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Author Interview: Aidan Thorn

Aidan Thorn is an emerging crime-writing star, what Paul D Brazill might call a Brit Grit writer. He has a highly entertaining short story collection out now, Criminal Thoughts, so I thought I’d kick a few questions at him to see if he put them away like Sturridge, or flapped a bit like Manchester United’s current attack.

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Aidan Thorn, thinking about something criminal.

Hi Aidan, do you write for pleasure, or would your soul burn in torment if you couldn’t get your stories out.

I write for pleasure, but part of that pleasure is  having my stories out there and being read. Creating the story is great fun but for me there’s no greater pleasure in writing than having people tell me they enjoy what I’m doing, and it’s even better when it’s another writer that I respect. So, getting my stories out is part of the pleasure. It would be great to one day make a living from this thing I love doing, but forgive me if I get a little buzz every time a Gareth Spark or a Paul D Brazill says, nice work about a piece of mine.
You have a novel placed out of sight in a dusty drawer. What is it about, and when do we get to see it?

I think it’s unlikely you’ll ever see the novel, in its current shape anyway. It’s the first thing I ever started to write, and if I was starting it today I wouldn’t write it the way I have. There are around 30 pages before there’s any dialogue and some of the writing is embarrassingly clumsy. What I’ll say is I still think the story and characters are strong, and so one day I might try to reshape it, but it needs a significant edit. Rather than tell you what it’s about here’s how I used to pitch it when I was trying to get the attention of publishers and agent…

The Anti-hero is king, Tony Soprano, Dexter, Ray Donovan… When the Music’s Over introduces the reader to a new anti-hero, Wynn MacDonald and he’s been in the game since the others were in diapers.  When Wynn’s ex-employer’s son is murdered he is called out of retirement to find the person that committed the crime and see justice served.  Wynn is not a well man but returns to his employer out of duty.  Wynn’s investigation leads to some shocking discoveries and he learns that the organisation that he gave his life to was not all that he thought it was and when he eventually tracks the murderer down he is left with some difficult decisions.

When the Music’s Over is a story about relationships and families, tackling the themes of betrayal, murder, dealing with terminal illness and evaluating how life has been spent. This is all explored through the lives of members of a criminal organisation and the families affected by their actions.  The story explores how changing circumstances and environments leave once powerful, confident and fearless people feeling vulnerable, isolated and obsolete.  This is a character driven story spanning two decades of deceit.

So, that’s it… As I say, I still love the story and characters so if a good agent, publisher is reading this and fancies working with me to edit this into shape, I’m all ears!

You also have two novellas in progress. When do we get to see them. What are they about?

