Col Bury is a Mancunian writer whose stories are full of a native menace. He is also funny, often starting with a form of black humour that spirals quickly into darkness. He is the editor of the brilliant magazine Thrillers Killers N Chillers. Col has an E Book, Manchester 6, out this week, which I urge you to buy. Here is what you can expect:
Manchester 6 focuses on the best and worst of human nature, featuring a plethora of no-nonsense characters you’d ordinarily want to avoid. The six stories highlight generally decent folk who become embroiled with the lower echelons of society, aka scumbags.
He met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about criminal pathology and his forthcoming novel.
How much do the skills necessary to being a good editor help you as an author?
Before the ezine editing started, I already had a critical eye. It kept having a go at the other eye ‘n’ when they kept staring each other out, it became a problem, so me nose had to get between them. It’s snorted now though (sorry).
I’m my own biggest critic, so this has made me sharp-eyed for stuff that doesn’t ring quite true in all the fiction I read. The belief, that even little old me could one day become an author, was reinforced when I gave up reading in disappointment an established author’s mainstream crime novel about five years ago, because of glaringly obvious oversights that shouldn’t have slipped through the editorial process.
Throughout the two ‘n’ half years I’ve been editing Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers, and reading hundreds of submissions, I can honestly say it has helped me massively. Sometimes, it’s the ones that don’t work which make me think and grow. Since we (Matt Hilton, Lee Hughes, Lily Childs & I) pride ourselves in offering constructive feedback with any stories we feel don’t fit the site, if we’re gonna turn a story down then we need a bloody good reason to do so. The four of us are writers, after all, so we know exactly how it feels to hear bad news about our beloved creations.
It’s sometimes harder to fathom why certain stories are perfect fits. I wish I had the time to analyse these in more detail, but it’s a busy old world being a daddy, editor, wannabe author, avid reader, blogger, full-time worker, football fan, pool shark, movie buff, alcohol consumer, etc (the order depends on mood). So please don’t ask me how I balance my time, as I’m fighting for balance every day. The editing definitely helps with the writing though.
What were the glaring oversights in the novel?
Ah, right. I see how this thing works now, you little tinker! You keep it flowing by linking to the last answer, very clever. So, my last word on this one has to address my animal magnetism, right?
The last thing I wanna do is upset a fellow writer (God no), so I’ll try ‘n’ be discreet…I was sucked in by the author of this particular novel due to the suspenseful opening. However, everyone was ‘affording each other smiles’ – an odd expression, if you ask me. By the third chapter, and fourteenth ‘afforded smile’, it was starting to get on me tits a bit (for non-Mancunians, this means: detracts from the enjoyment of the story somewhat). Then, the final proverbial straw… when the detective inspector was having dinner at his/her mum’s home, the phone rang, and he/she answered it, “Hello, DI ‘Bloggs’…”
Now then, it was the mum’s landline number and there was no precursor whereby he/she informed his/her colleague (who’d phoned) that he/she would be at her mum’s. There was no suggestion that the other person would know his/her whereabouts, and no mention of a caller display, so the DI would recognise the incoming number. Consequently, as harsh as it may or may not sound, that’s where I stopped reading. I lost confidence in the author’s authority to further hold my waning attention, and was totally turned off. If, by the off chance, the author reads this, I still greatly admire their success (that’s me backtracking!), but this taught me a lesson. Attention to detail.
How do you think female criminal pathology differs from male criminal pathology?
My gut reaction is that men tend to be motivated by power and control, invariably in an aggressive manner, whether the latter be physical or mental. For men, this approach also spills over via the libido into sexual crimes. Testosterone has a lot to answer for, and there are examples of this everywhere, so I won’t bore you.
Whereas, the cause for women is much trickier to fathom for me. Maybe it’s related to revenge or money, or love perhaps?
Hmm… a woman fighting back after years of domestic abuse from her male partner, or sexual abuser. (We’re back to testosterone again, but many men can’t control it.) A ‘bunny boiler’ unable to let go of her millionaire playboy, until he gets a restraining order?
If we take the extreme of serial killers as examples, Ted Bundy perfectly illustrates all my male points, being a sadistic psychopath. While Aileen Wuornos, who killed seven men while working as a prostitute, was motivated by revenge, having claimed they raped her.
