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Posts from the ‘Interviews’ Category

Interview with Patricia Ketola, novelist, author of DIRTY PICTURES

April 27, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

Patricia Ketola is interviewed by Petar Odak, editor and reviewer.

Late blooming in the world of literature is not that rare: Toni Morrison published her first novel when she was thirty-nine, P. D. James when she was forty-two, and Penelope Fitzgerald and Frank McCourt started in their sixties. Still, it is quite unusual for the debut novel to be published by a writer in her early seventies, especially as it deals with the questions of sexuality, incest, female power and political terrorism. Of course, it would be unfair to limit Patricia Ketola’s first novel Dirty Pictures just to this set of controversial topics. No, this hidden little gem is a powerful, if quirky, contemplation on love, life and death. Unable to find a publisher in the USA, this American writer found its home with the independent Dublin publisher Betimes Books. Intrigued by the novel, we decided to talk with Ketola about her writing and the way it relates to our current political and cultural situation.

Petar Odak: Your novel transcends genres; it is impossible to fit in one box. Was this your aim from the beginning, or did the novel develop its own logic through time, maybe even surprising you in the end?

Patricia Ketola: In Dirty Pictures I was writing about subjects that interest me and I didn’t have any particular genre in mind. My aim was to fill every page with lively, exciting material. As you suggest, the piece did develop its own logic over time.  I was not surprised by the end result, but I was surprised when some
readers thought DP was an unusual take on a Romance novel.

PO: Although Dirty Pictures is undoubtedly a fun and exciting novel, many key points of the story actually deal with death; it opens with the death of a protagonist’s mother, follows with a pretty rational and not-at-all desperate suicide of a friend and then finishes with the protagonist’s partner chopunch a osing to spend his last days surrounded by his loved ones instead of enduring the tortuous, exhausting and often hopeless procedure of chemotherapy. It seems thus that your novel suggests a different view on the natural cycle of life and the inevitability of death. What is your opinion on that?

PK: When I started writing DP, I was mourning the deaths of several significant people in my life.  I was writing out of a sense of loss and that is probably why death figures so prominently in the novel. At my age death is the next big adventure, and I believe one should approach it with grace and acceptance.  I don’t think people should suffer unnecessarily, or be coerced into needless treatment by the Medical/Pharmaceutical industry.  If this idea is outside the norm, so be it.

PO:  After the ‘Punch a Nazi’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCnPOEJDWIk) video went viral, there was a heated debate among the liberal left regarding the use of violence when dealing with fascists. Your protagonist, Martel, does not seem to have doubts about that, willingly helping her friend to murder Preston Greylander, CEO of a huge agri-business combine noted for “trying to gain the world’s food supply” and for participating in “genocide in Africa”. Yet when dealing with the attempted burglars at Madame Lillian’s house, Martel steps in to prevent further torture. What are your feelings about using violence against violence?

PK: I don’t approve of the video at all.  That kind of action seems stupid, callow, and cowardly. I don’t know anything about the debate among ‘leftists’, so I can’t comment on it.  As for Martel, she believes that people who commit genocide and attempt to control the world’s resources for profit are the enemy. Although she would not have initiated the action herself, she takes Terry’s point and agrees to help him.  If he had asked her to help torture Preston to death, she would not have participated.  I certainly draw a firm line between assassination and torture, as illustrated by Martel’s defence of the burglars.

As for violence against violence, who knows?  Not everyone one can be a Gandhi, or espouse the fine ideals of Tolstoy. Humans seem to have difficulty being peaceable and are not adept at developing their higher natures.  Maybe we are just a bunch of predators who like to fight and kill.

PO: Your novel is filled with anti–establishment and anti–capitalist political statements, even including some acts of left terrorism. There are some ironic remarks on the political situation in United States as well. What is your stance on Trump’s America?

PK: I was brought up in a tough neighbourhood by a working class family that had socialist views.  In fact, it was rumored that some of the relatives were actual Communists. This background, combined with my natural rebellious spirit, led quite naturally to social criticism. Unlike many of my acquaintances, I hold no particular hatred towards Donald Trump.  I doubt that he is any worse than what we had before.

PO: There is a lot of eroticism in your book including some explicit sex scenes. Martel is also a keen observer of the male body and often joyfully describes it to the reader. I must say, I found it refreshing to see the subverting of normal gender roles when it comes to sexuality in literature. Did you feel that there was a need for female characters to be more open about their enjoyment of sex?

Rembrandt, “The Jewish Bride”

PK: No, I didn’t feel the need for a female character to be more open about enjoyment of sex. I like writing about sex because it is so difficult.  Putting such emotions and feelings into words is damn near impossible and I’m quite proud of my efforts.

PO: Martel is a straight-talking, brash female character who, for many readers, is a rare find. Do you feel that we need more female characters like Martel in literature, TV, film etc. who are unapologetic about their lifestyle? Or do you fear that by doing so such characters will be overused and possibly become another female trope?

PK: Current feminism is not sympathetic to a character like Martel, so I doubt we need to be worried about overuse.

PO: Are you as passionate a lover of art as your novel suggests and as your characters undoubtedly are?

PK: Absolutely. I’ve lived my life in pursuit of art and beauty and the transcendent experience.  I tend to become slightly ecstatic when I view a great work of art. My appreciation is not limited to one period, school, or culture.  Personally, I would like to see a lot more public art.  Not everyone can visit a museum, gallery, or cathedral, but everyone deserves to get a glimpse of the beautiful and profound.

Art in the city: “Maternité” by Gérard Ramon (France)

PO: With your background in art, travel and cultural anthropology this novel must have been a labour of love to research. The detail you give to each characters’ clothing and musical and artistic preferences is extraordinary. Did this require extensive research or were you already very familiar with and happy to write about the various fashion labels and musicians?

PK: I don’t do much research. My personal experience is such that I have a lot of information stored in my brain. When working on a piece, I make a big collage of pictures relating to the subject matter and look at it for inspiration. Prior to writing I listen to music, in this case gypsy guitar and Chet Baker. 