My novellas are, I hope, a little closer to being out there than the novel. I’m in the middle of writing both. When I’m finished I’ll send them to a couple of people, including writers that I respect and ask if they’d mind looking them over. If they think that the books are up to it I’ll then self publish them. I’m hoping one will be out this summer and both by the end of 2014.
They’re both crime themed, but very different beasts. ‘Worst Laid Plans’ is a comedy of sorts, about a group of young lads who accidentally kidnap a rock star and as he’s disillusioned with his life he ends up advising them on what they should do in return for a cut of the ransom. The second, is currently untitled but takes a recurring character from my short story collection (Criminal Thoughts – out now etc…), Detective Alan Simmons. I’ve retired him and put him out of his comfort zone in Las Vegas, he has a gambling addiction and is trying to stretch his police pension a little further. Basically, Simmons meets a young woman who went to Vegas to become a Showgirl and has ended up in prostitution, Simmons tries to help her change her life.
Do you have any plans to write more about Mikey and Ricky?
I love my characters Mikey and Ricky from Criminal Thoughts stories, After Hours, Personal and A Present and so I’m sure there will be more from them. A couple of people have said they’d like to see a longer piece with these two. A Present had the potential to expand into a bigger story, but I’ve put that out there now and so have no interest in telling that story again… maybe a mistake, but I like it as it is. I’m sure I’ll find a way of getting Mikey and Ricky out there again.
Can you bring out character in crime fiction? Or are they all avatars heading towards a nasty conclusion?
I hope I’m bringing out character in my crime writing, characters are what draw me to crime stories. I love the complexity of a criminal character, particularly when making them the hero of a piece… Anti-hero’s are cool, right? Who are the most memorable characters in TV and Film? For me it’s Michael Corleone, Travis Bickle, Tony Soprano and recently we have Walter White and Jessie. Making someone bad but also likeable is a great challenge and I try to do that with most of my main characters, sometimes I might aim and miss but I think I’ve achieved it most of the time.
You wrote a horror short recently for Thrills, Kills, & Chaos. Which is easiest to read, which to write? Which do you prefer?
I’m a crime fan through and through so to me that’s always easiest to write. The Guest at Thrills, Kills & Chaos was, for me, a challenge I set myself just to see if I could do horror. I’d got into reading a bit after some recommendations from David Barber and seeing the work of the likes of Lily Childs. I couldn’t resist having a little go myself and I was really chuffed when David got in touch and told me he liked my story enough to publish it on Thrills, Kills & Chaos. I may venture back into this area again some time, we’ll see – I might not though, it’ll make naming my second short story collection too difficult, I can hardly just call it Criminal Thoughts 2 if I start experimenting with other genres, can I?
Who is crime fiction’s master?
Big question, I’m going to cheat a bit. Mario Puzo introduced me to crime fiction when I was a young lad, I started with Fools Die and couldn’t stop reading his work after that. I wouldn’t say he was the most complete writer but he got me started. After that I got into Michael Connelly in a big way, he used to be brilliant, unfortunately I think some of his later efforts have been a little below his top standard. For me the writer that is consistently good is George Pelecanos, across around 20 books I don’t think he’s ever dropped a beat. He’s got a style that makes you feel like you’re listening to an old friend tell a story. He never wastes a word but manages to give such a rounded description of character and environment in tightly drawn stories. Stuff that I often find annoying when other writers try it, describing clothing, food, music etc… Pelecanos does with such passion and expertise that it just enhances the experience of reading him… Brilliant! Now, can I also give a shout out to an indie spirit? Darren Sant, that boy writes tales of modern Britain with such authority that I really think he should be getting bigger audiences, I really think he’s a modern-day Dickens.
The best crime novel, ever? Why?
The Big Blowdown by George Pelecanos. For all the reasons I list above about his writing, but also because it’s probably the only book I’ve read by Pelecanos that feels like an epic, despite it being Pelecanos’ usual short length. There are huge characters, families and stories in this one great book. I can’t speak highly enough of this writer and particularly this book.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I’ll still be writing, in about four years of writing so far I’ve got a novel (needs work) 20 short stories and a couple of novellas in the works. So in 10 years there will probably be 100 shorts, and a couple more novels. Maybe I’ll make some money from it, but if I’m honest as long as I’ve got money to look after my family and self I don’t need much more than regular trips to the cinema, a PC and books.

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Click to buy Criminal Thoughts from Amazon US and UK

More Liverpool than Man Utd, then. Result.

You can read my review of Aidan Thorn’s Criminal Thoughts here.

Paul D. Brazill interviewed me at Out of the Gutter

My only regret? I used the word “woods” twice in one sentence.

Bugger.

Read the piece here: http://www.outofthegutteronline.com/2014/02/brit-grit-alley.html?m=1

You can grab Bullets, Teeth & Fists here: http://getbook.at/BulletsTeethFists

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Author Interview: Carmen Amato

A warm Messy Business welcome to Carmen Amato, the excellent author of three political/crime books: The Hidden Light of Mexico City, Cliff Diver, and the upcoming Hat Dance due out late July/early August.

Hi Carmen, could you give us some background about yourself.

Originally from New York, I was educated there as well as Paris, France, and Virginia. I married the smartest man I could find and together we’ve lived in some unexpected places. Mexico and Central America provided the impetus for my writing career and my mystery and thriller books draw on my experiences there. I don’t flinch from issues like corruption, cartels and the region’s social inequalities.

You’ve written three books. Which was the easiest to write, which the hardest?

The Hidden Light of Mexico City was the hardest book; it was my first real novel (I’d previously written two YA adventure novels that have never been published) and the initial draft was 800 pages. It was all seen from one point of view and there were pages of explanation to that one character! It took me a long time to refine the story into a political thriller with the punch it needed.

Is Emilia a product of your imagination, or is she based on somebody you know or read about?

Detective Emilia Cruz is a product of my imagination. The character first appeared in a short story I wrote after reading a news report of cars being retrofitted to carry drugs. The story was supposed to focus on the drug smuggling but my critique group really liked Emilia and Kurt, the main characters, and I expanded the story into Cliff Diver. I chose Acapulco as the locale because I thought it would have the greatest resonance for the US audience; plus I have had some great vacations there!

The Hidden Light of Mexico City

Could Emilia, though tough as nails, exist in Mexican law enforcement? Does such a character exist?

