Adrian McKinty is the bestselling author of The Cold Cold Ground, I Hear The Sirens In The Street and In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, among others. Adrian will be a panelist at The Sydney Writers’ Festival event Violence, Lust, Revenge and a Touch of Poetry, sponsored by TheReadingRoom. We spoke to Adrian a few days before the panel.
You have three sessions at Sydney Writers’ Festival. One of those sessions is you on your own with a facilitator, and the one sponsored by The Reading Room is you and two other writers and a facilitator. Is it more or less stressful to be on your own in a session. I like both formats, to be honest. I like blabbing away for an hour and just talking about myself or my ideas or my books. But I also really like it when there’s a couple of other people and you can sort of bounce ideas off of them or sometimes you can listen to what other people are saying and sort of react to that. Or sometimes if you’re feeling particularly ornery or mischievous you can just decide to say the opposite of what someone else is saying on the panel. Whatever they’re saying, you can just say, ‘You know, I disagree with that and here’s why’, no matter what it is. So sometimes that can be really fun too. I was at the Newcastle Writers’ Festival and I had two panels, both on similar topics, and there was the same moderator for both panels. [At the second one] she said, ‘Look, I’m very sorry, Adrian, I’m going to be asking you a lot of the same questions’, and I said, ‘That’s completely fine – I hope you don’t mind, I’m just going to answer the opposite of what I said yesterday to everything’. And she said, ‘No, that’s completely fine.’ So she asked all the same questions as the day before and I answered completely the opposite, and that was very enjoyable for all of us, I have to say. I was going to ask if, in a festival setting, you felt it was the author’s job to deliver information or to tell a story but I think you’ve already answered that: you tell a story. I think it’s the author’s job to give disinformation. I think that can be very useful. Even directions to other authors’ events or readings – that can be very useful. Just give disinformation. Send them all to your events instead. At the Newcastle Writers’ Festival I did a very successful job of talking quite a lot of people out of buying my books, especially on the second day. It was a pretty packed event and you go downstairs and there’s the people who come to have their books signed. And [the event] went down well and a lot of people came to sign their books but it was a lot of people who go to these sorts of festival things who are maybe a little bit of an older demographic. There were some really sweet, nice old ladies from rural New South Wales and I knew that they would have hated my books, so – much to the chagrin of the festival organisers and the amazement of my fellow panellists – I talked about four people out of buying my books. I said, ‘Look, I don’t want to insult you and I’d be happy to sign my book, but I don’t think you’re going to enjoy this’, and then I explained why, and a lot of them were quite relieved not to have to buy the book, and were quite grateful. So I think that’s also part of the author’s job: talk potential customers out of purchasing your novel. You’re like the festival anti-Christ. Yes – yes! In fact, I want that on my nameplate for all my events. One of the things that’s interesting about your writing is that you do manage to capture the reader’s attention quickly but there’s a certain stillness about the way you write – you slow the reader down without losing that sense of pace. It’s quite an art and a distinctive style. I do like to do landscape and I do like to do the filmic qualities of the novel where you sit up a scene and sort of slowly pan in from the distance. One of the books that really did make an impression on me was Little Dorritt by Dickens, and it starts off in Marseille, and it’s really quite remarkable because he wrote this book before the age of film and it starts, basically, with this huge panning shot of Marseille and everything that’s happening in the city, and then it slowly zooms in on the jail – one of the lead characters is in jail, I don’t remember who. And I really like this idea. Also in Dickens you have these long tracking shots along the Thames and what’s happening in London, and I’ve always liked that sort of idea, and the idea from film noir that they would establish the city in huge, slow tracking shots – you’d see the sewers, you’d see the rooftops, you’d see things like that – and I’ve always liked to do that in my books. In the Sean Duffy books, I always like to start those books in a fairly slow way, just establishing the landscape and the place and the rhythms of the things. A lot of editors have said to me, ‘You know, you really should start with dialogue – that’s what everybody’s doing these days’, but I still don’t really like to do that. I figure if I start with dialogue then everybody’s going to be disappointed when they read my books – I’d rather they were disappointed right from the first paragraph. That idea of doing what everyone else is doing and trying to hitch a ride on a trend – once a trend is identified, it’s over. Exactly. And I’d rather just do what suits me – you’d never be able to match the market. Who knows what people [want] – who could have predicted Fifty Shades of Grey? Well, I guess you could have predicted that, but you couldn’t have predicted The Hunger Games, maybe. Sex always sells, but The Hunger Games – where did that come from? You have editions of the same novel published in several different countries – do you tend to take on all that editorial feedback separately or do you bring it all together in the one manuscript? When I was published by Simon & Schuster in New York I was always having to explain British references to the reader and they always made me explain what Marmite was and who West Bromwich Albion were, who George Best was. I didn’t mind doing that, but after I got fired from them – because my books didn’t sell – I got published by this British publisher and they said, ‘Just write whatever the hell you like – don’t explain anything, and if the reader doesn’t get it they’ll just skip it, or maybe they’ll even go look it up on Wikipedia’. So I don’t do that stuff any more – I just sort of write my references and it’s just been a bit freeing for me. And I don’t mind if [people] don’t get the jokes or the irony or the references, and if they’re really upset about it or want to learn more, they can look it up or they can write me a letter or something and I’ll explain it. But I just like to do my thing and not worry too much about nailing everything down.