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?
Well as so many people say Chandler, I’ll be awkward and plump for Hammett. Almost eighty years on and THE MALTESE FALCON is still nigh-on perfect. It’s fizzing, fat-free and I sometimes think the key to its longevity and brilliance is the fact that there aren’t really any nice people in it at all.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Oh, Tom Ripley, definitely. Money, fine wine, French cheese, a harpsichord, a deliciously ambiguous sexuality and the ability to murder anyone who gets in your way without a moment’s guilt. What’s not to like?
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I’m not really guilty about anything I read, though I would probably need a long hot shower if I lost my mind temporarily and accidentally read any Jeffrey Archer. I read a lot of crime fiction, probably way too much, but many good friends are crime writers and I’m going to read their books anyway, because they’re mates. So the crime novel usually wins out if it’s a toss up between that and a slim volume of indescribably moving poetry. Actually, the poetry would make me feel guilty...
Most satisfying writing moment?
Generally, finishing something, or getting some piece of feedback from a reader or a colleague that validates something you’ve tried to do. When I was at school I did something fairly beastly, involving a frog and a cricket bat. Look, I was a KID, OK, and a bigger kid made me do it. Anyway. I used that scenario in a book and a writer called Kevin Wignall, when he read the book, mailed me and said “You did that, didn’t you?”. I was really chuffed that I’d obviously managed to put across the shame and horror of that moment so vividly. Or maybe Kevin just saw through my sad attempt at catharsis. It was a HELL of a shot though ...
The best Irish crime novel is ...?
I think John Connolly is a unique voice (he’ll be REALLY mad at me for saying that) and his are always books that I will rush to read. I’m going to plump for the first, EVERY DEAD THING. I read it while I was struggling with my first book, and I almost gave up trying because EDT was so bloody good.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
John is understandably protective of Charlie Parker, so I’d love to see his stand-alone BAD MEN at the movies, but if he ever does let the rights go, THE BLACK ANGEL could be a wonderful film. And I know it’s not a crime novel, but if Guillermo Del Toro got hold of THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS ...
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Best? It’s a close-run thing between the free books and being asked where you get your ideas from. There aren’t too many bad things (let’s face it, it’s a bloody marvellous way to make a living) but I’ve never got used to the creative schizophrenia; the fact that you look at something you wrote the day before and thought you were happy with, and it suddenly appears to be unpublishable rubbish.
The pitch for your next book is ...?
It’s tricky because there are different books coming out here and in the US. They’re a book behind in the states, so they’ll be publishing DEATH MESSAGE, while the newest book, BLOODLINE, will be out in the UK this August. Er ... both will have Tom Thorne in, and a body or two. There may be some country music. And the murder will not be solved by a cat.
Who are you reading right now?
OK, the best thing is actually getting free books that haven’t even been published yet. So, once I’ve finished THE SMOKING DIARIES by Simon Gray (shock, horror: not crime at all, but an attempt to enjoy cigarettes vicariously) I’ll be getting stuck into the forthcoming books by George Pelecanos and the aforementioned Mr Connolly. Can’t wait.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Oh, read, no question. Reading is always an enormous pleasure and sometimes, writing ... isn’t.
The three best words to describe your own writing are ...?
Better than Archer’s.
Mark Billingham’s BLOODLINE will be published in August.
“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.