Steve Jovanoski interviews Tony Black
Tony Black was born in Australia and grew up in Scotland and Ireland. Based in Edinburgh, he is an award-winning journalist, editor and novelist. His journalism has appeared in the UK national press and his short fiction in a variety of publications on the internet and in print.
Black is the author of Paying for It (2008), Gutted (2009), Loss (2010), Long Time Dead (2010), Murder Mile (2011). In his new novel, Truth Lies Bleeding (February 2011), Black “moves away from the noir of his Gus Dury novels with this terrific police procedural featuring Detective Inspector Rob Brennan, just back from psychiatric leave and on a mission” (Amazon).
He is interviewed by Steve Jovanoski, an Australian born writer who lives and works in Melbourne and whose novel, The Brotherhood, is published by Sid Harta Publishers Pty Ltd., 2011.
‘There’s a book in all of us’ – is a common statement used in the literature world. What is your thought on this?
I wish people would stop saying that, it’s a load of shite. If it was true, Katy Price wouldn’t need ghost writers …
Becoming a full time author is an enormous achievement. What lifestyle sacrifice did you have to make in order to reach this point?
Well, there was the ten years of burning the midnight oil, poring over some unpublished ms or other, and just hoping it was going to pay off. You could say that was a sacrifice of sorts, bloody felt like it.
What would you say to a writer procrastinating over their first novel?
Write the thing. Even if it’s a load of rubbish, you’ll have learnt something by the end of it …
Are creative writing courses useful or just a social gathering for wannabe writers?
They can teach the basic elements of writing – plotting, structure, characterisation etc – but they can’t instil talent. You either have that or you don’t and no amount of writing class is going to make any difference if you can’t write fluidly.
Does it get easier the more you get published?
Yes and no. There isn’t the same fear of rejection, or working in the dark … but every novel is different, the challenges are different, and if you’re stretching yourself as a novelist, it just gets harder.
Did you ever see yourself as a crime/thriller writer when you first started?
Not really, no. I started off writing what you would probably call general fiction, or as it was known back then ‘Scot Lit’ – the crime/thriller interest came later.
How can a writer persevere after receiving piles of rejection letters from publishers?
It’s a fact of life; publishing is a brutal business. How one person perseveres is different to another, but if you have a belief in the writing then you won’t be deterred. No matter how fierce the rejections.
When looking to get published, would you recommend an agent or doing it alone?
I think it would be hard to go it alone; I certainly always worked with agents. I know the publishing world is changing though. In the not-too-distant future, writers might not even need publishers, let alone agents.
Technology is changing the world and that includes the world of literature. Do you see it as an evolution in publishing or are novels fighting a loosing battle in a world of entertainment?
I think there will always be a need for stories – that’s a pretty basic human need – and the novel is such an involving form, that we’re not going to do away with it any time soon. Whether or not we read those stories/novels on paper or electronic ink is almost irrelevant.
You recently travelled to Australia. How well known are Aussie writers in the international arena?
Very well known … Peter Carey wins the Booker every year, or so it seems. And Peter Temple is finally getting some of the acclaim he deserves on foreign shores.
What genre do you think dominates the Australian market? How does this compare to the rest of the world?
There’s definitely more interest in literary fiction in Australia, but I think in terms of the overall Australian market it’s pretty heavily led by the big hitters from the USA. The James Pattersons et al. It’s the same everywhere, books are subject to the same economies of scale as baked beans … they pile them high and sell them cheap.
Getting a novel published is becoming increasingly difficult. Is there any room for new writers?
I think the real squeeze these days – and this will be increasingly so in the future – is on mid-list writers. The publishing world is moving to safe-bet mode and pumping more resources into selling what it has sold in the past – the big truck stop thriller written by brand-name authors will get all the attention and mid-listers’ days are numbered. There will always be publishing houses willing to take a punt on a new writer, to hype them to the hilt and hope they can get the sales to match.
And the most important question – is the yellow M&M better than the red one?
I think the red one has the edge, but I won’t fall out with anyone over M&Ms … I’m all over the peanut ones though!