Monday, September 15, 2014

The Sun Is God

I was at the Write Around The Murray festival in Albury at the weekend, talking about my book The Sun Is God. TSIG if you'll recall is about a 1906 murder inquiry amongst a group of German naturists led by a charismatic man called August Engelhardt. It's set in the Pacific island of Kabakon and it's more or less a true story. The events at the Murray Festival all take place in the Albury library, which, by an odd coincidence is just off Englehardt Street.
Also this weekend I got a review of TSIG in the Guardian. After a grumpy review in the Irish Independent (which basically said that everyone was waiting for a new Sean Duffy novel and that I had let down my readers by producing this wacky standalone) I got good reviews in the Irish Times and The Times. This review in the Saturday Guardian (below) was by the great John O'Connell:

Best known for his Sean Duffy novels, Adrian McKinty has permitted himself a stand-alone indulgence in The Sun Is God (Serpent's Tail, £11.99), an effortlessly entertaining historical thriller based on the true-but-scarcely-credible story of the Sonnenorden (Order of the Sun) – a sect founded on the South Pacific island of Kabakon by the German health reformer August Engelhardt, who believed that enlightenment could be achieved through naked sun worship and a diet of coconuts and heroin. It is 1906, and McKinty's hero, former military policeman Will Prior – a dead ringer, attitudinally, for Duffy – is helping the German police investigate the death of one of Engelhardt's followers, who was found with water in his lungs when he was supposed to have died of malaria. Prior travels to Kabakon and dwells among the emaciated, mosquito-bitten tribe. The mystery is overshadowed at times by McKinty's understandable urge to bring news of the broader lunacies of Sonnenorden life (you can't waste this sort of material.) But it all comes good in the beautifully structured final act.

Many thanks too to those of you who have taken the time to leave me a review on Amazon and Good Reads, the reviews there are looking pretty respectable now thanks to nice readers counteracting the grumpy readers and/or the trolls. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My 10 Favourite Locked Room Mysteries

In light of my Ned Kelly win for a locked-room mystery novel, I thought I'd reblog this...Its the original edit of my piece on locked room mysteries for the Guardian newspaper that I published in January. I explain how I got hooked on the genre and why I wanted to write one of these in the first place. The piece below is longer than the original newspaper article with a little more exposition on my favourite books and my 'rules' about what makes a good locked-roomer...

My Ten Favourite Locked-Room Mystery Novels
Adrian McKinty

When I was ten years old I remember the first proper mystery novel that I read. It was a paperback of Agatha's Christie early classic Murder on the Orient Express. Orient Express, you’ll recall, is the one where everyone did it, which delighted me no end and I was immediately hooked. I began to work my way through the other Agatha Christies at Belfast Central library and it was probably the sympathetic librarian there who put into my hands The Murders In The Rue Morgue, the first real locked-room mystery that I came across.
     Since Rue Morgue I’ve read dozens of locked-roomers (or ‘impossible murders’ as some prefer to call them) and I have developed firm opinions about the genre. I have no truck whatsoever with the ones that have a supernatural solution or where the author doesn’t give you enough information to solve the case for yourself. Some purists don’t like locked-room problems that involve magician’s tricks (a staple of Jonathan Creek for example) but I’m of the opinion that as long as the mechanics of the trick are explained to the reader (or viewer) well before the solution, these can be permissible.
     A locked-room problem lies at the heart of my new novel, In The Morning I’ll Be Gone in which an RUC detective has to find out whether a publican’s daughter who fell off a table in a bar that was locked from the inside was in fact murdered and if so how. The first thing I had to do was to assure the reader I was not cheating about the facts: the pub was indeed locked and bolted from the inside, there were no secret passages, no concealed rooms and certainly no supernatural element. Then, of course, I had to give the reader all the necessary information so that she or he could solve the case at the same time or before the detective. And by all the information I mean: facts, psychology and motive. When it works you should be able to read a locked-room mystery twice, the second time spotting the clues and seeing how the whole thing fits together and, hopefully, enjoying the iron logic of the solution.
     When a locked-room mystery doesn’t work the solution makes you groan and the book gets hurled across the room. In The Murders In The Rue Morgue an elderly Frenchwoman is killed in a locked room on the fourth floor. The solution – spoiler alert – is that the murder was done by a tame orang-utan who climbed in through the open window with a straight razor. Even at the age of ten I wasn’t happy with that. (I think it was George Orwell who said that the even more ridiculous plot point in Rue Morgue was the idea that an edlerly Parisian lady would go to bed with the window open). More recently The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo found itself flying across my kitchen when I realised that the locked-room problem at its heart (actually a locked island) was a cheat because the reader had been clumsily misinformed about the essential facts.
     The golden age of the locked-room mystery in Anglo-American detective fiction has largely passed but in France Paul Halter has been churning out original impossible murder novels since the mid 1980’s and In Japan the great Soji Shimada virtually invented the Shinhonkaku “logic problem” sub-genre which is still extremely popular today.
     I think there are four elements that make a really good locked-room mystery novel: 1. An original puzzle. 2. An interesting detective and supporting characters. 3. Lively prose. 4. An elegant solution to the puzzle. Mixing classic and contemporary with no supernatural activity allowed these are my ten favourite locked-room/impossible murder novels:

10. The Moonstone (1868) – Wilkie Collins. Rachel Verinder’s cursed Indian diamond ‘The Moonstone’ disappears from her room after her birthday party. This is only a rudimentary locked-roomer, but as the first and still one of the best detective novels it had to be on my list.

9. The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941) – John Dickson Carr. Dr. Gideon Fell investigates an alarming number of ‘suicides’ at a remote Scottish castle. The deaths have taken place in locked or completely inaccessible rooms. Dickson Carr was rightly known as the “master of the locked-room mystery” and this entire list could, with some justification, have been made solely from JDC books.

8. And Then There Were None (1939) – Agatha Christie. (Originally published under two equally unfortunate titles.) Eight people with guilty secrets are invited to an isolated island off the coast of Devon where they begin to be murdered one by one. When there are only two of them left the fun really begins.

7. Suddenly At His Residence (1946) – Christianna Brand. In another part of Devon Sir Richard March has been found poisoned in his lodge. A sand covered pathway leading to the lodge is rolled daily by the gardener. Only one set of footprints is found leading to the lodge and they belong to Claire, who discovered the body. A witty and engaging mystery from a writer who was another locked room specialist.

6. The Big Bow Mystery (1892) – Israel Zangwill. Mrs Drabdump’s lodger is discovered with his throat cut, no trace of a murder weapon and no way a murderer could have got in or out. Arguably the first proper locked-roomer and still a classic of the form.

5. The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1908) – Gaston Leroux. Miss Stangerson is found severely injured, attacked in a locked room at the Chateau du Glandier. Leroux provides maps and floor plans showing that a presumptive murderer could not possibly have entered or escaped. Amateur sleuth Joseph Rouletabille has to figure out how the attack was done. Another early classic.

4. The King Is Dead (1951) – Ellery Queen (Frederic Dannay & Manfred Lee). King Bendigo, a wealthy munitions magnate, has been threatened by his brother Judah, who announces that he will shoot King at exactly midnight on June 21st at his private island residence. King locks himself in a hermetically sealed office accompanied only by his wife, Karla. Judah is under Ellery Queen's constant observation. At midnight, Judah lifts an empty gun and pulls the trigger and at the same moment, in the sealed room, King falls back, wounded with a bullet. No gun is found on Karla or anywhere in the sealed room. Furthermore the bullet that wounds King came from Judah’s gun which didn’t actually fire. Good, huh?

