Monday, July 7, 2008

Belfast Telegraph Interview

I really didn't want to start work on this blog until late '08, but I've had a few emails asking for the transcript of my Belfast Telegraph interview from Saturday July 5th. The Tele didnt put it online, so, very reluctantly, I'm posting it here. It was just a standard Q/A, and this is only the raw text. . .Interestingly, the Tele removed the stuff about Hewson and Ian Paisley, perhaps fearing an onslaught of libel lawyers.

Belfast Telegraph 5/7/08

1. What are you like in a relationship? Are you a giver or a taker?
Everyone’s a bit of both aren’t they? With your children you’re definitely a giver. Someone once said (yes Google failed me here) that for 100 pounds of love that you give your kids you get back about three shillings in return. This is an exaggeration of course, at least I think it is as I have only a hazy idea of what a shilling actually is.

2 Only child or one of a crowd?
I’ve got two brothers and two sisters. I’m the fourth of five - one of those difficult middle children. If that guy on Oprah is to be believed (again Google couldn’t help me pin this guy down) supposedly first borns are the leaders and inventors and last borns are the rebels and outsiders, but what are the middle kids? The quiet conformists, or the secretive brilliant ones who rebel but don’t get caught, and lead without making a big song and dance about it? There were seven of us in a three bedroom house in Victoria Estate in Carrickfergus, so I grew up with a crowd and was and am happy with a lot of people around.

And of course I’ve always been drawn to cities. Apart from the Big Bad Bel, I lived in London for a couple of years and then New York for six years and Jerusalem for a year, Denver for nine years, and I’ve just moved to Melbourne, Australia. Always one step ahead of my creditors.

3. Are/were you closer to your mum or dad?
It’s a bit unfair on the old man because he was working in ICI much of the time or off with the Navy, but even so I’d say that I was closer to my mum.

When my father wasn’t away at sea protecting Northern Ireland from a Soviet invasion I do remember a lot of camping holidays where he and his three sons attempted to bond and get closer. Unfortunately these holidays were usually in the wettest parts of Western Europe (if not the world) where the Gulf Stream meets land after three thousand miles of Atlantic Ocean. Where-ever we went, Donegal, Fermanagh, the North Antrim coast it invariably turned from the pleasant camping holiday of our imagination to a grim battle with the elements: flood, mud, soaked ground sheets, sodden toilet paper, ruined food, no fire, sheep attacks, tears and finally furious midnight raging against an indifferent and cruel universe. I think we’ve got some Super 8 footage somewhere that would make the first five minutes of Saving Private Ryan look like Carry On Soldier.

Mum always had a pot of stew ready when we returned six days earlier than we’d planned and that might have helped endear her to us too.

4. What are you most proud of?
I have two daughters Arwynn (6) and Sophie (2 and a half) and I’m proud and pretty surprised that they’re happy, well adjusted, easy going kids.

I should also mention my books. My first full length novel Dead I Well May Be got shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Award and optioned by Universal Pictures which made me giddy with excitement. The sequel to that book The Dead Yard got picked by Publishers Weekly as one of the 10 best novels of 2006. That was pretty cool too.

Now if only Easons would carry them my mum would finally believe that I’m a writer.

5. What are you most ashamed of?
Shame is such a Victorian notion. For me the word conjures up fallen women never able to show their heads in public again, off to the colonies to raise their poor ruined offspring on a sheep station. I don’t buy into that concept of shame. Things happen, you screw up, you apologise like a man, you move on, you don’t do it again.

6. Have you ever been to a lapdancing club?
A more intriguing question might be, have you ever performed at a lapdancing club? Then we’d really be getting into some interesting territory.

Lapdancing does however figure in several of my books. In Dead I Well May Be there’s a big fight scene in a lapdancing club. In Bloomsday Dead there’s an epic gun battle in a lapdancing club/brothel and in my upcoming book Fifty Grand, which is partly set in Havana’s Red Light district, you could say that there are more than a few laps which are being danced upon.

