Thursday, 23 February 2012

Damien Seaman (An Interview with - part deux)

My three regulars will have noticed (and enjoyed, I'm sure) my interview with a new talent on the noir scene, Damien Seaman. Here's more of our blethers ...

Damien was saying ..."A friend just finished reading Emma Gross and told me she'd been staying up at night reading it because she couldn't put it down. Now what's better than that?"

MCN: Ahh, musik to mein ears. (Excuse the wee slip into Germanlish.)Now, why historical crime?

Damien: I turned to historical crime because I lived in Berlin and that inspired me to want to write about its interwar history. I'd done a history degree that fair robbed me of enthusiasm for the subject by the time I'd finished it. Three and a half years in Berlin brought that enthusiam back to life. Berlin wears its scars openly and seduced me with that matter of factness. The city's 20th century history is as packed with incident as any, and a hell of a lot more than most. So I just went looking for stories. Oddly I ended up transferring all of that to Dusseldorf because of the story I ended up wanting to tell the most, but Berlin was the catalyst for looking back.

MCN: Stylistically, you tip your hat to the hardboiled noir of Chandler et al, without being a cheap imitation. Was this a tricky thing to pull off? Any pitfalls?

Damien: I never really thought about it in those terms. I thought about style in as much as it would make the book feel authentic. In some ways I tried to write the way someone from that era would have, but at the same time I decided that because it was set in Germany, I would treat the whole thing as if it was translated from German, not bothering too much about anachronisms in English because none of the characters would ever have spoken 1920s-30s English anyway. Some modern phrases slipped in because of that, which probably helps save the book from pastiche.

MCN: For any readers out there who aspire to publication, any advice?

Damien: Try not to cut yourself off from friends and family too much while you're working on your manuscript, because if you do then you'll have no one to share your ups and downs with, and you really need that when you're writing. Try and have a hobby that gets you out of the house so that writing isn't the only thing you've got apart from the day job. Try to quell that impatience. It takes time to get good,then more time to get recognised, then more time to get published, then more time until you start selling any copies, so for God's sake try to relax about it all. It's not going to come overnight. And one piece of advice I read from someone else (can't remember who) was to celebrate every success, however small. If you get a story in an e-zine then celebrate. If you get an agent, then celebrate. When you finish the first draft of your manuscript, go out and celebrate. Just celebrate the fact that you're doing something you want to do every time you getthe chance.

MCN: What's next for Damien Seaman, crime writer?

Damien: I'm working on a novella at the moment for Blasted Heath. It's set in the same period and has the Nazi takeover of power as its backdrop. I'm trying to get at that whole question of what it would be like trying to enforce the law when the people in power are the biggest lawbreakers of all. A lot of crime fiction plays with this idea, but when you've got Nazis involved you don't have to bugger about with being metaphorical about it.


Good innit? Do yourself a favour and go HERE TO BLASTED HEATH'S WEBSITE and buy a copy.

Monday, 20 February 2012

An interview in two parts - Damien Seaman

The Book:

Düsseldorf, 1 March 1929, the dying days of the Weimar Republic. A prostitute is found dead in a cheap hotel room, brutally murdered. But her death is soon forgotten as the city’s police hunt a maniac attacking innocent women and children. A killer the press has dubbed the Düsseldorf Ripper.

Detective Thomas Klein’s career is going nowhere until he gets a tip off leading to the Ripper’s arrest. But the killer’s confession to the hooker’s murder is full of holes, and Klein soon comes to believe this is one murder the killer didn’t commit. Motivated by spite, ambition, or maybe even a long-buried sense of justice, finding out who really killed Emma Gross becomes Klein’s obsession.

Particularly when the evidence begins to point closer to home…

Based on the true story of notorious serial killer Peter Kürten and the unsolved murder of Düsseldorf prostitute Emma Gross… 

The Author ... 
This is what they have to say about him over at BLASTED HEATH ... A former journalist, editor, parliamentary assistant, financial analyst, factory worker and security guard, Damien Seaman’s short crime fiction, interviews and reviews have featured on numerous ezines and blogs. He has dabbled in petty smuggling, baboon-whispering, scuba diving and sunbathing, with varying levels of success. And don’t even ask about the Goddamned tennis lessons.

He has lived in Belgium, Germany and Libya, spent probably more time than was healthy visiting Kuwait, and currently resides in the county of Shakespeare’s birth. He also has a fear of camels, but he doesn’t like to talk about it.