3. La Septième hypothèse (1991) – Paul Halter. In pre War London Dr. Alan Twist and Inspector Archie Hurst are visited by a man named Peter Moore, secretary to Sir Gordon Miller, a mystery author. According to Moore, Sir Gordon had a strange visitor who gave him a murder challenge. The two men tossed a coin and whoever lost had to commit a murder and try to pin the blame on the other. Peter Moore is subsequently found dead. There are only two possible suspects and both have ironclad alibis. Seven solutions present themselves in this ultra twisty novel.

2. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981) – Soji Shimada. The book begins on a snowy evening in the Shōwa period of pre war Japan. A wealthy artist, Heikichi Umezawa, is finishing up his great cycle of paintings: 12 large canvases on Zodiacal subjects. As he works on the last one his head is smashed in with a blunt object. The studio is locked from the inside and the suspects have alibis. Over the next four decades many of Umezawa’s family members are also gruesomely killed, most in ‘impossible’ ways. In a series of postmodern asides Soji Shimada repeatedly taunts the reader explaining that all the clues are there for an astute observer.

1. The Hollow Man (1935) – John Dickson Carr. Someone breaks into Professor Grimaud's study, kills him and leaves, with the only door to the room locked from the inside, and with people present in the hall outside the room. The ground below the window is covered with unbroken snow. All the elements are balanced just right in this, the best of Dickson Carr’s many locked-room problems.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Next King of Scotland?

The Scottish referendum next week is on a razor's edge and it looks like it's going to be very close. If independence happens the SNP have said that they are going to get a Scottish Prime Minister but keep Queen Elizabeth II as head of state; however others in the SNP and the Scottish Labour Party have said that they want a Republic. No one as far as I'm aware has mentioned an intriguing third possibility...I wonder if the Scottish people would be willing to turn back the clock to 1688 and take on the current Jacobite Pretender to the Scottish crown: this gentleman to the right, Prince Franz of Bavaria.
As you may know the Jacobites were denied the Kingship of England and Scotland (and Ireland) because they were Catholics and after the defeat of James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 they fled to France. In 1715 (the "fifteen") and again under Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 (the "forty-five") the Jacobite pretenders/kings over the water (depending upon your point of view) tried to raise the clans in Scotland and reclaim the throne. It didn't work and the English put down the rebellions and after the 45 Bonnie Prince Charlie fled back to France permanently. The Jacobites however didn't die out. Far from it. They married into European Royalty and prospered.
The current Jacobite Pretender/Heir, Prince Franz, seems like a decent chap. He's a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and he collects modern art. He spent part of his childhood in Dachau concentration camp where he was sent because his family opposed the Nazis. Wikipedia has a good entry about him, here. The Scots really could do a lot worse if they have a hankering for a king. Franz (who the Jacobites title King Francis II of Scotland) doesn't have any kids so the succession would pass after his death to Prince Max of Bavaria and then to the charmingly named Sophie, Hereditary Princess of Liechtenstein. These royals are much more interesting than the dreary Charles and Camilla if you ask me (and if you're worried that Sophie's family wont be as charismatic as Harry and William, well take a look at 'em...)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ned Kelly

Much to my amazement and delight my novel In The Morning I'll Be Gone has won the 2014 Ned Kelly Award. The award was announced at the Brisbane Writers Festival after a great evening hosted by the BWF and the Australian Crime Writers Association. I gave a speech but I have no idea what I said. (I have a vague recollection of doing a John Connolly impersonation and people laughing.) But I was happy. Many thanks to the Ned Kelly judges, to ACWA, to Michael Robotham who hosted the whole thing and to my British, Aussie and American publishers for steadfastly supporting me when nobody outside my immediate family (and not even many of them if I'm honest) was buying my books. Thank you Serpents Tail, Allen & Unwin, Seventh Street Books and Blackstone Audio who all had faith in me even though the numbers were telling a different story...
The Ned Kelly is definitely the coolest of all the crime fiction awards and if you think about it, its only the one that's given for an entire continent. I mean how badass is that? Coincidentally Sidney Nolan who painted the iconic image of Ned Kelly below went to St Kilda Primary School where both my daughters went. Last night was my daughter Sophie's school concert and Sidney Nolan was one of the characters in the story and when the school time travellers meet him (dont ask) he's in right in the middle of painting his famous series of Ned Kelly pictures. 
If you haven't read In The Morning I'll Be Gone, I reckon its a pretty good place to start if you're new to me and my books. Its set in Northern Ireland in 1984 but it isn't all depressing and everything. Parts of it are funny. And there's a locked room mystery. And Michael Forsythe makes an appearance. And Duffy burns down a drug den. Oh, and the IRA blow up Thatcher at the end. Spoiler alert. This is what the judges said about the book: “In his use of humour with the grim realities of Belfast in 1984, coupled with a wonderfully constructed locked room mystery, McKinty has produced something really quite extraordinary. There’s a fine line between social commentary and compelling mystery and not many writers, crime or literary, can do both.”

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie; The Martian by Andy Weir

I listened to 2 science fiction audiobooks recently: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie and The Martian by Andy Weir. Reviews of both below:
Ann Leckie has been hailed as an extraordinary new voice in science fiction. In a genre dominated by male writers, a largely male readership and a male perspective, Leckie's novel, Ancillary Justice, about a genderless society has been seen as a useful corrective. In a remarkable achievement the book won all the major science fiction awards this year: the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Arthur C Clarke Award and the Locus Award. This unification of all the belts will undoubtedly bring in many readers who don't normally bother with the genre. Ancillary Justice is space opera that deals with the consequences of a fairly benign hegemonic civilization taking over a world that dared to oppose them. Told from the perspective of a ship AI in a human body (the book never explained why the ships needed frail human bodies when robot technology was so advanced) it's a novel about guilt and regret with a unique view of gender tropes as a main subtheme. Female pronouns are used throughout Ancillary Justice and all the main characters are described as being female (although this isn't really the case). I think it's great that the major sci-fi award giving bodies are finally recognising the talent of female writers, writers who challenge the conventions of dull male sci-fi with its explosions and star ships and the like. The promotion and recognition of female sci fi writers is a long over due corrective in what is often a bit of a boys club. There's only slight problem with all this and that is the fact that Ancillary Justice, alas, isn't that interesting a book. Yes its Iain Banks style intelligent space opera but the story is a little slow even for me (& I dig slow), the characters are weak, the ideas have a recycled feel to them. If you've read a lot of sci-fi you'll probably recall that Ursula Le Guin was doing gender politics 40 years ago in the classics The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. If Ancillary Justice is as sophisticated and philosophical as science fiction gets in 2014 then the intellectual side of the genre is in big trouble. Fortunately this is only my opinion and judging by the reviews on Amazon the book has MANY fans who love it, so if you're at all interested you should probably check it out for yourself.
The Martian by Andy Weir is a different kettle of fish. It's the story of an astronaut on Mars who - through a series of disastrous accidents - is abandoned on the planet by the rest of his crew and must somehow survive without food or water or communication equipment with Earth. Reading like a Mars based version of Ron Howard's Apollo 13 meets the Mythbusters The Martian is an extended series of hard sci-fi engineering problems converted into drama. I mean this not as a criticism but as a compliment. The fact that Mars is an impossibly difficult environment for any human to live on makes every single mistake or accident a potentially fatal one. The Martian is an exciting book and is a classic of what is known as hard science fiction for people who appreciate the beauty of mathematics, engineering and...botany. Yes, botany. The scenes where our stranded Crusoe attempts to grow potatoes (so he won't starve to death) is one of the most fascinating things I've ever read. The fact that Weir tells this story with humour, wit, irony and a brisk economy made this a very enjoyable listen indeed. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Bone Clocks

My review of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks from last week's Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age; Jason, my editor, wanted more of a career survey than just a regular review, which I was happy to do because I'm a David Mitchell completist (I'll read everything he publishes). When I wrote this review 2 weeks ago all the prepub on The Bone Clocks was reverential, bordering on ecstatic, and I was beginning to wonder if I'd missed some crucial aspect of the novel. The day after my review came out, however, the NYT & 1 or 2 other papers also expressed similar sentiments. Anyway here's what I thought:
David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks

Some novelists take an uneasy book or two to find their voice, others say everything in an audacious debut and then subsequently disappoint; rarer are the cases of the writer who arrives seemingly fully formed, producing mature, thoughtful books from the get-go and then at decent intervals over their literary career. The English novelist David Mitchell is an example of this latter type.

