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Preview: the psychopathology of everyday life - Adrian McKinty's blog

the psychopathology of everyday life - Adrian McKinty's blog

writing, reading and other unfashionable pursuits

Updated: 2018-01-16T03:55:45.556+11:00


A Ghost Story


A couple are living in the suburbs of Dallas on the edge of the hilly countryside. The husband, Casey Affleck, is pretty content out here in the middle of nowhere. He's a song writer and this is a nice quiet spot for him to make his minimalist slightly dub steppy piano music. The wife, Rooney Mara, an artist, wants to move into the city to be closer to the craic. She moved around a lot as a child and every time she would move she would leave a secret note in the house on the day she left as a way of saying goodbye. It's ok to move she says. They debate the issue and the husband reluctantly agrees. One night, they hear a creepy bang on their piano but cannot find the cause. (This is explained in the third act.) The husband gets up early one morning, heads out and is killed in a car accident near his home. At the hospital, his wife views his body and covers it with a sheet. The man awakens as a ghost covered in the sheet, and wanders through the hospital, completely invisible, to the doctors and most of the patients. He's in this old fashioned Halloween ghost costume the whole time. He sees a door of light but refuses to go in and the door vanishes. He leaves the hospital and treks back to his house where he watches his wife grieve over the coming months. She eats an entire pie in what has become a famous scene for its stillness and patience. Eventually the wife moves out but before she does so she leaves a secret note buried in the wall. The ghost tries to get it but can't. Time passes. Another family moves in and after putting up with them for a while the ghost terrorises them out. The ghost sees another ghost inside the house next door and telepathically the ghost tells him that she is waiting for someone but it's been so long she has forgotten who she is waiting for. Time passes. The now ruined "haunted" house becomes a place to hold parties and raves. Time passes and the house becomes derelict. The ghost waits. . ....This plot summary covers, I think, the first half of the movie. There's a lot more to the story than this but you really should watch the rest for yourself. This is a supernatural film but it is not a horror film. There are no jump scares or gross out scenes or anything like that. This is Bergmanesque mediation on love, death and time. Some reviewers I've read have complained about the film's slow pacing but I thought quite a lot of stuff happened - perhaps you have to be in a certain frame to mind to appreciate it. I don't know, it does require patience and attention but that attention is duly rewarded and I certainly loved it. I suppose the major underlying theme to A Ghost Story is entropy. It's a question that's been asked by a lot of writers and philosophers over the years: in the face of death what's the point of doing anything. And by death here I don't mean your own personal death which is bad enough but Death with a capital D which is the death of everyone that knew you and the ultimate death of every possible contribution you could have added to the culture in your lifetime. In 1000 years people might possibly still remember Shakespeare, Beethoven, Orson Welles etc. But in 10,000 years? 100,000? 1,000,000? Unlikely. In two or three billion years from now the sun is going to become a red giant and swallow the Earth before it dies. In a few trillion years all the stars are going to die. Eventually all the atoms are going to decay into protons, neutrons and electrons and according to the Georgi–Glashow model, protons transition into a positron and a neutral pion, which then decays into 2 gamma ray photons. Estimates put the half-life for protons at 1.29×1034 years which is a long time but only a blip really in the vastness of infinity. Unless there is a big crunch the future of the universe is going to be an endless void of black nothingness with the odd random photon floating past. This is not a cheery prospect to me and it's rare these days to see a film tackle this idea that entropy must maximise and will eventually conquer everything. (Isaac Asimov considers this in [...]

2017 For The Duffy Books...


Herzog On Books


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Something Wicked This Way Comes...


Books of the Year


some of my favourites in various categories in what proved to be a great reading year for me...

History Book of the Year
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue - John McWhorter
Our greatest contemporary linguist explains how English kicked off.

Music Criticism Book of the Year
Listen to This - Alex Ross
A collection of Ross's pieces from the New Yorker.

Memoir of the Year
Hunger - Roxane Gay
Gay's honest unflinching look at her life, trauma, sexuality and her issues with food.

Geography Book of the Year
Landmarks - Robert Macfarlane
A meditation on places and the language we use to describe them.

Psychogeography Book of the Year
London Overground - Iain Sinclair
More gorgeous prose from professional flaneur Iain Sinclair as he walks around London, again.

Crime Novel of the Year
The Force - Don Winslow
Winslow reinvents the NY dirty cop novel for our times.

Australian Crime Novel of the Year
The Dry - Jane Harper
A federal Melbourne cop investigates a murder in his home town during fire season.

Philosophy Book of the Year
Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea And the Deep Origins of Consciousness - Peter Godfrey
A professional philosopher dons a wetsuit and explores octopus intelligence.

Biography of the Year
Sticky Fingers - The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stones Magazine - Joe Hagan
A gossipy, damning all access biography of Wenner written in a superior style.

Novel That Made Me Cry On A Plane Book of the Year
A Man Called Ove - Frederik Bachman
I don't even want to talk about it.

Comedy Novel of the Year
The Forensic Record Society - Magnus Mills
Blokes meet up in a pub in north London to listen to records. Nothing much happens. Genius.

Poetic War Memoir of the Year
My Life as a Foreign Country - Brian Turner
Turner's poetic memoir of his tour as an army Staff Sergeant during the invasion of Iraq.

Science Fiction Novel of the Year
Fear The Sky - Stephen Moss
An alien conspiracy to take over the Earth.

Literary Novel of the Year
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders
Abe Lincoln's dead son wanders through purgatory.

Reread of the Year
The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach
One of my favourite baseball novels of all time now.

Audiobook Reread of the Year
The Wine Dark Sea - Patrick O'Brian narrated by Patrick Tull
My fourth time listening to this one.

