Thursday, May 12, 2011

Declan Burke Is In Da House!

I'm pleased to welcome crime writer Declan Burke, the author of the THE BIG-O, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS, and EIGHBALL BOOGIE. He's also host of the excellent blog Crime always PaysHe was kind enough to answer some questions for me and he did terrific job with some great answers. His next novel ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is in the process of being published and he's actually asking visitors to the CAP blog which of the three potential cover works best HERE, so swing by and cast your vote.

1) I have never been to Ireland, but it is at the top of my list to visit. What would you suggest as the top 5 things that I should make a point of seeing?
“Well, there’s a question I’ve never been asked before. The Book of Kells in Trinity College, Dublin, is a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s well worth seeing, particularly as we cross the threshold into the brave new age of epublishing and digital text - nice to see an actual book that has survived and thrived since the 9th century. I’d also recommend Croke Park, when there’s a good hurling match on - it’s the hallowed turf of the GAA, and if there’s anything that’s intrinsically Irish these days, it’s the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association). And if you’re not Irish, hurling has to be seen to be believed.
“Further afield, and being biased towards my home town, there’s plenty to see in Sligo. WB Yeats’ grave is something of a disappointment in itself, but the setting - ‘neath bare Benbulben’s head ’ - is pretty dramatic, and well worth casting a cold eye on. Also in Sligo, there are the passage tombs at Carrowkeel, which are considerably smaller but nonetheless older than the Egyptian pyramids, and a lesser-known, and therefore not tourist-trapped, version of Newgrange.
“For the fifth thing to see, drop by my house and I’ll show you the goldfish pond that provided the inspiration for ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL. It’d be good to hang out for a while, get the barbecue on, have a few beers. If it all gets out of hand, I cook a mean breakfast, too.”

2) Both "The Big O" and "Crime Always Pays" had me laughing out loud on numerous occasions. I'd have to think you've got a good sense of humor. The kind of gent who would be pretty fun to hang with. What kind of student were you as a kid?
“Kind words, sir, and much appreciated. I was a terrible student, unless the subjects were English or History, both for the stories. I wasted a lot of my school time writing stupid plays (although they were great fun at the time), and I was pretty fanatical about sport at the time - I represented my school at football (soccer), and managed to miss a penalty in an All-Ireland final, which was a pretty big deal at the age of 17. I liked school, though, or as much as anyone is likely to like school - I had good friends, played a lot of football, and did just about enough in the subjects that weren’t English and History to get by. Most of my school memories are good ones. I wasn’t very funny, if that’s what you’re asking - I’ve never been very entertaining in person, or any good at telling jokes in the pub. It’s a lot easier to do on paper, when you have all the time in the world to think of a good come-back or one-liner.”

3) Will we ever see anymore of the old gang from "The Big O" or "Crime Always Pays"?
“I honestly don’t know. I have a story in mind for them, certainly, which I think would be fun to do, but CRIME ALWAYS PAYS was sold as the second part of a two-book deal, which the publisher then declined to publish. So it’s available on ebook, but I doubt very much it’ll ever see the light of day. That’s a pity, for me, because I think it’s best thing I’ve written, and it was the most fun to do. I don’t know, maybe I’ll write the story and publish it solely as an ebook. I kind of miss not having Rossi around.”

4) I was lucky enough to read an ARC of "The Baby Killers", which is now forthcoming as "Absolute Zero Cool". It was excellent. During your re-editing process, without giving away any spoilers, how much has changed since I read it?
“Again, thanks for the kind words. As for how much it has changed for its final version, that’s a hard question to answer. I tightened up the ending significantly, made it more a bit darker, and more noir-ish, I think. It was also nice to be able to make it more relevant, because right now, Ireland is going through such turbulent times that every week seems to bring another crisis. But then, it’s a weird book for me, because it seems as if it was always undergoing radical changes. I wrote the first draft(s) about eight years ago, during a pretty dark and lonely time in my life, and I think the story was far too reflective of that, in too a literal way - it was a straightforward-ish tale of a hospital porter who sets out to blow up ‘his’ hospital. So it was great fun to rewrite it with a new framework, in which the hospital porter, a sociopath, rewrites the story with the help of the author, to get him out of publication limbo, in the process making him a more likeable sociopath. It was cathartic, too, I think, to write the frustrations of not having the book published out of my system, and to play with the idea of what a novel should or shouldn’t be, or try to do. I really have no idea of how it’s going to be received once it is published (in September). I think it’ll be a real love it-hate it book. But that’s okay.”

