Saturday, March 6, 2010
Genre Prejudice and Segregation
Hercule Periot never solved a crime in outer space. Frodo Baggins never encountered aliens. Perry Mason never went on a safari to search for lost Aztec gold.
These are things we cannot imagine because they were never written that way. Agatha Christie was quite content to keep her detective on earth, solving earthly crimes. The same for Frodo and Perry. They have their own universe and never the twain shall meet.
And I’m okay with that. Frankly, I don’t want Periot to get on a rocket and go solve the mystery of the intergalactic express. I don’t want Frodo donning armor and machine-gunning aliens. And Perry’s best adventures are in the court room. We like our characters in nice, neat little plots of land with tall fences around to keep out the riffraff. We don’t want dragons to interfere with our traditional mysteries featuring quilting groups. And you lawyers and doctors: you best stay out of intergalactic space, thank you very much. Space rangers are good enough.
Genres--in books, on television, on the silver screen--are comfort food. In my writings on “CSI: Miami” this season, I’ve said as much. If the writers get too fancy with Horatio Caine’s character, ratings drop. If an author puts just a little too much romance in a piece of crime fiction, readers don’t like all that mushy stuff.
Why? Why is it so wrong to cross-pollinate genres?
This is a crime fiction blog and I write crime fiction. I read crime fiction. But there are times when I just want to follow Conan as he slashes some giant creature or jet off with Doc Savage to some far-off land in search of something mystical. I get in genre moods and I discover that I only want to read fantasy or mysteries or classical literature. I can’t say why this happens. If I knew, I could control it. But, frankly, I kind of like the pendulum swinging the way it does.
Currently, I’m in a fantasy mood. I’m reading China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels and The Graveyard Book, and the second Doc Savage novel. Next to me on my writing desk is the complete chronicles of Conan. P. D. James’s Talking about Detective Fiction is here, too. Naturally, the things I’m writing correspond to my reading. I’m working on a collaboration with another author and we’re writing an adventure tale with some steampunkish elements. Another solo story is a straight-up steampunk tale. Next on my list, after I finish a piece of crime fiction, is a werewolf tale in the old west. Talk about mixing genres.
But I still come back to this genre segregation and why it exists. I’ve only read the first J. D. Robb/Eve Dallas novel but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a mystery story, set in the future, with strong romantic themes and scenes. I talk to SF readers about the series and they don’t want to touch it because it’s too “romancey.” I talk to mystery readers and they dismiss the series because of the love stuff and it’s got too much SF. The only people who seem okay with everything are the romance readers.
Judging purely from book covers, romance books have their heroines in contemporary settings, fantasy and urban fantasy settings, supernatural settings, historical settings, science fictional settings, and others. And those book sell very well. I wonder why that is? Does love conquer all? Is it a case of that particular genre being flexible enough to accommodate all styles of storytelling and the readership just goes with the flow?
To be honest, this is not the conclusion I expected to reach when I started this post but I’m glad I got here. Why do readers of one genre reject so many tropes of other genres? Or am I just going off and making up a problem that doesn’t really exist?
Friday, March 5, 2010
Talk To Me (a slight flashback)
This week, I'm running late again, with deadlines, so I thought why should I do all the yakking? I figured, why not let you see some of the great stuff I've been finding on the web of late. But let's pretend to have a theme by linking only to interviews.
Like this one with the Godlike Don Winslow
Or this chat with the magnificent Tony Black
Or the wonderful Donna Moore's day with a real life PI
I also thought you might enjoy some video interviews, too. Such as an hour long session with the legend that is Lawrence Block conducted by Charles Ardai. I was at this Bouchercon and missed the intervew because I had been taken by a bearded bad influence to get beer and chicken wings somewhere else the city.
Or this with the incomprarable Laura Lippman, whose WHAT THE DEAD KNOW still haunts me.
But then I figured, "oh, you want more bang for your buck, right?" and remembered a little project I was thinking about lately. When Crime Scene Scotland folded into irregular blog-only fomat, a wealth of content dissapeared from the web. But I still had many of the original files. Such as one of my favourite interviews with the best writer you should be reading, Mr Ray Banks (whose latest US release, NO MORE HEROES, has just hit US stores in harback, you lucky, lucky people). So, in honour of Ray's release, and to save me typing original content (I really should be concentrating on the next novel), allow me to take back to 2006 and the halycon days of Banks first releasing his brilliant second novel, SATURDAY'S CHILD upon the world:
Ray Banks is one of the best writers to emerge in recent years. Kicking Brit Crime hard in the crotch, he's one of the new breed of noir writers who are taking the British crime novel back down into the gutters where it belongs. His characters can hardly be described as likeable and yet they are compelling in their own ways... fascinating studies of some of the worst aspects of our nature. His grimy take on modern Britain reflects the true nature of the darker facets of our modern urban existence. And more than that, he writes like the Devil himself.
