“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “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. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Babysitter, With Occasional Gun

And so to the County Hall in Dun Laoghaire for Books 2008 and the first of the Irish crime writing panels, which featured Tana French, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Alex Barclay, Gene Kerrigan and Declan Hughes talking up ‘Heroes and Villains’, with Paul Johnston (right) in the moderator’s chair. Good stuff it was too, with Enid Blyton’s children’s mystery stories being cited as an early inspiration to more than one writer, Alex Barclay talking about charting ‘the evolution of a serial killer’ from child to adult, Tana French chatting about her fascination with what makes a person kill, Ruth Dudley Edwards touching on her fascination with what makes a person a victim, and Gene Kerrigan being intrigued by the kind of ordinary guy who ‘will babysit your children and then go to work the next day with a gun in his pocket’.
  Afterwards, a young girl called Lily went around collecting the autographs of every writer present. It took the combined persuasion of John Connolly and Alex Barclay to convince her that the dubious-looking guy skulking by the door was, in fact, an author. “You know I’m not famous or anything,” I told her. “I don’t care,” she said, “if you’re a real writer.” I believe the children are our future, etc. I told her that my daughter’s name is Lily too. She was pleased about that. “Tell her I’m Lily Conlon,” she said. I will.
  Eats and drinks were the order of the night in the aftermath, during which I discovered that Paul Johnston is (a) a top bloke and (b) the story I’m currently working on will need to be either reworked dramatically or scrapped entire. Which is a bit of a bummer, because I’ve been working on it for five or six years, on and off, and written close to half a million words. Still, Paul didn’t tell me anything I haven’t been secretly suspecting myself for quite some time now. And I did manage to postpone the nervous breakdown until I left the restaurant. So that was good.
  Anyhoos, it’s upward and onward to this morning’s 11am panel, with Critical Mick waving the baton. The topic? ‘Real Fiction, Real Ireland’. Except when I was writing THE BIG O, I was very deliberately writing a story with a non-specific setting. Plus it’s a comedy crime caper that bears very little relation to reality. Should be fun …

Friday, September 5, 2008

He Sells SANCTUARY – Aye, But When? And Where?

Anybody out there know what’s happening with Ken Bruen’s SANCTUARY? I’ve been getting emails asking me if / when the latest (and rumoured last) Jack Taylor story hits the shelves in the US / UK in hardback / paperback, and I haven’t the proverbial baldy. If anyone can help, you know what to do …
  One man who did get his grubby mitts on a copy is Tony Black, he of PAYING FOR IT fame. He has a review of SANCTUARY up at the inimitable Sons of Spade, with the gist running thusly:
“The beauty of the prose can only be described as that of a genius. Bruen applies a finesse to his slickly-crafted sentences that’s unmatched. It’s a Salinger-esque trip told with the kind of insight you’d expect from an author with his own unique, cultural X-ray vision. And, in SANCTUARY, the new Ireland, in all its complexities, is never far from his field of view.”
  Nice. Meanwhile, one book that is definitely published in the US this week is Brian McGilloway’s BORDERLANDS, and we know this because his fellow scribe David Isaak has the pics to prove it over at the Macmillan New Writers blog. Quoth David:
“This is more than a selfless interest in seeing Brian’s book reach a wider audience; this is also an historic, but little-noted occasion. This is the first time a Macmillan New Writing book has jumped the Atlantic and been printed in an American edition …
  “McGilloway’s prose is flawless, his characters pop off the page, the plot is engrossing, and the setting unique. The book received deservedly great reviews in Ireland and the UK, and sold enough copies to turn most writers Elphaba-coloured with envy.”
  Erm, David? What the blummin’ hell is Elphaba when it’s at home?

