With the recent release of his first adult title, we felt that we just had to have a chat with children’s author Kevin Brooks. In a gritty, dark noir genre PI story he brings a new type of gumshoe to the fore, one who is barely living day to day as past experiences continue to haunt his waking hours.
What will turn a children’s author to the dark side? What can you expect from his new book and perhaps most intriguing of all the truth about the creation of a modern PI…
Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?
Kevin Brooks: It's very true for me. As much as I love to write, I also need to write, and if I go for a while without writing I begin to feel withdrawal symptoms. I have no idea where this need comes from, or what it means, but I'm quite happy to leave it unanalysed.
FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?
KB: At a very early age – maybe five or six years old.
FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?
KB: I'm not sure this means anything really. A short story is a short story, just one form of writing. Some people can write them, others can't; some people can write them and write novels; others can't ... and so on.
FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?
KB: I wouldn't.
FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?
KB: Crime fiction, dark, contemporary, English, private investigator, ruined soul, anti-hero, noir, love, death, loss, despair ... and all for only £6.99.
FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?
KB: Lawrence Block, James Lee Burke, Cormac McCarthy.
FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?
KB: I always have a framework planned out for the story before I start writing, and I always know when – and usually how – the story will end. I don't include character profiles in this framework, but I spend a long time developing the characters in my mind before writing, and they always evolve and develop as the book progresses.
FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?
KB: A bonfire always relaxes me – in fact, the truth is, I'm a bonfire addict. Also, reading (of course), watching TV – crime drama, news, sport – and watching films, and I'm very partial to doing nothing ... and sleeping.
I've recently read The Last Talk with Lola Faye, by Thomas H Cook, Columbine, by Dave Cullen, Apathy for the Devil, by Nick Kent, and I've also been re-reading the Matt Scudder series by Lawrence Block.
FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
KB: If it makes me feel guilty, and few know about it ... do you really think I'm going to tell you?
FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)
KB: My wife and I have four dogs, three rabbits, six sheep, five chickens, and one goat. I've often included dogs in my novels, not necessarily based on mine, and I suppose one of their key traits is that they allow us to form incredibly close relationships with another species, which – to me – is a very special thing.
FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?
KB: John Craine, the main character, because I grew up reading classic American crime fiction – Chandler, Hammett, Cain, etc – and it's always been a dream of mine to create my own PI hero/anti-hero, a character based on the traditional PI myth, but brought up to date, and developed beyond the myth into a reality.
FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?
KB: Similar in some ways, but not in others (and if you read the book you'll understand why I'm reluctant to say any more).
FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?
KB: I don't have time for hobbies.
FT: Where do you get your idea's from?
KB: From everywhere, anywhere, and nowhere.
FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?
KB: My personal opinion is that writers block doesn't exist, it's just a myth (and sometimes, perhaps, just an excuse). I've never really understood why writers alone should be singled out as suffering from any kind of 'blockage'. We never hear of architects block, or electricians block, or call-centre workers block ... why should writers be any different?
FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?
KB: I write for 3-4 hours in the afternoon and another 3-4 hours in the evening.
FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?
KB: I work in silence, but music still plays a significant part in my writing. Before being a published writer, I spent a long time writing, recording, and performing music, and although writing novels is in some ways very different to writing songs, the importance of rhythm and emotional expression in both is fundamentally the same. So when I'm writing, I'm always aware of the rhythm of everything – from that of the whole novel, all the way down to the rhythm of individual sentences and words. For me, the book itself is the soundtrack to the story.
FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?
KB: One of the attractions of being a writer for me is that it's essentially a very solitary occupation, and I'm very comfortable with solitude, but although I was aware that writers occasionally have to leave their garrets (blinking at the unfamiliar daylight) to promote their books, it came as something of a shock to me when I realised how much we have to talk sometimes. I've become used to it over the years, and I'm now quite happy to travel all over the world promoting my novels ... but I still find the notion of actually talking about my books quite strange. But strange is fine.
FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?
KB: Going by the number of celebrity cook books in in the shops these days, maybe writing has become the love of food? Or perhaps, on a slightly darker level, and in view of the ability of words to transport us to those timeless places where everything and anything is possible ... writing is the opium of the soul.
FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?
KB: My next novel – as yet untitled – takes place shortly after the events described in A Dance of Ghosts, with John Craine temporarily closing down his investigation business and leaving town to let everything that happened blow over, and to give himself time to recuperate. He books himself into a slightly run down hotel on Hale Island, a small and somewhat bleak island just off the coast of Essex. Hale holds memories for John, he used to visit the beach with his parents when he was a child ... but the island also holds family secrets. And as John begins looking into these secrets, he starts to find a lot more than he expected ... and he also starts to suspect that he might be losing his mind.
FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?
KB: Facebook, Amazon, Wikipedia, Babel Fish, HMRC.
FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.
FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?
KB: Before my first novel (Martyn Pig) was published in 2001 (after initially being rejected by every publisher and agent in the universe), I'd already spent a long time trying to make a living from music and art, so I already got used to criticism and rejection, and I knew that you just have to accept it. It doesn't mean your work is no good, and the way to respond is to just keep going – write something else, something better, and if they don't like that ... write something else, something even better. And never give up. If you give up, you won't succeed; but if you keep going, you just might.
FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?
KB: The best is that it allows you to what you love doing all the time, and that in itself is something to be treasured and never forgotten. The worst ...? Well, I didn't get published until I was forty, and before that I'd done lots and lots of real jobs, and in comparison with that – ie having a real job – there simply isn't a 'worst' aspect of writing for a living. There might be a 'least best' aspect, but even that's going to be a thousand times better than the 'best' aspect of any real job.