Tag Archives: Roald Dahl

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.

Research – Philip Kerr

researchPhilip Kerr’s new standalone thriller Research is as cynical and disillusioned as a boozy publishing lunch. The novel takes two authors on the road when one of them – the super-rich, super-successful John Houston – is accused of murder.

The blurb has regrettably decided to fire its agent:

The rolling strip across the bottom of the screen shouts the news:


Houston is the richest writer in the world, a book factory publishing many bestsellers a year – so many that he can’t possibly write them himself. He has a team that feeds off his talent; ghost writers, agents, publishers. So when he decides to take a year out to write something of quality, a novel that will win prizes and critical acclaim, a lot of people stand to lose their livelihoods.

Now Houston, the prime suspect in his wife’s murder, has disappeared. He owns a boat and has a pilot’s licence – he could be anywhere and there are many who’d like to find him.

First there’s the police. If he’s innocent, why did he flee? Then again, maybe he was set up by one of his enemies. The scenario reads like the plot of one of Houston’s million-copy-selling thrillers…

There’s not a huge amount you can say about Research without giving its twisty game away, but we’ll give it a go.

They say write what you know and Kerr, a crime writer with many years experience, has chosen to poke a sharp stick at his own industry. Research is a sly, psychological thriller about writers and writing, and the seething resentments that fester when creative isn’t given its due. It’s virtually a two-hander, in the spirit of Schaffer’s Sleuth or Ira Levin’s Deathtrap.

John Houston is a wildly-successful international hit machine – an amalgam perhaps of James Patterson, Robert Harris and Wilbur Smith. He’s got the beautiful actress wife, a fleet of classic cars, homes all over the shop – including a pad in Monaco – and a mistress in every town.

Houston has recently dismantled what he calls his atelier, a group of long-suffering authors who anonymously pen his never-ending torrent of novels. Houston writes the extraordinary plot outlines – he long ago realized that his readership keep coming back for his stories – and employed a team of bitter underlings to churn out the prose, long before it became a standard industry procedure. Subsequently, a lot of people have become rich on the back of Houston’s success – his publisher and agent among them – and not long after Houston disbands the atelier he goes on the run with one of his authors, Don Irvine, after being accused of shooting his wife.

A playful morality tale, Research has a lot of fun with its central, toxic relationship between Houston and his resentful friend/minion, Irvine. The pair open bottle after bottle of fine burgundy and smoke cigarettes at exclusive restaurants as they roar across the south of France in a borrowed Bentley in a bid to clear Houston’s name. Houston in particular is a terrific character, arrogant and complacent and oddly sympathetic. Imagine Kingsley Amis and Jeremy Clarkson in a remake of Thelma And Louise and you’re in the ballpark.

It’s hugely readable, at times it’s blackly funny, and the dialogue is a particular treat. Kerr fills his story with gossipy literary references and name-dropping tidbits – and there are a few choice asides about the state of the industry. Research is a bitter fairytale – what writer hasn’t dreamed of the kind of super-rich lifestyle enjoyed by Houston? – and its narrative unravels with the kind of delicate precision that would have made Ira Levin proud.

The bland title Research does the book no favours, I think, and I was expecting one more twist along the way, but Kerr delivers an enjoyably spiteful little tale – decidedly more Roald Dahl than Bernie Gunther.

Kerr’s louche protagonists, two seedy examples of the haves and have-nots in publishing, will not be to everybody’s tastes, and if you’re the kind of person who goes puce with rage at fruity language – or if you’re sensitive about your Cornish heritage – it may be a book you want to avoid. But if you like bitter morality-tales in which high-handed super-rich people are brought down a peg or two, you can do worse than take this to the beach with you.

Research is an easy read, which leaves an enjoyable vinegary aftertaste like the sediment at the bottom of that last glass of fine burgundy.

Many thanks to Quercus for the review copy of Research.