Kafka's Old Office


my piece in last week's LitHub......At the beginning of November I found myself in Prague with enough loyalty points at the Accor Chain to get myself a room in a fancy hotel way out of my usual league. There was one particular room in one particular hotel that I had been eyeing for years and much to my amazement I found that it was available.             The hotel was the Sofitel Century Old Town and the room was the Franz Kafka Suite. The Century Old Town occupied the former Austro-Hungarian Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute and a second floor office of this building was the place where Kafka had toiled as a lawyer from 1908 - 1922. This office and the room behind it had been converted into the Kafka Suite.             Kafka’s childhood home was long gone but for Kafka fans like me it was incredibly thrilling that for enough cash or Accor Reward Points you could spend the night in his old office.              I checked into the Century Old Town at two o’clock on a brisk November Tuesday in Prague to find that the room was not quite ready. Housekeeping was doing a quick final vacuuming I was told and I was given a voucher for a free beer at the bar which suited me just fine.              When the room was all set I walked up the wide, restored nineteenth century stair-case and found myself outside the Franz Kafka Suite where a little plaque confirmed me that this was indeed Kafka’s actual place of work. I put the key card in and opened the door.              The first thing that confronted me inside the room itself was pitch blackness. The outer door closed behind me and rather like – I fancied –Gregor Samsa I too was trapped in a bourgeoisie hell of the indoors.              “Aha!” I thought, you need to find the little slot to put your card in to get the lights to come on. I fumbled around and I did find the slot, but when I inserted my card the blackness remained.             I began to feel a little buzz of excitement. The Kafka Suite was deliciously Kafkaesque already. What fresh thrills and terrors lay ahead? The exhilaration began to dissipate when I turned my phone light on and realized that I wasn’t in a fiendishly difficult psychological maze partly of my own making, no, I was in an ordinary hallway and there was a problem with the electricity.             After a bit more fumbling I discovered the fuse box and although everything was in Czech it was pretty obvious which circuit had been blown by the vacuum cleaner. I flipped the switch and hey presto the lights came back on.             Out of the hallway I discovered that the Kafka Suite was gorgeous. The back room contained a generously proportioned bed, a huge bath, a luxurious shower and dual washbasins. But the front of the suite was definitely where the action was. The front room was an enormous light filled chamber with a sofa, a dining table and a writing desk that looked out onto the street.             This had been Kafka’s actual writing office. He had mostly prepared legal briefs here (the book to read on this is Franz Kafka: The Office Writings edited by Stanley Corngold) but you could imagine him working on short stories and letters in his lunch break or doodling away at ideas in the margins of his jotter.              The room was minimalist and contemporary, painted a bright umber with a portrait of Kafka himself lying against the wall in one corner. There was a bookcase containing mostly French hardbacks by second tier novelists of the first half of the twentieth century, but there we[...]

John Banville's Mrs Osmond


my review of the new John Banville novel from yesterday's Weekend Australian......not a whole heartedly ringing endorsement I am sorry to say......Mrs Osmond by John BanvilleWhen a writer turns to pastiche in the later stages of his career he is either paying a compliment to the muse that inspired him throughout the difficult times or else the poor soul has run completely out of ideas. What to make then of John Banville’s Mrs Osmond which is the second pastiche he has published in the last two and a half years? Banville’s previous effort, The Black-Eyed Blonde, was a journeyman-like sequel to the Raymond Chandler novel The Long Good-bye that although lacking Chandler’s gift for simile, did echo Chandler’s skill for characterization and occasional seat-of-your-pants plotting.              Mrs Osmond is a sequel to Henry James’s A Portrait of a Lady, a novel Banville has proclaimed in interviews to be the greatest example of the form in the English language.            Hmmmm.            Portrait famously ends with the beautiful and brilliant Isabel Osmond (née Archer) realising that the spiteful Gilbert Osmond has married her for her money and that his long term mistress is Madame Merle. Isabel quits Rome after visiting Pansy, Osmond’s daughter, to comfort the dying Ralph Touchett in England, where she remains until his death. An unpleasant encounter with Caspar Goodwood forces her to flee again back to Rome. The reader is left in a delicious state of unknowing, pondering whether Isabel is returning to Osmond to live heroically for Pansy's sake or whether she is going to somehow rescue Pansy and leave Osmond.            John Banville steps into the breach to tell us what he thinks happens next. We don’t, of course, immediately get the satisfying confrontation with Isabel’s dirtbag scrub of a husband Gilbert Osmond. Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait, Wilkie Collins observed and Banville first gives us something of a Bradshaw’s railway tour of fin de siècle Europe through France and Switzerland where Isabel meets various characters we encountered in the original. We meet again the charming Hildy Johnson prototype, Henrietta Stackpole, with her crazy ideas about freedom for women. The villainous Madame Merle shows up and the two Osmond women circle one another like sabre wielding duellists looking for an opening. We rendezvous with the terribly nice Edward Rosier, who pursued Pansy’s hand in marriage but who was turned down by her snobbish father. Isabel seeks out her sister-in-law, Countess Gemini who, in Portrait, revealed all about her brother, and we get another run in with the delightfully batty Mrs Touchett, Isabel’s aunt, who saved her from a life of genteel dullness in Massachusetts.             Banville does a nice job building upon and enhancing these characters although the conversations don’t do a whole lot to forward the story. Banville has garnered much praise for imitating the prose, syntax  and page length paragraphs of Henry James. His homaging skills are indeed impressive and I doubt whether even a James scholar could tell the difference between a Banville description of a French railway carriage and the actual article.             The dialogue is a little harder to swallow, for Banville often attempts a facsimile of Henry James’s ill judged attempts at wit. James’s genius clearly did not run to banter, although his admirers urge us to overlook this defect by explaining that humour does not age well. This defence is unconvincing as Portrait shares a decade with Oscar Wilde’s first plays, peak Mark Twain and Jerome K[...]

