions of the end of the world, on Fundamentalist hate groups, and on the profitless interaction between science and the supernatural – both how scientists who've probed claims of the supernatural have ended up with egg on their faces and how the "supernaturalists" spew pseudoscientific "explanations" for their claims. I'm also slowly beginning to get my ass in gear to put together – and find a publisher for – my second story collection, provisionally called Tell No Lies. Oh, and there are other notions bubbling around.

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

Too many things for me sensibly to list.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

I don't know if it counts as a "worst writing experience", but this is certainly the most annoying (in an ironic sort of a way) that's happened for quite a while:

A few years ago I had an idea for a fantasy story in which, in the distant past (so far as my far-future protagonists are concerned), a religiously puritanical Galactic Emperor had cracked down on the casino space cruisers then in vogue, having them hurled into black holes. What he didn't realize is that he thereby granted the gamblers, croupiers, their bosses, their environment, etc., a form of immortality, because, while the matter of which they were made up was destroyed, the information that underpinned their existences is still swirling around in a 2D film, as it were, on the black holes' event horizons; further, it has now become a popular – albeit expensive – tourist recreation to send one's avatar, which is similarly an entity derived by stripping the individual down to her/his information, from orbiting spacecraft down onto the event horizon "surface" to intermingle with the gamblers, who're still tugging away on those fruit machine handles, or whatever, aware that something's dreadfully wrong but not sure what it is.

I thought it was a very pretty fantasy image, but clearly I was using a bunch of sciencefictional tropes. It struck me as my duty to give these some superficial level of scientific plausibility, so I invented a new universal law – "The Law of Conservation of Information" – to explain why there was this thing about the casino people's information still existing even if the rest of them were long destroyed. Hm. The expression would read better if I called it "The Law of Conservation of Data", and that became the title of my story.

The trouble was that the story proved infernally difficult to write – partly because of working out the ramifications of the "Law", partly because I was trying to make my far-future humans as different from us, culturally and otherwise, as I could. I managed a few thousand words, then put the thing to one side to be gone back to again later when my brain was feeling a bit stronger. That hasn't happened yet.

And now almost certainly won't.

A few weeks ago, we were watching a Horizon documentary about how, after long years of wrangling with a US physicist called Leonard Susskind, Stephen Hawking had felt compelled to modify his original contention that even information itself is lost to the universe at black holes. I discovered that, according to Susskind and his allies and indeed most physicists, there actually is a law of conservation of information. Well, stap me – my idea's been retroactively stolen. It got worse. Apparently Susskind's latest notion of what's going on, the holographic principle (in fact originally derived by a Dutch physicist called Gerardus 't Hooft), maintains that all the information from the 3D items which fall into the black hole survives in 2D form at the event horizon. (More accurately, the 2D information forms a hologram of the 3D items . . . leading to the further notion that we and the universe we know are not 3D at all, but merely a holographic representation of the true, two-dimensional, information-composed universe. But that's another story.)

So all of the elegant flights of fantasy I'd constructed in order to build my story were not original at all – well, they were original to me, it was just that other folk had got to some bits of them first. Perhaps I'd come across these ideas in my reading and forgotten about them? In the case of the law of conservation of information, this is very possible; but it seems the popular accounts of the holographic principle, as it relates to what I've been talking about, didn't start emerging until about 2008 – which is long after I was working on my story.

My, did I swear a lot when I discovered all this.

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

One of the things I find when chattering with people who don't know my fiction (which, let's face it, is just about everybody) is their frequent desire for me to pigeonhole myself in one genre or another. "Oh, you're a science fiction writer!" they cry, and I have to explain that, no, although I do sometimes write SF I wouldn't call myself an SF writer, more of a fantasist making use of SF tropes and venues and styles. "Ah, a fantasy writer, then!" Well, yes and no, depending on what you mean by "fantasy": if you mean high fantasy with fighting barbarians and usurped princesses and pigboys an' stuff, well, um, while I've written quite a lot of this I think it must be nearly twenty years since the last time. If by "fantasy" you mean the stuff that swallows up and smears itself across all kinds of other genres, very notably including crime (most especially noir), then I guess that could be me, in a sort of slipstreamish fashion. Really, though, I like it best when people think of each new fiction by me as just a piece of fiction, and don't expect it necessarily to be anything like the last piece of mine they read.

Despite what I've just said, I guess that in some ways – while the plot and voice of "The Life Business" are original to the piece – subtextually it has something in common with much of my other fiction in the sense that the story it's telling turns out not to be the one you've been thinking it was. I'm interested in the way our minds and memories construct past realities that relate to, but may not particularly well match, what objectively did happen. It's been a recurring theme of mine. "The Life Business" has something to say towards it.

Golly, but I hate talking about my fiction like this. I always end up sounding like a pompous twerp.

Thank you, John Grant!