“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.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

On Dennis Lehane And The Emperor’s New Clothes

I would have loved, at about 9.50am yesterday morning, to be able to travel back in time about 25 years to let my 17-year-old self know what my schedule looked like yesterday. Yes, I know it breaks all the time-travelling rules to meet yourself, and interact and thus change the future, but 17-year-old me was just about to leave school in the recession-hit 1980s, and was facing emigration and the building site as an almost certain career path; he also wanted to be a writer, and failing that, a journalist of some stripe, journalism being a pretty decent second best to actual writing when it comes to earning a living, although at the time I might as well have wanted to be an astronaut for all the likelihood of my becoming either.
  As it happened, my 17-year-old self eventually did emigrate, and worked for a time on a London building site, and not a bit of harm it did me. Fast-forward to yesterday morning, 10am, when I was sitting down with Dennis Lehane to interview him for a newspaper, this at a time when I had roughly 300 pages left to read of Lehane’s magisterial THE GIVEN DAY, about which the worst you can say is that it’s only 702 pages long. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favour and put away your current reading and pick it up. If it’s not the best novel you read all year, you’ll be having a very good reading year indeed.
  The good news, by the way, is that Lehane is currently at work on the second part of what is intended to be a ‘Given Day’ trilogy.
  Dennis Lehane, I’m delighted to report, is as engaging as he is down-to-earth, which shouldn’t really have been a surprise, given that (a) he hails from South Boston, and (b) it’s a rule of thumb in the crime fiction community that, with very few exceptions, there appears to be some kind of weird ratio in which talent equals a good heart. Odd but true.
  That interview done and dusted, I headed out to Stillorgan, there to interview CJ Box, an equally pleasant man who is on tour promoting both his latest offering, the second Cody Hoyt novel BACK OF BEYOND, and the fact that Corvus are in the process of publishing his back catalogue of Joe Pickett novels at a rate of one per month.
  Then it was back into town, first to loll about reading 150 pages of THE GIVEN DAY, and then on to Eason’s of O’Connell Street, where I sat down with Dennis Lehane again, this time to quiz him for public interview. It was one of those evenings that could have gone on for hours: we ran 10 minutes over the allotted time for the interview, and even at that I didn’t get to wedge Lehane’s work on ‘The Wire’ into the conversation.
  Off then to Wagamama on the Quays for a very nice plate of noodles washed down with Asahi beer, in the company of Dennis, Dave O’Callaghan of Eason’s, the wonderful Margaret Daly, and the lovely Ciara Doorley.
  All told, a very good day indeed, and all this in the context, as All Three Regular Readers will know, of my own novel, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, appearing in three weeks time, said tome bearing blurbs on the front and back from John Banville and Ken Bruen, respectively.
  Maybe it’s just as well I can’t time-travel. Had I been able to tell my 17-year-old self all of that, he would have broken down in tears and / or had his head explode.
I guess every writer has his or her own motive for writing. Some want to be the best prose stylist ever read. Others want to tell stories. Some get into it to make their fortune. Some just want to be famous, rich or otherwise. And on it goes.
  When I was 17, my ambition was to write books that other writers liked. It was as simple as that, and as complicated. It’s no less complicated or simple today. That might well be a bad thing - I can’t think of any other ambition I had at 17 that hasn’t been abandoned or changed, mostly as a result of good sense or reality intruding - but you can’t lie to yourself. I still don’t want to get rich from writing, and I have no particular desire to be famous; maybe I should know better, but really, all I want from writing is for other writers to like my books.
  These days, that ambition is a little more pragmatic than ego-tickling; if those readers who became writers like my stuff, then there’s a pretty decent chance that those readers who aren’t writers might too.
  What I wouldn’t have told my 17-year-old self, had I been able to time-travel yesterday, is that even 25 years on, I’d still feel like a fake. That when I sit across a table from Dennis Lehane, say, and shoot the breeze about ‘the work’, and how all that matters is what’s produced, rather than the whys and hows, I’ll feel like a charlatan, a spoofer, a con artist. Matters aren’t helped right now by the fact that I’m finding it very difficult to gain traction on a new story I’ve started, which is almost always the case, but right now it feels like a very serious case of amnesia when it comes to writing two sequential sentences that are even remotely interesting to me, let alone anyone else.
  But even at the best of times, when I’m writing a thousand words and more per day for four or five days in a row, there’s always the nagging doubt in the back of my head, which manifests itself physically as something slimy slithering around in my guts. Maybe it’s as straightforward as an inferiority complex; maybe it’s a little bit more complicated than that, and derives from the audacity of wanting to rate my own books against those of, say, Dennis Lehane. Ultimately, though, I think it’s probably a fear of being found out, of a good writer one day pointing the finger at me and without malice or any agenda, announcing that I’m the worst case of the emperor’s new clothes he’s ever seen.
  Because here’s the conundrum. I want good writers to like my books, which means I need first to be a good writer; but in my heart (and gut) I know my books aren’t good enough for me, never mind anyone else.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Suffer, Little Children