One Football Team For Ireland?


Both Irelands exit from the World Cup qualifiers has prompted me to repost this from a while back. ....Republic of Ireland is out of the World Cup again and Northern Ireland has not played in a World Cup since Mexico in 1986 when they were eliminated in the first round. The recent success of Iceland aside I think it will be very hard for either North or South to qualify again. In the 1980's the Iron Curtain was still intact, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union only fielded one team each and Northern Ireland could usually secure a second or third seed in the group competition. The standard of play and the number of countries has increased in Eastern Europe since and typically Northern Ireland now gets a third or fourth seed with virtually no hope of making it to the World Cup finals against superior opposition. Northern Irish fans have coasted on memories of the 1982 World Cup when we came within a whisker of making it to the semis, but those glory days were more than a generation past and the current squad wd need to get very lucky to qualify now. The situation in the Republic of Ireland is better. Since their nadir in the 1980's the Republic has been to three World Cups: 1990, 1994 and 2002. Both Irelands qualified for the last European Championship but the World Cup Finals now seem like a bridge too far for both of them....It wasn’t Northern Ireland’s fault that football - unlike rugby - became split in Ireland. Dublin was the centre for Gaelic Games on the island and Belfast was traditionally the centre for football. The Irish Football Association was (and still is) based in Belfast but during the partition, a rival federation, the FAI, was established in Dublin in 1921. It was nationalists in Dublin who divided football on the island of Ireland, not unionists in the North. Confusion reigned for the next thirty years with dozens of players getting called up by both Ireland federations until, in the 1950's, Con Martin, Davy Walsh, Tommy Ahern and Reg Ryan had the odd distinction of playing for the IFA and FAI teams in World Cup qualifiers. FIFA put a stop to this by ordering a renaming of the Irish teams and a strict division of players: footballers born in Eire would play for the Republic of Ireland, those born in the north, Northern Ireland....Northern Ireland still managed to punch above its weight, qualifying for the 1958 World Cup and then producing such stars as George Best, Pat Jennings, Sammy McIroy and Danny Blanchflower, before the heroics of the Espana ‘82 campaign. Northern Ireland fans are a small but dedicated bunch and I have been to many memorable home games at Windsor Park. The defeats of England and Germany come to mind and truly anything can happen there in that tiny, intimidating ground in the heart of west Belfast. But now that the team has been eliminated from its eighth World Cup in a row it is time to face facts, an all Ireland team is our best hope of ever getting to the Cup again and over the long term an all Ireland team might do quite well, especially if it began to draw players from all of Ireland’s football codes. Ireland north and south has a population of nearly 6 1/2 million people which is much bigger than Scotland or Wales and bigger even that Denmark, Finland and Norway who are pretty successful footballing nations.... The all Ireland rugby team is currently ranked fourth in the world and an all Ireland football team would surely rise in the FIFA rankings. There are of course many problems with this scheme. Firstly, the IFA would be furious at the loss of money and prestige if home games moved to the Aviva stadium in Dublin. Secondly, football is not rugby, rugby in Ireland is a middle class game that no one, deep down, really gets too serious about whereas football is important and comes with a heavy sectarian baggage that rugby does not possess. I concede these points, but o[...]

Liam McIlvanney on Rain Dogs and Sean Duffy


as part of the Irish Times book club pick last month, the IT asked a whole bunch of writers and academics to write pieces about the Duffy series, particularly Rain Dogs. We got lovely articles from Ian Rankin, Diana Gabaldon, Val McDermid, Brian McGilloway and Brian Cliff but the one I wanted to highlight here was one from Burns scholar and Professor of Irish and Scottish Studies at Otago University, Liam McIlvanney. I think Prof McIlvanney (son of the inventor of Tartan Noir William McIlvanney and a superb noir novelist in his own right) just somehow hits the nail on the head... Judge for yourself.... ‘I’m not a great detective,’ DI Sean Duffy says at one point in Rain Dogs: ‘maybe I’m not even a good detective, but I am bloody persistent’. As a writer, Adrian McKinty has been bloody persistent – he has seventeen books to his name – but he has also been very, very good. It has taken some time, but the rest of the world is finally getting wise to what many of us have long understood: Adrian McKinty is one of the most intelligent, daring and stylish crime writers currently at work today.  .His breakthrough books have been the Sean Duffy thrillers. Set during the Troubles, the Duffy series could be construed as historical fiction. Certainly, McKinty has a deft touch with period detail and there are walk-on parts for big-name historical figures – both Muhammad Ali and Jimmy Savile have cameos in Rain Dogs. But the books don't feel like historical novels. They’re far too urgent and too topical. In Rain Dogs, powerful men abuse the vulnerable with the connivance of shifty underlings. This is Savile and the seventies, but it’s also Weinstein and now. It’s as if McKinty has found in Troubles Belfast an artful optic on the compromises and corruptions of today turning a historical lens on our own times to.   .The character of Duffy – droll, dissident, driven – anchors the series, but equally vivid is the treatment of place. Belfast and Carrickfergus are like Duffy’s on-off lovers. Coronation Road, the murderous rain, the rusting hulks of the giant cranes: he loves it all and he hates it too. The poetry of the streets is everywhere in McKinty. You can hear Ciaran Carson as well as Raymond Chandler in McKinty’s setting of scene: ‘Clouds over the Knockagh monument. A storm over the condemned city of Belfast’. But McKinty doesn’t get carried away: he never lets you forget that beneath the spurious troublespot glamour lies an impenetrable bedrock of provincial ennui.    .As a Scot, I particularly relish the Caledonian dimension to McKinty’s work. County Antrim may be the only place on the planet where you can see whole swathes of Scotland from the outside, and ‘the blue line of Scotland’ looms large in the Duffy books (as it does in that earlier Troubles masterpiece, Maurice Leitch’s Silver’s City). Mr Underhill, the begrudging caretaker in Rain Dogs, with his ‘defensive John Laurie cadence’, is perhaps McKinty’s most finely realized Scot, and his Lallans dialect – ‘I soon kenned that she was deed. So I went in and called the poliss’ – is pitch perfect. Even the Antrim locals in McKinty’s novels speak ‘a form of lowland Scots straight out of Robert Burns’, and words like ‘sheugh’, ‘wean’ and ‘wraith’ give the prose its colloquial pep.   .It was Raymond Chandler who held that ‘the most durable thing in writing is style’. If that’s true, then expect McKinty’s novels to last. He writes an insouciant vernacular prose that can somehow absorb words like ‘lepidopterously’ without breaking stride. Too much crime fiction is written in a frictionless, disposable style. McKinty doesn't do disposable, but he does almost everything else.  .He can do staccato itemizing à la James Ellroy: ‘Light o[...]

