And so dawns the day of the ball, during the course of which this particular Cinders is hoping that a crack squad of Fairy Godmothers will appear and sprinkle him with the necessary fairy dust. Yep, it’s the Irish Book Awards, and as all Three Regular Readers will be aware, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL has been shortlisted in the Crime Fiction section, alongside A DEATH IN SUMMER by Benjamin Black, TABOO by Casey Hill, BLOODLAND by Alan Glynn, THE BLOODY MEADOW by William Ryan and THE RECKONING by Jane Casey. The event takes place in the salubrious surroundings of the Concert Hall at the RDS, aka The Royal Dublin Society, and in truth I’m feeling mightily conflicted.
Why so? Well, for starters, the event is black tie. I’ve never worn a tuxedo before, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because the sight of a load of blokes crammed into ill-fitting penguin suits always looks a bit ridiculous. There’s also the fact that said suits are generally ill-fitting because most blokes have rented their tuxedos, which kind of defeats the purpose. The whole point of a tux is that it’s an expensive bit of kit, and the whole point of wearing one is to announce to the world at large that you’ve got the wherewithal to afford such an expensive piece of kit. Renting one seems to defeat the purpose, no? And then there’s the dicky-bow, which is by some distance, I think, the most preposterous piece of apparel ever invented. Not that that will be an issue for me. I absolutely refuse point blank to wear a dicky-bow. If it’s a black tie they want, then it’s a black tie they’ll get. And if that means that I turn up looking like I’m attending a funeral, then so be it.
I’m a little bit nervous too, if I’m honest. I’ve been shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards before, some years ago, for my debut offering, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE. That year the competition was every bit as tough as it is this year, the shortlist being comprised of Ken Bruen, Michael Collins, Ingrid Black and yours truly. Naturally, I didn’t win. I don’t expect to win this year, either; for what it’s worth, my gut instinct tells me that Casey Hill will walk away with the award, although it might also be worth watching out for Jane Casey, given that this is her second year in a row to be nominated. Mind you, I’ll only be really surprised if AZC wins; the shortlist really does comprise a fine body of writers. And I think it’s fair to say that had the shortlist been composed of an entirely different six authors, it would have been equally strong.
But this is where I’m also a little conflicted, because the prize will be awarded according to a public vote. Which essentially means that the award will go to whoever it is on the list has the most friends. I did my best to play along with the concept, letting people know at every opportunity that they could vote for their favourite book / writer, etc., but to be honest, my heart wasn’t in it. I think I’d have much preferred it had the shortlist been decided by public vote, and the award itself decided by a panel of judges. There’s a big difference between a book being the best book and the most popular book. Not that I’ll be complaining if by some chance my half-assed marketing campaign propels AZC to the top of the pile; all the same, I’d much prefer it got there on merit, as opposed to my persecuting people I know to vote for me.
Mostly, though, I’m feeling conflicted this morning because I’m currently working on a follow-up to AZC; although the conflict arises partially because the book isn’t a follow-up or any kind of logical follow-on from that book. ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, for those of you who don’t know, isn’t a conventional crime novel, playing as it does with meta-fiction and multiple narratives, and generally being more than a little bit bonkers as a hospital porter sets out to blow up his hospital. The current book, which I’m redrafting, is actually a sequel to EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, currently rejoicing in the working title THE BIG EMPTY, which follows former research consultant (aka private eye) Harry Rigby as he finds himself, yet again, up this oxters in illicit drugs and nefarious characters. Which is to say, it’s a comparatively straightforward crime novel narrative, even if things are rarely straightforward when Harry Rigby gets involved, and I really don’t know if it’s a good idea to follow an unconventional book like ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL with a conventional tale like THE BIG EMPTY.
It’s been something of a slog, this redraft, I have to say. Matters are not helped by the fact that this is the sixth redraft, or thereabouts, which means that virtually every page feels as flat as a map of canals. In fact, practically every line feels dust-dry, dead. Which is usually a good sign, and means that I’m rapidly getting to the point where I’ll have to let the book go; in fact, late last week I sat down at the desk and opened up the file, and got the old familiar feeling of my guts sloshing around. When reading your own stuff makes you feel physically sick, then you know it’s coming time to let go.
I passed the sixty-thousand word mark earlier this week, which means the beast’s back is broken; and even though I know I need to write an entirely new ending, of roughly fifteen thousand words, the end is in sight, and I should - all going well - have this draft finished in time to take an actual holiday over the Christmas period.
Will it be any good? My head says yes, this on the basis that people seemed to like the previous books; my heart says no, on the basis that I always think that this book is going to be the time I’ll be found out as a charlatan and spoofer. Conflicted? Oh yes.
So that’s the context in which I’ll be heading to the Irish Book Awards this evening, knowing in my heart, no matter what happens, that I’m a charlatan and spoofer. The only consolation there, I suppose, is that most of the writers I meet tonight will be feeling exactly the same thing.
“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.