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Wednesday 25 April 2018

NAPALM HEARTS - an interview with Seamus Heffernan

Today I have a very special guest on my blog - fellow Crooked Cat author Seamus Heffernan, whose amazing novel NAPALM HEARTS was published yesterday.

Welcome, Seamus!  What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I have a clear memory of being in second grade and writing a story about a young boy going on an airplane for the first time for a fun-filled family vacation - and the plane falling out of the sky and plummeting into the ocean. I thought it was great the way my family stared at it (and me) like there was something very wrong.

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?

NAPALM HEARTS is a detective story about a P.I. trying to find a hard-partying young woman, the trophy wife of a member of high society, who is in big trouble somewhere in London's seedy underworld. He's trying to be a real detective and do the right thing - but he's also trying to find a bit of meaning in what is a lonely life. 

What was the inspiration for this book?

I was always going to write a crime book and I lived in London for a long time. That, and a few lonely months in my own life, plus a bit of time spent on a those seedy London streets gave me ample material to work with.

Did you do any research for the book?

Yes, a bit. Mostly little things, though: police officer rankings, what British naval intelligence was called, some stuff about the Russian mafia and their tattoos. If you mess up the small details that can sometimes derail it for the reader who will then find it harder to trust you.

That said, it's a novel, not a dissertation, so there is always going to be some suspension of disbelief required and a few liberties taken by the author. All mistakes are mine and mine alone.

Typical writing day?

It's like the gym: I carve out time and force myself to do it. I have a theory that a lot of writers actually hate the process. I'm lucky in that I like the writing part, especially when you get going and it all starts to click. But the whole getting started part… well, that's always a lot trickier.

When I'm working, I will often have music on or play movies in the background, if only for the company and occasional distraction. Silence has always been off-putting to me, which comes as exactly zero surprise to any of my friends.

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write? Bit of both, I suppose. My original outline for NAPALM HEARTS was much different than the final version I wrote. Lesson learned: Sometimes you have to trust both your characters to guide you, as well as your own instincts when you're in the moment. 

Yes, I know - that's happened to me too! 

So for the second in the series I'm definitely taking a less structured approach. I read something wonderful George Saunders said recently, about not overthinking everything before you sit down to write. He said to do so was to cheat your subconscious from what it give you when you get going. I love that. 

Which writers have influenced your own writing? 

I think we're inevitably influenced by anyone we read, regardless of the medium. So I must acknowledge those whose work I appreciate, whether it's in books, TV, film or comics: Dennis Lehane, Richard Price, Douglas Coupland, Bret Easton Ellis, David Milch, David Mamet, Nic Pizzolatto, Warren Ellis, Mike Schur, Tibor Fischer, Ed Brubaker, Michel Faber.

Finally, any of us who dare put "crime fiction writer" anywhere near a résumé must willingly genuflect to Chandler and Hammet, of course. And they totally deserve it.

What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?

The best part is creating a story that resonates with people. It's probably the most human thing about us, to share stories. We all do it, all the time. Oh man, my boss reamed me out today. Hey, did I ever tell you I was in a band in college? Listen, I'm doing this cleanse and I'm literally gonna die if I don't get a burger. Watch anybody at a party, mingling. We swap tales to get to know each other.

Fiction is the natural extension of our need to share stories. That's why I write. This thing where we make up stories and throw them out into the world is just this wonderful, precious thing we get to do. I've personally decided to use that gift to write trashy detective novels, but what the hell. We don't all get to win a Nobel for Literature.

The worst part is writing a scene that's genuinely well-written, something you love - then realizing it adds nothing to your story, so you have to kill it. Every writer feels like Abraham standing above Isaac in that moment right before you hit 'delete.' 

Now the book is published and ‘out there’ how do you feel?

Relieved. Tired. Slightly anxious. But cautiously optimistic.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Decide if you are willing to put a lot of time and work into something that you may never get any credit for, let alone make money from. If the answer is 'yes,' start. Hell, start small. Aim for a page a day. It adds up fast.

What can we expect from you in the future?

In no particular order:
·         The follow-up to NAPALM HEARTS.
·         A TV pilot script, a dramedy about the day-to-day grind of working in government from the point of view of the people who serve the public every day. A somewhat kinder, gentler The Thick of It, perhaps.
·         Meeting agents.
·         Getting by with a little more exercise and a little less sleep.

Other than that: NAPALM HEARTS may be ordered here.

And please get in touch with me through any of these:

Thanks for having me, Sue!

My pleasure, Seamus. Please come again!