Absolutely. There are honest people in Mexico’s civil institutions, law enforcement, armed forces, and government, and they have to be very tough. The drug cartels have corrupted many layers of those institutions but not all. There are good people fighting hard for Mexico’s future.

In Cliff Diver you subtly contrast Mexican cops with a Nortamericano, but it’s not stereotyping either – you seem to suggest that political stability defines national character. The American is assured because he comes from a country where people are sure of the rules. Mexican cops are constantly looking over their shoulder because their rules shift in the sand.
Is that a fair assessment?

I find this question very interesting! Other readers besides yourself have found a deeper story line than I ever intended. I don’t feel qualified to say anything about confidence on a national level, but do think that Mexican law enforcement exists in an environment of continual suspicion.

Does the Mexican police need more women? Are women less corruptible than men? I wonder, because the female town mayor in Cliff Diver is more concerned with politics than justice.

The Mexican police need to be paid and trained better for a start. Women are making inroads into law enforcement in Mexico, it is not uncommon to see female traffic cops in Mexico City.

I had a lot of fun writing the character of Carlota, the mayor of Acapulco and if there is ever an Emilia Cruz movie I hope Salma Hayek plays Carlota. She’s an amalgam of every Mexican and US minor politician who is more concerned with their own career than anything else.

Is Mexico defined by its history? You have noted that it has a history of social injustice. Is it perpetual?

Mexico’s history is more complex and bitter than many realize. I think that much of that history has contributed to an unspoken “screw them before they screw you” mindset. It is not everywhere but often surfaces in respect to authority, even down to the toll taker in the parking lot who takes your pesos then insists you didn’t pay enough. You know you gave her the exact change, but she’s not lifting the barrier to let you out unless you pay her another 5 pesos. There are a line of cars behind you so you end up paying.

Cliff Diver

I have to admit, I get nervous thinking of going to Mexico because of the violence. Do you go often? Do you recommend others to go?

We lived in Mexico for three years and I’ve been back for visits about 5 times, the last time about a year ago. It is a place with much to offer, from beaches to museums and fabulous architecture and food. That being said, visiting Mexico means being smart and alert. Travelers should stick to well-known spots and pay attention to US State Department warnings.

Do you consider your novels crime or political thrillers? Does it matter?

The Hidden Light of Mexico City is a political thriller with a large crime element in it. The Emilia Cruz novels are considered Police Procedurals. They are also listed in the International Mystery category alongside novels by Leighton Gage, Donna Leon, and Jo Nesbo, which is pretty exciting. But as long as the headlines out of Mexico provide inspiration the Emilia Cruz books will have a major crime component.

Would you agree with past surveys that reading fiction makes a person more empathetic? If so, do you trust people who don’t read fiction?

I don’t know if fiction makes you more empathetic, but I think it is a reflection of someone’s imagination! As for trust, I tend to judge people by their actions so I’ll probably see those actions before I find out what is on their reading list.

What’s the best book you ever read? Why?

I have to narrow this down to the best thriller I ever read and that is The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett. This book should be the bible for anyone who writes in the thriller genre. Dramatic WWII plot, everyman hero, damsel in distress, complex villain. Follett builds both character and drama with different points of view, superb location description, and unflagging action.

What’s the best crime movie you ever saw? Why?

Best crime movie, hands down, is the first Godfather. Best scene is when Sonny (James Caan) gets shot up at the toll booth.

Tell us about Hat Dance.

Hat Dance is the second full-length Emilia Cruz novel. Emilia will grapple with both an arson investigation–that quickly becomes politicized–as well as the hunt for a girl missing from her own neighborhood. She is also stuck with a new partner and their relationship is rocky at best. Kurt Rucker makes a return appearance but has been offered a job in Belize and Emilia cannot bring herself to ask him to stay in Acapulco. As Kurt mulls his decision, Emilia’s dual investigations will get her on the wrong side of a dirty Vice cop and force her to make deals that come with a very high price.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

In 10 years I hope to have published 5-6 more Emilia Cruz novels, as well as several thrillers that are not part of a series. Eva Mendez will have won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Luz de Maria in the movie version of The Hidden Light of Mexico City and the Cliff Diver television series starring either America Ferrera or Jessica Alba is the #1 rated nighttime drama.

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Thanks to Carmen, who clearly loves a bloody shooting scene.

You can find Carmen at:

carmenamato.net

amazon.com/author/carmenamato

Author Interview: Ed James

Welcome to a new section I hope to expand in the future, asking authors whose work I’ve liked about ‘stuff’.