Mitchell burst onto the world literary scene in 1999 with an extraordinary debut novel, Ghost Written. Largely set in Japan, where Mitchell was living at the time, it is an alluring polyphonic tour-de-force that brings in such themes as magic, animism, Buddhism, Japanese millennial cults and international terrorism. Mitchell followed up Ghost Written with the slightly more conventional Number9dream (2001), a Bildungsroman about a Japanese student and his complex relationship with his wealthy family.

Cloud Atlas (2004) was the novel that confirmed Mitchell’s place as one of British fiction’s most interesting talents. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize and spanning a multiplicity of genres and time periods, Cloud Atlas was a series of superbly intertwined short-stories that revolved around ideas of loss, betrayal, duplicity, racism and grief. It was in Cloud Atlas too that we began to see something of Mitchell’s bigger plan with intriguing call-backs to his earlier books and the reuse of previous characters and settings.

Mitchell’s fourth book was the more subdued, semi-autobiographical Black Swan Green (2006) about a year in the life of a 13-year-old English boy with a stammer in the small village of Black Swan Green in the West Midlands. Set in the early 1980’s, this was a more intimate novel although it too had its wider resonances with the appearance of characters from Ghost Written and Number9dream.

Mitchell’s next offering, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet (2010), told the tale of Jacob De Zoet, a young Dutch merchant who falls in love with a Japanese woman in eighteenth century Nagasaki. A full blown historical romance with fantastic elements De Zoet was a triumph: dark, lyrical and wilfully strange, this was a seasoned and witty reflection on love and loss and good and evil.

In 2013 Mitchell translated a Japanese teen’s Asperger’s Syndrome memoir and wrote a powerful essay in the Guardian newspaper about coping with his son’s autism in austerity challenged rural Ireland.

David Mitchell’s sixth novel, The Bone Clocks, is a recapitulation of many of the concepts and conceits of his earlier works. It begins with the story of Holly Sykes, a lippy Anglo-Irish teen, who runs away from home in Gravesend, Kent, in 1984. Holly and her little brother Jacko both have supernatural abilities: Jacko has precognition powers and Holly hears voices (the Radio People) that appear to be the internal monologues of other people. While Holly is fleeing home sinister forces come after her and successfully kidnap Jacko. The action shifts seven years forward to 1991 where dissolute Cambridge University student Hugo Lamb has just met Holly Sykes, now a chalet-maid at a ski resort in the Alps. Hugo is abducted by a mysterious and somewhat prolix group who call themselves Anchorites of the Dusk Chapel of the Blind Cathar of the Thomasite Monastery of the Sidelhorn Pass.

The Anchorites explain that they are not only able to teleport and see into the future but that they have also discovered the secret to eternal life. Hugo is offered a humdrum but safe existence with Holly or immortality (with a rather unpleasant murderous catch).

We jump forward thirteen years to 2004 where Holly is marrying her childhood sweetheart and then to 2015 where Hugo’s Cambridge chum novelist Crispin Hershey runs into Holly at the Perth Writers Festival. Holly has written a successful book about her childhood, The Radio People, while Crispin’s latest offerings have perplexed his audience. (There’s a very funny aside where Crispin takes to task reviewers who might dare to complain about serious English novelists writing fantasy books.) Holly and Crispin share a bizarre magical experience out on Rottnest Island, off Freemantle, before going their separate ways. We then slip back in time to a fascinating section of The Bone Clocks which takes place in an Aboriginal community just outside of nineteenth century Perth. This is the extraordinary moment when you realise that The Bones Clocks is a kind of sequel to Mitchell’s previous book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. Doctor Marinus, a delightful character from De Zoet, re-appears in The Bone Clocks in a way that, unfortunately for me, robbed him of some of his previous charm.

The Anchorites, it turns out, are the bad guys, who are in a war with the Horologists - a group of benign immortals who are trying to protect the human race from the Anchorites’ predatory ways. Hugo must decide whose side he’s really on in this battle between darkness and light. The final part of the novel skips into a gloomy dystopian future where the ice caps have melted, the internet has collapsed and China is the hegemonic world power.

Although sometimes described as a “magical realist” Mitchell’s vision is very much in the English school of modern fantasy writing following a template laid down by writers such as Michael Moorcock, Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman. Mitchell’s long tenure in Japan has given him an appreciation too for the gothic fables of novelist Haruki Marukami, whose recent IQ84 is particularly resonant in The Bone Clocks.

Already long-listed for the 2014 Booker prize It is unlikely that Mitchell’s new novel will disappoint many of his admirers, but on finishing the book I found myself a little let down. The internal logic of The Bone Clocks is not particularly rigorous and many of the magical battles felt rather silly and Harry Potterish. Like Gaiman or the British writer JG Ballard, Mitchell seems to have the most fun in the exploration of big ideas from fantasy or science fiction, but he clearly has the skill to dramatize the humdrum existence of every-day life. For all the showiness of Mitchell’s arcane set pieces and impressive ‘world-building’ the bits of his novels that I think are the most enjoyable are his funny, touching interactions between ordinary people in realistic settings. Perhaps Mitchell needs to become more of a miniaturist, a voyager into what JG Ballard himself called the ‘inner space’ of our contemporary existential predicament, rather than the outer space so beloved of futurists and sci-fi novelists.

At one point in The Bone Clocks the reincarnated Doctor Marinus speaks of his love of the German Romantic poets; the most precocious of those poets, Novalis, famously declared his intention of concentrating his craft on the interior life of man because “inward goes the way full of mystery.” This is still good advice and as dazzling as Mitchell’s new book is I hope that next time he will turn his powerful lens inward and focus it a little closer to home.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The First Five Chapters of Sean Duffy #4: Gun Street Girl

Click the link below to read the first five chapters of Sean Duffy #4. Remember this is a work in progress so a lot of this may change and/or get deleted. If you're wondering about page 1, yes it is an intentional echo of Bob Dylan's Desolation Row and the beginning of the Alan Moore comic Watchmen (the book begins exactly the same night that Rorschach's journal begins). I initially wanted to begin the book with a chapter of static which I've never seen done before in a mystery novel, but I thought better of that... Feel free to read online or print out and read at your leisure. Do keep going until chapter 5 because I think that one is pretty funny...Comments/suggestions are much appreciated...(preferably here rather than the actual chapters because its easier for me to reply). Slainte.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

More Sean Duffy?

