23rd Oct2012

Interview with Danny Miller

by Lloyd Paige

Danny Miller is an acclaimed playwright, screenwriter, and novelist. His first book Kiss Me Quick introduced protagonist Vince Treadwell and his version of 1960’s Brighton to the crime writing fraternity. His second entitled The Gilded Edge, also set in the 60’s, is out now. Danny was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his career and books.

1. You been a playwright and a script writer and your first play Jack’s Out was shortlisted for the International Playwriting Festival. What lured you into being a crime fiction author?

My love of reading, primarily. For me personally, the novel is the purest expression of writing. It’s just you and the reader. Scripts and plays need a lot of other things to make them come alive. In scriptwriting you’re sort of an employee, in books you’re the boss.

As for writing crime novels, I believe the genre in which you write chooses you. Whilst obviously it’s up to a readership to decide, I think you can either do it or you can’t. As well as building characters and enjoying language, I love the twist and turns of storytelling and plotting, which I think you need for this genre. I couldn’t write Science Fiction, and I’m in awe of the writers who have that kind of imagination.

2. You once lived in New York and took acting classes, what was that like?

I was in New York for two years, but I’d been in L.A for two years previous to that, and I think I contracted the acting bug over there. One of my many jobs was on a catering van that worked on film sets. I was young, and think I must have liked the attention the actors were getting and wanted some of it! But it was a fun thing to do and a learning curve, it put me in touch with reading plays and eventually writing plays. But New York’s is a great city, I was there a little while ago and it’s changed – probably a lot safer now.

3. Do you still harbour acting ambitions somewhere deep down inside?

Yeah, I’m going to play Vince’s dad in the movie. I’m joking! No, acting is a tough game and involves a lot of luck, and I think I used all mine up getting published.

4. You burst onto the literary scene with Kiss Me Quick and the character Vince Treadwell. What inspired you to choose that name for the protagonist?

I developed the character first, and then all of a sudden the name came. I think Vince, Vincent, has a touch of the romantic, exotic, about it, and Treadwell sounds rather classically, no-nonsense, Anglo Saxon. I didn’t give it too much thought, it sort of came to me, or him. I have to say, I quite like it.

5. The other thing about Kiss Me Quick is that it is set in Brighton in the swinging sixties which often struck me as a period of experimentation and style. Do you think the setting strengthens the messages in the story?

Brighton is my home town, so I kind of knew the bones of the place, and wanted to write about it. It comes with history and a rakish reputation for bad behaviour. In terms of fiction it’s probably most known for Brighton Rock, which gave the town an established gangster context. And setting it over the bank holiday with Mods and Rockers, I think, or hope, gives the book an energy with a thread of chaos running through it. And you’re right, it was a time of experimentation, and that included drugs, which is a major theme in the book. So yes, the place and the period were vital. As for style, the 60’s had it in abundance.

6. Vince is a young and impulsive character, were you tempted to portray him any other way?

No. I didn’t want him to be a middle aged maverick with a drink problem and several divorces behind him, coming across as taciturn and someone who should know better. There seemed to be a lot of them about. Vince is impulsive, and that comes from him being young, and the 60’s were a great time to be young in; I didn’t want him to look out of place at the party. It also makes for better action scene, as he can handle himself. In Kiss Me Quick he gets jumped by some Rockers because they think he’s a Mod, and in many ways he is.

7. Do you have any experience of the sixties and how did you research the period?

Apart from being born in it, not really. Which is a shame, because I remember the beige and bad 70’s in all its shabby glory. But eras are funny, there’s never one look or culture or moment that defines one. For most of the 60’s it was still the 50’s. And for many the 60’s didn’t happen until 1966. And for vast swathes of England outside of swinging London, it remained the 50’s. Then they had the power cuts of the 70s to look forward to. But the 60’s has reached a kind of mythical status in terms of being a great era for England, in music especially.

As for research, when a subject comes up, I’ll read around it. I won’t let cold facts get in the way of a good story. When you do tons of research there’s the temptation to put it all in, as a sort of reward for how much you’ve done, and to show how clever you are. It makes for dry reading. I’m currently enjoying Len Deighton’s Funeral In Berlin, and some le Carre, as research for the fourth book, which gives you an idea of the direction for that book.

8. Taking your scriptwriting experience into account, when you write do you tend to picture your scenes and characters in a cinematic way?

