Tag Archives: Jim Thompson

The Intel: S Williams

S WilliamsLast week we went underground to review Tuesday Falling, in which a vengeful young woman who goes to war with London’s gangland and dispatches lots of unpleasant young men in a variety of violent ways. We liked Tuesday’s odyssey very much, and said the book had a powerful cartoon energy. To see that review, don’t be coy, scroll down and take a look. We’ll still be here when you get back, if you’re quick.

Anyway, you know where this is going. We caught up with the enigmatic S Williams, a fascinating guy, to talk about his singular feminist protag, about the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the streets and how, where writing is concerned, you’ve just got to take the advice of Tom Waits.

Tell us about Tuesday…

How to answer without spoilers…

Tuesday is a 17-year-old girl who, for reasons unknown, is ripping through London gangland and revenging their victims. She is a seemingly unstoppable murderbomb with a nice turn in dark humour and a penchant for interesting weapons. She is broken and beautiful and exactly who she needs to be, when she needs to be it.

Where did you get the inspiration for Tuesday Falling?

For the settings it was working in the tunnels under London, which are incredible. They go for miles and miles and pop up like secrets behind the most ordinary of doors. Unless you know they are there you wouldn’t believe it. For the vibe it was just a desire to put into a story what it was like to be an outsider living in the machine of a city. There are so many great books and films about Gangster London, but I’d never found one that described quite what I wanted to see.

Much of the book takes place in those hidden places. How much research did you do about London?

Loads! On the interweb. Walking Tuesday’s world in London. Travelling the tube, zoning into the rhythm. Visiting the museums. The estates. Plus a couple of things I can’t talk about, but if you’ve read the book you probably can guess!

Tuesday FallingWhat’s the most interesting thing you learned about the city?

That it is not just one thing. It is layer upon layer. It is both macro and quantum. It stretches backwards and forwards in time as you walk through it. That it breathes with the people who live and work there. That it can break your heart and spit you out one day, then hold you tight and give you succour the next. That you can die there and no one will notice, and you can live there and never get seen. That it is a fun-fair and a mincing machine both.

I highly recommend it.

There’s a strong YA vibe to the book – did you worry that some of the more extreme violence would put off younger readers?

Short answer is no, but fair point. Although Tuesday is not marketed as a YA book it does has great appeal to that age range. Obviously this is the same group that plays GTA, loves the Walking Dead, gets sent to institutions that breed bullying and prey on difference, owns hardware that allows them to watch anything they can dream up, and generates it’s own separate language so that the ‘adults’ don’t even know what they’re talking about. A Clockwork Orange, anyone? Ultimately, it’s all about context, and I feel completely comfortable with a YA audience reading Tuesday.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Wow. Where to start?

Catherine Storr, because without her my literary childhood would not have been so special and full of light and shade. Ditto Alan Garner, Roald Dahl and Isaac Asimov. Books are doorways through which to escape. This is especially true when young. Ray Bradbury for his short stories. Like a kiss in the dark on a ghost train. Stephen King for writing the book that allowed Jack Nicholson to appear in that film with that axe. Jim Thompson for writing crime fiction that is more like a tour of a war-zone than anything else. Andrew Vachss. No need to explain. Just read him.

Another day would be a completely different list.

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

That it doesn’t always come out right. In fact hardly ever. The gap between what I see in my head and what I see on the page is immense. Pour a drink and hide away immense. Give up, shut the curtains and just watch TV forever immense. But as Tom Waits so eloquently says, though, ‘You gotta get behind the mule’. All you can do is keep on going until something works. Something sticks that you like. Then grab it and run like hell. Really. Run.

Give me some advice about writing…

I would never presume to give anyone advice about writing. Even when I give myself advice about writing I get a sneer and a slap. All I can say is that it has given me enormous pleasure, in between the self-doubt, the empty page that laughs at you and the lost chapters you have just written as your computer crashes.

Right. Yes. Advice. Save as you go along! Or use a computer that saves automatically to cyberspace. And never give up. It’s work, like anything else.

What’s next for you?

Got quite a lot on the go, at the moment!

Getting to grips with the publicity side of Tuesday. Writing a novel about a girl gang. Finishing off the script for an immersive ghost evening in an abandoned building. And then there’s always the chance that Tuesday may return out of the shadows…

Plus gin, Berlin-era Bowie and chess by the fire.

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: Sam Millar

At the fag end of last week we reviewed Black’s Creek, Sam Millar’s heady, atmospheric journey into the dark heart of adolescence. And, by god, we liked it. Belfast-born Millar is the author of the Karl Kane detective series and other crime novels, and has racked up all sorts of literary awards along the way.

Sam MillarThey say you’ve got to live a little bit if you want to be an author. Well, Millar’s an writer with a fascinating back-story. His membership of the IRA earned him a lengthy stay in the Long Kesh prison, known as The Maze — and in American penitentiaries.

In 1993, $7.4 million was stolen from the Brink’s Armoured Car Depot in Rochester, New York. It was the fifth largest robbery in US history — and Sam Millar was a member of the gang who carried out the heist. He was caught, found guilty and incarcerated, before being set free by Bill Clinton’s government as a part of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. He writes about his life and the aftermath of the raid in his memoir On The Brinks.

