YOU want a
riot? Then Martyn Waites is the
man to deliver the goods.
The third instalment in the Newcastle-born writer's Joe Donovan series
up a blistering concoction of racial tensions and simmering political
discontent in the North of England.
And it's a tale so real, so of the minute, it could be headlining on
Ten O'clock News . . . if only the weather was a bit better.
In a Newcastle heatwave a
Muslim student is beaten to
death, then torched, and the finger of blame points to radical
Add the edge of looming elections and the death of a suspected suicide
to the mix and it's a tinder box.
Fast-paced and furious White Riot delves to depths
all to rarely seen in
bookstores these days. A master-class in pumped and pitch-black urban
storytelling from one of the best writers operating in the UK today.
With his eighth book Waites delivers a radical bombshell that will have
fans gripping their paperbacks tightly from page one to 'The End'.
Shots sent TONY BLACK to meet the author and find out what stokes
interest in the tougher than tough Northern world where he sets his
So, White Riot... bit of a Clash fan?
Absolutely. I think most right minded people are. And I don't think
it's just a
question of my age, my daughters love the Clash too. But all the books
been named after song titles, some, admittedly, more obscure than
Riot was such a perfect fit for this one that I couldn't resist.
Do you have
a 'I remember where I was when Joe Strummer died' story?
I think I
at home on the computer, just for a change. Saw the headline on the BBC
website, couldn't believe it. What about you?
I was in a
bar in Melbourne, asked the
pimply DJ to play some Clash and he said,
and I kid you not ... who?
you smacked him one.
tempted ... But, tell us about the book, it's what, number three in
yes. It's set in Newcastle during a
heatwave with tempers already getting out
of control and tension hitting the streets. When a Muslim student is
in the west end of Newcastle and blame far right party, the NUP, the
temperature looks like it's going to get even higher. And that's before
would-be suicide bomber immolates himself. In the middle of this is
Whitman, a one time member of the Hollow Men, a kind of Angry Brigade
Seventies radicals, who's been receiving death threats. Donovan and the
are called in to deal with them. Of course, all these things are
there wouldn't be a book.
the politics of the far right, what prompted you to explore this in
Most of my
books start out as questions. I write to understand things more fully.
want to explore things that make me angry. As a great poet once said,
anger is an
energy. It certainly is for me. With White Riot I
wanted to try and look
into the mindset of an extremist, discover what forms them, what makes
believe the things they believe, act the way they act. They're not born
monsters. They're made into monsters, or certainly people capable of
acts. I wanted to look at certain kinds of extremism, political and
because I think they've got more common ground than is often noted.
holding views so extreme, you're not diametrically opposed. You're
all that, I didn't want to make the book worthy and dull, a Guardian
guide to those nasty boot boys. I wanted to treat those people as human
and get inside there heads. If I could come some way to understanding
drove them then hopefully I would be able to communicate that through
Some reviewer once said I make monsters nice. I don't think I do. I
to look at them as monsters. To them, they're not monsters, are they?
the far right are getting their tentacles into poor white communities
North, do you think that's the legacy of Thatcher and the miners?
are a lot of different reasons but yes, you can lay a large part of the
Thatcher's door. Especially in the North and the Midlands. Pit
communities were closed when they
were still profitable. It was a political decision by Thatcher's
destroy any opposition. They had no plan for anything to replace those
and no adequate form of compensation or benefits in place. Consequently
ex-mining towns now have some of the worst unemployment, housing,
the country. And far and away the worst drug problems. They're also
ground for far right extremists. Agitators move in, try to convince the
indigenous white populace that the reason they haven't got a job or
eat or somewhere decent to live or their son's a smackhead is because
Pakis. Or the niggers. Or the Poles. Whoever. And the government's
them. Who's going to stand up for the white working class? They are, of
It's so obvious. And so tempting to believe their lies, to find easy
blame in complex situations. this is the reality of the situation.
is deep. Did you know I used to be a stand up comic? Know any good
well, how's this: My wife has a blackbelt in cooking ... one chop and
dead! BOOM-TISH! Think there's a slot for me in the Northern club
You haven't put that one in the book, have you?
unfortunately it's Copyright Les Dawson. So what was your stand up
that! But not by much, I don't think. We started out as trio then a duo
just me. I was the only one who couldn't take the hint. I still do the
now, but just when I'm asked. And usually by Stella Duffy. She got me
several occasions to perform impro with her. I thought that would be
of thing I would hate but I really enjoyed it. Loved it, in fact. And
very well together. Although she would probably say I'm shit.
acts do you rate now?
