Wednesday, October 16, 2019

why i write

I like the people who came to writing novels from working in newspapers. For them writing is a job. You get up at nine in the morning and you finish at 5. You put in a full day. You do your word count and you clock out. Stephen King says that those people who sit around waiting for the muse are amateurs. Writers write. Writers sit down at the typewriter, legal pad or computer and they write. All the writers who are popular and successful see writing as a no nonsense job and they just bloody get on with it. I like these people and I like this school of thought. I've met a lot of these writers and they are cool.

But this is not my way.

I see things differently.

For me writing is nothing to do with deadlines and word counts and getting the job done. For me a writer is a shaman. A holy man. A holy woman. A witch. A writer has been given a staff made from meteor iron and with that stick she scratches a message into clay tablets and the tablets are baked and they are put in a library and the river moves and the city fails and the library’s pillars fall and the clay tablets lie buried in the sand for four thousand years until someone finds them and reads them and understands. You are telling them a story about life and death and the meaning of life. You are talking to them across the centuries.

Spacetime in our universe began 13 billion years ago and it will last in our universe for many trillions of years and, depending upon the variables of dark energy, it will come to an end in a big crunch or a slow, silent heat death. If Einstein’s equations are to be believed everything we say or do has already been done. The equations work equally well backwards or forwards in time. The universe has already died. And we died trillions of years ago, forgotten utterly, our actions, words, thoughts, completely vanished into the void. This is why what the writer does is sacred. What you’re doing isn’t writing a meaningless string of words. You’re scratching a message in the sand in defiance of the tide and the abyss. You can’t halt entropy but for a moment you can strike a match and wave it furiously in the blackness. 

Look, look at this! The writer says. I am gone. We are gone. But we were here and we saw and we loved and laughed and we dreamed. We saw beauty and we experienced pain. And we were given a task by the ones who died next to us in the lifeboat: tell them about us.  

Yeah, I know, I just write hack crime novels who am I to talk? But that's the whole point isn't it? It doesn't matter what you write about, it's your attitude. Your words could be smuggled on toilet paper out of prison to one old friend or they could be texted to a million followers as you ride the subway car. It's what you think about the words that counts. An audience of one is still an audience.

So I don’t see writing as just another job. I don’t write to fill my word count. I am on a sacred fucking mission. I’m waiting for the goddess. Because I believe in the goddess. I believe in ghosts. The ghosts of the ones who went before and the ones who have not yet come. And I will witness against the beast. And I will defy the darkness and I will tell our story.

I take up my meteor iron and I scratch marks onto sheets of blank paper and what I do is consecrated.

And I will try very hard to make it good.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Book reviews...

Normally after I review a book in a newspaper I will wait a week or so and publish the book review here on the blog for free. I've been doing this for nearly 10 years and no one has seemed to mind. You'll probably have noticed however that I haven't published any new book reviews since June. I've still been reviewing books of course but two of the newspapers I work for have asked me not to reprint them here on my blog. Obviously this is their right, they own the copyright to the reviews but I think the small number of page views they lose by letting me reprint the reviews here is trivial in the big scheme of things...

I understand times are tough for newspapers but I'm hoping that I can work this out with my employers and I can continue to print my book reviews here on the blog...

I promise to keep you updated and I apologize to everyone who has asked on twitter where the paywall free version of some of my reviews are to be found...until further notice perhaps nowhere.

Again I'm REALLY sorry about this. This was never an issue until the last few months.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The New York Times reviews The Chain

Janet Maslin's review of The Chain... I've been a huge fan of Maslin since I used to read her film reviews in the Belfast Central Library when I was still in high school so this was a kick...

