Old Gold, the new crime novel by Jay Stringer will be out in about a week, and Jay was kind enough to submit to an
interrogation interview, so please welcome him to the blog!
Jay, you’re brand new book, Old Gold, is coming out in just a few days (on the 24th!!) What made you decide to take the plunge and write a novel?
It was an accident, honest. I remember when I was about eight years old, the teacher asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said a Bookmaker. It was a long time before I understood why she laughed at me. Before I could write I used to draw little comics, and I’ve always been a scribbler and a plotter. Anyway. I was a film student, and I had an idea for a film, but I needed the characters voices before I could write it, so I started work on a short story to figure them out. The short story kept going, and eventually I admitted to myself I was writing a novel and got serious about it.
Will you tell us a bit about Old Gold?
Sure. I like to call it ‘social pulp fiction.’ It’s a crime novel set in the Midlands, in England. The region was built on industry, coal mining and manufacturing, and has never quite recovered from all of those things going away. It feels to me like the perfect setting for a modern crime novel. The protagonist, Eoin Miller, is half-Romani, so he has identity issues, and is a gangland detective. If you’ve stolen a stash from a dealer or run off with mob money, it’s Miller who comes and finds you. But then something happens in his own home, and he’s dragged into trying to do the right thing. His only real problem is that he doesn’t know what ‘the right thing’ is.
Do you prefer to write “grey” characters as opposed to morally black and white?
I like to step outside of the whole thing, and just focus on actions and motivations. Saying that, it is fun to play with the reader a little, to mess up the moral compass of the story and challenge the reader to try and straighten things out. There are certain things that I’m a bit fed up of in fiction, like the reluctant hero. There’s a fake premise; the character is set up all moody and amoral, but in the end he’ll be faced with a choice between right and wrong, and he’ll do the right thing and we all know it. But in real life choices never seem to be that clean cut. It seems far more interesting to me to face a character with a bunch of choices that all have bits of right and bits of wrong in them, because the decision he makes will tell us far more.
What do you love most about writing crime fiction?
There are less excuses, less reasons not to get on with writing. I can’t tell myself that I’m “world building” and spend afternoons working out whole political systems and technology. I just get on with writing a story. I’m drawn to reading and writing social fiction, and I think that social fiction leads very comfortably into crime. Writers like Dickens, Steinbeck, O’Casey, Hamilton; they’d all be classed as crime writers if they were working today. Faulkner’s Intruder In The Dust is totally a crime novel. I’m not fit to lick any of those guys pen tips, but they wrote what I like to read and write; real lives, people struggling to make ends meet, in over their heads. As the song goes, “I needed money ‘cause I had none,” that’s crime fiction, and that’s what I love to write.
Regarding violence in crime, or noir, fiction, do you think anything is “off limits”?
For me –and I’m a rookie so I could be way off the mark- it seems that no subject is off limits. In fact, if a subject feels off limits then, as a writer, you owe it to yourself to try and write it. Where the limits come in is the execution of the idea. Chris Rock once said that comedy works when it’s applying pressure upwards. If the joke is pushing up at something or someone, it’s funny, it’s its pushing down on someone it’s tasteless. I think that’s a good guide for dealing with violence as a writer. We have to remember that it happens for a reason, that’s it’s painful and scary, and that it has consequences. If you write a scene with all that in mind, and keep on eye on the status and emotions of the person suffering the violence, then you’ll be fine. I feel like the violence should be the shortest moment in any of my stories; It’s more my job to show what lead up to it and what the consequences are.
Who are some of your biggest literary influences (or influences in general)?
I learned to read with comic Books and Alan Moore is one of my favorite writers in any field. I was heavily influenced as a teenager by songwriters like Paul Westerberg and Bruce Springsteen, and then by stand-up comedians like Mark Thomas and Stewart Lee. I had a good English teacher at high school who would lend me things to read outside of class, and he got me hooked on Sean O’Casey. From there is was the slippery slope into crime fiction; in the space of about two years as a teenager I saw THE USUAL SUSPECTS, JACKIE BROWN and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, and that lead me to reading James Elroy and Elmore Leonard, then Lawrence Block, and I was in.
