Wednesday 7 November 2012

Darragh McManus interview: Even Flow

Even Flow is Darragh McManus’ first crime novel; a second, The Polka Dot Girl, will be published on January 25, 2013. He’s also released the comic novel Cold! Steel! Justice!!! as an e-book, under the name Alexander O’Hara. As a journalist he’s written for several papers, including the Guardian, Sunday Times and Irish Independent, for over a decade.

Can you sum up Even Flow in no more than 25 words?

An action-packed, cinematic and provocative thriller, set in NYC, about the 3W Gang: vigilantes who are bringing the pain to misogynists and homophobes.

What's unique about it?

I think the vigilantes themselves make it unique, for a few reasons. First, they’re inspired by feminism and gay rights, not the usual anti-crime or “bring down the system” stuff (admirable as those are). Secondly, they’re doing it out of a point of principle. These aren’t people who’ve been personally hurt, or seek vengeance: they’re inspired by a sense of fairness and justice, no different to Civil Rights marchers etc. Third, they’re pretty cool! They blend irony, humour, sarcasm, pop culture, high-brow culture, politics, feminism, post-modernism – and a willingness to use violence – into a sort of “vigilantism as performance art”. I wanted them to be an alternative to the cliché of feminists as emasculated weirdoes, and gay rights activists as over-sensitive wimps. These guys are thoughtful and compassionate, but also brave and ruthless and ass-kicking. They’re sexy, witty, daring. Basically, they’re like the grunge/Generation X aesthetic made flesh – and made angry.

What are your expectations for the book?

To be honest, I haven’t got a clue what to expect. I’m long enough in the tooth to expect nothing…but hopeful/deluded enough to expect a lot. I think it’s the kind of book could either really strike a chord and sell very well, or totally tank. Don’t know if there’ll be a middle-ground. Either way, I expect some fairly strong reactions to its themes/contentions, both for and against. So, should make for interesting debate.

How important is talent?

It should be the only thing, really, but sadly it’s not; we don’t live in a meritocracy. I don’t mean it’s all cronyism and nepotism, but luck has an awfully big part to play in terms of success in this life. Why does one book catch fire and another not? Couldn’t tell you. For instance, in terms of crime fiction, Stieg Larsson (and with all due respect to the dead): poorish writer telling a sort-of diverting story that would make an alright afternoon TV drama. Whereas there are literally thousands of really well-written crime novels, telling great, fresh, inventive stories with skill and élan, and nobody’s ever going to read them.

Please provide a youtube link to a song you'd like to be the title track to the movie adaptation of your book.

Please sir, may I make it two? This for the opening credits, spliced with the opening scene: 

And this for the closing credits and (literally) title song: 

Who would you like to direct the film adaptation?

Ooh…I think Neil Jordan would make a good go of it. I think he’d “get” it, you know? Plus I really like his movies (although Ondine didn’t work for me at all). And he has form in vigilante material with The Brave One, which I thought was very underrated and quite powerful.

If you were able to co-write a novel with any author of your choosing, who would it be?

Don DeLillo, because the man is a god of writing, the greatest novelist I’ve ever read. Don’t think I’d be able to do any work, though! I’d just be pinching myself and gawping at him. “Holy shit, I’m sitting at a desk with Don DeLillo…”

What's the worst piece of craft advice you've heard?

I sent Cold! Steel! Justice!!!, a comic crime novel, to one genius of a literary agent, who referred me to another book on “the conventions of thriller writing”. I pointed out that, considering my book had a whole FIVE exclamation marks in the title and was about a deranged Irish-American mayor who planned to execute criminals on live TV, I would have thought it was fairly clear it was a spoof, and therefore not a “thriller” in any accepted sense. She didn’t reply. Depressingly, that’s a true story. I have the emails as proof.

What are you reading now?

My author copy of Even Flow – yes, I admit it, checking for typos; can’t help it, it’s the sub-editor in me. Also a collection of essays by Milan Kundera, an Ed McBain shortish novel as part of a set, and battling my way through One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn. Hard going, which is funny because I loved Gulag Archipelago – honestly – and flew through it.

What's the book you've recommended most to friends?

Probably Wild Palms by Bruce Wagner. Graphic novel from the early nineties. Oliver Stone made an apparently crappy TV series out of it – trying to cash in on the Twin Peaks phenomenon – but this book is fabulous. A menacing undertone bubbles throughout, a palpable sense of dread and panic. It’s a horribly vivid realisation of a hellish LA dream-world, which insists that life is always weirder and less comprehensible than we imagine.

Do you write outside of the crime genre? If not, would you like to?

I do, and I like to! As mentioned below, I’ve done a Young Adult book, currently out with an agent, and have ideas sketched for a possible sequel (or two!), plus three very different, standalone YA works. Also written some literary fiction – novel, short story collection – which were summarily rejected by the publishing world. Got a few nice comments, though. And I’ve had some stuff published in literary journals. At the moment actually I’m writing a Douglas Coupland-type book about a bunch of slackers in Cork city in the mid-90s. Nothing really happens, but it’s fun to watch it not happen.

What question would you most like to be asked in an interview? What's the answer to it?

“How does it feel to outsell Stephanie Meyer!” And I’d answer, in this magical dream-world, “Pretty goddamn fantastic, actually. JK Rowling – I’m coming for you…”

Do you have any other projects on the go?

Yes, another crime novel called Polka Dot Girl is being published in late January 2013. This is my spin on the Chandler-style noir mystery, with a unique twist: all the characters are female. I thought it would be interesting to take this macho environment, instantly recognisable to all of us, and make all the players women. So you have the iconic, almost stereotypical, noir characters – world-weary detective, self-destructive victim, femme fatale, psychotic killers, etc – and they’re women, every one. They act and talk like these characters always do – tenderly, violently, bitterly – but they’re women. There is an intriguing tension between the darkness and edge of noir, and the fact that the protagonists are female. Stylistically it’s probably more lyrical and reflective than hard-boiled. It is in part an homage to classic mystery fiction, but with its own aesthetic and distinctive voice. But it incorporates many of the elements of a classic noir: a shocking murder to open, a serpentine plot, unlikely coincidences, outlandish deeds and characters, a mystical-religious sub-plot, hints of a larger conspiracy. Chandler in lipstick and a dress!

I’ve also written a Young Adult urban fantasy novel, based on Irish mythology, which is currently with an agent. I will be ecstatically happy if she takes it on. I’ll say no more for now!


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