David Benioff arrived in the
UK to promote his audacious debut novel 'The 25th
Hour' which is described by veteran novelist, George Pelecanos as
'The kind of tough, honest, young-in-New York novel that
you're always looking for but seldom seem to find'
A great endorsement for a
first novel indeed.
I had the pleasure in
meeting up with David during the week, starting with the launch
party held in a basement club in Soho. The party was great fun,
and as would be expected, packed with people eager to meet this
young and talented writer. I especially enjoyed observing the
young women 'eyeing up' the dark and handsome New Yorker
as he talked modestly about his work. David Benioff is extremely
well read, and his film-star good-looks prevent many realising the
high level intellect behind his surface polish.
During his week in the UK,
David Benioff found himself teamed with our very own John Harvey,
US thriller master, Jeffery Deaver as well as the wise-cracking
and now chart-topping Harlan Coben, in events staged at Brighton,
London, Milton Keynes and Manchester, before returning home to Los
Benioff is a native New
Yorker, now relocated to Los Angeles due his involvement in an
array of Hollywood Projects. He worked in various eclectic jobs
including a stint as a night club bouncer, but he continued
selling his articles and short stories in GQ, Seventeen, and
Zoetrope. Things changed when he got 'The 25th Hour'
published as a novel, and then followed the sale of the film
script to Hollywood for $1.8m. Filming started in May this year,
with Spike Lee at the helm, and Ed Norton starring as Monty Brogan
- the young, hip, would-be gangster on his last night of freedom
before he is incarcerated in prison for drug dealing.
I found David Benioff a very
modest and articulate writer, and one that is sitting on the
barbwire divide that separates the 'crime novel' from the so-called
'literary novel'. What I found refreshing is David's lack of
concern at being labelled 'a crime-writer' when others may
have preferred the 'literary' label, especially considering his
However you wish to classify
David Benioff, be it 'crime writer' or 'literary
novelist', you really must read 'The 25th Hour'.
It is a remarkable character-driven narrative detailing the final
taste of freedom by Monty Brogan, a young New Yorker, forced to
re-evaluate his life due to the shadow of prison bars that darken
Brogan's door on this cold winter night in New York.
Q Thank you for taking time
out of your hectic schedule to talk to Shots Magazine.
A No problem, glad to be
Q Can you tell us a little
about how you started writing as you had short stories published
in various magazines?
A Ever since I was a kid I
think I wanted to be a writer, even in second grade I wrote
poetry. It was either that or wanting to play for the New York
Q The 25th
Hour reads more like a novella how did it become a novel?
A It was actually the third
book I'd written, but the first to get published. The first I
never sent out, and the second got rejected by every publisher in
America. I remember once getting 30 rejection letters all in the
same day, which was rather nice. The one theme of the
rejection letters was - 'We like the writing, we like the
characters, but it's huge, it's sprawling, it's all over the map.'
They were looking for something a little more focused. So I
started working on a story that took place in a compressed time
frame. In my search for that story, I got thinking about something
that could take place in the course of a day or even a night, and
finally I came up with the last day of freedom.
Q Another debut novel that
explored a similar theme (a last night before consequences are
faced) was The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips. It was
nominated by the Crime Writers Association as a Debut Dagger
plus shortlisted on the Gold and Silver Dagger Award. Are you
familiar with the book?
A Yes I am. In fact Scott
Phillips is a friend of mine, he lives near me in Los Angeles and
we've read together at bookstore events. He's a very good guy and
a very smart writer . I remember talking to him once and he gave
me a really great piece of advice which is very clever. We were
talking how well you have to know your characters before you can
write the book, and he said to me - 'I think is important to know
what your characters grandparents did for a living. But the reader
doesn't have to know'. That is a really good tip, as you really do
have to know the background, but you also have to know how much
information you should share with the reader.
Q A nice segue into your own
characters or Monty Brogan, Jakob Elinsky, Slattery and, of
course, Kostya the Russian.