We were honoured to be able to catch some time with Banks before his appearance at Waterstones in Edinburgh alongside Al "Sunshine" Guthrie and Alan "Sparky" Bissett, although we perhaps should apologise for ensuring that he was late for his own event.RAY BANKS: Before we start, should I hold my book up?
RUSSEL McLEAN: Okay, hold it up.
RB: Yeah, right in front of the microphone.
RM: Well you’re away to do a panel so you should really hold it up, then.
RB: Sure, I’ll put it on the table. I’m sure it won’t make me look like a prize ponce.
RM: Right, well I think we’ll dive right in. We’ll start with Saturday’s Child: fantastic book as we’ve already said here on the site. Actually we’ll be changing the review once this is finished.
RB: Finally admitting it’s a pile of shite.
RM: Yeah, that’s it. What struck me was that you’re dealing with the PI mythos in a very British environment which is a very tough thing to do. I seem to remember someone (I’m fairly certain it was Stuart MacBride) [Although it should be noted that MacBride can't remember this, and it may have been my mind playing tricks on me] saying that PI novels are the toughest thing to do in a British setting.
RB: I suppose that’s true because the PI’s a very American archetype. And a lot of the British PI novels that I read,.. they all seemed to be a bit, for want of a better word, lame. In that the PIs were very much the kind of Marlowe stereotype: they all had drinking problems, mostly divorced, mostly this and mostly that. There were just little things that would throw me out like… a certain PI, I won’t mention who wrote him, got hold of a gun very very quickly. I said, okaaaay, and that would be the end of that book for me… well you know how I feel about guns anyway [Making reference to his Not The White City panel at Bouchercon 2005 which became very heated on the subject of gun control in the UK]
RM: I was sorry I missed that panel
RB: Yeah, it got a little out of control, a little heated. But it always seemed to me that these characters were always playing PIs rather than actually being PIs. We do have private investigators in this country but its corporate crime, pretty dull stuff, and you don’t have that kind of Lone Wolf PI tradition… and this basically originated from the short stories… Cal Innes is a very, very different character in the books than he is in the short stories. I was originally gonna tie them in with the book but it was impossible because an almost entirely different person.
RM: So the same name but a different kind of feel?
RB: It’s the same name… kind of a shared history but the temperaments might be different. When he was in the short stories he was basically a PI who had a bit of trouble in his past and… there wasn’t a great deal about his home life… and there was a little bit about Donna in one of the short stories and Paulo and the lad’s club and so on but there wasn’t a great deal of back story. He was basically just a tool to tell the story which a PI often is… like a commentator on what’s happening rather than an active participant… that’s what he was in the short stories.
RM: Like a camera?
RB: Yeah, so you’re seeing everything that’s going on through this one guy who’s supposed to be some kind of moral yardstick. But when it comes to translating that to a novel he would have been very dull to read about. So in order to address that… and what I prefer to read anyway is characters who are a little bit screwed up, who don’t necessarily have all their functions and aren’t necessarily thinking straight… I mean they’re trying to do the right thing, but it always turns back on them. But he’s not really a PI.
RM: No. He acts like one and he obviously thinks he’s one… I mean he makes up his business cards at the machine in the service station. One of the things that quite struck me was the parallel in one sense with the early Matt Scudder stories. When he was doing favours for friends before he got his license.
RB: You mean when Scudder was good? Before he quit drinking? But the main PI that I was always thinking of was Jack Taylor [Ken Bruen’s Galway based PI: an alcoholic and generally rather screwed up hero] because the beautiful thing about Ken’s books is that you’re reading them… and you’re not necessarily reading them for the plot.. you’re reading because he’s an alcoholic, essentially… which is why I like the early Scudder books… you’re reading about this alcoholic who tithes…
RM: The character is important rather than the plot?