How To Make A Cup Of Tea


A few years ago the Guardian stepped into the great "how to make a cup of tea" debate with its scientific "proof" that you must put the milk into the cup first and then the tea (which is hopefully after the tea leaves have been brewed in a tea pot). The comment thread under that article is a fascinating poke into the dark recesses of the British mind... ...There are many many blogs and websites relating to tea and tea making out there but if you want one of the first and best articles I think you have to go back George Orwell's famous "A Nice Cup Of Tea", which can be read here, and was originally published in the Evening Standard in 1946. I'm not going to rehash Orwell here as you should just jolly well click the link and read the piece for yourself. It's very fun reading and basically sound advice if you want to make tea the old fashioned way. Christopher Hitchens attempts (not entirely successfully) to update Orwell's tea making instructions, here, but at least Hitchens admits to the existence of something called a tea bag. The Guardian commenters and tea purists would rather see their sons and daughters run off to join a cult than use a tea bag, but I am comfortable with the tea bag and use it myself much of the time. I agree with Hitchens however that tea bags should NEVER be left in a cup of tea and when I watch the Big Bang Theory etc. I find myself utterly aghast when characters walk around the set with tea bag rat tails dangling down the side of their mugs. The tea is stewing that whole time getting more and more tannic and unpleasant. Get the tea bag out of the mug as quickly as possible is my advice. ...I make the best cup of tea in our house. My tea is a comforting brew that can be given to sniffly children or confused Jehovahs Witnesses* or people who have just had a road accident. Its not a purists tea. Its milky, often made with a tea bag (although sometimes leaves) and it often contains SUGAR. Yes that's right, I said it. I sometimes put sugar in my tea. Orwell disagrees, the Guardian disagrees, Hitchens disagrees but when the mood strikes I like sugar in my bloody tea. Tea with sugar was the drink that built and lost the British Empire. Tea with milk and sugar was the drink they drank while breaking the Enigma code at Bletchley Park, that the pilots drank in the Battle of Britain, etc. ...Anyway, this is how I make tea. Like I say if you're a purist or some kind of tea nut STOP READING NOW. 1. Boil kettle. 2. While kettle is boiling, add milk and either Ceylon Orange Pekoe tea leaves (in a tea infusion ball) or a strong tea bag (Twinings Assam Bold is a good one) to the mug. Let the tea and the milk mingle. No one, and I mean no one, ever does this but I do and I explain why below. 3. Add the boiling water to the milk. (In my opinion boiling water scalds the tea and ruins it but if you add the hot water to the milk it suffuses through the tea bag or the softened tea leaves and gives you a very gentle, pleasing drink.)4. Remove the tea bag after about 45 seconds. 5. Add sugar to taste. I prefer one tea spoon. 6. Stir. And there we go: a mellow, comforting, delicious beverage.......*The Jehovahs Witnesses are always confused because I always invite them in and offer them tea (everyone else on the street is always rude to them but they're not all trying to dodge doing any writing...)[...]

The Boys Are Back In Town


I'll be doing TWO events at the Noireland festival in Belfast on Saturday, October 28th. Both of these events are taking place at the Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street. The first event is at 11.30 - 12.30 where I will be participating on a panel on Identities...
Secondly (and this isn't on the festival programme because it's an event sponsored by the Irish Times) I'll be recording the Irish Times Book Club podcast at 1.00 pm with the Irish Times books editor, Martin Doyle also in the Europa Hotel. I believe this is a free event. So don't miss out! 

