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Ep 97 Would you write differently if you were anonymous? What NOT to do when you start a novel; and meet thriller author Adrian McKinty.

podcast-artwork In Episode 97 of So you want to be a writer: Book 2 of Allison Tait’s The Mapmaker Chronicles is shortlisted for the Aurealis Award, punctuation in famous novels, a poem that shows how tricky English can be, and would you write differently if you were anonymous? Also: common mistakes for the beginning of novels and the book Shady Characters: Ampersands, Interrobangs and other Typographic Curiosities by Keith Houston. Meet thriller author Adrian McKinty. Plus: an interesting storytelling app, and more.

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

Shortlisted for a 2015 Aurealis Award!

What Famous Novels Look Like Stripped of Everything But Punctuation

If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world

Elena Ferrante: ‘Anonymity lets me concentrate exclusively on writing’

How to Write the Beginning of a Novel: 10 Things You Shouldn’t Do

Shady Characters: Ampersands, Interrobangs and other Typographic Curiosities by Keith Houston

Writer in Residence

Adrian McKinty
adrian-mckinty-profileAdrian McKinty’s first crime novel, Dead I Well May Be, was shortlisted for the 2004 Steel Dagger Award.

His first Sean Duffy novel, The Cold Cold Ground, won the 2013 Spinetingler Award. The second Sean Duffy novel, I Hear The Sirens In The Street, was shortlisted for the 2013 Ned Kelly Award, the 2014 Barry Award & was longlisted for the 2014 Theakston Best British Crime Novel Award. In The Morning I’ll Be Gone (Sean Duffy #3) was picked as one of the top 10 crime novels of 2014 by the American Library Association.

Adrian was born and grew up in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. He studied law at Warwick University and politics and philosophy at Oxford. In the early 90’s he emigrated to New York City where I worked at various odd jobs with varying degrees of legality until 2001 when he moved to Denver, Colorado to become a high school English teacher. In 2008 he emigrated again, this time to Melbourne, Australia with his wife and kids.

Find Adrian on Twitter

App Pick

Choices: And The Sun Went Out

Competition

Frederick Forsyth’s “The Outsider”

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

Share the love!

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Interview Transcript

Allison

Adrian Mckinty was born and grew up in Carrick Fergus Northern, Ireland, immigrating to New York City in the early ’90s and working various jobs. In 2001 he became a high school English teacher and began writing fiction before moving to Australian in 2008.

His first crime novel, Dead I Well May Be was shortlisted for the 2004 Steel Dagger Award, and he has written 16 novels since then, many of them shortlisted or longlisted or award winners.

His first Sean Duffy novel, The Cold, Cold Ground won the 2013 Spine Tingler Award, and the series has gone from strength to strength since then.

Rain Dogs, the fifth book in the series, was release last month.

Hello, Adrian, and welcome to our podcast.

 

Adrian

It’s great to be here.

 

Allison

And I have to say, I did confess to you earlier that I am a fan of the Sean Duffy series. I am actually reading Rain Dogs at the moment and I’ve read all of the others, so I’m very excited to be talking to you today.

 

You’ve written 16 books, which is a fair whack. Can you tell us about when and how you started writing fiction, like what brought it on?

 

Adrian

Well, I never really thought about becoming a writer at all. I mean I had done so many different — I worked construction, I had been a bricklayer. I worked in a pub for many, many years. Then I became a librarian. Finally I became a school teacher.

 

I was teaching at a high school in Denver, Colorado, and I was teaching English. Somehow I ended up becoming a high school English teacher. I was teaching… every year I taught this thing called the short story unit, which I actually loved teaching, because it was a really fun course that we did. We taught basically classic short stories — O. Henry and Hemmingway, Virginia Wolfe, all the great short story writers.

 

At the end of the unit the kids hated it, because I always made them write a short story, which they always complained and whined about because they said, “Our lives are so boring, no one is ever going to be interested in us. Why do we have to write it?” I said, “No, that’s completely not true, your lives are so interesting.” As Mark Twain said, there wasn’t a human born yet whose story wasn’t interesting and couldn’t be made a book out of.

 

It’s completely true. Everybody’s life. Every year they would turn in these amazing short stories about their lives, their fears, their hopes, their dreams. The more autobiographical they got, the better they were.

 

One year a particularly lively lot said to me, “Mr. Mckinty, you’re such a hypocrite. How can you say we have to write these short stories, but you never do it.” And I said, “Because I’m the bloody teacher, I don’t have to do anything.”

 

And eventually all of their complaining and whining got to me and I thought, “OK, I’ll write a short story.” And then I wrote a short story and it got longer and longer. Before I really knew what had happened I had written a 90,000 word novel.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

 

Adrian

I said to the Mrs. … she was also an English teacher, but at the university level. I said, “Do you think this is any good?” And she read it and said, “Yeah, I think it’s not bad.”

 

I got the big book of agents — you know that big book of literary agents?

