13th Sep2012

Interview with Tony Black

by Lloyd Paige

Tony Black is the writer behind books such as, Paying for It, Gutted, Loss, Long Time Dead and Truth Lies Bleeding. Murder Mile sees DI Rob Brennan try his best to stop his life from spiralling out of control, while trawling through the gritty streets of Edinburgh for a killer. Tony was on hand to kindly answer a few questions for me, providing a fascinating insight into the man that Irvine Welsh called his ‘favourite British crime writer.’

1. You’ve been a journalist for many years, what do you feel are the main differences between journalism and creative writing, and how do you inject your journalism skills into your books?

In many ways it’s beyond differences, it’s polar opposites. Journalism is the recording of facts, fiction is all about the realm of the imagination. The only time the two cross is close to deadline when my typing speed maxes out!

2. Why the move away from Gus Dury in your earlier books to a police procedural with DI Rob Brennan?

I was ready for a break from Gus, he’d featured in four books and I wanted to get to know a new character. Rob was very different to Gus, a public servant, a by-the-book team player and a little bit older. Oh, and he didn’t have an out-of-control alcohol addiction, so seemed ideal.

3. When creating a protagonist like DI Rob Brennan, apart from his likes and dislikes, do you think long and hard about the police rank he should be and if the name you’ve chosen for him resonates with readers?

Interesting question, in both cases I think – rank and name – they chose him. Rob had to be sufficiently high up the ranks to lead an investigation but I didn’t want him to be living in an ivory tower – he brushes up against his superiors quite a bit, which makes for some good tensions. Both Rob and Brennan are good west-coast of Scotland names and fit his personality but he tried on a few others beforehand that didn’t fit.

4. Rob’s been through a lot which adds to his overall character, do you think that readers prefer ‘troubled’ protagonists?

I think protagonists have to have a bit of back story to round them out; they don’t necessarily need to be troubled, just interesting, though Rob is a police officer of several years standing so he has seen a little more of life than most.

5. What was the hardest part of writing Murder Mile?

The first quarter or so of any book is always the most difficult for me. That’s when you’re trying to find your groove, get into a rhythm with the style and pace and characters. The further on you go, you understand more about the story and what’s going on and it becomes a bit of a downhill dash for me, I often have to go back and slow down the last few chapters because I get over excited.

6. Compared to the other books you’ve written, how long did it take to write?

It took a bit longer than the rest because it’s a bigger, more complicated book. I actually locked myself away in the wilds to write this one because I knew any distractions would show.

7. As an established writer do you still get the same buzz seeing a new book hit the shelves as you did with Paying for It?

Each book is like climbing a new mountain for the first time; I think I got more of a buzz out of Murder Mile than Paying for It but I might be wrong.

8. From what I gather, Paying for It wasn’t actually the first book you’d written, what happened with the others?

No, I wrote four previous novels – they got taken on by agents in the USA and London and pitched around but never sold, despite coming very close a couple of times. The first two are quite like the Dury novels, bit of crime content, and I plan to rewrite those eventually and give them back to my agent. The later two were not crime at all and have been a bit of a harder sell but one of them is coming out next year and the other is on submission.

9. You’re an Australian by birth but grew up in Alloway and was based in Edinburgh where most of your books are set. Was it a case of write what you know or do you generally feel there is a lot of mileage to be gained from setting your crime fiction in Scotland and the city of Edinburgh?

I’m back on the west-coast now – in Ayr and setting my new novel, ARTEFACTS OF THE DEAD, there. I’ve set books in Australia, Ireland, Edinburgh, and Ayr before so I’m pretty happy setting them anywhere that I know. I think you’re on shaky ground as a writer if you chose a setting you don’t really know.

10. What are the main books that have influenced you most?

I always think influence is hard to pinpoint, but the ones I enjoyed most were: A Farewell to Arms; The Grapes of Wrath; True History of the Kelly Gang; The Killer Inside Me; The Moon in the Gutter.
All the work of Irvine Welsh, William McIlvanney and the Irish crime writer, Ken Bruen would have to be on the list too, but it would be a very long list …

11. The term ‘Sock Puppeting’ has been prominent in the media recently. How much harm do you think the issue has done to the book trade and what can be done to restore the trust in reader reviews?

I think most of the harm has been done to the writers involved and perhaps to the system of reviewing on Amazon. I think there’s something to be gained from tightening up the regulations on Amazon reviews, perhaps limiting reviews to people who have actually bought the books and those prepared to put their own name to the review.

12. You’re due to take part in ‘Meet My Alter Ego’ at Bloody Scotland. Do you look forward to events like these?

I do yeah, the crime writing community is composed of a great bunch of people, it’s always nice to catch up with familiar faces. It’s a chance to meet your readers too and get feedback face-to-face so Bloody Scotland should be a blast.

13. Finally, what advice would you give to those new writers with a finished manuscript, seeking their first break?

The landscape has changed so much since I was first published that any advice I would give is probably already redundant. It’s debatable whether a writer actually needs an agent or publisher now and when I was starting out that was every would-be writer’s preoccupation. Write the best book you possibly can is still the only advice worth noting, though.

Murder Mile by Tony Black, published by Arrow Books at £7.99.

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