the world of up and
coming UK crime writers, there are none so uppity as Edinburgh-based
turned hardboiled honcho Tony Black, whose debut, Paying For
It has received
a lot of attention among crime fic fans. Tony, who also edits the Pulp
ezine, took time from his busy schedule to talk to Damien Seaman about
publicising his work, his take on Scotland’s
‘genteel’ capital, and who he’d
choose to play protagonist Gus Dury on film.
The book’s been
out in the UK
for a couple of months
now. What’s it been like publicising your debut novel? And
what kind of
response have you had?
The first time a
hack put a tape recorder on me, I have to admit, I
thought…gulp. Doing radio
and festivals and so on is a bit daunting to begin with but after a
just get on with it. There’s been a fair amount of interest
in the Scottish
press because it’s a new Edinburgh-based serial and we tend
to make a lot of
those up here…we have a good track record, you see.
How would you
summarise the story?
It’s a gritty,
pacey slice of Celtic Noir. A murder mystery told in a thriller style.
protagonist Gus Dury is a former hack who’s lost just about
everything when his
surrogate father figure asks him to look into the brutal torture and
his only son. Gus is a damaged man and the case becomes his
idée fixe, he
assumes if he can get to the root of the murder he will find some
Ian Rankin, Allan
Guthrie, Alexander McCall Smith: what does your vision of Edinburgh
offer to readers that
they can’t find elsewhere?
Very good question.
I’ve already been compared to both Rankin and Guthrie and the
inevitable I suppose - and very flattering - but no two writers look at
the same eyes. So, my Edinburgh
really has to be mine
alone. Much as I’m following in the footsteps of some great
aspects of the city that inspire me are not necessarily the same as
else’s. One reviewer, Ali Karim, made an interesting point,
though, about how I
- he actually warns readers that
the novel ‘casts a long shadow over such a beautiful Scottish
city’. I think
that sums up a lot about how I feel about the place: yeah, it looks
scratch the surface…
Gus Dury seems a passionate idealist who hates injustice and tries to
something about it. Who or what was the inspiration behind this
He’s the little
guy, the everyman, the bloke shaking his head over the newspaper at the
of the world each morning. There’s millions like him. The
only thing different
about Gus is that he’s gone over the edge. He
doesn’t care about taking matters
into his own hands - righting the injustice - because he believes that
hits rock bottom…he might bounce back.
Edinburgh-specific do you think the book is? Can readers learn
by reading about Gus
Dury or is this simple entertainment?
It’s very Edinburgh
specific - I couldn’t
have set this book anywhere else. Scotland’s
capital is a very
schizophrenic place, the high contrasts of grandeur and gutter are not
but they’ve been made into an art form here. I wrote PAYING
FOR IT whilst
working on a daily newspaper in the city and a lot of the incidents I
coming across my desk at that time became themes in the
book…things like people
trafficking, prostitution, Eastern European gang activity.
Gus Dury is an
ex-newspaper man and amateur PI. You’re a newspaper man. Are
you sick of being
asked about the links between the two in interviews?
Yes. God, yes. To
be honest, it’s not so much that I get tired of taking about
the fact that I can remember what they used to be like and how
people who work on them used to be, before the game went to shit.
been a worse time to be a hack, the bean counters and David Brent-esque
are systematically engaged in running the show into the ground.
Paying For It
tackles corruption in high places among other things. How much do your
politics come out in your work?
you count that I pretty much agree with Gus that all politicians should
rounded up and shot. Then fed to pigs.
There’s a fair
amount of violence in the book. Does Paying For It
Can violence be
glamorous? I’ve never found it to be so. You’re
right, though, there is violence
in there, but I don’t use it to pad out the plot or simply
for effect. Gus is
walking some mean streets, it would be unrealistic to expect him to
ends by a few nice words.
not interested in
violence as a means to an end; books that dwell on the crack of bones
spray of blood, to be honest, bore me rigid. What causes violence, and
effects of it, are often left out of the equation and those are the
want to explore.
As well as the
violence, Paying For It has people trafficking and
at the heart of the story. Is this cashing in on the headlines or
more? Is there any subject you won’t write about –
violence against animals,
These topics have
been in the headlines a lot, but I didn’t choose them for
that reason; why a
writer chooses certain topics is a tricky one to answer and
I’m not sure really
what drew me to explore the dark subject matter in PAYING FOR IT. I do
there are some obvious cash-ins out there, the Madeline McCann case for
example, but I wouldn’t be interested in moulding a story
based on news grabs.
are subjects I
won’t tackle, simply because they don’t interest
me. It all comes down to story
at the end of the day, if I came up with a good enough storyline, and I
make it work, I’d be open minded. I’d certainly
tackle violence against
animals, if for nothing else to highlight the repugnance of it; in fact
book, GUTTED, is about dog fighting.