 

Allison
Yeah.

 

Adrian

And I basically picked a random name out and sent the book to him, and he said, “Yeah, I’ll take you on.” And then it was sort of really a bit of a whirlwind, because we sent to Harper Collins who said, “No…” and then we sent it to Simon & Schuster who said, “Yes.” And that was basically it.

 

Allison

Wow, that’s amazing. So, that was the first manuscript you had ever written?

 

Adrian

Yes.

 

Allison

Was it the first draft of the first manuscript you had ever written?

 

Adrian

Pretty much, yeah. The initial draft was about 90,000 words and then when it came to my editor — he was this kind of famous New York editor called Collin Harrison. He said, “You know, there’s a lot missing in this story. It’s going to have to be about a quarter longer than what you’ve done.” I had basically done a lot of jumping from A to C to D, and he said, “That’s not how you write fiction, you’ve got to fill in the B, and then you’ve got to go to E and develop these characters…” He was the one who really taught me how to make this 90,000 word really rough story into like a proper 110,000 novel.

 

Allison

How amazing.

 

Adrian

He was sort of my mentor and coach.

 

Allison

Did you find that process of like you’ve written this thing, and clearly there’s obviously a lot in it. The voice is obviously amazing, because otherwise they wouldn’t have bought it — how did you then find the editing process at that point? Was it a bit of a shock to the system having to go back and do all of those things?

 

Adrian

I thought it was a nightmare.

 

The actual writing was so much fun, because you just sit down at a blank computer screen and you type away and just go, “Oh, this is great.” This dialogue would just kind of fall in, “I wonder what happens to these characters next?” Then you just sort of follow the characters and wrote dialogue.

 

For that first book it was very heavily auto-biographical. I had immigrated to New York in the early 1990s and I had basically been an illegal immigrant for about three years. So what that entailed was — I was on a tourist visa and I was working in these, like, pubs and various other places, just getting paid under the table and working with all of these kind of, like, I would say like low-level, really low-level mobsters and stuff.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Adrian

That was sort of the basis of the book. I thought, “This will be fun, putting all of these kind of real people in the book and giving them dialogue and then giving a story skeleton within that sort of semi-autobiographical milieu.”

 

So that was really fun to write that story and remember all of this stuff from New York in the ’90s and all of this dialogue I had forgotten, so that was fun.

 

Then having to go back and edit it and make it all make sense, and cut it and shape it, and then read it again, and then read it again, and read it again. I just thought, “This is torture.”

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Adrian

“This bit of it I hate!” You know? And so that was really the work part of it, because the actual writing part of it was fun, but the editing — oh boy, that was tough. And then the copy editing — oh, that was even worse.

 

Allison

Editing is so fun.

 

Let me ask you this then, did it change the way that you approached your second manuscript? Like, the fact that you had gone through that process with the first one?

 

 

 

Adrian

Yeah, it totally did. I said, “Never again.” After that first book I said, “This was a blast, but if I have to go through all of that editing and rereading again and all of that copy I’m never doing any more of these.” That was really miserable.

 

Basically a year went by and my agent and my editor said, “Come on, think of another book.” I said to my agent, “Is there any way I could just do the fun part of it and then have someone else do all of the other part of it?” And he said, “No, that’s not really how it works, mate. You have to do the whole hog.” So then I put myself through the ringer again and wrote another book.

 

Allison

Right, so you’ve done it 16 times now. Clearly, you’ve kind of gotten used to the process.

 

Adrian

No! I’ve never gotten used to the process. It’s always been torture.

 

You write this book and you’re really happy with it and you send it off, and then the editor comes back and says, “Well, now you have to do this, this and this… and you have to make these changes.”

 

The terrible thing is she’s always right. You go, “Oh, God, yeah, she’s right. I do have to make these changes.” Then you have to go and read the flipping thing again and then you have to read it again. You read it about four or five times for the editor and then you read it another couple of times for the proofreader. You’ve read this manuscript six times. And the worst thing are the jokes. I mean my god, what seemed funny one time, but the sixth time you read the thing you want to kill yourself.

 

You just go, “Oh my god. Why am I allowing this to be published with my name connected to it?” It’s a huge embarrassment.

 

Allison

That’s hilarious.

 

Adrian

It’s been grim every time. I always say, “If I won the lottery you’ll never hear from Adrian Mckinty again.”

 

Allison

Really? So you’re not someone who does it just for the love of it?

 

Adrian

No! You just go how come this thing ended mid-series or what? He actually finished in the middle of a sentence… that will be me.

 

Allison

That’s hilarious.

 

Adrian

I’ll just vanish.

 

Allison

From this I’m getting the writing is still easy, you still love the writing, but the editing aspect of it you just can’t stand.

 

Adrian

I love the initial blank screen and getting the stuff down on paper — especially the dialogue. I love when these characters just sort of bounce off of each other and you can’t really predict… if you’ve given the characters enough life so that they can live and breathe by themselves, you know, it’s so much fun having them bounce across each other and have conversations and all of that stuff.

