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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Interview with Stuart Neville (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Stuart Neville Website

Order "Ghosts of Belfast" (US) aka "Twelve" (UK) HERE

Read FBC Review of "Ghosts of Belfast"


1] Thank you very much for agreeing to participate in the interview. To start with could you tell us a bit more about yourself other than what is given in the author bio and how you came to write?

Stuart: I've wanted to write novels ever since I was a kid. I even had a try at it when I was about eight or nine years old - it was about dinosaurs, if I remember right. I had a few more stabs at it over the years, but was never able to stick with it. But about three years ago I'd been through a difficult time personally, and I realized if I was ever going to write a novel, it had to be now. So, I started writing and finished one before realizing it wasn't very good. But I kept the momentum going and started writing another, and that became The Ghosts of Belfast.

2] I have read on your blog as to how "Ghosts Of Belfast" started out as a short story, would you tell the readers about its evolution from a short story to its eventual form.

Stuart: Once I'd finished the short story I found the protagonist wouldn't leave me alone. It has a kind of open ending that meant there was a lot more story to tell. It kept nagging me until I really had no choice but to sit down and write it. It came out very quickly, about ten weeks of intense work from deciding it would become a novel to typing the last words. I don't think I'll ever write a first draft as quickly again.

3] With your next book "Collusion", which will be a sequel to the twelve, what can the readers expect from you & conversely what are you aiming for via this book?

Stuart: COLLUSION features some returning characters from The Twelve, but has a different protagonist - the father of Marie McKenna's child. He's a cop who starts digging into the events of the first book when he realizes his child and former lover have gone missing. But when he gets too close to the truth, his superiors tell him to leave it alone.

It's a more complex story than The Ghosts of Belfast, less linear in structure, with more characters and conflicts. I hope it has a similar forward drive, though.

4] What was the reason for the name change from "The Twelve" in the UK to "The Ghosts of Belfast" in the US?

Stuart: The Ghosts of Belfast was the original title, and it was changed for the UK market. The reason was that there was a lot of poor quality fiction written about the Troubles and Northern Ireland from the 1970s through to the 1990s, and some readers are turned off by titles that reference Belfast as a result. It was a purely commercial decision.

5] Your story about getting published is an incredible one to say the least, so for the benefit of those who are still in the dark, could you elaborate on it?

Stuart: After finishing the first draft of The Ghosts of Belfast, I wanted to revisit the main character, so I wrote another short story about him. Almost on a whim, I submitted it to an online crime fiction zine called ThugLit.com. I was delighted when they accepted it for publication, and I thought the T-shirt I got for my trouble would be the only reward. About two weeks after it appeared online, I was working late at my office when I received an email from a man called Nat Sobel. The name was familiar, but it wasn't until I read the message that I realized he was one of New York's biggest literary agents with an extraordinary client list. He asked to read the novel I mentioned in my bio, so I sent it off, and a few days later I had an agent.

6] What book/s have you read recently that has made quite an impression on you & who are your Literary idols?

Stuart: I'm a huge fan of James Ellroy, and I think Ted Lewis was a vastly underrated writer. I like John Connolly for the way he blends crime and horror with a poetic literary sensibility. I've also been getting into Cormac McCarthy, and I loved Ken Bruen and Jason Starr's Bust trilogy. But the book that really blew me away over the last year was Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist; for my money, it's the best vampire novel since Bram Stoker's Dracula.

7] On your website you have this cool idea of a free download of your short story book, can you tell us a bit more about this & hopefully also about each of the stories in "The Six"

SW: The Six is a little introduction to my writing for anyone who wants to try me out before buying a novel. The stories involve an ageing assassin, a damned bluesman, a jealous husband, an impatient drunk, and a frightened antique dealer. The collection also includes the short story Followers which went on to become The Ghosts of Belfast. (readers can download "The Six" HERE )

8] In your book you have managed to weave a lot about the political situation & history of Northern Ireland, was it a conscious decision from the start?

Stuart: The politics and history are intrinsic to the story, so they are an organic part of the book. But that's true of life in Northern Ireland in general; the politics and history of this place colour everything, what part of town we live in, where we go to school, the entire course of our lives. You can't get away from it, and the novel reflects that.

9] In your acknowledgments section of your book, you have thanked a certain Ms. Snark, would you enlighten the readers about her wonderful blog & its benefits as reaped by you.

