Wednesday, November 18, 2009

If it's not Scottish - It's Crap!

Allan Guthrie writes whatever the hell he wants to. It's bloody, yeah, absurd? sometimes, twisty? okay, heartbreaking? often and funny for those with a twisted sense of humor. He cemented the top spot on my read-first list when picking up anthologies this summer with his absolutely sick and hilarious yet squeaky-clean, (language-wise) story The Turnip Farm (from Uncage Me edited by Jen Jordan) and by publishing a kick ass viking story in a crime-fiction book (Haermunde Hardaxe Was Here from Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll edited by Todd Robinson). His novels depict Edinburgh's streets run amok with characters exacting retribution for wrongs profound and puzzling and encountering sword-wielding stoners, basement crucifixions and baseball bat leaning collection specialists in the land of cricket. His latest novel Slammer, (about a rookie prison guard in over his head), has just been released in the U.S. and while playing it straight with the yuks, it goes for your gut with surgical precision and reads like printed crank. He's been an editor on titles like this year's Ken Bruen/Reed Farrell Coleman collaboration Tower and is also a literary agent representing HBW favorite Anthony Neil Smith among others.

What exactly is the deal with blood feuds in Scotland?

Pure fiction. The truth is, everybody loves one another in Scotland. We're a nice bunch, like crime writers. Actually, most of us are crime writers.

How many of your stories revolve around someone's child, (or adult child) being killed?

In terms of novels, I'd say two out of the five. I'm not sure, though, cause I'm not convinced that Savage Night actually centres around the particular death you might be thinking of, it's just an incident that helps move things along more quickly. There's a third contender, possibly, in Kiss Her Goodbye, but the protagonist's teenage daughter isn't killed, she commits suicide. So I'll stick with two as my answer. Just so happens I've recently finished a novella that centres around the kidnapping of a seven-year-old. I'm not going to tell you whether he dies or not, though. You'll have to wait to find out.

The tone of your work swings hard and fast between utterly tragic, absurdly comic and horrific, often within the same chapter. Have you ever been told to pick one and stick to it?

I've been lucky enough to be allowed to do my own thing. And I do like a bit of horrifying tragi-comedy. Possibly comes of reading so much Charles Higson, Christopher Brookmyre and Douglas Lindsay in my formative writing years. But I think in SLAMMER I've pulled back quite a bit on the humour. Yeah, there's a chuckle or two in there but the overall tone of the book is largely melancholic.

Yes, Slammer is dark straight through, why did you approach it that way?

I just fancied writing something with a different mood. Also, because it's entirely written by the protagonist, there are comedic restrictions in terms of how he perceives the world.

As much a fan of hardboiled and noir fiction as you clearly are, you seem bent on subverting every hallowed tradition, or cliche if you like, of the genres. Why's that?

I'm flattered you think so, but to me the "hallowed traditions" are represented by the novels of Caldwell, Cain, Goodis, Thompson, Himes, Lewis, Raymond, Manchette. I think I'm continuing in the same tradition, so I'm not sure I'm subverting anything.

Well, take Hard Man. The title itself prepares you for a tough guy story, but Pearce is hardly the hardboiled hero in the traditional sense. Your 'hard men' tend to be struggling with impotence or an aversion to blood, sexual identity or un-manly shames of one sort or another. They have to really be forced into action or otherwise utterly psychotic in the first place. When you get down to it Nick Glass, (the entirely out of his depth prison guard in Slammer, whom no one - not inmate, co-worker or spouse respects or fears) may be your most traditional man of action.

Absolutely true. I don't identify that much with hardboiled character types. I'm much more into noir characteristics: fear, paranoia, anxiety, psychosis, etc. You'll find any number of protagonists like that in the work of the authors mentioned above, though. Most of those writers are frequent explorers of issues of (mostly) male identity, masculinity, manhood -- or even the loss of it (see Jim Thompson's The Nothing Man).

I heard somewhere we might see a sci-fi novel from you soon. What sort of Sci-Fi aesthetic might that adhere to/lean toward?

It's something I'd like to try, certainly. I'm a big fan of Philip Dick, Alfred Bester, some Robert Sheckley. The novel I have in mind is a space noir and no doubt some of those influences will crop up.

Some of the most interesting scenes in your novels feature characters tied to chairs, beds or otherwise bound to large stationary objects while various unpleasantries are visited upon them. Is this a theme you're trying to work into each story?

