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.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

DANNY BOY Redux: The 2.0 Reboot

As all three regular readers will be aware, Thursday on CAP has become something of an irony-free zone, largely because I’m in the process of redrafting a novel and offering up said redrafts to the public at large and then ducking to get out of the way of the barbed-wire bouquets.
  The extract below is yet another fresh start. For those precious few of you - how few! how precious! etc. - who have been paying attention to date, the first section predates the man-on-balcony-with-gun opening of previous offerings, although that strand of the narrative will eventually find Dan standing on a balcony with a gun in his hand.
  The second section then flashes back to Dublin some months previously, as we begin to discover how and why Dan travels to Loutro, and winds up on a balcony with a gun in his hand. The plan for now is for the story to progress via flashbacks / flash-forwards, until such time as the twin narratives intersect.
  The pic, by the way (©, illustrates the ‘high country’ in which we first encounter Dan, which for the purpose of the story is situated high above Loutro, a tiny village on the south coast of Crete.
  Please feel free to leave a comment registering your approval and / or disgust, and also feel free to do so anonymously, if you prefer.
  And now, Dear Reader, it’s over to you ...


Loutro. Friday June 24, 2009:

We rode down from the high country with the child turtled on the mare’s withers, her fingers braiding its mane and only the pink of her knuckles to say she still lived. The patient mare allowing for our slumped and shifting weight. The blood on its flank my own good blood.
  A lowering sky hung down with its guy ropes unstrung and my delirium was such that it could have been dusk or dawn, the grey mist patched with cloud or peak.
  ‘Not long now,’ I told the child.
  A lie, or as good as, but no child should know the truth of the world as it is and will always be. Some time later she coughed, a thin pewling, and fell silent again.
  ‘Not long now,’ I said, ‘not long.’
  Not long now, not long. My own heartbeat, good yet.
  While I bleed I live, and while I live she lives, and that’s all there is to that.
  The mare plods on down the scarp. Wild flowers appear, yellows and reds so flimsy they hang bowed by dew. Dawn, then.
  The sky is pinking by the time I see the first scars of civilisation, a stone terrace long abandoned to windborne chance and maquis. At first I thought it the shed skin of some mythical snake. Weary now beyond the edge of mind. Where thought is instinct reflexed on itself, so that thinking is doing. Such is life with a bullet in your gut and a child to see delivered safe. What needs and no more.
  Beyond the terracing the track winds between the humped backs of drystone walls. Outhouses with glassless windows and hungry doors that put me in mind of Carthage and the insatiable Moloch, so that I closed my mind’s ear to screaming children fed to the fire as faggots of pink and melting flesh. The mare’s steps echoing back from whitewashed walls long since gone mossy and grey.
  In a doorway a man stands hunched with his head beneath the low lintel, back braced against the frame. A small cup to his lips. The horse crosses the square and stops and snorts. A fine spray flies. The child barely stirs.
  The man unfolds from the doorway and stands looking up at us shading his eyes, head tilted to one side, his gaze flowing from me to the girl to the blood on the mare’s flank. Shaking his head slowly all the while, as if the scene was a novelty viewed through a kaleidoscope and by so shaking he might rearrange the elements into another picture entirely.
  ‘You chust would not listen,’ he whispers, ‘would you?’
  Saying it to me but for himself also. To the empty sky that only ever listens.
  My tongue has swollen behind cracked lips. When I speak it’s no more than a croak. ‘They’re coming, Berte.’
  He nods and flicks aside the grainy dregs and places his cup on the windowsill and calls inside. Steps forward reaching up and tries to pry the girl loose, but her fingers are gnarled ivy in the coarse mane. It takes some moments to free them but then she’s gone and I allow myself to go too, by degrees, angling forward and down until my awkward weight is too much for even that patient mare and she shies and tosses me the final few feet.

Dublin. Monday March 21, 2009:

‘You can start recording now, Browne.’
  ‘For the record let it be stated that this is an interview with Dan Noone pursuant to a statement in the case of the State versus Anthony Whelan. DI Brady and DS Browne attending, Dan Noone voluntarily present without legal representation. Can you confirm that, Dan?’
  ‘That is correct.’
  ‘No need to be so formal, Dan, we’re only having a chat. You know the drill, right? Get all our ducks in a row first. The statement’ll come later.’
  The interview room: a basement bunker, stark and drab, beige breeze-block with chocolate trim. A fluorescent light humming.
  ‘It might help if you close your eyes, Dan. It’ll feel weird at first but - there you go, good man. Now, tell us what you see. Just let it come.’
  Black ice.
  ‘In your own words, now. Nothing fancy.’
  Black ice on Christmas Eve.
  ‘Take your time, Dan. No hurry. I know it’s tough.’
  Bare branches. Bony fingers. Headlights drilling a tunnel from the dark.
  ‘Just relax, Dan, and --’
  ‘We were heading for home from Midnight Mass.’
  ‘Now you have it. From where to where?’
  ‘Kilquade to Enniskerry. Up the N11, in along the twenty-one bends. Could’ve done it in my sleep.’
  ‘We’ll lose that last bit, Browne. Okay, Dan, go on. What time is it?’
  ‘Eleven-thirty or thereabouts. Maybe a little later.’
  ‘Because Midnight Mass …’
  ‘In Kilquade Midnight Mass starts at 10pm.’
  ‘Good stuff. Okay, so who’s in the passenger seat?’
  ‘Rach being …?’
  ‘Rachel. My wife.’
  ‘And what’s Rachel doing?’
  ‘Twisting in her seat. Leaning back to see past the headrest.’
  ‘To sing.’
  ‘Who’s she singing to?’
  God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing ye dismay.
  ‘Who’s Rachel singing to, Dan?’
  ‘Pooh Bear.’
  ‘Pooh Bear, okay. But who’s holding the bear?’
  ‘The Boop.’
  ‘The what?’
  ‘The Boop. Emily, our baby girl.’
  ‘Good man, Dan. Let’s stick with actual names for now. What’s Emily doing?’
  ‘Nothing. Trying to sleep. It’s way past her bedtime.’
  ‘So what happens then?’
  It’s too late anyway, Rach. Doesn’t matter. She can wait for morning.
  ‘Stay with it, Dan. What happens then?’
  Remember Christ the Saviour was born on Christmas Day.
  ‘Dan? What happens next?’
  ‘I look across at Rachel and say --’
  ‘No, you don’t. Your eyes are on the road, both hands on the wheel. What do you see?’
  ‘Blue-white light.’
  ‘Halogen lights?’
  ‘A flash. Strafing.’
  ‘Strafing, that’s good. What then?’
  ‘I don’t know. This is where it all goes blank.’
  Wrenching the steering wheel before I knew what it was. Already too late.
  ‘You can’t remember anything?’
  ‘Nothing. Sorry.’
  It came hurtling out of the bend, cutting the corner. Ploughed us nearside in front of the rear wheel arch.
  ‘Just relax, Dan. Let it come.’
  ‘I’m telling you, there’s nothing.’
  Slewing across the slab of black ice, invisible under a mulch of dead leaves. Back tyres sliding out as I threw the wheel against the skid, the car turning back on itself going over the low ditch.
  ‘You know the drill, Dan. Anything at all you can give us could be useful.’
  A shudder as we punched through the low metal railing. Then the sickening lurch into space, the stony riverbank thirty feet below.
  ‘I know. But there’s nothing.’
  We hit like a paper lantern scissoring closed.

  © Declan Burke, 2010


Paul D. Brazill said...

Well, I have no critical skills but I do like that a lot and would read more, no doubt about it.

michael said...

I really enjoyed the Loutro 2009 section. The first sentence is near perfect. It hooks me into the story and makes me eager to read on. I find myself reading faster as the sense of tragedy draws me deeper and deeper into the story.

Then you jerk me out of my mood and force me to leave the story I am eager to read. The Dublin part pales in comparison to Loutro. In the Wednesday section of "The Big O" you drove me crazy shifting from character to character.

Why not make each time period a chapter long? Give me some time to enjoy all parts of the story.

Declan Burke said...

Paul - You're too modest, squire. I've read some of your stuff, I think your critical skills are working on all cylinders.

Michael - Man, you've no patience, have you?

Mind you, anywhere in the world would pale by comparison with Loutro.

As for chapter length, I'm thinking of short, intense chapters (or hopefully they'll be intense, anyway). We'll see how it goes.

As always, chaps, much obliged.

Cheers, Dec

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

I give you a lot of credit for doing this.

For me, the last version you posted had the best opening and overall, those 2 chapters did it for me. They were rather long, and could use some paring back, but it's better to have more, and cut back, than not enough.

The opening of this one lost me almost immediately, but it could be that the prior two versions created a lot more suspense, for me at least. It felt like an opening to a Western. If there wasn't a CH 2, I would have hit the gong on this one. I would rank it 3rd out of the 3 versions (2nd ver # 1, 1st ver # 2)

Now, the second chapter of this one, I liked a lot. Good dialogue, internal thoughts filling me in, etc..

Between all 3 versions, there is plenty of good material.

I think the shorter chapter approach is a good idea.

I also think there was plenty of good stuff in version 1, especially the girl he was holding hostage.

If I had to combine all three,I'd say the opening of ver2, some of the stuff from version 1, and CH2 of version 3. Confusing I know, but I know what I mean.

