Saturday, 16 February 2013

Dead Man Talking # 18 - Neil White

Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Neil White

Last year while packing my case for the journey to Harrogate to visit the Crime Festival I casually tossed in a copy of Neil White’s ‘Lost Souls’, a book I’d had kicking around for over a year and hadn’t yet got around to reading. On the train down I had the option of starting ‘Lost Souls’ or a biography of 70’s glam rockers Sweet. Nostalgia won the day and I spent the train journey wallowing in tales of glittery satin trousers and grown men with badly permed hair. Did this choice of reading material make any difference to my life? Bloody right it did because next morning practically the very first person I had a conversation with at Harrogate was Neil White and I felt awful admitting I’d yet to read a single word of his writing. I did consider lying but as Neil is also a criminal lawyer he’d have cross-examined me and likely had me banged up for a night in the pokey for literary perjury. Glad to say since then I have read Neil’s books and been more than impressed by his pacey writing style and hard-boiled tales of murder and mayhem.
Strachan and I thought it might be fun to turn the tables on Neil and interview him in the clink without the benefit of any independent legal counsel.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.
Neil White

McQuade: I'm sitting here in interview room No 3 at Invergallus police station waiting to give criminal lawyer Neil White a taste of his own medicine. You can bring him in now constable and make sure you cuff his hands just in case he manages to scribble something down on a bit a bit of paper and charges us a hefty legal fee for the privilege. I am now pressing the button on this official police tape recorder that I purchased from a man in a pub last night. Here we go. Testing, testing one, two three. For the record the time is, bother, I seem to have forgotten my watch. In fact come to think of it I’ve also forgotten my entire arm. Anyway, present at today’s interview is me, the Reverend Strachan McQuade (deceased). Also present and securely fitted up like a kipper is the accused, author Neil White who as yet hasn't actually been charged with anything as I've still to fabricate some circumstantial evidence.

Robert Wagner
 Welcome to Dead Man Talking, White. My first question to you is this - In the McGanity/Garrett series of books where two romantically linked characters solve shocking and brutal murder cases together – do you ever get stuck for new ideas? And if so are you tempted to watch old re-runs of MacMillan & Wife for inspiration? I loved that era of family orientated detective programs. Hart to Hart in particular was a special favourite of mine and I always admired the way Robert Wagner who played Tony Hart could make those little animated men out of plasticine. Go on, answer the question, erm.... you slag! And if you say No Comment we'll force you to drink the tea.

White: MacMillan and Wife! Wow, I’d forgotten all about that series. I used to watch it but can only vaguely remember the actors. Did the husband have dark hair? (Editor – One of those actors you only vaguely remember was Rock Hudson and he did indeed have dark hair)

The intention wasn’t really to create family-oriented detective programs, although if ITV want something for their gentle 8pm Sunday night slot, call me. My thinking was really that a reporter was a good “in” for a criminal case because they don’t get bogged down with the procedures, and then once I decided to romantically involve him with a detective, there was a good conflict, as he will want to know about her cases, and she won’t want him to know. So it was the conflict that attracted me, not the family-setting.

Any thoughts of Robert Wagner now means that I can no longer write that yachting scene with the dark-haired leading female character.

: That would be very prudent. Apart from
offending the Natalie Wood fan club, I’ll have you know that yachting scenes of any description are no longer in vogue within crime novels ever since Robert Maxwell fell off one.
Your last novel 'Beyond Evil' featured an anarchistic cult presided over by a man with a beard. Why are cults always led by bearded men? Both the Manson Family and Virgin Media are prime examples of this. Anyway, if you grew a beard and ruled over your own personal cult what would you call it? And what would its aims be other than free love, infrequent bathing, drug abuse and heavy drinking?

White: The beard was an intentional nod to Charlie Manson, and in fact the first draft had him called Charlie Mason, but I thought that was a nod too far. I find the Manson Family thing fascinating because of the way people responded to his barmy ideas, but I suppose the sixties were a bit like that.

