I heard several people say Good craic yesterday, and each time I thought ‘oh, so that’s how you say it’ and immediately knew I’d never be able to replicate it myself. (Or is it so simple as to be ‘crack’?)
Whatever this craic is, it’s what Colin Bateman was scheduled to do with fellow funny Irishman Eoin Colfer, and ended up sharing with newcomer James Oswald instead. James might look like a benign younger version of Gerry Adams, but he sounds as English as, well, as the English. He was described as a farmer from Fife, who self-published his first two books and sold hundreds of thousands of Kindle copies, and won prizes, before being given a ‘real’ paper book contract.
They were talking to Liam Bell, who asked if they wanted to do rock, paper, scissors over who would go first… James realised within minutes what I could have told him from the beginning; you just don’t want to do a reading after Colin Bateman. Eoin might have got away with it, but only just. So the fact that James’s book actually sounded pretty good in its funereal setting, even after Colin’s reading of The Prize, has to mean it’s not a bad book at all. (I got a copy, so one day I might be able to tell you if I was right.)
Colin talked about how he started out, and then he moved on to this collection of short stories that he has recently published himself (which he sold under the signing table). The Prize was one of the stories from Dublin Express, and if you want a copy, I suppose you first need to find a table from which it can be sold.
Then James talked about his first book Natural Causes, and why he went down the self-publishing route. Basically, no one fancied a police procedural teamed with the supernatural. Or at least not until it got attention and won things.
Having an editor is brilliant, apparently, and his could see immediately that stuff he’d added to the book for all the wrong reasons, should be the first to go. He might live in Fife, and he might have lived in Wales when he wrote the book, but he set it in Edinburgh, with the help of maps and memories from his student days. Although James did – accidentally – change the reputation of some areas of the city. He likes Ian Rankin and Stuart MacBride, but otherwise prefers non-crime by Iain Banks and Neil Gaiman, as well as comics and writing fantasy.
The reason Colin writes so fast is he has a short attention span. He writes so fast that he frequently has too much time on his hands, which could be why he embarked on his Dublin Express venture, and also the musical he wrote, based on 21 songs by the Undertones. Once it was all ready, they changed their minds and would only allow him the use of one song, so it is now more of a play…
Coming from middle class Bangor, he felt unable to write fiction set in the tough cul-de-sacs (sic) of that town, and went for the mean streets of Belfast instead. No planner, Colin makes it up as he goes along. And he doesn’t necessarily have to know what he’s writing about, having written a 500-page book set in the Empire State Building, based purely on a tourist leaflet.
Asked if either man would be happy to write about someone else’s characters, James said he’s not brave enough, and there is a risk he’d put ghosts in as well. Colin has written a Rebus for television, with Ian Rankin’s blessing. He could do what he wanted to Rebus, but mustn’t change his taste in music. We finished on the note that crime writers are very nice, while romance writers are ‘catty as hell.’