To Save Her Abducted Daughter, This Heroine Has to Kidnap a New Victim

CreditCreditPatricia Wall/The New York Times
When you purchase an independently reviewed book through our site, we earn an affiliate commission.
It took four countries, three continents, a couple of careers, philosophy studies at Oxford, serious writing awards and major gonna-make-you-a-star-kid machinations in several fields of endeavor to yield this opening sentence from Adrian McKinty:
“She’s sitting at the bus stop checking the likes on her Instagram feed and doesn’t even notice the man with the gun until he’s almost next to her.”
Until last week, one of McKinty’s best-known phrases was less approachable than that, and came from a Tom Waits song: “Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly.” That was the title of one of his many fine, non-best-selling books — part of his Belfast-set Detective Sean Duffy series, which had won him esteem, an Edgar Award and a following too small to save him from driving an Uber to make ends meet. You can now read McKinty’s origin story everywhere, so let’s move on to the question of whether his new embrace of James Patterson’s sentence structure works for him.
“The Chain” has a simple-sounding premise: What if a kidnapping ring used the tactics of a chain letter? Remember those? The kind that threatened you with plagues and curses if you didn’t strictly follow their instructions? So by the second page of “The Chain,” the man with the gun has forced the girl with the Instagram into a car where his accomplice is waiting. “Her mind races. She knows she shouldn’t have gotten into the vehicle. That’s how girls vanish.” That’s how Patterson books sound, too.
Now the girl, Kylie, thinks about how worried her mother will be. Rachel, the mother, is the protagonist, and she’s on her way from Plum Island, Mass., where the book is set, down to Boston to see her oncologist about a possible health crisis. We’re three pages in. Two pages later, the two kidnappers are stopped by a New Hampshire state trooper and of course have to kill him, because “The Chain” has also been sold as a movie. Mr. McKinty, what have you done?

Something much better than expected. Because the chain — always uppercased as The Chain, as if it had magic powers — isn’t as silly or one-note as it initially sounds. And because McKinty hangs on to his wit and literacy even under duress. Once he sets up the idea that each set of parents with a kidnapped child must kidnap some other, random young victim or know that The Whatever will kill their kid, find them where they live, inflict unspeakable misery and never go away, his book becomes much more reasonable.

CreditLeah Garrett
It must stick to certain rules, including the one McKinty identifies as Chekhovian (and didn’t have to, in this genre): Is there a gun? It had better go off. But when little Kylie finds a wrench in the room where she’s chained, the outcome is just surprising enough to heighten interest, not kill it. Where McKinty succeeds, in a book that feels heavily worked over to ensure no tangents detract from main events, is in making sure the premise isn’t the main event. Which could easily have happened with a premise like this.
Some scoffing is in order when the disguised, disembodied voice of The Chain recommends antiquated gimmicks like burner phones, the dark web and Bitcoin as the basics of this operation. But the long arm of the crime novelist Don Winslow, the “Cartel” wizard who turned his own career into the kind McKinty now hopes to achieve, is also visible. McKinty’s admiration for Winslow is apparent in the psychopathic behavior he injects into some of The Chain’s power players, in the long reach of Mexican drug cartels, in the presence of a highly sympathetic major character who’s gotten hooked on hard drugs, and in the basic decency of the book’s central family.
To McKinty’s great credit, he can make readers wonder at any point whether the ground may fall beneath their feet and how much evil they might be pushed toward. Stanley Milgram’s postwar experiments in social cruelty, determining what kind of electric shocks subjects would administer to other people if they thought it was normal, aren’t directly cited here, but they are essentially what “The Chain” is about. The scheme brings to light a spectrum of humanity ranging from unimaginable viciousness to … well, Rachel thinks she knows her own nature until this story’s onslaught of terrible choices hits her. Hooking readers into her moral doubts and trial by fire is done very deliberately.

Beneath its surface of high-speed thrills, “The Chain” is clearly the work of the philosophical thinker McKinty has always been. He has Rachel teach existentialism and even tosses a copy of Sarah Bakewell’s superb 2016 book “At the Existentialist Café” into the mix. He would like you to realize that what you’re reading is existentialism in action, with Rachel defining herself moment by moment with each choice she makes. Read it that way and it’s a thriller on more levels than one.
The latter part of the book tilts toward decryption and computer science, because as any thriller reader knows, saving her daughter won’t be enough; Rachel will have to get to the bottom of whatever this crime ring is too. That may be a little less sexy for some readers, but something about the scheme is as absurd as it is menacing. And McKinty finds a lot to work with in the suspenseful possibility of its undoing. How thoroughly can we be spied upon? How closely can we be tracked? Any parents reading this book will be tempted to find a version of the surveillance gizmo that McKinty writes about, and stick it immediately in their kid’s footwear.
McKinty has the last laugh at the makeshift work that drove him around the bend, when a character talks about how efficient The Chain was designed to be. Since the clients do most of the work themselves, one criminal says, what it turns out to be is “the goddamn Uber of kidnapping.”