 

I actually really do enjoy the writing process. But, then all of the other aspects of putting the book together… it can be a bit of heavy lifting.

 

Allison

Let’s talk about your writing process then, because I’m getting the vibe from you that you’re not a planner. Like you start with an idea and a sentence and off you go — is that how you work?

 

Adrian

Sometimes it’s like that.

 

Allison

 

Adrian

The last two or three books I’ve had fairly densely plotted mystery novels.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Adrian

With those you can’t get away with that.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Adrian

I wrote a locked room mystery for the first time, that was the third book in the Sean Duffy series. For that one, for that to work I had to plot that thing out like a clockwork toy that I was building myself. I mean that was incredibly tightly planned. Every chapter had to be planned, what information I was going to give to the reader had to be conveyed in the plan within that chapter. And then I had to check the plan to make sure that everything… because I hate those mystery novels, especially a locked room mystery, I’m quite passionate about those, and I hate ones where the author cheats and doesn’t give the reader all of the information or gives the reader all of the information four pages before the end — or even worse, introduces a character we’ve never seen before seven pages before the end.

 

With those books I have to make really, really sure that everything is in place. Those are pretty meticulously planned.

 

With other books it can be a little bit more seat of the pants.

 

Allison

Obviously, you’re writing crime, mystery, thriller. Is that your passion, that genre is your passion? Why do you write that? Where does that come from?

 

Adrian

Well, I went to schools in Ireland and it was very, very traditional schooling. Basically, we did nothing that was published that was considered modern or contemporary, because the teachers didn’t feel that it had proven its worth yet. So, we did nothing after 1900.

 

Allison

Right, OK.

 

Adrian

So, it was a lot of Victorian literature. Oh, I did not enjoy that stuff — at all. Apart from Jane Austen, I loved her. We had all of those Dickens novels —

 

Allison

All the Dickens.

 

Adrian

— the big ones.

 

Like Little Dorrit, which is, you know, 700 pages and Bleak House, and Dombey and Son — my God. And our teacher was particularly fond of Thomas Hardy, and we read a lot of those. And Thomas Hardy is kind of an amazing writer, but to be exposed to that when you’re 13 or 14 — I mean I remember one of those novels, I forget which one, where he spends the first 15 pages of the book describing a heath.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Adrian

And it’s the heath in the winter and the heath in the spring and the heath in the summer, and you’re going, “My god… what’s going to be the next four pages? Oh, I can’t believe it, the heath in the autumn. How does he get away with this? This is page 16 without any dialogue. It’s all the heath.”

 

It’s kind of incredible really that he did do that, but still that stuff bored the pants out of me.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Adrian

And I thought that was what literature was. I thought that was what novels were. And so I thought, “As soon as I leave this school I’m never picking up another novel again, as long as I live.”

 

But, then by some fluke… maybe it was a rainy day or something, I was in Belfast Central Library and I saw this stack of Raymond Chandler novels, stacked up on a pedestal, and they had these incredibly cool sexy covers, you know, like a guy and Homberg and a raincoat, and like some sophisticated woman smoking a cigarette or something on the cover. And I thought, “Well, what’s this?” And I had never heard of Raymond Chandler before. I started reading it, and he’s funny.

 

I read — there was only like six or seven of those, so I read all of those in a week. I went to the librarian and said, “Can I have more of this stuff?” And so then she directed me onto Daschell Hammet and then Jim Thompson, and then I broadened out into all of those classic 1930’s Agatha Christie novels, which I loved, and Dorothy Allstairs. And I thought, “Oh, this is my cup of tea.” These books where it’s basically you’ve got a skeleton, and you know what’s going to happen as a reader, someone is going to die, or there’s going to be a major incident, but within that skeleton you can be as free as you like.

 

Also, I loved it because — especially in Jim Thompson’s novels of the ’50s, you had these working class characters, which you never really saw in the sort of books that my mom and older sisters were always trying to get me to read the latest Booker Prize winner — “You should stop reading that trash, you should read this… The Bone People by Keri Hulme, or the latest Kingsley Amos novel. And, it was all, like, upper middle class people and their bloody problems in leafy north London. I thought… as Morrisey says, “This says nothing to me about my life,” you know? Whereas these working class characters in these crime novels, those were the people that I was growing up and interacting with. So, I just sort of fell in love with the genre and it grabbed me and never really let go.

 

 

 

Allison

When you started writing your short stories for your high school class, was that pretty much what came out of you, beyond the autobiographical stuff?

 

Adrian

For the short stories I was basically writing these horrible pastiche O. Henry stories. Have you ever read O. Henry?

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Adrian

They’re really — only O. Henry can write like O. Henry and get away with it, because they’re pretty easy if anyone else tries to do it. So, I always wrote that stuff and I thought, “Well, this is horrible. These are really terrible.” So I thought, “No, I just have to be more truthful and honest and not try to have like a beginning, middle and end.”

