“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.

Friday, October 22, 2010

On Blowing Up Hospitals For Charity

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away (February 17th, to be precise, in a parallel universe where generosity rules), I wrote a piece about self-publishing my current novel-under-consideration, aka A GONZO NOIR, aka BAD FOR GOOD. The response was truly humbling - the three regular readers of Crime Always Pays obviously have a lot of friends.
  The idea at the time was to ‘crowd-fund’ the publication of A GONZO NOIR, by asking people to pledge a certain amount of money to the Kickstarter site. Once the sum required to self-publish was achieved, I’d go ahead and publish, and everyone who pledged would receive a brand spanking new copy of the novel. The response, as I say, was fantastic - and thanks to everyone who got in touch warning me against the idea too, the idea being to protect me from myself.
  Before I go any further - and a hard sell’s a-gonna fall, don’t doubt that - let me take a moment to reassure any non-regular readers that I’m not just another self-deluding moron, or at least that I’m not a self-deluding moron when it comes to writing books. I took the liberty of sending out the m/s to a number of writers late last year, requesting blurbs if the novel should ever be published, and a sample runs thusly:
“A genuinely original take on noir, inventive and funny. Imagine, if you can, a cross between Flann O’Brien and Raymond Chandler.” – John Banville, author of THE SEA

“BAD FOR GOOD is unlike anything else you’ll read this year … Laugh-out-loud funny … This is writing at its dazzling, cleverest zenith. Think John Fowles, via Paul Auster andRolling Stone … a feat of extraordinary alchemy.” – Ken Bruen, author of AMERICAN SKIN

“Burke has written a deep, lyrical and moving crime novel … an intoxicating and exciting novel of which the master himself, Flann O’Brien, would be proud.” – Adrian McKinty, author of FIFTY GRAND

“Stop waiting for Godot – he’s here. Declan Burke takes the existential dilemma of characters writing themselves and turns it on its ear, and then some. He gives it body and soul … an Irish soul.” – Reed Farrel Coleman, author of EMPTY EVER AFTER
  For more, and for reviews of my previous novels, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE and THE BIG O, scroll down and glance to your left. Meanwhile, the most recent big-up I’ve had was from The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Bateman, writing in the Guardian blogs:
“If you want to find something new and challenging, comic crime fiction is now the place to go … Declan Burke [is] at the vanguard of a new wave of young writers kicking against the clichés and producing ambitious, challenging, genre-bending works.” Colin Bateman, author of THE DAY OF THE JACK RUSSELL
  For a taster of what A GONZO NOIR is actually about, clickety-click here
  Now, the hard sell:
  It’s only fair to say that the reaction to A GONZO NOIR has been mixed. Some commissioning editors just didn’t like it, and that’s fair enough. Most did like it, and some even loved it, but the general vibe was that the novel isn’t commercial enough for them to take a gamble on. What that means, I suppose, is that it’s unlikely to sell in many multiples of thousands. Again, fair enough - that’s the way in the industry works, and my sales record to date isn’t exactly sending the boys over at Nielsen into a frenzy.
  It may be naïve, but for what I have in mind, A GONZO NOIR doesn’t have to sell in multiples of thousands. Let me give you some figures:
  According to a quote I’ve received from a UK print-on-demand company, I can get 500 copies of A GONZO NOIR published to industry standard for the princely sum of £1,596.92 stg, which works out at €1,802 (I’ll be using euro from here on in). If I order online, the company delivers the 500 copies for free, which is a nice bonus. That means that the raw cost to me is €3.60 per book. Including post and packaging, the overall cost of the book (were I to post you - yes, YOU! - a copy) is €8.35. If I price the book at €10 (£8.86 / $13.92), that leaves me with a profit of €1.65 per book, or €825 if I sell out the entire run of 500 copies.
  Now, €825 is not a sum of money to be sneezed at in these benighted times, but neither is going to buy me that Greek island I’ve been hankering after for a number of years now. So - what to do with the whopping €825 profit?
  Well, I’ll divert you for a moment to the fact that the Minister for Health, Mary Harney, has announced that the Irish Health Service is to be filleted to the tune of €1 billion in the next budget. That’s €1 billion on top of already serious cuts, and with even more savage cuts to come as the wasters who run this country - or have already run it into the sand - prey on the most vulnerable in order to bail out the bankers, speculators, bluffers, gamblers and sundry other parasites whose debts have been lowered onto the shoulders of the Irish people.
  I’ll also point you, yet again, to the wonderfully subversive philanthropists at the Concord Free Press, who’ve given me the idea for what follows:
Given that A GONZO NOIR is a black farce about a psychopath who wants to blow up a hospital, and that it features my lovely daughter Lily, and that the staff of the Children’s Hospital in Tallaght were absolutely fantastic during Lily’s stay there last year (see above), I’m planning - all going well - to donate the €825 to the Children’s Hospital in Tallaght.
  Yes, I know very well that €825 isn’t even a drop in the ocean of that €1 billion in cuts. But it’s something. And you never know, if we sell out of the 500 copies, we might just get to do another print run. Because the longer this recession goes on, and the worse it gets - and it’s going to get a hell of a lot worse in Ireland before it gets any better, if it ever does - the more ordinary people need to make gestures that actually mean something. The more we need to look out for one another. Because if we’re depending on the fools who got us into this mess to get us out of it, we’ll be a long, long time waiting.
  Anyway, the bad news is that Kickstarter doesn’t allow for charitable projects when it comes to raising funds, so the good news for you - yes, YOU! - is that you don’t need to pledge a penny. But I would appreciate it if you could find the time and space to spread the word about A GONZO NOIR. Because, for good or ill, I’m going to do this. It certainly beats sitting on my hands and bleating helplessly about Cowen, Lenihan, Harney, Anglo-Irish, NAMA, and all the rest of it. Over to you, folks - and thanks in advance.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Origins: Tony Black