It's been over a year since I wrote a Sean Duffy novel and in the intervening time I've mostly been goofing off. I've tried to write a couple of things here and there but they've gone nowhere. A while ago I had an idea for a 4th Sean Duffy novel but initially I was reluctant to write it as I really dug the way the third book ended. Come on McKinty if you write another book in this series there's no way you'll ever get an ending that pleases you as much again - you'll bloody ruin it, you fool! I thought. And if you look at my bibliography you'll see that I'm not a big fan of series anyway. Trilogies I dig, standalones I dig, but 3+ books? Not my thing. I was completely torn: I had a cool idea for a book but I loved the way book 3 concluded Sean Duffy's adventures. So I took the safest way out and did nothing. 
Months went by and then one night I dreamed the ending of book 4. When I woke up I wrote it out and printed it and put it in a drawer. I left the pages in the drawer for a week, reread it, realised that final scene needed an epilogue, wrote the epilogue and put that away for a week. And then I read the complete ending of book 4 (final chapter plus epilogue) and I liked it. I really liked it. It was - in my mind - as good as the ending of book #3. I still didn't have the book yet but I had an ending and an idea for what happened in the middle. And I had a title Gun Street Girl (another Tom Waits song). I pitched the book to my publishers and they suggested that I start writing it and for want of something better to do I did.
I'm not going to say anything about the plot here because I'm still working on the book and things could change. (ST have produced a cool preliminary cover which incorporates one of the ideas from that final chapter dream) but its not done yet. However I am happy with the book so far and it definitely doesn't ruin the mythology of the trilogy. It does however ruin the nice alliterative "Troubles Trilogy" which is how they pitched the series in the US and I can't think of any words relating to Ulster or Northern Ireland that begin with Q for quartet. (My buddy John McFetridge is publishing a great series of detective novels set in 1970's Montreal and when he's got 4 of those it'll be easy: The Quebec Quartet.) Maybe I should just do what Douglas Adams did when he published Mostly Harmless - the tagline of that book was "The fifth book in his increasingly inaccurately named Hitch-hiker Trilogy."    

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Melbourne Writers Festival

I'll be doing 2 events at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year. 

On Saturday 23rd of August I'll be on a panel hosted by Angela Savage along with John Williams & David Whish-Wilson at the ACMI Cinema 1 at 10.00 am. The panel is entitled Strange Territory and will be about the sense of place in crime fiction. This should be good. Angela's stomping ground is Melbourne but she writes mostly about Thailand, John writes about Cardiff and David's books mostly take place in Perth. 

On Wednesday August 27th I'll be in conversation with Andrew Nette at the St Kilda Public Library. This one starts at 6.30 pm and should be pretty loose and wide ranging. 

I got my hair cut especially for the MWF so do come along. . .
(The photo incidentally is from last month's Semana Negra writers festival in Gijon, the really rather brilliant photographer LAURA MUNOZ not only drew on me & did other crazy shit but, as promised, managed to conceal my beer gut, cargo shorts and bright blue Superdry flip flops that made me look like every other drunken Anglo-Saxon tourist in Spain.) 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The 10 Worst Troubles Films?

the really rather good, Michael Fassbender 
It's a truism that most Irish films are bad. Most of everything is bad so that's not that surprising but the people who provide finance for Irish films seem determined only to produce Irish films that are full of the worst cliches and stereotypes of Oirishness imaginable. There are, of course several notable exceptions to this sweeping statement but no doubt you'll know what I'm talking about if you've come across Leap Year or PS I Love You etc. But even worse than Irish films from the Republic of Ireland are the breed of films that have been made about the Troubles in the North. These movies I like to think of as Micksploitation pictures. What is a Micksploitation picture? It's a film set during or just after the Troubles whose intent is not to elucidate what was happening in Northern Ireland in the period 1968 - 1998, but rather to simplify the conflict for the lowest common denominator of American film goers in order to get bums (especially Irish American bums) in seats. The films usually have a few stock cliches and plot devices: 1. The IRA are conflicted heroes who only kill evil Brits. 2. The Brits are evil. 3.Northern Irish Protestants are the most evil of the lot - racist, Lambeg drum beating orangemen who hate Catholics with their cornflakes in the morning and their cocoa at night. 4. Belfast, suspiciously, looks a lot like a Manchester. 5. The musical score will be a soaringly sentimental parody of trad. Irish music. For my sins I've seen quite a few of these films (Fifty Dead Men Walking was the latest) some are MUCH better than others & some are so bad they are actually kinda good. I do think Terry George, Daniel Day Lewis, Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan are hugely talented people and as you'll see the way I've presented this list is for comic effect so no hate mail please:
1. A Prayer for the Dying - Mickey Rourke plays a conflicted IRA man driven to his crimes by evil Brits.
2. The Devil's Own - Brad Pitt plays a conflicted IRA man, driven to his crimes by evil Brits, who then decides to hassle Harrison Ford.
3. Patriot Games - Sean Bean plays a conflicted IRA man, driven to his crimes by evil Brits, who then decides to hassle Harrison Ford.
4. Cal - John Lynch plays a conflicted IRA man, driven to his crimes by evil Brits, who then sleeps with the dead man's girl.
5. The Crying Game - Stephen Rea plays a conflicted IRA man, driven to his crimes by evil Brits, who then sleeps with the dead man's girl (who's really a guy).
6. The Jackal - Richard Gere plays a conflicted IRA man driven to his crimes by evil Brits. (Gere's accent work here is the comic high point of his career, I reckon.)
7. In the Name of the Father - Daniel Day Lewis is upset because evil Brits are framing innocent Micks (except, er, this is actually what really happened!!!)
8. The Boxer - Daniel Day Lewis is upset because he's a conflicted IRA man trying to go straight but is hassled by evil Brits and old pals.
9. Hidden Agenda - Evil Protestants conspire to kill everyone in their path.
10. Some Mothers Son - Evil Protestants conspire to kill Bobby Sands.
10. Hunger - Evil Protestants conspire to kill Bobby Sands (I actually kinda like the 2 Bobby Sands films...)
If you want to see a really good film about the Troubles you should watch Bloody Sunday, directed by Paul Greengrass and starring James Nesbitt, which contains something some of the films above don't have: nuance.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sean Duffy's Driving Music

Some of my favourite bits of the Duffy books are having him zoom around Carrick, Belfast and the Irish countryside in his car listening to music. Duffy can get his Beemer up to a ton and change on the Bla Hole road, which if you've been on that road, you'll know is terrifying...What's he listening to? Well, when it's not classical on Radio 3 it's stuff like this:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Three Chords And The Truth

When I first started reading the novels of James Lee Burke, Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtyDaniel Woodrell, Carson McCullers and William Faulkner it didn't initially occur to me how strange it was that I understood all the dialect words. Burke and McMurty's great westerns and McCarthy's early books set in rural Tennessee often used such Ulster Scots colloquialisms as "sleekit," "skitter," "shite," "piece," (for bread or a snack) "wean," "fixin," "crittur," etc. all of which were very familiar to me growing up in Northern Ireland. Later I understood why this was so. Cormac McCarthy's Tennessee books in particular paint a vivid picture of the Ulster Scots migrants to Appalachia and the world they live in: clannish, violent, musical, economically poor but culturally rich. I liked the fact too that these novelists wrote about blue collar working people (an increasingly rare phenomenon in American literary culture). The Ulster Scots (or Scotch Irish if you prefer) migrated from northern Ireland to America in the eighteenth century taking their customs, dialect, poetry and especially their fiddles with them. It's been well said that America's greatest contribution to world culture has been its music. African Americans invented Jazz, Blues, R&B and Rap, but the Ulster Scots invented country music or rather country music grew organically from their preexisting folk music and country music has a largely pessimistic outlook on the universe that comes from the bleak, fatalistic folkways of the Ulster Scots.
Too few people realise that the history of the Irish in America does not begin with the potato famine but goes back a century earlier to the 1740 migrations from Ulster. The best book about this hidden history is probably Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer, but Senator Jim Webb has written an entertaining primer called Born Fighting, both of which are well worth a read. Part of Jim Webb's premise is that the Ulster Scots' fighting and a feuding ways meant that they were predisposed for military service and that Scotch-Irish officers were the backbone of Washington's Army, the Union and Confederate Armies in the Civil War, the Doughboys of WW1, the GIs of WW2 and Vietnam. There may be some truth in this. Although I've never had any desire to serve in the army (all that shouting in the cadet force put me right off) my little brother has served 2 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, my dad was in the Royal Navy for twenty years and my grandfather fought in the trenches in WW1 for the duration. And of course it's well known that the British peacetime army was largely made up of Irish and Scots. Biology and culture are not destiny but maybe this is why I write (fairly) violent crime novels, not romance fiction. Mercifully though all the country songs I wrote as a teenager have gone to that great storage locker in the sky.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review This Book!

