Thursday, May 19, 2016

9mm interview: Tim Baker

Today is a very exciting day as I'm hopping on a train from Paddington to Bristol to spend four days at Crimefest, a terrific festival that brings together dozens of great authors and hundreds of readers and others who enjoy the genre. I had a terrific time in Bristol last year, even though I was jet-lagged from a long flight back from New Zealand - the organisers do a great job, there's an excellent vibe, and it's a wonderful opportunity to mix with others who love great crime writing, and discover some new authors.

Before I head out the door to catch the train, however, I thought I'd share with you my recent interview with one of those new-to-me authors who'll be in attendance this year: Australian debutant Tim Baker. Tim published his first crime novel, FEVER CITY, to some pretty massive praise, and has led an interesting and eclectic life before taking up the crime writing pen. He now lives in the South of France with his family, but his career has taken him from jazz journalism to running consular operations for the Australian embassy in North Africa, to working on film projects in Mexico, China, Brazil, and India.

Baker's debut, FEVER CITY, has been called 1960s classic noir blended with contemporary sensibilities, and weaves together threads including a private eye investigating a kidnapping, a hit man, and numerous conspiracies surrounding the assassination of JFK. The thriller has been described as: "If you took James Ellroy at his most imaginative and Oliver Stone at his most conspiratorial, and mixed them up in a supersized martini shaker, you would produce the vivid writing, explosive events, and irresistible entertainment of FEVER CITY."

The book currently sits in my TBR mountain, so I can't offer my personal opinion yet, but it certainly sounds very intriguing, and a number of top crime reviewers whose opinions I respect have spoken very highly of FEVER CITY, so I'm excited about reading it, as well as getting a chance to hear Tim Baker talk about the process of blending fact and fiction at one of his Crimefest sessions.

But for now, Tim Baker becomes the 149th author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

Photo Credit: Michael Quinn Martin

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Philip Marlowe is by far the most complex in terms of his moral ambiguity, and he was responsible for a certain model of post-World War Two cynical anti-hero that I’ve always found interesting. But in terms of likability, it would have to be Hercule Poirot.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
The first book that I kept returning to was The Iliad. By the time I was ten I had read at least six different versions and preferred the prose translation by EV Rieu in the Penguin classics series.I loved the vivid landscape of the antique Mediterranean world, and the notion that gods walked amongst us, offering gifts one moment and setting traps the next. I always sided with the mortals against the gods, and that natural affinity for the underdog has carried on throughout my life.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Before publishing my debut novel Fever City, I had published a collection of short stories entitled Out From The Past, and several other stories in various periodicals. I had also published around 350 pieces of journalism, mainly on the arts, and several non-fiction books on UNESCO’s World Heritage list of protected natural and cultural sites. I’d also written the feature screenplay Samsara.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Learning to swim when I was seven changed my life. I had been very ill throughout most of my childhood and this was the first physical activity I was capable of undertaking and marked the beginning of my road back to good health. These days I swim in the sea six months of the year. I also love to go sailing with a Hobie Cat catamaran, paddleboard, play tennis, ride a bike and walk my dog.  Beyond physical activities, I listen to music constantly, read when I’m not writing fiction, and have never been known to turn down the idea of lunch on a terrace by the sea.

5. 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?
Whether it be my hometown of Sydney, or the village that I live in now in the South of France, I would suggest the same thing, namely get a pair of comfortable walking shoes, a hat, some water and sunglasses, and just start following the coastline along one of the pedestrian pathways. If you start out early and walk far enough, you’ll eventually find a place where you can eat lunch and listen to the sea. And the walk back is never the same as the walk there.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Nic Cage or Chris Walken because they both know how to do crazy. Or Victor Mature and Steven Seagal because they don’t.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Of all the books in my home, the ones that are my favourites are a Shakespeare and Company edition of Ulysses that I found in a second-hand stall in Paris, and my son’s copy of Goodnight Moon which I used to read to him every night many years ago.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? 
Stunned disbelief, followed by the urgent feeling that I had better get back to work finishing all the drafts of my other novels. I celebrated by riding a bike with my wife and son to a neighbouring village and having lunch in a small Italian restaurant overlooking an old port.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Being screamed at by Allen Ginsberg when I mentioned the words “Beat Generation”.

Thank you Tim. We appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch. 

Tim Baker will be appearing on two panels at Crimefest Bristol: the "Using Real People: How Do You Combine Fact and Fiction" session on Friday 20 May at 5,10pm, and the "Debut Authors: An Infusion of Fresh Blood" session on Sunday 22 May at 9.30am. You can see the full Crimefest programme here

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