RB: Yeah, and these books are alcoholism dealt with properly rather than “uh, yeah, I like a bit of a drink and then I have a blackout and then, ooo, something else bad’s happened to me” I’d actually prefer to read and write about someone who actually had issues to deal with on an almost minute to minute basis… With Cal it wasn’t necessarily the drink but the ex prisoner thing and his ties to Uncle Morris [a criminal boss in Saturday’s Child]
RM: I feel when I’m reading it he’s trying to constantly turn that part of his life around but he never quite seems to manage it. And that’s something with both Saturday’s Child and The Big Blind… they both seem to be about these kind of choices…
RB: God, you’re good, man: that’s exactly what it was all about. It was all about choices. The Big Blind was, I think, a bit more obviously about one moral choice that Alan has to make about whether Stevie lives or dies and he has to face the consequences of that… but he takes the easy way out… the good and right thing to do is never really the easy thing. With Cal, these choices are more on a kind of ongoing basis. As much as he’s trying to turn his life around he’s kind of stopped by himself. Especially in the later books. Especially in the book I’m writing just now. Suffice to say that car accident, when he gets knocked over… that has major repercussions in the rest of the book and the rest of the series.
It is a finite series. Because if I didn’t make it a finite series he would end up like so many PIs being cranked out again and again and again and eroding what made the earlier books so much fun... and I don’t want to be one of those writers, all fat and comfortable and lazy. With Cal, considering his circumstances, he’s not that kind of PI. He doesn’t even really have an office. He doesn’t have a background in law or anything like that. He has no skills, he’s just making it up as he goes along. Like me.
RM: He can’t keep meeting clients in pub toilets and getting beaten up?
RB: Yeah, that’s it exactly.
RM: That was what I was planning to mention, your thoughts on the nature of series characters and whether Cal was a finite character.
RB: It’s only five books. I might do some odds and sods with Cal, but not another full-length book...
RM: Do you think there’s ever a point with any character where you could keep them going more or less indefinitely? Do you think anyone’s managed it convincingly yet?
RB: Not off the top of my head. I mean, Ken Bruen’s going strong with Jack Taylor. At the end of The Dramatist I thought, right, that’s it, he can’t possibly… I mean there’s gotta be a limit to the amount of punishment he can take before, you know, he collapses into a coma. And he has some horrible things happen to him in The Dramatist. There’s that kick-arse ending.
RM: Ahhh, you see, I’ve still not read that one. I’ve read Priest, though.
RB : So you know what happens at the end of The Dramatist, then?
RB: You’ve just spoiled it for yourself! ‘Cause when that comes, oh, you just don’t expect it! A real kick in the heart. And I think Ken’s doing a wonderful thing whereby it’s kind of like a cycle… a pattern that he [Jack Taylor] goes through, like the kind of choral way he writes... There’s repetition and reinforcement like a great song. A real murder ballad. It’s the same thing with the books of Jim Sallis… He wrote what is very much a finite set of books and yet it’s totally infinite too… and I’m hoping to get that kind of feeling. Because when you get to the end of the Lew Griffin books [Sallis’s series] you start reading them again because they are kind of like a cycle whereby patterns repeat themselves and he puts on different masks all the way through it…
RM: But you get a feeling of finality at the end?
RB: Yes. The ending of the books as I’m planning at the moment is going to be pretty finite.
RM: But Cal and Donna aren’t going to spoil the romantic tension like Maddy and Dave of moonlighting?
RB: It’s funny, did you read that on the Blog [Ray blogs on a semi-frequent basis at his website: http://www.thesaturdayboy.com - although it has undergone so many revamps since this interview that the post in question is long gone]? Kerri was asking when Donna and Cal were getting together. They are in the third book together. She does come down to Manchester.[Did this actually happen? UK readers will already know, but US readers will have to buy the new hardcover edition of the spanky NO MORE HEROES to see if Ray got this bit in the book] As to whether they consummate that relationship is another story entirely because of certain things that I probably shouldn’t go into.
RM: You put in all the romantic tension to widen your audience base, didn’t you?
RB: Actually, yeah! Well, there’s gotta be some respite from the doom and gloom and all that, and it can’t just all be cracking gags. There’s gotta be some kind of hope of redemption. And that’s a beautiful thing that Jason Starr does… and Al [Guthrie] as well. You give the character that glimmer of hope and then you go, no, you’re not having that! That will make you keep reading. So, yeah, Donna and Cal are gonna be that kind of glimmer… but they’re both really, really damaged, Funnily enough. I don’t think there’s anybody who’s not damaged in these books, to be honest.