I'm a big
Mighty Boosh fan. We all are in our house. The League of Gentlemen,
they don't seem to be doing much these days. I really like Sharon
writing too. Her BBC 3 series Pulling is brilliant. Really looking
the new series. And I really rate Catherine Tate. We used to have the
agent and appeared in The Bill together. Even then you could tell there
something about her. She was brilliant to work with. When we'd finished
asked me if I fancied doing some stand up with her. I said no. No
that. Personally, that ranks alongside the guy who turned The Beatles
because there was no future in beat music. Although having said that
guarantee she would have been any good with me tagging along.
research for this book turn up any surprises?
confirmed every prejudice I had. The only surprise, I suppose, was just
ingrained those attitudes are. It's frightening, it really is.
protagonist, Donovan has his flaws, do you think you would like to hang
I think I
would. However he may be a bit too much like me for comfort. We may be
similar to get on. We've got the same tastes in music and books and TV
films and even comics. So we'd have plenty to talk about but we'd know
answer already. It's been said that a series character is an idealised
of the writer but five years younger. Hmm. Is he an idealised version
And should I be worried if he is? We share our collection of comics and
'n' roll t-shirts. Which is quite advantageous for me as it makes
clothes tax deductible.
You set your
novels in Newcastle, but you
don't live there anymore, is this a
difficulty or advantage?
I think it's
advantage. I still go up regularly, still got friends and family up
they squire me round and take me to places I wouldn't otherwise be able
in to. And that's great, that's really good research. But I wouldn't be
write it down up there. I wrote one novel, , in London when I was
living there. So damned
difficult to describe things I saw every day. I need space to let it
all sink in
and recreate it in my mind. Was it Wordsworth who said that action
remembered in tranquility? Something like that.
You grew up
in the North East of England,
specifically Newcastle-upon-Tyne, what was
the place like then?
to what it is now. When I was growing up I was very aware that England (never mind
Britain) was very
London-centric. It felt like
because the M1 stopped at Leeds the
country did too. Newcastle itself was
a city that was neither English nor
Scottish. When you went over the bridge into the city it was like
medieval drawbridge into some castle with a siege mentality. I felt
the more acutely when I moved away from Newcastle and started
to travel. When I saw the
rest of the country I realised I never felt English, always Geordie.
same today, I think. My cousin and I were talking about it recently,
you've never been brought up in that place at the time you can't really
understand. It's all different there now, of course. Three hours away
from London, lots of
new software companies, cultural
rebirth, etc . . .
has some famous exports, off the top of my head there's ... the Broon,
and Viz ... got a favourite?
unfavourites - Ant and Dec to name two. Responsible for the rest of the
thinking the city is full of miniature cheeky monkeys. It's hard to
which one's the more slappable. It changes, hour to hour. Viz is, of
work of genius. I don't like Brown Ale, which is a terrible admission
I mean, I'll drink it if I have to, but it's not my lunatic soup of
one thing that really bugs me about Newcastle is how many
terrible bands we've
inflicted on the public. There was Bryan Ferry, who was great, and The
and I suppose we've got Maximo Park now, but
don't forget, Newcastle is the town
that gave the world Sting.
You can see why Southerners have had it in for us for so long. Bet he
buy the Donovan series film rights, now. No, honest, he's a lovely
bloke . . .
his lute album was brilliant . . .
You got a
fav Viz character? (Biffa Bacon gets my vote! ... and Matha and Fatha,
I think it
might have to Biffa for me, too. Mind you, The Modern Parents always
me of my ex-girlfriend's family so I used to get quite a few laughs out
too. And of course there's Sid the Sexist. I was back in Newcastle at the
weekend and out on Friday night.
Nothing's changed. The clans of Sid and irony are still distant
novels you seem to be building up the psychogeography of Newcastle, do you
think the dark deeds of yore
continually reflect on the present?
