Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects...
What crime novel would you most like to have written?
This is going to be interesting, as PJ Brooke is two of us, Jane Brooke and Phil O’Brien. Phil is Creative Genius; I turn dodgy drafts into decent prose. Phil’s family on his father’s side is from Clonmel, County Tipperary, and on his mother’s from Germany. He had the misfortune to be schooled by the Jesuits in Glasgow, went to Chile after University, was radicalized there, briefly joined the International Marxist Group after the Chile coup, got a University post in Glasgow at the Institute of Latin American Studies and supported solidarity and anti-war movements. I’m a nice girl from Pontefract, a market town in Yorkshire, who spent too long behind a desk in Glasgow. We met at a Green Party meeting. He had terrible hair, and worse tee shirt. His sisters think he looks okay now. Anyway, the crime novel - THE NAME OF THE ROSE (Umberto Eco). We agree on that one.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Me? Lizbeth Salander of course. Pure wish fulfilment: getting to beat up the bad guys, rescue hero, AND steal a Harley Davidson. Phil, having had a much more interesting life than me so far, would settle for being Father William of Baskerville.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Phil follows the footy – strong Barcelona supporter. I read cookery books. Phil eats the outcomes.
Most satisfying writing moment?
For me, we’d finished the first complete draft of BLOOD WEDDING, but the ending seemed … well … limp. We’d spent best part of five years on it. And just couldn’t come up with the plot twist we needed. So I asked my aunt (80 at the time) to have a wee look at it. And she said, “It wasn’t x that did it, it was y.” So we thought again, revised the draft, wrote two more chapters, and the whole thing fell into focus something wonderful. For Phil, the most satisfying writing moment was just finishing the bloody thing.
The best Irish crime novel is?
Ah … we have a bit of a problem here ’cos I’m writing this in Granada, Spain, and our big library is in our main house in Glasgow. But we enjoyed, in part, Benjamin Black’s THE SILVER SWAN. The gloomy pathologist, Quirke, struck a chord, as did some superb writing. “The past was tied to him like a tin can to a cat’s tail …”
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
Stretching the definition of Irish to include those across the Atlantic, Denis Lehane’s MYSTIC RIVER was a pretty good novel, but rambled somewhat. But Clint Eastwood trimmed and tightened it into a brilliant, brilliant movie, a dark Shakespearian tale.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst thing is when the plot just won’t come together, but you can’t put the damn thing aside because the publisher needs the complete typescript next month. So you just have to keep plugging away, and hope inspiration strikes before repetitive strain injury kicks in. The best thing is when a trivial observation illuminates an entire chapter, or maybe when characters start to speak for themselves. That’s good.
The pitch for your next book is?
Pretty graduate student Leila is doing research on the impacts of the Spanish Civil War on a village outside Granada. She’s Muslim, but that's not her main thing. But then Leila is found dead under a bridge, and a badly mishandled police investigation spirals out of control when the prime suspect, a Muslim kid from Leeds, turns out to have connections with a radical mosque in London.
Who are you reading right now?
I’m reading Michael Dibdin’s COSI FAN TUTTI. Phil is reading ANATOMIA DE UN INSTANTE, novelist Javier Cercas’ extraordinary account of 23 February 1981, when troops stormed the Spanish Parliament building, and Spain’s democracy was nearly strangled at birth. With luck, the coup attempt is going to be the jumping off point for another Max Romero novel.
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
I would opt for reading, ’cos there are folks out there who write far better than we do. Phil, being a Jesuit, would argue the point with God, and probably win.
The three best words to describe your own writing are?
Looking at our reviews on Amazon, people use the words “evocative “, “political” and “absorbing” quite a lot. Which I suppose reflects what we are trying to do … to share with readers our pleasure in Granada … an exotic and beautiful city, which was the last Muslim kingdom in Europe. We use Granada to explore the fault-lines in Spanish politics going back to the Civil War (the dress rehearsal for the Second Word War), and try to find in conversations, newspaper articles and graffiti, human stories that people might want to read.
A DARKER NIGHT by PJ Brooke is published by Soho Constable.
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.