 

And so my first novel is basically a shaggy dog autobiography and then there’s this crime arc that suddenly develops, like a third of the way in.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Adrian

And it’s the arc that carries you, the reader, through to the end. And I think that’s a really important part of the fiction. If it’s not true, at least to you, the writer, then nobody else is going to believe it either.

 

Allison

Yeah, that’s very true.

 

All right, so let’s talk about Sean Duffy then, because he’s a great character and I know I’ve been seeing comparisons to Ian Rankin and all of that sort of stuff with reviews and things for you. Where did he come from? Like, did you sit down to write a Sean Duffy book and think, “I’ve got a character here that will carry a series?” Or did you write a book and then there was just more to be had?

 

Adrian

Well, it was a bit of a complicated process. When my first novel came out it didn’t do well commercially. It didn’t sell many copies, but it did very well critically and it got very good notices in the papers and it attracted a lot of attention from reviewers and stuff. It gave me the opportunity to go in and pitch a TV series to the BBC.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Adrian

This was in 2004. I went into the BBC to pitch this series, I thought it would be a great idea. I thought this cop show in Belfast during the ’70s, during the Troubles. I thought it could be like all of those classic cop shows of the ’70s, like Starsky and Hutch or the Sweeney, you know, buddies and they’re copies, it’s in Belfast. As well as you having these cops solving all of these mysteries every week, you’re dealing with this terrible time in Belfast in the ’70s with the Troubles. That stuff that’s going on. And so you’ve got ’70s music, ’70s fashion and the Troubles. So, I pitched this show to the BBC, I thought it was a really good idea. And the BBC couldn’t have been more horrified.

 

I thought I had done this brilliant pitch. I will never forget this, there was this wise old owl, as I like to think of him, from the BBC and he said, “Young man, I have something to tell you.” I’m seeing the dollar signs, I’m thinking, “What he’s telling me is that we’re going to make a fortune together… ‘you, Mckinty… this is it. Quit whatever you’re doing and start working on this.’…”

 

And he says, “Young man, I have to tell you something, that’s one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard.” “What? Worst ideas?” And he goes, “Yes, one of the worst ideas.” I said, “Why?” And he says, “Well, look, Northern Ireland as a subject does not sell anywhere. Nobody in Northern Ireland wants to watch a TV series during the Troubles — nobody in the republic of Ireland ever wants to hear about the Northern Ireland Troubles ever again. So forget getting a cold deal with the RTA, everybody in England wants Ireland to be dragged out into the middle of the Atlantic and forgotten about forever.” And he says, “Forget trying to sell it to America, in America they still think it’s the quiet man and 1950 Ireland, so this is just going to completely baffle them.” He said, “If I can give you some advice about your writing career…” And I go, “Yes?” Because I was very young and very all ears. He says, “Never write about Northern Ireland and certainly never write about the Troubles.”

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Adrian

Well, you see that day and I thought, “Well, at least I’ve learned something. I’ll keep writing crime fiction because I love it, but I’ll never write about Northern Ireland, I’ll never write about the Troubles.”

 

Basically, for the next seven years or eight years I wrote about everywhere else I had ever visited. I wrote about New York, I wrote about Denver, I wrote about England — my god, I even wrote about Cuba, and I’ve been to Cuba and I fell in love with that place. But, I never touched Ireland with a ten-foot pole.

 

Then one day in 2012 I was in Melbourne. I was sort of stuck for a story and I knew I wanted to write something, because I had itchy fingers and I had the computer screen open, and I started writing the first page of The Cold, Cold Ground, and I had really liked what I had done with that page, just in terms of the lyrism and the poetry.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Adrian

And I thought, “Oh dear, Mckinty, I think you might be in trouble here, because this is clearly Belfast that you’re writing about.” And I thought, “Oh well, don’t worry about it, maybe this story starts in Belfast, but it goes somewhere else.” So, I wrote about four or five more pages the next day, and then by the end of the week I had written a chapter and I was really quite despairing, because I thought, “Wow, this is obviously Belfast. I’m in big trouble here.”

 

And I just kept writing away and at the end of a couple of months I had written the book and I thought, “Well, it never left Northern Ireland,” the whole book takes place in Belfast — and worse, the whole book takes place in Belfast in 1981, which is the dark heart of the Troubles, the worst troubles. I thought, “Oh my god, the guy is right, no one is going to want to read about this.”

 

So, I sent it to my agent with — I wouldn’t exactly call it enthusiasm. But, he was very chipper as always. He sent it to my US publishers and they immediately turned it down.

 

Allison

Oh, you’re kidding?

 

Adrian

No, they said…

 

Allison

Because that’s one of the things I like most about the series, is that… is Belfast and the Troubles and the way you describe it. It feels really real. I think it’s one of the best things about the whole series.