I Dream Of Gene-y

The long-threatened Irish crime writing series at the Books 2008 festival dawns dark, wet and stormy, and that’s as pathetic as I’m letting this fallacy get. For lo! Why would you read this oul’ rubbish when elsewhere there’s a veritable horde of proper writers – John Connolly, Arlene Hunt, Colin Bateman, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Adrian McKinty, Gene Kerrigan (right) and Declan Hughes – spraffing about why there’s been such a dramatic increase in the numbers of Irish crime writers? Quoth, for example, Gene Kerrigan:
“There’s been an upsurge in several kinds of Irish fiction .... Crime fiction is a small part of that. Perhaps it has something to do with increased confidence, a realisation that there are more possibilities than there used to be. Look around at what’s happening – you’re sitting in a pub and a guy walks in with a balaclava on, gun in hand – everyone knows that can happen in any Dublin pub any day of the week. How can you be a writer and not want to deal with that through fiction?”
  There’s one man whose acquaintance I’m looking forward to making this weekend, although maybe I’ll skip the traditional get-to-know-you pint if he suggests a swift one down his boozer. Anyhoos, for much more on the same theme, jog on over to the Evening Herald’s interweb malarkey

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Great FIFTY GRAND Giveaway

Adrian McKinty (right) has an interesting little notion going over at his interweb malarkey in relation to his forthcoming opus FIFTY GRAND, to wit:
“All this week I’ll be working on the page proofs and when I’m done with them I’d like to give them away to a reader / collector. If someone could suggest how I do this in the form of a fair competition or draw, I would greatly appreciate it. The proofs might look a bit messy so I’m not a 100% sure anyone will be that interested, but if I get assassinated by Cuban Intelligence or a Scientology Clear then they might be worth a few quid.”
  Nice. Just one thing, squire - don’t come crying to us if the CI and SC wallahs hook up for one last gig to bring you down ...

The Embiggened O: Two Kings, A Wizard And A Spotlight Review

Some weeks are better than others when you’re a 39-year-old new kid on the block trying to promote your humble tome, and this is definitely one of the better weeks. For lo! It would appear that the generous folk at New Mystery Reader are rather keen on THE BIG O – they’ve chosen it as their ‘September spotlight review’ and yours truly as their ‘September featured author’. Which is very, very nice indeed. The gist of the review runneth thusly:
Irish author Declan Burke is regularly compared to Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake, even though THE BIG O is only his second novel. Anyone that new receiving that kind of praise has earned a skeptical eye, just as Leonard and Westlake have earned their legends. Burke and his cast of losers are up to it …
  Burke’s voice and writing style are indebted to Elmore Leonard, as are the characters, but Leonard never plotted so intricately. That’s where the Westlake influence comes out, as complicated and interconnected plot lines are kept moving with humour and improbability that never quite becomes implausible …
  I came to THE BIG O with high expectations and had them exceeded …THE BIG O is big fun. It’s just as well Harcourt couldn’t get it out in time for beach season; too many people would be staring, wondering what the hell you were laughing at. – Dana King
  In the interest of transparency and accountability, it should be pointed out that Dana King and Karen King, THE BIG O’s heroine, are not related.
  As for the interview, well, that’s just me waffling on about THE BIG O and generally mumbling about how rubbish I am at the actual scribbling part of writing. Which is all too painfully true. Days like these are fantastic, no doubt, but the downside is the creeping certainty that each one brings a little closer the day when some yapping Toto will tug back the curtain to my brain and reveal a little man furiously yanking on various levers in a desperate attempt to convince me that I am, in fact, capable of writing.
  Because here’s the cold truth: flattered as I am to be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake, no one is more acutely aware than I of how far I fall short of their standard. If – and it’s a huge ‘if’ – I ever get to the point where I have 10 novels under my belt that are even half as good as Leonard’s or Westlake’s, then I’ll be a very happy man indeed. But that day, in the unlikely event of its ever dawning, is a long, long way off.
  I’m under no illusions. I know that the fact that THE BIG O even came to the attention of the good folk at New Mystery Reader, for example, has much more to do with my blogging through Crime Always Pays than the quality of the book itself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing THE BIG O – I’m very proud of it, and I’m overjoyed that people seem to like it. But I know its failings and limitations too. I know my own. If you’re sitting there thinking, ‘Hey, I read that book, and it’s nowhere as good as people are saying’, then believe me, I have many, many days when I sit here and think the exact same thing.
  I’m not being modest. I don’t do modest. I’m just being honest.
  In the meantime, God bless that little wizard. Long may he furiously yank …

