Award winning novelist Tony Black is writing some of the most compelling crime novels in the UK at the moment. Gritty and Noir, they paint a real and unsparing picture. Black has a new novel out, Last Orders, and I review Gutted here. Black met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about his brand of crime fiction and his multi-cultural background.
Tell us about Paying For It.
Paying for It is Gus Dury’s first outing in the world and my own first attempt at a crime novel with some Celtic sensibilities, there’s also lots of whisky, so that explains the cover shot … Shot, see what I did, there?
How do you think UK crime fiction differs from US crime fiction?
Very little, it shares a lot of the same themes and certainly the new wave of UK writers are heavily influenced by, not only the classics from Chandler to Goodis and Thompson, but a lot of the later writers like Vachss and Block.
How did you make Scotland Noir in your novels in terms of its history and geography?
It wasn’t a conscious decision, I was far more interested in just reflecting what I saw around me, which was contemporary Edinburgh. There’s perhaps a natural noir vibe in that place in terms of history – which is very bleak and bloody – and the geography is that of any big city which is also great noir territory.
Is there a particular incident that has changed your life and influenced your writing?
No dramatic event but discovering my first agent had a huge influence in terms of pushing my writing in a more publishable direction. It’s the one piece of advice I always give new writers, if you’re lucky enough to have the ear of a good agent then take their advice very seriously. With the rush to Kindle now that advice might be somewhat less attractive but I’d suggest no less pertinent to producing good work.
What do you make of the E Book revolution?
It’s the future, you either embrace it or get left behind. So far I’ve only dabbled in indie publishing some short stories and novellas myself but I’m likely to do more; I’m about to get a translator or two to put out some stuff in foreign markets soon. There’s also the potential to fix many of the problems of big publishing – the cookie-cutter lists and so on – but it’s what comes in its place that’s a little worrying … I suppose we won’t know till we’re there.
Graham Greene wrote ‘There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer.’ What do you make of his observation?
He said a lot of things, Mr Greene … He also claimed his life had been a battle against boredom, which I kind of get. Yeah, writers definitely have to access the splinter of ice from time to time; good fiction is about the overcoming of tragedies and those who know and understand this are most likely to do a good job of putting it down on the page.
You were born in Australia and grew up in Scotland and Ireland. How has your multi-cultural life influenced your writing?
In many strange ways. I do feel very Scottish – my parents were Scots and I’ve spent most of my time there – but I have huge attachments to Australia and Ireland too. Further back my father’s side of the family is Lithuanian and so you can see I’m a real mongrel. The one thing a varied background like this gives you is access to a host of old stories and characters and I do feel very at home slipping in and out of these backstories from time to time. It doesn’t seem unnatural to me at all to draw on these influences, in much the same way if I’d grown up and lived in the same small village all my life it would feel natural to use that for material.
Who are your literary influences?
I think it’s difficult to track influences, there’s many writers I’d like to think I was influenced by but whether I am or not is debatable. I had a period in my teens when I read a lot of American writers, principally Hemingway, and I do remember my sentences getting shorter. Then I became a journalist and I think they got even shorter for a while. I tend to read much more widely now and my style varies from book to book depending on what I’m trying to do so it’s really hard to trace. In the crime genre there are obviously a lot of people I’m hugely indebted to like Jim Thompson for all that psychological exploration, Ken Bruen for expanding the remit of the detective novel and William McIlvanney for raising the bar so damn high.
What else is on the cards for you this year?
This is a big year, I publish my first non-crime novel called His Father’s Son which comes out in August. I’m also publishing another Gus Dury collection and some short stories under the title Last Orders, that’s out next month in the UK and USA. I finished another crime novel a short time ago called Artefacts of the Dead and that’s just passed muster with my agent so will be getting shopped about – I think it’s my best crime novel to date, part one in a new character series, so hopefully it will find a good home.
What advice would you give to yourself as a young man?
I think it would be something like: keep the faith. It’s a long road to getting published and making a living as a writer but if it’s your true ambition and nothing else will do – and you have some ability – then you will get there. It’s often hard not to get overtaken by all the rejections and the endless false-starts. I spent a long time in the wilderness, and I don’t think I’d like to repeat it, but a light did appear beyond the trees; I think I’d like to encourage the young me to keep going for it.
Thank you Tony for a great and insightful interview.
Get a copy of ‘Paying For It’:
Find links to all Tony Black’s books at his website here