“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, January 31, 2009

A Pinteresque Pause

Jason Pinter is running a terrific series over at his blog about the future of publishing, inviting contributions from anyone involved in the publishing industry in answer to this question: “What is one thing you would you do to change book publishing for the better?”
  Jason’s received some interesting and even provocative responses, although I have one caveat – most of the answers are critical of the publishers and the way they go about their business. Silly advances for silly books; anachronistic marketing; a failure to adapt to the latest technology; in short, most people complain that publishing companies are clinging to an outmoded business model.
  This may all be true, and the Good Lord knows that I’ve had my fair share of disappointing experiences with publishers, as most writers tend to have; but is there an element of mote-and-beam going on here? In other words, no one writer has said that the one thing they’d do to change book publishing for the better is write better books. For all the hand-wringing about publishers’ inability to incorporate the interweb into their marketing model, how many writers have incorporated the interweb into their writing? How many writers have thought to themselves, for example, about the sea-change in other forms of popular art – movies, TV and music – and audience appetite for a blend of reality and fiction?
  There’s a generation of potential readers coming through for whom the Fourth Wall doesn’t exist. Last night, for example, I watched the ‘Family Guy’ episode in which Peter ‘outs’ Luke Perry, with the character of Luke Perry voiced by Luke Perry – although Lois refers to the character as ‘Dylan’, his character in Beverly Hills 90120.
  On Wednesday I watched the documentary ‘Anvil!’, the story of how an aging metal band from Canada are still trying to make it in their fifties. As a movie, or even a mockumentary, it would have been very funny in the ‘Spinal Tap’ mode; as a documentary, a real take on the rock ‘n’ roll dream, it was simultaneously soul-destroying and inspirational.
  Next Thursday, I’ll be getting along to see ‘Notorious’, a biopic of the Notorious B.I.G., who – regardless of your opinion of gangsta rap – made art of his life, of experiences that are possibly fictionalised but certainly rooted in an authentic, relevant reality.
  I can’t remember the last time I read a book that left me hollowed out and yet bursting to make something new, the way ‘Anvil!’ did. Or, for that matter, a book that makes me laugh like ‘Family Guy’ does because – bonkers as it is, and with no respect for the boundary between truth or fiction – it taps into the experience of our utterly confused cultural narrative.
  This morning, on the web, in the space of an hour, I read a short story, took on board the responses to Jason Pinter’s question, checked last night’s football scores, watched a book trailer and two music videos, downloaded the latest Anthony and the Johnsons album, and watched an extended trailer for the ‘Notorious’ movie.
  Can, or should, that kind of disjointed cultural mish-mash influence my own writing later on, when I grab a quiet couple of hours? Not the specific elements; but the jump-around nature of it, and the blend of reality and fiction?
  Maybe it’s because I watch a lot of movies, reviewing them for a living, and read a lot of books, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to suspend my disbelief when confronted with a story I know is pure fiction, regardless of how good it is. For that matter, just look at the Oscar noms for ‘Best Picture’ – Frost/Nixon, Milk and Slumdog Millionaire are all, to a greater or lesser extent, examples of the collision between fiction and reality.
  I’m currently working on a story in which the name of one of the main characters, Billy, is a nod to Kurt Vonnegut and SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, which is the last book I read, when I re-read it last May, to really suck out my guts and make me think about life, the universe and writing (I subsequently read ARMAGEDDON, but it’s not Vonnegut’s finest moment). Billy, my Billy, is actually a character from a novel I’d written about five years ago, who last May turned up in my back garden wanting to know why he’d been forgotten, and condemned to the limbo of the unpublished ghosts. The result was a book called A GONZO NOIR, which is currently under consideration with a U.S. publisher, although I’m not optimistic about its chances; nonetheless, I’ve started a new story, in which Billy returns, telling me about this guy he’s met on Crete, Sebastian, who claims to have been involved in a Nazi war crime, but who has been left in the limbo of an unfinished manuscript after the untimely death of the author, who may or may not have been writing a novel based on a true story. Can I help Sebastian finish the story and get him out of limbo?
  Whether anyone will want to read that story is a moot point. And I’m not claiming that the notion of meta-fiction is so new and fresh that, to come back to Jason Pinter’s question, it’s going to change the industry – Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, Flann O’Brien, Italo Calvino and, going a long way back, Laurence Sterne, are all favourites of mine.
  I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that if there’s problems with the publishing industry, it extends to all elements of the industry, and that includes, vitally, the writers. Maybe, just maybe, a central issue for the future is that the audience, and certainly the generations coming through, won’t be content with straightforward fiction, in the way that even the best animated movies from Pixar, Dreamworks and Disney will, for adults, always be just kids’ movies.
  For what it’s worth, the latest kids’ movie from Disney is ‘Bolt’, and it’s about a dog with super-powers who realises that his super-powers only exist on TV, because he’s an actor. When Disney are throwing ‘The Truman Show’ loops at kids, you just know the conventional novel is finished.
  Roll it there, Collette ...

