Tag Archives: Henning Mankell

The Intel: Tom Callaghan

Tom Callaghan

Earlier in the week we walked the charming streets of Bishkek in Tom Callaghan’s excellent debut, A Killing Winter, which features the debut of Inspector Akyl Borubaev. Callaghan’s brutal post-Soviet noir is brutal and muscular and funny. In a corrupt state full of bad eggs, Borubaev is as hardboiled as they come.

We promised you Tom Callaghan would give you the intel on Borubaev, Kyrgyzstan and his writing, and here at Crime Thriller Fella, we deliver. Born in the North of England, Callaghan is quite the gadabout. An inveterate traveller, he divides his time between London, Prague, Dubai and Bishkek. Me, I get a nose-bleed crossing postcodes.

Tell us about Akyl Borubaev.

Inspector Akyl Borubaev of the Bishkek Murder Squad in Kyrgyzstan is tough, honest and dedicated. Having recently lost his wife to breast cancer, he is in mourning, unsure that he does any good, caught in a deep depression. But the murders continue, and he has to solve them.

Where did you get the inspiration for A Winter Killing?

I’ve always loved crime fiction, hard-boiled noir for preference, and so that was always going to be the kind of book I’d write. But who needs another crime book set in NYC, or LA, or Miami? Kyrgyzstan is an unknown place, with a lot of problems – what more could a crime writer ask for? As for the plot; (whispers) I made it up.

In the novel, Kyrgyzstan is a state engulfed by gangsters, corruption and sleaze – what do you think the good citizens of Bishkek would make of it?

After two revolutions in ten years, it’s clear that the Kyrgyz will put up with a lot as long as there is food on the table, but when corruption becomes too overt, they act.

A Killing WinterWhat’s your own relationship with the country?

I was married to a Kyrgyz woman, I have a Kyrgyz son, and a home in Bishkek. It’s a country I love, for its beauty, for its culture, for its people. It’s a unique place, in an increasingly homogenised world.

It’s a very timely novel, what with many of the post-Soviet satellite countries afraid that Russia is flexing its muscles again. What do you think the future holds for Kyrgyzstan?

Now that the US air base at Manas has closed, following troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, and with Kyrgyzstan signing trade agreements with Russia over import and export tariffs, people are worried about a decline in living standards. Only time will tell. But I don’t see Putin moving eastwards.

How did the spellchecker on your computer cope with some of the more challenging, consonant-heavy names?

I ignore it: I know how to spell, to parse a sentence and the rules of grammar. Orwell’s rules are ones I live by.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Laundry and doing dishes always seems more important when you stare at a blank screen.

How do you deal with feedback?

As a professional writer, I have no problems with other people reading what I’ve written. I like to think I’m reasonable and open-minded to fair comment. At the same time, I’ll defend my work if I think I’m right. If I can improve my work through someone else’s suggestions, I will.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

The Classics: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson. Murder taken out of the drawing room and put down a dark alleyway, where it belongs.

The Hard-Boiled Americans: Lawrence Block, James Lee Burke, Robert Campbell, Michael Connolly, Robert Crais, James Ellroy, Carl Hiassen, Joe R. Lansdale, Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain, George Pelecanos, Peter Spiegelman, Andrew Vachss. Crisp dialogue, more twists and turns than an electric eel, great locations.

The Bold Brits: Mark Billingham, John Connolly (alright, Irish, but I had to list him somewhere), John Harvey, Mo Hayder, Simon Kernick, Val Mcdermid, Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson. Murder doesn’t just happen in the USA, you know.

Foreign Settings: John Burdett (Thailand), Sebastian Fitzek (Germany), Stieg Larrson and Henning Mankell (Sweden), Jo Nesbo (Norway), Mike Nichol (S Africa). Because murder happens to non-English speakers as well.

What’s next for you?

The sequel, A Spring Betrayal, is with my agent and publisher, both of whom are very encouraging, and I’m plotting the third book now. Both of them feature Akyl Borubaev. A Killing Winter is already out in German, UK paperback and US publication is in the autumn, and Spanish and Portuguese editions follow next year.

Give me some advice about writing…

Don’t talk about it  –  nothing diminishes the desire to write as quickly as having told everybody the story. Read a lot. I mean a LOT. Read every day. Write every day. Ask for criticism, not praise; that’s what mirrors are for.