PO: The world of art dealing plays a very important role in your novel.  Does Martel’s ambivalence – she enjoys working with art pieces, but at the same time despises her rich and often uneducated customers – reflect your own critical stance or at least some kind of reticence when it comes to the money-oriented art market?

PK: Western Art has always been about power, money, or religion.  Most of the old masters were working for dukes or kings or princes of the Church. Painters like Rembrandt were working for the rising bourgeoisie. The production of paintings and statuary only became art for art’s sake in the 19th century, and a lot of artists lost their sponsors because their work was considered too radical by the buyers and sellers. As a result, many ended up unrecognized and living in poverty. I  hate the fact that a brilliant artist like Modigliani died neglected and broke, and that in current times his works are praised to the skies and sold for millions. The realities of today’s art game are grotesque and scandalous, but it’s nothing new. The billionaires of today want to be like the big shots of yesteryear, and the dealers and auctioneers are only too happy to accommodate them.

PO: How did you go about researching the European places mentioned in the novel? You write of Amsterdam (and indeed other places in the Netherlands and in Europe) as if you were a local. Have you in fact lived there before or did you have to visit the city, its museums and galleries and go off the beaten track a little to experience the “real”?

PK: I’ve never actually lived in Europe, but I used to visit twice a year. I usually find a city I love and visit it year after year.  I try to make a spiritual connection with the place. Once I went to Barcelona to see the architecture, but I couldn’t make a connection and I’ve never been back. I find that odd, because I should have loved the place.

PO: This is perhaps a predictable question, but still I must ask it: how does a woman in her early seventies come to write a novel full of drugs, sex and violence? Would you even be surprised to read a novel which deals with these topics which was written by one of your peers? Or should people not be surprised by this at all? Is this actually part of a larger issue that society has with hearing older voices, particularly female, whereby we assume that they would never speak of such topics?

PK: I started writing this piece when I was seventy-one or seventy-two, and it has gone through many revisions.  People were quite astonished when I began writing.  I was told that creativity diminishes starting around age fifty and that I didn’t have a chance at producing anything worthwhile. Although several friends were supportive of my efforts, others were shocked by the topics I chose to explore.

I know that Jean Rhys published a novel when she was seventy-six and it was quite the hit. She explored madness and sexual exploitation. Anna Kavan wrote the brutal and visionary Ice, a novel I admire, when she was in her sixties. 

PO: Including detailed recipes in a work of fiction is unusual for authors to do. Yet, as mentioned previously, Dirty Pictures has a wonderful use of detail for characters, props, smells and sound. Why did you decide to give such description to how Martel cooked those dinners in Amsterdam? Are they your own recipes or are they inspired by others?

PK: The procurement, preparation, and sharing of food has always been one of my great pleasures.  For me, a carefully prepared meal shared with family and friends is an expression of fellowship and celebration. In the novel Martel’s humanistic approach to food is presented in direct opposition to the Greylander Corporation’s soulless attempts at food control.

The roast chicken was from Julia Child, but I didn’t bother to look up the recipe. The rest is just basic stuff that I am familiar with.

PO: Dirty Pictures is your first novel. Do you have any unpublished material written before this novel?

PK: Even though I didn’t start writing until late in life, I’ve got tons of unpublished stuff: novellas, short stories, another novel, even screenplays. I was writing fast and didn’t have any outside distractions.  My themes are basically the same as those in Dirty Pictures. I like to think some of my work is humorous, even farcical.

PO: What are you working on now?

PK: I have one hundred fifty pages of a novel called Surfers.  It’s about a group of drug dealers who work out of Southern California in the 1960s. At the moment my personal situation is such that I can’t give the novel my full attention, but I would like to add some bits about the entertainment industry and its early attempts at mind control.  

 

“The work of the informed imagination”. Jackie Mallon interviews Fionnuala Brennan

July 25, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

Goya-A7

Jackie Mallon:  You’ve said you’re fascinated by Goya, and this passion comes through clearly in your novel, The Painter’s Women, but where exactly did your interest originate?

Fionnuala Brennan:  I studied Art History at Trinity College Dublin, so I was of course aware of the importance of Goya in European art history. Years after I graduated, I saw an exhibition of his Disasters of War etchings (Los desastres de la guerra) and that is when my fascination grew.

Here was a Court Painter in late 18th and early 19th century Spain who had painted formal portraits of Wellington, as well as of King Charles IV and Queen Maria Luisa on horseback, and yet who saw nothing glorious or triumphant in war, who depicted the cruelty and inhumanity so movingly in these small etchings. To my mind, he is one of the first and certainly one of the most influential anti-war artists. Picasso followed in these footsteps.

I went to the Prado and was struck again by his “Black Paintings”; the ones he made for himself on the walls of his country house, Quinta del Sordo, manifesting his despair of human nature. Before that, he had published his wonderfully satirical Caprichos. I went to the British Museum to see some of the originals. The society artist who mocks the hypocrisy and superstition in Spanish society – what a fascinating and enigmatic character!

JM:  Why did you choose the point of view of the women in the painter’s life to reveal his character?

FB:  I did not want to write a straight biography, however fictionalised, of Goya. I decided that one can learn more from slanted observation than from full frontal, as it were. And who better to have witnessed Goya’s career than the women closest to him? They can show us how he worked, what personal matters troubled or elated him, and what he thought about some of his patrons.

JM:  Following on from the previous question, there seems to be an endless desire for historical novels like yours, which are often called biographical fiction, in which a fictional story is woven around illustrious figures from the past in the worlds of literature or art. I’m thinking of Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 novel The Girl with the Pearl Earring to 2011’s bestselling The Paris Wife by Paula McLain or 2014’s Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood. Why do you think we like to read these types of stories?

FB:  I think we enjoy biographical fiction because it is less dense and certainly less restricted than non-fiction biographies. Because it has poetic license to look behind the bald facts. Because it is the work of the informed imagination.

JM:  How did you approach the historical research that is so important to your novel? I’m interested in how you strike the balance between fact and fiction: How much of the story is based around actual events and how much is the product of your imagination? Likewise the personalities you’ve given the women.

