Wednesday 21 March 2012

Nick Quantrill interview: The Late Greats

Amazon UK | Amazon US
*** FREE ON KINDLE MARCH 20th-25th ***

Nick Quantrill is a crime writer from Hull. His Joe Geraghty novels are published by Caffeine Nights. His short stories have appeared in volumes 8 and 9 of “The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime.”

Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words? 

Joe Geraghty is employed to look after a reforming band. It goes wrong. It’s a story about friendship and what really constitutes success in life.

Can you provide a YouTube link to a song you'd like to be the title track to the movie adaptation of your book?

That’s an easy one! “The Late Greats” is a song by Wilco, who are one of my favourites. It’s about an imaginary band, so it tied in nicely to the backdrop of the book.

What are you reading now?

I’ve just finished “The Impossible Dead” by Ian Rankin. The premise for the book is great, but the conclusion seemed a bit off the money for me, which is unusual for Rankin. Next up is “Murder Mile” by Tony Black. DI Brennan is an excellent character. A little snappier than most fictional police officers, shall we say?

What do you do when you're not writing?

I gave up the day job to look after my daughter, so that’s exactly how I spend my time. She’s a handful. It was a decision taken to benefit all of the family, and it’s working out well, if being more demanding than I ever thought possible. Other than that, I’m a pass-holder at Hull City. That keeps the anger levels nicely topped up.

How much time do you dedicate to writing? How much time would you like to spend writing?

As much as possible, really. I get child care help a couple of days a week from my mum and my wife obviously does her share when she’s not working. I do something every day, at least a couple of hours a night. Weekends and school holidays I do more. I suspect even if I had a free run at writing, I’d still think I wasn’t spending enough time working at it.

What kind of promotion has most effect?

I don’t think you can really look beyond the mainstream media. I always see a noticeable bounce in sales when I’ve been on the local radio or appeared in the newspaper. The obvious trick is to try and spread that wider and further afield, which is no easy task for a writer with a small press. Online, where it’s a slightly more level playing field, I wouldn’t really be able to draw any firm conclusions. Personally, I’d rather write a guest blog post or something similar, rather than just sling Amazon links up for my books. I think the more engaging you are, the more willing people are to take a look at your work (hopefully). The key is maybe not to get too fixated with outcomes.

What kind of promotion doesn't work?

Where to start…relentless spamming (boring), emailing Kindle files attached to generic emails asking for a review (that person will remain nameless…), tit for tat review swapping (looks obviously false)…I don’t think anyone has yet found a magic formula, but I think it comes down to your own personal boundaries. Just try and be a decent person first and foremost and remember that your main job is to write.
What are your long-term ambitions?

I suspect like everyone who writes, I’d love to make a living from it. I’ve had a taste of freedom away from the 9-to-5, and I’m in no desperate rush to go back to it. Obviously, making a living from writing is no easy task. It’d be great if my novels sustained me, but more realistically, I’m working with arts professionals in different fields and I’m looking to develop what I can offer organisations as an individual. If I can get up in the morning and look forward to the day, that’ll do for me.

Which author should be much better known?

I keep going back to him, but I do think Ray Banks is a class apart. His work so far is such an evocative telling of contemporary Britain, and as I’ve said before, I’m sure he might just have a story in him that goes massive, maybe even the next “Trainspotting”. I hope so.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

I certainly do. I’m hard at work on the third Joe Geraghty novel, which has the working title, “The Crooked Beat”. There’s a Kindle-only novella, “Bang Bang (You’re Dead)” coming later this year via Byker Books and I’m involved in a screenplay project with a group of Yorkshire writers, including David Peace. I’m thinking about the next novel, which will probably be a little bit different and I’ve got an idea to develop for another novella. Plenty to be going on with!

Saturday 17 March 2012

Steven Torres interview: The Concrete Maze |
*** FREE 17th/18th March ***

Steven Torres was born in the Bronx, spent part of his childhood in Puerto Rico and has authored six previously published novels. He teaches English in Connecticut where he lives with wife and daughter.

Can you sum up The Concrete Maze in no more than 25 words?