The bottom line here is that if you ever see me in a lapdancing club it’s purely for research purposes only.

7. Have you ever been to a fortune-teller?
I never have though intimate members of my family swear by them. I was just down in Dublin at a shopping centre near Drury Street and there was a line of people round the block to see Mrs Murphy. I talked to a few of them and they all assured me that Mrs M. was the business. I wasn’t sure what Mrs Murphy’s method of divination was but from the queue of eager punters I for one can predict a villa in Spain and a pleasant retirement for the dear old bird.

8. Have you any phobias?
Well I do now that I’ve moved to Oz. Eight of the world’s deadliest spiders live in this country. Four of them can kill you with a half bite of venom. Half a bite! (Who are they saving the other half for, Crocodile Dundee?) I’m no spider expert so I don’t know the safe non bitey ones from the deadly ones, consequently I run screaming from all of them. It’s an embarrassment to my wife and children, but ladies and gentleman of the jury, I ask you, is this an irrational phobia or merely a sane man erring on the side of caution?

I’m not too keen on snakes either and I’ve developed an antipathy towards possums. Possums squat awkwardly on the telegraph wires just outside of my house. They look like gigantic rats with little fat legs and a sleekit, malignant expression on their faces. They are protected by Australian law so if a possum bites you, first you have to apologize to the possum for getting in the way of its teeth and then you have to offer it succour and a light snack in your home and only then when it’s completely happy with your response may you go to the hospital to get your tetanus shot.

9. Do you tip in restaurants?
What is this Larne, 1989? Everyone’s been to New York these days. You tip in restaurants! Five percent if they don’t actually kill you. Ten percent if the food’s hot and there are no strange and still moving arthropods in your salad. Fifteen if the food is adequate and the waiters have been slightly more polite than a teenager you’ve asked directions from at a bus stop and slightly less rude than a Starbucks barista. You tip 18 percent if the person you’re dining with says “I’d come here again.” You must tip 20 percent and above if you appear regularly on TV and 50 percent and above if you’re in the movies.

I had a friend who was a taxi driver in Dublin and he remembers exactly who tipped him and who stiffed him. Some quite famous people turned out to be very cheap and the word went out. I won’t mention any names here but Mr. Hewson if you’re reading this, I know exactly how you got to be a millionaire.

If you want to really impress a girl ask her to split the bill with you in a restaurant and then explain that you can both save a little extra cash by doing the waiters on a tip, all the while quoting Mr. Pink’s anti tipping rant from that topical film Reservoir Dogs.

10. Do you believe in God?
If she’ll believe me I’ll believe in her. . .But seriously folks, lately my eldest daughter Arwynn has started asking about God. What do I tell her? God is fairy story we invented so that we won’t think about our own inevitable annihilation one day? Well no, obviously not. But I did live in Jerusalem for more than a year and that certainly cured me of any residual belief in the Old White Guy With the Beard idea of God.

Religion does have it’s place though. And that place is in comedy. One of my prized possessions is a DUP pamphlet put out in about 1978 proving beyond reasonable doubt that the European Economic Community was the Seven Headed Whore of Babylon mentioned in the Book of Revelations. They also used to sell this great book in their shop in Belfast, called Evolution: The Fossils Say No! The book is absolutely hilarious and has given me much pleasure over the years. It’s almost as if the author had no understanding of science or the English language whatsoever. If I could write a book that funny I’d get out of the thriller business for good. And this was years before The Onion and Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, so it could be that Ian Paisley had a hidden genius for ironic humour. If only we’d known that then, we could have predicted (like Mrs Murphy) the whole Chuckle Brothers rapprochement with Sinn Fein decades before it happened.

11. Quick death or time to prepare?
How about neither?

12. Regrets ... have you had a few?
Well I hate to go back to Larne, 1989, but let’s just say that it was probably unwise to get the spicy prawn curry after the 15 bottles of Newcastle Brown.