FB:  Of course, I read and consulted widely to be sure of the historical events and of the dates and circumstances of Goya’s artistic output. I was always interested in trying to look as deeply as one could into the enigmatic nature of the man. I was also interested in his techniques, how he painted and etched. His letters to his lifelong friend, Martin Zapater, told me a lot. The actual events of his life, such as his commissions, his role as Court Painter, the dates of his works, his marriage, the names of five of the six women in the novel, his residences, as well as the historical events in Spain at that time are all factual. 

Five of the painter’s women existed. Apart from the Duchess of Alba, however, we know very little apart from their names about the other four women. I invented Dolores, the sixth woman, in order to place her as the face of The Naked Maja and also to link Goya’s time with the Duchess of Alba in Andalusia in 1796-1797 with his fictional re-appearance in her life during the period of her illness and death in 1802.

Regarding the personalities of the women… I imagined a great deal, but based some of my characterisation on real life events. In the case of his wife Josefa, five of whose children died in infancy, such events must have greatly distressed her, as indeed they did Goya. The row he had with her brother, his first mentor, must also have been a source of distress. His reputed affairs may have disturbed her, as well as his long absence in Andalusia with the Duchess of Alba.

His mistress Leocadia was reputedly sharp-tongued. I imagined what it must have been like to have lived with a much older, difficult, deaf man and not to be accepted as his wife, nor her daughter Rosario recognised as his. According to the date she left her husband and went to live with Goya, it would certainly seem that the child was most likely his. 

The character of his daughter-in-law Gumersinda is a work of my imagination. I looked at Goya’s picture of her and concluded that she was, as we say in Ireland, some piece of work. Greedy, jealous, ambitious for her husband Javier and son Mariano.

JM:  The novel opens and closes with the voice of Goya’s alleged illegitimate daughter, Rosario, also a painter although lesser known. Why did you decide to bookend the story with her?

FB:  Although Goya seemed to have been a courageous man, unafraid to satirize Spanish society and unflattering of his royal patrons, who mixed with the men of the Enlightenment and who was brought  before the Inquisition because of  his painting The Naked Maja, he had feet of clay with regard to his second family. He did not seem to have made provision for the welfare of Leocadia or of Rosario after his death, leaving everything, as far as I could ascertain, to his son Javier and grandson Mariano. I wanted to open the book with his final illness and death during which his daughter Rosario and his mistress Leocadia were his constant companions and support and to finish it with the subsequent fate of these two women, especially Rosario. This exemplifies the statement which ends the novel: “This world is a masquerade… Everyone wants to appear what he is not, each deluding the other and not even knowing himself.”

It is not possible to fully know anyone else, as we do not even fully know ourselves. So biographies, whether fictionalised or not, while casting some light on their subjects, still look through a dark or misty glass.

JM:  I read somewhere that it can be difficult to put into prose the sensations that art evokes without sounding, on one hand, too precious or, on the other, too textbook. Paintings are meant to be seen to be appreciated, not read about. But your descriptions of the masterpieces he created as a result of knowing these women, or sometimes in spite of knowing them, are engaging. Did you have any concerns about this going in?

FB:  This question is a bit more difficult to answer. I believe firmly that ideally paintings are meant to be seen, not read about. However, not everyone can see the paintings in the place for which they were painted, as in churches, or can go to the art galleries where they hang, so the only way they can experience the works is in art books and in the words of art critics. Also, in my novel Goya’s works are described by the women who saw them being made, so that the methods he used and the atmosphere in which he worked show us a good deal about the works themselves.

JM:  Are you working on something new at the moment and, if so, can you reveal anything about it?

FB:  I have just finished a book of short stories entitled Islanders, and I am writing another novel, not biographical fiction this time. It’s set more or less in the present and is in the first draft stage.

 

Jackie Mallon is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs

 

Interview with Richard Kalich in AM FM Magazine

March 3, 2016

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“High Art can of course be found in all the disciplines, music, painting, all creative writing, film, etc.  For me…all that I define as High Art has but one categorical imperative.  It makes as its inherent demand and calling that we, as humans, stand before it and surrender ourselves wholly and completely to it.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does:  That’s Art.”   –Richard Kalich

Full text here: On the Fecundity of the Unconsciousness as Inspiration

An Interview with Craig McDonald: The Hector Lassiter Series

February 29, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

An exceptional, in-depth, interview with Craig McDonald by Steven Powell, a researcher at the University of Liverpool, UK.

Steven Powell is the editor of Conversations with James Ellroy (2012) and 100 American Crime Writers(2012). He has written several articles for the British Politics Review, blogs about crime fiction at VenetianVase.co.uk, and co-organized the “James Ellroy: Visions of Noir” conference at the University of Liverpool. His most recent work is James Ellroy: Demon Dog of Crime Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan 2016).

10 Three Chords“If you are not already initiated, I hope this interview will persuade you to start reading the Lassiter novels. They are compelling, thrilling and darkly humorous.

Lassiter is a brilliant creation…”

 

The Venetian Vase

Craig McDonald is an author and journalist. He has written fourteen novels, including, to date, nine books in the award-winning Hector Lassiter series. I have kept up a correspondence with Craig these past few years as we are both avid readers of James Ellroy. I’m also a massive fan of the Lassiter novels, and when Craig agreed to be interviewed by me, he also kindly supplied an advance copy of the final novel in the Lassiter series, the forthcoming Three Chords and the Truth. If you are not already initiated, I hope this interview will persuade you to start reading the Lassiter novels. They are compelling, thrilling and darkly humorous. Lassiter is a brilliant creation– a crime writer who learned his trade with Ernest Hemingway and the Lost Generation in Paris in the 1920s. He is also a man who seems dangerously prone to violent intrigue, doomed love affairs…

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Interview with Sean Moncrieff

October 5, 2015

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Sean Moncrieff interviewed by Vincent P Bartley of IrishInterest.ie in the Irish Writers’ Centre about his novel The Angel of the Streetlamps

 

“A quixotic endeavour with an unclear goal”. Colin O’Sullivan interviews David Hogan.