The Chain
By Adrian McKinty
357 pages. Mulholland Books/Little, Brown & Company. $28.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

My Interview w Salman Rushdie

my interview with Salman Rushdie in the Irish Times, apologies about the formatting here, I just could not get this to quite cut and paste w total verisimilitude....

I’m up on the 23rd floor of a building in midtown Manhattan. It’s the sleek conference room at Salman Rushdie’s agent’s office. I’ve arrived early for the interview and have laid out my voice recorder, a copy of his new novel, Quichotte, and a list of questions. I’ve circled the words “mastodons” and “New York Yankees”.
I’m nervous. I’ve interviewed and talked to many writers, but Rushdie is different. I liked Salman Rushdie before he was Salman Rushdie. I liked Rushdie when I was a 10-year-old kid and I found an interesting new English science-fiction writer in the library whose first novel, Grimus, was a wee bit JG Ballard, a wee bit Angela Carter and a wee bit something entirely sui generis.
Rusdhie is smaller than you’re expecting, with an impish, intelligent smile, and there’s something Tolkienesque about him that you can’t quite put your finger on
Then came Midnight’s Children, the first literary-fiction novel I had read that wasn’t boring as all hell. I’ve been on the ride for every book since. My favourites are probably The Ground Beneath Her Feet, a version of the Beatles story on a parallel Earth with an Indian John Lennon, and, actually, this new one: Quichotte, a comic, very contemporary reimagining of Don Quixote.
Rushdie comes in at exactly 11am; we shake hands, and he sits down opposite. He looks good. He’s 72, but you would have guessed early 60s. He’s wearing a loose-fitting shirt and trousers, ideal for a New York summer. He has a well-trimmed greying goatee and dark, darting observant eyes. He’s smaller than you’re expecting, maybe 5ft 8in. He has an impish, intelligent smile and there’s something elven or Tolkienesque about him that you can’t quite put your finger on.
He looks relaxed and happy.
He says he’s just back from his summer holidays in Rome, where he visited the Protestant Cemetery.
“You said hello to Keats and Shelley?” I ask.
“And Gramsci, who seems to have got in there through his Russian Orthodox wife.”
“Did you, like Oscar Wilde, wail and prostrate yourself fully on the ground before Keats’s grave?”
Rushdie laughs. “No, not quite. That wouldn’t be very English.”
“Ah, so you consider yourself English still?”
“No, actually not really, I’m like a lot of people these days with a fluid identity.” He talks about being not quite American, English or Indian yet somehow all three.
I get the impression that a lot of people tell Rushdie they are big fans but that, after a little interrogation, he discovers that they haven’t actually read his stuff
I offer him congratulations on his Booker longlisting for Quichotte and ask whether awards still matter to him. He says they do, especially as it’s so long since any book of his was recognised by the Booker judges. I tell him I loved the novel, and he nods a little guardedly until I mention specific parts that had me laughing out loud. I get the impression that a lot of people tell Rushdie they are big fans but that, after a little interrogation, he discovers that they haven’t actually read his stuff.
Quichotte is the story of a writer known only as Brother (not Rushdie’s nod to Anna Burns’s Milkman, which he hasn’t quite got around to yet, but a concept he borrowed from EL Doctorow’s Ragtime), an Indian-American who writes spy thrillers and has a troubled relationship with his sister, who lives in London, and his son, who has angrily left home and is working as a quasi-legal hacker somewhere in North America.
Sick and tired of being an ageing midlist thriller writer (ouch), Brother decides to write a new version of the Don Quixote story, about an ageing Indian-American opiate salesman who becomes slightly unhinged by endless motel daytime TV viewing and grows obsessed with an Indian-American talk show queen, Oprah’s heir apparent, the beautiful, sophisticated but troubled Salma R.
We start gabbing about Cervantes. Rushdie mentions how boring he found Don Quixote until a few years back, when he read the new translation by Edith Grossman. I tell him I found Quixote pretty hard to take until I got to Part Two, which was written nearly a decade after Part One and is filled with Cervantes’s complaints about people ripping him off, “and it’s in Part Two that Cervantes and Quixote and Sancho Panza all start interacting with each other in ways I assumed only happened in postmodern fiction”, I add.
Rushdie nods enthusiastically. That’s the bit he loved in Don Quixote too, and it gives “the lie to the idea that the French postmodernists invented that way of telling stories. All the so-called tropes of postmodernism are right there in the very beginning of one of our greatest novels.”
His father changed the family name to Rushdie as a tribute to the philosopher Averroes Ibn Rushd. He was from Cordoba, as was Cervantes’s family. Did Rushdie himself ever do a Cervantes or Cordoba pilgrimage?”
“Not really, but I’d very much like to visit Cervantes’s grave at some point,” he says.
I did just that earlier this year, when I was in Madrid for a football match, I tell him. Visiting the tomb is tricky. It isn’t open to tourists. You have to take Mass at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians, and after the Mass is over you can mill around the chapel a bit and say hello to Cervantes, who is buried in the wall.”
Rushdie sounds intrigued and asks what the Mass entails.
Quichotte is a funny book, maybe Rushdie’s funniest. He has always had a penchant for puns, literary allusions and the like, but the bit with the mastodons had me in stitches
It’s just a normal morning Mass, I say. The one strange bit is when the priest gives the eucharist to the cloistered nuns. They’re partitioned away from prying eyes; each one comes to a little hole in the partition, you see a tongue stick out, the priest places the eucharist on the tongue, it withdraws into the blackness and another tongue takes its place.