RM: So we’ll never see a Ray Banks chicklit, then?
RB: Well after the response to the Cozy [Ray wrote a cozy paragraph for reading at a panel at Left Coast Crime 2006] you never know… I might write a cat mystery! With that cosy paragraph I was really just taking the piss… but… people seemed to enjoy it! So you never know… Francesca Muldoon might be written under a pseudonym...
RM: Next thing you know you’ll be writing in the style of Rendell…
RB: REEENDEEELL! Ah, I think I’d better move on before the red mist falls.
RM: I find the violence in the books very well done… kind of a nice change… its very street level and there on the page in front of the reader compared to some serial killer books where violence is often grotesque but often offstage and not so affecting.
RB: The thing is with serial killer books… its like John Rickards has said that certain writers feel they have to up the ante every time… so you’ve got people’s eyelids being cut off and all that… and I read these things and I think, “yeah, it sounds like it hurts,” but I can’t really relate to it, it’s out of my sphere of knowledge so it’s just ick for ick’s sake. I’m more likely to relate to somebody getting their nose broken. You know what that’s gonna feel like… we’ve all smashed our heads or whatever, got into those two-punch fights… and you get the tears in the eyes, you can’t focus, the blood and everything… But… and I was talking about this the other day… I don’t think that the eyelid stuff’s necessarily violent. It’s just gore.
I think there are some violent parts to the book. There’s the bit in the toilets at the beginning… it’s violent, but not a lot of violence takes place…
RM: It’s more a scuffle.
RB: Yeah, its more like, when I was in the toilet earlier some guy went into the cubicle and it sounded like he was wrestling with it… that clatter, clatter, bang, crash… So there’s that, there’s the bit where Cal gets beaten up… the cricket bat scene which keeps coming back to haunt me. I mean, its kind of sadistic, but I hope you understand why he’s doing that.
RM: It’s where Cal’s at his lowest ebb, I suppose… it’s where he makes the choice to go in a certain direction.
RB: For the most part of the book he’s trying to control that base anger, And at this point it just spills out: he’s had too much to drink and he’s really upset, hopefully understandably so. And the most horrific bit of violence comes right at the end [edited here for spoilers to the plot]: that was the only bit that maybe I thought I’d gone a bit too far but then I said, “nah.”
RM: But it’s in the nature of [this character]. You can’t forgive him but you do expect it from him.
RB: It’s almost casual… and that’s what’s disturbing. And it’s uncomfortable because there’s this tenderness after the fact, which is really what I thought was going too far. Its not posed punches or anything like that. In real life people are scuffling and they can’t throw punches and they’re kicking each other in the shoulders, punching each other’s ears and that… that’s what you see. Round where we live on the weekends when the pubs kick out you can see these drunk people hugging each other, almost or they’re just rolling around… It’s the kind of violence I like to see in books because violence is supposed to hurt and it’s supposed to be awkward.
RM: If Cal ever makes it to the movies, we’ll never see him in bullet time, then?
RB: Maybe if he’s really drugged up or something…
The kind of violence that stays with me in movies is like the pavement thing in American History X, or the pistol-whipping in Goodfellas... you know the bit where Ray Liotta just stalks over to the guy next door and wails on him with his .38. And the effects of violence... like the aftermath of the kicking Jeff Bridges gets in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot... saw that when I was kid, scarred me for life.
I can’t emotionally engage with violence that’s atrocity after atrocity after atrocity. When it becomes almost… well, comic…
RM: Like an over the top gory horror movie? Where you end up laughing instead of being scared?
RB: You reach a sort of Troma level of things like heads exploding… I’m not keen on that and I like to see characters who’ve been hit suffer and carry those scars with them. Like I was saying about the series character, there’s only so much they can suffer before it’s too much. The one I’m writing at the moment he’s carrying two books worth of beatings with him. That horrific beating he gets in the first one, he carries that with him… you know, with the codeine he gets prescribed by Dr Dick and then he gets part of his ear shot off in Donkey Punch.
You know, I wanted to get him shot. But I couldn’t set it in Britain and have him shot [Donkey Punch, Ray's second novel - also known as Sucker Punch - takes place in the US]
RM: I think you can get away with it in some settings and not others.