A The only character that is
based on a real living being in the book is Doyle -The Dog. Doyle
appears in the first scene of the book, being rescued by Monty
from the Westside Highway in New York. In Los Angeles I did live
with a woman for a couple of years who actually did rescue a
pit-bull from the side of a road - a dog named Olive, and Olive
was a Bitch not a Dog, but aside from that, the dog was
essentially the same character. The other characters
there arent really human beings that inspired these
characters, well not any one person in reality, they are more
amalgams of people I know. Monty was that Character that everyone
knows, you know, growing up in New York, he's the guy who when he
walks into a room, he'd be the guy that everyone turned to look
at. He's the guy that's got that magnetic personality, presence
and charisma - that always interested me, like in high school, the
guy who's the great basketball player, the guy who's good with all
the girls. I think when things come easy to you, you look for the
easy way out, and Monty is that guy, things have come naturally to
him, things have come easily for him, so one of the pitfalls he
falls into, is looking for the easy dollar.
Q We've heard about two
other projects that you are involved in. Firstly that David
Fincher is working with you on your screenplay 'Stay' and that
you've been commissioned to adapt George Pelecanos 'Right as
Rain' into a screenplay.
A Hey where'd you hear that?
Q We'll we have our sources
A Yes (laughing) very
Q Pelecanos is a big hero of
A Me too, George is a huge
hero of mine, aside from being one of the best writers in the
game. Way before anyone had read my book (The 25th
Hour), he read it and blurbed it, which for an unknown writer is a
great thing. To have one of the masters of the genre giving you
his stamp of approval was amazing. I'm also a big Elmore Leonard
fan. In my opinion he is the American Master when it comes to
dialogue. I got my Masters actually in Irish Literature at Trinity
College Dublin where I wrote my thesis on Samuel Beckett, so
Beckett is probably the writer I studied the most thoroughly, in
fact he's the one writer that I've pretty much ready everything
he's written (that's available). So although I would never attempt
to write like Beckett, he is still is like the grand master to me.
'Right as Rain' is a
terrific book and there is a lot of interest in Hollywood right
now. Curtis Hanson ('L.A. Confidential') is talking about filming
it so you can see it could be a fantastic movie.
'Stay' with David Fincher
Fincher is probably the smartest man I've met in Hollywood, he's a
brilliant guy. I've been meeting with him once a week, for like
three hours each week, and it's been a little like film education.
Part of the time we talk through 'Stay' but part of the time we
talk about Hitchcock. Listening to David Fincher talk about
Hitchcock is worth more to me than any graduate education in film
could ever be. It is one hell of an experience.
Q So whats next - are
you going to work with screenplays or novels?
A A little of both, in fact
I'm currently adapting Homer's 'The Iliad' for Warner Brothers,
which is basically a retelling of the entire Trojan Wars.
That is brilliant
! I studied 'The Iliad' in my youth
A Yes it is brilliant, it
was also one of my favourite stories too.
Q How did it come about ?
A Basically I walked into
Warner Brothers and I pitched. The basic pitch was 'How come
nobody's ever made a movie of 'The Iliad' it's like the great epic
of Western Literature?' Particularly in the wake of 'Gladiator'
which has revitalised the 'Sword and Sandal' type of
picture - showing that these types of movies can still make money.
People in Hollywood are not too familiar with 'The Iliad' but thats
what I'm working on right now, and my next novel should be out in
about two years.
A Thanks, and we appreciate
you taking time out to talk to SHOTS and we wish you great success
for 'The 25th Hour' as well as your future ventures,
and enjoy your stay in the UK.
A Thank you Ali
wish to thank David Benioff, Jocasta and Henry at Hodder &
Stoughton, Christopher Glasgow of Ottakars Milton Keynes, and Jude
Davis of Waterstones Manchester for their help in organising this
interview and profile.
Hour' is available as a Hodder & Stoughton Hardcover priced£17-99
and also as a New English Library Paperback priced £5-99
WIN SIGNED COPY
SHOTS has one hardback copy plus paperback copy of The 25th
Hour signed by David Benioff. All you have to do is answer this
What is the name of the dog in The 25th Hour?
Send you answer to firstname.lastname@example.org
put Benioff Competition in subject line. You have until July 10th
2002 - Good Luck