Born and raised in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, writer Adrian McKinty has lived across the globe. He left his home country to study politics and philosophy at Oxford. From there, he landed in New York where he spent seven years living, and struggling, in Harlem. Life then took another turn, this time to Denver, where he taught high school English. Today, McKinty lives in Australia.
Despite his travels, it was the return to his roots in Ireland that brought him success. McKinty is regarded as one of the brightest lights in Irish crime writing, garnering numerous literary awards and comparisons to storied crime writer Raymond Chandler. Publishers Weekly has called him “one of his generation’s leading talents.”
From 10,000 miles away at his home in St. Kilda, Melbourne, McKinty graciously agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
First off, please tell us a little about your new book, THE SUN IS GOD.
It’s based on a true story of German intellectuals who set up a nudist colony on a remote South Pacific island in 1906. They believed that worshipping the sun and eating only coconuts would make them immortal. Alas, it didn’t and one of them was murdered on the island. The German authorities went to investigate and that was the basis for my novel.
Your Sean Duffy series has been so well received, why the departure from the series to write THE SUN IS GOD?
The story was just too crazy not to do. I was flabbergasted when I read it and amazed that no one had written it up as a true crime book or a novel. True crime seemed like a lot of work (getting all the facts right, etc.) so I wrote it up as a novel instead.
What was it that so captured your imagination?
Well it wasn’t until I actually went to the island (off the coast of New Guinea) and stayed there that I realized that there was a definitely a book (rather than a long article or something) in the material. The place was seriously creepy and I knew if I captured some of this atmosphere I’d really be onto something.
Given that the story is inspired from real events, how difficult was researching something that happened in 1906?
There was almost nothing on the incident itself. A few files in German and a PhD dissertation in German. There was also a bizarre story in the New York Times that got the facts all wrong (that led me astray for months). Fortunately there were several books about Queen Emma Forsayth (one of the most fascinating characters of the time) and those books had bibliographies that really helped the research.
How hard was it to fictionalize the story?
It was hugely a enjoyable process for me. One of the characters in the book Bessie Pullen-Burry had written several travelogues of her own and I read those to capture her speech patterns and get ideas about what people were talking about. I read the Cocovores own propaganda pamphlets and I also read dozens of novels written around that time period (some great stuff by the way, Erskine Childers, HG Wells, Joseph Conrad, etc.) and read old copies of the Times and the Manchester Guardian. I loved doing all of that. In fact it was one of the best times I’ve ever had researching any book.
Irish crime writers have really grown in popularity in the past few years, particularly in the United States. Why do you think that is?
It’s the quality of the writing. There are really some terrific Irish writers out there and crime writing is such a wonderful vehicle for the communication of ideas and making a portrait of society of all social classes. (Unlike literary fiction which too often is about privileged upper middle class people and their bloody “problems.”) I think the Nordic Noir boom may finally be ending and readers are searching for new vistas and horizons (I hope so, anyway).
Australia—what drew you there?
The missus got a job offer and after nearly a decade in snowy Denver we decided to move to somewhere where blizzards are, shall we say, rather infrequent.
Any hobbies or activities there you care to share with us?
I have a little kayak and I like to paddle it around the bay. Sometimes I’ll take a fishing line with me and catch my limit of snappers and sea bass…
Living 10,000 miles away, do you find it challenging to promote your work in the United States? How about in other countries?
Excuse my French but it’s a total fucking nightmare. The Duffy series has won numerous awards, been optioned for TV, sold well in Europe, got great reviews in the British and Irish press but I can’t get arrested in America. Not a single review in the New York Times, Washington Post, etc. etc. Americans don’t in general have a particularly nuanced understanding of the conflict in Northern Ireland; they seem to like the Ireland of flat caps, urchins with no shoes, and nuns riding bicycles a la The Quiet Man (hence the sales of John Banville’s books), so it is a little tricky for the likes of me, Brian McGilloway, Stu Neville, Eoin McNamee, etc. who don’t buy into that bullshit. It’s tough to break through and it’s even tougher when the gate keepers such as the New York Times, etc. have such a pedestrian, unimaginative, unironic view of your island.
On your blog you describe yourself as a “novelist, blogger, and book reviewer.” We know the writing part, but please tell our readers about your blog.
Yup, I blog book and movie reviews and gripes about life in general on my website. The gripes seem to be the most popular. I’ve been peddling this line in bitter misanthropy since 2007 and it seems to have struck a chord among like minded grinches.
Related, as a book reviewer, have you read/reviewed anything amazing recently? And do you find different about writers (and readers) in Australia or Ireland versus the United States.
The two most recent reviews I’ve done for the paper were the new David Mitchell novel which I thought was pretty good and the new Stephen King crime novel which I thought came close to being a total disaster (the jokey black slave dialogue in particular was hugely embarrassing and Nan Graham, King’s editor at Simon & Schuster, should have spiked it at birth). My Sydney Morning Herald review of the King is here:
I think it’s pretty fair but somehow I don’t see myself getting an invitation to play bass in King’s band The Rock Bottom Remainders any time soon.
What’s next on the novel front for you?
I’m working on a fourth Sean Duffy novel. I was reluctant to do any more of those, but I had a good idea and wrote a few sample chapters and it seems to be working out. Don’t want to say too much about it in case the jinx is listening and the inspiration dries up…
Adrian McKinty is the author of fourteen previous novels, including DEAD I WELL MAY BE, FIFTY GRAND, FALLING GLASS, and, most recently, the Detective Sean Duffy novels THE COLD COLD GROUND, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET, and IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE. Born and raised in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, McKinty was called “the best of the new generation of Irish crime novelists” in the Glasgow Herald.
To learn more about Adrian, please visit his website.