Does music help you with your writing? Other than a pen or a keyboard, is there anything you need to have nearby in order to get in the zone?
I’m pretty basic when I’m doing the writing itself. I don’t want anything to distract me. But I use music to get into the mood; I think my influences from film and music mean I’m always thinking of soundtracks and scenes, and the music helps me get in the right mood. I tend not to write by hand much, because my handwriting is messed up and even I often can’t tell what I was saying. I’ve got notebooks full of scribbles that nobody can decipher, so I’ve learned my lesson.
If you had to choose a few songs as a sort of “soundtrack” to Old Gold, what would you pick?
Funny you should ask, I did just that. I prepared a soundtrack based on what the protagonist is listening to during the book, with a few other songs that he would like. Then I changed my mind; the book is set in a vary multicultural area and the supporting cast is quite diverse, so I tweaked the play list to reflect this. There’s something in there now for each of the main characters. (Spotify link- Old Gold Soundtrack)
Do you have a favorite sleuth in film or print?
It would have to be Matt Scudder. He was the detective who gathered moss as he went; each scar, each drink, each case stuck to him. There have been detectives since who have aged in “real time” and who have suffered from all the beatings they took –Ray Banks and James Sallis have both explored that idea brilliantly- but I think Scudder was a key turning point in crime fiction. I’d also give a mention to Jim Rockford. I love that guy, and try and get in references to him in my own books.
It says in your bio that you’re dyslexic and that the printed word is a “second language” to you. Can you tell us about how your dyslexia influenced the writing process?
It’s influenced the way I do everything. It’s basically like being hard-wired to think laterally. I try to avoid saying how I do things differently to non-dyslexics, because I can’t really assume to know how someone else’s brain works. For my own process though, I think its helped me with structure, because I’d learned the basics of narrative and conversation long before I could read and write properly. Looking back, it seems like I lagged behind people my age for along time because it wasn’t sinking in, but once I learned to read and write I overtook people in class because I’d already figured out everything else. They’d spent their early years having spelling and grammar drilled into them, then were expected to read plays and novels and understand the meaning without any training for it. I’d spent years learning narrative and meaning, and then slowly learned to put spelling and grammar on top of that.
I think we sometimes put our priorities in the wrong place. Spelling and grammar are vitally important, sure, but they have to be in aid of understanding and meaning, not in place of it. We create a fetish out of words, when they’re just black ink patterns on a page that we move around. We use these patterns to tap into ideas and associations that we hold in our heads, and so we should work on the ideas first.
Is there anything in particular that inspires you when you write?
I have to marry a character and a story to something that’s really annoying me. That probably sounds a bit vague, but I’ve found that I need all three things to come together for me to really get any good work done. There were news stories that got under my skin for both OLD GOLD and it’s sequel, and Eoin Miller’s opinions on the issues were not always in sync with my own, that gave me the story on both occasions. I think as a fiction writer there’s a part of me that’s a frustrated journalist. It’s probably better that way, if I’d become a journalist maybe I’d have been a frustrated fiction writer and just made stuff up anyway.
What’s one of your favorite lines from a book?
The opening line of Orwell’s 1984. It’s a bit of a cliché to mention it, but it does everything a first line needs to do without showing off. “It was a bright cold day in April, and all the clocks were striking 13.”
What makes you not want to finish a book?
Too many words on a page (which is saying something after some of the essay answers I’ve given you.) Brevity is gold dust. I think large part of storytelling is knowing what not to say, and If a writer is cramming too many words into his sentences I tend to drift away.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Working full time as well as a writing doesn’t leave much, so I have to cram a lot in when I get it. I like to read, to watch movies or TV. During the football season I have to put a few hours aside every week to see my team get beat, and I lose more hours than I can afford on youtube.