Kicking it all off is prolific Scottish crime novelist Ed James, author of the Scott Cullen series: GHOST IN THE MACHINE (read my review here), DEVIL IN THE DETAIL, and FIRE IN THE BLOOD. He released his new book DYED IN THE WOOL yesterday, Monday 8 July 2013.

Image of Ed James

Can you give some background about yourself?

Certainly. I’m a Scottish writer in my mid-30s. I don’t do this gig full-time (boy would I love to) and instead work in the financial services sector in IT. I’ve been writing for eight years now, and GHOST IN THE MACHINE is the first thing that I was comfortable enough with that I put out there – that took three years to nail, but most of that was me learning.

You’ve written four books. Which one are you most satisfied with?

I’ll say it’s the fourth that I’m most pleased with – DYED IN THE WOOL – which I’m just in the middle of submitting to Amazon for sale on Monday [8 July 2013]. It’s taken longer than the second and third but it’s richer and stronger. I also used a professional editor for the first time – previously it had been friends and family, and I felt guilty about chasing them and so on – and that really helped at both a structural and line level. Of the first three, I think DEVIL IN THE DETAIL is the best.

Which was the easiest to write, which the hardest?

The easiest was DYED IN THE WOOL, though big changes in my personal life made it difficult. The reason it was easy is that I understand my craft that much better, and I’ve got my process/method up and running which certainly works for me.

GHOST was certainly the hardest – it went through about ten major drafts before I’d even got the story sorted.

 What made it hard? The plot? The language? Something else?

Plot, definitely. Looking back at the very first draft – which I did for a recent redraft – the thing I noticed that was good was the dialogue (and most of my books tend to be dialogue). What was weak in terms of writing was description, which later drafts really focused on improving, but mainly the plot was the hard bit. The thing I learnt from that was to get the story nailed at synopsis/outline level – it’s much easier throwing 10,000 words of outline around than 100,000 words of novel. That’s not to say the “architect” approach (as opposed to “gardener”) will give a perfect novel first time – it won’t – but it does get the big things sorted and allow you to really focus on the detail level. I improvise a lot at the detail level in terms of characterisation and language but I can’t do it for plot – it’s just too much to focus on writing and plotting at the same time.

Where’d you get Bain from? Is he somebody you read about, or someone you know and then gave a badge to?

There are a few people in there. He’s an arrogant bastard and that comes from a manager I had at work who had no concept of self-analysis or introspection. He’s an angry bastard and that comes from a mate, though that’s more extreme. He’s a sweary bastard and that’s influenced by a couple of test managers I’ve worked with, any Scottish football fan but also Malcolm Tucker from THE THICK OF IT, which is a UK TV series with some world-class swearing.

In terms of name, Bain comes from a neighbour of my girlfriend from years ago who used to play really loud music at all hours and we got into big arguments with him.

Did you deal with the arrogant manager the way Cullen does? As in seethe, cool down, analyse the situation, then make him look like a silly bugger with a cool solution?

​Yes and no. A lot of the time, I seethed and let it eat away at me. Over the last few years I’ve learnt to cope in those situations, and I’ve also become adept at managing managers, if that makes sense. Turning a sympathetic eye to guys like Bain, they just want to do the right thing (though the definition of right thing in Bain’s head is perhaps skewed) and you can use them as weapons.

​A lot of the prep for writing is in the “I wish I’d said that” after the event analysis, where you run through the scenario in your head again until you win…

 How scary is it to think that there are Bains out there trying to solve cases?

I like to think it’s fiction, but sadly it’s not that far off. In reality, I think British policing has sorted itself out to a large extent, away from the 70s excesses you’d read in a David Peace novel, but not too far with the Stephen Lawrence stuff going on just now. Maybe there are Bains, but they’re hiding in Cullen’s clothing…

Could you conceive of a Bain spin-off, like Gene Hunt going solo after Life on Mars?

Another thing about Bain is that he’s meant to be the typical Scottish DI. In another world, he’d be the protagonist, rather than antagonist. There are a lot of books about that sort of copper… I did consider writing a short story from his perspective – called BANE – but I never got round to it. And he features quite heavily in book four, shall we say.

The closest to a Bain solo book would be FILTH by Irvine Welsh…

 Why crime? Have you ever thrilled to breaking the law?

No comment!

Seriously, I find the books to be seriously engrossing, both from the police process side to the “inside the head of a killer” side. Ian Rankin said that crime novels are novels that reflect society and I fully agree. I’ve reflected many facets of society in my first three – social media, big banks, paedophilia, drug use, religion, alcoholism, family feuds – and it’s something I love doing and have continued in book four.

