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?
THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES by Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. Although not strictly a crime writer, Bolaño was hugely influenced by the genre. This large, sprawling novel follows the lives of two South American poets from the perspective of a whole range of narrators who drift in and out of their lives. It starts off in Mexico in the 1970s and follows its central characters to Europe, The Middle East and Africa. The diverse narrative voices can be a bit disconcerting and they often focus on their own stories and barely mention the main protagonists. It demands that the reader work and almost become a detective, trying to sift through the testimonies and piece together the movements of the two poets.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Pepe Carvalho, who appears in a series of novels by the late Spanish novelist Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. Carvalho lives in Barcelona [a decided advantage when you are sitting in Co Down on a rain-sodden November morning], enjoys gourmet cooking, fine wine, becomes involved with cases that are never that difficult to solve and seems to get laid a lot without trying too hard.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
I've a soft spot for science fiction but only now and again ... Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novels [not the sword and sorcery stuff], Robert A Heinlein and a bit of Philip K Dick. It is interesting how their speculation about a multiverse, which they first aired in the 1960s, now seems to be gaining credibility with modern science.
Most satisfying writing moment?
Five thousand words in a night-long session which just flowed and became the basis of my short story The Druids’ Dance, published in the anthology REQUIEMS FOR THE DEPARTED, which was published earlier this year. Usually I write in spurts and splice the results together. Although I don’t regard myself as a crime writer as such, REQUIEMS was an opportunity to experiment in the genre and to meet and be published alongside some of the best crime writers on the Irish scene at present.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
REDEMPTION by Francis Stuart. Set in late 1940s, it tells the story of an Irishman who spent the war years in Germany and who returns to Ireland, which had remained neutral. It strips back the shallow moral values of quiet rural Irish town for which the war was just a rumour and which are exposed when a girl, of easy virtue, is murdered. It is told from the point of view someone who witnessed the total breakdown of human civilization in war-ravaged Europe. Stuart remains a sore point with many people in Ireland because of his war-time activities in Nazi Germany, but that doesn’t devalue his novels, which often confront easy assumptions about right and wrong.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
A story by Gerard Brennan called Hard Rock which first appeared on the ThugLit website, and which is due to appear in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH CRIME next year, would make an excellent movie, although possibly with a triple-x rating. My first novel, THE LOST CHORD, told the story of a debauched Irish rock star who ‘disappeared’ and the persistent rumours that he was still alive. However, the characters who appear in Gerard’s story make my characters seem like members of Westlife … it was the most depraved, disgusting and sick piece of writing I have ever read. Fair play to him.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The widespread recognition, the constant offers of film deals, publishers and agents battering at my door offering huge sums of money for my next novel … it can be both a curse and blessing.
The pitch for your next book is …?
Part adventure story, part psychological thriller and part new-age philosophy, ECOPUNKS is an environmental parable for the 21st century.
Who are you reading right now?
A biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn by the English novelist DM Thomas. Solzhenitsyn fought for the USSR during the Second World War but was arrested for criticising Stalin and sentenced to eight years hard labour in a gulag and then exiled to Kazakhstan when he was released, where he nearly died from cancer. He used his experiences as the basis of his novels and reportage but fell foul of the Soviet regime in the 1970s and was exiled to the West, where he rounded on the lack of integrity of Western governments who thought he would be a literary battering ram to attack communism with. A truly epic life.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read ... It would be a relief, in some ways.
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Gnarled, tortured prose. It’s not really, but I just liked the sound of that … better than ‘can’t really spell’.
ECOPUNKS by Tony Bailie is published by Lagan Press.
“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.