An Interview with Simon Maltman
Following on from his recent release of short-story compilation More Faces, Irish writer Simon Maltman, author of 2016’s A Chaser on the Rocks is back with a new series of crime stories, based around amateur sleuth, part-time drug dealer and full-time music store owner Jimmy Black. The debut entry, the titular Bongo Fury, has just been released, and on the eve of release, Simon graciously took the time to answer a few questions from ourselves –
Firstly thanks a lot for speaking with us. So for readers who may not be familiar with you– tell us a bit about yourself.
Thanks for having me! I’m a crime writer from Northern Ireland. I have a few books behind me now and have just released Bongo Fury. It’s a novella set in my home town about an ex-paramilitary who owns a music shop. He also dabbles in a spot of private detection and drug dealing. It’s a kind of black humour crime story, I’d say.
How did you get into writing crime fiction and who would you list as your key influences? Was there any one book or story that made you sit up and think ‘I want to be a writer’?
I hadn’t really written any stories as such until about five years ago. I used to do quite a lot of gigging in bands and had also tried some poetry and screen writing. I think I thought to myself that writing crime stories could be a fun hobby and easier to squeeze in! I then came to love it. My two big influences would be Raymond Chandler and Richard Stark.
Your debut novel, A Chaser on the Rocks was released last year. What can you tell us about the book? How did the project first come about?
I hadn’t really thought about writing a full length novel until I was approached by an agent to try it. The thought of it was quite intimidating! I really enjoyed it in the end and found it very rewarding. We had a big launch in Belfast and it got some nice reviews and press. I still feel pleased with it.
The book entwines two different stories and two different private detectives, Brian Caskey and Billy Chapman, set in different periods of recent Irish history. The plot involves a healthy assortment of disappearances, killings, drug rings and gangsters, before coming full circle in a decidedly dramatic fashion. What was your inspiration for the plot itself? A lot of writers, especially crime writers, are influenced by things they read or see in the news around them. Ireland is a place with a colourful history – did you take much inspiration from real life when creating your storylines?
There’s definitely a big inspiration from Northern Ireland itself. I try and get in lots of real life settings into my stories, that hopefully provide a good backdrop. I also try and tie in a lot of history and even Irish mythology too. One thing I try and avoid though is to write about The Troubles as such. I did a lot of research for the historical part of the book.
Do you envisage more Chapman/Caskey stories (whether novels or shorts) in the future?
I do indeed! I’m just finishing up the sequel to Chaser and it should also be able to be read as a standalone book.
You then followed it up with a second release – this time a collection of short stories entitled More Faces, some new and some previously published, including those that gave origin to A Chaser on the Rocks. What made you decide to release this collection?
I really liked the idea of having all my short stories together in one place. I’m now concentrating on novels and a few novellas and wanted to collect the shorts all in one volume. There’s twelve in it and they were basically all the short stories I had finished up until that point.
Do you have a favourite story out of the lot?
It changes I think. Of course if I’m doing a reading or something, I want to change everything when I look at them again! My overall favourite would probably be Political Suicide. I really enjoyed writing it and I like the primary character- a Republican aid who is partially deaf, with a violent past. He gets caught up in an attack on a political office. Sometimes I think I’d like to revisit it for a novel.
Back in the early twentieth century, short stories, especially detective stories, were massively popular on both sides of the Atlantic thanks to magazines like Black Mask and The Strand. Nowadays, they seem less common than they used to be, so it’s refreshing to see a new author going out there and releasing entire collections – what is it that attracts you to the short story format?
I think short stories are great and they definitely offer something different from a full length novel. It’s a pity that there aren’t more anthologies in that vein. It’s fun to try and tell a story in a relatively small amount of space. I wrote one flash fiction for the collection- but that’s a bit too short for me! I was pleased to be part of the recent crime collection Dark Minds from Bloodhound Books. It was all short stories and is a really good anthology.
How did you find the transition from writing short stories to writing a feature-length novel?
At first it was hard. I just couldn’t get through it! Setting goals is helpful in adjusting to how to go about it. It is definitely a different type of process. It came much easier when I wrote the second novel.
You also just recently released a new novella, Bongo Fury, which is intended to form part of a new series. Can you tell us a bit about that project?
Yes, I thought that in between novels I’d like to start a novella series. This is the first one and it’s a little different in tone from most of my other stuff. It’s a wee bit grittier and hopefully funny too.
With the rise of e-books and the opportunities for self-publishing, the publishing world has changed dramatically over the past few years. What advice would you give to new authors looking to get their work out there?
I think the most important thing is to work out what you are looking to do first, what goals you have. Then you can decide on going down the agent route, small publisher, or self-publishing. The main thing is that you must be prepared to put in an awful lot of work whatever you opt for and the writing is a very minor part of that!
A lot of people still favour paper books over their electronic counterparts – are you much of a Kindle user or do you still prefer the smell and feel of a paper book?
Yeah I love ‘real’ books! You can’t beat it for sure. I collect vinyl too- no Spotify or iTunes for me. It’s bad because I sell many more e books than paper copies- but I’ve never bought an e book myself!
What’s currently on your reading list? Do you like to check out the works of other new authors or do you find yourself going back to the old masters more often?
I’m really bad at keeping up and I do tend to go back to my favourite writers. I’ve made a conscious effort recently to read authors I hadn’t read before. I enjoyed them all- I’ve just finished reading some Jo Nesbo, Ian Rankin, Brian McGilloway and Henning Mankell.
Most importantly – what projects are you working on now? Is another full-length novel in the works?
After I finish the sequel, I have a concept for a standalone novel and I hope to start that next. If the Bongo Fury novella goes down well, I’ll maybe write a second one in the next few months too.
So far you’ve made your name as a crime writer. Do you see yourself going into other areas in the future as well?
I’m not sure- possibly. I certainly would like to try things that are not so much a murder mystery with a PI or detective. I’ve tried to mix that up a bit anyway, but yes, perhaps something different again. I don’t think I would ever be one for writing Police procedurals or Cosies as such. I’m pleased that crime fiction is better regarded these days and there isn’t as much snobbery about ‘genre fiction.
Your work is influenced by a lot of noir/hardboiled fiction – so I have to ask – who do you rate more: Chandler or Hammett?
It’s Chandler for me. He’s one of my all time favourites. He just had the greatest turn of phrase. I love that whole period and a lot of Film Noir. I hear that our own Liam Neeson is to play Philip Marlowe in a new film- I have my fingers crossed that it’ll be good!
For people like myself who are perhaps less familiar with Irish literature, what other Irish authors (past or present) would you recommend to readers?
There is quite the boom in Northern Irish crime fiction at the moment, or Ulster Noir as some people call it. Colin Bateman has been a favourite of mine for many years and other notables include Stuart Neville, Brian McGilloway, Steve Cavanagh and Gerard Brennan.
When you’re not busy writing, what else do you find yourself getting up to?
I’m usually chasing my four year old and one year old around! I also am a big music fan and at the minute I’m particularly into Hard Bop from the 1960’s.
Where can people get hold of your books at the moment?
They’re in a few shops, but the easiest way would be on Amazon. There are e-book and paperback versions of all of my books.
Last but not least – where can people find you online?
Yes- please stay in touch!
Twitter is @simonmaltman
My blog is simonmaltmanblogs.blogspot.co.uk
Thanks again for having me, all the best!
A Chaser on the Rocks, More Faces and Bongo Fury are all available now on Amazon. You can find his author page right here.
Lastly, thanks to Simon for taking the time to answer all of our questions!