The Interview (Part One)...

MCN: You have 3 words. Describe The Killing of Emma Gross.
Damien: Hardboiled German expressionism.
MCN: You now have another 21 words. Tell me some more.
Damien: Emma Gross is equal parts police procedural, psychological
thriller and dramatic deconstruction of a love affair gone very, very wrong.
MCN: I’m liking all those parts, BTW. Emma Gross is an incredibly assured debut
(this is me buttering you up)- this level of skill doesn't happen straight away, so go on spill, 
what else have you been writing?

Damien: Ha! You terrible brown noser, you. What was it about the book you
found particularly skilful?

MCN: Eeesh, I hate it when people answer a question with a question. Emmmm, what did I 
find skilful? All around quality - character/ plot/ prose/ sense of time and place - difficult to find fault, really. So, where did you learn your craft?
Damien: I couldn't write until I worked as a journalist in Brussels. That's
when I really learned to write quickly, and to make a story out of
unpromising material. Out of thin air sometimes. Once I was sent to
interview a man from the Cook Islands and my boss couldn't remember
who he was, just that he was either the prime minister or the foreign
minister. Luckily the man gave me his card when we met and he turned
out to be the foreign minister, so I could at least make it look like
I'd been briefed. But even then I didn't have a clue what to talk to
him about until we actually started talking.
High wire days, those were, and very useful. Everything since that job
has been a kind of tweaking or refining what I learned then. As for
Emma Gross, I think the secret with that was that I'd found a story I
really wanted to get out and that no matter how long it took I was
going to do it. If there's a reason the book turned out to be good,
that's it.
MCN: Yeah, that chimes with me. A story you were passionate about. Talking about 
passions (we were, keep up) you mentioned a love affair gone terribly wrong. We are terrible gossips at MCN – do tell ...
Damien: Let's just say it's based on experience, though nothing as harrowing as 
what occurs in the book. I will say that I probably wouldn't have been that 
confident writing about abortion if it wasn't something I'd had to deal with 

MCN: Answered with admirable honesty, sir. (And there was me after some salacious 

To be continued ...

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Poem for Valentine's Day

And why not?

This poem was part of a series that was commissioned for a novel by Margaret Thomson Davis. I was asked to write a series of poems that charted the emotional and sexual growth of a young female art student. Poems that could be thread through the novel like journal entries by the young heroine. Initially, I threw my hands up in horror. As a man hurtling towards (coughs) middle age, what do I know about females in their teens? (In their adult years, for that matter)

Then I thought, ultimately, we all want the same things. Just different body parts, right? Anywho, this poem came in at the end of the series when our young artist got her shit together.

So, breathe. Get in the mindset. This is an entry in her journal the morning after ...

Inside I'm Dancing

Every step I take this morning
lands on a cushion of air.
All we did last night was kiss
and today you flavour everything
my mind touches.

Your voice sounds in the rumble
of a passing car. The valerian blue
of your eyes watch over me
reflected in every window
from here to there.

A boy with short, brown hair
gelled to spikes, holds his mother’s hand
while crossing the road. I see you
in the way the boy’s eyes tug at his mum,
checking she is still there.
The boy giving a little kick with each step
as if the promise of a future
 nips at his heels.

An old man at the bus stop, round
like Santa. You in fifty years.  Cheeks
bunched in a grin, wearing an apple blush
like last night when you brushed
my right breast with your arm.

Caught myself smiling at the old man,
wanting to know
how we carry the years,
yet don’t want to spoil the dance
of every blood cell through the chambers of my heart,
like millions of tiny breeze-blown flowers.

c. Michael Malone

Saturday, 11 February 2012

QnA with Stav

A couple of days ago I posted a review of Stav Sherez' new novel, A Dark Redemption. Today, I'm posting an interview we did with him over at Crimesquad.

First, here's a wee bit of detail about the man himself ...

Stav Sherez lives in London. He is the author of the CWA shortlisted The Devil’s Playgroundand The Black Monastery. He spent five years as a music journalist, mainly for the cult music magazine Comes with a Smile. He has also written for the Daily Telegraph, The Catholic Herald and Zembla amongst others.

Crimesquad: What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?

Stav: Well, that's a very hard question to answer but, for me, the two main things that make great crime novels stand out is character and setting. The protagonists have to be flawed, conflicted, and engaging. If we believe in them, we believe in the story no matter what strange places the plot may take us to.