Rushdie is chuckling at the surreal image, and it gives me an opportunity to talk about the comedy running through Quichotte. It’s a funny book, maybe Rushdie’s funniest. He has always had a penchant for puns, literary allusions and the like, but, I tell him, the bit with the mastodons had me in stitches. (The salesman arrives in New Jersey and is alarmed to find many people metamorphosing into mastodons.)
“Oh, I borrowed a lot of that from Eugène Ionesco. I was in the play Rhinoceros at Cambridge.”
Was he a good actor?
Rushdie shrugs modestly. “I was okay, I think.”
There’s an Angela Carter vibe to that section too. I interviewed Marlon James a few months ago, and he said that it was Rushdie who turned him on to Carter.

Inimitable genius: Angela Carter. Photograph: Louis Monier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty

His eyes light up, and for the next 10 minutes we talk enthusiastically about Carter’s inimitable genius. He knew her personally, of course, and he tells me several lovely anecdotes, including a funny story about the time she was a judge for the Booker prize and gave him the cold shoulder during the entire process, only to call him on the morning before the shortlist was due to be announced to tell him: “The good news, Salman, is that you’re going to be on the shortlist. The bad news is that you’re not going to win.”
We find ourselves chatting about Carter’s book The Passion of New Eve, and I tell him that I found it so much more interesting than Gore Vidal’s contemporaneous Myra Breckenridge, which dealt with some of the same themes.
“Have you ever seen the movie of Myra Breckenridge?” Rushdie asks.
I haven’t, but I heard it was terrible.
“It’s execrable. However, Mae West is in it, and she insisted on writing her own lines, and that stuff is brilliant.”
Rushdie, from memory, quotes all of Mae West’s dialogue from it, doing a bloody good impression of West’s unique vocal style. It’s so funny I am practically on the floor.
“Gore Vidal’s reputation as a novelist seems to have declined over the last few years,” I suggest. 
“I don’t think it was ever very high to begin with,” Rushdie says. “His essays are where his talents really shone.”  
Pop culture is a big part of Quichotte, and Rushdie unpacks for me his surprising knowledge of The Bachelor and daytime soaps. Quichotte is also littered with references to marquee television, and we discuss Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Game of Thrones.
Unlike most of the rest of the world, Rushdie was not surprised and disappointed by the ending to Game of Thrones, as he thought it was wildly overrated.  He tells me he went on a writers’ retreat in Idaho with the Game of Thrones guys but slipped away to see the house where Hemingway shot himself.
“A tiny little space, it was. Hardly room to swing a shotgun about,” Rushdie says.
I ask about his coming tour and wonder if he’s going to write on all the long flights he’ll be taking. He shakes his head and tells me that he has trained himself to sleep on planes. Yoda-like, he tries to teach me the Rushdie Plane Snooze Method, which I will attempt on my next long haul, although I’m not so sure it will work in the middle seat behind the ubiquitous screaming baby.

