(aka Martin Chatterton)
author of A Dark Place To Die
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born and raised in Liverpool, England at the start of the sixties. I went to school in the city at first, and then in the suburbs as my parents moved outwards. It was a state school education all the way through. I didn’t know anyone who went to private school.
As a child of the space race, when I was twelve I wanted to be an astronaut but I was terrible at maths and scared of heights. At eighteen I wanted to be a film-maker – something that I still want to do. I was at art school and involved with a group making short movies. At thirty I wanted to be twenty nine. For obvious reasons.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I was the very best at what I was doing.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
‘Anarchy in the UK’, The Sex Pistols.
I was, at age 16, really into punk music – a type of music that has been badly misunderstood by anyone who wasn’t there. For me, that music came at the right time and showed me that working class people like myself could do things independently and with flair.
‘Manhattan.’ Film by Woody Allen.
This could have been any of Woody Allen’s earlier movies. Great writing, music and attitude and a real sense of excitement about his home town. I wanted to be Woody Allen and ‘Manhattan’ made me want to live in New York. I still revere comedy writers above almost any other type of writer.
‘The Angel of the North’, sculpture by Antony Gormley, North East England.
Gormley is an artist whose work I really admire (see 6 below). The Angel of the North is a gigantic piece set high on a hill above a part of urban Britain. For me, as a ‘Northerner’, it is the perfect embodiment of the stuff that is in my blood. I mention this piece in A Dark Place To Die so it might be best to let that speak for me:
‘The sculpture, its sail-like iron wings embracing and defying the wind, had shocked Keane by its scale, its span wider than the Statue of Liberty is high. Like the figures on Crosby beach, the Angel was constructed of the stuff of northern England: iron and steel, yet it appeared light, and was possessed of so much latent energy that Keane would not have been surprised to see it take flight across the northeastern landscape– steam-driven and belching smoke.’
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I have had a career as an illustrator, and as a writer for children. I’ve also been a graphic designer, an animator and a commercials director. The move towards adult fiction has been a slow one but ultimately it’s because I wanted to write stories without the boundaries imposed by writing for children. The book could just as easily have been a movie. I write in a very cinematic way but getting that movie made would be a lot harder than writing the novel.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
A Dark Place To Die is a story of ambition taking place against a huge international drug deal. During the deal (between gangs in Liverpool and Australia) one of the characters stages what is effectively a coup. He then presents that coup to the criminals in Liverpool as something that they should accept. Unfortunately for him, they don’t see it that way. As the dog-eat-dog violence escalates, my central character (Menno Koopman, a retired Liverpool cop living in Australia) becomes embroiled when his estranged son falls victim. I wanted to write a crime novel – being a fan of the genre – but with themes of dislocation, homeland and family intertwined in the narrative. One of the key images is the opening scene of the book which takes place against the real-life backdrop of an art installation by English artist, Antony Gormley. This piece – ‘Another Place’ – is a haunting installation of one hundred rusting iron figures facing out to sea. Anchored in the sands at different points along the beach they are sometimes covered by the tide. One morning, two art students discover an extra ‘iron man’ . . .
(BBGuru: Publisher’s blurb –
A pulsating psychological thriller that takes you from the dark, iron heart of a cold English city to the searing white-heat of an Australian wilderness…
A pulsating psychological thriller that takes you from the dark heart of a cold English city to the searing white-heat of an Australian wilderness…
By Merseyside standards it’s been some time since a decent corpse arrived on his patch, but now, on a bone-cold October morning, Detective Inspector Frank Keane’s wait is over.
The son of Keane’s old boss, the legendary DI Menno Koopman, has been discovered dead twelve thousand miles from his Australian home, lashed to a scaffolding pole on Liverpool’s bleak shoreline. It’s the start of a vicious cycle of violence spanning half the globe.
For Koopman, who turned his back on a thirty-year career in the city to live the quiet life in northern New South Wales, the death of a son he never knew means a return to England and the past he’d left behind.
Koopman has not been forgotten in his old hunting ground – not by his former colleagues, and not by the enemies waiting for him. As the body count rises in Liverpool and Australia, Keane and Koopman’s search for the killer becomes a fight for survival.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I have always tried to write books that I would like to read. When I am writing for children I try to imagine what I would have enjoyed as a child. This novel is no different. I’d really like it if people could read it as a straight ahead crime novel on one level, but then grasp the underlying themes and ambition behind the story. The book should leave them excited but satisfied. I always think that good writing – and I’m hoping I fit into that category – does more than just turn the page.
Elmore Leonard’s whole body of work has been a big influence. If I could write something as spare and complete as any of his books I’d be very happy. George Pelecanos who sets most of his fiction against a wonderfully evocative Washington DC is another writer I love; PG Wodehouse, the English humourist who makes me laugh and who I admire for his craftsmanship; Evelyn Waugh, for his acid tongue and wonderful dialogue. There are so many others.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I’d still like to write for the movies. If that comes about through writing crime I’d be very pleased. If I get a movie made as good as ‘No Country For Old Men’ I could die happy.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
There are so many old saws about writing but the main one that I’ve found useful is to read a lot. It’s sounds ridiculous but there are plenty of writers around who I think just aren’t readers. It comes through in the writing. In terms of improving the only thing that can really be said is to keep writing. A Dark Place To Die is my 31st book and it feels like I’m starting out.
Ed, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French, Korean and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for over twenty-five years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au.