Tag Archives: Sam Millar

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.