Adrian McKinty e-interviewed by Hilary Williamson (June, 2009)
Adrian McKinty, who is married with two children and lives in Australia, was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1968 and grew up in Carrickfergus, County Antrim. He read law at the University of Warwick and politics and philosophy at the University of Oxford. He moved to the United States in the early 1990s, living first in Harlem, New York and then Denver, Colorado where he began writing fiction. His thrillers include Hidden River, the Dead trilogy (Dead I Well May Be, The Dead Yard, Bloomsday Dead), his YA Lighthouse trilogy, and his latest tour-de-force, Fifty Grand, starring Havana Detective Mercado, a thoroughly engaging new female thriller lead.
Q: You take your thrillers all over the world - from Northern Ireland where you grew up to Harlem, New York and the Rocky Mountains in the US, Cuba, Mexico, Lima, Peru, Spain ... has world travel been an important part of your life?
A: I love travelling, visiting new cultures, having your expectations met or dashed. And more than travelling I like living in new cities and soaking up the atmosphere for a longer period of time. That's been very influential in my writing, even places that I've never written about but lived in for long periods (Jerusalem and Cairo for example) somehow find their way into the way I think about the world. I can't quite say how, but they do.
Q: You write in Dead I Well May Be that 'If someone grows up in the civil war of Belfast in the seventies and eighties, perhaps violence is his only form of meaningful expression' - does that statement refer to your choice of noir thrillers for writing expression as well as to your antiheros' violence?
A: I think if you grow up with an extraordinary level of violence in your everyday life it would be impossible to ignore it in your writing. Certainly it coloured the experience of my entire childhood. Events like The Hunger Strikes made 'normal' existence impossible. Ironically though it was only after I had left Belfast that I realised how strange it was to grow up with daily bombings and bomb scares and nightly terrorist attacks, because when you're a kid and actually living it you somehow just accept it as part of the day to day.
Q: Did growing up in Northern Ireland give you a feeling for underdogs in other areas of the world and influence you to write about them, e.g. the exploitation of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. and those living under a dictatorship in Cuba, both important elements of Fifty Grand?
A: I don't know if it was that or the fact that for my first two years in the United States I was an illegal too, working in bars and on construction crews and really struggling to make a living. Of course most of the people I worked with were Dominicans or Mexicans and I found I had a lot in common with those two cultures and groups of people in particular.
Q: How did you research before writing of Cuban Detective Mercado's border crossing horrors in Fifty Grand?
A: The only way I could. I went down to Juarez and without much trouble found "cayotes" and asked them about their experiences. I made quite a few tape recordings and out of the many hair raising stories they came up with I fictionalised one that approximated to the truth.
Q: Your characters (in the novels I've read at least, Alex in Hidden River and Mercado in Fifty Grand) are deeply stubborn individuals, a typically Irish characteristic - is it one you share?
A: I was until I had children but the kids teach you that other people's priorities and needs are so much more important than your own so its time to grow up and be flexible. Both Alex and Mercado are childless so they'll learn!
Q: You put your leads through the wringer more than once in each of your novels - from Alex and Mercado to Jamie O'Neill of the YA story, The Lighthouse Land - in a style that reminds me of how Martin Cruz Smith treats Detective Arkady Renko. Do you have fun stacking up trials and tribulations for your characters in advance or do they just come to you as you pen the pages?
A: Ha, yes, I certainly do! One of my favourite passages from all my books was in the second volume of the Lighthouse Trilogy, when the kids had prepared this gigantic can't lose battle and then of course it all goes horribly wrong and they're forced to flee up onto a glacier - and then their troubles really begin! Sometimes that stuff can be really fun to write and it does challenge the characters to go deep into the wells of their strength ... but I also like what Michael Forsythe said in Dead - "they say suffering builds character, but not in my case!"
Q: Many of the people you portray in your novels have what you call 'a hunger that needed filled' - do you think this common to the human condition?
A: Once you have food and shelter and companionship you need something to fill that spiritual longing. Nietzsche said that all art, music and culture exists only to distract us from thinking about the inevitability of our own deaths; I don't know if that's entirely the only reason for it, but it is true that art happens everywhere from simple African huts to Mumbai shanties to South Side projects in Chicago.
Q: Your heroes don't have much luck with their women (in Hidden River and the Dead series) nor your heroine with her man in Fifty Grand. Do you enjoy writing complex relationships?
A: I would like to have a happy couple in one of my books. Happiness is definitely harder to write but if you're good it can be done. Some day if I keep working at the craft and I'm really lucky I might one day be able to come up with a happy couple like Mr. and Mrs. Charles in The Thin Man.
Q: Detective Mercado of Fifty Grand is a wonderful new character, strong and stubborn, yet vulnerable in so many ways; do you plan to continue to write about her?
A: I don't know what's next. I'm finishing another YA for Abrams and then my slate is blank. Could be another Mercado, could be something entirely new, I just don't know.
Q: You include reviews of other authors' work in your blog. What are some favorites?
A: In the last year I've really gotten into James Ellroy, David Peace, Colin Bateman and Brian McGilloway. I'm beginning to think that Ellroy might be the greatest living American novelist (not just crime novelist) though who knows what JD Salinger's been up to for the last fifty years?
Q: What are your next writing projects? Can fans look forward to something set in Australia?
A: I'd love to do something in Australia, but I still don't feel I completely understand the culture. I've been here nearly a year now but I'm still getting surprised by slang, food, odd rules and regulations, weird animals ... So I'm not quite confident enough of my bearings to do an Aussie story just yet.Find out more about Adrian McKinty by reading his entertaining Blog, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.
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