Ursula Le Guin, whom Salman Rushdie says wrote one of the few kind reviews of Grimus. Photograph: Dan Tuffs/Getty

A big thread running through Quichotte is the Arthur C Clarke story The Nine Billion Names of God, and we do a good nerdy 10 minutes on our favourite science-fiction authors. For Rushdie it’s Ursula Le Guin, who, he says, also wrote one of the few kind reviews of Grimus. “I remember that review,” I respond. It was on the cover of the paperback edition. She said it was “a rocket of a book”.
“A firework of a book,” Rushdie corrects with affection.
There’s also a big chunk of Tolkien in Quichotte, which a lonely Brother reads in boarding school as a form of escape. “Autobiographical?” I wonder.
Rushdie nods. “I loved Tolkien and Le Guin and every kind of science fiction when I was at Rugby. It was the cliched escape from the present.”
“You were bullied?”  
 “To be a foreigner was not unforgiveable. But to be a foreigner who was not particularly good at games but was also somewhat intelligent. . .” he says, and his voice trails off.
When I look at the clock we’re already well past my allotted hour.
I like complete and utter quiet on a fairly uncluttered desk. I start midmorning, and when I close the door the family knows not to disturb me unless the apartment is on fire
“A final question. What is your writing process? When do you write, what’s your desk like, is there music playing? Your mate Marlon told me he writes with the window open on the ground floor of his office with people walking by and music playing and sometimes the TV or radio on.”
Rushdie seems slightly scandalised by this. “No. No music for me. I like complete and utter quiet on a fairly uncluttered desk. I start midmorning, and when I close the door the family knows not to disturb me unless the apartment is on fire. Not the smoke alarm going; I want proof of an actual fire, with flames and everything.”
I thank Rushdie for his time.
“I didn’t get to two-thirds of these questions,” I say, showing him my cheat sheet.
He peers at the piece of paper. “What’s that one about the New York Yankees?” he asks.
“I noticed that there were a lot of baseball references in the novel and quite a few references to the Yankees. . .”
Rushdie sits back down, and for the next quarter of an hour we’re off to the races talking baseball.
“The rotation is going to get destroyed in the postseason,” I suggest.
“I was amazed that Cashman didn’t get anyone at the trade deadline, but I would have been sorry to see any of those young players go. Gio Urshela has been a revelation this year. Will Andujar even make the team when he comes back from the IL?” he says.
Rushdie’s knowledge of baseball lore is deep. He loves the zero-sum statistical aspect of the sport, which is so similar to cricket. And he rejects utterly the notion that the Mets are the more blue-collar of New York’s teams. “That’s completely false. The New York Times did an analysis of this a few years ago. The Yankees have a larger blue-collar fan base. The Yankees draw from Harlem, the Bronx, Washington Heights and northern New Jersey.”
He regularly goes to games with Don DeLillo and Paul Auster.
I suppose he sits in a box.
“No! Absolutely not! We’re going tonight to the Cleveland game. We sit down the third-base line.”
We’re still talking baseball as we head down the hall towards the elevators. “None of this is going to make the piece,” I tell him. “All this baseball stuff? My editor will think I’ve gone crazy.”
Rushdie smiles.
”Well, you could tell him or her that, like Quixote, sometimes it’s the crazy stuff that reveals an essential truth,” he says as we depart

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Plum Island

A few weeks ago CBS did a little piece on me and The Chain. I don't think I'm particularly interesting but if you've read the book and you want to know what Plum Island looks like (yes it is a real place) there are some really good shots here:

Friday, July 26, 2019

We didn't make it but all is good...

