Darragh McManus is an author and journalist. His first
book, the non-fiction GAA Confidential, was published by Hodder. He also
released a comic novel, Cold! Steel! Justice!!!, as an e-book under the name
Alexander O’Hara. For more than a decade he has written reviews, features and
opinion columns for several papers, including The Irish Independent, The Sunday
Times and The Guardian. Several of his short stories have appeared in literary
journals, in Ireland
He lives in the west of Ireland
articles, updates, book excerpts and more.
Q1. What are you writing at the minute?
Two things: a novel set in mid-1990s Cork, about a group of slackers and
post-college layabouts, well, laying about and slacking. Hoping for a feel
somewhere between a less-sentimental Douglas Coupland (though I do like his
books) and a Richard Linklater movie. As in, nothing much happens, at all – but
it’s enjoyable to hang out with them. Also working on a Young Adult novel –
won’t give away too many details but it’s basically a horror set in a small
town, about a plague of…I’ll stop there. Totally cool title, though. Which I’m
keeping to myself, ha.
Q2. Can you give us an idea of your typical
up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?
Ideally I write fiction in the morning, because I’m mentally
fresher. But, article deadlines often land before lunchtime, so sometimes
that’s what I’m doing when I’d probably prefer to be writing fiction! As for
the act itself, generally I start a book with an idea – could be broad theme,
could be specific incident/character. And then you sort of work your way into it.
I find the plot etc. suggests itself as you go along. Only once or twice have I
had to stop and actually plot the thing out. This happened with my next crime
novel, The Polka Dot Girl (blatant plug alert: it’s out on January 24, 2013) –
I had pretty much gotten lost inside this byzantine story I was inventing.
Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Try to sleep as much as possible! Read as much as possible,
though again, with the lack of sleep, etc… I run a bit, mainly to lose weight
and so I don’t die in the next few years. Watch a lot of movies, usually
something I’ve already seen – you know, like the film version of
comfort-eating? Also enjoy watching The Mentalist and Simpsons re-runs, but
that’s about the only telly. And my guitar stands forlornly in the corner,
hoping for me to pick it up someday and learn how to play more than eight
Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the crime fiction scene?
Ooh, gosh…I don’t know. Whatever about getting published, I
will give one bit of advice re. writing itself: read plenty crime fiction, get
a feel for it, get to know its conventions and reader expectations, its limits
and possibilities…but ALSO read lots of other books, too. Literature
especially. It mightn’t seem like it, but I really do feel that a broad and
(especially) deep reading history makes you a better writer, in genre fiction
or whatever the case may be.
Q5. Which crime writers have impressed you this year?
All oldies (I tend not to read fiction as and when it comes
out, for some reason, unless for review). But they’re all goodies, for
different reasons: The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez Reverto, N is
for Noose by Sue Grafton, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, Devil in a
Blue Dress by Walter Mosely, The Cold Moon by Jeffery Deaver. Am currently
eyeballing Antonio Tabucci’s Vanishing Point and an ancient Lawrence Block
title, A Diet of Treacle, which was reissued by Hard Case a few years back.
Eyeballing them like a crazed drill sergeant, I am.
Q6. What are you reading right now?
George Orwell’s Collected Essays, Graham Greene’s Our Man in
Havana, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Solzhenitsyn (it’s short but
taking me ages to finish), a disappointing latest issue of National Geographic,
and these words I’m typing…now.
Q7. Plans for the future?
Ideally, my own planet where I’ll throw kitschy, retro-1960s
“moon parties” 24-7. No, ideally make some money out of Even Flow and Polka Dot
Girl, sell the YA urban fantasy title I currently have out with an agent, and
make this whole game financially viable. Artistically/literarily, I hope to
finish my Coupland/Linklater mash-up, finish the YA horror, then – fingers
crossed – get cracking on two sequels to the YA fantasy mentioned above.
Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?
I think I’d probably start writing sooner! Apart from bad
poetry and newspaper/magazine articles, I never wrote a word until I was 28.
Then I struggled with a literary novel for a year, but managed to finish it
which convinced me, yes, maybe you can make it as a writer after all. And from
the financial perspective, I wonder if I should have started with a genre
title, which let’s face it is more likely to sell than my self-indulgent debut
novel. It was pretty decent, but nobody was interested and I can’t really blame
them! I then followed up with an avant-garde collection of short stories on one
Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?
Oh Christ – where do I start? They’re almost literally
uncountable! Mostly to do with stupid agents, lazy publishers, stupid/lazy
agent/publishers, and so on – I’m sure you have the same stories yourself. I
could write a book on this…which wouldn’t get sold. Okay, this is probably the
most ignorant and ill-mannered of the lot:
I emailed, under a pseudonym, a certain famous agency: “I
see on your website you do not ‘currently accept unsolicited submissions’. I
don’t understand. What do you mean by unsolicited? Does the writer have to get
another agent who then approaches yours, or something?”
I get this reply: “We do not accept work that has not been
previously published. In the past we have received work from budding, amateur
authors trying to break into the industry, and they send their work to us in
the hope that we will represent them and greatly improve their chances of
getting a book deal.”
I write back: “‘Budding amateur authors sending their work
to literary agencies in the hope of improving their chances of a book deal’ –
is that not the whole point of agencies? What other function does a literary
agency fulfil? This is a serious question, I am not being funny.”
Them (from a different office): “‘Unsolicited manuscripts’
are those not sent to us from a publisher or international agency.”
And me again: “And thank you for me this meaningless answer,
which doesn't actually explain anything. Although it was at least not as sneery
and condescending as your other office's email to my question. I leave you
– in the absence of any great expectation that I will ever get a polite,
respectful and informative reply – with a little piece of advice: maybe you
shouldn't be so quick to needlessly antagonise people for no reason. You know
that old maxim about treating people well on the way up, because you may meet
them on your way down? Well, not all of us will forever remain ‘budding amateur
authors’. Some of us will have some real power someday.”
Then, they reply – in an apparent state of mild panic –
“I am sorry to hear you are frustrated. Perhaps I can help address the questions
you posed? (Blah blah…waffle waffle…until finally) You are welcome to submit a
query. And we wish you and all ‘budding amateurs’ the best of luck.”
And me once more: “Right, I think I understand now. You
DON'T accept unsolicited MS, but you DO accept query letters/pitches? I
must have got confused with the line on the website about not currently
accepting "unsolicited submissions". BTW I'm not actually a
"budding amateur author" at all: I've been published by a major house
under a different name, and write for several newspapers in more than one
country. I just didn't like XXX’s sneery little jibe, as I'm sure you can
understand. But you were very polite. Thanks.”
I didn’t bother submitting. No further correspondence
Q10. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?
Thank you! That’d be the main thing. Oh, and a little plug
for the book if I may: Even Flow, a cinematic, thrilling, funny and provocative
novel about a group of vigilantes inspired by feminism and gay rights, and
bringing the pain to New York City’s macho men. Out now, in shops and online,
print copy and e-book whatchamacallit. Second crime novel, The Polka Dot Girl,
published next January 24, is a Chandler-style noir with a twist: all the
characters are female. It’s Sam Spade in lipstick and a dress…
Thank you, Darragh McManus!