Monday 6 April 2020

Interview with Douglas Lindsay (Part 2)

So, carrying on from last month’s blog, here’s the second half of my interview with the awesome Douglas Lindsay, author of the Barney Thomson series. I’ve just finished reading this latest outing for the dour Scots barber who seems to have all manner of murder and mishap follow him, and absolutely loved it. Curse of the Clown is available to buy over on Amazon right now and I highly recommend it!

6. What are your future plans for Barney?
After seven Barney books, I'd kind of thought they were done, and then several years later, number eight just sort of happened, and now it's happened again. They're good fun to write, fairly easy, very free form, with no need to hold to any kind of convention. They're not police procedurals, and really, I feel I can do whatever I like with them. So, I have other writing plans for another couple of stand alone or books in other series, but I'm fairly productive, and I expect Barney will come back soon enough.

7. You mentioned earlier that you’ve both had a publisher and also self-published. Which method do you prefer? 
There's a good question. I do like self-publishing. The speed of it. The freedom to do what one feels like doing, without an editor's expectations in the way. Cover choice, and everything else. I finished Barney 9 in February, and it's coming out mid-March. That kind of speed is way beyond the traditional model. So, I'll run the book by my wife, who's good at saying, 'Really? You're writing that??' Then I'll get someone else to proof it, and I have a few processes I'll do myself. I enjoy the whole thing really. Plus, I like numbers and statistics, so I enjoy all the Amazon sales data (even though the numbers may be smaller than one would prefer...)

One downside of self-publishing, is that one's social media game has to be pretty good. I don't have a social media game. Not a fan. Don't really like to interact with anyone. I even get social media angst when people are nice to me. Never know what to say. So, that doesn't help.

Being regularly published obviously has its advantages. There's someone else to sell the books for you, and there's the possibility of them getting the books into bookshops. Of course, publishers still want you to have a social media game, so there's a bit of pressure there. Perhaps the best thing with having a publisher is the validation. I don't worry about that with Barney, because I never offer them to anyone anymore. But after Hodder published the three Westphall books last year, I offered them my next, a literary crime novel entitled These Are The Stories We Tell, and they turned it down. My agent has currently been unable to place it elsewhere. Ultimately, I'll likely end up publishing it myself. Since it's not part of a series, it probably won't get much attention, and it won't be submitted for prizes etc. So, it will vanish, more than likely. And I really like it. So a publisher would've been nice. But that's the way it goes...

Oh, and I should say, that the third Westphall book, The Art of Dying, I'm really keen on, and my editor at Hodder did a great job of steering it in the right direction, and was a great help. I think with something like Westphall that matters; with Barney, which is much more about me writing whatever the hell I like, it doesn't so much. I wouldn't really want an editor saying, why don't you have Barney become a Buddhist, or something?

8. Having the different series of books, do you find your writing style differs between them? Also, are they in separate universes or would there ever be chance of a cross-over or two?
The styles are all very different. Barney: kind of daft, anything goes in the name of comedy, occasionally brutal, occasionally melancholic. Hutton: more visceral, a bit more serious, the humour is earthier, pretty vulgar, contains actual sex scenes, heavy use of the word fuck. Westphall: heavy on the melancholy, a slightly supernatural feel, no attempt at comedy, although I think my dry sense of humour likely still comes through with the man. In my head these are literary crime novels, even if no one else sees them like that. Jericho and Pereira are closer to straight-ish procedurals. Of the stand alones, Ballad in Blue and Mr Kite are heavily influenced by Haruki Murakami, Lost in Juarez is a fairly straight thriller, and Room With No Natural Light is a literary romance. So, I've covered a few different things.

As a result, I'm not in favour of a crossover. Not really a fan anyway. I did do a kind of minor one, once. Lost In Juarez was set during the days of the Brown government, and featured an unnamed, but obviously Brown, PM, and a Damian McBride-esque right hadn't man named Bleacher. A year later I wrote an online Barney story called The Westminster Christmas Massacre, in which Barney gets hauled down to London to be personal barber to the PM. The PM was unnamed, but obviously Brown, and again I used Bleacher as his right hand man. This story is now The End of Days, btw. It's kind of out of place, because it's set after Book 7, but doesn't feature Detective Sergeant Monk, so it's a bit rogue. I do like it though.

9. You mention Murakami as one of your influences. Who do read for fun, for down time and who else influences you?
I read a fairly eclectic mix of things. Literary, I suppose, most of them might be called. I don't read crime novels, or any other genre really. Big fan of Murakami, although latterly he's gotten a bit wordy, so I guess I prefer his earlier books when he was able to fit his story into three hundred pages or so. 1Q84, for example, has no more narrative than one of the old stories, but runs to 1,300 pages. When I'd just started, my biggest two influences were The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, in terms of blunt writing style, and (not a book obviously) Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.
My most recent reads have been Lord of the Rings, Pride & Prejudice, Life of Pi, Solar, Metamorphosis, Great Expectations, The Miniaturist, Goldfinger, A Farewell To Arms, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead.
My favourite was last one. I suppose it was a crime novel, though I don't think the writer sees it that way. And I'm not sure how influenced I've been by any of them, other than that one is constantly influenced by everything one reads, watches, hears...

10. So, as a final question, what pieces of information would you a) give to your younger self and b) give to any aspiring writers out there?
As a liver-in-the-past, I've given this a lot of thought, and I've no great idea. What would I do differently? Maybe I'd tell my past self that the world of publishing will change beyond recognition in the next couple of decades, so none of this laggardly book every eighteen months nonsense. Get on with it, you'll be able to publish everything in a few years.

As for aspiring writers. Crack on. Try not to get bogged down. Write, write, and write some more. Don't make excuses for not writing. If you get stuck on a section, or a word or a detail or a name, don't allow yourself to get stuck too long. Move on to something else, come back to the tricky part. When you think, hmm, I think I'll make this character Polish, I'll just have a look at the internet to see what makes a good Polish surname, don't look on the internet! Park those bits. Do them all at once at some future time. Stay off the internet!

And then, when you've finished - and this is tough - try to leave it as long as possible before doing anything with it, so that you can look at it again a few weeks, or a couple of months later, with fresh eyes. The fresh eyes are so important, and the longer you can leave it the better.

If you've got this far, and read everything above, you may be thinking, hang on a second, you just finished a Barney Thomson book and you're literally publishing it within a month! Well, that's partly do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do territory. I also have slightly different rules with Barney. Barney is the comfortable old pair of slippers. With other books, I do try to listen to my own advice.

Many thanks to Douglas for agreeing to be interviewed. Douglas Lindsay’s Curse of the Clown is available from Amazon on right now. Click here for more details.
For more information on all his works, click here for his website and here for his Twitter.

Next month I’ll be chatting about my next Sam Spallucci novel, Troubled Souls which is due out later this summer.