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Pleb Writes

The world’s dumbing-down continues apace, and we can but weep. The latest example is Deborah Lawrenson’s novel SONGS OF BLUE AND GOLD, a fictionalised version of Lawrence Durrell’s complex love-life during his time on the island of Corfu, which is being marketed without any reference at all to Lawrence Durrell on the basis that the plebs won’t have heard of him. Blummin’ plebs, eh?
  Happily, Ms Lawrenson herself is more than happy to wax lyrical about the inspiration for SONGS OF BLUE AND GOLD over at her interweb malarkey, with the gist running thusly:
“Inspired by the writer, poet and traveller Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990), this is a novel about love and memory, identity and biography.
  “It sparked into life one gloomy winter afternoon when I rediscovered PROSPERO’S CELL on the bookshelves of a bedroom at the top of the house. Opening it and starting to read was like injecting the grey with vivid blues and emeralds. A richly evocative account of Durrell’s life in Corfu in the 1930s, it was first published in 1945 and purports to be a diary in which he is a serious young writer living blissfully in the sun, deeply in love both with his new wife and with the idea of Greece.
  “Durrell states that PROSPERO’S CELL is a “guide to the landscape and manners” of Corfu but it never quite becomes this. It is a lyrical personal notebook, and what he leaves out is as poignant as what he includes.
  “Its content is almost unrecognisable as the same ground his younger brother, the zoologist Gerald, covers in his famous Corfu book MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS, in which ‘Larry’ lives with the family (which he never did) and is the ‘diminutive blond firework’ by turns pompously literary and hilarious.
  “And by the time he wrote PROSPERO’S CELL, Lawrence and his first wife Nancy had separated. He was already sadder and wiser, and living in wartime Egypt with Eve Cohen who would become his second wife.
  “I was intrigued. Further researches and a reading of several biographies soon revealed a complex and contradictory character - and a further two wives. His work, over a period of nearly sixty years - most famously in The Alexandria Quartet - was concerned with duality: love and hate; truth and fiction; memory and misinterpretation. And running through it all, the transfiguring effect of time …
  “Durrell aficionados might be disconcerted by the way I’ve played fast and loose with his chronology, compressing and altering his travels and his wives’ biographies to give an impression of the author’s life without providing in any way an accurate portrayal. In this, the book has more in common with his fictional characters, his use of dualism and reinterpretation, than with real people. “All these writers [in my books] are variations of myself,” he said a few years before he died. So, on one level, Julian Adie is another fictionalised version of Lawrence Durrell: what he might have become if certain events had taken place …”
  Incidentally, Deborah tells us that the Folio Society is publishing a new edition of Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet this month, the introduction to which can be found here

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Me And Bobby McCue

Busted flat in Baton Rouge / Headed for the train / Feeling nearly faded as my jeans …” Bobby McCue (right, in back behind Sarah Chen, Michael Haskins and Linda Brown) of The Mystery Bookstore in LA does our humble offering THE BIG O proud, choosing it as his ‘other favourite’ in this month’s Mystery Bookstore newsletter, with the gist running thusly: “Another Irish writer new to American readers, Declan Burke is drawing comparisons to Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen.” Which is nice.
  Mind you, it’d be even nicer if THE BIG O was his actual favourite, rather than his ‘other’ favourite. His actual favourite? Brian McGilloway’s “terrific debut”, BORDERLANDS. Which would be a stone-cold bummer if yon McGilloway wasn’t as nice a bloke as you could meet. But he is, so it’s not. Brian? Tell Tanya we were asking for her.
  Anyhoos, it’s three cheers, two stools and a resounding huzzah for Bobby McCue. All together now: “Feeling good was easy, Lord / When Bobby sang the blues / And feeling good was good enough for me / Good enough for me and Bobby McCue …”

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Julie Parsons

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...

