Interview with Michael Malone
This is the third book in the Ray McBain series, what made you choose to write it from Kenny’s POV this time round?
At the point I wrote this, the other two books were going the rounds of the publishers receiving rave rejections. As in, love this – had to stay up till 2am to finish it, but no thanks. I know, crazy, right? But that’s publishing for you.
I wanted to keep writing, but I didn’t want this next book to suffer the same response, so I just sat down one day and started working. No plan, no idea, I was just writing. What came out, like dictation, to my surprise was Kenny’s story.
Your books all feature well developed characters, and although they are likeable, none of them are completely sympathetic. Was this a conscious choice or were you simply holding a mirror to society?
I would like to think that I’m that clever, but I’m not. I rarely write with such an agenda. I write in the first instance by instinct and if I like it when I’m doing the edits it stays. And when I’m doing the edits I’m asking myself how might the reader respond to this? Are my characters three-dimensional? No good guy is all good and similarly, no bad guy is all bad. The edit is where I examine if I have struck the right balance.
Tell me why you write about a detective with an eating disorder!
‘Cos alcohol has been done to death and although I don’t have an eating disorder, my relationship with food could be healthier. I’ve been on a yo-yo diet since my thirties. It’s exhausting! Most of what I put Ray through in that regard is something that I’ve experienced.
Like Blood Tears, in Beyond the Rage you are writing a story set in the present but about events that occurred in the past. Is this something that particularly interests you as a writer?
Yeah, we can rarely escape our past. It is from that cauldron that our personality is born and it affects mostly everything about us. It’s something that readers can relate to. After all, we all have one. And it is a classic trope in fiction.
Can you tell me a little about how you write? For example, what time of day is the most productive, do you set yourself daily word goals and how much plotting do you do or are you a start writing and see where the story takes you kind of writer?
I am a binge writer. I go for months, sometimes years without writing and then I get stuck in. My target tends to be more time led – but with an eye to the word count so I can gauge how well I am doing. And as I said earlier, I write by instinct, without much of an idea where I’m going. It would be nice to be able to write to a plan, but I can’t seem to master that one.
You’re a poet of some renown. How and why did you make the transition to being a crime writer and does your poetic background help or hinder when describing some of the brutal things the modern crime writer must?
The poetry came about by accident. My aim was always to be a novelist, but after joining my local writers’ club and having a go, I discovered I had an aptitude for poetry. I think it comes from a love of words. Which comes from being an avid reader all of my life.
When I first started writing novels, I was trying too hard and I learned I had to choose my moment. If you’re reading a fight scene, you don’t want the author to disrupt the pace by inserting a line of poetic prose. On the other hand, the “noticing” that poetry brings to the prose can help ground the reader in the story.
It all goes in during the first draft and then I shape it when doing the edits. Elmore Leonard is quoted as saying if it sounds like writing, he deletes. Far be it from me to ignore such a great writer, but there are times when I love to read a selection of prose where the word choice tastes good. The craft for me is knowing when to leave in and when to take out.
I can’t let you go without talking about the Guillotine Choice, the book you co-wrote with Bashir Saoudi, one of the most harrowing yet uplifting fact-based novels I’ve ever read. How did you meet Bashir and how was the writing process different?
How long have you got? I’ll give you the shortened version. Bashir had taken some time out of the computer industry to run a coffee shop. He stayed open late one night to try and get more custom. I was his only customer. Subsequent meetings, mostly of the “twilight zone” variety had me throwing my hands up and saying to the universe, ok I’ll write the book!
The difference here was that I had the skeleton of a story in front of me. And if I can torture that metaphor, this skeleton had a few bones missing as well as ligament, skin and muscle. But there was a direction. And a real man whose story had to be told. And told in a way that would honour him and his country.
Finally, what are you working on at the minute?
Another Ray McBain book. And the killer from the first one is back. If I tell you any more I’ll have to kill you.
Beyond the Rage review:
First of all, time to come clean; I know the author and consider him a friend. I met him before I had my publishing contract in 2014 when he was running one of the workshops at the excellent Crime and Publishment event in Gretna (see links page). He instantly struck me as one committed deeply to the craft rather than someone who’ll write commercial drivel just to make a quick buck. I bought the first book, Blood Tears, during the weekend and finished it before the course ended it was that good.
His protagonist, Ray McBain, is not your typical cop – for one he’s the first I’ve come across who seems to have an eating disorder! But if Blood Tears was all about redemption and the sequel, A Taste for Malice, gave us more insight into McBain’s psyche whilst giving us a strange and disturbing crime to get our heads round the third in the series threw an even curvier curve ball.
Because Beyond the Rage isn’t about McBain, it’s about his gangster friend, Kenny O’Neill. O’Neill has been a peripheral character in the first two books but there was always a story to be told and Malone doesn’t let us down. O’Neill has always had a dangerous edge to him but this novel is all about his vulnerability. There are three areas of his life which come crashing down simultaneously – his relationship with the aunt who raised him has a stroke, his father who disappeared when his mother committed suicide sends him a letter and his prostitute girlfriend is badly beaten. Are the three things related? Is someone trying to send him a message? You’ll have to read it to find out. McBain appears every now and then, still struggling with his yo-yo weight problem and these were my favourite scenes, showing two friends at the opposite ends of the justice spectrum coming together at times of need.
What I will say is that the plot is almost incidental to the masterful way Malone handles the emotional trauma that’s forced upon Kenny. Malone has an insight into how people under pressure react, and whilst there is dark humour in his writing, at times I had an almost physical reaction when I was reading this. All of his prose is beautifully written and you won’t be surprised to learn that Malone is also a renowned poet. Even the dialogue, coarse at times, has a lyrical quality to it that at times makes you want to read it out loud just to hear it with your own ears.
On reflection I think this is my favourite out of the three books (links for all below) although the true story, The Guillotine Choice, for me, stands out as a chronicle of an extraordinary human being’s struggle, and ultimate triumph, against appalling odds.
If you are looking for a new author and you haven’t read Michael Malone then look no further.