“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. “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, August 5, 2011
The sign on the door says ‘Toad Hall’ but I call it ‘The Cave’. Yea, verily, this is where the magic happens, on the rare occasion when it happens: the Writing Room.
It’s a remarkably bright room for a cave, of course. For some reason I need lots of light, perhaps because most of my fiction gets written between the hours of 5am-7.30am. Light isn’t a problem during the summer months, when it’s generally bright outside by 4.30am; in the winter, though, which is always a more productive time for me, light becomes something of a metaphor, I think. Writing a novel, or the way I write one, at least, is a kind of spelunking, in which I advance further and further into the darkness of a cave with only a tiny light, aka the sentence I’m working on, to guide the way. I trip and stumble, bark my shins and bang my head on overhangs, walk into walls … and that light at the end of the tunnel, to further mangle the metaphor, is as often as not a psychopathic miner. Wot larks, eh Pip?
As for the rest, well, you can’t tell from the photo above, but the cave is lined on three walls by books. Apart from everything else, floor-to-ceiling books make for wonderful insulation, and the most interesting wallpaper you could ever have. The shelves over the desk - the top two - are taken up by Irish crime novels, which have now begun to spill down onto the third shelf, and at the rate Irish crime writers are churning them out, I’m gonna need a bigger boat.
The three shelves you can’t see, which lie to the right of the map in the top right of the picture, are taken up with work-related books: books for review, books to be read for interview prep, background material, etc. There is currently in the region of 75 books in that particular pile. The shelf to the top left of the computer monitor is my non-work reading, when I can fit it in; right now I’m dipping very tentatively into writing a spy novel, and I’m also in the first flush of a passionate affair with baseball, so it’s a mixed bag up there.
The shelves to the left of the desk hold my own stuff, books I’ve been lucky enough to have published to date, occasionally in translation. So far I’ve been translated into French and Dutch (EIGHTBALL BOOGIE), with an Italian translation of THE BIG O to come early next year. As of this week, French and Italian publishers have expressed an interest in ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, which officially launches next week; and an American publisher is taking a long, hard look at it too.
I write on a PC, as you can see. The traditionalist in me wishes it was a typewriter, but about 90% of the work done on the PC is non-fiction, given that I work full-time as an arts journalist, and were I to lose the convenience of a computer, and particularly its internet connection, then the Writing Room would very quickly come to resemble a real cave. I learned to type as part of a pre-employment course I took in genealogy many moons ago, not long after bailing out of a Business-related degree I was doing at my local college; I don’t know what my typing speed is, but it’s not bad, even if the backspace key is the most worn on any keyboard I’ve ever owned.
The monitor is ‘decorated’ with a passport picture of my little girl, Lily in the top left corner; a set of Greek kombolói, or worry beads; a tiny bas relief of a Greek fishing village, complete with windmill; and a quote from Isak Dinesen, aka Karen Blixen: ‘I write a little every day, without hope and without despair.’
Up on the shelf of my non-work reading material, by the way, I have a framed newspaper rip-out paraphrasing Samuel Beckett: ‘Try again, fail again, fail better.’
Elsewhere on the desk are the writing essentials: a notepad and pen; a pack of rolling tobacco, along with papers and a lighter; and a mug of coffee. To paraphrase one of the Russians: ‘All I need to write is a man, a woman and an ashtray.’ I’ll be giving up the smokes (again) in the New Year; Lily is now old enough to ask why, if cigarettes are so nasty, as Daddy always says, he insists on smoking them. And there’s no good answer to that.
The map on the right of the picture, by the way, is a map of Western Crete, which is where my current novel is set. The picture to the right of the PC monitor is a self-portrait by my uncle, Jimmy, who passed away three years ago. Formerly the Head Designer of Waterford Glass, Jim was something of an amateur scribbler himself, and an artist, a modest Renaissance Man in general, who was hugely inspirational and supportive of my earliest efforts to write. I like the idea that he’s keeping an eye on me as I stumble blindly through the cave.