Stuart: Miss Snark was an anonymous New York literary agent who blogged about the inner workings of the publishing industry, demystifying the whole process in a frank and often very funny way. She developed a huge following over a few years before finally retiring the blog. It's still online HERE and it's a great place to start if you want to learn how to get published. It really prepared me for how to make the best of my opportunities when they arose, and I owe Miss Snark my gratitude.

10] You have also blogged a bit about the difficulties & pressure faced by a writer after the successful inception of their debut, your current thoughts on it sir & also could you summarize what you have felt in the past?

Stuart: Although I've been amazingly lucky in my path to publication, it hasn't been without stress. For instance, it was nerve wracking when my agent had the book on submission to editors; remember, having an agent, even a great one like mine, is not a guarantee that you'll make it into print. That process seemed to drag on forever and I found that difficult. While it was wonderful that the first book was so well-received, that also meant a lot of pressure when I was writing the sequel. I found it so much harder to write than the first book, knowing that every word would be seen by my agent and editor. Although the first book got me over the transom, it's really the second that will prove my right to be there.

11] How would you classify GOB in terms of genre & how would you convince a new reader to give your book a try?

Stuart: I see it as a thriller first and foremost, but with an element of horror. But I find individual readers will put their own interpretation on it. Some will be adamant that the ghostly figures are purely psychological rather than paranormal, while others will insist they are actually ghosts. It's kept ambiguous until the final few pages, but even when it's made clear, some reader will insist it's the other way.

12] What type of music do you listen to & how much incremental is it to your writing?

Stuart: I listen to all sorts of music, from jazz to electronica, but at heart I'm a rocker. I don't think it's influenced my writing stylistically, but I've used elements of my musical background in things like Gerry Fegan's keeping his sanity by restoring an old guitar, or in one of my shorts stories, Me and the Devil Blues, which is based on the life of Robert Johnson. (Readers interested can check it out over HERE )

13] You will be interviewing your literary idol James Ellroy in November at Belfast (For Details Click HERE). Can you give us an insight into your preparations for the event & what's the first thing which came first to your mind when this possibility became a reality?

Stuart: The first thing that came to my mind was outright terror. James is a formidable character, whereas I'm quite softly spoken, so it'll be interesting to see how we balance. I've been rereading some of his earlier books, plus I've been speaking to our mutual agent who has known him for most of his career for insights.

14] What's the deal with the term "Norn Noir" & how much of your book is encapsulated by it?

Stuart: That's a term I used to describe a short story by my friend Gerard Brennan. There's a kind of hard-boiled crime fiction that is specific to Northern Ireland that blends violence and humour. The humour part is less prevalent in my work, whereas it's a much bigger part of someone like Colin Bateman's books. But I think there's a common sensibility, a certain nihilism, that's common to crime writers from this part of the world. Norn Noir is a play on Norn Iron, which in turn is a play on how people from here pronounce Northern Ireland.

15] You have been blogging for quite a while now, how do you perceive this new form of infotainment? What are the blogs which you subscribe to? What do you want to get across to your readers via your blog?

Stuart: Although I don't blog as much as I used to, it was a huge part of my development as a writer, and gave me a way to reach out to other writers around the world so I could learn from them. I've made a lot of good friends, some of whom I hope to meet during my US tour in late October. Literary agent Nathan Bransford's blog is one of the best publishing industry resources, and he's a nice guy too. Moonrat is an anonymous New York editor for a mid-sized independent house, and her blog blends industry info with her own funny stories from her life. My great friend Betsy Dorbusch, the first editor to ever buy one of my stories, blogs HERE about all things writerly. And of course the following two sites, Crime Always Pays run by Declan Burke and Crime Scene run by Gerard Brennan respectively, have all the insider info on the Irish crime fiction scene.

16] With the release of your Novel "Twelve" the short story collection "Six" Are there any plans for a novella "Nine"?

Stuart: It might not be called Nine, but I may turn an idea I've had for a while into a novella for a free download, if I can get the time before the next book comes out.

17] In the end, is there anything else you'd like to say about yourself or "Ghosts of Belfast"? Also what can we look forward to from you in the future?

Stuart: Only that I've been very lucky in my writing career so far, and I hope I can continue to build on that for the future.

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