June 23, 2015

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dhogan

Colin O’Sullivan:   The Last Island covers important issues like “environmentalism, animal rights, and the costs of capitalism”.  What made you want to write about these issues?

David Hogan: I believe that these are among the paramount issues of our time, and that our responses to them will shape the future. So it would’ve been hard for me not to write about them. In The Last Island the main characters are exiles and in the process of re-invention and redemption. As they struggle to re-make themselves, they are forced to ask certain questions such as: What obligation do we owe our planet and the creatures upon it? What is the nature of desire and possession? What level of cooperation or competition is appropriate? They may not find all the answers, but they are asking the questions. I believe that society too needs to undergo a process of re-invention and redemption, as many of the current answers to these questions become increasingly untenable. We don’t have the answers yet, but, like the characters in The Last Island, we need to continue to ask the questions.

O’S: What do you hope readers will take away from The Last Island?

D.H.: First off, I hope they will find the book transporting and engrossing. And I hope that they will feel that they’ve met some intriguing and thoughtful characters, who offer unconventional ways of thinking about modern life. There are many issues at play for which the novel provides no definitive answers. It does ask a good number of questions, however. In those questions, I hope that some readers might see possibilities.

O’S: Who do you picture as the ideal reader of your work?

D.H.: In Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, Binx Bolling is on a search, which is described as “what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.” Binx resists naming the object of his search; it may be God or a greater purpose or something else entirely. It’s a quixotic endeavour with an unclear goal. But what is most important, he believes, is to be aware of the possibility of the search, even if one is unable or unwilling to undertake it. My ideal reader is probably no different than the ideal reader of many other writers. It’s someone who, like Binx, is aware of the possibility of such a search and may read novels for that reason, among others.

O’S: Who is your biggest literary influence? Which writer, living or dead, would you most like to meet?

D.H.: I’ve a whole stable of writers that I keep returning to: Dostoyevsky, Joyce, Beckett, Nikos Kazantzakis, C.P. Cavafy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ralph Ellison as well as Walker Percy, Frederick Exley, and Jennifer Egan. I read the work of playwrights Tom Stoppard, Martin McDonough, and Rebecca Gilman. I’m very much into the American poet Wendell Berry at the moment. I think his Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front speaks to what ails us.

As to meeting a writer, how about this? I’d like to have been in one of those bars in Paris with Joyce and Hemingway. We’d drink, talk books and then, if Joyce got into a fight, I’d have the pleasure of watching Hemingway step in for him. “Deal with him, Hemingway,” I understand Joyce used to say. It’s the greatest tag-team in the history of literature… or is it boxing?

O’S: What are you currently reading?

D.H.: Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, and I’m wondering why it took me so long to get to it. I’m about half-way through and, so far, it’s thoughtful, moving and very funny.

O’S: Do you listen to music when you write?

D.H.: I like to have something quiet and familiar playing in the background, especially in the first draft stage. If The Last Island has a soundtrack, it’s some of the older CDs of the Pat Metheny Group such as First Circle and Still Life (Talking). When I was struggling with one of the scenes in the Aegean Sea in The Last Island, I can remember listening to the glides and builds of First Circle and thinking ‘something like that.’

 

 

O’S: Do you have any words of inspiration on your writing desk?

D.H.: No, none, though I probably should. I do have a memo posted on my desk that reads: no ‘and then’ scenes. It’s to remind me to structure events by direct cause and effect, as opposed to episodically. Useful, I suppose, but far from inspirational.

O’S: Do you read the reviews you get?

D.H.: I probably shouldn’t – they say you shouldn’t — but I do. If someone takes the time to read my novel (or see one of my plays) and write about it, I’m interested in what they have to say.

O’S: You are involved in different kinds of writing, novels, screenwriting, etc. Which comes easiest to you? Which is most difficult?

D.H.: Playwriting seems to come easiest to me, though I’m not sure why. It might have something to do with the limitations of the stage, which demands a mere handful of characters and a single setting or two. It’s dialogue-based, and you can count on the actors, if they’re good, to bring out more than what’s on the page. There’s a tradeoff, of course, because what’s on the stage can be something entirely different from what was imagined, for better or worse. Novels are the most difficult for me, but the satisfaction is great, perhaps for that reason.

O’S: Being an Irishman I’m very pleased you wrote about At Swim Two Birds for your novel recommendation. Is there any other Irish novel or writer that interests you?

D.H.: Many of them. To my mind, the lyrical wordplay of Irish-English is unrivalled. I read anything by Colum McCann, Anne Enright and Kevin Barry. I think I’ll be adding Paul Murray to that list. I’m also a big fan of Irish crime fiction, especially when Tana French, Ken Bruen, Declan Burke, and Brian McGilloway (to name just a few) are doing the writing.

O’S: What does David Hogan do to relax?

D.H.: Less than I used to. Dinner, concerts, the occasional play. The Pacific Ocean lies only a few miles away, and I try to paddle out once or twice a week. My co-surfers call me Big Wave Dave, which, I assure you, is unreservedly ironic.

The Last Island

Writing, reading, music, and “far-awayness”. David Hogan interviews Colin O’Sullivan

May 27, 2015

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David Hogan: You’re in the long tradition of writers leaving Ireland in order to write about it.  Is there something unique about the country that pushes you away while at the same time drawing you back?

Colin O’Sullivan: The Irish have always been a migrant race as you know, for many reasons too long to get into here , and I’ve always been fascinated by those great Irish writers who left and became the geniuses we know today – I’m thinking specifically of Joyce and Beckett, two artists who loom very large in my writing life. I never understood it until I actually did it, I suppose. That is until I upped and left Ireland and spent years abroad, I never really understood the idea of exile and writing about your native country from a distance (physical and emotional). But I think it has made me a better writer. I don’t think I’d write as much or as well if I had stayed at home – I think I’d be far too busy drinking Guinness and watching football (nothing at all wrong with those pursuits, but I don’t think I’d write very much). The fact that those delights aren’t available to me here means I have to get down to work and the hard graft of writing. And following on from that, I then have, I suppose, the time and inclination to look back and contemplate my native land. That’s not to say that all my work will be set in Ireland – my new work is wildly different and has nothing at all to do with my homeland.