RB: There’s a certain market and a certain type of book that you can expect it in. Like Simon Kernick’s books. You can believe it in them because, well, they’re thrillers and these guys are all packing guns and that’s fine and Kernick does that really well. But what annoys me is very much a middle-class thing where they’re like, “Oh, I’ll just go to a rough pub and secure myself a weapon” and you think, no, what are you, high? Or just lazy writing... With the gun culture in this country it’s just not that easy to buy a gun. There aren’t people just walking around with guns.
RM: Well, maybe in parts of London.
RB: Yeah, and I hear Birmingham’s got a bad gun reputation. One of my favourite moments was in the film Bullet Boy, where the cops burst into a flat because there’s a hand gun on the premises... that’s the kind of reaction the police have to weapons... it’s like there’s a bomb in the place... But where I grew up a weapon was batteries in a sock or a pool cue or a six inch nail in Mars Bar. Its what they used to use in football grounds. One of the hooligan tricks was they’d put this nail inside a Mars Bar so they could get it through into the stands and then, wham! And then there’s knives, and Stanley knives which I’ve never liked the look of… car aerials, which can be particularly nasty… cricket bats…
RM: What’s frightening about these kind of weapons is that they’re so easily obtainable. Like glassing, I suppose.
RB: Y’know, I haven’t done a glassing scene yet. I will do one at some point. I mean… you can just grind it and… well you can see the damage it does to people’s faces. You only need to look at the late Oliver Reed because he was glassed at one point and he had scars all over his face. It’s a horrible way of disfiguring someone for life.
But I’m not keen on guns. There’s a gun in Donkey Punch but it’s set in America so I can kind of get away with it... and even then I was reticent about having one... maybe even more so because it was set in America, because I didn’t want to be one of those writers who’re like, “Oh it’s America, everyone’s packing heat because they’re all crazy and violent”... that kind of patronising rubbish... But the kind of gangsters in Saturday’s Child… well, there’s Rossie who carries a butterfly knife. There was this kid at school had a butterfly knife. He used to flick it about like that [demonstrates] and he cut his hand to ribbons because he couldn’t do it.
You know, I’m not interested in the big gun-toting gangsters. I’m interested in the low level ones. The Scally gangster. The ones who’ll rip off a car and then not know what to do with it. Well, Mo Tiernan [From Saturday’s Child] is a small time pill pusher. He’s not even graduated to Heroin. So he pushes pills because it’s something he can do and it makes him feel like Tony Montana.
RM: Which again is about this street level mentality that I think has been missing from mainstream Brit crime for a long time. Of course there are a few writers trying to bring that back. There’s you and Al Guthrie for sure, and for our purposes here I’m going to use Ken Bruen…
RB: …the London novels, yeah…
RM: …As an example even though he’s Irish. I mean, I’m not saying this is a massive movement but it’s gaining in popularity at least on an underground level.
RB: We’re kind of undermining the entire crime genre in this country, yes, with our dirty little books... how dare we? And Ken’s a wonderful example because… well, there’s The Hackman Blues and Rilke on Black…
RM: Of course, The Hackman Blues, which, sure enough, a certain someone tried to ban… and then ended up on the cover of one of Ken’s books…
RB: Yeah, Taming The Alien.
RM: I’m sure they said it was disguised but I knew who it was straight off.
RB: It’s pretty obvious who it is if you have a good look, you can’t miss those rows of Critter teeth… But The Hackman Blues is one of my favourite Bruen books… it was my favourite for a long time until I read American Skin. The book’s getting this kind of reputation that,.. well in a way it’ll be strange if it ever gets published because the hype has kind of outgrown it… But it is absolutely… it’s on a par with The Hackman Blues.
RM: I met Ken briefly at Bouchercon… cool guy… and I said to him how much I enjoyed The Hackman Blues… and he turns round and says, “Oh, it’s a horrible little book!”
RB: Well it is a horrible book! It’s completely non-redemptive in every sense… I mean, you shouldn’t have to redeem any one, any of your characters...
RM: A story has to be honest to its core…
RB: Yes, these people should not and do not go walking off into the sunset. Its sort of an old school noir paperback mentality… like the fantastic last chapter of The Getaway [Jim Thompson] where it’s almost existential… its just that good. It shouldn’t have worked, maybe, but it did. Or at the end of Savage Night which is grotesque and… there shouldn’t be any kind of false redemption, I don’t think. I don’t think there’s any real redemption at the end of Saturday’s Child.
