It’s been, oh, almost a whole week now since we’ve had any TB-related material on Crime Always Pays, and some people have been in touch alleging withdrawal symptoms. Sorry, folks. Herewith, and without further ado, be Damien Seaman’s interview with part-time Scottish sex god Tony Black (right) …
NONE MORE BLACK
If it’s debut novels you’d be looking for, then how’s about giving PAYING FOR IT a gander? Tipped as ‘One To Watch For 2008’ by the Edinburgh Evening News, author Tony Black has also garnered praise from a Galway resident by the name of Bruen ...
DAMIEN SEAMAN: You’re a part-Lithuanian Scotsman with a chubby for Australia: what gives you the cojones to be interviewed for an Irish crime fiction blog?
TONY BLACK: The Grand Vizier has specifically invoked the FIFA grandparent ruling to have me here and I’m not gonna disappoint. And I grew up in Galway! Went to the same primary school as Ken Bruen and everything ... Am I in front yet? God, I have a hurley signed by Joe Connolly, there, that’s got to swing it.
DS: Your first novel, PAYING FOR IT has been released this month. How would you pitch the novel to readers in a few words?
TB: Jeez, I hate those hundred- word blurbs: How’s this? ... It’s a murder mystery, told in a thriller style, in which a father has lost his only son, tortured to death by people-smuggling gangsters with a sideline in prostitution, and he’s seeking answers. There’s a fairly significant father-son element. Thug-Lit said it was about the ‘pains of being a father and the pains of being a son’, which I really liked.
DS: The novel features a couple of memorable Irish characters. Is there anything significant in this?
TB: Scotland has always had a huge Irish population; mostly it’s associated with the west coast (Glasgow) but not exclusively. Edinburgh is Scotland’s most multicultural city and is sometimes actually described as its least Scottish as a result ... so there should be Irish characters cropping up in a representation of the city.
As I say, I did some of my growing up in Ireland and I absolutely love the place, in fact, when I was living in Australia I was hugely homesick for Galway – it’s actually the place I feel most at home in the world -- I think it imprinted on me at that crucial age of about nine or ten. I had a really strong Irish accent when I left Galway and I can still hear all the voices from my childhood and I tap into them when I write.
Al Guthrie -- God, I’m a dreadful name dropper -- told me he was really convinced by my Irish voices and that pleased me no end. I love my Irish characters; I actually wrote a whole (as yet unpublished) novel set in Ireland.
In fact, when I think about it, Milo, one of the Irish characters in PAYING FOR IT, attracts the most praise from readers after my protagonist Gus.
DS: Given that PAYING FOR IT features an alcoholic ex-hack PI type, how do you aim to keep your series fresh in the next instalments?
TB: I’d like to think Gus is pretty rounded, his alcoholism and his accidental PI work isn’t the sum of him. He has quite a bit of damage in his life and he’s a conflicted character. I’m interested in him -- and the cast of characters he’s surrounded himself with -- so as long as I maintain that interest, and want to write about him, I can see the series barrelling along.
DS: Who are your favourite Irish writers and why?
TB: It’s kind of impossible not to start with Joyce. I really got into THE PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST and DUBLINERS when I was younger, and the heavier stuff later. Beckett too, all the big guns, there’s too many to list. Latterly, though, it’s been Bruen I’m massively impressed by. He’s the Hemingway of the crime genre, a real innovator and in my humble opinion a true genius. Nobody writes like Bruen.
DS: Favourite Irish crime novel?
TB: Well, it has to be by Ken Bruen (right), doesn’t it. THE GUARDS is a frickin masterpiece. I read it when I was living in Australia and every time I picked it up it was as if I was being transported back to Ireland. There’s a scene when Jack’s got some glasses he’s bought from Roche’s Stores and I was like, I know where he got them! It’s a fantastic achievement to render a city so alive.
DS: Favourite Irish character in crime fiction (doesn’t have to be written by an Irish author)?
TB: Got to be the incredible Francie Brady from THE BUTCHER BOY.
DS: Ken Bruen says that PAYING FOR IT ‘blasts off the page like a triple malt’. How do you feel to get this kind of praise from Bruen?
TB: Impossible to explain. I’d been stalking Ken for a wee while and persuaded him to read it so he took the ms on the weekend and got back to me that same evening saying he’d started it and had to shove the Sunday papers aside till he finished it. I just couldn’t get my head around that. Still can’t.
If I’d been asked in advance who is the one person you’d want to adore your book it would have been Guv’nor Bruen. For him to be so blown away by it and so generous with his praise was very moving. He is a very generous man, though. If only the world had more like him ...
DS: From Ian Rankin and Stuart MacBride to Al Guthrie, Ray Banks, Russel McLean and your good self, do you have any theories as to why there’s such a glut of quality Scottish crime writing at the moment?
TB: I just picked up the [Scottish] Daily Record and there’s a Murder Map of Scotland on page one. Inside it says Glasgow has a higher murder rate than London. We’ve got worse knife crime stats than NY; there’s the alcoholism, the drugs, the gangs, the lot ... am I painting a picture here?
DS: You see any major differences or similarities between the work of Scottish and Irish crime writers?
TB: On the whole I think the Irish and the Scots are being more experimental and innovative of late. Writers like Al Guthrie and Ray Banks are pushing things in much the same way as Ken Bruen and Adrian McKinty are. It’s a great time for the Celts.
DS: How important is it to you that a crime novel comes packing a sense of humour?
TB: The Scots have a great reputation for ‘The Patter’, so it should be in there. It’s a tricky one to pull off though, it can backfire drastically if it’s utilised in the wrong situation -- it’s almost like a guarantee of a work descending into farce if it’s not used appropriately.
DS: You’ve been a journo for some years now. You find that a help or a hindrance to your crime writing career?
TB: Latterly more of a hindrance than a help; getting up and going out to sit in front of a PC all day and then coming home to do it again all night isn’t something I’d choose to do. Believe me, if I had the knackers, I’d chuck it and wouldn’t go back.
There’s also the confusion my journalism adds to the way my fiction writing is viewed too. Y’know, it’s a real easy line ‘the hack that wrote a book about a hack’ for journos to dive on. So, on balance, more of a hindrance. If I’d been a road sweeper to pay the bills I don’t think anyone would have given two shits about my day job.
DS: What’s the next Gus Dury novel about?
TB: GUTTED sees Gus Dury up to his neck in the seedy underside of Scotland’s ‘genteel’ capital once again. There’s a gangland murder and it all seems to be connected to the city’s booming dog-fighting trade and a well-heeled family who lost a child in a savage pit-bull attack. All the characters from PAYING FOR IT are back ... and Gus gets a rescue dog.
Damien Seaman’s crime-related tosh has graced the web pages of Pulp Pusher, Noir Originals, Spinetingler Magazine and Shots. He is not Irish, nor has he ever lived in Ireland, but he’s got some Irish friends and likes the occasional pint of Guinness. Angry emails more than welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.