D.H.: What are you working on now then?

C.O’S.: I won’t go into too much detail (might jinx the whole endeavour) and even to describe it might not do it justice, but let’s for the moment say it is an: existentialist-gothic-tragi-political-satirical-absurdo-comedy…with wolves, set in Japan 2045. If that doesn’t whet the appetite I don’t know what will!! If Killarney Blues was my Blue period, then I’m just moving into my Cubist period – do you like the way I align myself with geniuses?

D.H.: Bernard in Killarney Blues loves American blues “Because it’s exotic. From far away.”  You’re an Irishman living in Japan; can this sentiment be applied to yourself in anyway? 

C.O’S.: Yes, I think that can be applied to me in many ways. Not just because I live in Japan and appreciate the “difference” in culture, but in my artistic tastes too. Growing up I didn’t like traditional Irish music at all (I’ve since changed my mind) and wanted only rock, and certainly not Irish rock music, but British or American only. The further away the better from Irish shores the more authentic, I had foolishly thought. I don’t know why this was, a form of teenage rebellion I suppose. And I went through a phase of reading loads of American literature and eschewed anything from Ireland too. Maturity in thought and a sense of balance comes with age of course and I’m not so silly and dismissive anymore. But I still have a lot of Bernard in me – been going through a jazz phase over the last few years, which has of course absolutely nothing to do with Ireland and I enjoy it’s “far-awayness”.

D.H.: Funny you should mention jazz, your writing has a jazzy, improvisational feel to it.  Are you able to get into ‘a zone’ where this flows?   Does it come in the editing?  Do you have to be careful not to over-edit?

C.O’S.: The zone. Yes, that’s a good word, I suppose I do get into it and try to go with that particular flow. It’s difficult to describe. But I do aim for that intensity of thought and concentration, whatever happens within that, whether it is jazzy or not, I don’t know. I’m looking for that voice I suppose. In Killarney Blues I was trying to get Bernard’s voice or Jack’s or whoever, yes, and improvising around them. As for editing, well, I can’t stop. I can go over pages again and again for hours, and still might miss something! There comes a stage when you have to call in another pair of eyes. Luckily I have a great editor at Betimes Books to help with that.

D.H.: Did you listen to the blues while writing “Blues?”  Something else?

C.O’S.: I did listen to a lot of blues at that time yes, while going for a walk or whatever, or just doing work around the house, not during the actual writing time though: I prefer silence. Instrumental music I can take, a little; I can’t listen to anything with lyrics when I write, I get too involved. Drone-like stuff works best. But yeah, you can’t beat silence when you’re trying to get the words down.

D.H.: There’s the great line in Killarney Blues: “The kind of person you’d release from prison on the back of songs.  As if music, and music alone was enough.”  This speaks to the redemptive power of music and, by inference, literature.  What are the respective powers of the two mediums to you?  How are they alike or different?

C.O’S.: They’ve always been there for me, that’s about as much as I know. I’ve always been fascinated by books, music, all art in fact, and have always found them to be my salvation. That sounds very pretentious, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I’ve always needed books and music around me at all times and I get antsy when they are out of reach. Music from my teenage years still gets me tremendously excited as do books that I’ve read and cherished several times. And I love that feeling of being overwhelmed and utterly excited by art. It’s thrilling, and I’ve never lost it.

D.H.: The demise of long forms (e.g. the album as opposed to singles and the novel) has long been predicted.  Are you concerned about this?  What will be lost or gained?

C.O’S.: I’m not overly concerned; I think music will always find a way. I do miss things, the long playing albums like you say, the cover art that isn’t so important anymore, sleeve notes, that kind of thing. Something like Bowie’s Low is hard to conceive as anything other than a two-sided record: listening to it straight on the iPod, it misses something; you feel like you have to turn over for the very different second “side”. But musicians are still making all kinds of great music and it’s still finding a way to get to us, so I’m happy enough about that, I guess. The novel will also endure. As an art form it’s too important not to.

D.H.: Desert island question: would you take a book or an album?  Which one?

C.O’S.: A book, something huge, like The Complete Shakespeare, or War and Peace. I already have music playing in my head 24 hours anyway. Even my dreams have a soundtrack and I wake up thinking: Wow, I haven’t heard that song in years.

D.H.: What type and color of hat are you wearing these days? 

C.O’S.: This grey one:

FullBW

D.H.: What are you reading and/or listening to? 

C.O’S.: On the current playlist: Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, PIL, The Fall, Swans and Nick Cave/Warren Ellis.

Reading: Tim Winton’s Eyrie, Witold Gombrowicz’s Diary, and Kevin Barry’s short story collection Dark Lies the Island.

D.H. What does Colin do for fun?

C.O’S.: Music and books, what else is there? Actually I do enjoy watching football (that’s soccer to you David) movies, and good TV dramas too, the usual box set stuff that everyone loves, and if there’s a good comedy out there I’m on it, like Veep or Louie – boy, do we need a laugh in the world these days… but that’s another story, eh?

Sean Moncrieff interviewed on RTE Radio 1

May 14, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

If you want to learn more about THE ANGEL OF THE STREETLAMPS from the author himself, listen to Seán Moncrieff‘s interview on RTE Radio 1 after the release of the first edition of his novel:

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/arena/programmes/2013/0104/361338-arena-friday-4-january-2013/?clipid=981681

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“There is mystery, death and love in The Angel of the Streetlamps; there are wolves and there are sheep. Seán Moncrieff presents us with a cacophony of genuine voices strutting their views on politics, religion and class wars. Moncrieff is a master of the vicious aside, the canny comment and the funny twist, and he brings insight and intelligence to this novel of a damaged, confused and all too recognisable 21st century Ireland.”     —Nuala Ní Chonchúir, author of Mother America

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Our edition is available here: viewBook.at/TheAngel_Moncrieff

 

“In the beast’s lair”: Jackie Mallon interviewed by Marie-Claire Magazine

March 9, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

From the interview that has just appeared in Marie-Claire Magazine and Atlas Jet Magazine, Turkey:

MC: Everybody sees The Devil Wears Prada as the book that brought the real face of fashion to literature, and many people compare your book to Devil. But actually Silk for the Feed Dogs comes from a deeper corner of fashion, where everything begins. Was it hard to write about the fashion world as an insider? What were the reactions of your fellow designers?