What crime novel would you most like to have written?
There are actually three – A FATAL INVERSION by Ruth Rendell / Barbara Vine – amazing plot and wonderful atmosphere; THE SHINING by Stephen King, not so much a plot more a way of death; and THE BUTCHER BOY by Patrick McCabe, which doesn’t usually figure in crime fiction lists, but does it for me in horror, sadness and a meditation on loss and pain.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
When I was a kid I was crazy about the books by the American writer, Mary O’Hara. So I would have loved to have been Ken McLaughlin, who grew up on a horse ranch in the Rocky Mountains, in Wyoming.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. For pleasure I read anything by Martin Amis, Nadine Gordimer, Philip Roth and J.M Coetzee.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Writing the synopsis for my first book, MARY, MARY, and knowing, even before I sent it to Treasa Coady of TownHouse, that I had a winner.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
You know, I don’t read crime novels since I started writing them … terrified I’d be so put off by their brilliance and never write another word. Best Irish novel? THE BUTCHER BOY [by Patrick McCabe] for the above reasons.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
For the above reason, I can’t really say, but three of my books – MARY, MARY, THE COURTSHIP GIFT and EAGER TO PLEASE – have all been optioned for film and TV and I think they’d all be great - with the right writer, director, cast of course.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best is being on your own in complete control of your own world, and the worst is pretty much the same.
The pitch for your next book is …?
The next book is a high-concept, international DAY OF THE JACKAL-type thriller – the inhabitants of an island off the southwest coast of Ireland discover when the last ferry of the day has left, that they are NOT on their own.
Who are you reading right now?
I’m reading HUMAN SMOKE by Nicholson Baker, which tells in extracts from newspapers, letters and biographies of the build-up in the late 1930s and early 1940s to the Final Solution. Stunning and terrifying.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I don’t believe in God, but if I did the God I would believe in would never make such a demand. Because that God would know that to be a writer, you have to be a reader …
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Powerful, vivid, unforgettable.

Julie Parsons’ I SAW YOU has just been published in paperback by Pan Books

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Embiggened O: One Kidney Or Two, Squire?

With the Stateside publication of THE BIG O due on September 22nd, I’ve been kind of steeling myself for the horrible job of asking people who’ve been pretty damn generous with their time and space already for yet another mention of our humble tome. So it’s been hugely gratifying to find that people have been getting in touch during the last few days, asking if I’d be interested in doing some promo on their sites and blogs. Folks? I’m overwhelmed. Really. Yet again the crime fiction community proves itself the antithesis of the dysfunctional, anti-social dystopia it loves to write and read about.
  Anyhoos, there are those who have been good enough to offer, and there are those who have just steamed ahead and plugged the bejaysus out of THE BIG O without so much as a by-your-leave. One such is the inimitable Peter Rozovsky (above, right) of Detectives Beyond Borders, who did us proud by posting up this little belter:
I wrote last year that “the deliciously complicated plotting, the wry dialogue and the sympathy Burke engenders for his cast of characters made this one of the most fun and purely pleasurable reads I’ve had in a while.” I’ve had no reason to repent that opinion. THE BIG O is still one of the two or three funniest crime novels I’ve ever read.
  Nice. Of course, I should also point out that Uncle Travelling Matt Rozovsky is currently abroad in the wilds of Ireland, and plans to overnight at chez Grand Viz next weekend, so the hope of a decent breakfast might well have coloured his opinion. I’d have given him a proper feed regardless, mind you, but this way he’s assured of an extra helping of fried kidney. Mmmm, kidneylicious …

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

Bit of a doozy for you this week, folks, courtesy of the outrageously generous folk at Serpent’s Tail. Up for grabs are two – yes, TWO! – sets of David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet, comprising 1974, 1977, 1980 and1983. First, the blurb elves:
Commissioned by Channel 4, Revolution Films are producing three feature films based on the Red Riding Quartet, to be premiered at the Berlin Film Festival before a UK premiere on Channel 4 in spring 2009, with a theatrical release likely to follow.
Nice. As for those pesky critic-types:
‘Breathless, extravagant, ultra-violent’ – Independent on Sunday

‘British crime fiction’s most exciting new voice in decades’ – GQ

‘Brilliant’ – The Times

‘The pace is relentless, the style staccato-plus and the morality bleak and forlorn ... Peace’s voice is powerful and unique’ – The Guardian

