“Declan Burke is his own genre. The Lammisters dazzles, beguiles and transcends. Virtuoso from start to finish.” – Eoin McNamee “This bourbon-smooth riot of jazz-age excess, high satire and Wodehouse flamboyance is a pitch-perfect bullseye of comic brilliance.” – Irish Independent Books of the Year 2019 “This rapid-fire novel deserves a place on any bookshelf that grants asylum to PG Wodehouse, Flann O’Brien or Kyril Bonfiglioli.” – Eoin Colfer, Guardian Best Books of the Year 2019 “The funniest book of the year.” – Sunday Independent “Declan Burke is one funny bastard. The Lammisters ... conducts a forensic analysis on the anatomy of a story.” – Liz Nugent “Burke’s exuberant prose takes centre stage … He plays with language like a jazz soloist stretching the boundaries of musical theory.” – Totally Dublin “A mega-meta smorgasbord of inventive language ... linguistic verve not just on every page but every line.Irish Times “Above all, The Lammisters gives the impression of a writer enjoying himself. And so, dear reader, should you.” – Sunday Times “A triumph of absurdity, which burlesques the literary canon from Shakespeare, Pope and Austen to Flann O’Brien … The Lammisters is very clever indeed.” – The Guardian

Monday, December 30, 2019

On Writing and Jazz

Set during the Jazz Age, THE LAMMISTERS is a novel that plunders the literary canon in the manner of a starved child let loose in a sweetshop. Of all its influences, though, the strongest is that of jazz itself, although not the jazz of that era, but that of the post-bebop period: throughout the writing, I was listening to a playlist made up of Davis, Coltrane, Mingus, Coleman, et al. Being no scholar of music, all I can say is that I love the playful irreverence, the ceaseless reinvention, the sense of an ongoing homage to the history of jazz even as the music itself is bent out of shape and transformed into new forms and styles. You don’t always understand what it is you’re trying to achieve when you’re doing it, of course; Ted Gioia, writing about free jazz, shed some retrospective light:
Freedom stood out as a politically charged word in American public discourse during the late 1950s and early 1960s […] It is impossible to comprehend the free jazz movement of these same years without understanding how it fed upon this powerful cultural shift in American society. Its practitioners advocated much more than freedom from harmonic structures or compositional forms – although that too was an essential part of their vision of jazz. Many of them saw their music as inherently political. They believed that they could, indeed must, choose between participating in the existing structures – in society, in the entertainment industry, in the jazz world – or rebelling against them. The aesthetic could no longer be isolated from these cultural currents. ~ Ted Gioia, ‘Freedom and Fusion’, THE HISTORY OF JAZZ

Sunday, December 22, 2019

THE LAMMISTERS: a bourbon-smooth riot, apparently

It’s been a busy end to 2019 for yours truly, folks, and we wind down tired but happy, with THE LAMMISTERS published – something I thought would never happen – and in receipt of some very encouraging reviews. To wit:
“This bourbon-smooth riot of Jazz Age excess, high satire and Wodehouse flamboyance is a pitch-perfect bullseye of comic brilliance.” – Irish Independent Books of the Year 2019
“This rapid-fire novel deserves a place on any bookshelf that grants asylum to PG Wodehouse, Flann O’Brien or Kyril Bonfiglioli.” – Eoin Colfer, Guardian Best Books of the Year 2019
“The funniest book of the year.” – Sunday Independent
“A triumph of absurdity, which burlesques the literary canon … very clever indeed.” – Laura Wilson, The Guardian
“A mega-meta smorgasbord of inventive language … linguistic verve not just on every page but on every line.” – Irish Times
  I’m well pleased with the reviews, as you might imagine, and very grateful to the reviewers who have been so kind; but only partly for myself. I’m actually more pleased for David Torrans and Emma Warnock at No Alibis Press, who didn’t just publish THE LAMMISTERS, but did so with verve, style and boundless enthusiasm.
  And while reviews are one thing, and crucial for getting the word out there, etc., the goodwill that has come our way has been absolutely fantastic. It’s an intangible that can’t be measured, but truly, it does the heart good. And so I’d like to say a deep and heartfelt thank you to everyone on here – and yes, that means YOU! – who has supported us in word and deed, and celebrated with us, and shared the joy.
  A very happy and peaceful Christmas to you all. God bless us, every one.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Podcast: Irish Times Best Crime Novels 2019