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.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Miles Corwin

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 MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Alejandro Stern in PRESUMED INNOCENT.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Sportswriters who write books.

Most satisfying writing moment?
When I finished the first chapter of my first novel and realized I could finish it.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I haven’t read a lot of Irish crime fiction, but I just finished THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST by Stuart Neville and thought it was terrific.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
See above.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The best thing is being able to delay growing up. The worst thing is, because you’ve delayed growing up, you haven’t paid attention to a lot of things that could have made you money.

The pitch for your next book is …?
A cross between THE BIG SLEEP and GOODBYE COLUMBUS.

Who are you reading right now?
AGENT ZIGZAG by Ben MacIntyre.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Read.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Realistic. Gritty. Compassionate.

Miles Corwin’s KIND OF BLUE is published by Oceanview Publishing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bertie Ahern And The Curious Case Of The Missing Bank Account

Yours truly had a very enjoyable Saturday morning last weekend, largely due to the good folk at Dublin City Libraries, who organised a Readers’ Day for representatives of 130 Book Clubs that centred on crime fiction. Kathy Reichs was the main attraction, and very attractive she was, too, as she answered the questions posed by Myles McWeeney, crime fiction reviewer for the Irish Independent and friend to Irish crime writers. The readers were polite enough to stay in their seats for the subsequent panel, which was hosted by poet Theo Dorgan (we do such things posh in Dublin, see) and featured the ever-radiant Niamh O’Connor, true-crime writer Barry Cummins and your humble host discussing the topic, ‘Crime Writing - Stranger Than Fiction’.
  It was a strange and enervating panel to be on. Niamh has published true-crime books and crime fiction, Barry writes true-crime books (his latest, WITHOUT TRACE, has just been released), and I write crime fiction. Given that Barry’s books deal with missing persons, women for the most part, some of the conversation was poignant at best, and often harrowing. Meanwhile, Niamh was talking about how some of the true crime stories she comes across with her journalist’s hat on would be laughed out of her publisher’s office if she had the temerity to pitch them as fiction. Which got me thinking - out loud, unfortunately - about Bertie Ahern and The Curious Case of the Missing Bank Account.
  There’s been a lot of waffle in Ireland recently, mostly among the literary establishment chatterati, about the absence of the Great Celtic Tiger Novel (I’d humbly suggest that Alan Glynn has already written it, in WINTERLAND, but that’s a conversation for another day). Anyhoo, the point I made was that the Great Celtic Tiger Novel, if it is yet to come, will almost certainly be a crime novel. How could it be otherwise when an entire nation was scammed out of its children’s and grandchildren’s future by an elite Golden Circle of thieves, chancers, bluffers, rip-off merchants and corrupt politicians, the entire process overseen by Chief Chancer and Greatest Living Irish Wastrel, Bertie Ahern, aka the Indian in the Cupboard, who, as leader of the country, and former Minister for Finance, and a qualified accountant, managed to negotiate his entire adult life and professional career without ever feeling the need to open a single bank account.
