♦ British crime writer Paul D Brazill has built up quite a following for his uniquely British crime novellas and short stories over the past few years. Tripwire’s editor-in-chief JOEL MEADOWS just chatted to him about his writing career and what it’s like being a Brit in Poland…
TRIPWIRE: How did you end up in Poland?
PAULDBRAZILL: I’d been working as a welfare rights worker in London for far, far too long, and I took a sabbatical from the job in 2001. I did a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course in Madrid and afterwards I applied for a few jobs around the world. I was quite quickly offered a job in Skierniewice in Poland – which was nice- and a couple of weeks later I headed over here. And here I stay.
TW: You have lived in Poland for a number of years but you continue to write very British crime books and novellas. Is this because you still feel British even though you haven’t lived over here in quite some time?
PDB: I suspect I’ve pretty much lived in my own bubble all my life and that may even be accentuated because I now live abroad. I don’t write journalism, so I don’t need to look at what’s going on around me with any great scrutiny. I just make stuff up and write it down. Being discombobulated is its own reward!
TW: Your work seems very influenced by the likes of Get Carter, Long Good Friday and also writers like Elmore Leonard and Laurence Block. Who else are your biggest influences?
PDB: Well, those are films and writers I’ve enjoyed- especially Leonard. But my stuff is much more lightweight and humorous – I hope.
I’m sure I’ve nabbed a lot more from The Lavender Hill Mob, Damon Runyon, Tony Hancock, Charles Bukowski, Charles Wilford, Charlie Higson – what a bunch of Charlies! And especially people I know or have known, and stories I’ve heard or misheard.
I always wanted to write odd little stories about odd little people, which is what the above do. I’m more interested in character actors than matinee idols.
TW: With things like print on demand and smaller boutique publishers like Caffeine Nights, it seems easier these days for authors to publish their own work and make a name for themselves without going through the more traditional route that you had to in the past. How much of a fair comment do you think that is? Is it easier now?
PDB: I’m afraid I’ve never had the slightest interest in the publishing business and have very little now, even though I’ve been published, so I’m not really the man to ask. But I imagine it’s much easier to get published these days. There seems to be more paths out of – and into- the labyrinth. I’m guessing it’s also easier for your books to get lost in the maze.
Maybe more people expected to make a living out of writing in the past and maybe it’s harder now but you’d really be better off asking a jobbing writer like Vincent Zandri or Tony Black than me. I’m just a dilettante.
TW: Do you see your independently published work as a body of work in its own right or as a stepping stone to a larger publisher?
PDB: For sure I’m an indie boy. Almost all the books that I read and enjoy these days are from indie publishers. I’ve been lucky with my publishers- Caffeine Nights, Near To The Knuckle, Fahrenheit 13, Untreed Reads, All Due Respect. They’ve published – and continue to publish- the sort of books I like and it’s nice to be part of the conversation.
I really can’t see the stuff I write attracting a massive mainstream audience. Never say never, mind you. When I finish a book I look around for a publisher to contact based on the books I’ve read and like, and it usually seems to be indie publishers. The indie crime fiction scene is thriving at the moment – especially in the USA with Noir at the Bar and Noircon. David Nemeth’s Unlawful Acts blog gives a good insight into the scene and is well worth checking out.
TW: Do you also enjoy the freedom of being published by a smaller publisher than just a part of one of the bigger publishers like Orion or HarperCollins?
PDB: As I said, I really have no idea what it’s like getting published by a mainstream publisher. It’s not anything I’ve ever looked into. It seems to suit a lot of writers, though. It’s great to see talented writers like Luca Veste and Eva Dolan getting well-deserved success.
TW: You have also written a number of short stories. What muscle does writing these flex that is different to writing a novella or a novel? And what are the pros and cons of writing short stories?
PDB: Every word and line counts in a short story. You can’t pad it out with exposition or the soppy middle-class angst you get in a lot of novels. You can enjoy the writing in itself – as a writer and reader. Short stories rarely outstay their welcome. Americans seem to be better at it than most – Raymond Carver, Dorothy Parker, Richard Ford.
TW: Have you ever been tempted to write fiction based in Poland with a British outsider voice?
PDB: Well, the first part of my book A Case Of Noir takes place in Poland. It’s called Red Esperanto and is set in Warsaw. The rest of the book drags the protagonist – Luke Case- around Europe, knocking him about a bit. Luke is one of life’s eternally discombobulated. Here’s the blurb:
In snow smothered Warsaw, Luke Case, a boozy English hack with a dark secret, starts a dangerous affair with a gangster’s wife. Case escapes to the sweltering Spanish heat where he meets a colourful cast of characters, including a mysterious torch singer and a former East End villain with a criminal business proposition. While in stormy Toulouse, he encounters a blast from the past that is positively seismic which forces him to return to England and confront his past.
I have a couple of scenes in a couple of other books set in Poland too. I may well write a full book set in Poland but since I never plan anything I’ll probably be one of the last to know if I do!
PDB: London has been a very rich place for crime fiction going back to Victorian and Edwardian times. What is it about the city that continues to bewitch and obsess crime writers and yourself in particular?
PDB: Arthur Conan Doyle said that London was ‘that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.’ That seems about right. London is a hodge-podge of people, a mish-mash of askew characters, and they all have stories.
TW: How often do you come back to the UK?
PDB: The last time I was back in Blighty was for my 50th birthday, almost 6 years ago. Before that I usually went back once a year to teach at summer school.
TW: How critical are you of your own work?
PDB: Not very, I’m afraid. I write to entertain myself in the hope that it will entertain a few other people too. Once I’ve finished something I pretty much forget about it. When I reread stuff I usually enjoy it. I don’t dwell on the ‘glitches.’ Life’s short and ultimately futile, innit?
What are you working on currently?
PDB: I’m finishing edits on a book coming out later this year from All Due Respect/ Down and Out Books. It’s called Last Year’s Man and it’s a seaside noir. It’s like Takeshi Kitano mixed with Alan Bennett. Sort of.
I’m writing an urban western at the moment which started out as a cross between Hancock’s The Bedsit and Rio Bravo/ El Dorado and will probably turn out to be the same old knockabout cobblers!
Bio: Paul D. Brazill is the author of A Case Of Noir, Guns Of Brixton, Last Year’s Man and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Polish, Finnish, German and Slovene. He has been published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime. His blog is here.