Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?” # 173: John Connolly

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?
I always take the mature view on these things, and assume that if I had written one of my favourite books then it wouldn’t be as good. I think Ross Macdonald’s The Chill is a near-perfect crime novel, the only perceived lapse being the death early on of possibly the most interesting character, although the effect is quite shocking so I suppose it was intentional on Macdonald’s part. I find myself defending Macdonald regularly against those who see him as Chandler’s poor relation, or pressing him on those who haven’t read him but believe that, say, The Big Sleep is as close as crime fiction ever got to being literature, which it isn’t. Chandler's a fabulous writer, but Macdonald was always the better novelist.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Wilbur Smith novels. The period novels are much better than the modern-day ones, as the dialogue doesn’t sound as clunky if it’s being spoken in the 1600s or 1700s, or by ancient Egyptians. I had to interview him a few years ago, and so read Monsoon in preparation, as it was the book that he was publicising at the time. I hadn’t read him since I was a teenager, and had vague memories of some ropey sex and a woman having a wee behind a rock (in the book, I hasten to add, not in my teenage life) but Monsoon was great fun. The ropey sex was still there, though. One phrase stands out in my memory: “She gasped at the sight of Tom’s wondrous man thing.” I thought: I have a man thing, but it’s not wondrous. What’s so special about his? Does it light up? Does it play a tune ...?
Most satisfying writing moment?
Probably finishing The Book of Lost Things. I’m a pretty harsh critic of my own work, but I felt that it represented as good a book as I was going to be able to write at that time, or perhaps ever, which is a bit depressing in a way. Something always gets lost in the act of transferring the nebulous book in your head to the page, which is very frustrating. You never quite manage to write the book that you set out to write, or at least I never do. I think the least was lost in the writing of The Book of Lost Things. It’s an odd little book, but I’m very fond of it and proud of it.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
You know, I’ll dodge that bullet by saying that the best Irish crime novel probably hasn’t been written yet. Crime fiction wasn’t our genre for such a long time, and now Irish writers are really starting to make an impact, but it’s early days yet. I think we’re going to see some fantastic Irish crime novels emerging over the next few years. As things stand, there have already been some very good ones.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Urk! The other difficulty is that I don’t read as much Irish fiction, crime or otherwise, as I should, so I’m a bad person to ask. Perhaps, in common with British crime writers, Irish crime fiction might be better suited to television. I think Declan Hughes’ books would be interesting to see on television. That said, I don’t watch those two-hour Morse / Rebus / Wire In The Blood series. I don’t have the patience for them, although I’ll happily watch back-to-back episodes of The Wire or Deadwood. I think it’s to do with pacing.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
I’m a worrier. I worry that I’m going to be dropped by my publishers, that I’m going to write a bad book . . . (I may have written a bad book already, but it seems that people can’t agree which one it is.) I’m not sure that I enjoy the process of publishing itself as much as I thought I would. When I see my book on a bookshelf I just think, man, I hope it’s doing okay. Then again, I rarely ask my publishers how the books are doing in terms of sales. I think I’m afraid of the answer. The best thing, for me, is that I can make a living and pay my bills by doing something that I love, however hard I may find writing sometimes. And I like meeting readers. There’s something flattering, and humbling, when people take the time to come along to a bookstore to listen to you talk about your book.
The pitch for your next novel is …?
I’m hopeless at pitches as well. Let’s see: it’s an Angel and Louis book – they’re two kind of minor characters in the Parker novels – in which they get in over their heads when they try to kill a wealthy businessman who has targeted them in an act of revenge for the death of his son. It’s much lighter than the Parker novels, and stylistically a bit different. It’s not as tortured, I suppose.
Who are you reading right now?
I made the mistake of trying to read the last Harry Potter book, which took me two weeks - the pacing (there’s that word again) just seemed to me to be all wrong - and I was resentful of the time it had taken when I was done. I tend to flick between fiction and non-fiction, so now I’m one chapter into Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. I do have a pile of other books sitting by my desk that I want to get to: Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts, the new Philip Kerr and Martin Cruz Smith books, the new Paul Charles, the new James Lee Burke and, hey, the most recent Wilbur Smith. Ropey sex, here I come . . .
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Gradually getting better . . .

John Connolly’s The Unquiet is currently on a best-seller list near you


crimeficreader said...

"...and now Irish writers are really starting to make an impact, but it’s early days yet..."
An interesting question to address might be "Why and why now?"
When I read Brian McGilloway's Borderlands earlier this year, there was little mention of the troubles; a reference, yes, and key to the plot in terms of history of the characters, as well as well done.
But I wonder if the end of the troubles as we knew them has now unleashed creative talent across Ireland, freeing up the creative writers to write about the crime fiction angle on normal life, as opposed to a focus on the troubles which may have been a topic to avoid for so many years (though well reflected in non-fiction).
I also wonder why the Welsh are lagging behind (not at a zero start, mind you, just lagging a bit). But now that Dr Who has found a home in Cardiff and its surrounds, perhaps more creative talent will emerge from Wales...
I think the troubles may have caused so much focus on other things, including self-preservation, that being creative was the last thing on anyone's mind. I visited Belfast early last year and found it to be a very vibrant city. The people I met were friendly and knew how to enjoy themselves, as well as being solidly down to earth. Could the new freedom from other thoughts be the reason? Could this be why crime fiction is now emerging on the NI side?
I'm interested in any thoughts on this topic from those living there.
As for Wales, I'm sure a puff of smoke will eventually become a volcano erupting. You heard it here first. ;-)

Declan Burke said...

Interesting thoughts, Crimefic - although it should be said that the likes of Eoin McNamee and Brian Moore were writing crime-based novels set during the Troubles while they were on-going ... and, of course, Colin Bateman was taking the mickey out of all sides with his comic caper crimes. As for Wales - keep us posted on when the white smoke goes up ...

crimeficreader said...

As I drove home today, listening to Damien Rice (another excellent Irish creative talent), I wondered about the history of some of the Irish writers (as I had no previous clue/knowledge). I may have been a little out of date in my thoughts and in posing the question in the comments to your blog, but the "rise" of Irish crime fiction does seem to be happening now, more than ever.

Perhaps to those of us living outside Ireland, we'd always seen news of the troubles and little else. Now, we have a chance to learn and read more as other elements of the culture make their mark?

As for Wales, I caught a new author (to me) in the national newspaper today, published by a Welsh press. The novel is set in the world of academia and a fictional university in Llandudno - ("Get your tongue round that one, boyo!" As they say in parts of Wales!) - where Llandudno is more famous for its pier and seaside hols than anything else. Certainly not murder in the world of academia anyway... I've cut out the article to seek out the novel and will keep you posted, Declan.

All in all, I'm just grateful for anyone who can deliver a wonderful novel of crime fiction, wherever they are in the world. An insight into the culture and way of life of the setting is always a bonus, when not regurgitated before...