  Now, the mystery is not where the money went, or where those betting slips Bertie claimed to have won all that cash on went to (betting slips!), but what to do with the raw material. In other words, is the story of BERTIE AHERN AND THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE MISSING BANK ACCOUNT a tragedy or a farce? Is it crime fiction or comedy? Not that I want to be flippant about it, because the stringent cut-backs in front-line services means that old and sick people will die sooner than they might have due to Bertie Ahern’s wilful spend-spend-spend philosophy when he was in power; some people will die young for the want of emergency services who might well have lived long and fruitful lives; and then there’s the silent epidemic of suicide sweeping Ireland at the moment, as those despairing of their future and convinced of their uselessness finally take the advice Bertie Ahern offered when he was being warned of the dangers of overheating a property bubble, and have gone off, as Bertie suggested, and killed themselves.
  It so happens, by the way, that Bertie Ahern, aka The Indian in the Cupboard, is contemplating running for the presidency next year. If I had my way, he’d be running for his life at the head of a pike-wielding mob, or at the very least on the run from the long arm of the law, on a trumped-up charge of economic treason. But that’s just me.
  Anyway, folks, let me know what you think: should BERTIE AHERN AND THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE MISSING BANK ACCOUNT be a crime fiction novel or a comi-tragic farce? Hardboiled noir or fantasy-speculative fiction? Hell, maybe we could turn it into a musical. Over to you …

Sunday, October 17, 2010

An Open Letter To Janet Evanovich

Dear Ms Evanovich -

  I hope you are well. As I understand it, there was a story in the media earlier this year that suggested (perhaps erroneously) that your agent had sought on your behalf the sum of $40 million for your next four books. It was with great excitement, therefore, that I opened your latest novel, WICKED APPETITE, which I presumed would provide me with roughly $10 million worth of humorous crime / mystery japery.
  It would appear, however, that I accidentally received an ARC copy that has had all the jokes taken out, perhaps because your publishers fear some humourless and pedantic plagiarist such as myself might steal said jokes and use them for himself. Would it be possible to get a copy of the novel with all the jokes put back in, please? Or maybe just one joke per chapter, if that’s not risking too much.
  I did, I must confess, enjoy your one running gag of having your characters only ever ‘roll’ or ‘cut’ their eyes at one another, on the basis (presumably) that your heroine is a pastry chef, and spends a considerable amount of time ‘cutting’ and / or ‘rolling’ the various ingredients for her delicious cakes and pies. I did find it intensely irritating at first, of course, but I soon realised that no self-respecting author would so limit themselves so without good reason, and very quickly made the ‘pastry chef’ leap. My only concern is that those readers of yours who lack my appreciation of your subtle wit might not make the same leap as quickly, but I suppose you know best.
  Finally, I’m a little worried that your keyboard is playing up, because it appears to omit the word ‘of’ at crucial moments - for example, ‘a couple muffins’, ‘a couple cupcakes’, ‘a couple stones’, etc. I counted at least 15 examples of this omission, which might irritate readers who are even more pedantic than I. May I make a humble suggestion? If your keyboard is not capable of writing the word ‘of’, simply substitute ‘two’ (if you mean ‘two muffins’) or ‘a few’ (if you mean ‘a few muffins’) instead of ‘a couple of’. It’s a small thing, I know, but some readers may believe you’re trying out a meaningless stylistic tic that is so infuriating it prompts them to run out and buy every copy of WICKED APPETITE they can find in order to build a proper bonfire, and I’d hate for you to think that it was because some humourless pedants believe that WICKED APPETITE is bland rubbish.

  Yours sincerely,

  Declan Burke