When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
“That’s a hard question to answer, actually. I have no memory of any lightbulb moment – “Hey, I want to be a writer!” But I’d imagine it was relatively early on, when I was eight or nine years old, when the names on the books became as important as the titles – when, for example, I’d go into the library hoping to find an Enid Blyton I hadn’t read before.
Gradually, the idea settled in on me that it would be a wonderful thing – the most wonderful possible thing, the way astronauts believe that to be an astronaut is the best possible thing to be – if I was to grow up to be someone who had my own name on books. To be someone who had the kind of mesmerising effect on other people that writers had on me. That was probably the start of it.”
How long does it take you to write a book?
“How long is a piece of string? It depends to a large extent on the kind of book I’m writing, whether it’s a standalone where you’re creating a whole new world for yourself, with brand new characters, or if I’m writing a book in a series, where I’m already familiar with the characters and the voice and the parameters of that particular world.
As a rough guide, I’d say it usually takes between six to nine months to write the first draft, which is always the stickiest bit for me – I’m not a natural writer, very much a three-words-forward, two-words-back writer. But once I have the first draft down, I’m like a kid in a sweet shop – I could easily spend another six to nine months fiddling around with that draft in any number of subsequent drafts.”
“I work full-time as a freelance journalist, which can be time-consuming, but which also allows for a certain amount of flexibility in any given day. When I’m working on a book, I give myself a word count for the week – 5,000 words – and then try to eke out a couple of hours every day to get there.
Sometimes it means getting up at 5am, sometimes it means writing from 5pm in the evening. The weekends are always great; I’ll put in three- to four-hour shifts on Saturday and Sunday mornings. When I’m writing, I try to write seven days a week. Mainly for fear of coming back to the ‘bubble’ and finding it collapsed if it I leave it to its own devices for more than a day at a time.”
How many crime novels have you written?
“I published my first, Eightball Boogie, in 2003. Crime Always Pays, which will be published by Severn House in March, will be my fifth novel.”
Which is your favourite and why?
“That’s like asking me to decide which of my children is my favourite (happily, I only have one child). I suppose they’re all favourites in their own way – all flawed, but all loveable (to me).
I tend to write a different kind of book each time – I’ve written a couple of private eye novels, featuring Harry Rigby; a couple of crime comedy capers (Crime Always Pays is my second caper novel); and Absolute Zero Cool, which is a story about a crime writer trying to write a caper comedy only to find himself confronted by one of his own fictional creations, a psychotic hospital porter who languishes in the ‘limbo’ of first draft, and who tries to persuade the author to write a book about blowing up a hospital, so that he can be published and come alive.
If I absolutely had to pick a favourite I’d have to say Eightball Boogie, simply because it was my first book to be published, and that was a very special moment in my life.”
Where do you get your ideas?
“That’s another piece-of-string question for me, I’m afraid (and ‘idea’ might be more appropriate …). I suppose, like most people, a lot of ‘my’ ideas are generated by what I read and see in newspapers and books and on TV, or in movies – not that you see or read something and decide to rip it off, or (koff) pay homage, but you might come across something that piques your interest, and you think it might work as a story idea in a certain context, or if it happened to particular people you might have in mind as characters. At least, that’s how a story might start off – but usually, by the time I’ve finished a book, the original inspiration or idea has been long since been overwritten to the point of invisibility.”
Who is your favourite character from your own work and why?
“Harry Rigby, probably. Harry’s a guy who – at least when I’m writing him – he’s more me than I am. I wouldn’t want to be him, because he’s had a tough time of it, but I’m glad he’s out there, saying and thinking the things he does. He’s probably me at my best and worst, which allows me to quite happily and (for the most part) calmly occupy the middle ground between the extremes.”
Which character from the work of others do you wish you’d invented and why?
“Well, how much time do you have? … Peter Pan, for one. A fabulous creation, for children and adults alike. Philip Marlowe is another – when I first read the opening paragraph to The Big Sleep, his voice caught my ear like no other character had managed before (or has since). Another is John Grady Cole from All the Pretty Horses. Lizzy Bennett – a brilliant character. Chili Palmer from Get Shorty … I could go on all day.”
If you could have been someone from history involved in crime (good or bad) who would that be and why?
“That’s a hell of a question … I suppose I should say someone like Robin Hood, right? But I don’t know if I’d have been okay with all that sleeping rough in a forest … In theory, though, I’d probably lean towards being some kind of outlaw like Billy the Kid or Bonnie and Clyde, although I’m sure the reality of it all was pretty grim, even before you had to start shooting at people. But as a general notion, and if I had to embark on a criminal enterprise, it would probably involve stealing from the stupidly rich with the bare minimum of violence.”
What are you working on now?
“Right this moment, the less I say about it the better. I’ve had a terrible habit in the past of talking stories out of my system, and then realising the tank is dry when I go to write them down. I can tell you that right now it’s a spy story (of sorts) set in Ireland with its roots in an (alleged) atrocity in 1940, all of which is subject to change. Will that do?”
Declan Burke is the author of five crime novels: Eightball Boogie (2003), The Big O (2007), Absolute Zero Cool (2011), Slaughter’s Hound (2012) and Crime Always Pays (2014). He is also the editor of Down Those Green Streets: Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century (2011) and co-editor, with John Connolly, of Books to Die For (2013).
He blogs on Irish crime writing at Crime Always Pays: http://crimealwayspays.blogspot.ie/