Didn’t Jesus have a beard and head up a cult? It must be something to do with hair. I wondered where David Bellamy had disappeared to.

If I had my own cult, it would be based around brew your own beer and watching films into the early hours, where I am hand-fed chicken tikka and required to sample my disciples latest brewing efforts. As for a name, it would be the cult with no name, thus fooling the authorities during internet searches.
(Editor - blimey, you've really thought this out!)

McQuade: Now then, just to see how knowledgeable about the law you really are, here’s a real brain teaser. There is a tree situated on the burial plot directly adjacent to mine but the branches are overhanging my grave and blocking the view of my favourite electricity pylon. Now bearing in mind this is merely ahem.... a hypothetical question and not in any way a billable query - do I have the right to lop off my dead neighbour's branches? And if he kicks up a fuss can I have him exhumed and cremated? Both plots are east facing if that makes any difference.

White: A lot would depend on ownership. You are entitled to lop off overhanging branches, to the extent of the overhang, provided that you return them to the neighbour’s land. This means that you can lop off the offending branches and then pile them onto the neighbour’s plot, thereby making it more difficult for him to reach his bony raggedy hand through the crumbly topsoil as the clock strikes midnight.

McQuade: Excellent. I’ll have my personal handyman M.R. Hall over with his chainsaw next week to do some trimming back.

Your books are very firmly rooted in the crime genre. Is this because you actually enjoy this sort of sordid subject matter? Or did your agent advise you to go down this commercially exploitable route in order to procure more clients? If that's the case, what sort of books would you rather be writing? If not, then what inspired you to write in this Penny Dreadful style of genre? And please accept my apologies, it's been at least three questions since I shouted, You Slag!!! A clear breach of CID etiquette.

White: My only goal was to write a book I would want to read, and I read commercial crime fiction. My crime writing came before I got an agent, and so there has been no redirection of my writing preference. If I had to write in another genre, I think it would be horror, and there is often a crossover, because horror is often crime fiction but where the villains are the dead ones, not the victims.

McQuade: Objection! Not all dead people are villains and we resent being stereotyped as such. Some of my closest friends are dead and many do good works such as running marathons and sponsored home-baking for charity. Barbara Cartland even lends out her old wigs to a bird sanctuary for nesting purposes.

Sorry, getting on my high-horse there. Where was I? Ah, your novels are generally set in Lancashire but you were born in Yorkshire. If a new War of the Roses broke out tomorrow which side would you fight for?

White: Yorkshire. White rose blood to my boots, and we still owe them for the murder of Richard, the last Yorkist thing, who of course suffered the greatest indignity of all: ending up in Leicester.

The beauty about writing about Lancashire is that I don’t feel any compulsion to be nice about the place. If I set it in Yorkshire, I would go all James Herriot.

On the M62 travelling East, there is a white rose on a stone plinth, and I always salute it when I drive past. You’ll know the location, as it gets suddenly beautiful after it.

Having said all that, I have developed a fondness for Lancashire. It’s a patronising fondness, the way one might give your dog a treat at the dinner table, but there are parts that are very attractive. And I’ve developed an urge to live on a canal barge and roam the waters. On the whole though, I think the pretty parts more as the Yorkshire foothills.

McQuade: Excellent. In that last answer you managed to insult those very few people in Leicester who have internet access and might read this, a whole swathe of James Herriot’s readers, as well as the entire county of Lancashire. My own personal legal man, Mr Baldwin from Burnley, will no doubt be in touch to serve you with a handful of writs.
Last question and then we’ll throw you back in your cell for a nifty beating with wet towels. You’ve come up with some pretty shady characters in the course of your writing. When I wrote my best selling book Invergallus I was far too lazy to use my imagination and simply wrote about people I knew and in truth didn’t even bother changing their names. Most of them can’t read and the few that can don’t own a Kindle which ensures I’m perfectly safe from any legal action so don’t even bother offering your services. Are your characters drawn from the sort of low-life scum you deal with in your day to day duties as a criminal lawyer? By low-life scum I am of course referring to your fellow lawyers and rent-boy addicted judges.