 

Adrian

Yeah, I know. Well, I loved writing about it. I loved the atmosphere…

 

Allison

Yeah, I love the checking the car every time he comes out the front door.

 

Adrian

Yeah.

 

We sent it to the Americans and they said, “No, we’re not interested. It doesn’t make sense for American readers. We don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, the Troubles. No one knows what that is.”

 

I actually had this conversation with the senior editor at a publishing house I won’t name, but he said to me, “Now, we’ve just gotten a manuscript from this guy called John Banville, have you heard of him?” I said, “Of course.” And he said, “Now, this is the kind of Ireland we want to publish.” And it’s set in 1850s Dublin and there’s nuns on bicycles on every page, and there’s people with flat caps and smoky pubs and Guinness.” That’s the Ireland that they wanted to publish. In John Banville’s Quirke, in fact, did very, very well in American. In fact, the BBC bought them and they’ve done spectacularly well. They’re not exactly my cup of tea, but you can’t deny the books have been a commercial success.

 

So, he turned down this Belfast novel because he said it just doesn’t make sense to American readers. We went to two or three other American publishers and they also said no. They also turned it down.

 

I was pretty depressed by this stage. But, thankfully we went to our British publishers and said, “Look, Adrian’s written this book, it’s set in Northern Ireland…” we sort of apologetically went to them, “…unfortunately it’s set in Northern Ireland, you know? It’s in Belfast, the Troubles, we’re so sorry. But, can you take a look at it?” And then they took a look at it and said, “God, we love this. We would love to publish it. In fact, how about you do three of them?” I go, “Wow, a trilogy? I didn’t think of that.” Then I said, “Well, let me think about that, see if I can sketch up some ideas for a book two and a book three.”

 

I had what I thought was a really great idea for book three, so I agreed to do the trilogy.

 

Allison

We’re up to book five now, were you also exploring more of that character? Like, you were pretty much exploring that character in each book as you go, aren’t you? Because you didn’t know everything about him right from the start? Is that right?

 

Adrian

No. I mean all I knew is… I thought what I had was a really good idea. I thought, “What I’ll do is I’ll take this guy and I’ll put him in the house where I grew up… where I was born and grew up…” I was born and grew up in this very Protestant housing estate in the North Belfast suburbs. “I’ll put this guy in with all my real neighbors, and all real people of the street, and all I will do is change their names.” I thought, “What would annoy them the most?” What would annoy them the most was if I put a policeman right down in the middle of their street.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Adrian

What would annoy them even more is if I make him a Catholic policeman, because they’re all very intensely Protestant. Even more annoying for them, I’ll make him come from Derry, which is quite distinctively different from Belfast, that part of Northern Ireland. And, I’ll make him be sort of middle class or even upper middle class, and they’re all solid working class.

 

I’ll have all of these delicious fracture lines of religion and profession and class — oh, and just to really annoy them, I’m make him a bit of a Bohemian hippie, with a different taste in music. So, I had all of these delicious things that I knew, “This will really set them on edge. They’ll probably want to kill him from the get-go, and that will create so much friction that it will be really fun to write.” And it proved correct, right from the get go.

 

Allison

You were just like rubbing your hands together with glee as you added all of these things, weren’t you?

 

Adrian

I really thought, “This is just going to annoy every single person on that street that I grew up with.” Just having this Catholic cop in the midst, who’s like into all of this weird bohemian music and literature and art and stuff. And they’re just going to be furious with him from Day 1. And that’s going to be fantastic. And, of course, he’s going to be super suspicious of them as well. Maybe over the course of the book they can change and he can change and they can grow to know more about him and he can grow to know more about them, and we can have a clash of cultures and also a bit of understanding along the way.

 

Allison

Right. And so now you just carry that through into each book?

 

Adrian

Yeah, I mean you still have the friction underneath the surface, but I hate those books where you get to book two or book three and the author basically hits the reset button — we’ve all seen those series where the characters just never arc, they never grow, they never change. It’s just the same. I thought, “Well, this is going to be so boring for me to write this, he has to grow, and he has to change, and he has to develop. That’s the only way I can keep the interest in this character. So, hopefully the readers will keep their interest as well, if everyone grows and everyone arcs and everyone changes.”

 

Allison

As the profile of the series grows, because it seems to be growing with each book, are you feeling more pressure or less pressure as each book comes out?

 

 

Adrian

I feeling less pressure. At the end of the third book I wanted to kill him. I thought, “I’ve got an amazing poetic death for him,” because the third book takes place in the Brighton bombing, which is like a real event when the IRA almost killed Thatcher in 1984 in the Grand Hotel in Brighton. I thought, “Well, this will be a fantastic way to kill the character. I’ll put him in that hotel. I’ll have him — he saves Thatcher’s life, but he dies. It’s a beautiful poetic death, because he hates Thatcher. And, that’s going to be brilliant.”

 

What more irony could there be? He saves this woman that he hates, and he gets killed in the process? End of trilogy, end of series, a fantastic ironic death.