No. Neither is the broken nose in the first chapter of each of my first four books.

What's up with the Two Way Split film option?

Two-Way Split has been in development for a while, but we've pushed through to the next level. It's now in "advanced development" with Plum Films and Scala Productions. We have a script everybody seems to like and we're optimistic we'll get the money in place to make the film before much longer, so keep your fingers crossed.

Have you written screenplays for your books?

I co-wrote the screenplay for Two-Way Split. I haven't written any others – not my own, although I've co-written an adaptation of Swierczynski's The Wheelman.

Would you?

It depends on the book. Some are more challenging than others, and those are the ones that would most interest me. I'm certainly not precious about the movie being faithful to the book, though. I'd like the movie to be better than the book, and it's hard to be better if it's faithful.

Can you explain that or give any examples of films you think were better than the books of origin because of their unfaithfulness?

Well, it might just be me, but I never think of a novel as being finished. There comes a point where I have to stop (or am told to stop), but I could make improvements forever. I kept going back to Two-Way Split for a couple of years after it was published. Completely pointless exercise, I know. Examples of some films that are better than the source material: On Dangerous Ground, The Graduate, Dr Strangelove, Adaptation, The Shining, Goldfinger.

What kinds of straying from your own books do you think would improve possible film projects and would you want to be making those decisions yourself?

I could give you a concrete example from the adaptation of Two-Way Split. But it would ruin the surprise so you'll just have to wait. I don't mind who makes the decisions, no. Once the film rights are optioned, it's out of my hands. When it comes to writing, my philosophy is to concentrate on the things that are within my control and not worry about the things that aren't.

Has Duane Swiercyznski ever tried to sell you drugs? Or taxied you around?

How dare you, sir! I am incredibly offended on Duane's behalf. He's a fine writer and a fine gentleman. So let me state for the record that he has never taxied me around.

Are there other story telling mediums you'd like to explore?

I'm open to just about anything. I tried radio drama once but without much success. Wouldn't mind a shot at a graphic novel. And song, of course. I used to compose a bit when I was younger. I'd love to see Hard Man: The Musical.

I like the US cover of Slammer. I saw it on the bookshelf at a store yesterday.

Dammit. Was hoping I'd sold that one.


Joyful Alternative said...

Science fiction? Say it ain't so, Al!

Paul D Brazill said...

Great interview. Savage Night and, especially, Slammer are cracking books.

Stacia Decker said...

Dear Al, write that space noir NOW! I want to see it.

Word verification: ingsm (I bet you're all thinking what I'm thinking).

Unknown said...

That's the last time I "taxi" you around.

Unknown said...

Duane sells drugs?

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

HARD MAN and SAVAGE NIGHT kicked all kinds of ass. SLAMMER is on my list, but I haven't yet gotten hold of a copy. Great interview, Jed.

Peter Rozovsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Rozovsky said...

Good interview, good subject. Man, Allan Guthrie must have fun writing!
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Gordon Harries said...

I was at a talk recently, at the Edinburgh book festival.

Anyway, the panel was Allan Guthrie and Stuart McBride (who really is something to behold, in full flow) and Stuart has a crime novel coming out, set in the near future. He cursed –for several minutes—the fact that everyone had decreed this to be a sci-fi novel and when the (good natured) dust had finally settled..

Al get’s up..

Goes over to the reading lectern and says “I can’t wait to write a sci-fi novel.”

Brought the house down.

Nice work as always, Jed.

Dana King said...

I reviewed SLAMMER when it came out, not sure what to expect, as it was my first exposure to Allan Guthrie. Kick ass book, and a disturbing read. I'll be back.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this interview! I linked to it on my blog, Hard Feelings.

Greg Bardsley said...

Wanted to know ... what was the inspiration for Turnip Farm in UNCAGE ME? ... Crazy-good story.

Al Guthrie said...

Thanks for the great questions, Jed. And thanks, folks, for all the kind comments.

Greg, you asked about the origin of The Turnip Farm story. I was on a panel at a crime convention and our moderator, Donna Moore, asked us to prepare a paragraph or two (to read aloud) in a genre in which we had not written in before. We were allowed to choose any genre we desired. So, naturally, I chose the little known genre of bucolic erotica. Those two paragraphs became the starting point for The Turnip Farm.