Jasmine Ramos, 13, goes missing from a skating rink in the Bronx, and her father, Luis, will do anything (to anyone) to get her back.

What was your motivation for writing it?

Many things, but part of it is that I was involved in the periphery of a similar real life story when I was a teenager. I had long wanted to say something about the Bronx in the early 1990s when New York City suffered through a half dozen murders daily. To the outsider, New York probably looked like a cesspool, and it would have been except for one fact – people suffered. I mean, if there were two thousand murders and nobody cared, that would have been a cesspool. But people cared. Desperately. I wanted to show that. Luis Ramos searches the streets of a city that could be incredibly cruel for his daughter. Compelling and true. I don’t know that a writer needs more than that as motivation.

How long did it take you to write?

The book was started while I was spending three weeks of January in Puerto Rico. I wrote about the first fifteen thousand words between trips to see family and to the beach. Then I set the book aside for about a year and wrote the other sixty thousand words during a spring semester. I can’t for the life of me remember what other writing projects I carried out in the time between starting the book and taking it up the second time. There wasn’t any problem with the book itself. It had been going swimmingly; I just ran out of vacation time, started the semester of teaching, worked on other stuff for the rest of the year and never returned to THE CONCRETE MAZE again until the next winter break. Then I picked it up again without missing a beat – like I’d just stepped away to fetch a soda from the fridge. Probably the best writing experience of my life.
Sent early mock-up copies to all the best hardboiled noir type authors I could think of – Ken Bruen, James Sallis, Megan Abbott, Sara Gran, Russel McLean, Al Guthrie and the list goes on. Everyone had kind words, and I knew I’d done something good.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
I write action and dialogue well. Those are my strengths. I am also getting better at the architecture of a novel – juggling character and narrative arcs so that one becomes the other seamlessly. Oh, and I’m usually pretty good at proof-reading my work.

Hmmm, weaknesses? Is this where I put down “too much humility”? I’m not sure it’s a weakness, but I have been trying to write a full-on thriller for several years now and so far it has been dud after dud. There is something about the architecture of the thriller that I’m not getting. Not sure what. They say a thriller is just putting two trains on a collision course – preferably one carrying a load of orphans and nuns and the other carrying a doomsday device – but I guess I’m just not working the formula right.

What crime book are you most looking forward to reading?

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran. I think she did something extraordinary with her novel Dope, and I’d love to know if she managed the feat again.

What makes you keep reading a book?

There are a variety of things that can keep me reading – compelling characters, tightly woven plot – but perhaps the one that gets the least attention is an attention to language. The individual words that get selected and the phrasing of sentences. Economy in language. I just read a couple Edgar Allan Poe stories and the man was an absolute master of this economy. You might think 19th century writers tended toward being verbose – they got paid by the word – but not Poe. He was a mean one. Read “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “The Cask of Amontillado,” and there’s not a word wasted. Everything is doing something. Perhaps harder to sustain in a novel length work, but where you find this, you treasure it.

Of course, I don’t mean that every sentence has to be clipped. Megan Abbott has a luscious prose style – long sentences, poetic passages – but never a word that didn’t need to be there. Ken Bruen may not have the same overall style – tending toward shorter sentence, sometimes the entire sentence is just a heavily weighted word – but every word earns its keep. Write this way, and I’ll read.

Ever tried your hand at screenwriting?

I have. It’s wicked difficult for me. I think it’s that I haven’t read nearly as many scripts as I have novels. Novel and short story writing seem like much better fits for me as a writer, but I think that’s practice. My first screenplay – great concept, sci-fi, space opera, but the execution needs a lot of work. I’ve done bits and pieces of other stories, but I’ve got a story in mind for a relatively quiet movie, and I’m collaborating on a Nazi mad scientist story. We’ll see where that goes.

It is a curious process – writing without getting into the character’s minds or even very much description. It stretches the writing muscles though I’m not sure how much of those skills can be brought back into the novel-world.

Do you read outside of the crime genre?

