Here at Pulp Pusher we don’t do things by halves. Except this time. Authors can usually be found downing whiskey and we thought throwing together two leading lights of the crime fiction indie scene in a bar to talk about writing would be a good idea.
Irish author Gerard Brennan pens hard hitting Celtic noir and is published by digital house, Blasted Heath. Keith Nixon resides with Caffeine Nights and cranks out black comedy and crime.
Keith: What piques your interest when you open a novel?
Gerard: I'm a sucker for style. Give me a strong voice over an airtight plot any day of the week.
Keith: Something that moves with pace and strong characters. I can’t be doing with plodding storylines…
So, what's next from the pen of GB?
Gerard: Hard to say. I finished two novels this year but one can't be published until I complete my PhD. The second hasn't been given the thumbs up by anybody jåust yet so for all I know, it's a bunch of shite. I'm working on a play and another Cormac Kelly novel right now, and I've a screenplay out there looking for an agent. Whichever of those hits the mark first is anybody's guess.
Keith: What's your most under-rated book?
Gerard: I think they're all overrated, mate. I'm lucky like that.
Keith: I’m not sure I’d agree with you there! The one I’ve under-rated the most of yours is Fireproof, to my eternal shame…
Gerard: Yeah, I’ve not forgiven you for that yet.
Keith: Will another drink help?
Gerard: Maybe. In fairness, I understand that the book isn’t for everybody. Fireproof seems to be the ginger step-child of my canon. It’s gotten a slight resurgence lately, though, thanks to a BookBub add. That was cool. I think it’s just one of those things. When you write a book that you can’t tag a specific genre to, it can make it hard to sell. Fireproof’s a sort of horror/crime/fantasy/comedy mash-up. And it uses religion as a backdrop, which can be off-putting to quite a few people.
Your historic novels seem to do pretty well. Are they your most popular ones?
Keith: In terms of sales yes, by a country mile! I’ve sold over 10,000 of them now, not bad in less than a year.
Gerard: Holy feck! Ahem… aye. Not bad, mate.
Keith: Historical fiction and Rome in particular seems to be a popular genre. Ratings wise the crime novels set a higher bar and they’re relatively more straightforward to write, but they’re less visible - funny really!
Which of your works did you enjoy writing the most?
Gerard: I’m not 100% sure. They were probably all quite a slog at the time, but as the months and years roll on you tend to remember the easier days over the hard ones. I’d say it was one of the novellas, though. Maybe Welcome to the Octagon. It’s about mixed martial arts (AKA cage fighting) and I’m an Ultimate Fighting Championship fan, so it was fun to attempt to translate that kind of action to the page. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a niche subgenre so the sales suck monkey butts. Never mind 10,000 copies. That one barely cleared 10.
While we’re chatting genre, why the direction change with The Corpse Role? Was it difficult to write a police procedural?
Keith: Yes and no. I like to get the basis of a story factually correct (which is a nightmare when you’re writing historical fiction from a period where nothing is recorded!) so there was an element of research and having to find a plausible storyline to hang the narrative from, but once I had strong characters it largely drove itself.
Gerard: Reader, writer and reviewer: Which role gives you the most pleasure?
Keith: Ironically I took them up in that order! I started reading at an early age, for as long as I can remember. Books are very important to me. If I get fed up or want to retreat from the world I’ll pick up a book. It’s a bit harder these days with the kids, though. Writing I’ll never give up. It’s a mentally tough activity, so I can’t do as much of it as I’d like (plus I have a full time job and the kids thing again). Reviewing has been great, I’ve met so many new authors as a result, but you have to be honest in your assessment, I believe. Sometimes people don’t like that.
So overall I couldn’t imagine changing any of them, but overall I’d have to go for reading – someone else can entertain me!
Could you imagine yourself as a full time writer?
Gerard: I'm kind of living the life of a full-time writer now. Kind of. I took a career break to do a PhD at Queen's University Belfast. A huge element of said PhD is to pen a crime novel. There's more to it than that, such as a critical element, courses that need to be completed, teaching opportunities... yadda, yadda, yadda. But I reckon that a true full-time writer (i.e. one that doesn't have to depend on university funding to cover their mortgage) would still have a bunch of commitments to honour, if their marketing team is doing a good job and setting them up with readings and whatnot. So, yeah. I can imagine it. And guess what. It smells like coffee. What surprises me most is how many distractions I can find that pretty much take up the time I'd have spent working the aul' office job anyway.
I could bang on about this until your eyes glaze, so I'll stop there.
You have a publisher AND you self-publish. What are you, greedy?
Keith: It’s a multi-channel strategy GB! By the way, I work in sales… I started off self-published as I had a lost year trying to get what’s now The Eagle’s Shadow to an agent. No-one was interested. My wife bought me a kindle for a birthday a few years ago, The Fix was almost done and I couldn’t face the trawl through agencies and postage costs so I put it out myself. Then along came Caffeine Nights and there are two Konstantin books with them and a third out in May (I’m Dead Again).
Someone suggested I dust off the Roman books so I did and they’ve both sold very well, to my great surprise. They weren’t right for Caffeine and I just wanted to get on with it. I’ve just self-published The Corpse Role, again just a timing thing.
Gerard: Cool, man. I've been doing some reading outside the genre lately. Horror, thriller, even science fiction. And I've enjoyed them more than most of the crime books I've read this year. I think I got stuck in a reading rut or something, and jumping genres has been a tonic. Now I'm starting to wonder if I should be wary of a writing rut. So I think that, before I hit said rut, I'm going to explore a few more genres. Horror first, I think. I'd quite like to do more genre splicing as well (like fantasy/crime fiction or something), but I'll try out a good ol' fashioned horror first. After rewriting two current books and finishing a third.
I'm going to have to work through this hangover tomorrow, aren't I?