RM: That’s true… why would these characters need redemption forced on them? Unless its an attempt to make them sympathetic… to force that on them… one of the notes I have here about your characters is that they’re always interesting and engaging and wonderfully layered but they’re not necessarily sympathetic…
RB: That’s right, me and Al [Guthrie] for sure, we definitely don’t go for sympathy! Why should we? We’re not collecting for charity... Empathy’s the only thing you need. Although I’m twisted in my belief about my characters and I would say if there’s anyone… its Mo that’s probably the most sympathetic to me. Cal can be a real nasty piece of work… I suppose like Slater in The Big Blind. I don’t know that I like him…
RM: But the thing is, in The Big Blind especially, you’re on Slater’s side at first and then… Well, I don’t think with Cal he’s as bad as Slater was…
RB: No, that was pretty awful. But then in my mind there was a direct correlation between Alan Slater and… well one of the Thompson ones, A Hell of a Woman or A Swell Looking Babe where there’s this emptiness to the character and even he eventually notices it but he does nothing about it... he can’t because the scales drop from his eyes too late. It’s kind of his fate to be empty. Whereas with a character like Beale [From The Big Blind; Slater’s mate and a general arsehole] he’s this idiot, but you kind of feel sorry for him. Because he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
RM: In the book you start out hating Beale and liking Alan and then somewhere they kind of cross over…
RB: Yeah, suddenly you’re feeling sorry for him, I hope, despite the fact that he’s a violent drunk and a bigot… but with Mo he’s just so damaged… people like Mo… people who’ve read the book actually like Mo because, well, he’s a bit funnier than Cal and, well, he’s a bit more alive than Cal… Cal kind of sleepwalks through parts of it…
RM: But that’s part of his wanting to be the hero character, I’d imagine. And we all know that heroes have to be dull…
RB: That’s absolutely true! I hope Cal’s not dull, though... There’s this wonderful Tom Waits quote, “a hero ain’t nothing but a sandwich” which is just great and bang on the money. And that’s the way it should be. I don’t believe in… there’s this whole big thing in Donkey Punch about heroes with this American guy he comes into contact with who’s going, “there aren’t any heroes. They took all our heroes away… the good guys used to wear white hats and the bad guys wore black hats and now… Now everybody’s grey and talking like they’re Jesus.”
I don’t know that there’s any room now, especially in this day and age for good guys and bad guys. Maybe in the thriller genre because they might think they need that black and white… but certainly not in the crime genre.
RM: Especially in, how is it Polygon describe it in the Press Release, “Literary Noir”…
RB: Ahhh, you see I’m not so sure Saturday’s Child is noir. I’m not sure it’s literary, either, but what do I know?
RM: I suppose Saturday’s Child isn’t noir because Cal’s coming back… its something you and I have argued about before...
RB: True, you can’t do series noir. Unless it’s an overall arc. Which is what Ken’s done beautifully with the Taylor books. With Cal, taking each book individually, I don’t think it’s noir, but the series might end up that way, if you get me… at the moment, it’s more hardboiled… in fact is it hardboiled? I really don’t know what I’m doing!
RM: Telling a good story, which is what’s important in the end.
RB: Hopefully… You should have seen the book before Mo got his narrative. I mean I’m hearing now that people can’t imagine it without him. When I was originally shopping it around it was just Cal. Mo was in it. But he didn’t have a voice. And my wife – Ana – she originally said to me, “Go on, give Mo a voice!” And I’m going, “Ahhh, shaddap, you don’t know, you don’t understand me: I’m an artist!” and then my agent turns round and says, “Why don’t you give Mo a voice?” and I go, “that’s a wonderful idea!” so I give Mo a voice and make a point of listening to Ana’s advice instead of my laziness, because that advice always makes the book better... But it fucked me in the States though, because a lot of people were coming back and saying its very difficult to read… it wasn’t anything about Mo being a nasty character but just the way it was written… first person local dialect, which I can understand. In order for a book to sell to the widest possible audience, there’s a feeling it has to be as easy to read as possible. So I suppose I am being literary in that respect! I’m glad to hear that Harcourt think it’ll sell in the US, though... we’ll see. Hope I don’t let ‘em down.
RM: I suppose I was worried with my own short stories when they were published in the states about whether they would get the accents… but they seemed to pick it up…
RB: Yes, but I think there this rhythm there where its almost perfect English but… and you get this in Rankin… where even though it’s a Scottish accent there’s no, well, “Hoots mon” for want of a better phrase…
RM: There’s reinforcing stereotypes! How long have you been away from Scotland now?