I’m chuffed to say that Millar gives us the intel on Black’s Creek, his extraordinary life and, of course, his writing process…

Tell us about Black’s Creek…

Black’s Creek is about revenge and perceived injustices, some real, some imagined. The story tells about three young friends setting out to avenge the death of their mate, in the belief he was sexually molested by the town loner. Their actions will not only have devastating consequences for themselves, but also their loved ones, and some of the town folk.

It’s a hugely atmospheric novel – part Jim Thompson, part Stephen King.  What was the inspiration?

Stand By Me by Stephen King and Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon were the main influences for the book. Both are classic stories, and for me ultimate coming-of-age tales told by two masters.

As well as a crime novel, it’s also very much a coming-of-age-tale – how much of you as a teenage boy is in the novel?

Quite a bit. One of my friends was murdered at a very young age (16) and I remembered the last summer we spent together, not realising it would be our last. His death had a profound effect on me, and changed my life forever.

Black's CreekThere aren’t many crime writers who have been pardoned by President Clinton.  How have your own experiences, in the republican struggle and among  armed gangsters, shaped your writing?

They say you should write from experience, but I wouldn’t wish my experience on my worst enemy! Seriously, though, I have used it in all my novels and stage plays. People were shocked when they read my best-selling memoir, On The Brinks, which has just been acquired for film rights. All my novels contain elements of my life, warts and all, frightening yet told with very dark humour.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I was very lucky growing up as a young lad in Belfast. My father was a merchant seaman and was always travelling to America. Upon every trip, he would bring back a suitcase of American comic books, which I devoured and became totally addicted to (and still am!). Stan Lee, the Marvel comics creator, was a great influence in my young life, and I probably learnt more from his writing and stories than I did at school. I always wanted to be Stan Lee and finally got to met the great man, and other heroes of my childhood, when I lived in New York.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

Usually up by 6am each day, sometimes earlier. Cup of coffee to set a spark to my battery. After that, I will sit and type whatever comes into my head, never stopping. After a few hours, I’ll halt and do the usual mundane chores about the house. I have a stray cat, and she keeps me pretty busy looking for attention. I was never a cat person, per se, and had little time for them. Then one rainy and stormy night, she entered my life, and things have never been quite the same since. Afterwards, I will start to go through what I wrote earlier in the day, hoping to come across something worth keeping. It’s a bit like prospecting for gold, hoping to come across a nugget or two.

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

It’s a tough profession, with plenty of hard work and dedication needed if you want to survive. The flip side is that I am living my dream, and wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.

How do you deal with feedback?

Depends on what the feedback is. Sometimes it can good, bad, or downright ugly. Sometimes it can be very positive, but other times rather negative. Initially, when starting out, I took negative feedback very personally. Now, it’s all in a day’s work. I take it in my stride, and appreciate the fact someone has stopped to think about your work. Even if they didn’t like it, they felt strong enough to take time-out to write a comment about it.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Cormac McCarthy. His writing is so beautifully dark, original and haunting. Stephen King, a master storyteller. Robert McCammon, a natural storyteller, one of the rare breed.

Give me some advice about writing…

Write… there is no wrong way to write, but always try be yourself, with an honest voice. We need new voices in writing, not ones that are already out there. Don’t try to be someone else. Oh, and never give up. Never.

Black’s Creek – Sam Millar

Black's CreekBlack’s Creek is a sweaty slice of dark Americana, part crime novel, part coming-of-age tale, from Belfast writer Sam Millar.

The blurb will tell you:

When young Joey Maxwell drowns himself in Jackson’s Lake, near the small town of Black’s Creek in upstate New York, everyone knows who is responsible – an outsider who molested Joey in the woods. The police investigation seems to be getting nowhere, and three teenage boys decide to take justice into their own hands.

So basically, Black’s Creek is told from the point-of-view of Tommy, an adolescent boy in a small town in upstate New York. He and his friends Brent and Horseshoe make a blood oath to exact revenge on the man responsible for their friend’s death.

It’s a book with an interesting set-up and, just like Brent’s most-excellent Milf Mom, it’s all provocative tease. The narrative slips and slides and never quite bounds off in the direction you think it’s going to. Sinister elements you think will have huge repercussions fizzle and barking small town characters make odd cameos – honestly, some of these people would make you pack up and rent a room in Arkham.

The main event, which threatens to explode at any moment, like Tommy’s haywire teenage hormones, is saved till late in the proceedings. It maybe pulls its punches a little bit, but it’s followed by a neat little sting in the tale.

Black’s Creek, both the locale and the story, has its fair share of dark places, which lurk, for the most part, off the page. But it’s also got a lot of heart, as Tommy supports his disintegrating father, the local sheriff. Black’s Creek, as much as anything, is about atmosphere and cloying memory. The prose has a delirious cartoon brashness about it, and is packed full of bubblegum nostalgia. Tommy and his friends, surrounded by real horrors, find their place in the world by talking endlessly about comics and superheroes and monsters.

Black’s Creek is gothic noir, a small town fever dream in the vein of Jim Thompson, and in this world of cookie-cutter procedurals, that can never be a bad thing.

Thanks ever-so to Brandon Books for the review copy. Sam Millar is a writer with a fascinating background and I’m glad to say he’ll be giving us the lowdown on Black’s Creek and his writing process very soon, so look out for that.