I do think
interesting that things happen in certain place at certain times that
have happened anywhere else. Mary Bell, for one. was all about the
the past informing the lives of the present. It was great fun (if
right word) to research - where the gallows used to be, for instance,
where the blood transfusion offices are. Is that a connection? Here's a
thing. When I was writing The White Room I had a
dream, which makes its
way into the book, about a cathedral- like place in Newcastle with
pillars made of animal fat wax and
hanging skin with an abattoir in the back just down from where Worswick
Street bus station
used to be. When I was
researching Bone Machine I found out that there
used to be a church with
an abattoir that skinned animals and made candles from their fat in
that place. I honestly didn't know that. It wasn't even something that
taken in on a subliminal level. So yes, I think, is the short answer.
You went to
drama school, and afterwards said you played 'rogue and vagabond' bits,
feel suited to those roles?
I think I
more suited to the rogue and vagabond lifestyle and whatever parts came
they came up. I'd go and do them wherever they were. It was great. I
living out of a suitcase (or rather holdall) for a couple of years and
going where the work is. It was a really natural way to live. Like
permanently on tour. It's true, I gave my flat up in the end. Of course
can't keep living like that (unless you're Bob Dylan) and you have to
sometime. I suppose that was when I started to write.
Is it true
you grew up wanting to play Dr Who?
Oh God. I
should never have said that. Yes, it's absolutely true. I thought it
perfect part for me. That and loads of Arthur Miller and Sam Shepherd.
did any of that, unfortunately.
still time, you could be the next one! I'll start the campaign here ...
your favourite Dr Who?
ranked them all, actually, because I've obviously got too much time on
hands. But yes, Tom is top. Closely followed by David Tennant. Truly,
living through a golden age. Then Patrick Troughton then either
McCoy, believe it or not. Then Chris Eccleston. Then the rest. Sorry,
Tell us your
dream acting role, and who would you co-star with?
I've got one any more. Honestly. I just don't think that way now.
Horwell who's currently in Coronation
directed the trailer of White Riot
which is now on You Tube and other places is brilliant and I would love
with him again.
Not even a
slot on the new Minder remake alongside ... Shane 'Arfur' Ritche?
you're joking, right? I suppose I could play a miserable Geordie in
long as I get to do a full on fight scene with baseball bats on Mr
well. At least it's not Guy Richie.
actually watch that. Cheering, probably ... When did you decide you
be a writer?
sure. I don't think acting was giving me the creative kick I needed - I
to be more in control - and I'd told everyone that I was going to be a
because I liked the romance of sitting at a typewriter with a bottle of
in a vest like Dashiell Hammett. One day I thought I'd better do that.
done a couple of commercials so didn't have to leave home for a while
so I sat
down and wrote what I thought was a novel. It wasn't, but five years
called Mary's Prayer, it was.
always crime writing that appealed to you, why was that?
the only thing that really moved me. Chandler, Hammett,
Ross MacDonald, Jim Thompson .
. . then I discovered (in the late Eighties) the new wave of American
They had a sense of social engagement that was so lacking in stuff over
the time. Crumley, Burke, Ellroy, Vachss, Izzi, Paretsky, Mosley . . .
those guys, just starting to hit their peak. Brilliant. It was a great
be a reader and they were great writers to discover at the time. I just
to translate that into my stuff.
prefer the American crime writers to the home-grown lot?
Americans. They just, over the last century, have got it so much better
over here. However I think now that we on this side of the Atlantic have, if
not bested the best, then
certainly matched them. Like us taking Elvis Presley and giving them
Beatles and the Stones.
Never a fan
of Agatha then?
For the same reason I'm not a fan of crosswords or the Tory party. but
going to go on about her as I've mouthed off on the subject on more
occasion. Enough to say I have no time for that kind of writing. It has
relevance to my life.
I believe we
share a literary hero in Andrew Vachss, what draws you to Mr V?
