Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Q & A with Simon Swift
Simon Swift steps into the world of historical PI writers with Black Shadows and I had the pleasure to interview him about it.
Q: What makes Errol Black different from other (unofficial) PIs?
There is a lot of back-story in the prologue to Black Shadows. In those first few pages, you find out plenty about Errol Black. He is official, he is quite traditional I suppose, but most of all he is real. He may have dalliances with mobsters, killers, psychotics, hookers and all the usual cast of hardboiled noir, but he is also a very deep thinker and a complicated guy. The reasons for this unfold over the trilogy. I wanted to make him much more three dimensional than the typical wisecracking private eye, but not lose that authenticity and hardboiled grittiness. This has been said of third world dictators before: he's a bastard, but he's our bastard! That's how I like to think of Errol Black.
Here's an extract from the second, forthcoming novel, The Casablanca Case which sheds a little more light on the guy...
You often wonder when you read all those hard-boiled novels of lone-wolf heroes prowling the mean streets of Los Angeles or San Francisco, shoving their guns in people's stomachs and pulling the trigger, being beaten senseless by a gang of Outfit yobs, or seduced by the resident femme fatale, you wonder just what made them like they are. Did Phillip Marlowe ring his ma and pa at weekends, or go round for Thanksgiving dinner? Did Mike Hammer have to wait by the telephone whilst Velda went to the clinic for a pregnancy test, or did he always carry rubbers, or did he really not give a fuck? They never tell you the other half. All you get is half a life, hell it's the only half worth reading about that's for sure, but you still wonder.
I suppose I read the secret half of Errol Black in those first few weeks back in New York. I read it, understood a whole lot more and burnt the fuckin' evidence. You could say that my turning point in life had arrived. I became a most wonderful cynic and a terrible rogue. Turned my back on reality and crept onto the pages of Hammett's typescript. Hermeez knew it was a facade, a shell that I had carefully constructed around me, that one day he would help me smash to pieces. I'm sure he had it all planned one day in the near future; a cathartic return to heal all the old wounds and tie up all the loose ends. Unfortunately I don't think he planned to persuade me to return quite like this.
Q: How did you come up with the character?
Errol Black has been developed over many years. I suppose he was born from a thousand mysteries, encapsulating Sam Spade, Phil Marlowe, Mike Hammer and more recently Max Allan Collins' Nate Heller. Those guys were heroes of mine, as were a couple of Ellroy's darker characters - Dudley Smith and Dave Klein. I wanted to write a story about a detective who could walk those same mean streets, but also a guy that was real, not simply a cliché (no offence to the tonnes of great clichés that are out there at the moment on the pages of noir!!!) And on top of all that, of course there is a good dose of Simon Swift mixed in there too.
Q: What's next for you and Errol Black?
Errol's next adventure is The Casablanca Case, which should be ready to buy early 2011. Whereas Black Shadows is heavily influenced by The Maltese Falcon (bestselling author Debbi Mack broke down with tears of laughter when she realised what I had done with the classic original), The Casablanca Case is a much darker, psychological tale. The, as yet untitled, third instalment will be the last full length novel featuring Errol Black, but will hopefully prove a fitting conclusion to my hero. There is also a novella on the way, and I do envisage Errol popping up in a range of shorts over the next few years.
Q: How do you promote your work?
Not half as well as I should do. I am far too lazy to make it as a marketing success! I hang round a few writer's websites and of course try to update my own website as often as I can. I also do blog interviews (Al Guthrie's Criminal-E was an honour) and seek out reviews. Luckily I have friends that use Facebook and tweet and all that jazz (for which I am forever thankful), but I am yet to become a fully paid up member of the 21st Century. I am still in the middle of a book signing tour for Black Shadows and have a number of Waterstones bookstore signings coming up, which keeps the word about.
Q: What are your thoughts on ebooks as a reader AND a writer?
Ebooks are the future. That is what we keep hearing and like it or not (and I'm not quite sure yet that I do) it is an increasingly indisputable fact! As a writer, I kind of like kindle, but am very new to it. It feels wonderful when your book hits a top 100 list (Black Shadows was recently rubbing shoulders with Hammett and Chandler in the mystery / hardboiled section, which was great) and yes I think eventually kindle will take over the world, a bit like Tesco is doing! As a reader, I ultimately remain a traditionalist and will always cherish the feel of a 'real' book in my hands. It's even better when it's your own 'real' book. That said, I have recently got a new phone and have downloaded a stack of books to the kindle app on there. You know, maybe I will come around...
Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
Hmm, this is not something I have really though about. I guess psychotics will always have a place in any hardboiled fiction. Now, if you asked me who would win between Hawk and Pike in a fight, I would have to go with Pike. He's the younger guy and the martial arts would see him home!
Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation?
Swift, Vandersteen, Bird, Mack, Neil Smith and Brazil. Hey, why not?
Q: Max Alan Collins came up with the following question: Are you a Hammett man or Chandler?
Gotta be Hammett. I love Raymond Chandler, but Hammett is the godfather and I have to agree with MAC that The Maltese Falcon influenced us all. We may never see another book top it ever, but as long as guys like Collins, Ellroy and a whole host of lesser knowns are out there trying, noir fiction will stay in a healthy place.
Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Spade was supposed to be a 'blonde satan' yet Bogie sent him into superstardom. And he wasn't blonde or satanic. Who would you choose to play you PI on the silver screen?
And for Errol Black, it would be... Tom Sizemore. He would be perfect, although I might have to age Black a little.