‘A triumph of sustained narrative energy that reinvigorates the British crime novel’ – Daily Telegraph
So there you have it. To be in with a chance of winning a set of the Red Riding Quartet, just answer the following question.
Is the real-life ghoul who haunts the backdrop to the Red Riding Quartet called:
(a) The Yorkshire Ripper;
(b) The Yorkshire Pudding;
(c) The Yorkshire Cookie Monster;
(d) John Giles.
Answers via the comment box, please, leaving a contact email address, and using (at) rather than @ to confound the spam-munchkins, before noon on September 2nd. Et bon chance, mes amis

Those About To Write The Shop-And-Fuck Novel, We Salute You

Yours truly had a piece in the Sunday Independent yesterday about the current explosion in Irish crime fiction, the idea being to promote next weekend’s Books 2008 Irish crime writing series. Here’s one reason:
Perversely, the influence of chick lit can’t be discounted as a factor in the emergence of crime fiction. The shop-and-fuck novels might be criticised for skating along the surface of the Celtic Tiger, and charting the new Irish obsession with vacant consumerism, but their best-selling status gave a huge boost to genre fiction in a country that has traditionally been more concerned with literary issues. Where chick lit celebrated the gaudy delights of the Celtic Tiger, crime fiction proposes to penetrate to its dark heart, which is likely to get a lot darker now that the recession has kicked in and that big fat pie starts to shrink.
  In the interests of openness, transparency and plagiarism accusations, I should say that I ripped that off from a quote John Connolly gave me for another article I’ve written on the same subject for the Evening Herald, which will appear later this week. Turning a buck writing about Irish crime fiction – who’d a thunk it, eh?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not Quite As Smart As The Average Bear

I mentioned during the week that I’d be chairing a discussion in the Spoken Word tent at the Electric Picnic. Easy money, right? Not only would I get to share a stage with writers of the quality of Julie Parsons (right), Declan Hughes and Brian McGilloway, we’d be spraffing about Irish crime fiction. How could it possibly go wrong? Well, it’s like this …
  The fatal boo-boo Julie, Declan and Brian made was allowing the Yogi Bear-style Grand Viz drive from Dublin down to the picinick at Stradbally. Generally a reliable sort behind the wheel, the Grand Viz somehow managed to miss the motorway turn-off for the Electric Picnic and get us all lost somewhere in Kildare. With time ticking away, many and desperate were the calls made to the gig organiser, the unflappable Cormac Kinsella. Happily, the radio-waves were thick with the phrases, ‘Not a problem’, ‘It’ll be grand’, and ‘No bother’.
  Anyhoos, we finally stumbled on-stage about 15 minutes late, only to discover there were three mikes for the four of us. Undeterred, we ploughed on, and the trio kicked off with superb readings – Julie from I SAW YOU, Declan from THE DYING BREED, and Brian from BORDERLANDS (he’d planned to read from his latest novel, GALLOWS LANE, but with typical generosity had given his copy away earlier in the day).
  Then the discussion began, just at the point when a guy decided to have a baby on the stage next door. Amazingly, and despite the unique attraction in the vicinity, the Spoken Word tent filled up, and the audience were – given our tardy arrival and the horrific screams wafting in from next door to drown out practically every word said – surprisingly generous, loud and warm in their applause.
  It’s a glamorous lark and no mistake, this writing life.
  Every cloud has its silver lining, though, and after the gig a glamorous blonde stepped forward from the audience to say that she’d found the discussion fascinating, and that she’d really enjoyed it. What was nice about that, apart from the glamorous blonde bit, was that she just so happens to be the lady I’ve been dealing with at the Arts Council, which august body may or may not be funding a project currently under consideration.
  Said project is – clumsy working title alert! – ‘a history of Irish crime fiction’, to be written by Irish crime writers such as John Connolly, Declan Hughes, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Colin Bateman, et al, each writing a chapter according to their own speciality, with yours truly, Adrian McKinty and Gerard Brennan sharing the editing duties. It’s still but a twinkle in our collective eye, but there’s a lot of enthusiasm and potential synergy out there, so here’s hoping it’ll get off the ground. Stay tuned for further details …
  Next weekend it’s the Books 2008 Irish crime writing series, but right now it’s Sunday morning and the Princess Lilyput’s big day (right). Thanks to everyone who left comments on the Bell’s palsy post yesterday, by the way … If the events of yesterday didn’t explode it into a full-blown stroke, nothing will. Peace, out.