Val McDermid on McKinty and Rain Dogs


the great Val McDermid was kind enough to write an article about me and my novel Rain Dogs for the Irish Times Book Club. With permission here it is below: In the 1980s, for most people living in Britain, Northern Ireland was, to quote Neville Chamberlain, “a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing”. But although the consequences were less catastrophic than Chamberlain’s attempts at appeasement, consequences there were for the citizenry on both sides of the Irish Sea who chose not to engage with that quarrel.The only way to avoid history repeating itself is to make an effort to understand it. Some of that understanding comes from historians and political analysts. But by far the most effective route to getting under the skin of the past comes from the people who make it up – the novelists, the film-makers, the TV scriptwriters and even the poets.If you doubt me, then pick up any of the Sean Duffy novels by Adrian McKinty. Duffy is a cop, but he’s a million light years away from the slab-faced monoliths who regularly spoke for the RUC during the Troubles. Duffy’s an iconoclast. A dope-smoking, music-loving, sarcastic smartarse who nevertheless can’t escape a deep-rooted commitment to the place he loves. He’s a contrarian – a Catholic RUC man who lives in the heart of the loyalist community – and that’s the ultimate key to his personality.In Duffy, McKinty has created the perfect character to explore the fragmented, savage and often contradictory world of law enforcement in Northern Ireland, a world where the worst crimes are sometimes perpetrated by those charged with protecting their communities.Mordant excursionsIn Rain Dogs, the fifth in the series, Duffy lifts this to a new level with mordant excursions into the wider world. The book opens with a glorious set piece, a fictitious Belfast visit by Muhammad Ali, leaping “lepidopterously” on stage to sting like a bee. “He had shadow-boxed, he had waved, he had lied and told them their city was aesthetically pleasing. He could have run for Mayor on a Nation of Islam ticket and won on a first-round voice vote of the council.”And this in spite of support from Bono, protests from the National Front and Ian Paisley’s “elderly band of evangelical parishioners, singing their discontent in… determinedly joyless psalmody”. This is a writer delighting in his linguistic facility; not showing off, but sharing it with the rest of us.That brio never leaves Rain Dogs, even when despair and disaster visit Duffy. And there are plenty of those dotted through a novel whose murder mystery is only one segment of a disturbing journey through the dark duplicities of spider-web conspiracies. There’s an audacity to McKinty’s imagination that makes the reader draw breath sharply.But he never relinquishes his hold on the understanding that wit and sharp observation is what keeps us reading long after we should have turned out the light. Duffy’s perversity, his sarcasm and his self-deprecation are what anchor us to these books. As well as the deft plotting, of course. Here, a stolen wallet, a Finnish trade delegation and a locked room murder cleverly lead us to the rotten core of a deeper conspiracy.And that’s how the lessons of history seep seamlessly into our consciousness. If you want to understand where we are in 2017, read Rain Dogs. Better still, read all the Sean Duffy novels.Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty is October’s Irish Times Book Club pick. Ian Rankin and Brian McGilloway will be contributing articles about McKinty throughout the month, along with an essay by a serving Catholic PSNI officer, which will be published anonymously as his life is still under threat from di[...]

Another Award For Rain Dogs!


Blade Runner 2049's Literary Background


A short video I made looking at the literary background to the new film Blade Runner 2049. (Mild spoilers.)

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Irish Times Book Club And Rain Dogs


the essay I wrote for the Irish Times on how and why I began the Sean Duffy series and a brief intro to my novel Rain Dogs which is the Irish Times's book club pick for the month of October:...It was July 2011 and I was facing something of a crisis. I had missed the deadline for my new novel by six months and I still had no book. I’d been writing thrillers and mystery novels at a pace of a book a year for the previous eight years and now the well had run completely dry. I’d been teaching during the day and at night staring at a blank computer screen with bleary eyes.             Half a year of worsening writers block and no pages at all.             And then one morning very late or very early I wrote: “The riot had taken on a beauty of its own now. Arcs of gasoline fire under the crescent moon. Crimson tracer in mystical parabolas. Phosphorescence from the barrels of plastic bullet guns. A distant yelling like that of men below decks in a torpedoed prison ship. The scarlet whoosh of Molotovs. Helicopters everywhere: their spotlights finding one another like lovers in the Afterlife.”             When I woke up the next day I read the paragraph and liked it but I was immediately alarmed because I knew that this passage had taken place in Belfast. When my first novel had come out in 2003 it had been well reviewed and I’d been called in to pitch a TV show to the BBC. I’d offered them a Sweeney/Starsky and Hutch style crime drama set in Belfast during the 70’s and had been told in no uncertain terms that this would not fly. A wise old owl at the Beeb advised me to avoid Northern Ireland as a subject matter at all costs because “nobody in Ireland wanted to think about The Troubles ever again, no one in England wanted to think about Northern Ireland ever again and the Americans still thought of Ireland in terms of The Quiet Man and wouldn’t know what the hell I was talking about.”             In 2003 the Irish crime fiction scene was on life support with maybe a dozen titles per year. I saw that the Wise Old Owl was right. So, for the next eight years, I’d written about pretty much everywhere I’d ever been to in my life except Belfast.             Until now. Not only was this 2 a.m. paragraph Belfast but it was Belfast in 1981 right after Bobby Sands’s death in the dark heart of The Troubles. I called the book The Cold Cold Ground and assumed my publishers weren’t going to be too happy with a Troubles era novel – but when everybody’s telling you not to write about a certain subject it’s almost certainly the subject you should be writing about. I sent the synopsis to my US publishers who promptly turned it down but fortunately my UK publishers said yes.            I grew up alienated from literary fiction which I saw as a genre for and about upper middle class people, consequently I’ve always wanted to use crime fiction as a vector for making art; in Cold Cold Ground I tried to do exactly that as well as discussing a lot of interesting themes, particularly race, religion, gender and sexuality. I set the book in the terrace where I was literally born and raised, in a working class housing estate in Carrickfergus. I wanted a protagonist that would generate a lot of friction and fracture lines with the people of that street so I made him Catholic, a policeman, Bohemian,[...]

