Thursday, 13 March 2014

BELFAST NOIR







It's been a busy old time here. 

As some of you may know, late last year I was invited to contribute a short story for Belfast Noir. This is the latest from the award-winning Akashic Books city noir series. 

It was with some surprise that I got an email from the Stuart Neville, who had apparently been talking to the Adrian McKinty, and in what I can only imagine to have been a beer-fuelled decision, they'd agreed that it would be a good idea to include a story from me in the Anthology. To say that I was honoured, shocked and delighted, just doesn't get close. I duly emailed the Stuart Neville immediately (before he sobered up) and told him that I would certainly write a story. 

We spoke that night and discussed the basis for my story. He explained that the story should be crime based, and set in Belfast, other than that, it was up to me. Before talking it over, I'd had a look on the internet and discovered who else was contributing; Lee Child, Alex Barclay, Claire McGowan, Brian McGilloway, Glenn Patterson, Eoin McNamee, Gerard Brennan, Garbhan Downey, Ian McDonald, Sam Millar, Lucy Caldwell, Arlene Hunt and Ruth Dudley Edwards. 

And now me. 

I gulped. 

That's a lot of talent. Some of my favourite writers. 

My feelings of elation gradually diminished into abject fear. Yes, I've got a great book deal with a big publisher; yes the old debut has been popular with foreign publishers, but there is still that overriding fear that you are an eejit who is simply waiting to be found out. I'm a lawyer during the day (I miraculously morph into human form around 5.30pm every evening) and even whilst lawyering, I still have that feeling that at any moment a man in a white coat may arrive, tell me I've had a good run but unfortunately it's all over now and then gather me up in a big net and take me away. 

The withering looks I sometimes get from posh lawyers in big firms doesn't help either. Although I console myself by knowing that I usually get these looks after the posh lawyer in the bespoke suit has just written my client a rather large cheque.

Lawyering, and writering, it's not good for the old self confidence.

Anyway, I worked away on the short story and I have to say, I'm pleased with it. It was a great opportunity to write something in a different style, with a different voice, and finally write something which contains some swearing. In my novels (one written, one in progress) there is precious little swearing and what there is of it wouldn't be enough to send a ripple through your granny's Horlicks. This was a deliberate decision on my part as I didn't want to put anybody off the book and, in fairness, there's very little swearing in most legal thrillers. So when I had the opportunity to write in the more gritty, noir style, I took the opportunity to let my language be a little more colourful and inject a healthy dollop of humour, while I was at it.

I also wanted to write about Belfast. I grew up in the Holy Lands; a small part of the city where you'll find Jerusalem Street, Palestine Street, Cairo Street etc. As an aside, if you ever visit Belfast do pay attention to the street names. There are various parts of the city with interesting street names. For example, an area of East Belfast (where I also lived for a time) is entirely named after Derby winners. Joy Street, in the city centre, is Belfast's very own red light district. To our eternal shame, before it was foolishly renamed, we had a street called Squeeze-gut Entry. In case you didn't know, we don't have alleys, we have entries, and surely Squeeze-gut Entry had to have been the Prince among entries.

 This Anthology is very important to me, and I know it's important to every single writer that's contributed to it, purely because it has that title - BELFAST noir. When you write about Belfast, for me anyway, there is a certain responsibility.

 Let me explain.

 The BBC series The Fall, was very popular and I can for one can tell you that it is great TV. A fine crime series and no mistake. And we're getting series 2, brilliant!

 The Fall is set in contemporary Belfast. I know that because I can see it on the screen.
But if you took the story out of Belfast and set it in, say, Glasgow, would it lose anything?

 No.

It would still be a great crime series. And good TV.

 But can you imagine Cracker not being in Manchester? or Morse being taken out of Oxford? or Wallander exiting Sweden?

 No. You would lose everything. You would still have a crime series, but it would be very different and arguably nowhere near as good.

 I suppose what I'm trying to say is that although it's brilliant that TV shows are being filmed in Northern Ireland, and the more the merrier, if you're going to set a big budget crime drama in Belfast with a major star then you have a brilliant opportunity there to create something remarkable. The city is on the screen. But it's not a character. And there is no sense of Belfast, or it's people.

 What is that sense? I wondered about that before I wrote my short story. Then I was reminded of it last year.

 A bomb was planted in the middle of the Cathedral Quarter just a week or so before Christmas. People were out doing their Christmas shopping, the bars and restaurants were packed with folks who had come out for their Christmas party, the city was packed.

 Then the bomb scare went up. Now, if this happened in London, Boston, New York, frankly anywhere in the world, Sky News would have a fit, I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here would be interrupted with breaking news, there would be a media frenzy, panic in the streets, reporters running mad. A viable bomb planted in any other city centre in Europe would be global headline news and the city itself would descend into chaos.

 Not Belfast.

 Sure, people were scared. There's no doubt about that.

 But quite a lot of people who were out that night thought of it as more of a mild inconvenience. Instead of stampeding out of the restaurants, desperate to get to safety, guys meandered behind the police cordon still holding their plates full of Turkey and Ham, refusing to let terrorists interrupt their Christmas dinner. Within a short time of the bomb being dealt with, the pubs began to fill up and a tweet went out - 'the only bombs we're interested in are Jager bombs!! YEEOOOOO!!!'








Only in Belfast.

So, as much as I could, I tried to inject some of that unique Belfast 'stuff' into my story. Whether there's enough of it, or if it comes across, I leave to you to find out, dear reader.  I can tell you that the Stuart Neville and the Adrian McKinty both said they were happy with my wee story and made very gratifying comments about aspects of it. That made me less nervous, after all, when you look at that list above, I am very much the baby of the group. Albeit a six foot two, two-hundred and fifty pound baby, but a baby nonetheless (and to prove it, I don't have any hair and I will often manage to get more of my dinner on my shirt, walls and ceiling than into my mouth).

 So do please look out for Belfast Noir later in the year - around November. Check out the Adrian McKinty's blog, for finer crafted, more up to date news, written with fewer spelling mistakes and much more intelligence than you'll find here - Adrian McKinty

And if you are desperate for a Belfast Noir fix before November this year, check out Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy Trilogy, Stuart Neville's Belfast books such as The Twelve, or Gerard Brennan's work such as The Point, or the brilliant - Wee Rockets. 

And if you disagree with me about The Fall, that's fine, I'm willing to discuss it with an open mind.

 And in the meantime, if you click on the new page above entitled THE DEFENCE, you'll find some early cover blurb for my debut novel.

I'll have more news soon. But you knew that already.

 Follow me on twitter if you like, you don't have to, it might be nice, and I'll like it if you follow me, I might even follow you back, but I'm not promising anything, just in case you're an axe murderer.

 @SSCav