Hey folks, I'd really appreciate some reviews of my novel The Sun Is God on amazon, or good reads. All the time on Twitter I get asked "how come you don't write more standalone" novels and my answer is usually because nobody bloody buys them! Readers prefer series and although I enjoy writing standalones more than series (because you dont know what is going to happen at the end) I probably won't do any more of them if they just continue to tank in sales...As of this writing I have 2 reviews for SIG on (a 3 star and a grumpy 2 star) and 4 reviews on (an average of 4 stars). I have a feeling that this book might resonate a little better with British readers who understand the context (and how people used to talk in 1906) but hopefully all the American readers wont be as annoying as Ms 2 star above. 
This little appeal is my version of kickstarter. I'm not asking for your money in return for a stupid T shirt, all I'd like is a minute or two of your time to review one of my books. C'mon people, I've got 269 followers on here and I get a healthy number of comments for every blog post. I've never once charged for content and I've pretty much responded to every comment I've gotten over the last 5 years, so do me a friggin solid, eh? 
As a weird little standalone with an unconventional untrendy setting, I havent had many newspaper reviews either of The Sun Is God but I did get nice notices in The Times and The Irish Times and I'm copying the entire review from David Prestidge on CFL below because this was a reviewer who really got what I was trying to do: 
Adrian McKinty has made his name with three crime trilogies, the latest of which featured Catholic cop Sean Duffy in the midst of sectarian turmoil in 1980s Belfast. So, The Sun is God is a bit of a departure. Here we meet Will Prior, once a junior officer in The Military Foot Police who served during The Boer War.

When he becomes involved in a  serious incident at a concentration camp set up by the British to contain the Boers near Bloemfontein, he becomes a hero overnight, at least in the eyes of his military superiors. For Prior, however, it is the start of a nightmare both literal and metaphorical. Angrily casting aside his Distinguished Service Order he gets himself dismissed from service and seeks a new life in the colonies.

Prior fetches up in a place which McKinty describes (from personal experience) as being as close to hell on earth without there being devils dancing around with sharp tridents. German New Guinea in 1906 was hot, wet, malarial and home to every kind of flying, stinging, scuttling insect and arthropod. Prior is manager of an ailing rubber plantation near the principal settlement of Herbertshöhe. His days are spent languidly enough, living with his native servant-mistress, Siwa, but his peace is disturbed when government officer Hauptmann Kessler seeks his assistance.

Prior’s police background is useful to the colonial administrators. Corpses are ten-a-penny in Herbertshöhe, but one particular mortuary resident is causing Governor Hahl concern. On a tiny island ten miles away, an eccentric group of sun worshippers have set up a community dedicated to becoming one with nature, and eating only coconut. They call themselves The Cocovores. One of them has died, ostensibly of malaria, and the corpse has been sent back to the main island for burial. The postmortem reveals that Herr Lutzow actually died from drowning so Governor Hahl despatches Prior, Kessler, and a visiting English anthropologist, Bessie Pullen-Burry, to investigate.

the real life August Engelhardt, leader of the Cocovores...
The mismatched trio find a bizarre world of nakedness, drug taking, totem worship, and a relaxed view of sexuality. Alarmingly, Miss Pullen-Burry begins to join in, while Prior and Kessler struggle with both the debilitating climate and the charismatic Cocovore leader – August Englehardt. Answers of any kind, let alone straight ones, about the death of Lutzow are impossible to find.

Surprisingly, many of the characters in The Sun is God actually existed, and the broad events described are largely factual. In the author’s preface, however, he states that ‘where the interests of the novel and strict historical accuracy have collided I have put the demands of the former first.’

Don’t be deterred by McKinty’s enigmatic assertion that the crime remains unsolved to this day. Here, the crime is solved, and with great effect, in one of the best climaxes to a novel I have read in a long time. I do wonder if this is more a period drama than a crime novel, but of one thing I am certain – this is brilliant writing. There is wonderful sleight of hand in the final pages, when rescue comes from an unlikely source. McKinty handles the mood and tone like a master. There is wry comedy, social satire, horror, compassion and tension. This is a brave and successful change of direction from a fine writer, who spoke to us about his earlier work here.

Serpent’s Tail

CFL Rating: 5 Stars
Anyway if you can help me out with an amazon or good reads review I wd really appreciate it, esp where the combined 2 1/2 star rating looks like shit and now that Amazon mirror their reviews over onto audible and its a real PR disaster...
And if you'd like to review any of my other books, well, I'd very much appreciate that too. 

go raibh maith agat

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ireland Is A Railway Poster - Philip Larkin in Carrickfergus

Every year in and around Philip Larkin's birthday I like to reblog my favourite poem of all time, Larkin's Aubade...So below, you'll find Aubade and a little post from last year on my discovery in Larkin's Collected Letters, that Larkin had paid a secret visit to my hometown, Carrickfergus...
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
For years I've been single handedly peddling the concept that my hometown, Carrickfergus, is the centre of the universe, with admittedly, limited success. What I particularly like are the literary connections which are surprisingly rich in so small a place. Famously Louis MacNeice lived in Carrickfergus and wrote about it more than once. He brought WH Auden to the town to stay with him but what he thought is not recorded. Jonathan Swift lived in Carrickfergus (at Kilroot) where he wrote A Tale of a Tub (and possibly plotted Gulliver). Anthony Trollope lived in Whiteabbey near Carrickfergus where he wrote The Warden. William Congreve lived in Carrickfergus as a boy. Charlotte Riddel - best selling Victorian pot boiler novelist - was from Carrick. William Orr, United Irishman and poet, (with a famous poet brother) lived and was, er, hanged in Carrickfergus. Currently the best selling science fiction writer Ian McDonald lives not a million miles away from Carrick, science fiction writer David Logan lives in Carrickfergus and for his sins Carrick is the first thing Colin Bateman sees from his chateau when his butler opens the curtain windows every morning. Several episodes of Game of Thrones have been shot at Red Hall in Carrickfergus (but none yet at Carrick castle which is a bit odd as its the best preserved castle in all of Ireland!) My favourite Irish female poet, Sinead Morrissey, lives just up the road from Carrickfergus at Jordanstown. And speaking of poets I've just found this letter (below) from Philip Larkin to Monica Jones talking about his lonely visit to Carrick in 1950 when - who knows - he could have seen my mum and dad out for a walk around the harbour. Larkin is on fine miserable form thoughout...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Neddies