My 12 Favourite Film Noirs


"40's style with added robot"a post from last year...The Blu Ray release of the quintessential film noir, Double Indemnity (1944), is as good an excuse as any to watch a classic noir. But what exactly counts as film noir in the first place? It's a tricky definitional problem. Although the classic noir era is over it’s not easy to define what noir was or when the noir period definitively ended. If you're going to say that nothing after 1959 counts as a proper noir (which a lot of film historians do) then many of my favourites below aren't going to make it. But the following is my list and my rules so I'm going to say that the cut off date is August 1987 when John Huston died (director and actor in many of the greatest noirs) which allows me to cheat a little. Obviously these are idiosyncratic choices and apologies if your favourites (Night and the City, Pickup on South Street, DOA, Night of the Hunter, Out of the Past, Cutter’s Way etc.) didn’t quite fit into the top 12.12. The Asphalt JungleDirected by John Huston (1950)Sterling Hayden gets himself mixed up in a robbery, but the real fun is watching the gang unravel under the pressure of success. Crosses and double crosses, a cameo by a purring Marilyn Monroe, an impressive Sam Jaffe as Doc  Riedenschneider; this is one of the all time great heist-gone-wrong films.11. The KillingDirected by Stanley Kubrick (1956)Sterling Hayden gets himself mixed up in another robbery and again everything goes wrong after it all goes right. Hayden’s  Johnny Clay is a pacing, muscular, cerebral criminal, but while lady luck is on his side at the track it isn’t at the airport.10. The Third ManDirected by Carol Reed (1949)Orson Welles is dead, or is he? Orson Welles is a bad guy, or is he? Joseph Cotten tries to find out or does he? Sewers, a Ferris wheel, duffle coats, the cuckoo clock speech, oh and the greatest existential ending of a film ever...9. The Postman Always Rings TwiceDirected by Tay Garnett (1946)Huge rip off. There is no postman or doorbell. Lana Turner smoulders and John Garfield is sucked willingly into the gravitational pull of her platinum sun. The plan is to kill her old man and take the insurance money. They know it’s not going to work but they do it anyway. Brilliant.8. The Big StealDirected by Don Siegel (1949)Don Siegel began his career directing the montages for Casablanca and finished it directing various Clint Eastwood vehicles in the 70’s, which isn’t a bad career at all. Along the way he made this slice of noir about an army lieutenant wrongly accused of robbery who pursues the real crook through Mexico. Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer stand out in a terrific cast.7. Strangers On A TrainDirected by Alfred Hitchcock (1951)Two strangers meet on a train and realise that they both need someone bumped off.  Based on a slyly brilliant book by Patricia Highsmith with a script by Raymond Chandler and an uncredited Ben Hecht, Alfred Hitchcock entered his great 1950’s period with this perfect stomach churning noir. Robert Walker chews the scenery as Bruno, a charming psychopath who wants out from under the heel of his father. Farley Granger provides able support.6. RififiDirected by Jules Dassin (1957)Jules Dassin got his start directing Yiddish films in New York, then he moved into mainstream Hollywood movies (directing the great Night and the City), then he got blacklisted, moved to France and directed this noir classic, with a cynical, bitter Jean Servais as an excon with a plan for a robbery on a jewellery shop. The heist itself is the highpoint of the film with its famous 10 minu[...]

Max Tegmark's Multiverses


Max Tegmarkone of my favourite posts from two years ago......Our Mathematical Universe by physicist Max Tegmark is a popular science book in which he unpacks his theory of the level 1,2,3 and 4 multiverses and then in the last third explains his theory of the mathematical universe. I understood the multiverse idea (the first 3 multiverses anyway) but I didn't really get his concept of the mathematical universe (he's either saying that all the laws of physics depend upon fundamental mathematical concepts which isn't very interesting, or he's saying that everything in the universe (suns, planets, you, me, our conscious minds,) is mathematics itself, i.e. we are living in a platonic universe of numbers that only thinks it's a physical universe - this is a very interesting concept indeed but seems completely crazy to me.) I don't have the competence to judge the last third of the book but I do want to talk about the multiverse idea which is fascinating....The level 1 multiverse is very easy to understand. All Tegmark is saying here is that space is infinite and beyond the visible light boundary of our universe there must be other shit out there. Indeed there must be entire universes out there. This is the cool part: since space is infinite and the different way atoms in a universe can assemble themselves is huge, but, crucially, finite, then there must, logically, be universes out there with an exact replica of you reading this and me typing this. Indeed there are an infinite number of universes out there with exact replicas of you and me, and an infinite number of universes where we are slightly different, or you became President or we both swam the Hellespont or I ended up playing rugby for Ireland (I still believe this cd actually happen). Infinity is a very powerful concept and creates some surprising results. Like I say, cool stuff. ...The level 2 multiverse is also easy to comprehend. In the expansion phase of our universe just after the Big Bang a 'baby universe' was formed that became our universe, an infinite number of these formed, some with completely different laws of physics than our own, but sentient entities like you and me could only exist in one like ours, the Goldilocks one where gravity, Plancks constant, the electro-magnetic force etc. balance perfectly. But again because an infinite number of these multiverses formed there are other yous and mes out there in slightly different physical realities....The level 3 multiverse is a trickier beast to grasp. Tegmark and what he claims are "an increasing number of quantum physicists" are beginning to reject the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics that has been the dominant interpretation of quantum physics since the 1920's. If you remember the infamous "double slit experiment" from high school you'll recall that when an electron is fired through a piece of metal with a double slit in it sometimes the election acts like a wave and sometimes like a particle. No understands why this is so and it is deeply mysterious to this day. The Copenhagen interpretation basically says that the electron both goes through one slit and does not go through the same slit at the same time. When the election is "observed" by a conscious entity or by a machine (like a camera) its probability wave collapses and it picks one slit to travel down. This has lead to the Schrodingers Cat paradox wherein a cat is both dead and alive at the same time until it has been "observed" - a thought experiment meant to ridicule the Copenhagen Interpretation itself, which I think it did. One alternative to t[...]