Setting is what allows an infinite number of variations on a small set of themes. There are only so many ways you can murder someone in the first chapter. The best crime novels draw back the curtains on hidden worlds and veiled history, and use a single act of violence to unfurl the secrets and lies we keep locked deep in our hearts. Mood and atmosphere elevate the best crime novels, creating a world you can smell, see and touch, a deep and vivid immersion of the senses.

The other thing that I've always noticed about my favourite crime novels is that they all, in their own individual ways, place history in the crosshairs, and chart the intersection of public events with private lives over time and distance.

Crimesquad: Raymond Chandler once wrote of crime fiction that the "mystery and the solution of the mystery are only what I call 'the olive in the Martini'". What’s your view?

Stav: I used to more or less agree with Chandler on that. I saw crime novels as deft Trojan horses through which the best writers smuggled in social, moral, and political concerns, but I don't think it's quite that simple any more. I believe that the mystery is an essential part of the Martini, physically indistinguishable from all the other parts. It's the key that unlocks the world behind the world and the motor that charges every scene and sentence with portent and suspense.

Crimesquad: Events in ‘A Dark Redemption’ deal with the recent history in the African country of Uganda. Of all the nations in this troubled continent why choose this one?

Stav: That's a very good question. There's certainly no shortage of dramatic, blood-torn backdrops to choose from. I spent six months learning what I could about modern African history but the more I read about Uganda's Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), the more fascinated, intrigued, and appalled I became. I couldn't understand how one man ruling over an army of abducted children could hold half a country hostage for twenty years. And I began to wonder about what happened to these child soldiers after they'd been rescued – how do you go back to being a boy after you've spent your childhood killing men?

Crimesquad: You’ve moved from writing standalone novels to writing a series. What prompted this shift in approach?

Stav: I always felt like I was only beginning to know my characters by the time each of my previous two books came to an end. When I started working on 'A Dark Redemption' I didn't plan it as the start of a series but, about halfway through the writing, I knew there was much more to the stories of Carrigan and Miller than I could tell in just one book. By the time I got to the final scene of A Dark Redemption I wanted to know what happens to them next!

Crimesquad: After setting books in Holland and Greece, you’ve finally come home to London. What were the challenges in setting your novel against a backdrop that many of your readers will know well?

Stav: When I started writing ‘The Devil's Playground’ I was 29 and I'd grown bone-weary of London. I'd lived here for most of my life and I'd gradually stopped seeing it. It became a sort of invisible wallpaper back-dropping my life. But this particular story needed to be set in London and I soon realised that it was a London as strange and exotic to me as any far-flung destination. Writing about the city's underground immigrant communities allowed me into a hidden London, a city we pass by every day but rarely ever notice.

Crimesquad: Your two leads, Carrigan and Miller, have a difficult start in their working relationship. How do you see this developing?

Stav: Well, let's just say it's going to have its fair share of ups and downs....I'm not sure I want to give away any more at this stage!

Crimesquad: There are a couple of fascinating twists in the book. Did these grow out of the organic process of writing the book, or do you go for a detailed plot?

Stav: I never have a detailed outline before I start writing, only a vague idea about the first 40 pages or so. I believe writing should be a process of discovery for the writer as much as for the reader and I always tell prospective writers to write what you don't know you know and trust your subconscious. I remember struggling with the end of part two of A Dark Redemption and then, as I was redrafting it, the twist you mention just popped into my head and it was as much of a surprise to me as I hope it will be to the readers. It was one of those rare moments when all the disparate ends of the plot suddenly click together and you feel a chill run down the back of your neck.

Crimesquad: There was a gap of five years between ‘The Devil’s Playground’ and ‘The Black Monastery’ and three years between that and ‘A Dark Redemption’. Do you find writing a slow process and is it a conscious decision not to release a novel every year? Do we have a long wait for the next instalment of Carrigan and Miller? (No pressure…)

Stav: I would love to be able to write a book every year but it never seems to work out that way! I normally write a first draft in six weeks and then spend two years re-working it. I'm a compulsive rewriter and it's the part of the process I enjoy the most. Slowly, you see the book taking shape, like a sculptor chipping away at a block of marble to reveal the hidden face beneath. Often, it's only on the second or third draft that I begin to understand where the book is headed, and each draft allows me to add more layers of detail, characterisation, theme, and suspense. Having said that, I'm working longer hours now and the next book in the series, ‘Eleven Days Before Christmas’, is almost finished and should be out next year.

