Thursday, June 24, 2010

9mm interview with Mark Billingham

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. I hope you're enjoying the series - it hasn't even been going for three months yet, but we've been building up a remarkable list of participants.

And there are plenty more to come, with 9mm interviews with the likes of Michael Koryta, Mark Gimenez, and PD James all completed and scheduled for publication in the coming days and weeks, and other great authors on the near horizon too (Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, amongst others). Please let me know if you have a particular favourite author or authors whom you'd really like to see interviewed in this way.

Today, for the 21st in this regular series of quickfire author interviews I fired the 9mm questions at bestselling British crime writer Mark Billingham, author of the award-winning DI Tom Thorne series - the latest instalment of which, FROM THE DEAD, comes out in a couple of months time. He worked as a TV actor, writer, and stand-up comedian before breaking through as a crime writer in 2001 with SLEEPYHEAD, a terrific debut that introduced DI Tom Thorne. Personally, I think SLEEPYHEAD is one of the very best debut crime novels I've read in the past decade. The series (FROM THE DEAD will be the 9th Thorne novel), which has won multiple awards and deservedly received numerous excellent reviews, is now being made into a series of television movies, starring David Morrissey as Thorne.

Billingham will be appearing at the upcoming Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate next month, and his first standalone novel IN THE DARK, which was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger last year, was on the longlist for the 2010 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year (the shortlist will be announced on 1 July, with the award announced at the festival), an award Billingham has won multiple times in the past few years, including last year for DEATH MESSAGE.

But for now, Mark Billingham stares down the barrel of 9mm...

The Crime Watch 9mm Author Interview: Mark Billingham

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
There's so many I will always read. Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux, John Connolly's Charlie Parker. These are characters who have genuinely grown and developed. I'll always love Marlowe too, and Sherlock Holmes (see below!)

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
It was "The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes" which was read to me by an eccentric maths teacher who got bored during his own lessons. I loved the stories of course, but more than anything it was the character of Holmes himself who fascinated me. That was when the bug bit.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I'd been writing for television for a number of years and not was really enjoying it. I'd also written bad plays, dreadful poetry, stupid songs and a stand-up routine that I just about got away with for a few years. I'd always written SOMETHING. In school I would try and write funny stories in the hope that I might get asked to come to the front of the class and read it out. Basically, I'm still driven by that same impulse, I think.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
For me, it's usually a question of catching up on things I've missed while I've been working. Movies, music and TV. And trying to learn the guitar, which I wish I'd done many years ago. I can just about bash my way through most Hank Williams and Johnny Cash stuff, which I love doing, though my family are usually to be found wearing ear-plugs.

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?
Birmingham gets a bad press, but there's plenty to see and do. I would recommend a trip to the Balti Belt, for the best Indian food in the country. Oh and the canals. More miles of canals than Venice, you know.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Surely, as someone who acted a bit in a former life, I would be allowed to pitch for the role myself. I mean, obviously I'd work out a little first.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
I'll always have a soft spot for SLEEPYHEAD, because it was the first, but I'm enormously proud of IN THE DARK. I was apprehensive about taking a break from Thorne, and the series, but was very happy with how that book turned out.

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'm STILL celebrating, and I STILL get that buzz.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I was doing an event recently with John Connolly, when a woman who had maybe had a glass or two too many tottered up on to the stage and tried to remove the hat I was wearing. Who the hell takes exception to headwear? I mean, hate the books if you want, but leave the hat alone!

Thank you Mark Billingham. We appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.


So what do you think of this 9mm interview? Have you read Billingham's Tom Thorne novels? Or his acclaimed standalone IN THE DARK? Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. Craig - What a great interview - thanks!

    Mark - Sherlock Holmes was my introduction to crime fiction, too. And I love your story about the hat. Nice to "meet" you.

  2. Glad Mark still gets a buzz out of seeing his work on the shelves - I get even more of a buzz whn i'm reading it!

    Nice interview, Craig!

  3. Very enjoyable, Craig.

    I get a thrill too when I see a new Billingham on the shelf. If only it didn't take so long but I suppose excellence is worth waiting for.