How To Be Boring


Everybody knows the advice publishers and agents give to young writers: start in the middle and keep it fast, fast, fast to the very end! And that's still pretty good advice if you're all about story and turning pages. But what if you're not? What if you want people to focus on the words and take it easy and read your book slow? Well then you're probably living in the wrong age aren't you? We're the age of quick cuts and page turners and memes and vines. Why watch a whole movie when you can watch a youtube video telling you everything wrong with it in 15 minutes?...When I was a kid we read a lot of Thomas Hardy novels in school and I bloody hated them. One of them, Return of the Native I think, begins with a 15 page description of a heath: the heath in winter, the heath in spring, the heath in autumn and yup you guessed it, the heath in summer. Christ it was tedious. I'll never read anything so boring in my life I thought...until I went to law school. Reading all 5 judgements in a nineteenth century probate case, now that my friend is a whole new level of boring. ...And maybe it was the discipline of law school or maybe it was the time I struggled through bloody Les Miserables in French or maybe it was just a reaction against the begin-in-the-middle school of thought but in the last 5 years or so I've been hunting out authors who take it slow. Who don't begin the middle. Who don't cut to the chase (because usually there is no chase). I've found to my amazement that I quite like Thomas Hardy and Thomas Mann and Thomas Wolfe come to that - 3 Toms who are a little more leisurely about their story telling. ...Lately I've just finished Magnus Mills's The Forensic Record Society and I think its a work of genius. A bunch of blokes meet up in a London pub to listen to records. Nothing much happens. It ends. It's brilliant. Like all of Magnus Mills's books. The comedy of Stewart Lee is similar - Lee is often deliberately boring and repetitive and I love him for it. It's the same thing too with the books of David Peace: repetitive, deliberately slow, amazing. We've got slow cooking and slow travel, how about some slow reading, eh? Less stress, more focus on the words, more pleasure......Some of you will think I'm mad so feel free to ignore the below reading list of contemporary writers and a few oldies who, ahem, go at their own pace and are all the better because of it: Magnus MillsCharles PalliserThomas MannDavid PeaceSusanna ClarkGertrude SteinMarcel ProustAnthony PowellJohn Dos PassosGeorge EliotVirginia WoolfThomas HardyHanya YanagiharaMiguel de CervantesJA BakerJames JoyceHerman Melville[...]

A Secret of the Ned Kelly Award


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Ned Kelly Award 2017


I am delighted to say that my novel Police At The Station And They Don't Look Friendly has won the 2017 Ned Kelly Award. My wife and kids were in attendance on Friday night in Melbourne when the award was announced. (We were there last year too when I was shortlisted but did not win.) I'm really thrilled about this. To have won the Ned Kelly Award and the Edgar Award for different books in the same year is more than I ever hoped for. Sometimes, with a little luck, dreams do come true. Thank you to all me mates who were there and thank you loyal readers for sticking by me when things weren't looking so terrific not so very long ago and I was thinking of jacking in the whole thing. Go raibh maith agat!

Karin Slaughter


my review of Karin Slaughter's The Good Daughter from the Weekend Australian:James Dickey’s 1970 novel Deliverance did much to discourage casual visitors from travelling to small-town Georgia. I imagine Karin Slaughter’s new novel The Good Daughter will have Georgia tourism operators similarly tearing out their hair. The book takes place in fictional (I hope) Pikeville, a town with more than its fair share of drunks, bullies, racists, rapists and drug dealers.The story begins on St Patrick’s Eve 1989 with such an intimate portrait of a loving, interesting family that you just know something terrible is going to happen. This is a Karin Slaughter novel and she has never been one to shy away from nominative determinism, but even I wasn’t quite expecting the brutality of the opening prologue.Rusty Quinn is Pikeville’s public defender. He’ll take on your case even if you have no money and even if the odds are stacked against you. Unfortunately for him and his family this means his clients are mostly low-life scum who can’t even pay their bills.Rusty’s wife, Gamma, is a charming and brilliant ex-NASA scientist who tells her two daughters, Charlotte, 13, and Samantha, 15, that when they grow up they should take any job anywhere as long as it’s far away from corrupt and parochial Pikeville.Gamma is funny and clever but her self-preservation instincts are maybe not up there with the reader’s. When Rusty defends an accused rapist of a popular local girl who went on to hang herself, it’s no surprise the Quinns get firebombed out of their home and are subjected to a blizzard of threatening phone calls.When Rusty wins the case and there are ­rumours of a lynch mob floating around, this would be the time most of us might take the kids on that long-put-off trip to Disney World.Alas, Gamma and her two girls stay put and in a horrific 10 pages or so one of Randy’s old clients, Zack Culpepper, and his brother break into the house wearing ski masks and toting shotguns. Randy isn’t home and a desperate Gamma tries to placate the gunmen, begging them not to harm her daughters.Zack, however, cannot be placated and he shoots Gamma dead on the kitchen floor before marching the girls out to the corn field. Zack is a dumb criminal but with some animal cunning he has sensed the public mood and has realised the Quinns might just be victims of a revenge attack. He and his brother aren’t remotely interested in revenge but in the stack of cash Rusty keeps in his office for paying bail bonds. Charlotte figures all this out in the seconds before she is shot and tossed into a shallow grave.Cut to 28 years later.Samantha and Charlotte (known now as Charlie) have survived and become lawyers. Sam is a rich patent attorney in New York while Charlotte, the good daughter, has stayed in Pike­ville to follow in their father’s footsteps. Charlie is at a school shooting in which a “low functioning” 18-year-old kills the school principal and another child. Because Charlie is a witness she can’t take the case. Up to the plate steps 74-year-old Rusty, who defends the girl and again invites the collective wrath of Pikeville.There are quite a few twists and turns and Charlie ends up on the case anyway, and in a shrewd move on Slaughter’s part she spends some of the second half of the book at war with her sister, who despises her father for the “weakness” that brought death and destruction to their happy family.What[...]

