Adrian McKinty, an Irish novelist now living in St. Kilda’s (near Melbourne, Australia) has penned the second book in a trilogy entitled The Troubles Trilogy, detective mysteries which deal with Northern Ireland in the eighties. The first book in the series was “The Cold, Cold Ground.” The second book, released by Prometheus books in the United States in May, is entitled “I Hear the Sirens in the Street.”
When the corpse of a middle-aged American is found, cut off at the knees, head missing, at the beginning of “I Hear the Sirens in the Street,” Inspector Sean Duffy says, “We can probably rule out suicide.” In the first book, “The Cold, Cold Ground,” the presence of an amputated hand in a car accident causes a character to say, “This is no ordinary car accident.” Ironic humor and the backdrop of the eighties DeLorean years in Northern Ireland, plus a riveting and complicated plot, carry “I Hear the Sirens in the Street.”
Praised by such experts as Ian Rankin, author of the Inspector Rebus novels (“I Hear the Sirens in the Street” blew my blood doors off!”) and Publishers Weekly (“One of his generation’s leading talents.”), McKinty’s detective Sean Duffy (a “peeler” in the Northern Ireland slang McKinty uses with such familiarity) is a fascinating bloke to follow through the convoluted plots that have earned McKinty, author of seven crime novels, short-listing for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award (for “Dead I Well May Be”), and the 2010 Spinetingler Award for his novel “Fifty Grand.”
“The Glasgow Herald” called McKinty “the best of the new generation of Irish crime novelists.” Based on my reading of several of his books, that is not hyperbole.
Here are ten questions I recently asked of the 45-year-old graduate (philosophy) of Oxford, who worked as a librarian in a medical library in Harlem and taught high school English in Denver before relocating his wife and two daughters to Australia and St. Kilda’s.
Q1) You were born in Carrickfergus, 3 miles north of Belfast in Northern Ireland, and at one point you write (in “I hear the Sirens in the Street”): “Anybody with any brains was getting out. The destination wasn’t important. England. Scotland. Canada. America. Australia—the great thing was to go.” You got out and worked in the stacks of Columbia University’s Medical School Library in Washington Heights, then moved to Denver and taught high school English, and now St. Kilda’s, (Melbourne, Australia). Why those places?
A1) “Don’t blame me; blame the missus. I followed my then-girlfriend to New York, where she was in graduate school. I was an illegal for two years, working in bars and construction sites (and having to leave every 90 days—usually the bus to Montreal and back)—but then we got married and I got a job at the Columbia Medical School. In 2000, Leah got offered a job at Denver University and in 2008 at Melbourne University.”
Q2) Which of the many awards you have won was most gratifying to receive?
A2) “Gosh, I suppose it was the award I didn’t win! Getting the Dagger nomination for my first crime novel was very exciting.”
Q3) You maintain a great blog, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life” and, on that blog, you picked the Pittsburgh Pirates over the Chicago Cubs to root for in American baseball, when the hapless Cubbies are long overdue for a World Series berth. Why? I’m married 45 years to a hopeless Cubs fan who hasn’t seen them play in a World Series ever, and he was born in 1945. This has meant a lifetime of rooting for losers. Would you please urge your blog readers to root for the Chicago Cubs, instead ? It seems only fair. Thank you.
A3) “I love the Cubs. The first baseball game I attended was the Cubs versus the Padres in 1989. Once you go to Wrigley for the first time, it’s a done deal. Yes, the Cubs have an intact jinx and a much worse record, but—and it’s a big but (cue Sammy Sosa joke here), they are trendy. You can drive 500 miles from Chicago and find sports bars festooned with Cubs merchandise and memorabilia, whereas no one outside of the Pittsburgh metro area is putting up Pirates banners! They’re both hard luck franchises, but the Cubs are way cooler, which is why I have to go with the Pirates.”
Q4) We just returned from Australia and New Zealand. From a tourist’s point-of-view, Melbourne seemed to want to be European or British, while Sydney seemed to aspire to be more like the United States. As a resident of St. Kilda’s (near Melbourne), do you think this is a fair statement? What was the impetus for your move from Denver to Australia?
