Tell us a little about your book...
Salazar, a WWI vet, turns detective in 1930s Paris. More damaged than competent he's hired to track down a missing stock broker, Gustave Marty, by the mysterious Marie Poncelet. Along the way Salazar meets a childhood sweetheart and they rekindle their relationship. With his new love giving him a reason to live, Salazar finds the case is throwing up people ready to do him and those close to him in. It's either face the danger and find Gustave Marty or risk losing everything.
What drew you to crime and noir specifically?
I've grown into a crime/noir fan during the writing of Salazar. When I started writing, crime was a genre I enjoyed but I was mainly reading anything based in Paris during the inter-war period.
What drew me to writing crime was the scope. The period is still tightly class conscious and
I wanted a character who could mix with the incredibly wealthy and also be able to drink in seedy café's or sleep among the homeless. A detective seemed the most natural character to do this.
I was already thinking about Salazar as a man who would transform his life. The transformation would now be from war veteran with suicidal tendencies to detective.
From that point I dived into the world of crime fiction and the more I read the more I enjoyed it. Which was a good thing as I was running dangerously low on books written in Paris between the wars.
Salazar feels very fresh, was it important to you to play with genres conventions?
My intention was to write a series featuring the same character. To do that they would need a personality beyond the straight revenge, jealousy, greed motivations of a lot of noir. Also, I'd started thinking about the character of Salazar before I had a story to fit him into. He formed first and the world that best suited him was the hard-boiled cynical demimonde of noir.
There's a lot of love for the classics in there, which writers do you take your inspiration from?
In my late teens it was H G Wells. Then I went through a Henry Miller, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell phase. I was/am also heavily into surrealist literature and three books in particular influenced Salazar: Louis Aragon's Paris Peasant, Phillipe Soupault's Last Nights of Paris, and André Breton's Nadja. Graham Greene sits in their somewhere. Georges Simenon. The most direct influence came from Léo Malet – France's first noir crime writer. The problem with reading Malet is that his humour was similar to mine and, after reading one of his books, I tended to start thinking in his voice. I've gained more control over that now.
Recently I read Two Way Split by Allan Guthrie. About half-way though I had a eureka moment. I realised I'd been forcing things in Salazar and as a result had to do a lot of re-writing. The thing that clicked when reading Guthrie was the naturalness of the voice. For me that means relaxing as I write, to stop thinking about how to write a sentence and start thinking about how I'd say it.
1930's Paris is richly evoked, how much research did you do?
I'd read histories of Surrealism and biographies of Henry Miller and Hemingway. I then read Gary Corby's Pericles Commission, which is set in Ancient Greece, and I realised that I was also writing an Historical crime novel. That really hadn't occurred to me before, I'd thought of it as a hard-boiled or noir or a detective novel. At that point I jumped into to research mode.
|Brassai - Paris street|
What do you think makes post-War Europe such a perfect setting for noir?
I read an article by Phillipe Soupault, written in the 1950's, where he talked about the atmosphere in the years leading up to the formation of Surrealism (1924). He mentioned that many of his friends from before and during the war had gone on to kill themselves. There was Jacques Vaché who killed himself with a deliberate opium overdose in early 1919. Jacques Rigaut, the Dadaist poet, who declared, in 1919, that he'd kill himself in ten years. He shot himself through the heart in 1929. You could say there were a lot of walking dead in that decade after the war. It wasn't only suicide: my great-grandfather was gassed at The Somme in 1916, his lungs finally packed up in 1929. My gran was born in 1919, after he'd been killed but before he died.
|Otto Dix - Die Skatspieler|
Added to the mix is the political ferment – fascists in Italy and Germany, Communists in Russia, all represented on the streets of Paris. The government was at times inept or corrupt, the police force rife with corruption. France during most of the '30s was one step away from civil war.
Plotter or pantser?
Pantser. My fist draft is normally a 60-70,000 word synopsis which I try to write as quickly as possible. I normally have a good idea of the theme and will do some background reading before I start. I'll spend the rest of the year re-writing, editing and doing further research. I've been promising myself that the next time I'll be a planner.
How does it feel to have the book out there finally?
Fab. I feel like it's a vilification for all the hours spent writing. Also, I've had some good feedback and it encourages me to keep going when there are a million and one reasons to stop. I also got to join the CWA which was an ambition while writing Salazar.
What's coming up next from you?
Salazar #2, A Dead American in Paris, is nearly done and I scribbled out a first draft of Salazar #3 to work on next year. I'm also drawing to the close on The Doorbell Maker's Daughter. It's set 50 or so years in the future. A detective is hired to track down a rich industrialist's daughter. He calls on a few of her friends who give him an address in Bristol. He finds the daughter living with her boyfriend, unaware of any reason why her father would think she was missing. That night she's murdered. The father denies ever hiring the detective who's now the number 1 and only murder suspect.