White: I have never used an actual case, but I have used snippets of them, or asides that I’ve heard. My publisher was a big fan of the phrase “murder carpet”, because it has been commented on that dead bodies found indoors always seem to be found on faded carpets with brown swirls, so whenever one appears in a crime scene photo, the words “murder carpet” are often used.

I have used some of the lawyers I’ve known as characters, although never favourably. I work on the assumption that because they are so self-absorbed, they won’t recognise the unfavourable traits as their own.

Can I have a drink of water now?

McQuade: Of course you can have a drink of water. Once it’s been wrung from those wet towels we intend beating you with. Anyway, many thanks for taking the time to speak with me and as a parting gift I’d like to present you with an artificial leg. These things can come in very handy especially when getting drunk and impersonating Rolf Harris.  Now then Constable, you can take the prisoner away and for goodness sake don’t let him fall down the ……  (crash, bang, wallop) ………….stairs. By Jove, how does that always seem to happen in police stations? 

Visit Neil White's web page

Buy Neil White's latest book 'Beyond Evil'

Friday, 1 February 2013

Dead Man Talking # 17 - Arne Keller

Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Arne Keller

When I first published a novel called 1-2-3-4 on Kindle, one irate reader sent me back a complete manuscript with all the typos highlighted and corrected (including all the obscure Glasgow swear words) which was seriously impressive especially as the reader was Danish. However this was no ordinary Dane. Step forward Arne Keller, book translator extraordinaire at Danish publishing house KLIM. Strachan McQuade was just itching to have a chin-wag with this talented, beady-eyed, multi-instrumentalist, erm…. actually come to think of it Strachan itches most of the time on account of his festering skin-rash. Hopefully he didn’t leave too much flaky flesh behind after his jaunt to Denmark.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.
Arne Keller


McQuade: For today’s interview I’ve travelled all the way to Langelinje Pier in Copanhagen where the famous statue of the Little Mermaid sits on a rock brazenly flaunting her naked charms to all and sundry. Despite being almost 100 years old she’s still very firm and shapely and has never once subjected herself to the indignity of Botox injections. Take note Joan Collins. With me today is book translator Arne Keller. Hoi, stop eating pastries and pay attention, Keller. Now, obviously translating novels from English to Danish must be a painstaking task. (Editor – Especially if you don’t speak Danish…….. or English for that matter) So, out of curiosity how many books do you translate in a year?

Keller: Hello, Strachan, how nice not to see you. (Thanks to the wonder of the internet). As for the Mermaid, Strachan, you are in luck: No one has sawed off her head recently.  – Book translations have averaged two volumes a year since 2006; other than that, I have produced countless translations of cartoon movie and teenage-show dialogues for dubbing-purposes – that is, for Danish actors to read from. “Curious George” was one of the series. Another was a weird Australian one about girls turning into Mermaids when brushing their teeth or otherwise getting into contact with water.    

Martin Luther
McQuade: Book translation caused a pretty big uproar in religious circles during the Reformation period when Protestants claimed it was unfair for the Bible to be published in Latin mainly because they couldn’t understand a word of it. Martin Luther, I understand was a particularly poor student of the Roman language and consistently had F minus scrawled across his test papers which led to him nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg in 1517. As a young student attending Theological college I was much influenced by Luther and wanted to emulate his brilliant publicity stunt. Alas, I didn’t have 95 Theses to hand and made do with a copy of the Sunday Post. Unfortunately I also hammered the nail through the sleeve of my jacket and was stuck to the church door for seven hours before a janitor freed me with a claw hammer. Sorry, losing the thread here. I’m sure there was a question lurking in amongst this rambling. Ah, yes – have you ever been tempted to translate the Bible into Danish and change all the disciple’s names to things like Dagmar, Jens, Lisbet, Magnus, Ingeborg and Anker? Perhaps even rename it as The Killing IV.

Keller: I have indeed. Very sorely tempted. But as you probably don’t know, McQuade, the thing to do about temptations is to resist them. So, grudgingly I shelved the project. Would have been far too easy, anyway.

