Tuesday, 6 September 2011

PUSH-UPS: Len Wanner

So, what you pushing right now?
Dead Sharp: Scottish Crime Writers on Country and Craft. It’s a book about your new favourite books. It’s out on the 12th of August. And it’s the ideal present for those hard-to-please fans of crime fiction we’re all related to.

What’s the hook?
It’s a burlesque drama in 9 acts. (I was told to call it a ‘collection of interviews’ with Scotland’s finest authors of crime fiction, but I don’t like the marketing lingo.) The book is introduced by an Edinburgh academic, Aaron Kelly, who kicks off with a few wise words about the genre and its Scottish players. That’s followed by 9 of them answering my questions about their work and what made them do it.

But it’s the line-up that really sells the book: Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride, Karen Campbell, Neil Forsyth, Christopher Brookmyre, Paul Johnston, Alice Thompson, Allan Guthrie, and Louise Welsh all offer their personal take on the big questions: What is “Tartan Noir”? Why has Scottish crime fiction become an international success? How has it changed and why do they write it? What distinguishes the Brit from the Scot? And what is it about Scottish pubs – as opposed to cinemas – that makes grown men cry? The revelations are uncanny and there’s lots more of them, but you’ll have to buy the book to read them all.

Finally, Louise Welsh has contributed an afterword, and I wrote my own bit about the interview experience. And then there’s a roundup of Scottish crime novels. If that doesn’t fill your nightmares, they’ll certainly fill your Christmas stockings.

And why’s that floating your boat?
Whose boat doesn’t float on burlesque? Besides, these gentlefolk bring decades of experience to their interviews, and their combined advice doesn’t just open up new perspectives on each others’ work. It even saves you the 10 grand for a course in creative writing.

Whether or not that’s worth the price of two pints, it’s certainly been floating my boat a lot longer.

When did you turn to crime?
As soon as I got out of my nappies. That would be around the time I finished my English degree, though my parents insist it was a little earlier. Crime runs in my family. My dad was a lawyer and now he’s mayor of the Bavarian mini-republic I grew up in. Hardly a change of scene, but it does explain my real crime influence. And during my most impressionable years, my mam was doing her PhD in literature. My compromise is crime fiction.

To forestall the hobby psychiatrists, I’ll give you another answer: When the university I went to offered extra courses to accessorise its sexy Middle English tuition, bureaucracy malfunctioned and for a single semester I could sign up for a seminar on genre fiction – or fiction for commoners as it was called by their alpha umpaloompa. The wee hoor got an honours degree and I started reading a lot more genre fiction. When a friend gave me my first crime novel, I left the chocolate factory.

Hardboiled or Noir, classic or contemporary?
‘Hardboiled’ is a chicken’s idea of hard.

‘Noir’ is not just a sub-genre. It’s a compliment.

‘Classics’ are what most readers find too easy to enjoy talking about and too hard to enjoy reading. My own list is as subjective as the next, but I urge anyone who hasn’t already done so to read at least William McIlvanney’s Strange Loyalties, if not the two prequels in this unsurpassed trilogy. His work is that rare delight, a contemporary classic.

And, what’s blown you away lately?
As it happens, and although Allan Guthrie recommended your work a while ago, I only recently got around to reading your debut, Paying For It. When I did sit down to read it, I only got back up to buy the next three. That’s exceptional stuff, Tony. Your Gus Dury is up there with William McIlvanney’s Jack Laidlaw and Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor.

There’s a lesson to be learnt here: More people ought to listen to Mr Guthrie, myself included. He knows about bukes, and his own are terrific. If you’re reading this, read Slammer.

See any books as movies waiting to happen?
Slammer: Screenplay written by Allan Guthrie and directed by Danny Boyle. What a slammer that would be.

Mainstream or indie - paper or digital?
I like books made of paper. I also like them to be edited.

Shout us a website worth visiting …

Finally, tell us any old shit about yourself …
I have a charming laugh. It sounds like someone’s interfering with a goat.