Being the latest in what will probably be yet another short-lived series, in which yours truly reclines on a hammock by the pool with a jeroboam of Elf-Wonking Juice™ and lets a proper writer talk about the origins of his or her characters and stories. This week: Tony Black, author of the Gus Dury series.
“Back in the day, when I was still pounding the streets, notebook in hand and hangover hovering after a hard-night’s ‘hackwork’ (reviewing nightclubs for a Scottish tabloid) I had a thought: what the fuck can I really say about another club? More lights … a less sticky carpet? Something had to give.
“The night before, I’d been taken to the basement of a club in Glasgow,
introduced to a man in a Camel-coloured overcoat – and yes, his hair was slicked back too, clichés exist in the real world as well – who told me what he wanted to read in my review. He’d even gone to the trouble of making me a list that included a mention for his DJ son, Flava-Dave, (that might not have been his actual name).
“A week before, I’d been treated to a display of roundhouses, foot-sweeps and power punching – though thankfully not to my person – by another club owner, who, when done with his display, placed a firm hand on my shoulder and said: “I know where you live.”
“The job was becoming a chore. Even with the top-offs – the Nationals paid well for those then – about rival club owners dousing dance-floors in paraffin in the middle of the night, or standing over their own cashiers with bouncers in balaclavas, didn’t compensate. I jumped ship.
“Call it reactionary, but I went from the Scottish club scene to covering the courts for another daily newspaper. On my first day, fumbling about for the press box in a funky open-plan courtroom, I managed to sit myself down in the dock. The fiscal quickly sorted me out: “Don’t let the Beak catch you in there, he’ll do you for contempt.” I should have seen it as a sign.
“I spent a year or two watching a succession of overfed, tweedy arsewipes lording it over society’s misfortunates – single mothers who hadn’t been able to pay the rent, ex-service men who couldn’t get a handle on civvy street, bored scheemie teens, cadaverous addicts … the list was endless. The justice, swift.
“By this stage, I’d become a fully-paid up cynical hack. I didn’t need a stint covering the newly-formed Scottish Parliament, or should I say the shiny-arsed careerists that filled it, to tell me there was something rotten in Denmark … or another small Northern European country. Life was looking very Noir to me.
“I’d been invited to a press call, a Minister for something-or-other, was giving a speech and being a hack my job was to ask a few questions and get a story that wasn’t the manufactured media release. I stood outside the venue in the biting cold, waiting for the limo to show. When it did, the Minister was quickly ushered inside without so much as a nod to the assembled. His speech lasted less than a minute, then he was off, racing for the door. I tried to waylay him as he left but as I produced my Dictaphone I was quickly surrounded by men in black. Another three Dictaphones appeared over my shoulder as I spoke.
“I never got my story. What I did get was knots in my stomach, a bollicking from my boss, and a desire to expose the hypocrisy. When I got home that night, Gus Dury was born. I replayed the scene I’d just been through with the Minister and put Dury in my boots – he handled it differently – swinging for the flunkies and landing a flying headbutt on the Minister. The scene survives in PAYING FOR IT, my first novel featuring Gus Dury.
“What influences an author to draw a character in a certain way is not always clear; unconscious motivation comes into play and any dissection of the origins of a character or a book, especially when recounted by the author, must be questionable. But I do know for sure I wanted to make Dury a failed hack. I wanted to use my experiences, and expand on them, to produce a deeply cynical protagonist who had fallen so low that he didn’t much care about the next bend in the road.
“Four books later, the journey has been a bit of a vertical fall for Dury, but the latest in the series, LONG TIME DEAD, shows he is starting to turn things around. The cynicism is still there, the anger and desire for justice too, but there is only so much bullshit one man can take. As Hemingway said, ‘The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.’” - Tony Black
Tony Black’s LONG TIME DEAD is published by Preface Publishing.
“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.