“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, May 27, 2011

Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Fowl

I sat down with Eoin Colfer (right) last week, to interview him about his new novel, PLUGGED. The result reads a lot like this:

“I started writing stories before I could actually write,” says Eoin Colfer. “Which sounds strange, but I would scribble on a blackboard, these nonsensical lines, and in my mind I was writing a story, I knew what the story was about.”
  The adult Eoin Colfer is just as happy to let his imagination run riot. A phenomenal best-seller with his young adult Artemis Fowl novels, he turned last year to sci-fi, when he penned the latest instalment in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This year it’s adult crime fiction. PLUGGED is a comedy caper featuring an ex-Irish Army man, Danny McEvoy, deranged by baldness and set loose on the unsuspecting suburbs of New Jersey.
  Writers are advised to write about what they know, but Colfer presents himself in the Fitzwilliam Hotel with a full thatch of greying hair and a neatly trimmed beard, looking not unlike Al Pacino’s younger brother. The quietly spoken one, who doesn’t need to shout and beat his chest, who has nothing left to prove.
  “I really wanted to write PLUGGED for myself,” he says, “because I’d been writing for kids for ten years. But also I wanted to prove - mostly to myself, but to my friends too - that I could write for adults. Because there is a stigma attached to kids’ books, people say to you, ‘When are you going to write a real book?’ That said,” he laughs, “there’s a stigma attached to crime writing too. But maybe not so much.”
  Colfer has come a long way since the days when his children’s books were so successful that he decided to stop writing.
  “It was a tough time,” he says. “My wife had stopped teaching to open a shop, which we put all our savings into, and she wasn’t taking any salary - there wasn’t any salary to take (laughs). And I was teaching, and in the evenings I was minding the baby, putting the baby to bed, and then I’d try to write for a few hours. My early books all went to number one in the charts but I was only earning a couple of hundred quid per book. So something had to go, and the only thing that could go was the writing.”
  Cometh the hour, cometh the Fowl.
  “Well, boys have always liked an anti-hero, but when I finished the first Artemis, I thought, ‘I’m going to be murdered for this.’ This guy is feeding his friends drink, he’s a thief, a bad guy, he shoots his dad at one point … Luckily, in modern children’s fiction, he was the only one of his kind. Since then, there have been quite a few like him, and I’ve even been sent a couple of them to blurb, which I think is funny. I think the best one was a blatant mixture of Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter, it was kind of a criminal genius academy, with magic (laughs). It was actually quite good.”
  With a best-selling career in children’s books established, Colfer struck up an unlikely friendship with Ken Bruen, the hard-boiled laureate of Irish crime fiction. Bruen persuaded Colfer to contribute a short story to his collection of short stories, ‘Dublin Noir’, which was published in 2006.
  “I was never able to read that story at any of my events,” he says, “because it was always kids attending, but I did one late-night cabaret in Wexford a year ago and I read that story, and everyone was howling with laughter. Right up to the first swear-word I didn’t know whether I was going to chicken out, but then the first one went down so well, and I enjoyed reaction that very much. But I knew I couldn’t sustain that kind of nutcase humour for a whole book, it would get wearying, so I toned it down for the novel.”
  The result is PLUGGED. “I just wanted to go for it, cut loose. I’d been working with kids’ stories for ten years, and as a writer you want to show what you can do.”
  The story started out as a straight revenge thriller, with Lee Marvin movies a reference point, but quickly took on comic aspects.
  “I just find it difficult to write ‘straight’,” he says. “I think there’s an element of that kid in class who just can’t stand the silence, and bursts out laughing in the middle of a serious situation. I guess I don’t like it when I feel the reader might be reading something of mine and maybe getting fed up. So it’s a little bit of a lack of confidence, that you can’t just trust that your prose is going to hold up, that you have to throw in a few one-liners.
  “I’m still determined that some day I will write a serious book, but I have tried a few times already and it hasn’t worked out, so I just go back to the jokes. But at the same time, I think that’s a valid style. As long as you have a good story, any style is fine.”
  In PLUGGED, Colfer does play it straight with Dan McEvoy’s army experience.
  “That’s the one thing I didn’t want to mess with,” he acknowledges, “because the Irish army’s experience in Lebanon is something we’re very proud of as a country. So I didn’t want to start dicking around with that. But I sat down with a friend of mine who served over there, Declan Denny, and he told me some very interesting stories. Just interesting things like how during the day they’d meet the Christian militia on the road, and swap biscuits for milk, that kind of thing. And then the guy would say to Declan, ‘Okay, thank you. I won’t shoot at you tonight. I shoot, but not at you.’ And that kind of living, that day-to-day lunacy, and how they actually get used to it while they’re there, it’s amazing. So I tried to be respectful of that.”
  If PLUGGED lives up to sales expectations, we’ll be seeing Dan McEvoy again, very probably prowling the mean streets of Dublin.
  “Obviously,” he says, “I could write Artemis Fowl books for the rest of my life, that’s where the money is. But without challenging myself, the books would just plummet in quality, I think.”
  As for how PLUGGED will be received, Colfer’s own expectations are pragmatic.
  “It’s not Shakespeare, y’know? But I’m not trying to be Shakespeare. I’m just trying to have fun with a crime novel. And I think if you’re a real fan of crime fiction, this book is for you.”

