Friday, May 14, 2010

9mm interview: Declan Burke

Welcome to the latest instalment in Crime Watch's ongoing series of quickfire author interviews; 9mm - 9 MurderMystery questions put to a variety of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors. We’ve had some great authors featured thusfar, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the series continues to grow in the coming months. If you have suggestions of authors you’d like to see interviewed, please let me know, and I’ll do what I can.

For the twelfth in this regular series of quickfire author interviews, I put the 9mm questions to Irish crime writer Declan Burke, whose noir-ish writing mixing grittiness with comic moments has been compared to the likes of Elmore Leonard. Burke is the author of three novels: EIGHTBALL BOOGIE (2004), THE BIG O (2007) and CRIME ALWAYS PAYS (2009) - the latter I understand may have been solely published as an e-book. Burke is also the creator of a great blog of the same name, Crime Always Pays, where he comments on the genre, with a particular focus on Irish crime writing. It's well worth checking out. But for now, Declan Burke sits in the 9mm hotseat.

The Crime Watch 9mm Author Interview: Declan Burke

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
That would have to be Philip Marlowe. The first time I read the opening paragraph of The Big Sleep, it felt like coming home. Odd, really, because I’ve never been to LA. Generally speaking, I’m more a fan of standalones rather than series heroes, but I’ll be first in line if they ever discover an unpublished Marlowe manuscript. I reread at least one Chandler per year, just to remind myself of (a) why I love books, (b) why I want to write, and (c) how far I have to go to get to where I’d like to be.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?Very tough question. You can love books for all sorts of reasons, not all of them to do with the story or the writing. And when you’re young, you tend to read indiscriminately, without worrying about whether you actually like or love a book - I doubt very much if I ever stopped to think about whether I was enjoying the Enid Blyton books, for example, as I wolfed them down. But I do remember having my socks blown off by Watership Down when I was about 10 or 11. A story about rabbits, from the POV of rabbits? And heartbreaking to boot? I even loved the General, Woundwort, when he went for the dog’s throat …

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I’d been working as a journalist for about eight years or so before Eightball Boogie was published in 2004, mainly writing about arts and cultural stuff - movies, books, theatre. I’d also written a novel-length story set in the Greek islands that was utter rubbish, but which was important to me (and possibly one of the most important things I ever wrote) in that it meant I at least had the stamina to write a book-length story. Starting a story is the easiest thing in the world. Seeing it through is tough, tough, tough.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?Writing is really only a hobby to me; I’ve only had two books published (Eightball Boogie and The Big O (2007)), both of which were very low-key affairs. And in these straitened times, working a full-time job as a freelance journalist, and with a young family to co-support, I don’t get much time to write, let alone tour and promote. For leisure, I’m lucky in that my job involves going to movies and theatre, and reading quite a bit for review. So there’s a lot of cross-over there between work and leisure. For strictly leisure time, I like to spend as much time as possible with my little girl, Lily, who has just turned two and is brilliant fun. I watch a little TV - football, Family Guy, science and history documentaries - listen to some music, potter in the garden a bit, do some blogging … Any spare time after that is spent reading, though.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
I live in Wicklow now, which is called ‘the Garden of Ireland’, but I’m originally from Sligo, in the northwest of Ireland, which is renowned for its association with WB Yeats. It’s a beautiful place: there are mountains, forests, bogs, the Atlantic, good surfing, good fishing … in fact, it’s a great place to set a novel, because practically any kind of urban or rural setting you need is available within five or ten miles of Sligo town centre. What visitors do tend to overlook is Sligo’s ancient history. There are perfectly preserved settlements at Carrowkeel, for example, that predate the better-known Newgrange by about 500 years, and the Egyptian pyramids by about 1,000 years.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
If my life was a movie, it’d be stuck in development hell. Who would I like to see play me? George Clooney, one of the very few interesting movie stars with real screen presence. Who would be likely to play me? Steve Buscemi.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Now that’s a tough bloody question. It’s like asking which of your kids you love most. And the honest answer is that I love them all equally, and I’m including those that haven’t been published when I say ‘all’. Eightball was magic because it was my first, and I’ll never replicate that shining, incandescent moment when I first held the book - an actual book, written by me - in my hands. It happened on a street in Galway, and I believe I kind of blanked out for a few seconds. I’d waited a long, long time to see that book … The Big O I love because it was a co-published deal with Hag’s Head, I and my wife put our mortgage money where my mouth was by paying 50% of the costs, and it ended up a modest success, from a co-published little effort (880 copies in Ireland) that ended up getting a pretty decent deal in the States, and allowed me go to the States for a road-trip to promote it. Bad for Good (which is currently out under consideration) I love because it’s radically different to the previous books, and I’m still not sure where the voice came from, or where the notion of having a hospital porter blow up his hospital came from. But even the books that will never see the light of day, I love them too, because they’re me at my most me. Which is the main reason why I write, I think.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?I can’t really remember, to be honest, possibly because I very probably went out drinking. But it’s a strange, strange thing hearing that your book is going to be published - you’re delighted, of course, because for me I’d had that monkey on my back for nigh on 20 years, having subconsciously set myself that much as a target in order to have a life worth living (!), and the relief that it was finally going to happen was immense. So there’s shock, and relief, and delight … and ten minutes later you’re worried if people are going to like it.

I had a bizarre experience, actually, in that a couple of months before Eightball was published, I read a Ken Bruen novel, I think it was The Guards. And I remember vividly putting it down and realising that Eightball was going to be evaluated on the same criteria, and having a panic attack of sorts, and then wondering what Ken Bruen would make of my book. And the very following morning, I got a letter from the publisher, via my agent, containing a blurb from Ken Bruen, in which he claimed I was the future of Irish crime fiction. That was a pretty good morning.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?Most unusual event at a literary festival? Sorry, Craig - what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Generally speaking, though, the most unusual thing that happens at my book signings is that people actually turn up to have their books signed. That never ceases to amaze me.

Thank you Declan Burke. We appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.

So what do you think of Declan Burke's answers? Have you read any of his crime novels? Or his blog? If so, what did you think? Do you like Irish crime? Noir? Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. Cracking interview. The Big O is an absolute joy. A hangover cure, even.

  2. If the people in Hollywood could read, The Big O would already be a movie.

  3. Craig - This is a great interview - thanks. I can completely relate to the pressure of working full time and writing when one can, too. I think lots of writers face that challenge, and I respect writers, like Declan Burke, who do so and who also write so well.

  4. Craig - Much obliged for the hospitality, sir. Paul and Naomi - your rewards will be in heaven. Margot? What else would you be doing with your 'spare' time, really?

    Cheers, Dec

  5. I've read EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, THE BIG O, and CRIME ALWAYS PAYS (the as-yet unpublished sequel to THE BIG O.) Dec's books are always fun to read, the characters are memorable, and the story never goes quite where you think it will, though he never cheats you and just takes an unprepared tangent. THE BIG O was as much reading fun as I had the year I read it, and I'm looking forward to BAD FOR GOOD.