I met Michael J Malone via the popular Glasgow-based writers’ networking event, Weegie Wednesday, last year. His first crime thriller BLOOD TEARS had just been published by Five Leaves Publications [http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/blood-tears/] and I was eager to read it. As soon as I did, I was hungry for a sequel – and lo and behold, he’s written one! Now, sometimes sequels can be a bit of a limp dick – potentially full of fun and promising a great night in, but not really up to much, memorable for all the wrong reasons, and a bit of a slog to finish off. Let me state for the record, guv, that this is NOT the case with A TASTE FOR MALICE. I’m not going to review it here other than to say that if you enjoy contemporary crime thrillers featuring smart arse Scottish polis and horrible suspense, you’ll really love this, but I am going to talk to Michael about it a bit.
DI Ray McBain is a smartarse with a soft side, and I don’t just mean he’s a bit of a sweetheart under the cursing and sarcasm. I found it really refreshing to read a book through the eyes (mouth and stomach) of a policeman who struggles with his weight instead of the bottle. Was this hard to write? Did you sit down and make a conscious decision to give McBain a weight/appetite/exercise problem instead of writing him as an alcoholic, and if so, why?
MJM: It was ridiculously easy to write, Gill. ‘Cos that was all me. I can take or leave the booze, but sit a bar of chocolate in front of me and I come over all hot and sweaty.
Why did I go there? Cops with a drink problem are pretty common place in crime fiction so I was keen to do something different. And I had a yo-yo weight problem just waiting to be exploited.
Do you have a dozen McBain books roughed out or do you use current news stories (or contemporary coverage of old crimes and events) for inspiration? Can we look forward to a regular schedule of cases is what I’m really asking here!
Gawd, I wish. Everything I write is by the seat of my (giant/skinny) pants. Each book begins with a glimmer of an idea, so the thought of having a whole series mapped out is simply a distant dream.
I have started on book 3 – I’m a quarter of the way in and it feels like I’m mentally wading through treacle. I take confidence from knowing I’ve been the distance before and if I keep writing, the boys in the boiler room (that’s how Stephen King refers to his sub-conscious) will produce something.
What do you do for research – do you read a lot of crime and true-crime? Watch horrible documentaries? Keep your ears open in dodgy pubs? Do you have the basic storyline first then explore it, or vice versa?
I do as little research as possible. You’ll find very little by way of forensics in my books, for example. I’m more interested in the characters and how they behave.
I remember watching a Colin Dexter (I think it was him) interview on telly a few years back and he said that he did very little research, but found that because he was reading books by authors who did, that he was picking up the research without realising it. That made me feel a whole lot better
I do read a lot of crime novels – I love the genre, always have.
I have a basic idea – for Malice it all came from the prologue. Which I wrote freestyle, basically. Just letting my imagination go – and that first draft didn’t change much from what ended up in the novel – apart from some typos. Then I had to let McBain loose on finding exactly who this strange woman was and how she impacted on the people in the book.
You tread a fine line with the dialogue and colloquialisms in the book, ensuring that the McBain books won’t need a glossary for non-Scots readers, don’t have haggis in for the hell of it, but still have a definite regional flavour of the Central Belt. Is this something you have to work at when editing, do you get non-Scots to proofread it, or do you find because of your own reading tastes and experiences this balance between authenticity and accessibility comes naturally?
Good question. I just write and worry about it later. My editor said that I was very Scottish in my syntax, but not to worry because it “translated” well. I think you have to be authentic to your characters without alienating your reader and thankfully I seem to have struck that balance without having to agonise over it.
I suspect that a different (larger) publisher might have a problem with my style – not all of them trust their readers – I have heard some horror stories from other Scottish writers – but, thankfully, Five Leaves “get” me.
Very glad to hear it! Looking forward to Book 3 in the McBain series sometime soon. And maybe a McBain/Malone menu to go with it too.
Michael J Malone is well known in Scotland for his poetry (once being a poet in residence in a sex shop). His first crime novel, Blood Tears, was reprinted within weeks of publication. His book of interviews with leading Scottish public figures, Carnegie’s Call, is available from Argyll Publishing. You can read more about him at http://mickmal1.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow him on twitter as @michaelJmalone1
A Taste For Malice is available as a print or e-book via http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/a-taste-for-malice/