Absolutely. As an English professor, I really don’t have a choice. I could just teach the same stories, poems, and plays each semester, but that would be dull to me and I have no doubt that boredom would be picked up on by my students. I try to add new works to the syllabus each semester. Just read a short play by Terence McNally called “Andre’s Mother.” It’s not new, but I’d never heard of it before. Ten minutes on the stage, but devastating.

Not to say that non-crime is better than crime. Some of the best stories out there are about crime and punishment including, of course, Crime and Punishment. The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” they’re all crime stories.

Friday 16 March 2012

Doug Johnstone interview: Hit & Run

Amazon UK
Can you sum up Hit & Run in no more than 25 words?

You hit. You run. But what if you have to go back?’ It’s J.G. Ballard’s Crash meets Shallow Grave. Set in Edinburgh.

Do you bear the reader in mind when you're writing? If so, how does that affect the way you write?

You have be your own ideal reader, don’t you? Otherwise, what the hell is the point? I began writing fiction primarily because I didn’t recognise the world around me in the books I was reading. And that made me furious. It seemed like my experience wasn’t worthy of literature, which is bullshit. In the end, I always write something that I would want to read. The irony of that is, it’s really hard to read your own work without being hugely critical of it – all you can see are the mistakes and shit bits.

Provide a YouTube link to a song you'd like to be the title track to the movie adaptation of your book.

Boards of Canada: 'Dayvan Cowboy'

Why anyone would want anyone else to do the soundtrack for their movie is beyond me. The first time I ever heard them I felt physically sick with emotion, like they were tapping into something I recognised, but on a subconscious or purely gut level. Genius.

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

Raymond Carver. Although I get the feeling he was never a writer to collaborate on anything, very single-minded and driven. Imagine trying to harness that weird black magic he had, his ability to say so much with so few words, and work it into a novelistic plot, that would be something, huh? He claimed he never had the patience for writing or reading novels. I’d like to have had the chance to change his mind about that.

Put these in order of importance: language, character, plot, money.

Does anyone ever put money anywhere but last when they answer that? If they do, they’re dicks. For me it’s probably character, plot, language, money. Having said that, I agree with that thing Stephen King said, about how no one ever asks him about his use of language. Just because a book is easy to read and uses simple language, does NOT mean the writer didn’t sweat over every single word in there. At the start of his poem ‘The Blue Stones’, Carver quotes Flaubert: “If I call stones blue it is because blue is the precise word, believe me.” That quote says it all.

What do you do when you're not writing?

When I’m not writing fiction I’m hustling for journalism work or teaching work, when I’m not doing that I’m being a househusband, doing the school run, the nursery run, cooking the tea, cleaning the house, separating the squabbling kids, when I’m not doing that I’m trying to make music, when I’m not doing that I’m trying to find time to chill out with my wife, when I’m not doing that I’m drinking whisky and playing guitar and watching shit films and tweeting about it to wind down.

What are your ambitions for the next year?

To still be alive and writing by the end of it.

Which author should be much better known?

Willy Vlautin.

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

Which author would you most like to bare-knuckle box with? There are too many to choose from. Doris Lessing, maybe? Not because I don’t like her writing, I just reckon I’d have a pretty good chance of getting a result against the 92-year-old Nobel Prize winner. Although I bet she was a scrapper in her day. The real answer is Martin Amis. Because I want to punch him.

How do you feel about reviews?

I feel like I’m gliding through the fucking Matrix, and all the lowlife quisling fucks cannae touch me. Not really, but I have got pretty Zen about them in recent years. I genuinely don’t give a shit either way. I’m quite surprised at myself about that, I have to admit. I read each one once, then throw them up on my website for others to look at. I gave up reading newspapers a few years ago, and the increase in my mental health was huge. It’s just people’s opinions, after all, and like my granny used to say: ‘Opinions are like arseholes, everybody’s got one.’

Saturday 10 March 2012

Anthony Neil Smith interview: All The Young Warriors

Amazon UK | Amazon US
*** Free 10th/11th March ***

Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?

Two young Somali-American men leave a trail of dead in Minnesota as they head to Mogadishu to join a terrorist army. A heartbroken cop joins the father of one of those boys, himself a former gang leader, to bring them to justice.

So the answer is no, I can’t do it in 25 words.