McQuade: My research team (Editor – That’s me) has discovered you are a versatile musician playing amongst other things, banjo, violin, and crumhorn, but not usually all at the same time. What other instruments do you play?

Keller: Other instruments: Highland bagpipes, lute and cornet. Sometimes at the same event (we have some odd events over here, believe you me!) Don’t tell me you didn’t know we were playing the pipes in Denmark? Go google – that should enlighten you.

McQuade: Did you ever dream of forming a band with my musical idol, Kenneth McKellar? As that would have resulted in the very catchy moniker of Keller and McKellar which does tickle my spleen somewhat.

Keller: No; but I once played in a duo with one John Kelly. That sounded kind of ticklish, too.

McQuade: Staying on the subject of music, please tell us who or what Gallywampus is. I saw it noted on your CV and thought it must be a Danish typo.

Keller: Gallywampus is a mythical creature, supposed to occur in the American Midwest. Could be extinct by now, though. The band borrowing the name certainly is. 

McQuade: I’m already aware that you have translated books for crime writer, Phil Rickman. What other writers have you translated for? And if you sometimes get stuck at certain words with local colouring do you just make some stuff up? Who would know anyway?

Carolyn Frusciante

Keller: Jeffrey Archer, George Soros, Mervyn Peake, Michael Chrichton, J. E.  Lovelock, Craig Russell, Rebecca Skloot.
Yes, of course I get stuck in cases of some local gobbledygook; then the trick is to think of some equivalent gobbledygook in Danish to replace it with. It has to be done with great taste, though. Who would know anyway? I’ll tell you who would know: Carolyn Frusciante would know. She understands Danish perfectly; she is the Deputy High Priestess of the Phil Rickman Appreciation Society, and she happens to live on the same island as me. So if I were to screw up, she’d be kicking my door in, pretty pronto, no doubt about that!   

McQuade: By Jove! I’ve had previous dealings with that Frusciante woman and I quite understand your reluctance to cause offence. Last time we met she kicked me on the shin and made fun of my favourite tweed jacket. I think she’d been drinking. Now then Keller - famous Danes include - Hans Christian Anderson, Viggo Mortenson, Brigitte Neilsen, Brian Laudrup, and Mr Lurpack who invented Danish butter. If you were to become a famous Dane what would you wish to be famous for? Please note, playing the crumhorn doesn’t count regardless of which nationality you subscribe to.

Viggo Mortenson
Keller: There is also H. C. Oersted, who discovered electromagnetism. And Valdemar Poulsen, who invented the tape-recorder! And Niels Bohr, who helped invent the atomic bomb … well, then there are some infamous Danes too, of course.
I think I would like to be famous for being a perfect gentleman. You see, in Denmark the definition of a gentleman is someone who is capable of playing the Highland Bagpipes – but desists.

McQuade: Were there any particular translators that inspired you to gravitate towards your  trade? And I won’t be accepting Babel Fish as an answer.

Keller: No. Not unless you consider the clowns writing tv-subtitles. I often thought: I can do better. So you don't exactly "gravitate" towards this calling: You soar. It's a hubris, presuming that you can do better than the next guy. But sometimes it works.

It was an author who inspired me: Mervyn Peake.

McQuade: Lastly, if you were stuck on a desert island with only one book to translate - which one would you choose?

Keller: Definitely Philip Gosse's: "The Pirate's Who's Who". It probably pays off to be prepared in this sort of situation.

McQuade: Thank you so much, Keller for a smashing interview. Please accept this pork chop which I discovered in a waste bin on the boat over here. With a bit of apple sauce it should do as a tasty treat for your tea tonight. By the way - you know that Gallywampus creature we were talking about earlier on? Does it have a big hairy body, with a dozen poisonous tentacles and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth? I'm only asking because there's one right behind you. No, honestly there is. I'd move pretty quickly if I were you...... Ah well, at least it left the pork chop behind. Waste not want not, I suppose.