RB: Really, isn’t everyone going around shouting, “See you Jimmy!” and all that? Or sitting around on buckets with their tackety boots and black dungarees oan? But really, I think there’s room for it. It’s all about voice.
RM: Look at Charlie Williams and the Mangel books…
RB: The voice is fantastic in the Mangel trilogy. That’s what I read for. I read for voice. Charlie Williams is fantastic… I can’t hype him enough, And he’s not a crime writer necessarily. He’s simply, well, a fucking good writer! He’s got this whole bizarre, satire thing on the state of Britain which is just bang on every single time… and that would still be good, but it’s the voice that makes it great. All my favourite books are all down to voice. Fight Club. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest would not be the same if has been narrated by McMurphy instead of The Chief… A Clockwork Orange… the prime example of voice and the prime example of an unreliable narrator. Which hopefully, in both my books we have. I mean, Mo’s completely delusional…. And Cal’s deluding himself about being a PI… and Alan Slater, he’s beyond belief… he thinks everything’s fine!
RM: So with these characters and their delusions, how well do you know them before you start writing? I mean do you spend time getting to know them, thinking about who they are, or do they just kind of surprise you as you’re writing about them.
RB: Mo is based on a few people I know and, you’ll like this, he’s partly based on Tyres from Spaced… that whole rave culture thing and the whole, “I just wish I could control these fuckin’ mood swings!” I’ve known pillheads before and it’s that whole psychosis… Cal… I’ve written about him for such a long time… the first one was 2002, maybe… Hand Held crime were the first people to pay me and edit me… but its no longer on the net and he wasn’t a PI in that, he was just a bloke helping somebody else out which he’s kind of come back to again. Saturday’s Child was gonna kind of be a prequel to the short stories because he’s just out of prison in Saturday’s Child and he’s just coming off probation in Donkey Punch… So it was gonna be a prequel but the shorts got thrown out and all I really had was a backstory… I didn’t realise he was as clichéd as he really was; the ex-con PI.
RM: Although when you’re dealing with the PI mythos you can’t avoid certain clichés.
RB: No, you can’t. I mean if he’s gonna be a PI he’s gonna drink and more than likely to excess.
RM: At least Cal doesn’t have a drawer full of bourbon.
RB: No, well he doesn’t have much of an office! Well in the shorts… Look, those are completely alternate universe. They share some characters… Paulo’s in it.
But the characters… “Donkey” Donkin’s a bit like Beale… but he’s a bit one note although he comes into it more… although there’s the odd thing like listening to Dido which is a direct rip off of Colm Meaney’s character in Intermission with his Clannad obsession…
RM: So what you’re saying is everything you do is ripped off something else?
RB: Yeah…No, wait, I’m paying homage…
RM: So you’re Quentin Tarantino, then?
RB: Yes, but better… Yeah, “better than Tarantino”, that’d be right... but, Cal… Cal is… I share some characteristics with him… you kind of have to if you’re gonna write a series character… there’s gonna be bits of you in there. And I did the same with Alan Slater, but he was more me when I was working in Manchester which was, not a very nice person, to be honest so that was kinda getting that out.
RM: But without all the mess with the dead body, I hope.
RB: No, I didn’t dump any bodies and I didn’t kill any dogs. Despite what you might have heard. I haven’t killed any dogs. Oh God, I am getting such a reputation... No cats, no animals AT ALL in fact were hurt in Saturday’s Child and no animals will be hurt, I think, in the other books… I’ve done dogs and I’ve done cats… what else can you do, gerbils? Nobody cares enough about gerbils. Children?
There is a certain kind of character that I like to do and that you can do in novel length. It’s weird because when I did Barry De Silva, he was like the anti-Innes and now Innes is turning into that… turning into Barry. My wife hates the Barry stories. She thinks he’s absolutely horrific. I mean in Dirty Barry when he’s having a bit of a five knuckle shuffle… But he’s a rip off, Barry’s a rip off of Loren Visser in Blood Simple. I’m ripping folks off left, right and centre here… But the Coens rip everyone else off... That’s what culture’s all about, it adapts the old into the new... that’s my excuse anyway... I’m a serial homager...
RM: Ray, I think we’re gonna have to stop because, shit, you’re meant to be on that panel now!
RB: Oh, shit! I just noticed that!
RM: But thankyou for your time… it’s been fun…
RB: And thank you for touching me all the way through the interview... very relaxing.