Follow Kingsley Amis’ advice: apply the seat of your trousers to the seat of your chair. Learn to spell and use grammar correctly; if you can’t make yourself clearly understood, how is your reader going to cope? Love one genre, but explore others; everything is an ingredient, to use or not, as you see fit.

Try not to be afraid of the blank page/screen, but don’t be over-confident either.

The Intel: DA Mishani

DA MishaniDA Mishani was destined to be a crime novelist. A literary scholar specializing in the history of detective literature, he worked as an editor of fiction and international crime literature before hitting it big with the publication of his first novel. The Missing File was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger Award.

Now the second in his Inspector Avraham Avraham series, A Possibility Of Violence, has been translated – it won the prestigious Bernstein prize for best Hebrew novel in 2014 – and is getting all sorts of acclaim. In the novel, a suspicious device is found inside a suitcase near a nursery in Tel Aviv. The children are taken to safety; a man is caught fleeing the scene. Then comes the phone call: ‘the suitcase is only the beginning.’

Both A Possibility of Violence and The Missing File were shortlisted for the Sapir Award, the Israeli equivalent of the Man Booker Prize.

Where did the inspiration for A Possibility of Violence come from?

A Possibility Of Violence was born from an uncanny conversation I had with my 4-year-old son Benjamin. One day he suddenly asked me, “Do you know I had a father before you?” I looked at him, shocked by what he had just said, and then he added, “But he’s already dead.” This conversation haunted me – and finally inspired a similar scene in the novel I started writing.

What kind of man is Avraham?

Unlike most literary detectives, probably, he’s a trusting man, somewhat naïve maybe, and also partly insecure. But he’s passionate and truly caring for the lives of people he meets during his investigations, and he’s imaginative – and when he believes he knows the truth he doesn’t let go.

Your crime novels have won and been shortlisted for numerous awards – do you feel the weight of expectation on your shoulders when you sit down to write?

I think that on the contrary, the fact that my novels have gained some appreciation from readers and critics, helps me keep going, avoiding the voices most writers probably hear around them, whispering, “is that really any good?”

You’re a scholar specializing in the history of crime literature – do you find that a help or a hindrance when you came to write your first Inspector Avraham novel?

A huge help. I believe you can’t be a good crime writer without being first a good crime reader, because writing a good crime novel is initiating yourself to a glorious literary tradition that you have to respect and follow, while betraying it, but just a bit, in order to speak with a voice that is also your own.

A Possibility Of ViolenceYou have probably read more detective novels than most people. What are the traits of personality that link fictional detectives down the decades and across the continents, do you think?

Most of the literary detectives that made the genre’s history were vain but their vanity was just a cover for their deep insecurity and solitude, traits that I really like about them. Most of them pretended to be genius but only in order to hide their blindness, which is what I find fascinating about them. And some of them were the most humane characters ever written in literature, faithful witnesses for human sufferings and pain.

Who are your own favourite crime writers?

Henning Mankell. Fred Vargas. P.D. James. Karin Fossum. Hakan Nesser. Jan Costin Wagner. Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall. Georges Simenon. And many more.

We’re familiar with the political situation in Israel, but Tel Aviv, like any other city, must have its share of social and domestic crime – how important is it to you to accurately portray this aspect of the city?

I don’t believe that writers are, generally speaking, good sociologists (apart from Balzac, maybe?) I’m definitely not sitting down to write in order to describe a society or denounce its problems. But I do believe that we are all social-beings and so in a way complex “products” of the societies we live in – and that when you write well a personal story you always write a social story too.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

Oh, they can be so painful sometimes. I go to my office early in the morning, after leaving my children in school, and then I sit for hours in front of the computer, sometimes four hours and sometimes even eight. The hardest part is that you can never know how well you’ll do today and that weeks can pass without a truly good page…

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That you can’t rush it.

How do you deal with feedback?

I love good feedback and I find it very helpful to my writing. Bad reviews I pretend not to read.

Give me some advice about writing…

Me? I can maybe try and give advice about writing crime: start from feeling a certain proximity and even intimacy with your criminal and your crime.

What’s next for you?

I’m about to write the last pages of the third Avraham novel, The Policeman Who Went Down The Stairs And Disappeared. And then, who knows? But I guess Avraham and I will not separate for long…

The Intel: Alex Blackmore

We love writers here, and we’re keen to learn from them. Last week we reviewed Alex Blackmore’s international thriller Letha Profit. Now Alex tells us just how she goes about the business of getting words onto a page.

ABWhat’s your writing process? What comes first – plot or character?