BBC Culture's Top 100 films of the twenty first century so far...


The BBC polled prominent critics, film historians, writers and directors to come up with a list of the top films of the century so far. I've reproduced the list below. The top of the list is eerily similar to a list of films I came up with in 2009 as my favourites of the decade which you can find here. I've done three things to the raw data of the BBC list to personalise it slightly. If the film is in bold that means I've seen it and thought that it was ok. If there's an * next to the film it means I really liked it. Two ** indicates that I think the film is a masterpiece. If I've put the letter O next to the film I'm saying that I think the film may be a bit overrated by the critics at the moment. If its not in bold I'm afraid I havent caught that one yet. Its a bit of a strange list: no Werner Herzog, Kelly Reichardt, Michael Mann, Ridley Scott, Roy Andersson, Denys Arcand, Joanna Hogg or Ben Wheatley? What's up with that?100. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)100. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)100. Carlos (Olivier Assayas, 2010)99. The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda, 2000)98. Ten (Abbas Kiarostami, 2002)97. White Material (Claire Denis, 2009)96. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, 2003) O95. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)94. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008) **93. Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2007) O92. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)91. The Secret in Their Eyes (Juan José Campanella, 2009)90. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)89. The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2008)88. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015)87. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001) *86. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)85. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, 2009) O84. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)83. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)82. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2009)81. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)80. The Return (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2003)79. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)78. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)77. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007)76. Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)75. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)74. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012)73. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)72. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013) *71. Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)70. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012)69. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015) O68. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)67. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)66. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (Kim Ki-duk, 2003)65. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009) **64. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)63. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, 2011)62. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)61. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)60. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)59. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)58. Moolaadé (Ousmane Sembène, 2004)57. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)56. Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, director; Ágnes Hranitzky, co-director, 2000)55. Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2013)54. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)53. Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001) O52. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)51. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) O50. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015)49. Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014)48. Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015) O47. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014) *46. Certified Copy (Ab[...]

Pride & Prejudice, Pride & Prejudice, Pride & Prejudice, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies


Pride And Prejudice (1940). Journeyman director Robert Z Leonard turns in a creditable movie version of the book in this big budget 1940 studio production. The screenplay was partly written by Aldous Huxley (one of an amazing six writers they needed to translate this material to the screen) and is notable for the interesting spin on the character of Lady Catherine de Bourgh towards the end. The parts in the film are well played: Edward Ashley is a suitably villainous Mr Wickham, Greer Garson is a lively Elizabeth Bennet and Maureen O'Sullivan is a radiant Jane Bennet. Greer Garson's look of hatred towards Miss Bingley after she has dissed her family is some of the finest screen acting you'll ever see, but everyone in the cast is playing second fiddle to Laurence Olivier who is an extraordinary Mr Darcy. This is one of Olivier's best early screen roles: he radiates perfect quantities of menace, intelligence and diffidence. I should also mention Edmund Gwenn as a drole Mr Bennet. The movie is let down a little by the costumes by the famous Adrian Greenburg (who et al. in a brilliant career designed Dorothy's shoes for the Wizard of Oz) which are beyond ridiculous and not remotely Regency.Pride and Prejudice (1995). For an entire generation of people in the UK this BBC mini series is the definitive version of P&P. With a lot more room to breathe (six hours) the characters are fully fleshed and many of the more diverting but easily cuttable bits of the book are left in. Colin Firth is a stolid Mr Darcy and Jennifer Ehle is a charming Elizabeth Bennet. The BBC lavished a lot of money on carriages, country houses and authentic Regency outfits. And nobody puts a foot wrong. And yet. . .Well call it heresy if you want but I don't find Firth all that interesting as Mr D, Adrian Lukis is a timid and unthreatening Mr Wickham and Jennifer's Ehle's Lizzy lacks bite. You cannot complain about Alison Steadman's Mrs B or Andrew Davis's faithful screenplay. Pride and Prejudice (2005). Keira Knightley is a spirited, beautiful Elizabeth Bennet with lank hair and dirty boots. Rosamund Pike is a lovely Jane Bennet. Carey Mulligan shines as Kitty Bennet and Jenna Malone and Talulah Riley are great as Lydia and Mary. Simon Woods is an outstanding Mr Bingley playing him as a bit of a nineteenth century Bertie Wooster. Matthew Macfayden is an appropriately dour, broody Mr Darcy almost as good as Olivier's version. Rupert Friend is sinister and scary as Mr Wickham. This is by far the best directed of the three versions I'm reviewing here. There's a tracking shot at the Bingley ball (the second ball in the book if you'll recall) where the camera swings through the action taking in a sad Mr Collins, a humiliated Lizzy, Mary being consoled by her kind father (Donald Sutherland), an ethereal Jane and a happily toasted Mrs Bennet (the superb Brenda Blethyn). The screenplay was written by Debborah Moggach with script doctoring by Emma Thompson (who won an Oscar for her script for Sense and Sensibility). At two hours this is the right length for the story and the humour of the book is excised & reattached with ease. The scene where Mr Collins (Tom Hollander) proposes to Lizzy is one of the funniest you'll ever see. There's also a little more room given to the servants than any of the other versions, which when you read Jo Baker's Longbourn and watch the upcoming BBC version of that superb book you[...]