Obviously, both sexes are capable of revenge and are often motivated by the dirty cash made by criminality, so the above overlaps in some cases. On a lower scale, many young men are influenced by drink, drugs and peer pressure, and can become very destructive toward both people and property. Bravado often kicks in too, and things can get out of control, especially when the male ego is thrown into the equation. I don’t think anywhere near as many females get a kick out of destroying things, or fighting. However, I know some women still do behave like this, so again it gets kinda blurry.
Just realised I missed out envy and jealousy, but I don’t wanna ramble.
Do you think that crime results from an individual’s distorted perceptions about what life owes him or her?
Boy, have you hit a nerve here, mate! Very topical, especially with riots in England ongoing as I write. Regarding many of crimes committed, I’d have to say, “Yes”. Allow me to use the current state in the UK to illustrate. I’ll try ‘n’ hold back, but I’m still somewhat raw from it all…
The taxpayers pay benefits for supposed ‘Jobseekers’ to live. Agreed, some genuine people are in between jobs and this keeps them going as they endeavour to put their lives back on track after redundancy, etc. However, I’ve witnessed it first hand, when fuckwits, spongers, freeloaders, low-lifes, scum – call them what you want – kick off in the Job Centre because their dole hasn’t been paid. There is a sub-human section of society who have no intention of working, and some have never, will never, get off their lazy arses and contri-fookin-bute to society, like the law-abiding majority.
Did you know that some heroin addicts and alcoholics claim disability? The decent folk pay for their methadone, and supposed rehabilitation, only for the vast majority to relapse, and cost us even more. When you’re driving home from another tough day at the office, passing these characters outside pubs, drinking cans of lager ‘n’ cider on walls, or whatever… take solace (yeah, right) in the fact that your hard-earned cash is paying for them to live their shitty little lives, and know with certainty that they don’t give a toss about you. They live in a self-centred bubble and have convinced themselves (because the powers that be pander to their every need) that society does owe them. Well, no we bloody well don’t! Something has to change very soon. Stick ’em on an island ‘n’ called it “Shitsville” or summat, or else we’ll be overrun by the vermin. Grrr… I could go on, and on, but I’d best not.
Human rights… yer havin’ a laugh!
Do you think the late 1960s and early 1970s were Manchester City’s glory days and what would a player like Colin Bell make of the club’s present wealth?
Ah, at last… a question that hasn’t made me head pop! Don’t get me started on footy, mate, as you’ll lose readers who think it’s called soccer! (They’ve probably already left, anyhow, after that last rant.) I’ll link this question from football to writing. Promise.
Unfortunately, I only saw ‘Colin the King’, aka ‘Nijinsky’, after that red… Man. United (metaphorically spits)… player, ‘Fartin Fuchan’ (aka Martin Buchan), broke our best player’s leg. I was told by the older blues that he wasn’t the same after, but he was still good. If I dared to guess what a footballing legend may think, I’d say he’d be pretty chuffed at seeing City buying players who will have us competing with the elite. However, it’s probable that all the old pro’s secretly regard the crazy wages being paid now with envious eyes. I mean, a quarter of a million quid per week, during a global economic meltdown! WTF?
Those old successes, when I was a toddler, were certainly glory years, but hopefully the best is yet to come. Having said that, something feels rather phony about receiving a deluge of Arab oil money. City fans have kinda become accustomed to watching a struggling team. Is our soul being ripped out, with the academy players being replaced by mercenaries? We used to be a lot of fans’ ‘second club’, but now I sense envy. Although it’s exciting, I feel a tad uneasy after years of doubt and struggle. Is this how a wannabe author feels when he finally wins that elusive book deal, I wonder? Squirming uneasily amid the fear of success…? And, could this fuel the writer’s procrastination…?
Football is in the lifeblood of England. Do you think it stems from our feudal history?
It’s possible the territorial allegiances developed in the psyches of the English during this period, did contribute to our current passion for the game. However, I’d hazard a guess that it was more down to the invention of the football (sorry, I’m no historian, mate). Much to the annoyance of Edward II (oh, he was really pissed off, I’ll tell yer) the streets were abuzz with people playing ‘Mob Football’ with a pig’s bladder, and this could have sparked the competitive edge we now see. Alas, especially among the English football fans, some of whom still use ‘Medieval techniques’ whenever they meet!