What's unique about it?

The blend of the Minnesota and Somali settings, digging into the astounding story of the Minneapolis “lost boys”—Somali-American men being drafted to go back to Africa and terrorize those left behind.

What did you learn while writing it?

Since the “lost boys” concept was the story that initially caught my attention, I spent a lot of time then researching the current situation in Somalia itself, since I knew I wouldn’t be able to visit. The Somali connection to the Twin Cities is an unusual one. Somehow, that’s where the most Somali immigrants have decided to make their home, and it’s a wonderful story. But then there are the Somali gangs creating havoc in the Cities, too. You take the good with the bad.

How important is talent?

Very very important. But it can only take you so far. Once you discover a talent for writing, you’ve got to read, man. You’ve got to find out how it works. You’ve got to turn your ideas into sweat, tears, and blood (or ink. Or something).

Craft is more important than talent. Craft is what it takes to make a sturdy story. Talent can help make it artful, more in-depth, more stylish, more affecting, but you can still get away with a well-told story and let the reader supply the rest.

Who would you like to direct the film adaptation?

I’m sticking with Tony Scott. I can just feel it.

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

How about Toni Morrison? That’s, like, money and prestige. Can’t say I really liked the books of hers I have read, but maybe I can teach her a few things about pulp and clear, direct writing, and she can teach me a few things about being a Nobel Prize Winner and national treasure.

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

“Elmer’s Glue should work just fine.”

How would you describe your taste in books?

Spotty. I like science books, crime, high-minded sci-fi (like China Mieville), weird literary fiction, thrillers, old pulp novels, and whatnot.

What was the last good eBook you read?
Amazon UK | Amazon US

Okay, so I’m cheerleading for the Blasted Heath team here, but I’ve been just floored by Douglas Lindsay’s The Unburied Dead. It reminds me quite a bit of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct, Ken Bruen’s Brant novels, Joseph Wambaugh, and Irvine Welsh’s Filth, but told with such a boldness and gonzo tilt that it stands out from the crowd. Kudos.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading a book called Brenner and God by Wolf Haas, a German writer who is crazy popular in Europe, but is getting launched in the US by literary publisher Melville House, who have been doing excellent work in crime fiction, including a new run of the Derek Raymond Factory novels. It’s a weird book. I like weird.

In the past week I’ve read two Richard Stark novels and a Jean Patrick Manchette.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I watch a lot of TV. I eat food I shouldn’t eat (because of the diabetes). I change the kitty litter. I walk my puppy, Herman. I hang out with my wife. I try to get away from the town where I’m living to go prettier places like Lake Superior. I teach. I direct the Creative Writing Program at Southwest Minnesota State University (for a few more months. After that I’ll be Chair of the English Dept.), which is a really sweet job. And I sleep.

How much do you read?

Not enough. I’m pretty slow. Takes me weeks to read a long novel. And yet in the last few weeks, I’ve blazed through some books.

How much time do you dedicate to writing? How much time would you like to spend writing?

When I’m not teaching, I try to give it three or four hours a day. When I am, I still try for one hour. But if I had the freedom to just do four hours every day, yeah, I’d do that.

What are your ambitions for the next year?

I want to write a few books. I want to be on the Ed McBain/Richard Stark schedule. I want to write faster. Let the revising carve out the rest.

What are your long-term ambitions?

I just want to write and find more readers. I like being a crime writer, so I’m not looking to cross over into literary fiction. I think the work I’m doing deserves some literary attention as is, so it’s not like I want to “pretentious up” my stuff.

And if I stumble across a good thriller that sells millions, cool. But the way my mind works, I doubt it.

How effective is social media as a marketing aid?

I’ve found it to be brutally effective. The word gets out, people support each other, and the readers give new writers a shot based on all the buzz. Happy to see it work like that. It’s almost like that elusive “word of mouth” we hear about (I’m cribbing from Smudge now).

How do you feel about reviews?