JM: If I was still working full-time in the industry I don’t think I would have written this book. I think a certain distance is required to recognise lunacy! The things you accept as normal when you’re deep inside the system become real head scratchers on the outside. Some designers are still trying to work out if they inspired some of the characters, in particular, the lovely Edward. I tell them all yes! Because it’s probably true. The design world has been particularly receptive to the book and I couldn’t be more grateful. They have appreciated someone lending a voice to the things they see and experience on a daily basis but which they might not have put into words. They have said that they cringed at some of the behaviours described but laughed more. While The Devil Wears Prada was essentially a fashion magazine story, Silk for the Feed Dogs goes right into the design studios and ateliers, to the beast’s lair if you like.

Read the full interview here:

https://onedrive.live.com/view.aspx?cid=441225CC0E7F485E&resid=441225CC0E7F485E!533&app=WordPdf

MARIE CLAIRE - silk for the feed dogs (2)

Silk for the Feed Dogs is available here: http://viewbook.at/silkforthefeeddogs

“In praise of James Ellroy, 2015 Grand Master” by Craig McDonald

March 4, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

“A writer’s public persona is one thing; the solitary craftsman who lives in his head, and works very much alone, is another creature entirely.”

Happy birthday to the great James Ellroy!

Read Craig McDonald’s tribute here: http://crimespreemag.com/ellroy-grand-master/

Watch James Ellroy’s interview with Craig McDonald: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etgBzObQX9k

Craig McDonald: the HEAD GAMES interviews. Part 3 of 3

February 23, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

“…fiction can bring us closer to truth than history or nonfiction.” Craig McDonald

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This third interview, marking the new edition of HEAD GAMES, is with Sylvia Georgina Estrada (Mexico) and it appeared originally in Zócalo Saltillo:

http://craigmcdonaldbooks.blogspot.ie/2015/02/the-head-games-interviews-part-3-of-3.html

Craig McDonald: the HEAD GAMES interviews. Part 2 of 3

February 22, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

“To mark the launch of the Betimes Books’ reissue of Head Games in trade paperback and eBook formats, I’m sharing the second of three English translations of interviews I not so long ago gave to media in Mexico regarding the release of HEAD GAMES (LA CABEZA DE PANCHO VILLA) there. 

This one is with journalist Laura Luz Morales for Vanguardia (Original version in Spanish can be read 
here). We talk about movies, TOUCH OF EVIL, the continuing mystique of Pancho Villa,  Borderland Noir, Latin American literature and poetry, among other wide-ranging topics.”

Full text: http://craigmcdonaldbooks.blogspot.ie/2015/02/the-head-games-interviews-part-2-of-3.html

HG Mex

Craig McDonald: the HEAD GAMES interviews. Part 1 of 3

February 21, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

“Not so terribly long ago, I did a lot of interviews with newspapers and radio stations in Mexico in support of the Spanish language release of HEAD GAMES (LA CABEZA DE PANCHO VILLA there). HEAD GAMES is at last back in paperback and in eBook format as the seventh release in the new, definitive collection of old and new Hector Lassiter novels.

     HG Mex

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the translation of one of those exchanges for the Spanish language edition of Head Games, with a couple more to follow over the next few days:

http://craigmcdonaldbooks.blogspot.ie/2015/02/the-head-games-interviews-part-1-of-3.html

Richard Kalich’s interview on Books Go Social

January 15, 2015

BetimesBooksNow

“I’m not completely nihilistic. I believe that as long as we can still ask questions about the meaning of it all, there’s hope for an authentic life.”

Richard Kalich in conversation with Lucy Sweeny Byrne on Books Go Social http://buff.ly/1Abb7VC

RK on his terrace with view-page-001

Richard Kalich: “I see the world metaphorically.”

December 23, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

Richard Kalich in conversation with Lucy Sweeney Byrne

It is clear, when talking to Richard Kalich today, that he is a novelist whom, once you hear of him, you wonder to yourself how you haven’t heard his name before. He is not a writer one would describe as prolific. He has endured writer’s block and the terror of creative writing for a sustaining portion of his life. As he says, he’s read too much and knows all too well the standards his work will be held up against. A daunting task, he says, when your first literary Gods were no less than Dostoyevsky and Thomas Mann. This understandably has held his output down. Having said that, the works he has produced over the years, have been of exceptional quality, as is reflected in the recognition he has received from the academic and literary elite. Kalich has won The American Book Award and has been nominated for both a National Book Award and The Pulitzer, and his writing, in its daring experimentalism, surreal absurdism, and especially because of the dark demonic depths he has mined of the human interior, has been favourably compared to writers such as Kafka and Beckett. Needless to say, this is no lightweight author we’re dealing with.

I talk to Richard (he prefers to be called Dick), and almost immediately I grasp that he’s exactly what you would expect when one thinks a New York literary writer, an avant-garde post-modern novelist—and then some. Kalich is opinionated, quick-witted, funny, and simply brimming over with all of the things he has to say about the spiritual impoverishment of our contemporary age. We discuss, among other meandering subjects, the death of the word, the loss of Transcendence, the diminishment of the Self, artistic inspiration, films and musicals, and, of course, the release of his current most recent publication, Central Park West Trilogy (2014), a collection of three of his critically-acclaimed novels; The Nihilesthete (1987), Charlie P (2005) and Penthouse F (2010).