Tell us about your novel.
I really can’t say too much, as I’m still at work on it, but I can give you the gist…
For rookie cop, Jack Striker, life is a constant battle to keep his dubious past a secret from snooping colleagues. He had moved away from the notorious Bullsmead estate in Manchester, after a family feud erupted due to his teenage escapades. Striker’s motivation to join the force stemmed from, his desire to make amends, show his true worth to his dad, and also to help secure his future with pregnant fiancee, Suzi. However, his older siblings blame him for their dad’s untimely death. Not only that, he is posted as a cop back on his old stomping ground, Bullsmead. It’s only a matter of time before the anti-police locals, and his colleagues, find out the truth, putting not only Striker at risk, but also his mother who lives alone on the estate. If things weren’t bad enough, Suzi dumps him, and he’s teamed up with the partner no cop wants. They attend an armed robbery, and that’s when the proverbial shit really hits the fan, and this crime novel takes a massive twist…
I’m bursting to tell you more, as I’m really excited about this one, especially after last year’s experience.
Who are your literary influences?
Although I was gud at England at school, innit, I don’t ever recall actually finishing a novel back then. I used to get easily distracted (still do), so books couldn’t hold me. However, I’ve always had a deep love of words and huge respect for books.
In my teen and early twenties, I’d have to say British horror writer James Herbert was a big influence. The Rats trilogy were the first novels I devoured, and I went on to buy all his work. Herbert’s characterisation and humour-horror mix were perfect for my tastes. Twenty-odd years ago, David Barber and I used to often chat about books and writing. I recall reading Stephen King’s IT and Dean Koontz’s HIDEAWAY, and although I really liked them, I always reverted back to Herbert.
The first crime novel I ever read, that kindled my interest in the genre I now love, was William Bayer’s “psycho-logical”, hardboiled American thriller, SWITCH. This one book influenced me more than any other. It truly is a crackin’ piece of work. I did an article about it a couple of years ago over at The Rap Sheet, for their “Forgotten Books” series. A very close second would be THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by Thomas Harris, which resulted in my fascination of serial killers.
More recently, Brit crime novelists, Simon Kernick, Mark Billingham and Chris Simms stand out for me. Adrian Magson, Sheila Quigley and Nick Quantrill are also authors I admire. It would be remiss of me not to mention someone who has been an inspiration, and now a damn good friend. Author of the Joe Hunter thriller series, Matt Hilton, has been a tremendous help, and if I’d not met him, I would probably still be trying to convince me mum I could write.
You’re given a large sum of money to direct a new Brit crime film. What plot line would you choose and who would you cast?
“The Hoodie Hunter” is a character close to my heart. The name is self-explanatory, though it’s not to be confused with an aggressive shoplifter. It’s simply a highly skilled vigilante who’s pissed off with society, the lame government and the lenience of the British justice system (aren’t we all?).
When his family are directly affected by these hooded fuckwits, this is the trigger (literally) that sparks a systematic slaying which cleanses the streets of Manchester. Obviously, there are a few twists ‘n’ turns, with no nonsense, Detective Inspector Jack Striker on his tail throughout.
Before anyone thinks of nicking this ground-breaking idea (coughs), this character featured in my first ever published story via Tonto Books, MOPPING UP (as in the streets). I’m chuffed to say this short was also selected for the next Mammoth Book of Best British Crime. The Hoodie Hunter also features in two of my very early stories over at TKnC. Namely, BLIND ALLEY and RESPECT, where he gives DI Jack Striker the runaround, and the hoodies plaguing our streets receive some particularly tough justice!
This was the theme of crime novel I wrote last year, under the guidance of New York agent, Nat Sobel, and not something I’ve really spoken about as yet. We got real close, but, alas…
If we’d have sold STRIKER (original title “The Hoodie Hunter”), then the sequel would have seen vigilante groups breaking out all over Britain. As for the cast: Clive Owen and his team could sort Manchester and the north, Idris Elba could do the biz in London and the south, while Robert Carlyle seems ideal for Scotland.