I’m fine with them. I like to make fun of my bad reviews. Just too tempting not to. But I don’t take them as anything more than personal taste unless they’re from a pro. And the pro might be playing to particular audiences, or a particular critical slant. So you just have to take it in stride. I do. Sort of.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

I’m trying to finish up the third Billy Lafitte novel, which is ever closer to being done (first draft at least), and I’ve got a partial manuscript of a new book featuring Mustafa and Adem from All the Young Warriors, but I think it’ll take a bit of time to finish. In between, I think it’s time to work on the second Octavia VanderPlatts novel. And also, I’ve been signed to work on a Dead Man novella as part of that great series from Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. Very cool stuff, and I’m excited to be a part of it!

Thursday 1 March 2012

John Barlow interview: Hope Road

Hope Road by John Barlow
95p | $1.50 | £2.22 | $2.99

John Barlow was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire, but now lives in Spain. He won the Paris Review Discovery/Plimpton Prize for his first published work, and since then has published fiction with HarperCollins and non-fiction with FSG. His books have been translated into six languages. His website is at:

Can you sum up Hope Road in no more than 25 words?

HOPE ROAD is a psychological mystery. It’s about the son of a career criminal who’s been ‘straight’ all his life, but who gets involved in a murder investigation.

What's unique about it?

It’s an amateur sleuth story with a police procedural running in parallel. But I’ve also tried to explore the way that crime affects human relationships, in particular the relationship between the sleuth (the son of a career criminal) and his girlfriend (a young police detective). That’s the ‘psychological’ element, a term I adopted after an early review pointed out the character-driven nature of the book.

What are your expectations for the book?

My aim is to take the crime family at the centre of the novel and write a whole series of novels. It’s set in Leeds, and I’ve had some very gratifying comments about how I’ve evoked that city. My dearest hope is that someone will say, ‘It’s a bit like Kate Atkinson’s STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, but grittier, and it delves a bit deeper into the soul.’

What did you learn while writing it?

On the practical crime side I learned two main things. First, I discovered that my uncle John had been an arms dealer, and was found dead on a flight from Amsterdam with his throat cut. The UK police were after him for the theft of munitions from the British army, and he was suspected of various other arms-related crimes. That, of course, partly explains why I am so interested in the issue of crime and families... Then, I was lucky to get a contact which eventually led me to a real money counterfeiter (HOPE ROAD involves a subplot about fake money). That was really great research.

Do you bear the reader in mind when you're writing? If so, how does that affect the way you write?

I try and write in such a way that the reader never notices that there’s an author there. I want to story to be told as naturally as possible. I do loads of rewrites, each one trying to make the prose simpler and smoother. I try and become a reader every time I return to the text, coming at it from different angles, re-reading in different ways.

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

And So It Goes, by Billy Joel I will choose to be with you
As if the choice were mine to make
For you can make decisions too
And you can have this heart to break.

And so it goes and so it goes
And you're the only one who knows...

HOPE ROAD is really about why we lie to those who love us most. It’s about the pain but also the normalcy of deception. A love story, I guess. ‘And So It Goes’ perfectly captures the underlying melancholy of the main character.

Who would you like to direct the film adaptation?

Michael Winterbottom

To what extent do you view writing as a business?

It’s my job. I write my own books, and I also work as a ghost-writer (financial thriller at the moment!). In addition, I do some journalism and also work as an academic editor and occasional translator. So, one way and another writing is my only business. Writing my own fiction is special, though; I could stop all the other stuff tomorrow, but not my own writing.

How much do you read?

I read and/or write all day, every day. The only respite is that I do the occasional feature for a food magazine, and these involve travelling to report on some food producer or other. Reading for pleasure? Less that I used to, but a fair bit. More crime than anything at the moment.

What are your ambitions for the next year?

I aim to finish the follow-up novel to HOPE ROAD, which will explore the background to my uncle’s arms dealing activities more deeply. I also have a YA novel. I’m probably going to sign with an ambitious new e-publisher for the YA book, which will be a new and exciting departure for me.

What are your long-term ambitions?

My primary aim is to see how the ebook market develops and to try and position myself somewhere within it. One way or another, I’ll be staring at a screen all day, that’s for sure!

Hope Road by John Barlow
95p | $1.50 | £2.22 | $2.99