Setting is probably the first thing for me. I think locations are important as they can have a lot of influence over the feel of the story. I’ve set the book I’m writing at the moment in Berlin because that city sends shivers down my spine. After the location is the research and then come the main characters and the bare bones of a plot, followed by the flesh of the smaller characters and the different layers of story.

Take us through a typical writing day for you? 

I’m at my most lucid in the early mornings – at least once I’ve had a coffee! So if I’m writing I tend to get up around six or seven and just start work straight away. Those early hours when the world is still and unrushed have a magical quality to them, creatively speaking. I find if you live in London peace is hard to find so the early mornings are precious in terms of mental space.

I write in one or two hour chunks but I tend to be spinning numerous plates seven days a week, so unless I’m on holiday or it’s an unusually quiet weekend I have to take writing breaks to answer business emails, make phone calls or go to meetings. If I’m lucky enough to have an entire writing day then I just shut out everything other than the dog and immerse myself in what’s going on in my head. When I was a kid and I did that at school I got told off for daydreaming so I’m still adjusting to being ‘allowed’ to do it and not feel guilty about it!

Who are the authors or you love, and why?Unknown

I’m a big fan of Karin Slaughter, Henning Mankell and Robert Ludlum’s earlier books – I mostly like books that have lots of action, aren’t afraid to be a bit political and/or make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. I thought Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was interesting – a good, gripping plot with that twist half way through, as well as astute observations on women in society. I found her idea of the ‘Cool Girl’ really resonated with me.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

If you don’t have any discipline then you’ll never finish anything. You need to have a pretty potent imagination as a writer and lots of good ideas, but there also has to be a process through which those ideas get to other people. It took me a while to understand how non-creative the creative process has to be sometimes. I had to force myself to do it initially – rigidly at the same time every day and without distractions. I thought a daily routine (which is something I’ve always hated) would restrict being creative but it was what made it possible to bring it all to life.

How do you deal with feedback?

I’m much better with feedback than I used to be, mainly because I feel like I can tell the difference now between what’s objectively constructive and what’s purely subjective. The thing is that even if something smarts a bit when you first hear it’s actually often really useful for the next piece of writing you take on.  Ongoing progress and development are really important to me and you have to listen to criticism to achieve that. Sometimes people just don’t get your writing though and that’s fine – they’ve just picked up the wrong book. You can’t please all the people all the time…

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?

I used to work in the City and I used to live in Paris so they have been pretty instrumental in terms of the Book 1 setting! The way I think and see the world has seeped in to some of the characters I’m sure, although I think it’s more interesting to challenge yourself to produce characters that aren’t just versions of you or people you know. I’ve been careful not to include anything that is too close to real life too – there are elements of things I’ve done or seen, people I’ve come across in there but no whole transitions from the real world.

Give me some advice about writing…

I’m not sure I’ve hit such dizzy heights of success to be giving advice but here goes…I think discipline is the big one – getting yourself into a good routine and then sticking to it. Follow your instinct in terms of your plot and your characters and avoid copying other writers. Most important of all, ignore the doubters and the people who raise their eyebrows and suck their teeth when you say you want to be a writer. ‘Oh doesn’t everyone’ is often the reply, especially if someone has tried to publish their own work but failed. You have to be a bit arrogant, a bit blinkered and be convinced of your own opinions if you’re going to get your work heard (I have these character traits and I’m sure it drives the people I work with slightly mad…).

 What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…

Be a bit creative about it. Unfortunately now it’s not just about being a great writer you need to market yourself too from the word go. There are many more routes to getting published now than there used to be. You don’t have to be with a big publisher to be a best seller and there could be all sorts of reasons why an agent or reader for a publisher passes over your work when many others would like to read it. If you really believe in it then just be relentless.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently trying to finish book 2 and it’s proving challenging with everything else going on and the inevitable fear of trying to produce something that follows on well from the first book. However, I’ve just got back from an inspiring trip to Berlin so I can feel the ideas starting to accelerate…

Alex Blackmore trained and practiced as a finance lawyer in the City before leaving to pursue a writing career. As well as penning Lethal Profit she works as a freelance copywriter and runs an online fashion business championing new designers. Alex lives in north London, loves hot yoga and is a big fan of a perfectly made margarita.

You can find Alex on Twitter: @AlexPBlackmore

On Facebook: www.facebook.com/AlexPBlackmore

And she’s got a website: http://www.alexblackmore.com