In Declan Burke’s latest U.S. release, “Absolute Zero Cool,” a writer is approached by a man who says he’s a character from one of his unpublished novels. The stranger is a hospital porter who exists, he claims, in a state of limbo. “Publish or I’m damned,” he says to the writer.
If that sounds to you like something out of Paul Auster, you’re not the first to see it. “Absolute Zero Cool” has also been favorably compared to works by John Fowles, Flann O’Brien, Bret Easton Ellis, Raymond Chandler, Samuel Beckett, Muriel Spark, Stephen King, Patricia Highsmith, Elmore Leonard, Charlie Kaufman and Kurt Vonnegut. “Although not all at once,” Burke said.
The Sligo-born writer is the editor, too, of “Down These Green Streets,” a recent collection of essays and other pieces by and about Irish crime novelists (he spoke at the Glucksman Ireland House, NYU, symposium of the same name last fall). And his daily blog, Crime Always Pays, is considered essential reading for anybody interested in following the latest developments in Irish crime fiction.
Date of birth: 1969
Place of birth: Sligo
Children: We have one daughter, Lily
Published works: “Eightball Boogie,” “The Big O,” “Down These Green Streets” (editor), “Absolute Zero Cool.” “Slaughter’s Hound” will be published in June 2012.
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
The essential ingredients are silence, coffee and cigarettes, although right now, because I’m redrafting, I’m partial to listening to a selection of Schubert’s piano sonatas. I get up at 5 a.m. and write until 7 a.m., or 8 a.m. on a good day. Then our little girl wakes up and the real day starts.
I work full-time as a freelance journalist, so time is the most precious commodity in any given day. I try to write seven days a week, and hit a certain word-count target every day, but if I fall a little short I don’t beat myself up.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Marry someone rich who believes you’re a genius. Failing that, write as much as you can, as often as you can. And read, read, read, and always with a critical eye.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
Off the top of my head: “Peter Pan” by J.M. Barrie, “All the Pretty Horses” by Cormac McCarthy and “The Big Sleep” (or anything else) by Raymond Chandler.
What book are you currently reading?
“Raylan” by Elmore Leonard, one of the greatest of American writers.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
Apart from the books mentioned above, “The Magus” by John Fowles, a literary thriller set on a Greek island. Fowles writes superbly about Greece, among other things. I’d have sliced out the last 100 pages or so, though.
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
Most recently, “The Gods of Gotham” by Lyndsay Faye, because I don’t read a lot of historical fiction. It’s a wonderful novel – in part an account of how the “Copper Stars,” the forerunners of the NYPD, came into being. In the last six months, “The End of Everything” by Megan Abbott, which is a fabulously unsettling novel.
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
Mary Renault, preferably during one of her trips to Greece researching her Greek mythology-based novels. If I had to pick one, it’d be her trip to Crete for “The King Must Die,” which is set at the height of the Minoan empire and is based on the story of Theseus and the Minotaur.
What book changed your life?
“The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler. I didn’t know you were allowed to write like that. My first book, “Eightball Boogie,” was an affectionate homage to Chandler, with a private eye-type character, Harry Rigby, getting involved with ex-paramilitaries in Sligo in the northwest of Ireland.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
At the risk of being sentimental, my home in Wicklow, which is where I’m happiest. Otherwise, the view overlooking Sligo’s Lough Gill from Cairns Hill. In a parallel life I live on one of the islands on Lough Gill …
You’re Irish if . . .
… you know that, no matter how bad it gets, this too will pass.
For Declan Burke’s blog go to: crimealwayspays.blogspot.com.