Taoiseach Enda Kenny crossed the Rubicon last Wednesday, when he made a powerful speech in the Dail about the Cloyne Report and the Vatican’s attempt to frustrate the latest inquiry into child sex abuse by members of the Catholic Church. He did not mince his words. To wit:
“The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’ … Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict’s “ear of the heart” . . . the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer … This calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  As it happened, Tom Phelan’s NAILER arrived in the post on Wednesday, and on the face of it, the novel couldn’t be more timely. Quoth the blurb elves:
Ireland, 2007. In the midland counties of Laois and Offaly, two former members of the religious Order of Saint Kieran, which once ran Dachadoo Industrial School for boys, are murdered within weeks of each other, their bodies found nailed to the floor. Detectives Tom Breen and Jimmy Gorman are assigned to track down “Nailer,” as the killer is nicknamed. They warn local clerical outcasts that Nailer may be working off a list. The editor of the national newspaper The Telegraph, delighted Ireland seems to have its own serial killer, dreams of a huge spike in revenues. Meanwhile, investigative reporters Pauline Byron and Mick McGovern are put on the story. As Nailer continues to kill, Pauline surmises that he may be getting revenge—or justice—for something that happened in Dachadoo decades earlier. As the past is uncovered and the pursuit for Nailer heats up, the shocking truth about the Church-run industrial schools is revealed.
  Tom Phelan, incidentally, is a former priest, which may well give NAILER a potent authenticity. More to follow …

Thursday, July 21, 2011

ZERO Hour # 2: That All-Important ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL Update

First off, and as some of the Three Regular Readers will be aware, I got in touch last week with the crime fiction community, craving a boon and asking that they might give my forthcoming tome a mention, if it wasn’t too much trouble. As always, the response to such a request has been little short of humbling, and if you’re a regular visitor to the on-line network of crime and mystery blogs, I apologise here and now if you’re already sick to death of hearing about ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL.
  By the same token, the small but perfectly formed Liberties Press is competing on the same playing field as publishing behemoths with literally millions to spend on promotion and marketing, so I really can’t afford not to throw myself upon the kindness of strangers. Should I feel embarrassed about relentlessly plugging AZC? Perhaps. Do I? Not in the slightest.
  Because here’s the thing. I can’t guarantee you that you’ll love or even like AZC, but I can guarantee that it’s fresh and different, and ‘unlike anything else you’ll read all year’, as Ken Bruen says on the jacket cover. In other words, I’ve worked very hard to create a crime novel that doesn’t trade on the usual conventions and tropes, that doesn’t feature the latest world-weary and cynical boozy PI, or morosely introspective Scandinavian, or quasi-Bond hero defeating the forces of evil via one interminable helicopter chase after another. I can’t say it’s the best book you’ll read all year, and I can’t even say that you won’t have come across a similar story before; what I can say is that you won’t find in AZC what seems to me to have become, if I may be so bold as to make sweeping generalisations, the defining characteristic of the vast majority of contemporary crime novels, which is, however well written any book is, the simplistic pieties of some liberal sadist masquerading as an authentic exploration of modern society, but which is first and foremost designed to ring bells on cash registers.
  Anyway, and back to my original point: a heartfelt thanks to all of you who have responded so positively to my request for a plug or a mention at your own on-line lairs. I thank you all kindly …
  Meanwhile, I’ve been interviewed over at Speaking Volumes, and good fun it was too. Here be an excerpt:
Which fictional character would you most like to meet? What might you say / ask them?

“Jesus Christ. Which isn’t to say that Jesus of Nazareth is a fictional character per se; as far as I know, He did exist. What I’m fascinated by — and I’m not religious, or spiritual — I’m mostly fascinated by the narrative process and how Jesus of Nazareth became Jesus Christ. And I’d like to sit down with Him and find out what His real story was, what it was He hoped to achieve. Did He believe Himself at the time to be the Son of God, or is the metaphysical aspect of his mission and message the most potent case of historical revisionism ever written? And if so, to what extent?
  “I’d love to know what Jesus of Nazareth Himself believed. Was He simply trying to reform the Jewish religion of the time? Was His message hijacked for political purposes? I think that would make for a fairly interesting conversation.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Finally, the ever-radiant and very fine writer Arlene Hunt was kind enough to go the extra mile whilst plugging AZC, with the gist of her considered opinion running thusly:
“Laugh-out-loud funny in places, Twin Peaks-tastic in others, ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL kept me up a number of late nights snuffling and tittering as Billy Karlsson dragged me from one jaw-dropping scene to another … A cracking, adrenaline-popping rollercoaster of a novel. I heartily recommend it.” - Arlene Hunt
  I thank you kindly, ma’am …
  For anyone wondering what all the fuss is about, feel free to click on this link here

