“Holding the book in my hand wasn’t the earth-shattering, life-altering, choirs-of-angels-sing-while-the-world-is-bathed-in-white-light moment I thought it might have been two years ago. Don’t get me wrong, it's a truly wonderful feeling, but ever since bagging my agent, the journey to this stage has been a long series of victories, and the occasional defeat. There wasn’t one definable moment where I crossed the threshold between hope and actuality. Rather it has been a steady climb to this place where I can call myself an honest-to-God published author.”A noble sentiment, it has to be said. And Stuart seems to be the kind of bloke who keeps his feet on the ground. He seemed that way last year, when I met him in Dun Laoghaire at the Books ’08 Festival, even after a dry sherry or five. I met him again a couple of weeks ago, and he seemed entirely rooted, earthy and balanced. Chthonic, really. I mean, if it’d been me that got that big-up from James Ellroy? They’d still be scraping bits of me out of the chandelier.
Not Stuart, though. Fair play to him, he’s modest as well as everything else.
I remember the first time I was handed a copy of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE. I remember it like it was yesterday, and it was the finest moment of my life right up to the moment Lily was born. It really was one of those dizzying, shining, dazzling moments – my agent at the time, Jonathan Williams, handed me a copy on a Galway street, and I floated. It was magic, really. I felt like a child at Christmas, and all growed up at the same time. You’ll excuse my innocence, I hope, but as far as I was concerned at the time, I was finally in the gang – the gang that had Hemingway and Chandler and Salinger and Durrell and Conrad …
Seriously, though – I’d been waiting twenty years for that moment, and when it finally came it was even better than I thought it might be. There’s not a lot of times in life when you can say you feel utterly fulfilled, but that was certainly one for me.
I’m redrafting the sequel to EIGHTBALL BOOGIE now, as it happens. It’s called THE BIG EMPTY, and it picks up with Harry Rigby recently out of prison, where he served five years for manslaughter after being convicted of killing his brother, Gonzo, in self-defence, and now driving a taxi as a front for a dope dealer. It starts like this:
At the inquest they reckoned Finn punched down through the Audi’s boot from nine floors up. The boot concertina’d, puncturing the petrol tank. Shearing metal sparked.If I get the time, I’ll bang up the whole first chapter sometime next week. Meanwhile, get ye hence to Stuart Neville’s blog and buy THE TWELVE. If you don’t, he’ll come around and get all reasonable and sensible on yo ass …
The explosion blasted out the Audi’s windows. Mine too, front and back, jolting the cab off its front wheels. The airbag absorbed most of the flying glass but it punched me in the chest so hard it damn near broke ribs.
My fault, of course. I wasn’t tensed up expecting a guy to plummet nine floors into an Audi’s petrol tank. I was just sitting there smoking and tapping the steering-wheel to ABC, When Smokey Sings. Wondering if it wasn’t too late to swing around by the Cellars for a late one, maybe a game of pool.
Then, ka-boomski, I was semi-conscious, pain grating down my left side. Maybe I even blacked out. The heat got me moving, reaching around the deflating airbag to turn the key in the ignition, rolling the cab back until it was out of range. Then I squeezed out from behind the airbag and staggered to the Audi.
The heat was fierce but I was still half-dazed, so I dived in and grabbed his ankles. One of his moccasins slipped off as he came free and at first I thought I’d ripped him in half. Then I thought he’d dropped a dwarf on the Audi. Strange the things you think about when you’re trying not to think at all.
I dragged him away from the flames. That left a trail of blood and frying flesh stuck to the tarmac. The sickly-sweet stench of burning pork set my guts heaving. Then I realised why he seemed so short.
The impact had driven his head and shoulders back up into his torso. If you looked closely enough there was still some stump of what had once been his neck, but the head had smashed like pulpy melon.
I rang it in while the Audi’s metalwork glowed a dull red and globs of grey matter shrivelled and spat …
© Declan Burke, 2009