5) "Lord of the Rings" or "Lord of the Flies"?
“Flies, definitely. I’ve never read LORD OF THE RINGS, for one, although I do have a vivid memory of trying to during my teens, and finding it very tough going. LORD OF THE FLIES, on the other hand, blew me away when I read it during my teens - I’d say only CATCHER IN THE RYE and SUMMER OF ’42 had more of an impact on me during those impressionable years. The idea that kids could be that savage to one another was fantastic, and scary, especially as it was an ‘old’ book, as far as I was concerned. I love William Golding, though, I’ve read virtually everything he wrote. I’m well overdue a re-read of THE SPIRE at this stage, although my favourite is probably THE DOVBLE TONGVE. Given that it was a first draft (it was published posthumously), your reading mode is alternately jaw-dropping awe and teeth-grinding envy.”

6) In Adrian Mckinty's "The Dead Yard" one of the characters, among other things, is a surfer from your hometown Sligo. Is there really a surfing "scene" in Sligo?
Sligo is pretty well known for its surfing here in Europe; the good beaches are on the east coast, although Strandhill, about five miles from Sligo town, has a really thriving surfing scene too. Bundoran, about thirty miles from Sligo, has a really good reputation as well. I’m not a surf bum, but as I understand it, Atlantic surf is way different to Pacific surf; apparently, the real surf junkies, the big wave surfers who like it insanely dangerous, travel to Ireland to surf. There was a pretty good documentary made about the phenomenon a couple of years back, although it centred on surfing off the coast of Clare. It’s called Waveriders, check it out if you can, it’s good stuff.”

7) You and John McFetridge did a book tour in the US a while back. Without incriminating John or yourself, would you share a bit of what that was like.
“Man, that’s a whole new blog. Seriously. I was a big, big fan of John McFetridge’s books, and when he said he was going to the Baltimore Bouchercon, I threw out the idea of maybe getting together and doing a few gigs. A road trip from Toronto to Baltimore evolved out of that, and it was the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I was kind of worried how it’d go, ten days sharing a car and the same room as some guy I’d only traded emails with, but it was terrific. There were a couple of hitches along the way, for sure, like the time John made the mistake of letting me book the room in Philadelphia, and I managed to book a room with one double bed. The guy on the desk was going, ‘Hey, whatever, we’re cool.’  I’m looking at John and saying, ‘Listen, you’re a nice guy, and I like you, man, but there’s no way …’ Then there was the time we booked in to a YMCA just off Central Park in New York, and discovered NYPD crime-scene tape preventing access to the showers … I was one seriously smelly Irish guy by the time we crawled into Philly. But no, it was a wonderful trip. Driving through Vermont in the Fall, to Brattleboro, and Mystery on Main Street, where John and I very nearly outnumbered David and his two guests, and where I picked up a vinyl copy of Robert Frost reading his poetry for seven bucks … I got to meet John, Scott Phillips, Reed Farrel Coleman … I was in the bar at the B’con hotel, and I spotted Reed surrounded by his usual entourage, y’know, and he’d said pretty nice things about THE BIG O. So I went over and tugged his sleeve when he had a second, and said, ‘Reed, I’m Declan Burke. I owe you a drink.’ And he went, ‘Fuck no, man - I’m buying YOU a drink.’ And he did. Top bloke. I also got to meet Joe Long, which was terrific; saw my book, THE BIG O, in a Borders in Manhattan, which was a pretty big deal for me; I finally got to meet with the Jordan clan, Jeff Pierce, Sarah Weinman, Glenn Harper, the inimitable Peter Rozovsky … I’d love to do that trip again, I swear, only this time in slow motion. It was wonderful.”

8) The thing about "Absolute Zero Cool" that really impressed me was that in the end I had no idea of how much of it was based on true events and what wasn't. Besides the obvious things that would have you incarcerated for life, are there some elements of reality to it?
“The short answer is that there is, yes. Obviously I’ve never set out to blow up a hospital (mwah-ha-ha, etc.), but as I mentioned earlier, I wrote that book during a dark-ish time in my life, and subsequently found it very hard to find a publisher for it. So those aspects are bound up in the telling. I don’t know, I was just having a little fun with some of it - for example, the unnamed author who redrafts the sociopath’s story is the author of THE BIG O and EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, which are two of my books; the author is married with a baby girl, as I am myself; and there are various nods throughout to a meta-fiction in which Declan Burke isn’t just the author of the novel, he’s the guy interacting with the hospital porter, Karlsson, to rewrite the novel. But ultimately, it’s all fiction. It’s a novel. I sent the book out to some writers I really liked as writers to get some feedback, and possibly even some cover quotes, and people were very generous. But I did on occasion get a follow-up email saying, ‘Hey, man, is everything okay? How’s your mental health? Is your baby okay?’ The baby girl in the book suffers from asthma, but my own baby girl doesn’t … Anyway, it was nice for people to go that extra mile and ask if I was okay, but it was also nice that the book was persuasive enough to have them believe that I’m a complete nutcase.”