We tried our best. We couldn't get The Chain on the Tonight Show but a huge thank you to everyone
who voted for me and best of luck to all the other books that were featured on the show.

I've had a lot of people on twitter saying they feel bad for me. Please don't feel bad for me. I am so lucky.

Two years ago I was broke, homeless and an ex writer. Now I'm writing again, my kids are happy, my wife has a new job and everything is great. This is all a huge bonus to me. I am a very very lucky guy. I am playing with house money. And I thank you all for your support through the tough times and now that things are starting to look up.

I owe my readers everything and I am lucky to have you guys and gals on my team.

If you want to continue to support me and my books you can leave me a review on amazon or good reads or audible or tell a friend about my books or ask your bookshop to carry them. Or just chill and live a good life and be kind.

Anyway its been an awesome and humbling ride and I sincerely thank you all.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Vote For Me To Be On The Tonight Show!

Wow, this has come out of left field...

If you're a regular reader of this blog you'll know where I was just over 2 years ago when I had decided to quit writing for good and focus on providing for my family. 

I had tried being a full time writer and it hadn't worked out and one thing had to led to another and we'd been evicted from our house, and I decided to call it quits. This article in the Guardian explains all of that

Well, thanks to my friends and family and particularly to Don Winslow and Shane Salerno I started writing again and now this new book of mine has amazingly been selected to the shortlist as one of Jimmy Fallon's Summer Reads. You vote for your favourite book (as often as you want) and if enough people vote for me I get to go on the Tonight Show and talk about my books! 

You can vote for my novel The Chain on this link here.

Like I say you are encouraged to vote as often as you want. (My mum back in Belfast voted twice for the wrong book.) 

I'll be sure to thank every one on person on National Television!

thank you. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Chain is out today!

Whoa, 2 years in the making and finally its here... my novel The Chain is released in every English
speaking market today July 9th.*

Please check it out and if sounds like your sort of thing well then do get yourself a copy. And if you like it oh my goodness I'd be so happy if you left me a review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever you like to leave reviews.

Finally, if you are in Scottsdale tonight I'll be launching The Chain at Poisoned Pen bookstore with the great Diana Gabaldon.

Thank you folks for sticking by me and my apologies for what has been a LONG gap between books.

Hopefully Duffy 7 will be up next...

*(Except of course the Isle of Man where it will NOT be on sale because of a bad experience I had there in the eighth grade.)**