A4) “I live in the Melbourne suburb of St. Kilda, which is a cross between Brighton, a seaside town in England, Coney Island, and the East Village circa 1990. It’s a very interesting place with a lot of gays, Jews, Muslims, bohemians, punks, druggies, yuppies, prostitutes, and pimps. You have to go to the western Sydney suburbs to get that kind of mix—far from the Opera House and the Harbour.”
Q5) This Faulkner quote appears on your blog: “The measure of a writer isn’t success, but how hard he tried to do what he knew he couldn’t do.” You’ve written 12 novels. What have you learned as you moved from your first novel in 2000 through your breakout novel (“Dead I Well May Be”) in 2004 to the present? Consider your writing as a “tip” for other aspiring writers.
A5) “Wow! You have read the blog if you scrolled all the way down to the bottom there! What have I learned? Gosh, I don’t know. I suppose the only thing I’ve learned is that you should only write for yourself. If you worry about critics or how well the book is going to do you are heading for metaphysical and spiritual disaster. I wrote this book called “Fifty Grand,” which was a total flop, but which I spent a year writing and researching. I went out on a book tour for it and ran into John Banville, who was promoting his first crime novel, which he said he ‘tossed off in about four weeks.’ He told me that he despised the crime fiction genre and was only writing his crime book because it was so easy. I read Banville’s book and thought his lack of interest was evident throughout: the novel was derivative and cliche-ridden and pandered to the worst ‘Oirish’ stereotypes, but, of course, my book was ignored and died an ignominious death, whereas Banville’s novel was a huge success, hailed in the New Yorker,The New York Times, etc., etc. The lesson is: lower your expectations. Please yourself. Don’t expect anyone to like your stuff. And be happy if you can connect with just one reader.”
Q6) Epicurus, whom you quote, said that either there are no gods or they don’t care about us. Ambition is a pointless quest. In 1,000 years no one will remember any of us. All we’ve got is love and friendship, so take pleasure where you can find it. This is almost a direct quote from “I Hear the Sirens in the Street.” Do you ascribe to that philosophy? If not, is there a different philosopher whose philosophy you embrace as your own?
A6) “I like Epicurus. He had his head screwed on right. He said that taking pleasure in the small things wasn’t the road to happiness; it was happiness itself—the only happiness we’re going to get in this veil of tears. As John Lennon said later, ‘Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.’ You’ve got to enjoy the process. The postponement of happiness in the service of long-term goals is admirable, but if you’re ALWAYS postponing, you’re heading for trouble. You’ve got to enjoy the process, the now, at some level.”
Q7) What other writers—living or dead—do you read and admire?
A7) “So many. How long have you got? Novelists: Jane Austen above everyone else. Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Dostoyoevsky, Chekov, Flaubert, Twain, Trollope, Evelyn Waugh, P.G. Wodehouse, Joyce, J.G. Ballard, Graham Greene, Saul Bellow, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, etc. etc. Poets: Yeats, Eliot, Auden, Larkin, Heaney, etc.”
Q8) Music is a big part of your novels. What groups or artists are you listening to now, and do you listen to them as you write?
A8) “I had an interesting conversation with Irvine Welsh once where he talked about how he begins every new novel by compiling a big mix CD that he plays loudly in the background while he’s writing. I was astonished by that, because, for me, I need silence. A workman on a drill ten streets away can throw me off for an afternoon. At the moment, I’m listening to the Alabama Shakes, Regina Spektor, Andrew Vladeck, The Smiths and Nick Cave.”
Q9) Your own family consists of…? (Wife? Children? Ages? Pets?)
A9) “Wife and two daughters, aged 10 and 7. We’re getting a cat in the next few weeks.”
Q10) Do you have one specific place that you prefer to write and what is it? As an aside, how do you find time to write a blog with such substantial entries, in addition to the novels you are producing? Do you do any social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) other than your blog?
A10) “No, I can write anywhere, as long as the music’s not too loud or there are no interesting conversations going on in the background. The blog is what Freud calls ‘a displacement activity’—basically, an excuse not to write fiction. And yup, I’m on Twitter, too—another time suck displacement activity.”