Yes, I do. But to be honest I think most writers do. I love movies, I’m a big fan of film noir, and those movies had a certain look about them that defined them. And I had a strong image of Vince, the world he operated in, the way he dressed, sharp suits, which was the look for most of the 60’s.

In film, obviously, a great deal of attention is paid to the visual aspect, the ‘look’. The director, cinematographer, and the set designer all sit down and discuss how it should look before any film is shot. I sort of have that discussion with myself when I start a book. I like writers who immerse you visually in their world, where you’re guided by their imagination and not yours. Raymond Chandler’s very good that, he’s highly descriptive. When he describes a room, it stays described.

9. You second book is entitled The Gilded Edge and is set in London where a devastating crime ensures that characters from areas of Notting Hill and Belgravia clash, did you enjoy bringing the different social classes and cultures together?

I used to live in Notting Hill, on the Goldborne Road, above a furniture shop, so I knew the area quite well. I also read the Colin MacIness London trilogy, which is also set in the area, and the era. Notting Hill was a rich environment to write about, in the late 50’s and 60’s it was the front line culturally and politically, and socially in many ways, full of posh thrill seekers.

But the posh and the poor and the underworld have been rubbing shoulders for years. It’s the fearful middle class who were traditionally excluded. There was a pub in the centre of Belgravia that was almost exclusively used by the top villains of the day. And of course, the Profumo scandal was set around Notting Hill, and went to the very top of society. It was a time when the class barriers were coming down, an exciting meritocracy was sweeping the country. Now the class divide seems to have gaped even further into an insurmountable chasm.

10. A few real characters are blended into the story. For some you changed the names and for others you didn’t, how do you decide which characters fall into which category?

The Gilded Edge is based around the ‘Clermont Set’ who were John Aspinall, Jimmy Goldsmith, Lord Lucan and others. Lord Lucan I kept as Lucan, the other names I changed. I think, just because they’re dead and they can’t sue, doesn’t mean I’m free to slander them. Plus the fact, changing their names gives you more licence. The gangster Billy Hill and the black power leader Michael X play large parts in the book, and they are very real, and very dangerous. But I’m getting more brazen with using real characters. The new book is set down in Cannes in 1965, and everyone who was anyone was down there for it: John Lennon was there, Tony Curtis was there, Michael Cain, Sean Connery, all the top stars of the day. So you never know, they might well find themselves having a natter with Vince Treadwell.

11. How many drafts of the story do you tend to do before it reaches your agent?

I take it up to the wire as far as my deadlines are concerned. The fact is, the book has to leave your hands at some time, and three really solid drafts usually works for me.

12. As a crime writer what’s the overall thing that you are trying to achieve whenever you write a book?

I want my books to entertain. I think that’s what most novelist, in any genre, want to achieve. Of course for a book to be entertaining it has to involve lots of different elements – story, characters, language, and a certain amount enlightening. When I read a book, I like to learn a thing or two, have some light thrown on the world. Because my books contain some real characters and factual elements, they have a certain historical context, so there’s hopefully some insights into the world they lived and operated in.

13. Who are your favourite writers?

There’s so many, as different writers working in different genres achieve different things. But that’s ducking the question, so here are some of them in no particular order: Chandler, Hammett, James Ellroy, F Scott Fitzgerald, Don DeLillo, Elmore Leonard, Martin Amis, William Burroughs, Hunter S Thompson, Jim Thompson, Ross Macdonald, Saul Bellow, Nabokov, Zadie Smith, PG Wodehouse, and on re-reading Great Expectation – Charles Dickens, and I’m enjoying Len Deighton at the moment.

14. Finally, now that you’ve established Vince, does that give you more freedom to try another type of story or is there an obligation to your readership and to yourself, to continue with him?

I tend to fit Vince around the stories and the themes I want to write about, not the other way round. So as long as I can do that and not just re-tread old ground, then I’ll carry on with him. He’s quite a flexible character to work with, so there’s scope. But I think my obligation to the reader and myself is not to bore, and if I feel I’m just going down the same old path, I’ll stop writing Vince. As a writer you want to push yourself, and that means breaking new ground. I’m working on a new book independent of the series, it’s set just after WW1 and takes us up to WW2, so it falls into the genre of an historical novel. But there is lots of crime in it, I just can’t help myself.


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