  Eoin Colfer’s PLUGGED is published by Headline.

  This interview was first published in the Evening Herald.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

He Steals Souls

I interviewed Stuart Neville a couple of weeks back for an Irish Times interview, during which Stuart had this to say about his forthcoming novel, STOLEN SOULS, his third offering after THE TWELVE and COLLUSION:
“STOLEN SOULS is a much more streamlined thriller. Because the first couple of books, whether it was intentional or not, both have this very strong political slant, I really wanted to make a very definite step away from that. And I wanted too to give a nod to some of the thrillers I really enjoyed reading when I was younger. I was a big fan of those thrillers that were maybe 200 pages long and were just punch-punch-punch, that go full tilt from first to last page, no flab. So STOLEN SOULS really does hit the ground running, and doesn’t let up until the last page. There are far fewer organisations with three-letter acronyms, for starters (laughs). It can be hard to keep track of that kind of thing. It’s much more of a ticking-clock kind of thriller, and I hope that it’ll work for readers.”
  Intriguing stuff, with Stuart citing ’70s-set novels such as William Goldman’s MARATHON MAN as one inspiration. For the full interview, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, Stuart has contributed a short story, ‘The Craftsman’, to DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS. As I said to him at the time, if ‘The Craftsman’ is indicative of his new direction, we’re in for a defter, more subtle novel than the propulsive THE TWELVE and COLLUSION. For an audio version of ‘The Craftsman’, click here for the BBC iPlayer
  STOLEN SOULS, by the way, is published in October by Soho Crime.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Down These Green Streets: Niamh O’Connor on John Banville and Pat McCabe

Being the latest in Crime Always Pay’s erratic series to celebrate the publication of DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS, in which contributors to the collection nominate their favourite Irish crime novel. This week, it’s Niamh O’Connor:
“For me, it comes down to the choice between Pat McCabe’s THE BUTCHER BOY and John Banville’s THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE. Both were shortlisted for the Booker because both voices are so strong, reading either is like being in a vacuum. Both achieve that Holden Caulfield effect of managing to slightly warp the readers’ own view of the world. To pick one over the other, I had to ask myself who is more terrifying? Francie - a troubled boy with a suicidal mother, and an alcoholic father; or Freddie - a scientist, husband, and father who in the cold light of day makes a clinical confession that is as logical as it is conscience free. Who poses the greater threat to society? Frankie is a victim of his circumstances, intent on wreaking his revenge. Freddie is beyond hope of redemption, a man who has managed to master the maze of his own mind. Ultimately I think the answers, combined with the fact that THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE is based on the chilling true crime case of double murderer, Malcolm McArthur, the same case which prompted Charlie Haughey to coin the GUBU (Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre, Unprecedented) phrase, gives the Banville book the edge.” - Niamh O’Connor
  Niamh O’Connor’s TAKEN is published by Transworld Ireland.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Paint It Black


The Big Question: why do authors, when choosing a nom-de-plume as an Irish crime writer, go for Black? Ingrid Black, Benjamin Black, Sean Black … Why not Green? I’d pay good money to read the ‘entertainments’ of an Aloysius Greene.
  Anyhoo, Sean Black - who is about as Irish as haggis, but a good bloke with it; and anyway, he lives here - publishes the third in the Ryan Lock series of thrillers this August, GRIDLOCK, with the blurb elves wittering thusly:
Adult movie actress, Raven Lane, is one of the most lusted after women in America, with millions of fans to prove it. But when a headless corpse turns up in the trunk of her car, she realises that fame carries a terrible price. Fearing for her life, and with the LAPD seemingly unable to protect her, Raven turns to elite bodyguard, Ryan Lock for help. Lock stops bad things happening to good people, but can he stop the tidal wave of violence now threatening the city of Los Angeles as Raven’s predator targets - and kills - those closest to her? As events spiral out of control, Lock is drawn into a dangerous world where money rules, where sex is a commodity to be bought and sold, and where no one can be trusted, least of all his beautiful new client. But what he cannot know is the terrifying price he’s about to pay - just for getting involved ...
  Hmmm. Already this year we’ve had Casey Hill’s TABOO, which features a protagonist called Reilly Steel, which isn’t that far removed from real-life ‘adult movie actress’ Reilly Steele; and now Sean Black’s GRIDLOCK stars ‘adult movie actress’ Raven Lane. Is there a trend developing here? And can I jump the bandwagon early, thus belatedly justifying my lifetime’s research of the ‘adult movie’ industry? Only time, that notoriously doity rat, will tell …

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Clare O’Donohue

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?
For true crime, I’d love to take credit for IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote. It is, hands down, one of the best crime books I’ve read – fiction or non-fiction and has put me off ever writing true crime, since mine would be crap in comparison. For a novel, I’d be happy to have written the worst thing Donald Westlake ever wrote, because even his worst (if such a thing exists) is still really good.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Nora Charles in Dashiell Hammett’s THE THIN MAN. She was smart, funny, and could handle her liquor.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Porn. And quilting magazines. And recently I reread James Crumley’s THE LAST GOOD KISS for about the twentieth time.