I don’t suppose you’d like to tell us about that time you were a zoo keeper…? Had to ask!
Sadly it’s probably the least exciting thing I’ve ever done. It was interesting, and I got to spend days handling snakes or feeding Asiatic brown bears, but I never did anything fun like stealing an elephant.
Well then, what’s one of the most exciting things you’ve ever done?
Okay, I admit it, I stole an elephant.
I tried stand-up comedy a couple times when I was younger. Once you know what it’s like to go out and die on stage, the concept of “excitement” changes. The most interesting job was working in bookselling, every day was different, every day was a chance to either inspire someone or be inspired, and I got to meet a lot of my favorite authors.
If someone from the states was to visit you for the first time, where would you take them?
This has happened quite often, I have a lot of friends in the States and they’ll come over and crash on our sofa for a week at a time. I live in Glasgow these days, so most of the time it’s showing them to the museums, or the bars, maybe a trip to Edinburgh. Mostly it’s about showing them the Scottish rain. When I’m showing people around the area I grew up down in England, I’ll show them the stadium where my football team play, or even more bars, or maybe some of the locations from my books. Or canals. Lots of canals.
What’s one of the biggest misconceptions that the English or Scottish have about Americans, and vice versa?
There are a couple of things that bug me on both sides. From this side of the big wet thing, it’s annoying when we hear Americans tripping up over the difference between “English,” and “Scottish, never mind understanding that both are “British.” As highlighted in your question, there is a difference between England and Scotland, yet often it seems people over there don’t worry about using all these words interchangeably, or too say that England and Britain are the same thing, or that Scotland is a suburb in the north of England. And that’s before we start bringing Ireland into the conversation.
Going back the other way, I get really annoyed about the condescending attitude Brits will often show toward the United States; it’s not uncommon to hear Americans being dismissed as the but of a cheap joke over here. I hate cheap jokes on principle, because nothing has been done to earn the laugh, but that one annoys me more than most. There’s something culturally about the United States that can bring out a totally undeserved snark over here. I may be biased though, because I’ve been inspired and moved by so much American art, from movies and comics to the great social novelists and songwriters. I’ve been dreaming about moving to New York since I was a boy, so maybe that taints my view!
Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
The most immediate things are the book, OLD GOLD, and a prequel ebook that’s available for kindle right now called FAITHLESS STREET. I know it can be a gamble trying a new author, and it takes trust to invest your time into reading their book. That’s why I put the prequel out, it’s a chance to sample my writing and see if you like the voice. It’s four short stories, each one giving a glimpse into a different character from the novel. There’s also a fun Easter egg hidden away- one of the stories put a different spin on the events of the novel, I’m leaving that out there to see if anyone picks up on it. Beyond those, there’s a follow up called RUNAWAY TOWN, that’ll be out some time in the winter, and I’ve trying to push myself in different directions with that one.
Keep up with Jay: Website | Twitter
Read my review of Old Gold
Pre-Order Old Gold: Amazon | B&N
About Old Gold:
Half-gypsy detective Eoin Miller finds people for a living — usually people who would do anything to remain hidden. Ironic considering Eoin has done all he can to lose himself in a downward spiral that has cost him his job, his respect, his wife, and anything else that ever mattered. But he’s not inclined to dwell on what he’s given up, and Eoin prefers it that way.
Then he meets Mary, a hard-drinking woman on the run who confides that she’s stolen a valuable item, one that certain people would kill to get back. The two of them seek a temporary — and incomplete — solace in each other’s arms, only for Mary to turn up as a corpse in Eoin’s bed the next morning, him asleep on the sofa.
Recalling his father’s aversion to authority, Eoin runs from the body, but he hates a mystery and is driven to discover the truth behind Mary’s murder, even if it means putting his own life on the line. Before long, Eoin’s tangled up in a ferocious turf war that has him playing his former allies and employers — crime lords, drug dealers, cops, and politicians—against each other.