Howard Linskey is a happy man.
But not content to have a runaway success story on his hands - in the form of his debut novel The Drop - the Herts author has more to celebrate: his Newcastle gangster story is soon to make its way to the screen, via some very big names.
Producer David Barron (Harry Potter) and JJ Connolly (Layer Cake) are in Linskey's corner - so what's not to smile about.
Pulp Pusher spoke to Linskey about his 'ludicrously long slog' to success and his preference for the Sig Sauer over Walthers, Webleys and Berettas.
TONY BLACK: The Drop was your debut novel, tell us how it feels to know it's making its way to the screen?
HOWARD LINSKEY: It’s a bit of a dream come true if I’m honest. It is very rare for a debut novel from a complete unknown to be snapped up by a top producer like David Barron. I think I’m still in shock.
The TV adaptation is being done by Runaway Fridge Films, who have quite a pedigree.
David has an unbelievable CV, including five moderately successful films that feature a character you may have vaguely heard of called Harry Potter. His first TV production with Runaway Fridge was ‘Page Eight’ and he managed to assemble a cast that included Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz, Michael Gambon and Ralph Fiennes, which isn’t a bad start. It shows just how much clout he brings to a project.
Are you worried he may want to turn your protagonist, David Blake, into a boy wizard?
Well he did want to replace Blake’s Glock with a wand but I fought him hard on that one and he finally backed down.
Ah, the old Glock, it’s become a bit of a Brit-crime staple these days …
My villains use Makarovs, the cheap eastern European imports and a Sig Sauer was too flashy for David. Walthers, Webleys and Berettas are a bit old fashioned these days, so I wasn’t sure what gun to give a suave man-about-town like David Blake. I probably settled on a Glock because I needed a word other than gun and it was easy to spell.
You have JJ Connolly writing the screenplay, he has a rep for gritty crime drama having written Layer Cake. You must be chuffed with that?
I couldn’t imagine a better choice than JJ Connolly to adapt ‘The Drop’. I loved ‘Layer Cake’ and I was thrilled when he came on board. We share an agent, so I was aware of his possible involvement from an early stage but I kept quiet about it and just hoped it would happen.
For those living under a rock, give us the rundown on The Drop ...
‘The Drop’ is set in Newcastle and it’s the story of a white collar gangster who thinks he has it sussed because he never gets his hands dirty. One day, a large sum of money he is responsible for goes missing, along with a man who works for him called Geordie Cartwright, and nobody has a clue what has happened. Blake’s boss gives him 72 hours to retrieve the money or he’s a dead man
Where did the desire to write 'crime' come from?
I love classic British gangster films like ‘Get Carter’ and ‘The Long Good Friday’ and I wanted to write something like that. My story is about a man who thinks he can enjoy the trappings of a criminal life without any of the consequences. By the time he realises he can’t, he is in way too deep. That was my starting point for The Drop.
Did you have an easy route to print, or the traditional long slog?
A ludicrously long slog. I could paper my walls with the rejection letters. Most of them were pretty complimentary though, which was probably what kept me going. I didn’t realise it at the time, when my early stories were being turned down, but I was paying my dues with a particularly long apprenticeship.
I know the feeling, somehow, it feels beneficial in the end. I’m no doubt it made me a better writer: do you think that’s something which is going to affect the quality of future novelists with so many going straight to Kindle?
I suppose it could. I always think I am my own worst critic but I have learned over the years that a few sets of professional eyes on a manuscript can make a big difference. Both my editor and agent will ask me difficult questions about plot, characters and dialogue and they make me fight my corner. If I can’t convince them, I’ll seriously consider ditching stuff. I took two whole chapters out of my new book ‘The Damage’, which stung a bit but they were slowing down the story. It can be a bruising process sometimes but I am more than compensated by a better book at the end of it. It is better to have no ego about your writing because everyone wants the book to be as good as it can be. Hopefully the reader benefits from all of that brutal editing and I’ll know soon enough as ‘The Damage’ is about to be launched.
With the sudden screen interest, do you see yourself jumping ship or is screenwriting not something that interests you?
In an ideal world I’d like to do both. A book will give you a purer end result, as it is less collaborative. A script might be taken off your hands and a producer or director could make a lot of changes to it but I would quite like to sit in a darkened cinema thinking ‘I wrote that’. I’ll have to practice my false smile though, for when I fail to win an Oscar for Best Screenplay, as it is apparently bad form to mouth ‘but that was shit’ when someone else picks up a golden statue instead of you.
The Drop is published by No Exit Press - another outfit making quite a name for themselves of late.
I reckon I’ve got a very cool publisher. No Exit publish Lawrence Block, Ed Bunker, James Sallis and William Hjortsberg who wrote ‘Fallen Angel’, better known as the movie ‘Angel Heart’, which is still one of my favourite films. I’m honoured to be included on their list.
Angel Heart is without doubt a little-known classic - easily Rourke’s best movie - you’re clearly very influenced by film …
Yeah, I’m more influenced by film than books. I always think in terms of writing scenes, as opposed to chapters, because that is how I visualise the book in my head. I could probably recite every line of ‘Angel Heart’. I agree it was Rourke’s best movie and De Niro was still good then, before he switched to a policy of accepting every film he was offered. He used to read the script in the eighties not the pay cheque.
Back to No Exit - from the outside - it look like an edgy indie, is that the reality?
They couldn’t be nicer people to deal with. I think the edgy reputation comes from their choice of material. No Exit are noted for publishing gritty stuff that more mainstream publishers shy away from, because it doesn’t fit into some target demographic.
There seems to be a race to the bottom among mainstream publishers these days: how do you feel about their output these days?
I know publishers are motivated primarily by sales but I was baffled they would pass on something because it was set in Newcastle not London. My agent received rejections from female editors who said they loved my book but didn’t think that other women would, which I think is strange, bordering on condescending. Most of the women I know are pretty feisty and very far from the shrinking violets implied by that statement. Women of all ages seem to really like ‘The Drop’ thankfully. If we are slaves to demographics or formulas we will never produce anything new.
Your publishers must be quite pleased to see another one of their novels being adapted for the screen after Sallis's Drive.
They are delighted. I think the adaptation vindicates their faith in ‘The Drop’ and it has already boosted the profile of the book. The movie of ‘Drive’ was hugely successful, so I imagine the book has been walking off the shelves lately. The TV deal has helped us drum up more interest in ‘The Damage’ because it has become more newsworthy, which should help us launch the new book in April.
:: For more information on Howard's work - and details of his new release, THE DAMAGE, visit: www.howardlinskey.com