 What’s your favourite crime novel?

BLACK AND BLUE by Ian Rankin. That’s the peak of Rebus. The story is incredible and the way it links to a real life crime is genius.

Other notable books are anything from James Ellroy’s LA QUARTET (in fact, anything by him with the exception of the Lloyd Hopkins stuff), plus any David Peace. Worthy entries include FILTH and CRIME by Irvine Welsh.

Does excitement or fear grip you at the prospect of James Franco adapting Ellroy’s American Tabloid?

​​I’ve got a lot of time for him. When I saw him in the first Spider-Man film I thought he was a generic Hollywood actor, but he’s done some very good stuff since as an actor, things like Pineapple Express which is a film I totally love. Whether he’s right for adapting Ellroy, who knows – I try to keep the books and films separate anyway…

What’s your favourite overall novel?

THE CROW ROAD by the late Iain Banks. As a Scotsman (not a particularly proud one, mind) it really speaks to me. So much of it is just perfect. Strangely enough, you just reviewed that on your blog… I was seriously affected both when he announced his cancer and when he eventually died.

What do crime novels have to tell us as a species/society, if anything?

That we’re fucked. Seriously fucked. There are too many people on the planet and we don’t manage or organise ourselves very well – and we spend too much money on the wrong things. Individually, people focus on the wrong things through choice or peer pressure. Corporations hold too much power.

But I’d also say that it’s not like we’ve come from some amazing period of enlightenment to where we are now. In a lot of ways, we’re in the best times ever – crime rates are high, but I’d suggest that more people are reporting them and more people are coming to justice (the super-prison arguments aside, obviously). I could see our society going two ways: downwards into a climate change-fuelled nightmare; or upwards where we sort our planet and our society out, and we do the right things – like get so many people off the planet into space and so on. Yeah, I do like sci-fi.

Do you see differences between Scottish and English crime writing?

Yes. One of the things I’m proud of Scotland for is its sarcastic, untrusting attitude. Everything is questioned, nothing taken seriously. England tends to have a more rosy spin on things and misses that bite. That said, I have read a lot of incredible English crime novels, mainly MARK BILLINGHAM and DAVID PEACE. I have read a number of celebrated crime authors from south of the border where I just can’t get past the first few chapters. A lot of them tend to read more like screenplays or teleplays than novels – Scottish crime writers tend to celebrate the novel as an artform in itself. Also, I think Scottish crime tends to have a lot of humour – and not forced, jolly narration humour, but real comedy. CHRIS BROOKMYRE and STUART MACBRIDE are classic examples of the wide spectrum of Scottish humour.

 What differences do you see between British/Scottish crime novels and the American variety?

Guns. American crime has a lot of guns. When you have a gun in a British novel, it’s an extreme event, but guns are so commonplace in America. It’s much easier to kill someone in America by virtue of that. That’s not to say we’re any better as people or whatever, we’ve just got far fewer guns.

What’s the best crime film ever made? Why?

It’s got to be either PULP FICTION or HEAT. Why?

PULP FICTION is an absolute masterpiece – the dialogue, the action, the humour, the characters, the off-piste structure. Tarantino hasn’t made a film as good since, but then I don’t think anyone has.

HEAT is just on that fine line between the excitement of a film and the depth and intensity of a TV series. It’s not very long, but it feels like so much happens and you get inside the heads of both PACINO and DE NIRO’s characters. A lot of hype centred around the scene where they’re onscreen for the first time together, but the whole film has that electricity.

What’s your favourite Pulp Fiction moment? “That’s a pretty fuckin’ good milkshake” perhaps?

There are so many good moments, it’s hard to pin it down. One of the strengths of the film is how many storylines there are. The most memorable scene is when Vincent and Jules are driving the car and the gun accidentally goes off [blowing poor Marvin’s head off]. That hair-trigger violence is what really sets the tension with that film – anything could happen. The scene where Butch sees Marcellus in the car as well… I need to watch it again!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I’d love to be writing full-time, I really would. Nothing excites me more than writing.

DYED v1 GREY 30Jun13

Thanks to Ed for taking time out to get involved, though his dodging of the question about breaking the law means he should get a knock on the door from a Bain-style inspector any day soon. Watch out sunshine…

You can buy Ed James’ books from the following links:

http://ow.ly/mL4zF (USA)

http://tinyurl.com/kv4lvmf (Dyed in the Wool – USA)

http://tinyurl.com/ly9b3ap (UK)

http://tinyurl.com/lm87xmw (Dyed in the Wool – UK)

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