9) I have a daughter, who's the absolute light of my life. Before I had kids, I used to cringe at a statement like that. How has fatherhood changed your view of life, if at all, and as a writer?
“I can sympathise entirely, sir. Before Lily came along, I had a stock response on the whole having kids thing, which ran, “Any moron can have a kid, and most do.” But absolutely, Lily has changed my life hugely. I never realised that your life is actually split into two halves, the before-kids and after-kids. You just look at the world in a different way. Lily taught me unconditional love, and that has to affect the way you see things. As for my writing, definitely - I’m far more careful about what I write now, not in the sense of not wanting to write something she might some day find offensive, or gross, or gory, but in the sense that I’m far less flippant about violence, for example. I was never a particularly violent writer, or explicit writer of violence, but maybe it’s the case that I’m a wee bit more sensitive to the realities of life, of how fragile people really are, physically, emotionally, the whole nine yards. One of the main issues in AZC hangs on that Cyril Connelly quote about the pram in the hall being the death of creativity, or art; but I’ll be honest, I love having that pram in the hall. Maybe it’ll mean I’ll be a lesser writer, I don’t know; but having Lily convinced me that there isn’t a single idea, philosophy, book or concept that can measure up to the worth of a child.”

10) I read somewhere that you started out working at a music mag. What was that like and did you enjoy it?
“Well, it wasn’t a music mag - it was a Time Out-style magazine, and I managed to get the job of music reviewer. It was great. I was far more into my music back then, and I was getting free CDs, going to gigs, interviewing people … and getting paid for it. Plus, the people I was working for and with were pretty cool. The best moment was interviewing Leonard Cohen. It was on the phone, unfortunately, because he was in London and I had a tight deadline, but he was smashing - very warm, generous, self-deprecating and funny. I’d been a fan of his since I was about 14, so that remains the high-spot of my career in journalism. I rang a friend of mine back home about five minutes before the interview was supposed to start, just to chat about football and whatnot, and when the receptionist buzzed Cohen’s PR guy through, I said to my mate, “Sorry, squire, I have to go - Leonard Cohen’s on line four,” and just hung up. He still talks about it today. My mate, like - not Leonard.”

11) What is written on your tombstone, and what song plays at your funeral?
“Jeez, I don’t know. Something about being a good dad and husband, I’d hope. Everything else is just static, really. As for the song - I think maybe the ‘Match of the Day’ theme tune, which is the programme that does a round-up of the weekend’s football highlights on BBC on a Saturday night. I wouldn’t want people getting too morose.”  

12) When can we expect "Absolute Zero Cool" to be available for purchase?
“The book will be published in September by Liberties Press. Thanks a million for having me on here, sir, I really appreciate it. Hopefully, when MINDJACKER gets the publisher it deserves, you’ll return me the favour over at Crime Always Pays.” 


  1. Nice Sean, You need to get over there and have that BBQ......

  2. Very nice interview indeed, and very fun questions.

  3. Sherm- I fully intend to if the opportunity ever presents itself and I really want to see that surfing movie. "Endless Summer 1 & 2 are awesome movies.

    Glenna-That was entertaining, especially the answers. Thanks for stopping in and hope all is well on your end!

  4. What a great interview, on both sides! Learned some new stuff here.

    As for the surfing, I haven't seen it first hand, but I did see it in film, and all I will say is, those guys are dedicated.

  5. Thanks Seana. Unfortunatley, Blogger crashed or whatever happen to it during the annoying outage, and all the previuos comments were deleted or cast into cyberspace and the post actually vanished for a while. Some of the answers had me cracking up. Before I die I am going to give surfing a go. I hope others get to read the interview, as it is entertining. I might repost it to give it more exposure.

  6. I think it's possible the comments may come back, but, yes, by all means do repost it.

    The McFetridge/Burke tour will only grow in the telling, until it at lasat becomes legend.

  7. Well, I missed this. Smashing stuff from two of the nice guys!