Attended the John Connolly crime thriller author talk at Cleckheaton Town Hall last night with fellow CWG members D, N and P. Tickets were a bargain price of £2 and John was an extremely personable and entertaining man. John is most famous for his Charlie Parker novels and his new book is 'The Wrath of Angels.' He jokingly said that he doesn't write about the Irish as they are not very good at crime and gave the story of the Brinks Matt robbers the McGuinness gang. They stole 2.2 million but wanting sandwiches and drinks, they stole an unattended lawnmower in Boston and were pulled over by the police for that crime and the masks etc. were in the car. He also used a botched hijacking story and The Crow Trial where the suspect indicted himself when told he was collared by an eye witness and replied "no-one saw me because I had a balaclava on," to further bring home his point, to much laughter.
He informed the audience that he loves and devours American crime fiction. He then told us of a job he had in Maine in hurricane season where the 'snow seasoners' didn't want to evacuate so they had a staff meeting in the ballroom (where they were taping up the windows) and the 'snow seasoners' were served dinner while the storm raged on around them.
John believes that there are two journeys: internal - why people do the things they do, against a physical backdrop - and external. Thrillers range and crime novels are contained. He thinks that James E Burke is the greatest living crime writer, who sets his novels in Louisiana with its constant heat, decay and growth and his theme is corruption of the soul. Location and landscape become very important. Readers read crime fiction based on characters, so he believes readers are not loyal to the writer, just to the character. John loved Ed McBain who wrote novels for 50 years and he thinks that the plots of the novels blur, but you remember the time you spent with the character. Authors can get away with writing bad books, so long as the character is good, though what is good commercially is not necessarily what is good for your writing.
He stressed that libraries are very important, even more so in a recession when the government are trying to close them. Time is the currency for readers - do not waste the readers time. He sometimes blames himself when he can't finish a book, but sometimes, they are just bad books. Writers should do it for the right reasons, not just for the money.
'All writers are readers first.' John Connolly
Crime fiction is about empathy. Agatha Christie novels have body counts that are people who are basically not very nice - they were asking for it! British writers have never done amateur detectives. The novel came of age in California, the private eye novel in the 20s and it was just an extension of the Western, i.e. one person standing up against the system.
So many crime novels come off the shelves when the authors die and he thinks this is a great shame. If you ask crime writers to pick one book, which one would they pick? 'Books to die for' is the answer. It is the book John Connolly and Declan Burke compiled of crime writers favourites, though not all the compilers stuck to their deadlines.
'I love the sound of deadlines as they whisk by.' Douglas Adams, Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy
John's own favourite is 'The Black Echo' by Michael Connolly and most writers asked to do Josephine Tey 'The Daughter of Time' which is a mixture of fiction and fact about the hatchet job done on Richard III - what happens if you fictionalise an important event in history. John is not sure about e-publishing as it has been hijacked by self-publishers, but hopes that Ebooks will rescue out of print writers as there are writers that should not be forgotten.
Truman Capote - the man who invented the non-fiction crime novel
Asked which of his novels one should start with, John said that writers hope that they are getting better not worse, but answered 'The Unquiet,' 'The Burning Soul' and 'The Book of Lost Things.'
Asked whether he knows what the conclusion to his background arc is, he admitted that he doesn't know what it is when he starts, but he does now. He believes first writers put everything in their first novel because they are worried they'll never get published again.
When asked if he is influenced by Neil Gaiman's 'American God's' he answered no, but admitted he likes 'Corraline.'
No-one steals our ideas, we all draw from the same ether but we put our own stamp on it
John feels that Noir is a stylistic device from the cinema and in noir, there is more shadown than light and it always ends in the shadow. He also feels that most criminals are dumb, but crime fiction criminals are not the way they really are - no-one would want to read a character like Fred West or Jeffrey Dahmer. Policemen tend to be quite helpful and full of stories and they want you to get things right, so you can get excellent stamps of realism, such as how medical examiners keep slivers of bodies in tight sealed containers that sometimes still have their original labels on - like the supermarket from hell.
John writes without a plot in mind. He has a vague over-arching idea and he'll know the opening scene of the book and write the first chapter. He will write 1,000 words a day and when he is two thirds of a way through, he knows what the ending is. Not like Jeff Deaver who writes 70,000 word outlines or James E Burke who finishes one novel on a Thursday evening and starts the next on a Friday morning.
Every book John has written, he has wanted to throw it away after the first 20-40,000 words and then he gets the siren call of the new idea and has wanted to move onto another thing, but
Writers are people who finish books
He has had one short story made into a film starring Kevin Costner, made by the same company who made Lord of the Rings. A short story to film will expand and with a novel they will take so much out that they will pay writers to go away! Film is a collaborative endeavour. If you sell a series you need to be very, very sure. It can get you more readership, but most writers will come out of it a little bit unhappy.
John believes all writers secretly think their characters look a bit like them, but taller.
John then signed copies of his books and informed N and I that most publishers want to publish new books, so we must finish our novels and persevere as it took him five years to get published.
All writers are products of writers they have read.