Long ago, I interviewed one of my favorite noir writers, Paul D. Brazill, about his then-recent novella, Kill Me Quick! Whether it was fate, circumstance, or just laziness, Pulp Serenade sort of faded away and I shamefully did not publish the interview. Now, years later, I’m trying to make amends. Paul was kind enough to update the interview with a little bit about his newest work, Last Year’s Man, as well as a short story, “No One is Innocent” (published over at Retreats from Oblivion).
Your story “No One is Innocent” was later incorporated into the novel, Big City Blues. Can you tell us a little bit about Big City Blues and how the short story found its way into a longer work?
With Big City Blues I wanted to have a bundle of OTT characters collide in London. The blurb says: ‘British coppers, an American private eye, London gangsters, international spies, and a serial killer known as The Black Crow all collide violently and hilariously in Big City Blues.’ I changed the main characters from No One Is Innocent a bit to fit in with the bigger story.
The jukebox in “No One is Innocent” plays Jane Morgan’s “The Day the Rains Came.” If you could program your perfect bar jukebox, what would be on it?
There are far too many to choose from but any jukebox without Tom Waits, Sinatra and Dusty Springfield isn’t a real jukebox.
Last Year’s Man is your new novel, what’s it about and what inspired you to write it?
A troubled, ageing hit man leaves London and returns to his hometown in the north east of England hoping for peace. But the ghosts of his past return to haunt him. I always liked the idea of the comedian Tony Hancock as a hit man or gangster and Last Year’s Man is my stab at that.
The setting of Kill Me Quick! is Seatown, a shithole town populated by has-beens, screw-ups, and half-assed ex-musicians who never made it. Is this place for real, or what inspired it?
Seatown is a grotesque version of my home town, Hartlepool, and the areas around the town. A lot of it is based on real people and real situations but by throwing them all together at one time it makes the quirky sides of the town seem all the more bizarre. There are, of course, lots of normal people doing normal things in Hartlepool but there’s no fun in writing about them.
There are so many great details about the life of a musician, from grimy bars to band breakups to business scams. This isn’t even the glitter and glam of VH1 Behind the Music, but the real-deal grit. What is your own background in music, and did any of the details come your own musical experiences?
My oldest brother was a musician who mostly played in hotel bars, working men’s clubs, on cruise ships and the like. I played in a couple of post- punk bands. I’ve been around musicians of various shades of success all of my life. Many musicians’ reach exceeds their grasp and vice versa, so it can have a tragi-comic aspect to it that suits my spin on noir.
Lots of music is referenced through the book, including Tom Waits, Julie London, Fairport Convention, and John Martyn, but none is so surprising as Dire Straits. This must be the first noir book to mention that band. You describe them as the sound of gloom. Do you really hate Dire Straits that much, and just what is so bleak about them to your ears?
I don’t mind them in small amounts, to be honest. Knopfler is a very tasty guitarist. Never been a fan. They signify a certain pastel cloured, ’80s, hotel bar corporate rock sound, though.
More than a couple people are wearing Doc Martens. What’s the cultural significance, and do you still have a pair yourself?
I haven’t worn Doc Martin boots in my life! Not with my feet! They are very Brit Grit, though. Like Fred Perry, Carry On Films and marmite.
One of your characters defines irony as “when the audience knows more about what’s happening than a character and knows that the character’s making a mistake.” So, do you think all noir is inherently ironic?
As I’ve said before, I think noir has a lot in common with slapstick, in that the characters are on the verge of falling down a metaphorical manhole all the time. They usually think they know what’s going on but haven’t a clue!
Apparently no good shows happen in Seatown any more … so tell me, what’s the best and worst shows you’ve ever seen?
Gang Of 4 at Middlesbrough Rock Garden, Magazine at Redcar Coatham Bowl, Ennio Morricone at the Barbican Centre, Lyle Lovitt ant Hammersmith Apollo were all great. Both times I saw Kinky Friedman. Both times I saw the Subway Sect. Leeds Futurama Festival in 1979 – Joy Division, the Fall etc. I don’t remember the crap ones: enough with those negative waves, Moriarty!
Give me some music recommendations! What are some of the best British punk bands that people don’t talk about as much as they should?
Although British punk was about re-inventing rock muic, some of the best bands were the ones that were anti- rock. Subway Sect, The Prefects, ATV. They had a different approach to music and lyrics.
One of your characters says, “Democracy drags things down to the level of the lowest common denominator. In music, that’s usually the bass player.” Why does everyone always make fun of bassists?
I used to play bass, so … It does seem that bass players are not so much the ugly friend but the mousey one you always forget about. There are many exceptions of course: Barry Adamson, Bootsy Collins, for example.
Shifting gears, I have some questions about other projects … Roman Dalton, werewolf P.I., began as one of your stories, but now other writers are taking a spin with the character. Why open it up to other writers, and what’s it like seeing other people use your character?
I actually thought the Dalton world was a good one that I didn’t have the ability to exploit fully. Letting someone like Allan Leverone or Matt Hilton take a bite of it put more meat on its bones, he says mixing metaphors.
What’s this about the Polski Noir project on your website? Who does the translating?
Polski Noir is a webzine where flash fiction in English is translated into Polish. The translations are done by my friend Marta Crickmar and her students. Writers published so far include Patti Abbot, Richard Godwin, K A Laity.
What are you working on now? Any upcoming publications you can share with us? Small Town Crimes is a flash fiction and short story collection that will be out from Near To The Knuckle at the end of the month. I’ve just finished a follow up to Last Year’s Man. It’s called “The Iceman Always Rings Twice.”
“The Iceman Always Rings Twice!” That’s a great title. Do you come up with titles before you start writing?
That title was suggested by Daniel Moses Luft on Facebook when he found out I’d written a yarn called “The Postman Cometh.”
This interview first appeared at PULP SERENADE.