Here, Baby, Here

If you’re not doing anything else this forthcoming Friday, July 22nd, and you’re in Dublin, you could do a lot worse than wander into Eason’s on O’Connell Street, where the justifiably revered Dennis Lehane (right) will be in situ. The author of the celebrated Kenzie and Gennaro series of novels - the most recent of which is MOONLIGHT MILE - along with standalones MYSTIC RIVER, SHUTTER ISLAND and THE GIVEN DAY, Dennis Lehane is a rare beast, a critically acclaimed bestseller with the artistic licence and ambition to repeatedly push himself out of his comfort zone.
  He may also be the most successfully adapted novelist of his generation: GONE, BABY, GONE, MYSTIC RIVER and SHUTTER ISLAND have all transferred brilliantly to the silver screen, courtesy of directors Ben Affleck, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese, respectively. And if that wasn’t enough, Dennis Lehane has also won awards for his writing for HBO’s epic series, ‘The Wire’.
  There’s a downside to Friday’s event, of course, and it’s that yours truly will be ‘in conversation’ with Dennis Lehane, aka skulking just out of the spotlight and hoping that my questions don’t cause him to fall off his stool laughing and / or as result of being rendered comatose with boredom. Still, I promise to keep out of the way as much as possible, given that this is a rare opportunity for readers to meet with a writer who has become a living legend at the tender age of 46.
  For all the details on how to book tickets, clickety-click here

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

There’s No PLACE Like Home

Boo. I was under the impression that Tana French’s new novel, BROKEN HARBOUR, was due later this summer, but my ever-reliable moles in the industry (aka a quick squint at Amazon) tells me that BROKEN HARBOUR won’t be appearing until next March.
  That said, there’s a lot of Tana French around at the moment, most of it celebrating the release of the paperback of FAITHFUL PLACE, with Michael Malone leading the charge over at May Contain Nuts. An excerpt runs thusly:
MM: Your bio reads that you spent much of your childhood travelling - has this impacted on your ability to have a “Faithful Place” of your own?

TF: “I think my international-brat childhood played a big part in shaping FAITHFUL PLACE. You’re always fascinated by what’s alien and inaccessible to you, and I’ve always been fascinated by people and places whose roots go deep – people who are part of a centuries-old, tight-knit community where every relationship is shaped by generations’ worth of interaction and knowledge. That’s not something I’ll ever have, and that’s the world where FAITHFUL PLACE is set: the Liberties, an inner-city neighbourhood that’s one of Dublin’s oldest.
  “At the same time, though, Dublin is the nearest thing I’ve got to a home. I’ve lived here since 1990; it’s the only city I know inside out, all the accents, all the short cuts, the sense of humour and the best pubs. In a lot of ways FAITHFUL PLACE is a love song to Dublin, with all its flaws.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Meanwhile, over at Milo’s Rambles, Tana French is interviewed by, erm, Tana French. You know what to do
  Finally, the inestimable Shotsmag has an intriguing piece, again from Tana, in which she offers her five favourite novels that deal with blood ties. One click and you’re there

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

CaSI: Dublin

I mentioned last week that Benny Blanco, aka Benjamin Black, aka John Banville, will see his Quirke novels adapted for a TV series in the UK, and lo! Hardly had the dust settled than another TV series has been announced for an Irish crime writer, or more accurately the pair of Irish crime writers known as CaSI, oops, Casey Hill. Quoth the PR elves:
TV rights to TABOO, the debut thriller by Irish bestselling author Melissa Hill and husband Kevin, have this week been snapped up by a leading UK production company.
  The husband and wife team (who write under the pseudonym Casey Hill) have signed a lucrative TV deal with Ecosse Films, the production company behind hit UK TV shows such as ‘Mistresses’, ‘He Kills Coppers’, ‘Raw’ and films ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and the Anne Hathaway-starred ‘Becoming Jane’.
  Ecosse will produce a CSI-style TV series based on Reilly Steel, the feisty American forensic investigator from TABOO, who comes to Dublin to work alongside the Gardai in order to track down a twisted serial killer who is dispatching citizens at a frightening rate. The book is said to be along the lines of Patricia Cornwell’s popular Kay Scarpetta series, and is the first in a planned series of novels featuring Reilly Steel.
  It is another major coup for the writing pair, who last year secured a six-figure pre-empt from major UK publisher Simon & Schuster for their debut novel, and went on to achieve further translation deals in a string of international territories. Upon its release in Ireland earlier this year, TABOO stormed straight into the bestseller list at No 2. It has just hit the shelves in the UK, and with the story now poised to hit TV screens the book’s popularity is set to soar.
  Hearty congrats to all concerned, especially as even a solidly performing TV series could well translate into millions of potential readers. Given that TABOO and its mooted sequels are set in Dublin, the news should prove a welcome boost to the domestic filmmaking market too.
  Melissa Hill, of course, is already a bestselling author of women’s fiction, and her current tome, SOMETHING FROM TIFFANY’S, is still selling gangbusters after parachuting straight in at No 1 in the Irish fiction charts earlier this summer.
  So there you have it. I never thought I’d write a post containing the words ‘Melissa Hill’, ‘Brideshead Revisited’, ‘John Banville’ and ‘Something From Tiffany’s’ and ‘He Kills Coppers’, but it’s mutating into a funny ol’ world, this Irish crime writing lark …