Crimesquad: What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?

Stav: Man, that's the toughest question of all! But let's say you've still got that gun pointed at my head, then I'd have to pick 'The Mask of Dimitrios' by Eric Ambler. It's a searing fever-dream of a novel that ranges from the fires of Smyrna to the shores of the Bosporus. A jaded crime writer slumming it in Istanbul asks to see the dead body of a notorious bandit. He becomes fascinated by the lurid details of the man's life and decides to find out more about the mysterious Dimitrios, in the process uncovering a Europe poised between two wars, riddled with intrigue, betrayal, and unchecked genocide. The writing is atmospheric, stony, and laconic. It's a wonderful spy thriller, an intriguing mystery, a report on a continent about to crack and roar with the machinery of war, and an existential investigation on the fascination of violence, on why we write and why we read crime novels.

As I said earlier in the week, A Dark Redemption is a wonderful read. Go on, treat yourself, you know you want to.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

A Dark Redemption - Stav Sherez

One of the nicest peeps in crime fiction has a new book out. Go buy it.

My review is over at CRIMESQUAD

and here's a wee taster ...

The flavours that Sherez adds to the novel are many and varied with his keen observations about his characters’ interactions, a side of London you rarely see in crime fiction and an African history that Carrigan is desperate to forget. All of this has a ring of authenticity that draws you in and holds your attention captive throughout.

Meanwhile, proving that he can plot with the best of them, Sherez adds a twist at the end that will have you shivering. A Dark Redemption is classy, captivating and worth every penny I’m about to urge you to spend on it.  

Sunday, 5 February 2012

At the movies chez moi ...

Movies at mine on a Saturday night ... and this week’s offering was Warrior, starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte.

The blurb gives it thus ...“Ex-Marine Tommy Conlon (Hardy) returns home for the first time in fourteen years to enlist the help of his father (Nick Nolte) to train for SPARTA, the biggest winner-takes-all event in mixed martial arts history. A former wrestling prodigy, Tommy blazes a path toward the championship while his brother, Brendan (Edgerton), an ex-fighter-turned teacher, returns to the ring in a desperate bid to save his family from financial ruin. But when Brendan's unlikely, underdog rise sets him on a collision course with the unstoppable Tommy, the two brothers must finally confront each other and the forces that pulled them apart, facing off in the most soaring, soul stirring, and unforgettable climax that must be seen to be believed."

In some ways this is your typical combat-sport movie, with the troubled underdog overcoming all the odds, including an alcoholic father and empty pockets. What makes it rise above the crowd is the sterling performances of the 3 leads and the utterly convincing emotional sub-text that laces their every interaction.

Hardy is sensational, bringing his usual intensity to the role and appearing the embodiment of threat. The power of his movement in screen was such that I was left wondering how many extras he went through to film his fight scenes and how many broken bodies littered the local hospital ward. (Apparently, during filming he broke a toe, a finger and several ribs.)

You could sense that his hate was directed as much at himself as it was at the rest of the world. And he was saved from having a one-note performance in a scene where his father – having taken one emotional punch too many from his sons – turns back to the bottle. Where his sober apologies landed on deaf ears, his pained and broken drunken ones work their way through Hardy’s defences and the son offers his father some temporary release from his anguish.

When we first see Nolte, a line of dialogue from Hardy explains everything. Its the first time he has been in his father’s house for years. He notes that there isn’t a woman’s touch in the home and says with dry accusation, ‘Must be hard to find a woman who can take a punch these days.’

If Hardy was strong in this, Nolte’s performance had “award-winner” written all over it. Every line of dialogue was haunted with regret, every reaction to the (deserved) harsh words from his sons measured with a flinch. We knew he was the father from hell, but still he engaged my sympathy as struggled to gain acceptance from his sons and to find a way to engage their trust and a way back into their lives. The scene where he is denied even a moment with his grandchildren is particularly telling and one where you have to remind yourself that he is paying for past sins.

Pleasingly, MMA is given respect from the movie-makers and not treated as a brutal sideshow and this adds overall to the film’s appeal. There were brawls aplenty, but this was a film that had much more to offer than some effectively choreographed and thrilling fight scenes.

Sure the film has its weaknesses, mostly in the contrived and clichéd plot, but it overcomes these with top-drawer acting, strong editing and effective dialogue. All of which combined to deliver a powerful, emotional punch (pun intended). Don’t mind admitting that at several points throughout the film I had a huge lump in my throat.