I'm very pleased to announce the fact that my novel, In The Morning I'll Be Gone, has been shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year at the 2014 Ned Kelly Awards. In The Morning I'll Be Gone is the third book in the Sean Duffy series and is the one where Duffy gets mixed up in the plot to kill Mrs Thatcher at the 1984 Conservative Party Conservative Conference in Brighton. These are the what the Neddie judges said about it:
“In his use of humour with the grim realities of Belfast in 1984, coupled with a wonderfully constructed locked room mystery, McKinty has produced something really quite extraordinary. There’s a fine line between social commentary and compelling mystery and not many writers, crime or literary, can do both.”
Also on the 2014 shortlist are the excellent PM (Pam) Newton, Garry Disher, Kathryn Fox, Angela Savage & Stephen Orr. I know Garry, Angela & Pam personally and have read their wonderful books, and I'm looking forward to reading Kathryn and Stephen too. 
This is the second time I've been up for the Ned Kelly Award. Last year I Hear The Sirens In The Street got shortlisted (Sean Duffy #2) for the big tin helmet. I think Sirens might be the more lyrical book (I love the opening page of that one) but I reckon Morning might be the better constructed novel. Anyway we'll see what the judges say in a month or so. Best of luck of course to my fellow shortlistees....
If you want to get any of the Sean Duffy novels please try your local bookshop (and bug them if they dont have them) and you can of course get them on Amazon, B&N, Audible etc.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Wearing Shorts All The Time

Obviously humans weren't meant to sit at desks for 8 hours a day or live in little concrete boxes. Homo sapiens are a migratory biophilic species adapted for life on the savannah in Tanzania and Kenya, dodging lions and chasing gazelles. But after hundreds of thousands of years in Africa now a majority of us live in in stressful cities next to a bunch of strangers with all their hang ups and weird smells and bad music. I think men might suffer from the stress of this urban nightmare more than women. Men don't hunt together, don't hang out together, don't bowl together, don't really do anything together anymore. (Not in big numbers anyway.) I suppose one of the methods of coping with all this is to retreat into a man shed or a fantasy world, either in films or TV or in online gaming. Geek culture is increasingly mainstream culture and it has its eloquent defenders such as Patton Oswalt, but of late I'm becoming less convinced that retreating into fantasy world is an appropriate way to live. 
Camille Paglia isn't everyone's cup of tea (and she's dead wrong in her shrill attacks on Gloria Steinem) but I did like these paragraphs from a editorial she wrote in the NYT a few years ago:

In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure. Meanwhile, family life has put middle-class men in a bind; they are simply cogs in a domestic machine commanded by women. Contemporary moms have become virtuoso super-managers of a complex operation focused on the care and transport of children. But it’s not so easy to snap over from Apollonian control to Dionysian delirium.

Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity...

In a similar vein (but from a different angle completely) I just watched a fine BBC documentary about how we were all turned into hedonistically addicted online consumers. In episode 3 of the series Jacques Peretti investigates the deliberate move by toy and game companies to target adults as if they were children and children as if they were adults. Getting adults to buy childrens toys and play video games was the smartest move they ever made. I originally had a link for ep 3 of the series on youtube here but it has already been removed by the BBC. You can watch ep 1 on vmeo, here. 

More and more Hollywood makes movies for teenage boys or teenage girls and the rest of us have to just go along with it. Do you remember in the 70's when Hollywood was making films for grown ups? Well that's more or less over now because those films just aren't profitable, or at least not as profitable as Transformers IV or the latest Marvel-DC nonsense. TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory (which I love) and Podcasts like the make arrested adolescence into a virtue. And people like Patton Oswalt (who I mentioned above) tell us that reading comics and going to superhero movies in your 40's is completely fine. And of course Comicon has become a place of pilgrimage for men of a certain age and girth size. (Its also a place where the toy companies make a shit load of money getting adults to spend a fortune on pieces of moulded plastic.)
And I am one of those men of a certain age and girth size. I played D&D as a kid (favourite module Expedition to the Barrier Peaks), I love Star Wars and Star Trek and Game of Thrones and I've watched Blade Runner maybe 20 times. But I sometimes wonder if perhaps Camille Paglia is right. Maybe all this stuff is stopping us from growing up, whatever that means...You dont have to be a conspiracy theorist or a follower of Herbert Marcuse to appreciate that one click consumerism and infantilisation are methods of social pacification. If Marcuse were alive today he might say something like "well the rich are demonstrably getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and you chubby guys in the middle don't give a shit about it because you're all waiting for the new bloody Star Wars movie to come out..." Our fathers and grandfathers could fix things and build things, but we can't, can we? If the zombie apocalypse ever did happen the most valuable guy in town wouldnt be the guy who's watched every episode of Walking Dead it would be the guy who could fix the boilers and get the lights working and thats not going to be you or me...
The below clip would have more resonance if Brad Pitt wasn't a movie god who advertises watches & clothes, but he is and he does. Still...


So all of this isn't really a coherent argument and I offer no solutions, its merely a lament or a cri de coeur and maybe I'm completely wrong and everything is ok. Maybe shorts and X Men movies and comic books are just fine. Maybe the culture hasnt become infantalized or dumber at all. What do you think? 

Monday, August 4, 2014

How Not To Run A Bookshop

Me at No Alibis with some of the Belfast Noir authors' excellent books...
I was in Belfast last week and on my way out of town I dropped in on a few bookshops to sign stock. First stop was No Alibis on Botanic Avenue, Belfast's only mystery bookshop and a veritable institution that's been supporting local writers for nearly two decades now. Dave Torrans, the owner, knows how to run a bookshop in these troubled times for book sales. Dave has an event every week, be it a poetry reading or a jazz night or a conventional book reading. Dave also knows how to market books, is internet savvy and he has laid out his shop in helpful sections. Most important of all I think, Dave promotes local authors. If you've written a book and you're from Belfast Dave will have your bloody book. Chances are that if you're from anywhere in Ireland Dave will have your back on sale somewhere in the shop. 
Contrast this with another famous bookshop in Belfast that I dropped in on to sign stock. ("Dropped in" isnt the correct phrase here, I wouldn't presume to come to a shop and demand to sign books, in fact, I had been asked to come in...) I won't name this place because I don't want to embarrass anyone, but it was a fine example of how not to run a business. When I came by to sign I was told that now was not convenient and could I return later. "I'm leaving on a plane in an hour," I explained and was huffily shown to a chair while someone looked to see if they had any of my books "lying around". Apparently they didn't, until about twenty minutes later when someone found half a dozen copies of The Sun Is God (in a storage room?) Those twenty minutes gave me ample time to look over the bookshop. Mysteries are a huge part of their turnover and they had a display for Jo Rowling, for Jo Nesbo & for some other people not called Jo. They also had a table full of Nordic Noir (which included some pretty obscure authors). There was however no display for Brian McGilloway or Stuart Neville or Colin Bateman all of whom are from Northern Ireland and are best sellers. I looked in vain for other well known Irish mystery writers. Many Irish writers with an international reputation were simply not in the shop. "You have a display table for Nordic Noir but you don't have one for Irish mystery writers? Surely that would be really popular, no?" I asked the person who brought me my books to sign. I got a dismissive grunt in response. 
Yes I know retail bookshops are being crushed by Amazon and other online businesses but it is not smart business sense to retail only the big anonymous best sellers in your shop. Jo Nesbo is a fine writer but he's not any better than Neville or McGilloway or Tana French or John Connolly or Alex Barclay. Why not engender a sense of excitement about local writers who are doing amazing things in the genre? Why not be a bit more savvy and involved? Is that too much to ask? 
There's a bookshop near me in St Kilda and its almost the same story. No local writers section, no sense of excitement about promoting local authors. It's an error. Not a moral error, a business error. I'm not telling bookshop owners to do this out of a sense of local responsibility, I'm telling them to do this because I think it makes sound economic sense. Yes some people want escape in their fiction choices, but other people would love to know what local authors are making of the place where they live. I worked in a bookshop for 3 years so I know a little bit about what I'm talking about. Get people excited about reading, about the local community, about your bookshop. That's how you defeat Amazon, not by slavishly selling all the boring best sellers. Yeah, it will require a little more work and a little more imagination but try it for a month or two and you'll see what I mean...

