Friday, July 20, 2012

Harrogate - John Connolly interview

So, I'm currently away at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. There are loads of people some 12000 tickets have been sold.

The events are in the ballroom at the Old Swan Hotel. Unfortunately for those of us taking notes, the lights are dimmed and there aren't any power sockets. Hence my notes are written in the dark!

Here are my notes from the first session, Mark Billingham interviewing John Connolly:

It took JC about 5 years to write Every Dead Thing (he admits to not being a very good journalist)

He was awarded a huge advance for EDT but at the time had an empty bank account and needed an overdraft to buy a car. When he came to borrow money, bank knew who he was and didn't ask him to sign any papers (one rule for one and one for little people; he was no longer little people)

Being a freelance journalist meant you are responsible for your own destiny.  As a writer you live in perpetual fear of being dropped despite him having published 11+ books. Reality is that you can be dropped you only have 2 book cushion. Writing a series limits experimentation. With most writers' standalones you could drop main character in; there's no real broadening of range. Readers may not follow you to you new book as follow characters; very few parts of literature where you can dip into lives of characters from book to book.

JC a late bloomer reading crime fiction. James Lee Burke - arguably the greatest living crime writer in terms of language and landscape ("you can argue but you'd be wrong") and Ross MacDonald (being republished by Penguin) whose empathetic character is like a christ figure taking on everyone's sins.

No tradition in Irish crime writing and he didn't want to start one. Grim in 1970s, didn't want to write about famine, Irish writers didn't engage with England, wouldn't model themselves on English writers. Difficult to write crime fiction whilst mired in the Troubles, all criminality linked to IRA so couldn't write about crime without writing about Troubles.

Benjamin Black couldn't couldn't have written Christine Falls at the time it was (1950s) set as it was about Magdalen Laundries.

Irish authors get a better response in US and sell better.

He didn't expect to be published, rejected by everyone except current publisher and agent. Given wise advice to finish writing for own reasons ie if left unfinished he may not have written anything else.

Doubt is what makes it good if you think 20k words in its rubbish then probably worth reading in the end.

It wasn't until the third book that he thought he was going to be writing for a while and the books change and become a sequence of novels (The Unquiet almost a standalone). Writer's first book is an index of what writer is going to write about in his career.  Each book is an experiment, different pacing and tone. Very little violence in The Burning Soul and more dialogue.

He has to find something for Louis and Angel (two popular characters) to do without it seeming gratuitous - they change the tone - add humour and humanises Parker - so you can see why people like him. Also to help reader through book, and a reward for long descriptive passages.

MB said books described as supernatural thriller or detective gothic (or shit says JC)

JC read horror as teenager - good way for teenagers to engage with adult world, why Twilight so popular. Adults shouldn't be reading it. Just stop and read some Dickens.

When he first came to Britain - he saw how conservative British crime fiction establishment was.

Going on to talk about Noctures (a collection of ghost stories): radio very big in Ireland so when asked if he wanted to write for tv said would do ghost stories for radio -  supposed to be for late at night but first series went out at 4pm!

The 'good daughter' short story in Nocturnes made into film with Kevin Costner. JC is very protective of books but filming a short story is expansion rather than compression. It's a fairy tale but it was moved to South Carolina which has no tradition of fairy tales. He says film is not bad but a bit slow.

The Book of Lost Things made MB cry slightly - partly autobiographical

One of his villains is back in The Wrath of Angels.

People aren't evil but are selfish

The Inkpot Monkey was the first short story he wrote.

Charlie Parker has JC's sense of humour but also glass is half empty/introspection.

The favourite death scene is written is for a man who was using a mobile hone in a cafe and was beaten and then shot - based closely on an incident JC had experienced (ie the phone, not the killing!). It's in Bad Men and the victim is given a lecture on phone etiquette.

JC and Declan Burke have just edited Books to Die For (out August) - 120 crime writers from around the world asked about the single book they'd force on a reader; one of the best essay's is MB's on The Maltese Falcon.

1 comment:

Pauline Rowson said...

I enjoyed this Karen, even though you were writing in the dark I thought it was very interesting, captured tone perfectly. Wish I could have been there to hear John Connolly talk I identified with quite a lot of the points he made. Have fun there.