I was delighted to take part in the Irish Times’ podcast on the Best Crime Novels of 2019 recently, in which Declan Hughes, the Irish Times’ literary editor Martin Doyle and yours truly spent a very enjoyable hour or so talking about the finest offerings of the year. Among the writers mentioned are Laura Lippman, James Lee Burke, Jane Casey, Dervla McTiernan, Adrian McKinty, Kate Atkinson, Dave Duggan, Hanna Jameson, Anthony J. Quinn, Attica Locke, Claire McGowan and – last but by no means least – Jess Kidd.
  For the audio, clickety-click here

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Feature: How to Write a Novel’s First Draft

The Irish Times was kind enough to enquire as to my ‘process’ when I’m writing the first draft of a novel, and - rather more surprisingly - published my answer. It begins a lot like this:
I’m often asked about the best way to write a novel’s first draft, and thank God for that, for otherwise I’d have no social life at all.
  For some reason it generally seems to happen when I discover myself at the bottom of Dawson Street around lunchtime, waiting to cross over to the Trinity side.
  “I say, Mr Burke!” bawls some aspiring scribe who, having recently perambulated around from College Green, has mistaken me for that prime hunk of literary boulevardier Edmund Burke. “How does one go about writing a novel-length story?”
  “Well,” I bawl back, which usually precipitates something of a conversational longueur, it being my accoster’s expectation that I have deployed same as a precursor to embarking on lengthy disquisition, whereas my advice in the matter of writing novel-length stories is as brief as it is simple, i.e., that if they must be written at all, then they really ought to be written well.
  On being subsequently pressed for any further helpful detail, however small, I caution my interlocutors (a crowd tending to gather swiftly at such times) that their cause is entirely hopeless, for the wide-eyed optimism required to countenance the writing of a novel-length story is wholly at odds with what the market currently requires, it being your correspondent’s bitter experience that the modern novel, as the discerning Reader will undoubtedly agree, is rather more Keatsian than not, being a poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing largely populated by useful idiots singing out Now can that jive! and What gives, matey? in peremptory tenor.
  For the rest of the piece, clickety-click here

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Publication: THE LAMMISTERS by Declan Burke

I’m delighted to say that my latest book, THE LAMMISTERS, will be published by No Alibis Press next month. Quoth the blurb elves:
Hollywood, 1923. Having ascended into the pantheon of America’s Most Wanted by dispatching his mortal foes to the holding pens where Cecil B. DeMille keeps his expendable extras, Irish bootlegger Rusty McGrew goes on the lam with the shimmering goddess Vanessa Hopgood, her enraptured swain Sir Archibald l’Estrange-B’stard and Edward ‘Bugs’ Dooley, the hapless motion picture playwright who has stepped through the looking-glass into his very own Jazz Age adaptation of The Pilgrim’s Progress.
  Delighting in rapid-fire dialogue, subversive genre-bending and metafictional digressions, The Lammisters is a comic novel that will likely be declared a wholly original comedy classic by anyone who has yet to read Flann O’Brien, Jane Austen, PG Wodehouse or Laurence Sterne.

  “Hilarious, atmospheric and super smart.” ~ Eoin Colfer; “Declan Burke is his own genre. The Lammisters dazzles, beguiles and transcends. Virtuoso from start to finish.” ~ Eoin McNamee; “Declan Burke is one funny bastard.” ~ Liz Nugent;
  When I first sat down to write THE LAMMISTERS, it was with the idea of writing a comic novel that broke every rule I’d ever been taught. That’s not strictly possible, of course – most of the spelling, for example, is correct – but I did have a lot of fun messing about with my arms, if I might mangle the immortal Cervantes, thrust up to the very elbows in wanton adventures. I sincerely hope that you enjoy it too.
  For all the details, clickety-click on the No Alibis Press website

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Event: ‘Past Crimes’ at Murder One

I’m delighted to be taking part in Murder One again, which, I hope, is in the process of establishing itself as an annual event. I’ll be hosting the ‘Past Crimes’ event on Saturday, November 2nd, which the blurb elves have rather neatly summed up as follows:
Past Crimes: Jess Kidd, Henrietta McKervey and Paddy Hirsch with Declan Burke
From Things in Jars to Violet Hill, London’s only female private detective, via Hudson’s Kill and the Irish gangs of New York, three novelists use the past as a backdrop to their page-turning adventures of deception, danger – and detection. Declan Burke, previously Dublin City of Literature’s Writer in Residence, is an award winning author whose latest book, The Lammisters, will be published in November by No Alibis Press.

