Daily Archives: July 13, 2011

Tana French drops in to Books and Writers for a chat.

I’m very grateful that Tana French could stop by at Books and Writers for a bit of a Q&A as part of her blog tour for the release of Faithful Place.

Here’s what we had a chance to chat about:

Keith: Firstly, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed the book.

Tana: Thank you very much 🙂

I realise that a large percentage of crime fiction readers are women, but wondered if that is more often the case with your books as there is such a strong family story constructed and with backstory, rather than a standard more linear book based solely on the crime event that would probably appeal more to male readers?

I don’t have any way to get an accurate idea of the numbers, but as far as I can tell from the e-mails I get, my readers are about evenly split between men and women – a few more women, but the gap isn’t a big one. I’m not too surprised by that, actually. After all, men read literary fiction, which is built on character, on complex relationships, on layered narrative with strong thematic underpinnings. I think it would be a bit patronising of me to assume that they can’t handle anything more complicated than a simple linear narrative.

I thought the first person character of Frank Mackey was great – have you ever considered using a pseudonym or initials to potentially increase sales to male readers of your books?

God, no. I know there are men out there who won’t read books by women, presumably in case the author goes into labour in mid-chapter – but I’m sure there are also white people out there who won’t read books by black authors, and if I were black, I sure as hell wouldn’t use a jacket photo of a white person. Catering to prejudice is sometimes expedient, but I don’t think it does anyone any good in the long run.

Do you research police procedure during the writing, or do you get the book written first and then get any details checked?

A little of both. I’m lucky enough to know a wonderful retired detective who’s answered a wild variety of questions for me, over the last few years. Mostly I ask him major things as I go along (‘How long could my detective hold this suspect in custody?’) and then ask him small stuff when I’m done (‘What do you call this form?’). I don’t always stick to what he says, though. Sometimes what the story needs doesn’t match the reality. Just for example, there’s no Murder Squad in Ireland, but In the Woods needed that tight-knit, elite, hothouse feeling, so I made one up.

The books work great as a ‘non-series’, despite the character links that exist.  Would you ever consider a straight ‘series’ of novels in the future, or are you planning on building their fictional world in the same way in the future?

I seem to have ended up writing a chain of linked books, which wasn’t the original plan (I seldom have a plan), but I’m happy with it. I like writing about the crucial moment in a narrator’s life, the turning point where the borderline between his personal and professional life is breached and he’s forced into choices that will change the rest of his life. The thing is that most of us only have a few of those moments in a lifetime – and that doesn’t really leave room for a series that follows one character through multiple books.

Who would be your greatest influence/s as a novelist?

I can’t pick just one! The Wind in the Willows was the book that first made me realise what amazing things language can do, The Once and Future King was the one that gave me my first glimpse of how complex characterisation can be, I got my first sense of world-building from Watership Down…

And who would you most closely compare your work to?

I’m probably the last person who could give a non-silly answer to this question. It’s almost impossible to have perspective on your own work. A writer friend of mine once told me, ‘You haven’t read your book. You’ll never read your book.’

Is there a classic, or otherwise, novel that you wish you had written?

To Kill a Mockingbird. I can understand exactly why Harper Lee never wrote another book. Once you’ve written something perfect, where do you go from there?

Do you have a particular favourite crime author or fictional crime character?

I love Josephine Tey. She wrote detective novels that stretch all the conventions of the genre. In The Daughter of Time, the detective spends the whole book in a hospital bed, and the mystery is over four centuries old, but it’s still a gripping whodunit; in The Franchise Affair, the villain is obvious almost from the start and the most serious crime in the book is perjury, but it’s still a terrifying portrait of a psychopath and the devastation they can wreak on everyone in their orbit.

What’s the best single piece of writing advice you’ve received?  And who was that from?

‘It isn’t about how you feel.’ It wasn’t actually writing advice, it was acting advice from my acting teacher back in drama school, but it works for writing too. What you’re doing as a writer, or an actor, isn’t about how you feel; it’s about how your audience feels. You can be emoting yourself silly, feeling all the appropriate emotions passionately and having a wonderful time, but if that isn’t reaching the audience and evoking something in them, it’s meaningless.

Where do you write?  And can you write anywhere, or does it have to be at your usual writing base?

I’ve got a little home office, and I write there. I can scribble down drafts of scenes anywhere, but I do my editing and re-editing and polishing and re-polishing on my computer.

Is there any talk of television adaptations of the books?

Not so far, but the film rights to In the Woods and The Likeness have just been optioned by Paramount. Usually options go nowhere, so I’m not holding my breath, but we’ll see…

What can we look forward to next and in the future from you?