Friday, August 1, 2014

Arts Extra

Mary Louise Muir host of Arts Extra
Me on BBC Radio's Arts Extra programme:


I'm on near the end. Its live radio and you have no idea what questions they are going to ask so I'm not quite sure how this happened but at one point I start quoting Goethe, in German...
The Beeb being the Beeb this programme will only be available to listen to for about another week and then it will be gone forever...
2 funny things happened in and around the interview. The band who came on after me hadnt said how long their song was going to be and as they were playing they were getting closer and closer to the live news break at the top of the hour. The producers were in a bit of a panic because they wanted to tell the band to end the song before the news. They told Marie-Louise (the host) to hold up a note for the lead singer, but it didnt do any good because he was singing with his eyes closed. Everyone was in a real tizzy and I was sitting next to him in the studio and I was wondering whether I should poke him or something when purely by luck he opened his eyes with 30 seconds to go, saw the time and ended the really rather lovely song much to everyone's relief. The other funny thing was coming out of the interview & seeing my daughter who was in the Green Room outside. She was so excited and happy and I immediately thought that hey maybe the interview had gone particularly well or something. "What's up?" I said waiting for the compliments to pour in... "Daddy, guess what? They have free wi-fi here and I got to watch the new video from One Direction on my ipad!" 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What Anthem Do They Play For Northern Ireland At The Commonwealth Games?

The surprising answer is the lovely "Londonderry Air," which is seen as a neutral anthem by both traditions in Northern Ireland. Of course its usually a moot question because N.I. doesnt often get gold medals but at the last games they in fact won three golds (one of their highest totals ever) all in the boxing. I wish they would play The Derry Air (nice pun for our Francophone readers) at N.I. football matches too, instead of the doleful God Save The Queen, but football is more politically charged than the Commonwealth Games so I wont hold my breath.
For those of us engaged in the war against stereotype and cliche it is somewhat disheartening to learn that half of Northern Ireland's entire medal total came last time in either boxing or shooting.
The Londonderry Air has got an interesting history - this is what Wikipedia says about it:

The air was collected by Jane Ross of Limavady. Ross submitted the tune to music collector George Petrie, and it was then published by the Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland in the 1855 book The Ancient Music of Ireland, which Petrie edited.[1] The tune was listed as an anonymous air, with a note attributing its collection to Jane Ross of Limavady. This led to the descriptive title "Londonderry Air" being used for the piece; the title "Air from County Derry" or "Derry Air" is sometimes used instead, due to the Derry-Londonderry name dispute. The origin of the tune was for a long time somewhat mysterious, as no other collector of folk tunes encountered it, and all known examples are descended from Ross's submission to Petrie's collection. In a 1934 article, Anne Geddes Gilchrist suggested that the performer Ross heard played the song with extreme rubato, causing Ross to mistake the time signature of the piece for common time (4/4) rather than 3/4. Gilchrist asserted that adjusting the rhythm of the piece as she proposed produced a tune more typical of Irish folk music.[3]
In 1974, Hugh Shields found a long-forgotten traditional song which was very similar to Gilchrist's modified version of the melody.[4] The song, Aislean an Oigfear (recte Aisling an Óigfhir, "The young man's dream"), had been transcribed by Edward Bunting in 1792 based on a performance by harper Donnchadh Ó Hámsaigh (Denis Hempson) at the Belfast Harp Festival. Bunting published it in 1796.[5] Ó Hámsaigh lived in Magilligan, not far from Ross's home in Limavady. Hempson died in 1807.[1] In 2000, Brian Audley published his authoritative research on the tune's origins. He showed how the distinctive high section of the tune had derived from a refrain in "The Young Man's Dream" which, over time, crept into the body of the music. He also discovered the original words to the tune as we now know it which were written by Edward Fitzsimmons and published in 1814; his song is "The Confession of Devorgilla", otherwise known by its first line "Oh Shrive Me Father".
For those of you who have read Julian May's fantasy novel The Golden Torc, The Derry Air has an entirely different and fascinating imagined provenance which involves time travel and aliens...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

John Le Carre's A Delicate Truth

John Le Carre is a writer who nearly always gets great reviews for what, in the end, are often pretty mediocre books. A Delicate Truth however isn't a bad book and at 83 years old I marvelled at Le Carre's economic and skillful plotting and his nimble use of metaphor and simile (at least in the first 50 pages or so). The John Le Carre of today is a less patient writer than the master who brought us Tinker Tailor 40 years ago, but his impatient breathless prose is more in tune with our tech savvy distracted age than the languid wordsmithery of the Smiley books. I bought A Delicate Truth at Dubai airport and had read it by the time we landed in Melbourne, which is a tribute to Le Carre's power to hold the reader's attention and make those pages turn.  
A Delicate Truth is about an "extraordinary rendition" attempt gone wrong in the British Crown Colony of Gibraltar which leads to the death of an African asylum seeker and her child. For the Americans who botch the operation it's just one of those things that happen, but for the Brits involved it's a moral disaster that poisons all of their lives. It's an effective story device and I liked the temporal and POV shifts and the ruthless analysis of what guilt does to a certain class of man. 
Where A Delicate Truth falls down is in its didacticism and dialogue. Le Carre hates Tony Blair, New Labour, Americans (especially Republican Americans) and loves stiff upper lip One Nation Tories of the old school. A writer is allowed to like and hate whomever he wants but when his hatreds infect the text and he starts banging on his drum it can become wearisome. As for dialogue, well I know its heresy to suggest it, but I think Le Carre has always had a tin ear for dialogue. His experience has been limited by his background. He has largely sequestered himself in a farm in Cornwall for the last 50 years and his formative years were spent at boarding school, Oxford, Eton (where he taught classics) and then MI5. His Englishmen often talk like characters from PG Wodehouse's golden era or occasionally like characters cribbed from an episode or two of Eastenders; his Americans have a tendency to be unsophisticated Bible thumping simpletons and in one hugely embarrassing chapter in A Delicate Truth he has an Ulster-born RUC policewoman (a Protestant who is called Brigid no less!) who talks like a cross between Jamie Oliver & Lily Allen.
Still A Delicate Truth is a fine airport novel that will keep you entertained on a long haul flight. If you've read Le Carre's last 3 books you'll know exactly what happens at the end but if you haven't I won't spoil it for you now. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Rest Is Noise

Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise is an impressive if not completely comprehensive history of classical music in the twentieth century. Ross does a good job explaining the culture, the geography, the personalities, the context and even the theory of modern classical music in a lucid and interesting way. I particularly enjoyed the stuff on turn of the century Vienna, a milieu I knew a little bit about from the novel The Man Without Qualities. The dynamic between Mahler, Richard Strauss and Schoenberg was fascinating and the five or six pages on the debut of Strauss's opera Salome was brilliant. Like Game 7 of the 1955 World Series, it seems that everyone who was anyone was either there or later claimed to be there. (Ross is skeptical of Hitler's claims to have been in the audience.)
A lot of the information in the book was eye opening: even after he became famous (but not well off) Philip Glass worked as a plumber and taxi driver, for whatever reason half of all the important American classical composers were gay, Thomas Mann was consistently the most important novelistic influence on composers of the century, and it seems that the really important classical music in the century came from only four cultures: Germany, Russia, France and the US.
After finishing The Rest Is Noise I still wasn't sure that I understood the formal difference between a musical and an opera (he doesn't discuss any of the famous musicals of the 60s, 70s and 80s) and I think Ross underplays the role of pop music but not, of course, the intellectual's friend - jazz. I was also a bit annoyed that the playlist which the publishers have promised to maintain on their website (and on iTunes) doesn't seem to be working anymore - it would have been handy to read about a composer and then hear an example of their work, but alas it was not to be.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Duffy's Carrickfergus in 2014

