I've been a big fan of Gerard Brennan's work since reading his debut novella The Point, a fast paced and wickedly funny story of two small-time crooks hiding out by the seaside while an insane drug dealer is after their heads. Gerard has gone on to produce several more well-received books as well as a co-writing a critically acclaimed play, The Sweety Bottle, with his father, which has just finished its run at Belfast's Grand Opera House. Gerard was kind enough to join me for a bit of chat...
Your new novella Wee Danny is just out, can you tell us a bit about it?
Wee Danny is the story of a seventeen-year-old boy putting in his time at a young offenders' centre in Northern Ireland. He knows he needs to keep his nose clean to escape the prison system before he turns eighteen or he'll end up in jail. But you can only pretend to be something you're not for so long.
What drew you back to writing about Danny Gibson?'
I always liked Wee Danny Gibson. While writing Wee Rockets, I enjoyed his scenes a little too much. Up until things went wrong for him. I figured that I needed to hear from him again, if only to get rid of that nagging question... Whatever happened to that cheeky wee rocket?
In both books you were excellent at getting inside the adolescent mind, is that because you're just a big kid?
Hah! Yeah, I definitely think that's a factor. I still have plenty of growing up to do. But I'm in no rush.
I also try to remember what it was like to be a teenager, I was at my most honest and vulnerable and it seemed like nobody was ever interested in me or any of my friends. We were nuisances who had to be put up with. I don't think kids are much different today. Just more clued in, thanks to the interweb thingy they all talk about.
So I make it a point to listen to teenagers, even the quiet ones. If nothing else, they're awesome BS detectors.
You're not quite in Belfast with this one but its effects on Danny are felt. How is the post-Troubles landscape informing your work? And what's the crime writing scene like around your way now?
Because I like to write about contemporary NI, the post-Troubles landscape IS my work. But I'm definitely not alone. The scene is thriving right now. I've been going on about the NI talent for a few years now on crimesceneni.blogspot.com. To name-check a few, I'm a massive fan of Stuart Neville, Brian McGilloway and Adrian McKinty, all essential NI reading. The latest great to blow my mind was Claire McGowan. Check out The Lost as soon as you feckin' can!
There's going to be a 'Belfast Noir' in the near future too, thanks to Stuart Neville and Adrian McKinty taking on the editing duties. You'll find a whole heap of talent in that collection.
And what about the MMA scene you've covered in your recent Fight Card novella, Welcome to the Octagon?
MMA is very popular in Northern Ireland right now. There are a number of organisations putting on amateur and semi-pro fights. I attended one just last week. My own attempt to capture the spirit of this phenomenon runs something like this:
"Mickey The Rage Rafferty has gone through some tough times, but he's not ready to tap-out just yet. The Belfast widower has to take care of his eight-year-old daughter, Lily. However, his main talent is fighting and the only way he can make enough money off it to support his girl is to take dodgy underground matches paying off in bloodstained cash. Mickey’s trainer, Eddie Smith, doesn't approve. He wants his most promising student to step into the cage as a real martial artist, not as a fool for thugs and gangsters.
With Eddie on the verge of cutting him loose, Mickey is up against the cage – crushed between fast cash and a legitimate career. Mickey has some big decisions to make and some even bigger opponents to face."
I know you can bang so I'm assuming there was some ring-time research behind this one...
I've spent a decent amount of time in a boxing ring at a local club over the last year or so. That was invaluable research (and quite a buzz). Obviously, I had to do a lot of training to get comfortable enough to step into the ring, even just for a spar. All great research.
In my early twenties, I spent five years practicing Wing Tsun and managed to work my way up to instructor level. Ran my own club for a year and a half before deciding to devote more time to writing. Not exactly MMA but I got a taste for the discipline needed to become an expert in a chosen style. And I met my fair share of headbangers in need of an adrenaline fix.
Because I wasn't actually training in MMA while writing WTTO, I had a friend who's versed in Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai read the fight scenes. Once he gave them the thumbs up, I was confident they'd stand up to expert scrutiny.
Any plans to step in the ring again?
I'd like to take on an actual fight some time in the near future, boxing or MMA, even if it's just a charity fight night or something. I'm interested to see what I have the time and determination to accomplish now I'm making my way through my thirties.
Just hope I don't crack my ribs. Done that enough times this year.
So, what's coming up next for you?
I've just finished writing a novella for the Derry City of Culture 2013 crime fiction festival. The festival isn't until November, but I like to get things wrapped up quickly. As for my next project? I think I'm going to attempt another play. I had it in my mind that I would try and write a noir for the stage and I have something mapped out already.
And in the not too distant future, there'll be the PhD. It's titled Radical Crime Fiction and I'll be working on it at Queen's University Belfast for the next three years. As it's funded, it's giving me enough financial security to jack in the dayjob for the next three years. It's is such a dream come true I'm waiting for somebody to call me with a catch. I'll get to spend my days reading old school crime greats like Himes and Manchette while trying to figure out why the genre became 'formulaic' and 'safe'. I'm also tasked to write a radical crime novel. With three years to work on it, I'm going to try some seriously experimental shit. Writing-wise, I mean. Although, when in uni...