I’ve just handed in my fourth book. It’s called Broken Harbour, and Scorcher Kennedy – Frank’s old friend/rival from Faithful Place – is the narrator this time. He’s investigating a brutal attack on a young family in one of the half-abandoned ghost estates that litter Ireland – but did the danger come from outside the house or inside?

Many thanks to Tana for dropping by and for her time here.
Faithful Place is out now, and the previous two novels in the ‘chain of linked books’ are In the Woods and The Likeness, all available from Hodder.
Keith

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Faithful Place by Tana French

Published by Hodder.

Following on the success of her previous two novels, In the Woods and The Likeness, Tana French looks set to reach an even bigger audience with Faithful Place, a novel that has received glowing praise from the press and from other crime writers.

Harlan Coben recently cited the book as one of his great Summer Reads collection – and it’s not hard to see why as, with its strong family of characters and backgrounds, this is a little ‘Coben-in-Dublin’ at times – which is no bad thing.

Harlan Coben: “French is my favorite discovery over the past year.  Beautifully written and to use movie-speak, it’s “Angela’s Ashes” meets a haunting thriller.  Lyrical and moving.”

French scored the big time with her first crime novel, In the Woods, which scooped Best First Crime novel Edgar, Macavity, Anthony and Barry awards upon release.  The Likeness followed, also to great acclaim and, whilst I was aware and owned the books, I’d yet to get to read them, so was looking forward to jumping in with Faithful Place to give me an excuse to backtrack on the first two books this summer.

Set in present day Dublin, Faithful Place is the tale of a man who is forced to return to the one place he’s tried so hard to distance himself from, Faithful Place.  Undercover cop, Frank Mackey, left his home twenty years ago and never thought he would or had any desire to return there.

He left after what was a planned escape with his then girlfriend, Rosie Daly, never happened.  Their planned rendezvous and travelling to London never happened as Rosie never showed up and Frank had always assumed that Rosie had got cold feet and had set off to London on her own – a view that was shared by all of their families and friends.

But then Frank receives a phonecall from his sister, a call that summons him back to Faithful Place.

Workers renovating some of the old houses in Faithful Place have removed fireplaces and, behind one, have found an old battered suitcase – Rosie’s suitcase.  It looks like Rosie never got away from Faithful Place after all.

Frank returns home to the claustrophobic realm of his family and his old friends there and immediately starts to re-realise all of the reasons why he’d planned to leave the first time all over again.

And then, under the floorboards in the house where the suitcase was discovered, a body is found.

Although a crime fiction novel, the crime itself seems at times to take a back seat for fairly large sections at a time, whilst concentrating on the family and how all the characters interact with each other and flashbacks to problems in their past which have led to the way they deal with each other now.  This does mean that, from time to time, I wanted the crime story to get back to centre stage and move forward a little more quickly.  But, whilst this might seem like a criticism, it also goes to show that French’s work is very different to a lot of the other crime fiction out there.  It’s not a fast paced police procedural, it doesn’t have a monstrous shadowy killer with devilish ways of offing his victims, it is a family tale, a small but dark story told large through their family history and secrets.

So, if you fancy a slow-burn change to the norm, and a book to savour this summer holiday, Faithful Place is well worth your investment of time.

Keith

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GUN by Ray Banks

Don’t let the smiling face on his author profile pic fool ya.

Ray Banks means business and behind that smile is the mind of a writer who refuses to bow to what might be expected or considered the way to go about things.

I heard Ray speak at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and the thing that came across was that he will not allow his characters to get off light.  When they’re shot at, they leak blood, lots of blood.

When they get knocked down they get knocked down hard – sometimes so hard they don’t get up again.  If a Ray Banks’ character gets a beating, they take the result of that beating, whether it be in the form of a physical injury or a mental disturbance into the chapters and sometimes the books that follow.

GUN (available now for the crazy stupid price of 86p for your kindle via amazon) is a great way to experience all the action and the human drama that goes into one of his novels in a tight novella form.

The tale of a young man tasked with getting a gun and brining it back to a gangster could have been a pretty dull tale in the hands of a lesser writer.  With this being a Ray Banks story, you genuinely just do not know who will still be standing at the end of the tale.

So, go get yourself a GUN as a quickfire fix and then go seek out Ray’s novels for more dark, gritty and unflinching crime.

Ray Banks novels:

The Big Blind

Saturday’s Child

Donkey Punch

No More Heroes

Beast of Burden

California

Wolf Tickets

 

Keith

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