Where: Smock Alley Main Space
When: Saturday 2nd November, 5.00pm-6.00pm
How much: €12/€10
  For all the details on the full cast of Murder One – which includes Lynda LaPlante, Martina Cole, Patricia Gibney, Steve Cavanagh, Jane Casey, John Banville, Liz Nugent, Alex Barclay, and a host of others – clickety-click here

Friday, September 27, 2019

Review: UNDERLAND by Robert Macfarlane

“An aversion to the underland is buried in language,” writes Robert Macfarlane in Underland (Hamish Hamilton). “To be ‘uplifted’ is preferable to being ‘depressed’ or ‘pulled down’. ‘Catastrophe’ literally means a ‘downwards turn’, ‘cataclysm’ a ‘downwards violence’.” Thus, he says, we are rarely inspired to look down; the human instinct is to look around, or up, as Macfarlane documented in his magisterial Mountains of the Mind (2008).
  But even our fascination with the world’s upper reaches is a relatively recent development. Before the Age of Enlightenment, only a madman would seek to find beauty amid the highest peaks. Our reluctant obsession with the underland, however, is far more ancient, and manifests itself in many different and sometimes contradictory ways. “Into the underland,” Macfarlane writes, “we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save.”
  Underland unfolds in three parts, each representing a new underground chamber which Macfarlane explores – an exploration that is at once physical, mental, psychological and emotional. In a wide-ranging opening section, he touches on the various ways in which humans have engaged with what lies beneath. “Why go low? It is a counter-intuitive action, running against the grain of sense and the gradient of the spirit. Deliberately to place something in the underland is almost always a strategy to shield it from easy view. Actively to retrieve something from the underland almost always requires effortful work.”
  Down through the millennia, humans have used the underworld for tombs and sacred spaces, to bury treasure or the killing poisons of radioactive waste, to daub their idealised version of the upper world on the walls of pitch-black caves. The underland has served as the homes of our earliest ancestors; as a metaphor for hell; as the setting – in The Odyssey or The Epic of Gilgamesh, or in Dante’s Divine Comedy – for the triumph of the indomitable human spirit. And, should the worst come to the worst, as is the worst’s wont, and the planet succumbs to man-made disaster, it is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, buried deep beneath the ice on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen, that will serve as the repository of the natural world’s eventual regeneration.
  Drawing from a wide range of inspirations and sources, Robert Macfarlane weaves an utterly absorbing account of humanity’s obsession with that vast and largely unexplored space beneath our feet. There is, at times, a danger of information overload; but Macfarlane is a patient and meticulous writer, as befits a man who is gripped by the concept of ‘deep time’. “Deep time is measured in units that humble the human instant: epochs and aeons, instead of minutes and years. Deep time is kept by stone, ice, stalactites, seabed sediments and the drift of tectonic plates. Deep time opens into the future as well as the past. […] We stand with our toes, as well as our heels, on a brink.”
  That brink, of course, is the tipping point of climate change, and a recurring motif is Macfarlane’s quoting of Dr. Jonas Salk, who rhetorically asked, ‘Are we being good ancestors?’ While there is much that is comforting and uplifting in Underland’s exploration of our historical engagement with the world below, and particularly in terms of Macfarlane’s eye for the telling detail when recording the impact of an inquisitive and restlessly curious humanity on the largely unchanging landscape, his writing on the melting permafrost, for example, is deeply depressing. Long buried spores, believed extinct, are being released into the atmosphere; Cold War toxic waste is leaching to the surface; glaciers are evaporating at an unprecedented rate. That we are living through the ‘Anthropocene era’, in which humans have evolved to the point where they can significantly impact the Earth’s future, should be a source of pride. Instead, writes Macfarlane, “It is, perhaps, best imagined as an epoch of loss – of species, places and people – for which we are seeking a language of grief and, even harder to find, a language of hope.”
  The importance of language is a recurring motif. One of the most fascinating chapters details the difficulty in burying radioactive waste deeply enough for the millions of years it will take for it to be rendered safe, and, crucially, how best to devise a language, or some as yet unimagined mode of communication, that will alert future species, or perhaps some alien Howard Carter, to the danger of plundering these particular tombs.
  And yet, despite the long shadow humanity throws over its own future, Underland is for the most part an engrossing account of our ever-changing relationship with the subterranean landscape, and one which also embraces those who predated us. “The earliest-known works of cave art in Europe – taking the form of painted ladders, dots and hand stencils on the walls of Spanish caves – have been dated to around 65,000 years ago, some 20,000 years before Homo sapiens are believed to have first arrived in Europe from Africa. Neanderthal artists left these images.”
  All told, Underland represents a fabulously kaleidoscopic view of the world as Robert Macfarlane sees it, a singular vision that somehow incorporates Minecraft and the ‘mirror’ city beneath Paris, dark matter and Mithraism, post-human architecture and Virgil’s Aeneid, neo-Nazism and the secret life of fungi. And there’s more, much more: in a chapter on the ‘understorey’ of forest life, set in the ‘relic greenwood magic’ of London’s Epping Forest, Macfarlane writes about ‘the wood wide web’, a relatively new concept which proposes that forests are not composed of individual shrubs, trees, mushrooms and grasses, et al, but is instead a single entity facilitated by a tree-fungi mutualism which allows a forest to divert resources from healthy specimens to ailing trees along an underground fungi network, which network benefits in turn by siphoning off the nutrients it requires to flourish.
  As is perhaps inevitable in a book of 420-plus pages, there are longueurs; the lengthy chapter on the invisible city beneath Paris, for example, might have been shorter, as Macfarlane, with an experienced cataphile, or guide, spends days beneath Paris investigating its subterranean nooks and crannies. Indeed, anyone who suffers from claustrophobia might want to skip this chapter entirely; Macfarlane captures the experience of underground living, and the lung-clenching trauma of finding yourself trapped in rock, a little too acutely for comfort (“I feel my skull scrape on rock as I ease through, my head turned sideways for clearance, my face pressed against the stone-sand …”).
  Ultimately, Underland is rooted, as all of Robert Macfarlane’s books are, in the relationship between the natural landscape and the human heart; if this book is more concerned than usual with what is hidden and obscure, it is because Underland is a deep dive not only into the depths of our planet’s underworld, but a plumbing of the labyrinth of the human mind. It is an intoxicating blend of geology and psychoanalysis, physics and philosophy; if a more interesting book is published this year, it will have been a very good year indeed. ~ Declan Burke