I read Blue
Belle in 1989 and it just blew me away. I had honestly never read
it, the total synthesis of character, plot, narrative, action and
commentary. And the writing was hard as nails. Naturally I read all his
stuff after that and got his plays performed over here in London. I played
Burke. It was great. I think
he's a really underrated writer and I wish he would ditch the Burke
flex his writing wings more.
has described you as the UK Pelecanos, do you agree?
sweet of him and a great compliment. Can I use that on my next book? I
rate George Pelecanos because he's just about the best there is. I
think I know
what Ali means - there's a large degree of social writing in his books
is in mine. And hopefully we do it the same way - through character and
incident rather than through being preachy. Nothing turns me off a book
than being told what to think. He uses his novels to ask questions of
situations not provide answers which I think is damn right and I'd like
think I do the same. And he's a mean TV writer and producer too. So if
would like to offer me a writing job on The Wire or an equivalent TV
either here or in the States, I would be more than happy to accept and
the analogy further.
What do you
think of the current state of health of the crime genre?
I think it's
an interesting stage. The traditional lines of cosy vs. noir have
the cosy being reinvented as the forensic novel - less cake, more blood
also as a novel of social commentary in some cases. This has made the
either retreat into pastiche or try to find genuine ways to reinterpret
genre. It all seems to be up in the air at the moment. And that, I
think, is a
your own novels are you happiest with/most proud of and why?
not supposed to have favourites, goes the received wisdom but that's
Obviously some are going to be better than others and some are going to
been more fun to write than others and it's not always the same ones. I
to use that tired old cliché about all books being children,
Machine, all for different reasons.
you been reading lately?
putting a lot of books down unfinished because they've been so boring.
Everything from airport thrillers to supposedly great works of
literature. All bollocks. I have, however, just read Sharp
by Gillian Flynn and loved it. Then there's Duane Swierkzynski - The
and The Wheelman are utterly fantastic. And now
he's writing for Marvel
Comics. I can't tell you how jealous I am. I've finally got round to
Joseph Wambaugh's Hollywood Station which is just
amazing. And Hard Case
Crime continue to be a source of brilliance.
spent some time working with prisoners and young offenders -- at
Young Offenders Institution and at HMP Chelmsford -- what
have they taught you? Has any of
this experience found its way into your writing?
you got? It was an incredible experience, really polarised. Either
awful, nothing in between. Especially at Huntercombe. Again, I had all
prejudices about the judicial system confirmed and not in a good way. I
really take anything that they said and use it directly - that would be
- but it all permeated. I think my writing improved drastically as a
friend Cathi Unsworth wanted me to ask you why all detectives are into
jazz like Charlie Parker and Miles and not Chris Barber and his Jazz
Mister Acker Bilk?
Oh God, I'll
kill her . . . It's true though, isn't it? That grew out of a
pair of us were having one day (one quite drunken day, actually) about
detectives in novels always put something moody and cool on like
Never When The Saints Go Marching In or Stranger on the Shore. Although
reading my comments on the subject, Laura Wilson is threatening to turn
series character, Stratton, into an Acker Bilk fan. Bring it on!
murder squad detective I know from the Met and he's about as far
removed as you
can get from the image of the hard drinking hard bitten loner 'tec. He
jazz. He loves Yes and Rick Wakeman and goes trainspotting. Don't see
turning up in many books . . .
You're a Newcastle United fan,
I believe ... how do you
think the Magpies will do under Mr Keegan?
couldn't think of a worse idea that bringing Keegan back. It's wrong on
levels and the results have borne it out. I really wouldn't be
surprised if we
went down this season and we'd deserve to. Keegan left one Soccer
join another one. Once again Newcastle United are the laughing stock of
K' a better player than a manager?
argument. A man who's management philosophy can be boiled down to the
'run around faster, I'm feeling lucky' is not a great manager.
Do you think
he lost some of his powers when he ditched the bobble-perm?
yeah. But do you think he should bring it back? Do you think his powers
return along with it? It might be worth a try . . .
what's next for Martyn Waites?
another Donovan book to do - Murdered Sons. I'd
like to do another book
in the Born Under Punches / The White Room mould
and have already got a
story in mind for it. But I don't know. I honestly don't know.
is published by Simon & Schuster pbk £6.99
For more on
Martin, visit: www.martynwaites.com
first novel is published by Random House in July. Allan
Guthrie, called it
fine debut’ adding: "Black
is the new noir". He
lives and works in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh.
More of his fiction can be found at Thug Lit, Pulp Pusher, Demolition
and in Out of the Gutter. Find him at: www.tonyblack.net