 

LSB: The first question I pose to Kalich, is an attempt to create a tidy summary of his writing (silly me). I say that his novels (there are four in all – added to those collected in the Trilogy is The Zoo, published in 2001) have been described by critics as ‘postmodern fables’, suggesting, by definition, that they are designed to convey a particular moral. Does he consider this a fair conception of his work? And if so, what is the moral message he is attempting to convey?

RK: No, I don’t think it’s correct to define my writing as fables. There are themes, yes, but I’m not trying to offer some categorical cure-it-all to the problematic situation of Man. I’m neither theologian nor a politician. My concern in my first novel, The Zoo, was loss of inner life. After long years of writer’s block, the novel just exploded out of me. Thirty days. All too quickly to really do it justice. With my second novel, The Nihilesthete, I was taken by the spiritual diminishment and the all-pervasive powerlessness that I felt was taking over our culture which in turn prevented and inverted my lead character’s full expression. Such is the motive-force behind the almost banal, cerebralized cruelties he harbours upon his arch-enemy, the artist, Brodski. The artist, of course, representing spiritual fecundity. The novels themselves are metaphorical. I see the world metaphorically. The first thing that happens, is that I see an image in my mind. This image is the epicentre of what I build my narrative around. It provides the beginning, middle and end for my story. The image just comes to me. It’s a sort of poetic gift. I’m told some Poets see the world like this. For example, with The Nihilesthete I saw a limbless being strapped to a wheelchair, a prosthesis attached to his arm stub which served as a hand, struggling to paint on a canvas held just out of his reach by an ominous male figure. The image gestated in me for a long time, five years, before I finally found the courage to write the book.

LSB: Why is that?

RK: Fear. Dread. The Terror of Creation. More specifically, for me it’s always been the fear of judgement. Dostoevsky or nothing. I carried that burden with me the better part of my entire adult life.

LSB: But why so hard on yourself? You never outgrew it?

Read the full interview here: Kalich interview full text

 

Richard Kalich’s Central Park West Trilogy, including The Nihilesthete, Penthouse F and Charlie P, is available for purchase here: getBook.at/CentralParkWest (currently on promotion on Amazon UK and Amazon Australia)

Hadley Colt and Craig McDonald in a conversation about the challenges of writing about writers

October 20, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

We asked Craig McDonald, author of the Hector Lassiter series and also of two books of interviews with American and European crime novelists, to interview the mysterious Hadley Colt, author of PERMANENT FATAL ERROR. They each have new novels centered by authors and informed by the craft of fiction writing. Hadley and Craig engaged in a conversation about their shared subject matter, as well as the enticements and challenges of writing about writers.