Just my 2 cents and I hope somehow it is helpful

michael said...

Sean, this kind of public writing group can make our victim, uhh, writer's head explode by trying to please everyone with every single sentence. I did enjoy looking at Dec's work from yours and hopefully others point of view.

Dec, I have too many books to read and too little time. My favorite Simpson joke had Homer hungry, Marge tells him dinner would be ready in 25 seconds. 25 seconds, Homer whines, I want it now. At least I don't have the 50 page rule many readers have.

Anonymous said...

I'm no literary critic, Declan, I can't de-construct the prose or the style or anything but I think I can pay you the only compliment worth a rat's ass to any writer...

... what happens next?

Michael Malone said...

Hey tuppence h'penny worth...I like the short chapters. Gives the piece pace and heightens the suspense. Also like the way that the style changes - more lyrical in Greece and hard and staccato in Dubline.

A line near the beginning threw me for a second and required another read...the one about the lowering sky. Don't feel that one works.

Michael Malone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Declan Burke said...

Sean - You're not far off with the 'Western' idea ... It struck me on a re-read of one of the previous versions that it was very High Noon-ish, and I like the idea of embracing that rather than running away from it. I love a classic Western, me.

Other than that, man, you chipped in about 102 cents worth there. I don't know if I'm coming or going after that little lot ...

Keep it coming.

Cheers, Dec

Declan Burke said...

Michael - You have a 50 page rule? I have a 50 line rule.

Cheers, Dec

Declan Burke said...

Anon - Kind words, and much appreciated. You're right, it's a hell of a compliment.

Michael M - You're spot on about the change in style / tone for different settings ... Planning to explore that from here on in.

Cheers, Dec

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

I also like the change in style /tone for different settings. And I think there is some adjusting that needed to done from my perspective, as DANNY BOY is so much different from your previous novels I have read. It is a big adjustment. DANNY BOY does have an "epic", serious tone to it, which is very impressive. No matter which version is bandied about, it is already a novel that I cannot wait to read.

bookwitch said...

It's great! Well done.

Love short chapters. Keep them.

michael said...

Short chapters vs long chapters. There are positives and negatives for both. I find the only time I notice chapters is when I want to stop reading. Does any reader like to stop in mid-chapter? Short chapters allow me to get to work on time.

But how short can a chapter be? Stay in Loutro for a chapter would mean for five pages. Here it is a page or so. I barely get interested in the story and you switch to another. I like both parts, get me the reader committed to both, then increase speed with shorter and shorter stays at each part.

lil Gluckstern said...

I really liked this, and I agree. I need more. This version really hooked me. Not a literary critic, just a reader.

Dana King said...

Sorry I'm late here, but my weeks have been hectic of late, and I catch up on weekends.

You may not want to hear this, but I agree with Sean. No offense to Sean; what I thought you might not like to hear is how I liked the previous version better. I like how we had no solid evidence of anything having happened yet on Loutros, In this version we know things have already begun. I think it lessens the tension a bit.

Both versions make me want to see what happens next, though I have the feeling you were propelling me into the next with more momentum in the earlier version.

Remember to keep your vision for the story in sight. Too many cooks and all that.

Deborah Lawrenson said...

For what it's worth, Dec, I too preferred the previous version (aka 2), both chapters.

With the proviso about solving the Boop confusion and the very valid point made by others - Seana, I think - about our sympathies and the kidnapped girl, the last beginning was a really atmospheric scene-setter, followed by a terrific opening to the second chapter.

(I wonder whether you're thinking this public feedback is making it all so much harder...there are no right and wrong ways to write, only the way you want to - you can't please us all, all the time!)

seana said...

Okay, I'm going to join in with the general messing with your head and say that I think this is the best yet. It irons out many of the difficulties of the earlier versions and that opening engages me right away. The single line of Berte gets across the desperate probably foolhardy nature of Dan in a more sympathetic way than earlier versions, leaving you free to still write that scene with the tied up child later when it may count for more and not alienate the reader so much.

The transition is a jolt, though not so much after having read the other versions. I guess I thought of the first scene as prologue and then getting into the actual story. I would expect to stay with the Irish story and then only gradually weave Loutro back in--or possibly leave it hanging until you actually reach it again in real time in the story. In a way, it reminds me of the opening of Breaking Bad, which is similarly post-apocalypse, for lack of a better term, and then the whole episode retraces the path to that point.

I would say the Irish scene feels more familiar than the Loutro scene, but I like how his pals are trying to steer his answers and I think the more you work in their individuality, the better. The car crash can't help but be a bit of a cliche, but it's a plot point, and I like your writing there, so just keep working with it.

Anyway, good work, and of course throw out everything we say here in favor of your own vision. I'm impressed by your ability to rework this so thoroughly.