 

I turned in the third book to the editor and she said, “Well, I don’t know about this. You kill him? This is going to be a bit of a shock. Are you sure you won’t reconsider?” I said, “No, absolutely not. It’s art. Look at the irony here,” because I love that scene. I don’t know if you ever saw the Martin Scorsese film, Casino?

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Adrian

Do you remember that bit where Joe Pesci is doing the narration and they kill him in mid-narration?

 

Allison

Yes, yes!

 

Adrian

He went to the wheat field and he’s narrating this scene, and so you the viewer are going, “Well, he lives, obviously, because he’s narrating,” and they kill him in mid-narration, and it’s fantastic! I thought, “Oh my god, I love that so much. I’ll kill Duffy mid-narration in the Brighton bombing, while he’s saving this woman he hates.” I thought, “This is so artistically pure and wonderful. I just love it.”

 

So my editor and my agent talked me down from the cliff. They said, “Adrian, after seven years of writing these books that are ‘critically acclaimed,’ but nobody actually buys them, while you’ve got a series where people are actually buying your books, do you really think it’s such a good idea to kill your lead character when you’re finally making a living from this business?”

 

Allison

Yeah. They have a point, Adrian. It has to be said.

 

Adrian

I thought, “I’m not listening to you, these crude, crass commercialism, I’m doing one for the artistic merit of it,” but finally they did talk me out of it. I thought, “OK, I’m not going to kill him in this book, but in book four I’m definitely going to kill him,” because I’ve got this fantastic way to kill him in this book, because in real life, again, the MI5 had taken all of the top MI5 agents in Northern Ireland, all of the top guys, this is what really happened, who were experts in defeating the IRA. And they put them into one helicopter, all of the special branch police guys, all of the top MI5, and they had flown that helicopter into a mountain in Scotland.

 

They wiped out an entire cadre of MI5 guys and special branch guys, and I said, “Duffy has to be on that helicopter,” because that, again, is perfect. It’s poetic, it’s brilliant. I’ll get him out of the police, I’ll get him into MI5. He’s just thinking that everything’s turning around for him, he’s met the love of his life, he thinks. Everything is going great, I’ll put him in the helicopter and just smash him, kill him in this beautiful poetic, ironic death on this bleak Scottish mountainside.

 

So, I wrote that book, sent it in to my agent and my editor, and again they were both horrified. They said, “We love the book, but my god, this ending… you can’t do this ending! Your readers will be furious with you. You can’t kill him.”

 

Allison

Poor Duffy. I had no idea that his life was in the balance in every book.

 

Adrian

Exactly. And I said, “No, you talked me out of it last time, but this time I’m not listening.” And, so all the way through the first draft, all the way through the second draft Duffy died, and then finally they basically, like, held a gun to my head and said, “We’re not going to publish this unless you change the ending. Think of your readers, think of the hate mail.”

 

Allison

Think of the sales.

 

Adrian

Yeah, the freaking sales. And so I said, “Alright, but from now on no more trilogies. No more two or three book deals. I’m going to write these books and you have to allow me to end them the way I want to end them.” And so they agreed to that. I said, “If the story calls for it, the end of this character, you have to let me end the character this way.” And so everybody agreed. So, now I feel the pressure’s off.

 

Allison

 

Adrian

Because now I can just write a book, and if he lives at the end, that’s — because I have always loved standalone mysteries. I always love it as a reader when you’re reading a standalone, because you never know what’s going to happen. The protagonist might make it to the end, they might not make it to the end, because it’s a standalone, the author has all of this tremendous freedom, whereas if it’s a series book whatever else happens, you know, they’re going to be around for book 17, you know?

 

So, I feel there’s no pressure. I can go where the story takes me, and if I want to stop at five books I will, and if I want to kill them, I will kill them. And if I want them to grow up and get married and have kids and retire, that’s what I’ll do. So, I really don’t feel any pressure now.

 

Allison

From a reader’s perspective it makes reading the next book very interesting.

 

Adrian

Yeah, I mean hopefully it does, because they’ll know, “This guy does not have a ten-book deal. He’s not going to just churn them out for the sake of it. He’s writing these books purely for the love of writing the books.” Hopefully that will get communicated to the reader, because I’ve read books which is book nine of a ten-book deal and you’re going, “Wow, this is dialing it in here.” Sometimes you wonder if they even really wrote it at all.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Adrian

You hear these terrible stories about ghost writers.

 

Allison

Yeah.
Adrian

They come out with the initial idea, then a ghost writer takes over and does the actual writing of the book for them. I don’t want to name any names, but I can hint at who we’re talking about here. I think we all know whose series where you feel that the writer’s enthusiasm has waned away.

 

Allison

Waned — yes. Let’s leave it at that.

 

So, you’re writing full time now, do you write every day? Do you have like a routine?

