CAP’s good friend Tony Black (right) has a new novel coming your way, GUTTED being the follow-up to PAYING FOR IT, and featuring the reluctant PI Gus Dury. “Maybe the best novel I’ve read all year … A stunning piece of work,” says Allan Guthrie, no slouch himself when it comes to penning stunning novels. And agent-type representing of Declan Burke, for that matter. Anyway, seeing as how he has already filled in the standard Q&A, we fired a few fresh Qs at Tony. To wit:
You’ve a new novel coming, called GUTTED. Tell us a little about it and its protagonist, Gus Dury.
“GUTTED kicks off with Gus staking out badger baiters on Edinburgh’s Corstorphine Hill and after a bit of a pagger with the local young crew, who are torturing a dog, he finds himself tripping over the gutted (see what I did there!) corpse of a known villain. Gus is mad enough to hang about and call plod, who turn up and promptly put him in the frame.
“The real fun ensues, though, when Gus finds the investigating officer is dating his ex-wife, Debs, and that fifty grand belonging to city ganglord Rab Hart has been snatched from the corpse. Roll on corruption, casual violence and a stack of characters so unsavoury they make the first book look like an episode of Chuckle Vision.”
What was the one thing you learned about writing and publishing PAYING FOR IT that helped most when you came to GUTTED?
“To try and enjoy it. Seriously I got myself so stressed out with the first one that I forgot about how frickin’ hard I’d tried to get published. I made a conscious decision not to do that this time round, so I’m way more laid back … enjoying the ride. I’ve spoken to a few writers about seeing their first novel published and to a one, none have enjoyed the process first time round - it’s just too nerve wracking.”
What is it about Gus Dury that you, as a writer, find so compelling? And, for the uninitiated reader, what sets him apart as a reluctant PI?
“Good question. I’ve never really examined it that closely and I’m a bit reluctant to try in case some of the magic rubs off … y’know, like I’ll understand him and lose all fascination. But, to try and answer the question, I guess there’s something in the fact that he’s an escapist figure; he’s a hardcore alky, a man who sorts his problems with his fists, he just doesn’t give a shit.
“What sets Gus apart is, and again I’m guessing because really it’s not for me to say, but I think he’s a man that’s fallen so low, who’s so completely wrecked himself, that there’s a certain curiosity to see what keeps him putting his boots on in the morning.”
The decision to set the novels in Edinburgh – not taken lightly, I presume, given the shadow cast by Ian Rankin?
“Well, there was never going to be anywhere else to set them, I’m from Edinburgh and the character of Gus is so closely associated with the city that he wouldn’t be the same man elsewhere.
“Every writer brings something different to the work so my Edinburgh isn’t going to be Ian Rankin’s or Irvine Welsh’s, or Muriel Spark’s for that matter … but I hear what you’re saying, Dec, and the honest answer is that if I looked at the sheer quantity and unbelievable quality of writing that’s come from this place I’d never open the laptop.”
Ken Bruen has been loud in his praise, and PAYING FOR IT was compared with the work of Ian Rankin, Simon Kernick and Mark Billingham. Did you feel any pressure to match that standard when it came to the ‘difficult second novel’?
“God, isn’t Guv’nor Bruen a true saint of a man … I can absolutely die happy tomorrow knowing what Ken’s said about my work. As far as I’m concerned he’s the best there is. Bar none. To get his praise, to get any praise, as a new novelist is a surreal experience.
“The pressure was there alright with GUTTED, from the get-go. I was told that there’d be folk queuing up to give me a kicking if the second book wasn’t as good as the first. Thankfully I’m never satisfied with anything I do so am constantly finding fault and looking to improve on what I‘ve just done. It was another shock when folk started to get excited about GUTTED, but, God, I’ve just delivered the third, called LOSS, and they thought that was better yet … I keep expecting to get a call saying, ‘Hahahaha, we were joking you actually totally suck!’”
Who are the writers who got you writing? Is there one novel you can pinpoint as the novel that exploded the flashbulb above your head, and got you saying, “I can do that!”?
“The first book I can remember reading and being utterly transported by was Twain’s ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN … I must have been about eight or so, I was really captured by the adventure of it all. Same happened with Stevenson’s TREASURE ISLAND a bit later.
“The first time I started seriously to think about writing though, was after reading Hemingway’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS, must have been eighteen then and was blown away by what writing could do. In terms of the crime stuff, that was Bruen’s RILKE ON BLACK … the style and the sheer force of the storytelling dazzled me.”
Is Gus Dury going to be around for the long haul? Do you plan and plot books ahead, or how does a character and story unfold for you as you’re writing?
“Gus is there for a wee while yet, I’ve got a four-book deal and although I might do some standalones in there I do have a fourth episode for Gus all mapped out. I don’t look much further ahead than the next book, I’m in awe of these writers who can envisage a grand arc covering several books. Couldn’t manage that. So, yeah, I take a loose idea and try to add layers as I go along, then rewrite and rewrite again.”
You work as a journalist. Do you find being a journalist a help or a hindrance when it comes to writing fiction?
“Well, there’s advantages and disadvantages - Hemingway said hackwork was good for a writer as long as they got out soon enough and I think I know what he meant. I still do bits and pieces here and there but I couldn’t still do a full-time reporter’s job and write around it … I did that for about six or seven years before I got a deal and it was too much. But, the discipline of putting down words that journalism teaches you, as you know yourself, is useful. I’ve never heard a hack griping about writer’s block or a lack of inspiration … the muse doesn’t write daily newspapers!”
Why do you think so many journalists take up writing crime fiction?
“The game’s gone to balls … Christalmighty, when PR starts to look like a better option, journalism has hit the skids. Crime fiction’s a far better gig than Macy Ds, I suppose.”
Finally, what are the future plans? Are there more Gus Dury books in the works?
“Well, LOSS is out around February 2010, and after that there might be a standalone I’ve been working on, or the other Dury novel which I’ve got planned out … I’m not looking much further ahead than that. To be honest, this whole writing gig’s such a tough nut to crack, and believe me there was years when I thought I’d never get an in, that just to be able to say I’m published is still a bit unreal.”
Tony Black’s GUTTED is available now.
“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.