** I kid! I love the Isle of Man! It's the best.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

My full interview with James Ellroy from last week's Crime Reads

I’m interviewing James Ellroy over lunch in half an hour and I realize I have already miscalculated. We’re meeting at Gallagher’s Steak House in Mid-Town, New York and I have decided to walk from my apartment on the Upper West Side to clear my head and think of some really interesting questions that he hasn’t been asked a million times before. It is however already 80 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity level that makes it feel much warmer. I’m wearing my bog standard black jeans with black DM’s, a suicidal sartorial choice for a Belfast boy. Back home in Northern Ireland people start fainting and complaining about the heat when it gets into the low 60’s.
Born and bred in Los Angeles and a famous writer for over two decades, I imagine Ellroy is used to all kinds of heat. Used also to interviewers showing up flustered, sweaty and maybe a little bit panicky. Ellroy’s reputation precedes him. There are numerous reported incidents of him not suffering fools gladly. There was that time when he heckled a documentary about his own life at the premier and he has abruptly terminated interviews for tardiness or because the interviewer was poorly prepared.
As it happens I arrive at Gallagher’s Steak House on West 52nd Street before Ellroy. I get a quiet table in the corner and order a Moscow Mule (vodka, lime juice, ginger & ginger beer) as a restorative. It hits the spot, and as I’m searching for my list of questions, Ellroy comes in looking lean and tall and hungry. He’s 71 years old and casually dressed but he looks younger and sharper, and if you didn’t know, you’d peg him as a philosophy professor, perhaps in his early sixties.
“Hey Adrian, good to meet you,” he says, shaking my hand. “I gotta hit the can.”
“Can I order you a drink in the meantime?”
“Just black coffee,” he says.
Ellroy doesn’t drink anymore, having had substance abuse and alcohol problems in his teens and twenties. His parents both were drinkers. Alcohol destabilized their marriage and in his memoir My Dark Places and in other essays he describes his mother’s rages and melancholy promiscuity when under the influence. Her still-unsolved rape and murder when he was ten years old was, of course, a critical turning point in young James’s life.
Back from the bathroom, Ellroy scans the menu and orders a dozen clams and a salad he makes up himself. I settle for the safer bet of a club sandwich.
“So what about you. They say you’re from Belfast, is that right?” he asks.
“Yes that is right.”
“I’m just back from the UK and Ireland. You know, I think I prefer Belfast to Dublin. Something about the people, something about the vibe,” he says and smiles.
I know he’s not kissing up. He never kisses up. If there’s one thing that Ellroy is famous for telling, it’s for telling it straight. “I read the review you wrote of This Storm in The Guardian. I never read reviews but they gave it to me when I was there so I had to read it.”
“Well you actually read the book so that’s something. You wouldn’t believe how many people come to interview me or who review my stuff and they only read the first 100 pages, you can tell. It’s lazy and unprofessional. I liked the thing you said in the review about David Peace. He’s good.”
This takes me aback. The night before I’d been trawling through other Ellroy interviews where he talks about never reading any contemporaries with a few exceptions for spy fiction authors such as Daniel Silva and John le Carré. “What do you like about Peace?” I ask him.
“I like his world. His Yorkshire reminds me of my Los Angeles.”
“Have you ever read his football novels?” I ask hopefully, but Ellroy shakes his head. The image in my mind of James Ellroy in his lair reading about Brian Clough and Bill Shankly and Emlyn Hughes is too delicious to let go. “They’re excellent. The Damned United is a minor masterpiece and Red or Dead is a major masterpiece.”
“I wanted the scale of those Red Riding books to be bigger. I wanted deeper. Like Winslow does in The Cartel. I wanted more from Peace. And as for soccer, I don’t know. The only sport I know about is boxing,” he says.
This opens the floodgates and for the next twenty minutes we talk about the state of the sport, particularly the heavyweight division. He knows one of Deontay Wilder’s trainers and likes him. I tell him about Tyson Fury’s Belfast connections. We agree that the Wilder-Fury was one for the ages. We discuss the recent Joshua-Ruiz fight which he missed because he was in England. He thinks Joshua is too nice to be a fighter but I counter with how charming I found Ruiz to be on The Jimmy Kimmel Show. Ellroy has no TV in his apartment so I’m not sure if he knows who Jimmy Kimmel is. He has no TV, no cell phone, no internet, no computer. He writes in long hand and sends the pages to be typed. He corrects the typed pages in long hand.
“How do you watch the fights if you have no TV? Do you go to a bar?”
Ellroy explains that his girlfriend (his ex-wife) lives in the same apartment building as him in Denver, Colorado. She has a TV, radio and computer. We talk a little bit about Denver. He moved there a little over three years ago; I lived there from 1999 – 2008. I talk about the Beats and their surprising connections to the city but his eyes are glazing over and I can tell Ellroy couldn’t care less about the Beats. I ask him about Kerouac, Burroughs et. al. and he confirms that he doesn’t rate them as writers or as people. “Immoral and self centered and dull,” he says.