 

Adrian

No, I wish I had. I’m always really impressed by those writers who get up at 7:00 and get their 1,000 words done before breakfast. I love that routine. That was Somerset Maughan’s way, who I’m really passionate about, and Anthony Trollup, he did it that way. Virginia Wolfe used to go down to her little shed at the bottom of the garden and have a big mug of tea and get her work done in the morning, rain or shine, no matter how cold it was. I love that, but that is not my way at all.

 

First of all, I don’t really function in the mornings. I wake up and my brain doesn’t really kick in until, like, the third or fourth cup of coffee. By that stage it’s eleven o’clock and you think, “Well, it’s almost lunch time. There’s no point on writing on an empty stomach.” And so you sort of pad out the morning until 12:00 and then you have some lunch and then you go, “I feel a bit bloated. I’ll put the telly on.” And then you put the telly on and it’s like two o’clock and go, “Well, I obviously can’t start on because I have to go and pick the kids up from school. I’ll just be writing for 20 minutes and then having to stop in mid flow.” So, you go and get the kids from school and walk them home. And then you go, “Well, it’s four o’clock… I have to help the kids with their homework.” And then you help the kids… “Well, now it’s dinner time. There’s absolutely no point in starting it now, that’s ridiculous.” And so you have your dinner, and it’s bedtime, and you have all of the chaos of getting the kids to bed. Then it gets to ten o’clock and you say, “Well, I have to go look for the cat, wonder where the cat is?” Then you spend half an hour looking for the cat, “It’s half past 10:00, if I start now I’ll just be writing junk because I’m so tired.”

 

Allison

So you are a gold medalist procrastinator is what you’re saying?

 

Adrian

Absolutely! I mean I’ll have a little beer and go to bed and then get up the next day and… I think it’s a miracle that these books get written.

 

Allison

It’s sounding that way.

 

Adrian

I don’t ever recall ever writing — the last two or three, I don’t recall ever writing any of them.

 

Allison

 

Adrian

I just think, “Well, how did that get done?” You know that story of the elves and the shoemaker? Where the shoemaker goes to bed and then the elves come in at night and write it?

 

Allison

Do the work, yeah.

 

Adrian

Sometimes I think that happens.

 

Allison

So you maybe have an elf-writer instead of a ghost writer?

 

Adrian

I think there’s a ghost elf that does the majority of the writing, and then pleasantly I turn on the computer — “Oh, look at this… 1,000 words. I’ll do a little bit of dabbling here… a little bit of dabbling there…”

 

Allison

“Make it my own…”

 

Adrian

Almost all of my work seems to get done seems to get done in cafés when I’m waiting for something else.

 

Allison

 

Adrian

Or, you know, sort of half an hour here, half an hour there. I don’t have a process and I don’t have… I sort of don’t have a contract or a deadline, because that would just scare me too much, and it sort of gets done that way.

 

Allison

  1. It’s like a mystery.

 

Adrian

Which I do not recommend at all, by the way.

 

Allison

I was going to say, no.

 

Adrian

Get up early, have a mug of coffee, get the bloody work done. That’s the best way to do it.

 

Allison

What are your thoughts about — I know you have a blog, which is highly entertaining. Do you do sort of social media stuff? Do you have an author platform? Are you feeling that you need to connect with readers and do all of those sorts of things?

 

Adrian

No, not really. I started the blog about ten years ago, just as an outlet for sort of reviewing books, because I was making a pretty healthy living writing book reviews, or sort of a sideline writing book reviews. And then I thought to myself, “Well, all of these book reviews kind of appear in a Saturday morning newspaper and then they vanish off into the ether.” So, I thought, “Well, I’ll just reblog them in my blog.”

 

Then some books that you’d read and you’d want to write about, but didn’t necessarily — like, it was maybe like a 30 or 40-year-old book, so they obviously didn’t want a book review of that, so I’d do that. And then I started writing in my thoughts of TV shows and films, that I wasn’t getting paid for, but I just like to do that. And then I sort of gradually developed, just blogging every two or three days about whatever was on my mind.

 

And then much to my surprise people were reading these blogs and then commenting and then you would reply to comments. So, I had developed pretty fun interaction with the audience, and I find that tremendously enjoyable, because I was finding that the people who were writing to me, you’d write back to them, but there was no sense of immediacy. You know, they’d write to the publishers and then the publishers would gather all of these letters together, six months later you’d get these letters. I always do respond to people, but there was no immediacy, whereas if you did a blog post about something, somebody would comment the next day and then you could comment back to them that same day.

 

I have to day I found that tremendously thrilling. Some people would just not necessarily comment on what you’d had written, but just say, “Hey, I just wanted to touch base with you and talk about your books, I really loved your books.” Or, the reverse. I’ve had a couple of people, “No, I really hate what you did with this character, why did you have to kill him? I loved that character. You bastard, I’m never reading you again.” I go, “Oh, sorry about that.” You know? “People do die in the world. It’s not all peaches and cream, I’m afraid to say. I’m sorry that I upset you.”