Friday, January 30, 2009

39 Steps To … Getting Published

1. Get genius idea for a story.
2. Example: Man gets brain transplant from loopy nun and has visions of Jesus telling him the Holy Grail is in fact Barack Obama’s coffee mug.
3. Write one-page synopsis.
4. Run out of steam around the paragraph mark.
5. Pitch to drunk literary agent anyway.
6. Pitch to 17 more drunk agents.
7. Get genius idea about a serial killer who goes around bumping off literary agents.
8. Discover you are the 731,204th person to pitch that idea this month alone.
9. First literary agent calls back to say, “This famous relative you have – it’s not Brian Cowen, right?”
10. Lie like Nixon. About everything, to everyone.
11. Claim that you are, in fact, the love-child of Richard Nixon and Barbara Cartland.
12. Decide to think about actually writing the novel.
13. Although first you’ll actually read a novel, ‘just to see how they go.’
14. Apply for Arts Council grant.
15. Apply to Inland Revenue for artist’s tax-break.
16. Set up blog.
17. Type ‘Chapter 1’.
18. Establish the novel’s structure by typing ‘Chapter 2’, ‘Chapter 3’, ‘Chapter 4’, etc., until you reach ‘Chapter 32’.
19. Briefly consider the possibility of getting away with claiming that 32 blank pages ‘convey a post-modern non-narrative exploring the existential emptiness of being’.
20. Write a blog post asking readers’ advice on how to overcome writer’s block.
21. Get blocked after typing ‘How Do You Overcome Writer’s Block?’
22. Do a promotional live phone-link with the Gerry Ryan radio show in which you parade up and down Grafton Street with your knickers on your head asking illegal immigrants for a date.
23. Think some more about writing the novel.
24. Get genius idea to ‘emulate’ your heroes by copying out one chapter from each of your 32 favourite novels.
25. Realise you only have two favourite novels, both of which have ‘Pooh’ in the title.
26. Join a creative writing class.
27. Befriend one of the writers, ask if you can help by critiquing her work, then put her in a coma.
28. Inform agent that the loopy nun / brain transplant / Obama / holy grail story is ‘too mainstream’. Instead it’ll be about ‘a thirty-flirty gal who works in PR with fabulous fashion-sense and more gay friends than you could swing a cat at but who can’t get married although it’s not for the want of a wardrobe full of Jimmy Choos and sound relationship advice from all those gay friends who finally reveal how your sister, the bitch, was sleeping with that hunky bisexual cousin you had your eye on all along’.
29. Drop Oprah an email to let her know that April is good for you.
30. Choose the pseudonym ‘Cecilia Nixon-Binchy’ on the off-chance erstwhile friend emerges from coma.
31. Spend a harrowing month adapting her manuscript by changing the heroine’s name from ‘Aggie’ to ‘Abbie’ without using find-and-delete, ‘because that would be cheating’.
32. Send novel to respected Irish publisher.
33. Tell Barry Egan, exclusively, that you wrote the novel on napkins during your ten-minute lunch-break at the Centre for Helping One-Legged Blind Orphans To Hear Better.
34. Drop Salman Rushdie an email, asking if he’d be so kind as to launch your book for you with ‘a few well-chosen words’.
35. Sign contract with respected Irish publisher, revealing exclusively on TV A.M. that it’s ‘a five-book deal for seven figures’.
36. Neglect to mention that all seven figures are zeroes.
37. Refuse to emerge, blinking shyly, into the bright lights of the Late Late Show until Pat Kenny pins you in a half-nelson on the Montrose lawn.
38. Tell Ryan Tubridy ‘It’s nice that a work of art won for a change,’ when novel hits the best-seller list. Neglect to mention that it was your mother who bought all 14 copies.
39. Immediately set up a creative writing workshop – so you can ‘give something back’ to ‘those less fortunate’ – on Grand Bahama.
This feature first appeared in the Evening Herald

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Green Light On The BOULEVARD