Hadley Colt: Mr. McDonald, your new book is FOREVER’S JUST PRETEND, an early and decidedly sexy chapter in the life of a twenty-something crime writer Hector Lassiter.
Craig McDonald: Ms. Colt—it’s a pleasure talking shop with you by the way—your new novel is PERMANENT FATAL ERROR, a literary thriller about the mystery surrounding “a long-missing, presumed dead cult author.”
HC: Right, but bottom-lining it and pleasing our publicists, you could say we both wrote sexy page-turners about writers in love, couldn’t you?
CM: Love, lust… Some earthy head games, if you’ll forgive the pun. And the solving of mysteries, large and small. Yeah, I think that’s a fair pitch for both our books. PERMANENT FATAL ERROR is actually chalk-full of writers of various stripes, as well as all the dubious industry figures surrounding and leeching off such writers. I’d go so far as to say your novel is a dark and erotic satire on the current state of publishing.
HC: My novel is about a biographer with his own shadowy past who is hired under odd circumstances to prepare an authorized biography of a reclusive author believed to be dead. As the biographer pokes around this dead author’s past, dark clouds gather. A body count mounts. Deals are cut. Careers are made. And, yes, many beds are wrecked.
CM: Ala Thomas Pynchon or J.D. Salinger, your legendary “dead” author, Everett Hyde, aggressively worked his recluse act while establishing himself, never allowing publicity photos or detailed biographies… Never giving an interview like this one or even a simple public reading. Everett built up a mystique to establish his so-called publishing platform. I think I admire and envy his career track.
HC: Yes, and adding to the mix is a young, aspiring female fiction writer named Ashley McKnight, as well as a snarky shark of a literary agent and a guy who writes men’s adventure novels between mercenary gigs.
CM: That guy would be your “character” Ace, the so-called “Iron Seal.” Frankly, I think I’ve brushed shoulders with that fella’s real-life counterpart in bars at about half-a-dozen Bouchercons. Even held his leather coat once outside a bar during a dustup in Baltimore. You definitely win the war in terms of populating your book with writers. FOREVER’S JUST PRETEND features a second novelist, Brinke Devlin, who is a more established genre fiction writer and the woman who more or less makes Hector into the man we come to know as the series—and Hector—matures, but that’s it for writers in my book.
Let’s return to this whole Pynchon/Salinger angle for a moment. Your timeline is such that you’re able to have most of Everett Hyde’s published works out in the world prior to the driving need or demand for author web sites, for tweeting, Facebook stalking or engagement of potential readers. All the stuff writers like you and I are expected to engage in and excel at doing. Would Everett Hyde have ever pulled off his mystery act in today’s market?
HC: Candidly, I’m pretty sure he could not. And maybe anticipating your next question, I’d venture Pynchon and Salinger would sink like stones if they tried their same mysterious author acts in our present publishing market. I’m working my own mystery thing presently, of course—Hadley Colt isn’t my real name or my first writing identity, and I’ve played with that promotionally a bit since PERMANENT FATAL ERROR launched. It hasn’t yet in any way proven to be a rocket to stardom. You’re a Hemingway aficionado of sorts, right?
CM: It’s been said.
HC: How would Hemingway have fared in today’s market?
CM: Maybe okay. He was kind of the template for Madonna or Gaga and the like in that he knew how to present a macho, adventuring public image of himself that was quite different from the real Hemingway. That invented Hemingway sold a lot of books but I’ve also ventured the opinion it destroyed the real Hem in the end. That image couldn’t accommodate an older man in failing health who could no longer drink younger men under the table, win the hearts of younger women, or clear bars in Key West brawls. As the image and man grew farther apart, the words trickled to a stall and Hemingway destroyed himself. Having said that, it’s worth noting Hem only sat for one or two meaningful, surviving interviews like this one we’re sharing now. He only gave maybe two public readings I’m aware of.
HC: As a Lassiter fan, I’ve noted the larger arc of Hector’s career—“the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives”—is revealing a kind of evolution or impulse on Hector’s part to shed his public image, which rivals that of Hemingway’s.
CM: The crazy or audacious thing I did was to write the whole Lassiter series—at least all of the books in draft form—before the second was contracted for publication. I didn’t want to be writing annual entries in a series until they planted me under six-feet of sod. I wanted a contained arc in which quality could be sustained—probably less than a dozen books—and in which a larger story could be told. As you’ve seemingly intuited, that story will be the story of Hector Lassiter the writer: the arc of his rise, his sustained and eventually faltering success, and his determination to survive and even escape the dubious legend he’s built for himself as the world and literary culture changes around him.
HC: There’s a bit in TOROS & TORSOS where a woman riffs on a line I’ve seen others cite about Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. In your version, it goes something like, “Chandler wrote the man he wanted to be. Hammett wrote the man he feared he was. And you, Hector? You increasingly write about the man you don’t want to be anymore.”
CM: That’s Hector’s larger journey in a nutshell. As some point, Hector even begins to write about himself as a character. And then he takes the next logical, if stunning step beyond that.
HC: Brinke Devlin is also an author. She’s Hector’s love interest introduced in ONE TRUE SENTENCE and she returns in FOREVER’S JUST PRETEND. Mild spoiler here, in the latter, she’s living on a remote island, and many presume she’s dead. She’s beginning to write under another name and… You see where I’m headed?
CM: Again, she’s the great influence on Hector’s development as a man, as an author and as a public figure. Without Brinke, there would be no Hector Lassiter as he comes to be known. Brinke is also one of Hector’s rare contemporaries, romantically. She’s actually a little older than Hector and far wiser, and she steers him around some potential career pitfalls.
It strikes me a similar but gender-inverted dynamic is at work in PERMANENT FATAL ERROR, where your heroine—I for one view your novel as really being Ashley McKnight’s story—is the youngest of your writer characters. I’ll tread lightly here: Along the lines of Brinke, one of your writer characters has also undergone a kind of career reinvention. Like you, and like Brinke, that author character has also flirted with a different writing identity and presents the possibility of a different potential mentor for Ashley as her career launches.
HC: Yes, and that writer resents the new terrain that they have to move in, now. Ashley is also strongly and explicitly cautioned against all the traps you mentioned earlier that can plague authors—all the things you listed like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
CM: I was on a panel a couple of weeks back at a literary conference. It was a decidedly multi-cultural mix. The topic was loyalty and betrayal in the context of writing. I focused on much of that promotional and cyber stuff as a potential betrayal that clearly cuts into writing time and the quality of the words on the page for too many writers. Strikingly, many of the authors from other cultures were aghast this was an issue. But as I threw out certain terms that I feel no writer of conscience should know—“SEO,” “platform,” and “digital footprints”—there were knowing head-nods from American publishing types in the audience. Suffice it to say, it’s a crazy and challenging time to be a fiction writer.
HC: You recently wrote an essay about why you write about a writer.
CM: I did. But Hadley, why do you write about writers?
HC: Partly it was the ambition to cast light on the present writing milieu we’ve talked about. Partly it was something else you wrote about in your essay: I agree with you that writers think and talk differently than other people, and I think non-writers get that. So you can write UP HERE a little more freely and readers will follow you there.
CM: What’s next for Hadley Colt?
HC: Like you, my fellow Betimes author, I’m prepping a short piece for a special Betimes Christmas presentation to come soon. After that, we’ll see. Hadley Colt is, after all, an “enigma wrapped in mystery”. Betimes is publishing your whole Lassiter series in bang-bang-bang fashion. Five are now out—two of them re-issues and three of the novels are entirely new. What’s number six going to be about?
CM: The next one is another new book, which is to say long-ago-written, but never-before-published novel, called THE RUNNING KIND. It’s set in 1950. It’s winter. The Kefauver hearings are dragging mobsters onto television to the horror of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Hector falls in love. It’s a road novel. It ends in the Mexican desert. It also sets the stage for a repackaged and rereleased HEAD GAMES, which put me on the map as a published novelist and netted an Edgar nomination.
HC: Mr. McDonald, it’s been a pleasure.
CM: Likewise, Ms. Colt. I’m just sorry so many decades separate our respective characters: I expect some of them would get on quite well. They’d certainly have a lot about which to talk shop.

About the authors:
Hadley Colt is the pseudonym for an internationally acclaimed author. Colt’s previous novels were published in several languages to excellent reviews and high praise from fellow writers who’ve declared the author’s work, “subtle, moving and tragic,” “non conformist,” “bold and extravagant,” “reviving,” “an explosive mix of humor and action” and who has been described as “an erudite with formidable imagination” and a “master of suspense.”

Craig McDonald is an award-winning author and journalist. McDonald’s debut novel was nominated for Edgar, Anthony and Gumshoe awards in the U.S. and the 2011 Sélection du prix polar Saint-Maur en Poche in France. The Lassiter series has been enthusiastically endorsed by a who’s who of crime fiction authors including: Michael Connelly, Laura Lippmann, Daniel Woodrell, James Crumley, James Sallis, Diana Gabaldon and Ken Bruen, among many others.
Craig McDonald’s non-fiction books include Art in the Blood: Crime Novelists Discuss Their Craft and Rogues Males: Conversations & Confrontations about the Writing Life, finalist of the Macavity Award.

Permanent Fatal Error

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ONE TRUE SENTENCE: The Vince Keennan interview with Craig McDonald

October 15, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

http://craigmcdonaldbooks.blogspot.ie/2014/10/one-true-sentence-vince-keenan-interview.html