My favourite noir book…

2087286A while back, fellow crime/noir writer Jason Beech asked me to participate in the long-running and popular ‘Books I Wish I’d Written’ feature for his blog. I said yes, and promptly panicked, because I couldn’t think of a book I knew well enough to talk about in enough detail to be interesting.

And then Joel Lane came to the rescue. I read his noir gem ‘From Blue to Black’ a good many years ago now and was blown away by it. I remember thinking it was exactly the sort of noir book I’d love to be able to write, if only my facetious sense of humour didn’t keep getting in the way. So I settled down to re-read it to refresh my own memory, and then subjected myself to Jason’s questions.

Unlike most interviewers, he didn’t send all of these at once. Instead, he asked one, and then let my answer influence his next query, so it became more like a conversation with ideas batted back and forth. It was hard work, but really stimulating, and made me examine in much greater depth what exactly it is that I love so much about Joel’s book. The language, for sure; the descriptions; the amazing colour palette; the sense of doom. The setting in Birmingham. The sense of unease, of otherworldliness, that occasionally pervades the narrative. Jason managed to tease out all of this and more.

I was lucky enough to meet Joel Lane several times (we were on the same writing circuit in Birmingham in the early 2000s) and he was very supportive of my own writing efforts, particularly in the noir genre. I could never hope to understand – or write – noir as well as he did, but I owe him a huge debt for helping to foster my own enthusiasm for the genre.

You can find my spiel on ‘From Blue to Black’ at Jason’s Messy Business blog here. Hope you enjoy it – and  if my responses encourage you to go out and read any of Joel’s books, then good. If you like noir, you really won’t regret it.

Where the Heck Wednesday: Jason Beech

This week the spotlight lands on Jason Beech. His location is a little hard to pin down accurately on any map! But no less vivid and atmospheric for that. I grew up in 1970s Liverpool and his descriptions of Sheffield in the same era brought back a lot of memories…

Book title: City of Forts

Setting: Blue collar America meets Sheffield, England!

Author: Jason Beech / Twitter


City of Forts is set in an unspecified part of America – a mush-up of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and a bit of Georgia, especially their rougher, working class parts. The atmosphere I wanted to recreate is one of fighting the breadline, working multiple jobs to get by, grabbing pleasure where you can get your hands on it, and holding on to a past which people feel is slipping by. I wanted to put a harder mark on the Spielberg ideal of childhood, put a little more grey into the sepia.

But it’s actually Sheffield, England, which inspired the setting. I started the book in Yorkshire, where I grew up. I remember Sheffield in the late 70s and 80s two ways. I grew up in a very leafy council estate surrounded by acres of woods and fields we ran wild across as kids. You’d go out after school, or in the holidays, and not come back home until you heard your mum holler that she had tea ready. Green surrounded us on all sides. But my dad worked as a union man in the steel works and when he took me to the city’s industrial areas such as Attercliffe and Carbrook it’s as if I’d stepped into the aftermath of a nuclear blast. A few factories and rows of terraced housing looked like sorry boats in a sea of bricks from demolished buildings. Smack in the middle sat a classic boozer, The Royal, full of characters, the smell of beer and dehydration competing against each other. City of Forts swims in that kind of post-industrial atmosphere of decay and before transition into something new, with the added intensity of American summer heat.

So why did I set City of Forts in America? I’ve lived here for sixteen years now and the kid’s voices came out all American. I think the world views of the characters came out stronger in that setting, too, along with the wide-open spaces. I wanted that contrast between those working hard to survive, those hustling at the edges to also survive, and the Darwinian view from above, to hit each other hard. I’ve travelled through all of the east coast, north to south, and much of the Midwest, stayed with dozens of Americans in their homes, ate food at their tables, and listened to all kinds of viewpoints from uber-liberals to hard-right conservatives who believe anybody should be able to own an automatic machine gun. But every single place was so friendly and welcoming you couldn’t rut against any of them. That friendliness would make a rubbish novel, mind, so I used some of the viewpoints and turned them dark for dramatic effect, adding gangsters, betrayal, family tension, murder, and a bit of ancient Mediterranean history.


The Right to Remain Silent

Dark_Side_of_the_MoonI didn’t remain silent, and perhaps it’s just as well. Nope, nothing to do with getting myself arrested (yet!) but a brilliant interview with a fictional (honest) introduction over at Jason Beech’s blog.

The interview is fairly standard although some of the questions really made me think. But the fictional bit is amazing. How Jason came up with the whole thing armed with only a few snippets of information I shall never know. Pink Floyd, murder, urban legends, they’re all in there. And if he can do that with just my bio, imagine what he’s like with a whole book!

Do head over to his blog and check the interview out. After all, it’s not every day that you’re in the presence of an urban legend. Cough. And while you’re at it, have a look at some of his other willing victims, because there are lots of them and they’re all just as good. And then have a look at his latest book, City of Forts, because that looks brilliant too.