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The Jackal's car is at a crossroads: does he stay in France or go back to Italy?

Here’s the start of this morning’s interview with the good people from the Goodreads team

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: Researching and writing the next novel in my ‘Moss Reid’ crime series.

It has been a lot of fun. I’ve had to kill four people (you have to be ruthless – they were slowing down chapter six) and finding out whether it’s a myth that drug dealers sometimes cut cocaine and heroin with strychnine or rat poison (hardly a great business model if you keep killing off your regular customers). I also researched how much rhubarb leaf it takes to kill you (answer: a lot). Oh yeah, and how to crash land a plane.

This is all well and good, but you want to know the main gist of the story, right? Without spoiling anything or giving anything else away…

A light aircraft disappears off the west coast of Ireland, a four-seater with three businessmen on a jaunt in fine weather. No sign of crash wreckage, no bodies, no nothing. Years later, the sister of one of their wives happens to recognise one of the three men in the south of France, despite the plastic surgery. She phones home but she too disappears without trace. Time to call Moss Reid.

Regular readers will know by now that Moss is a PI whose main patch is normally the Stoneybatter / Smithfield area of Dublin. His usual cases are mundane, run-of-the-mill, with no guns or gory murder scenes. But as this is book three, I thought I could afford to stretch his legs a bit in more ways than one. He deserved it. So some of the action takes place on the Continent.

Much of the action takes place around now (June-September 2014), so – to state the obvious – I need to keep an eye on what’s currently happening. Hence, for example, I will be tied up for the final two matches in the World Cup this weekend and the rest of the Tour de France for the next fortnight. I’m not watching these sporting events for mere pleasure but for research. That’s what I keep reminding myself it is (as I come back from the bar with a fresh round of drinks while researching the cost of them).

I said that I was both researching and writing. Better explain…

The work for my books has three main stages:

  • A – research
  • B – writing
  • C – revising. Oh yeah, and
  • D – going on Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club but they haven’t asked me yet

At the moment I’m somewhere between Stage A and Stage B. Both researching and drafting. These main stages tend to overlap, and there’s still a good bit of research to go.

I really don’t mind it, though, because where else do you learn how to crash land a Beechcraft Duchess twin-engine aircraft on land and water? If I could afford a flight sim I would have bought the package too, but I know in my bones that it would become way too distracting.

I’ve also worked out how to fake a passport (or where to find out where to get one). And the rat poison thing.

The Italian job

All that was strictly desk research. For field research I travelled around northern Italy and southern France – travelling solo because the particular character would be too.

This was work, I kept reminding myself. I had to eat and drink lots of lovely stuff, make notes about the sights and sounds, and realise half way through the trip that I’d just made a terribly stupid mistake.

It had all seemed fine on paper. My character would travel to Marseille and Toulon, then along the coast to Nice (I decided it wouldn’t break the bank if I popped into the Hotel Negresco on the Promenade des Anglais to order a coffee). The last part was a getaway on the train across the border to Genoa (or possibly Pisa because, as it happens Ryanair flies there from Dublin). That was the main travel axis: Nice to Genoa, with several important sea ports either side and in between.

After coming back to Ireland I was watching The Day of the Jackal for the umpteenth time, as you do, when I suddenly realised:

(a) Edward Fox? What inspired casting! Roger Moore and Michael Caine wouldn’t have worked half as well

(b) As film adaptations of blockbuster books go, this one was very smart

(c) Oh sugar! The Jackal made the very same journey. From Genoa to Nice! And Nice back to Genoa if I remember right!

Drat. Five vital chapters at the very heart of my draft novel had just been derailed, with many casualties. They had to be jettisoned, despite all that time I’d taken, all those rail tickets and restaurant meals, the day trip to the port at Livorno, the sights and sounds of a slow train to Genoa via La Spezia, the four euros for the coffee in the Hotel Negresco, all those snotty looks by the hotel’s waiters as I dumped my large rucksack on a seat.

I’d been particularly proud of two scenes in Italian restaurants along the way. I took the five chapters aside – metaphorically speaking – brought them to a quiet corner of one of these very same trattorias from my draft novel, and gave them the worst: “Sorry lads, I know, I know. It’s my f*** up but you all have to go.”

So basically that’s what I’ve been doing lately. Killing people, crashing planes, faking passports, picking locks, eliminating entire chapters with the cold ruthlessness of a paid assassin.

Right. Next question?

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