I've been back in Carrickfergus for the last few days. This time I took daughter#1 with me. I thought you might be interested in a few Sean Duffy vids and images. Above is Duffy's street Coronation Road as it looks today (a little bit overcast even in July). Below left we're at Carrickfergus Police Station's bullet proofed glass entrance gate. Below right is the really quite lovely sea front painted pink for the Giro d'Italia. Below are 2 murals from the UVF showing that they still seem to have a presence in the area? The one at the very bottom is new to me and was done in the last year or so in a fairly sophisticated Banksyesque style. I looked for it but couldn't find it so maybe it too was painted over for the Giro?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My 12 Favourite Film Noirs

"40's style with added robot"
The 70th anniversary of the release of the quintessential film noir, Double Indemnity (1944), is as good an excuse as any to watch a classic noir. But what exactly counts as film noir in the first place? It's a tricky definitional problem. Although the classic noir era is over it’s not easy to define what noir was or when the noir period definitively ended. If you're going to say that nothing after 1959 counts as a proper noir (which a lot of film historians do) then many of my favourites below aren't going to make it. But the following is my list and my rules so I'm going to say that the cut off date is August 1987 when John Huston died (director and actor in many of the greatest noirs) which allows me to cheat a little. Obviously these are idiosyncratic choices and apologies if your favourites (Night and the City, Pickup on South Street, DOA, Night of the Hunter, Out of the Past, Cutter’s Way etc.) didn’t quite fit into the top 12.

12. The Asphalt Jungle
Directed by John Huston (1950)
Sterling Hayden gets himself mixed up in a robbery, but the real fun is watching the gang unravel under the pressure of success. Crosses and double crosses, a cameo by a purring Marilyn Monroe, an impressive Sam Jaffe as Doc  Riedenschneider; this is one of the all time great heist-gone-wrong films.

11. The Killing
Directed by Stanley Kubrick (1956)
Sterling Hayden gets himself mixed up in another robbery and again everything goes wrong after it all goes right. Hayden’s  Johnny Clay is a pacing, muscular, cerebral criminal, but while lady luck is on his side at the track it isn’t at the airport.

10. The Third Man
Directed by Carol Reed (1949)
Orson Welles is dead, or is he? Orson Welles is a bad guy, or is he? Joseph Cotten tries to find out or does he? Sewers, a Ferris wheel, duffle coats, the cuckoo clock speech, oh and the greatest existential ending of a film ever...

9. The Postman Always Rings Twice
Directed by Tay Garnett (1946)
Huge rip off. There is no postman or doorbell. Lana Turner smoulders and John Garfield is sucked willingly into the gravitational pull of her platinum sun. The plan is to kill her old man and take the insurance money. They know it’s not going to work but they do it anyway. Brilliant.

8. The Big Steal
Directed by Don Siegel (1949)
Don Siegel began his career directing the montages for Casablanca and finished it directing various Clint Eastwood vehicles in the 70’s, which isn’t a bad career at all. Along the way he made this slice of noir about an army lieutenant wrongly accused of robbery who pursues the real crook through Mexico. Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer stand out in a terrific cast.

7. Strangers On A Train
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1951)
Two strangers meet on a train and realise that they both need someone bumped off.  Based on a slyly brilliant book by Patricia Highsmith with a script by Raymond Chandler and an uncredited Ben Hecht, Alfred Hitchcock entered his great 1950’s period with this perfect stomach churning noir. Robert Walker chews the scenery as Bruno, a charming psychopath who wants out from under the heel of his father. Farley Granger provides able support.

6. Rififi
Directed by Jules Dassin (1957)
Jules Dassin got his start directing Yiddish films in New York, then he moved into mainstream Hollywood movies (directing the great Night and the City), then he got blacklisted, moved to France and directed this noir classic, with a cynical, bitter Jean Servais as an excon with a plan for a robbery on a jewellery shop. The heist itself is the highpoint of the film with its famous 10 minute zero dialogue, zero music, coming-through-the-ceiling scene. Everything succeeds perfectly but this being a noir you know that somehow it isn’t all going to end with expensive plonk and cottages in the Dordogne.

5. The Maltese Falcon
Directed by John Huston (1941)
Humphrey Bogart is tough guy private eye Sam Spade who helps Mary Astor locate a missing relic from the Knights of Malta that might be knocking around the streets of San Francisco. Also after the “black bird” are a snivelling Peter Lorre and a lugubrious Sydney Greenstreet. The ending is a bit contrived (although faithful to the novel) and fits with the best traditions of downbeat, pessimistic noirdom.

4. The Big Sleep
Directed by Howard Hawks (1946)
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall star, William Faulkner wrote the screenplay, Raymond Chandler wrote the novel. I’ve seen this half a dozen times and I still don’t really get the plot: something about a missing Irish rebel, a pornographer and dodgy films, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s all about the chemistry between Bogie and Betty Bacall. Hawks runs a tight ship throughout but lets the future Mr and Mrs Bogart really rip in their scenes. Grainy, dirty, rainy and slick, this is probably the highpoint of Hawks’s impressive career.

3. Double Indemnity
Directed by Billy Wilder (1944)
Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck star in Billy Wilder’s adaptation of the James Cain novel. It’s another knock-off-the-hubbie-and-get-the-insurance scheme. Babs rocks the sunglasses and angora sweater look and poor Fred doesn’t stand a chance (neither does the husband of course). Raymond Chandler argued with Billy Wilder, drank like a fish and somehow wrote the screenplay. He has a brief cameo at 16 minutes in (his only appearance in a movie.)

2. Blade Runner
Directed by Ridley Scott (1982)
Some people are under the mistaken belief that this is only a science fiction movie but in fact it’s a classic noir. Filmed on The Maltese Falcon set on the Warner’s back lot, it’s the story of half a dozen people trying to make sense of life before they themselves die. Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a Blade Runner, whose speciality is hunting androids who have returned to a dystopic, ruined Earth. Along the way he falls for the beautiful replicant, Rachael, who’s so convincingly human that she doesn’t even know that she’s a machine. Based on Philip K Dick’s short novel of ideas: Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, Ridley Scott has turned this material into a metaphysical detective story where the detective finds out not who done it, but how to be a good human being.

1. Chinatown
Directed by Roman Polanski (1973)
You know what happens to nosy fellows? They get their noses cut off. No, really, they do and it's not pretty. Robert Towne wrote this gloriously depressing tale of a 1930’s Private Eye (Jack Nicholson) who uncovers a plot to steal water from the city of Los Angeles and divert it to land in the San Fernando valley. The man who finds out the truth and his wife (Faye Dunaway), hires ex Chinatown cop, Nicholson, to find out who did him in. The villain of the piece is John Huston, playing Dunaway’s rapist father with gleeful malevolence. Roman Polanski’s direction is lush, romantic and old fashioned. His cameo as a knife wielding maniac is disturbing on all sorts of levels. But all the performances are pitch perfect (look out for James Hong who plays the butler in this and a genetic designer in Blade Runner). The ending of Chinatown is melodramatic and a little rushed, but it still works, and as in all the really best noirs the hero is thwarted and beaten. Noirs teach us that defeat lies ahead for us all; learning how to deal with this defeat and ultimately death itself is the only meaning of life we’re ever going to get in this world of tears.