What draws you to
hardboiled crime writing? What makes you want to explore the darker
about the people on the edge of society that interests me, the cracked,
individuals…their stories seem real. I’ve never
been able to read mannered
tales from the drawing-room, it’s always been the grit that
There are a
number of US-influenced UK
crime writers now,
including you, Al Guthrie, Ray Banks, Cathi Unsworth, maybe David
Peace. Do you
think British authors can compete with the current crop of US writers,
there still some way to go?
holding our own. You only need to look at the raves coming from the US
for the writers you
mention to see how they’ve been accepted over the Pond. If we
were to extend
the boundary across the Irish
then Ken Bruen has a fair claim to
leading a charge that the Americans are following. There’s
formidable crop of talent from this side of the Atlantic
How much have
films influenced your work?
I love film, but
its influence is diminishing all the time. There’s so many
remakes and bloody
pastiche these days that it’s harder to find new movies to
get excited about.
It’s interesting though, thinking about some of your earlier
questions, I grew
up on Clint Eastwood movies and he always played characters with a
streak and a search for justice…hmnnn.
commented on the book’s filmic quality. Did you have film
adaptation in mind
when you wrote it? Who plays Gus Dury in the perfect film version you
round in your mind?
I’ve had that a
lot, I don’t quite know what gives a novel a
‘filmic’ quality but I’ll take the
compliment, ta very much. I
actually thinking of a movie adaptation - I think that would be a
disaster - I was only interested in writing the best book that I
could. But as for who plays Gus Dury, it would have to be Robert
You were born in Australia
and spent some of your
formative years in Ireland.
How has this influenced
I love both
countries and have a heap of great memories from them, which means I
much slip into the voices of characters from both countries
written a few short stories featuring Aussies, and I’ve got a
whole crime novel
mapped out set in Melbourne
I’d love to write one of
these days. I’ve also got a couple of unpublished novels, one
set in Ireland
and one set in Australia called THE LAST TIGER about the demise of the
Tasmanian tiger - I actually sold that one but the publisher went bust.
Paying for It is
about to come out in Ireland.
How does that make you
It’s actually out
there now, and in Australia…I’m
over the moon. My
Irish and Aussie friends have just been so excited about it too, and
publicise it. I’m blessed to have these connections with
places I love so much.
If you had to
name your top three literary influences, who would they be and why?
Ernest Hemingway -
the economy of his prose, those short, declarative sentences that
appear to say
nothing, but actually, say it all.
Burns - put his
life into his work and made his life the work.
Bruen - breathed new
life into a tired genre with true style…and substance.
What can you tell
us about the next Gus Dury novel?
GUTTED kicks off
with Gus stumbling over the mutilated corpse of a man on Edinburgh’s
Corstorphine Hill. The
victim is a gang member who was recently in the frame for the killing
toddler in a pit bull attack. To complicate matters, fifty grand is
from the scene of the crime and Gus is under suspicion. His
him into the city’s sink estates and an underground
dog-fighting culture with
links to bent coppers, a jailed gang lord and a judge with a guilty
Did you write
GUTTED any differently from Paying For It? Did you plan more? Have a
of the various characters? Did you feel any pressure to surpass Paying
Well, each book is
different but the process for GUTTED was more or less the same. I
a clearer idea of the characters - it’s the same cast as
PAYING FOR IT - so
that made it somewhat simpler. There is a huge pressure to make the
every bit as good as the first - it’s like difficult second
album syndrome! By
all accounts GUTTED is the book everyone at my publishers wanted and
it to a few people and been rapt with their responses. We put a taster
first chapter of GUTTED in the paperback of PAYING FOR IT and when it
the typesetter had scrawled on it: ‘When does this come out?
I have to read it
How much mileage
do you see in Gus and his adventures? How are you going to keep readers
back for more? Have you planned a story arc spanning a certain number
or are you playing it more by ear?
There’s certainly a
few more books, it’s a series with no end in sight for me.
I’ve talked to a few
writers about this and some clearly do envisage a set number, a trilogy
whatever, for their character, but I haven’t got anything set
in stone for Gus.
are a number of
storylines that will run and run, Gus’s on-off relationship
with Debs and his
seeming inability to kick-start his career etcetera…the name
of the game is to
keep myself interested, I’m by no means done with Gus.
Read Ali Karim's interview with Tony
FOR IT published
by Preface Publishing