Kiera Knightley I can take or leave, but Colin Farrell (right, on the set of ‘In Bruges’) starring in the movie adaptation of Sir Kenneth of Bruen’s LONDON BOULEVARD, with William Monahan directing? Nice. Shooting starts this coming summer, apparently – scoot on over to super-scooper Gerard Brennan at CSNI for all the details.
  Meanwhile, a little birdie tells me that this year’s Irish Book Awards will have, for the very first time, a Crime Fiction gong. To wit:
We are delighted to announce the addition of a new category in the 2009 awards, the Ireland AM Crime Fiction Award. Crime fiction ranks among the most vibrant genres in contemporary Irish publishing and the new award, adopted by one of our key media partners, Ireland AM, represents an exciting new addition to the Irish Book Awards.
  The shortlist will be announced in April. There is, unsurprisingly, a twist – the award will be voted upon by TV3’s Ireland AM viewers. So: who’s likely to top the Ireland AM poll of crime novels published by Irish authors in the calendar year 2008? I haven’t read it yet, but – based purely on the frequency of her google alerts – I’m putting a few bob on Tana French’s THE LIKENESS. Then again, Declan Hughes’ THE DYING BREED has just been nominated for a Best Novel Edgar, and Alex Barclay’s BLOOD RUNS COLD was recently featured as an Ireland AM Book of the Month (click here for a video interview with the ravishing Alex ...). And what about Ken Bruen? Or The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman? Or Brian McGilloway? Or ...
  I haven’t a clue who’s going to win it. Any ideas?

The Curious Case Of The Non-Meme Meme

Memes being the interweb’s version of pesky chain-letters, I’m not going to tag anyone in particular for the meme-ish notion below. But feel free to run with it, and link back here if you like. For simplicity’s sake I’ve kept it to one book per author, and the idea is that the last book on your list is the book you’d most like to die reading, if you had to die reading. To wit:
A long, long time in the future, in a galaxy far away, the doctor says, “Sorry, but you’ve only got a month to live.” What ten books would you re-read in your last month?
  My choices runneth thusly:

THE MAGUS – John Fowles
THE LONG GOODBYE – Raymond Chandler
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (and ‘Teddy’ from NINE STORIES) – JD Salinger
SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
THE GREEK MYTHS – Robert Graves
PROSPERO’S CELL – Lawrence Durrell
THE DOUBLE TONGUE – William Golding
THE ODYSSEY – Homer
STARDUST – John and Mary Gribbin
PETER PAN – JM Barrie
  For anyone interested, I'd like the theme music from ‘Match of the Day’ played as they carry the coffin out. Cheers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On The Philosophical Potency Of Narrative

Two snippets that caught my attention in the weekend newspapers, the first being a line from an Irish Times review of John Kenny’s study of John Banville (Irish Academic Press) by Anne Fogarty, professor of Joyce Studies at UCD:
“[Kenny] successfully teases out many of the paradoxical features of Banville’s fiction: its refusal of, but underlying alignment with, an Irish aesthetic, its advocacy of a post-modern playfulness with a form that yet coincides with a late modernist belief in the philosophical potency of narrative and its simultaneous pursuit of silence and an exacting eloquence.”
  Then there was this snippet from Lynne Truss’s Sunday Times review of HOW NOT TO WRITE A NOVEL by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark (Penguin), to wit:
“Writing is not like figure skating, they say. Flashy stuff doesn’t earn you points and it doesn’t make you move up in the competition.”
  I’ll very probably read both these books in the coming months. Which one do you think is likely to be the more enjoyable?

Monday, January 26, 2009

MYSTERY MAN Unmasked; Aka, Brennan Turns Fink

Like daffodils, snowdrops and gambolling lambs, the first sight of a Bateman review is a sure sign of spring. This year Gerard Brennan at CSNI has the honour, with the gist of his review of MYSTERY MAN running thusly:
This is probably Bateman’s most comedic novel to date, with practically a laugh a paragraph guaranteed. Some of the humour can make you feel a little guilty for laughing. To Bateman, political correctness is something that happens to other people, it would seem. It’s actually quite refreshing. The rest of the humour is of the semi-self-aware, self-deprecating variety that comes from the small revelations of the narrator’s personality. Each little nugget of information gradually builds to form one of the finest protagonists I’ve ever read. Yes, he even gives Dan Starkey a run for his money.
  For the rest, clickety-click here

Sunday, January 25, 2009

In Praise Of Pre-Loved Books

I know, I know, as a writer I should be encouraging readers to avoid second-hand bookstores as if they were biblical clich├ęs – but what can I tell you? I love second-hand bookstores. Here’s a piece of whimsy on the subject the Evening Herald was kind enough to publish …
There are a couple of drawbacks to having a book published, the main one being that most people assume that you’re earning JK Rowling-style loot, and expect you to stand every round. The truth is that most writers are as broke as Delhi orphans, and it’s wasting all their time writing that has them that way.
  Which is why, while most writers want you to buy a brand spanking new copy of their latest book, and preferably in hardback, said writers will generally be found haunting the murkier corners of your local second-hand bookshop. They’re addicted to books, after all -- the writing is just a symptom of a particularly bad affliction -- and they can’t afford to pay top dollar …
  For the rest, clickety-click here