Friday 1 April 2011

Declan Burke interview: Eightball Boogie

Eightball Boogie by Declan Burke

Declan Burke is an author and arts journalist. He has published three novels to date: ‘The Big O’, ‘Crime Always Pays’ and ‘Eightball Boogie’. He is the editor of ‘Down These Green Streets: Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century’ (Liberties Press), and hosts a website dedicated to Irish crime fiction called Crime Always Pays.

What's the book about, and what was your motivation for writing it?

Eightball Boogie started out as a fun exercise in writing a chapter about the classic private eye moment - when our intrepid hero first meets the desperate client. I liked the private eye, Harry Rigby, so much that I just kept on writing, and the story kept coming. As I got into it, the motivation became a fluid thing, and changed quite a lot. At first, I simply liked the idea of having a classic private eye (Rigby is heavily influenced by Marlowe, Spade and Archer) operating in the northwest of Ireland; later, as the story came to incorporate corrupt politicians and ex-paramilitaries diversifying away from politically-inspired crime to more prosaic forms of criminality, I thought the book had something relevant to say about its time and place. Ireland has changed pretty dramatically in the last decade or so, and I wanted to try to reflect some of those changes.

Who designed your cover and how much difference does a good one make?

JT Lindroos designed the cover, and did a very fine job indeed, in my humble opinion. It took a couple of tries to get it right, mainly because JT is the creative guy and I kept sticking my oar in, but I did want to get it as right as possible, because a good cover is pretty important, I think. It’s particularly important when it’s the cover of an ebook, because the covers of ebooks are generally only viewed in postage stamp-sized images, so the cover needs to be stark, dramatic, eye-catching. With so many other books clamouring for the reader’s attention, your cover needs to stand out. In essence, the cover is the first impression a reader will get of your book, and we all know how important first impressions are. If the cover doesn’t look smart, if it isn’t produced to a professional standard, the reader - and rightly so, in my opinion - is going to presume that the writing inside is similarly lacking.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

I’m one of those naive writers who just loves everything about the writing process. Drill down to the very fundamentals of what I try to do, and it’s all about getting the right words in the right order on a sentence-by-sentence basis. And I love tinkering with words, that’s why I first wanted to become a writer. It’s a simple but simultaneously complex joy. I think it was Joseph Conrad who said (I’m paraphrasing) that every word of every line of every sentence of every paragraph of every page should lead inexorably to the final line. In a sense, that’s what I’m after. I think if you pay attention to every single word, then you’ve a pretty good chance of writing a good book. Then, once the first draft is finished, I love redrafting, because that’s where the tinkering really starts to happen. I really don’t mind how many drafts it takes to get it right-right-right, because to me it’s all fun. It can be tough getting the time to do it, because I have a full-time day job, but for that hour or two every day when I get to tinker with the words, it’s pure joy.

As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?

I suppose I’d err on the side of realism; I do like my novels to be rooted in an authentic reality, even if I’m reading some kind of crime / sci-fi hybrid. I’m too old these days, I think, to buy into the super-human James Bond-style hero who saves the world with one leap over a high building; I’m much more interested in heroes (or anti-heroes) who are ostensibly ordinary men and women, but who find themselves tested in extremis by extraordinary situations. I think that that is partly because, for me, the crime novel is (or should be) something of a document of its time and place, and that it is far more important a genre than it’s generally given credit for by the literary, mainstream reviewers and critics.

As a writer, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?

That’s tough question for me - I don’t have an ideal reader. I think the idea of an ‘ideal reader’ is misplaced, the idea that if only a writer could get his book to a reader, or group of readers, who appreciate a number of issues, then that reader or readers will fully ‘get’ the story. It’s not the job of a reader to be an ‘ideal reader’, it’s the job of the writer to be fully convincing in terms of his or her characters, plot, setting, etc., so that any potential reader will be fully convinced of the story which unfolds. It’s not that simple, of course; any given reader might not be well disposed to, say, a graphic representation of violence, or hurt visited on a dog or a cat, and if your story contains those elements, then you’ll lose that reader no matter how convincing your story is. Maybe my concept of an ‘ideal reader’ is a reader who comes to a book, any book, with an open mind, ready and willing to be persuaded by the story. That’s certainly how I open every book. After that, as I say, the ball is very much back in the writer’s court.
If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?

That’s another tough question, although for all the right reasons - there are so many crime novels I’d love to have the time to re-read. I do try to read at least one Raymond Chandler novel every year, and if I had to pick one it would be The Long Goodbye. But I’d also like to be able to re-read Alistair MacLean’s When Eight Bells Toll every now and again; there’s at least a handful of Elmore Leonard’s novels that are worth re-reading; James Ellroy’s novels, and particularly those of the ‘Dudley Smith quartet’; the early George Pelecanos novels; Barry Gifford’s crime stories; Adrian McKinty’s Dead I Well May Be; Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy; three or four of Jim Thompson’s better novels, and particularly The Killer Inside Me … It’s a very, very long list.

What crime book are you most looking forward to reading?

There’s a few on my radar, a couple of which are already on my TBR list, that I’m almost salivating at the prospect of reading. John Hart’s latest, Iron House, arrived last week; Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage is due in a month or so; I have a soft spot for Carl Hiassen’s comedy capers, and I’m due to read Star Island in the next couple of weeks. Another couple of very fine Irish writers, Brian McGilloway and Conor Fitzgerald, release Little Girl Lost and The Fatal Touch, respectively, in the next couple of months, and Adrian McKinty’s Falling Glass is begging to be picked up. I also like the look of Domingo Villar’s Death on a Galician Shore, which I’ll be getting to shortly.

From an artistic rather than financial perspective, what book do you wish you had written?

That would very probably be The Magus by John Fowles. Not strictly a crime novel, although it has a Nazi war crime at its heart, but it’s one of my favourite novels, not least for its setting on a remote Greek island. Fowles is a beautiful stylist, and his prose fairly sings, but he’s very strong on pace, atmosphere and character too. In my humble opinion, The Magus is longer than it needs to be; roughly the last quarter of the novel needs a comprehensive editing. So maybe I’d like to have written it just as it is for the first three-quarters of the story, and then get busy tinkering and fiddling with the last bit …

Eightball Boogie by Declan Burke


  1. Ah yes, of course it went up on April Fool's Day. Now it all starts to make sense ...

    Much obliged for the opportunity, squire.

    Cheers, Dec

  2. Well done. Dec has a tendency to be a bit self-deprecating in his blog, and Allan's questions kept him on honest. Or, having read some of Allan's work, maybe it was the fear of a good arse-kicking.

    Either way, this is good work.

  3. Looking forward to that freebie copy of 8-ball, Dec ... and a nice shout-out there for Horace McCoy, all too rarely mentioned these days but a great writer.

  4. That's interesting. I think it was The Magus that first opened my eyes to what a novel could be.

  5. Much obliged, chaps.

    Tony, the 8-ball is yours over a pint of the black. Horace McCoy - and esp. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye - is hugely underrated in terms of his influence.

    Ruby - If I ever wrote a book half as good as The Magus, I'd happily hang up the quill.

    Cheers, Dec

  6. Great interview. And at least one line gave my current WIP a jolt it had been needing. Thanks.

  7. McCoy's influence does tend to get glossed over. THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? is another classic and highly influential too. KISS TOMORROW is proto-Jim Thompson, hell of a book. Another massively influential writer from the early years is W R Burnett. He pretty much created the gangster novel with LITTLE CAESAR and created the blueprint for heist novels with THE ASPHALT JUNGLE.