  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Event: ‘Putting it Write’ at the Bray Literary Festival

I’m really looking forward to taking part in the ‘Putting it Write’ strand of the Bray Literary Festival, where I’ll be chatting with Rebecca O’Connor and Rob Doyle about all things writing- and editing-related. Rebecca is a poet, novelist and editor; Rob is a novelist, editor and short story writer; I’ve written novels and edited short story and essay collections.
  I’m currently up to my oxters in copy edits on THE LAMMISTERS, which will be published by No Alibis Press in November (more of which anon), so I’ll be the one blinking in dazed and gormless fashion as I gaze around in awe at the wonderful sight of anywhere that isn’t my dimly lit garret.
  ‘Putting it Write’ takes place at 11.30am on Sunday, September 29th, at Bray Town Hall. For all the details, clickety-click here

Monday, September 16, 2019

Character is Mystery: A Creative Writing Workshop

I’ll be hosting a creative writing workshop in Dundalk this coming Thursday, September 19th, titled ‘Character is Mystery’. I’ve stolen the title (and much else, of course) from John Connolly’s words of wisdom on the business of writing, this on the basis that talent borrows but genius steals; and I’ll be using SKIN DEEP by Liz Nugent (who recently appeared in Dundalk as part of the Creative Spark series of talks) and Patricia Highsmith’s THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY as example texts. The details:
Date: Thursday 19th September
Time: 11am-1pm (coffee before session at 10:30am)
Price: FREE (but booking essential)
Location: Creative Spark, Clontygora Ct, Muirhevnamore, Dundalk, Co. Louth
  For all the details, including how to book your spot, clickety-click here