Most satisfying writing moment?
I love it when I think I’ve written myself in a corner and I have no idea what my character will do. And then, while I’m driving, or trying to sleep or something, suddenly it comes to me – the way out of the mess and it all makes perfect sense and is completely right. It feels as though I’ve unlocked the secrets of the universe – until the next time I write myself into a corner.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I’m no expert on the subject, but I loved THE GUARDS, by Ken Bruen and Brian McGilloway’s Inspector Devlin series. I haven’t read any of Tana French’s book yet, though they are massively popular and on my ‘to read’ list.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Damn, that’s a hard question. I think there are so many dark, atmospheric Irish crime novels out there that it may be the next Sweden.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst is the money, the uncertainty, empty book signings, and wondering why someone else’s load of crap is doing better than my book. The best is the joy of writing itself, the hours, hanging out with other writers, and finding some other author’s book that is so off-the-charts good that I get inspired all over again.

The pitch for your next book is …?
I’m working on the second in my Kate Conway series. In this one, Kate, an American TV producer, is doing a documentary in a prison outside Chicago, talking with guys who are serving LWP sentences. An LWP is life without parole, which means they die there. Kate is generally a sarcastic type, not prone to excessive human interaction, but she finds herself entangled with these men, and with the mistress of her late husband. It leads to a lie, a murder, blackmail and who knows what else since I still have about eighty pages to write.

Who are you reading right now?
I’ve been reading two books. THE PSYCHOPATH TEST, by Jon Ronson, and STILL LIFE, by Louise Penny. Louise is one of those off-the-charts good writers who inspire me.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
God is a cruel duck. It’s like choosing between breathing and blinking my eyes. I guess I would choose writing. I love to read, but I have to write. (And despise saying it like that since it sounds so pretentious and annoying.)

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Way past deadline.

Clare O’Donohue’s MISSING PERSONS is published by Plume Books.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stella: Reassuringly Expansive*

Charlie Stella (right), and especially JOHNNY PORNO, remains one of the glaring gaps in my reading over the last few years, not least because he appears to be something of an American Ken Bruen, beloved by his peers as a writers’ writer. That’s something I’m going to have to remedy in short order, because Charlie, unprompted, has gone the extra mile on behalf of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE. To wit:
“Clever writing is something I enjoy. So is smart writing. Add some black humor to the mix, dialogue that smacks you with a smile and a genuine sense that the author knows well the surroundings/history, etc., of which he (or she) writes and you have a perfect storm of terrific reading. Harry Rigby is a “research consultant” (clever in itself) ... a self-loather of the first ilk, but one with a sense of justice balanced by pragmatism; you do what you can when you can do it. He’s got a particularly nasty brother he hasn’t seen in four years, a wife who doesn’t love him/nor he her, but they share a son they both love dearly. Trouble brews when the wife of a prominent politician offs herself (except she didn’t -- it look more like murder) ... one of Harry’s few friends has the pictures ... there’s the beautiful Kate (brother, did I want a date with her--proving I have some of this self-loathing thing in me as well because her comebacks rival Rigby’s) ... treachery abounds and it’s Christmas, for fucks sake. No spoilers here, but this is terrific writing that shouldn’t be missed; something my compassionate friend Doc will thoroughly enjoy for sure (his being a Jack Taylor fan and all).
  “Harry Rigby, the ultimate anti-hero, fights his own demons (including a death wish except for protecting his son) and some of the corrupt and powerful in and around his home town when murder comes a knockin’ at Christmas ... nothing short of brilliant writing is the highlight of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE ... absolutely brilliant writing.” - Charlie Stella
  Funnily enough, I’d been chatting with someone else a couple of days ago about EIGHTBALL, and saying that it makes the classic first novel mistake of throwing the kitchen sink (and the rest) at it, in the hope of making a decent impression. Then I got home to find Charlie’s take on it waiting for me. Just goes to show, there’s no second-guessing how someone’s going to read your book …
  Anyway, bless your cotton socks, Charlie Stella.
  If you’d like to take a punt on Harry Rigby, the Kindle version of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE can be found here on Amazon US, here on Amazon UK, and here on Amazon Germany. And hey, if you like it, don’t be shy about letting me know. Such are the tiny triumphs that make this writer’s life worth living …

  * If you haven’t seen the ‘reassuringly expensive’ Stella beer ads of recent times, feel free to ignore this headline.