A Taste For Malice – and chocolate.

Out now from Five Leaves!

Out now from Five Leaves!

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.

Michael J Malone himself, sans chocolate bar (I stole it)

Michael J Malone himself, sans chocolate bar (I stole it)

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.

First in the McBain series - available now!

First in the McBain series – available now!

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/

Carnegie’s Call is available from http://www.argyllpublishing.co.uk/index.php?option=com_virtuemart&page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=125&Itemid=3&vmcchk=1&Itemid=3

Foster Trecost – a writer abroad

I’ve asked Foster Trecost to write a guestblog for me while I work on my book (the deadline’s drawing so close I think I can hear every single ‘tick’ of my Bagpuss clock).  We’re friends on facebook, so I knew he’d moved countries and wanted to know if this had affected his writing in any way that he’d noticed.  I know when I relocated to Scotland from England then back it really gave me a mental jolt, and not in a good way.  I wondered if moving to a completely different culture and then learning a new language had added an extra dimension to his work or if it had derailed it – and was surprised with what he said.  If you have any suggestions for Foster, please feel free to leave them in the comments!Foster Trecost

Here’s an obvious fact: I live in Germany, but don’t speak much German. Okay, I speak very little German. Truth be told, hardly any.  Here’s another fact, less obvious: I’m a writer, but don’t write many stories. Believe it or not, these things, these seemingly unconnected things, are very related.

When I moved here, I thought everyone spoke English. This might be closer to the truth in bigger cities, in Berlin, where English is common, but where I live, it’s not true at all. I live in a village so small it doesn’t even have stores. No grocery, no café, not even a post office or bank. Just a bunch of houses. We’ve got a mayor, but I don’t think he gets paid. And he certainly doesn’t speak English. Nor does anyone else.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to learn the language. I’ve no desire to be that guy, that American who expects everyone in the world to speak English. Nope, I’ve no interest in being him. So what did I do? I enrolled in a language course, four hours a day, five days a week. Great, right? For learning German, yes. But entwine these studies with literary output and both come up short, especially the latter.

I’ve never been all that prolific, so I won’t spend too much time on what it means to be a writer. My simple definition: “A writer is someone who writes.” But lately even this standard doesn’t apply, at least not with any regularity. These days I feel more like a quilt maker. I jot down patterns and when I have enough, I sew them together, even if they don’t match. When I’m done, I’ve got a blanket, sure, but does it cover anything? Not really.

It wasn’t always like this and since I need to place blame on something, I’ll blame the local language and my failing attempts to learn it. Several years ago I lived in Italy and learned Italian while writing some decent stories. Or I wrote some decent stories while learning Italian. Either way, when I left Italy (of course I didn’t completely leave, no-one completely leaves Italy) I took with me a wonderful souvenir that I didn’t have to pack, and a stash of stories, most of which I’d go on to publish.

So why’s it different now? Well, I’m older and the older you get, the harder it becomes to learn a language, but can I really rely on that? Can I really dump my troubles on my age? Some troubles, yes, but not these. I learned Spanish in my 20’s, Italian in my 30’s and I’ll find a way to learn German in my 40’s. The language is difficult, yes, but the real challenge, it seems, is how to learn it without blocking myself in the process. The age-old adages, you know them: read, read, read or write through it, they don’t seem to help. As soon as I type a few words, my mind tries to translate them and for a second, I’m impressed if I know the German equivalent, but then I realize I’ve completely derailed my thought, giving myself little chance to finish the sentence, much less write the next one.

So for now, I’ll continue with my studies and continue with my quilts, and hope someone mistakes my incoherence for cutting edge literature. But I doubt it, editors are smarter than that…unfortunately.

Foster Trecost is from New Orleans, but he lives in Germany. He writes short fiction, sometimes very short. His work has appeared in Elimae, Dark Sky Magazine, and Metazen, among other places.