Dream on, Col…
You mentioned your agent, Nat Sobel. Could you share with us the process in which you acquired Nat’s representation, and then worked on the novel together, despite Nat being in the US?
I’m not really one to brag. Quite the opposite really – self deprecating, my own biggest critic. Humility wins every time for me, so if any of you ever feel I’m ‘blowing my own trumpet’ (am not double-jointed anyhow), feel free to suitably chastise me! This humble approach is the main reason for my reticence on this matter. Well that, and the fact that my first novel didn’t sell, despite the weight of a powerhouse agent! Does that make me a failure? Well, us writers are made a sterner stuff, aren’t we? Anyway, since Nat’s okayed it, I’ll open up…
It’s probably common knowledge that Nat Sobel finds new talent by scouring the ezines (he now subscribes to both my blogs and TKnC). In September 2009, A Twist Of Noir editor, Chris Grant kindly pointed Nat in the direction of TKnC, and, via Matt Hilton, this led to emails to several writers. Being a complete tit, I deleted mine! Anyway, I managed to redeem myself, and Nat read my opening fifty pages via email, suggesting changes. He’d already warned me he’d be “tougher [on me] than any editor“, so the next six months were extremely gruelling. Especially as I have a demanding job and two children, so time and energy are somewhat scarce. After numerous rewrites of the first 100 pages or so, in early 2010 he suggested I start from scratch! I could’ve easily quit then, such was my frustration. However, the learning curve was massive, and working with Nat absolutely priceless.
I finally completed the first full draft in May 2010. FOUR rewrites later, in August 2010, Nat finally told me he was “planning to go forward with the novel”. (Had I just passed the so-called “agent’s test”?). Nat’s UK co-agent, Caspian Dennis, read STRIKER, saying it was “Gripping“, so the signs were looking good. At last, all the ‘big boys’ would be reading my very own novel! However, for the next few months I waited… and waited, for news. It was possibly the most stressful period of my life.
Then the rejection emails began… but it was a peculiar experience, as many of the compliments amazed us…
“Col Bury is clearly a talented writer, with a flair for sharp prose and action-packed scenes… BUT…”
“Col puts thought and careful attention to detail into his fiction. STRIKER has an evocative way with accents and a nuanced sense of place… BUT…”
“Bury writes crime like a natural, and his dialogue captures in pitch-perfect tone the local color of Manchester, as does his vibrant prose. Striker himself makes for a compelling, flawed protagonist who harbors a deeply-buried, dark secret of past violence, and the tension of the prologue is exceptionally well-managed. Hats off to Bury—he is clearly an author who is going places… BUT…”
“The author has a remarkable sense of place, and he brings these streets to vibrant life, mining his setting for menace and grit… BUT…”
“Nat-I read every word and loved it. He is a great writer, and reminded me of Mark Billingham… BUT…”
“Perhaps another house can make a success of this wonderful writer…”
There were more, “BUT”… I’ll leave it to Nat to summarise…
“Col, We’ve collected a bunch of brilliant reviews on both sides of the Atlantic . You could paper the walls with all the praise – but no one has offered to buy the book. I’m not discouraged. I hope you are not. Put aside the sequel, and let’s try something new. We will break through, if you don’t give up. I won’t.”
What a first class agent Nat Sobel truly is. As for me, well, I’ve learned a lot from the process to date, and staggered back up from the punches of rejection. And, since I know Jack Striker so well now, we’ve returned from the ‘drawing board’ and made him more unique, so he stands out from the crowd. So… ding, ding… get ready for round two!
Thanks for having me, Richard, and a hat tip to all my writing buddies for their ongoing support.
Thank you Col for giving a frank and brilliant interview.
Col was voted the Best Fiction Magazine Editor online, in the Preditors & Editors Readers’ Poll. His short stories can be found in anthologies, including, Even More Tonto Short Stories and The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 9, and are forthcoming in many more. His fiction is scattered around the blogosphere, at the likes of A Twist Of Noir and The Flash Fiction Offensive.
Visit Col’s blog, Col Bury’s New Crime Fiction, for word on the release of Manchester 6 and for his reviews and interviews of crime authors.
Find Col’s gritty Manchester crime fiction, crime shorts from other writers, and genre news on his website here.
And for the acclaimed Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers webzine, click here.