He asks me what I thought of Denver.
“It was nice. I liked the snow. I grew up in Ireland where we never really got snow. I taught at this private school, there where they got Fridays off to ski. I never skied before so they sent me for lessons so I could supervise the kids. So what do you do in Denver for fun?”
He tells me he enjoys driving or walking around downtown. He describes a monastic lifestyle of writing in the morning, exercising on an elliptical machine, more writing and then down time with his girlfriend reading or listening to music.
“What music?” I ask.
“The good stuff. Beethoven, Bruckner, Mahler, Mozart.”
“I noticed in This Storm there’s a subplot about the smuggling of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony into America.”
“Ah so you did read the book all the way through.”
We talk This Storm for a while. I suggest that Roosevelt’s internment of the Japanese is the moral disaster at the heart of the book which he sort of agrees with. I then ask him why he felt the need to kill two of my favorite characters in the novel.
“It was their time.”
“You let Dudley Smith live to a ripe old age, but you kill these two. Come on man, it’s not fair.”
“And that’s the point isn’t it? To give you a picture of an unfair, immoral, corrupt world.”
We talk some more about POV characters and their arcs and how important it is for him to understand even the vilest of men. “Liberals hate that about my books,” he says.
And yet I wonder if maybe he’s a kind of secret liberal, delving deep into fascist demimonde exposing the underside of America, a project the late Roberto Bolaño was doing in his last fictions. Ellroy is not interested in such conjecturing. He avoids politics and he confirms to me what he said at the Hay Festival, that he’ll never write a book that takes place any later than 1972.
We get to talking about American Tabloid and I ask him about Don DeLillo and he lights up. “Libra changed my life!” Did he ever tell DeLillo that? He says that they talked briefly in Amsterdam at a literary festival.
I tentatively discuss class in American fiction. He worked full time as a golf caddy until his fifth book and I ask him if American letters is perhaps too full of rich kids who graduate from expensive MFA programs with an elegant prose style and nothing much to say. He grunts an agreement but clearly to him this is airy-fairy theorizing and he’s not really into it.
The conversation moves onto film. He talks about his love of the actor Paddy Considine and I excitedly tell him about The Ferryman on Broadway. “They have a live goose on stage!” I say as my closing argument and he laughs, but tells me he’s leaving New York tonight.
We unpack our favorite and least favorite movies. He tells me he is not a fan of Tarantino or most modern movies. He hates The Wire. Somehow we find ourselves in a heated argument about, of all things, Billy Wilder. Ellroy can’t stand him. “Not even Some Like It Hot?” Ellroy shakes his head. He explains that he thinks the way Marilyn Monroe was portrayed was sordid and unbecoming.
It’s Martin Scorsese who really rubs him the wrong way. He doesn’t like movies that glamorize or fetishize drug taking, alcoholism or revel in violence for the sake of violence. I wonder if this is a reaction to his childhood or a Puritan streak. We get to talking about religion and he tells me he’s a Lutheran but on his father’s side they were Irish Presbyterian. This hasn’t come up before in my previous research and I’m a little surprised by it. I dig deeper. “Our real family name wasn’t Ellroy but McIlroy but my grandfather changed it because he didn’t want to be associated with the Shanty Irish. My dad too was always saying that if I misbehaved he’d send me to the Catholic Christian Brothers School.”
“The McIlroys were from Ulster. No wonder you like Belfast. It’s an atavistic thing,” I tell him laughing. He’s laughing too now and warms to the theme. “Joyce aside all the great Irish writers were Protestant,” he says. “Beckett, Wilde, Shaw, Synge, not O’Casey. . .”
“Nope O’Casey too, despite the name. But not Behan or Heaney or Muldoon or. . .”
He looks at his watch. We’ve been talking for over two hours.
“Oh I’m sorry I lost track of time,” I say.
He brushes it off. “We’ll talk again, I enjoyed this,” he says.
I look at my list of questions that I was going to ask. I haven’t gotten to any of them. I wanted to know what poetry he reads. There’s an Anne Sexton epigraph in one of his books and I’m a huge fan of her writing. . . It will have to keep.
We shake hands.
His charming publicist arrives and picks up the tab and Ellroy leaves a tip that makes the waiter catch his breath for a moment.
This morning he was with The New York Times. For lunch it was me and now Ellroy’s off to do another interview. He seems to dig all this. To me he’s a classic introvert/extrovert who hibernates for four years between books before enjoying this carnival of publicity and performance.
I fold up my question sheet. I didn’t get to ask him about race or Donald Trump or a clever critical review of This Storm I’d just read in The New Statesman. Next time, I tell myself, I’m going to steer us clear of the boxing.