 

You get the good and the bad sense of the immediacy.

 

Allison

I’ve seen you on Twitter, beyond your blog do you have Facebook and things like that? Like, where else do you engage?

 

Adrian

Just basically the blog or Twitter, and that’s basically it. I don’t tweet as much as I could, I suppose. I mostly tweet sort of — if I’m reading a really nice piece of writing in the newspaper or online, or someone else’s book I’ll be reading and I’ll just tweet, “I’ve just read this book, you’ve got to read this.” Or, “You’ve got to read this article…” Just last week, I don’t know if it became a big story or not, but over here there was a big story because Sean Penn went and interviewed El Chapo, the escaped drug lord.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

 

Adrian

What was really interesting was this crime writing called Don Winslow, who was a writer I really respect, he had written a takedown of Sean Penn’s piece in Rolling Stone where he forensically ripped Sean Penn’s writing style and their assumptions on the drug war and just really destroyed him piece by piece. It was clinical what Don Winslow had done. And it was just a beautiful piece of writing, and so I felt the need to tweet this last week.

 

I ended up tweeting that about six or seven times to my followers, “You’ve to read Don Winslow’s take down of Sean Penn’s piece of…”

 

Allison

I’m going to go look at that now.

 

Adrian

And then I said, “Oh, by the way, you should also read Don Winslow’s crime fiction, because he’s a wonderful crime writer.”

 

Then Val McDermid did this great piece in the Guardian last week, she was arguing that we’re living through this crime golden age, and I was sort of agreeing with Val and said, “You’ve got to read Val McDermid’s piece in the Guardian,” and I was tweeting that. Oh, and then I had my own piece in the Guardian last week about —

 

Allison

Oh, I saw that, about how you tried to go and sort of sit in a cabin and write your story.

 

Adrian

Yeah, I went down to Tazi and had a horrible experience…

 

Allison

It was hilarious. I was laughing so hard, because I think the dream of doing that and the reality are often so different.

 

Adrian

Yeah, exactly. So, I tweeted that. That’s not on my blog, but I’ll tweet a link to that, and stuff like that.

 

Allison

Cool.

 

To finish up for today, we like to ask our authors for their top three tips. Perhaps you’d like to give us your top three tips for writing crime fiction.

 

Adrian

First of all, don’t do it my way. That’s my number one tip.

 

Allison

Don’t wait for the elves. Is that what you say?

 

Adrian

Don’t do the Mckinty method, which is somehow write a bit here, write a bit there, somehow patch a book together from these scraps and figments over the space of a year.

 

For god’s sake, do yourself a favor, act like a professional, get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee, or a cup of tea, have some biscuits or some cereal — whatever, frosted flakes. Get that sugar buzz going first thing in the morning, get some coffee and get your bloody work done while the kids are still asleep.

 

Don’t do the Mckinty way, number one tip.

 

Allison
OK.

 

Adrian

Number two tip is read a lot in the genre that you’re writing in.

 

I do the Brisbane Writers’ Festival, the Sydney Writers’ Festival, I always do workshops, I really enjoy it. I love reading people’s manuscripts. But, it’s with a sense of dismay that you read a manuscript and clearly the people are — not always, but sometimes you’ll read this manuscript where somebody doesn’t understand the conventions of the genre. So, if they’re writing science fiction they haven’t read a lot of science fiction novels. That’s a mistake.

 

And if you’re writing crime fiction you need to have read a lot of crime fiction novels. If you’re reading fantasy fiction, you need to read a lot of fantasy fiction novels. Especially classic fantasy, classic crime, and classic science fiction, or whatever, or classic literary fiction, but also what the current leading lights in the genre are doing, like stuff from the last two or three years.

 

You know, if you’re writing a crime fiction story you really need to know what the people on top of their game are up to, so you need to read a James Elroy, you need to read a Val McDermid, you need to read what the top names in the genre… you need to read a Michael Robotham. You need to read those people to know what the people at the top of their game are turning out, so that you can avoid some of the pitfalls.

 

I guess the third thing is just be truthful. I mean obviously you’re writing a made-up story, it’s crime fiction, so it’s probably going to be something that maybe didn’t happen to you, but be as truthful as you can, especially emotionally truthful. If you’re emotionally true with these characters in this situation and with these people that will get communicated through to the reader and the reader will know that you’re not trying to pull the wool over their eyes, you’re being true to the situation and to the characters and to the emotions, and I think that’s really important.

 

Allison

Fantastic. Alright, well, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been really entertaining and enlightening. I’m very worried about Sean Duffy’s future.

 

If you haven’t met Sean Duffy yet, I really recommend the series.

 

Thank you so much for your time, Adrian.

 

Adrian

Thank you so much for having me, Allison.

Feb 23, 2016 Podcasts Australian Writers' Centre Team

Written by Australian Writers' Centre Team

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