How did you begin writing, Tom? I believe you were a film critic before you started writing books?
I started writing fiction in around 2002 – half a lifetime ago – and my first ever short story, ‘The Box’, was included in an anthology by a UK publisher called Skrev the following year. I notched up a bunch of publications in small-scale British literary magazines over the next five years, and switched to writing crime fiction in 2006-2007, when my reading tastes shifted.
I have managed to make a living from putting words on a page since about 2006 – agony uncle, film critic, telecoms journalist – but I don’t think I’ll be paying the bills with my fiction any time soon! Watching and reviewing films for a living was fun while it lasted, but a job that combined DVDs and print media already feels like something from a bygone era…!
I took a break from fiction between 2011 and 2014, but I haven’t really looked back since. Last year I published two short story collections: Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (Close To The Bone) and Repetition Kills You (All Due Respect), and I have two more books on the way this year: Boneyard Dogs (Close To The Bone) and The Good Book (All Due Respect).
I’m really proud of all of these books, but the stuff I’m working on at the moment is even better: darker, nastier, funnier. I can’t wait to share it with people!
Any favorite pulp authors?
To be completely honest, there is a gaping hole in my traditional pulp fiction reading list. I’ve got a box in my loft full of unread Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, MacDonald etc, and while I’m sure I’ll get around to reading them one day, they are fighting for attention with a lot of new content.
I think publishers such as All Due Respect, Close To The Bone and Shotgun Honey are the ones delivering the pulp fiction goods nowadays. They all specialise in short, violent books with a solid emotional core. I also gravitate towards the kind of writers who publish multiple books each year, as that kind of work ethic appeals to me, and stays true to the old-fashioned pulp sensibility. There are too many great writers to namecheck here, but pulp enthusiasts should definitely make a beeline towards those publishers.
Your books, like “Slug Bait” sometimes contain horror elements. Do you like horror and mystery writing, as well as crime/pulp?
Yes, very true! In recent years my raw, undiluted approach to crime fiction has started to blur at the edges: the story titles have got more visceral, the antagonists more ghoulish, the imagery more horrific and the sense of foreboding more pronounced. I find a lot of contemporary crime fiction – especially at the mainstream end of the scale – too bland for comfort, so I’m doing my best to redress the balance!
This whole ‘Paignton Noir’ world that I have strived to create over the last decade or so is highly stylised, and I like to use that to my advantage. There were some notable supernatural elements in both of my short story collections – Meat Bubbles & Other Stories and Repetition Kills You – but these sporadic incidents are viewed with the same sense of hardboiled cynicism as Joe Rey views the rest of his cases, and hopefully they don’t drag unsuspecting readers too far out of the narrative.
I have no idea whether my genre-blurring tactics are too horrific for crime fans or too tame for horror fans, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. I’ve also got some grisly new material up my sleeve which plunges deeper into horror territory than ever before. Watch this space!
As far as horror fiction goes, it represents a pretty minor component of my overall reading experience, and I watch far more horror movies than I do read horror books – something I should definitely rectify. That said, I always appreciate it when writers manage to successfully fuse crime and horror to create something new and warped. That always piques my interest!
What have the reviews been like for your books? How do reviewers describe your writing?
The reviews have been pretty good so far. I’m always delighted when anyone takes the time to write about something I created – and other people’s interpretations of my work are endlessly fascinating! A lot of people enjoyed my debut e-book, Skull Meat – which is pretty extreme in places – and those endorsements gave me a lot of confidence, and made me realise that I didn’t have to tone down my vision.
When a reader really connects with a book it’s an unbeatable feeling. That said, I’m disappointed that Repetition Kills You – my literary jigsaw puzzle – sank without a trace, as I’m really proud of that book: concept, content, everything. Not every book is going to find an audience, but I was looking forward to see what people made of it. (I’m working on an appropriately brutal sequel, so hopefully that will give the first book a much-needed boost!)
Reviews are also a useful supply of feedback, and I try to respond to any points that reviewers touch on in my subsequent books. Readers expect a series character to evolve, and any question marks over Joe Rey’s persona are really useful to me.
Words like brutal, gritty and violent are pretty commonplace in the reviews – all of which are highly appropriate!
Could we talk more about “Repetition Kills You”? How was this book different than your others?
Repetition Kills You comprises 26 short stories, presented in alphabetical order, from ‘Actress on a Mattress’ to ‘Zero Sum’. Combined in different ways, they tell a larger, more complex story. The reader has to join the dots and choose their own beginning and ending. The alphabetical angle was inspired by an old J.G. Ballard story from the 1960s, but the ruptured narrative owes as much to Quentin Tarantino’s movies Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.
Repetition Kills You was actually the first book I completed, and everything else I have written has slotted in around it. Because of that, I think that it works well as an opener for the uninitiated, but it works even better if people read the books in the ‘official’ order!
It’s a self-contained book, but I’m enjoying the task of joining the dots and exploring the events that precede Repetition Kills You. The book also digs into certain aspects of Joe Rey’s past, and introduces a few key characters who figure heavily in the sequels. I like trilogies, and this book is the first of three interlinked books. Make no mistake, Rey is about to enter a world of pain in the next book, and it all goes downhill from there…
Anyway, I think that anyone who enjoyed Skull Meat, or Slug Bait, or Meat Bubbles will enjoy it as much, if not more, but the non-linear A-Z concept must be a little bit too jarring for readers, which is a real shame!
Bio: Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. He is the author of the Paignton Noir novelettes SKULL MEAT, SNUFF RACKET, SLUG BAIT and SPINE FARM and the short story collections MEAT BUBBLES & OTHER STORIES (Close To The Bone, June 2018) and REPETITION KILLS YOU (All Due Respect, September 2018).