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Thursday 15 November 2018

Alan Glynn: His Dark Places

Alan Glynn is a man of many talents. Not only has he written two superb novels, one of which has been optioned in Hollywood, he has also, in writing the prophetic novel Winterland, pretty much single-handedly caused the crippling Irish recession.

"Oooops," he says, "sorry about that. But you're right, the first draft of Winterland was written during the boom, although I don't think I was trying to predict anything or be Cassandra-ish. I did revise it in the light of what has happened more recently, but the central concern, or target, of the story is something that applies equally in times of boom or bust -- which is that all-too-familiar dynamic in Irish life where people tell lies, cover them up and create all sorts of collateral damage, sometimes spread out over decades, and never take responsibility."

Living now in Terenure, where he is married with two sons, Glynn was born in Drumcondra, and educated "by nuns, Christian Brothers and Jesuits, which I somehow survived". Later he went to Trinity College to study English Literature. "That wasn't a very practical career option, but since writing is the only thing I've ever wanted to do, it made perfect sense at the time."

Winterland -- recently blurbed by George Pelecanos as 'a terrific read' -- ties together the worlds of business, crime and politics in an unusually accurate depiction of dirty old Dublin.

"I know Dublin better than I know anywhere else," says Alan, "so getting it right was important. For Irish readers, I hope it is convincingly familiar and for international readers I hope it simply rings true. But I didn't think about it too much. My first published novel, The Dark Fields, was set in New York and that was based on having lived there for five years. That kind of close familiarity with a place is all you need, really, and if you trust your instincts it should come out right."

The Dark Fields was published in 2001, and optioned by a Hollywood studio a few months later, although it was only earlier this year that the movie production's lights turned green.

"It was very exciting when the book was optioned," he says with a grimace, "but that was over seven years ago. The movie has come very close to being made a couple of times, but then fallen apart. It's a bit like snakes-and-ladders, so I don't get too excited about it anymore. I'll only believe it has happened when I'm sitting in the Savoy with an empty tub of popcorn in my lap and the end credits are rolling."

Hollywood's latest bright young thing Shia LaBeouf was slated to play the lead role, but had to back out after a broken arm sustained filming Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull forced him to rework his commitments. Utterly depressing news -- or so you'd think.

"I can say this now," he says, "but Shia LaBeouf was wrong for the part, way too young. The current status is actually pretty positive, though, and it looks as if they'll finally follow through. Watch this space."

So will we be losing Alan Glynn to the bright lights of Hollywood?

"No chance. It's too sunny for me out there. In my remote and very limited experience of the movie world it all seems to be about interminable waiting, negotiating 'deal points', whatever they are, and ego trips -- which isn't very conducive to getting any real work done."

Glynn was one of 16 crime writers who featured in the recent Books 2009 Festival, 14 of whom were Irish crime writers. Why the sudden explosion in Irish crime writing?

"I think it's partly a product of the boom times, which is the perfect breeding ground for excess, corruption and sociopathic behaviour. Also, this generation of writers has grown up on Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke, Ian Rankin and others, so there's a sense that there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to do this too. On top of that, crime fiction tends to facilitate pure unalloyed storytelling, and that's something we've traditionally been very good at."

And what of our own Dublin writers -- who inspires Alan Glynn?

"James Joyce is still the Big Daddy. The clarity and precision and subtlety of Dubliners is unparalleled and seems to get better with age -- its and one's own. Flann O'Brien, too. My first readings of At Swim Two Birds and The Third Policeman in the mid-70s were like religious revelations, huge building blocks in forming my imagination."

Winterland has already received rave reviews from writers such as John Connolly, Val McDermid, RJ Ellroy, Ken Bruen and George Pelecanos. That must be nice, no?

"It's amazing. With six novels written and only two published, I've had a lot of rejection and disappointment over the years, and your confidence can take quite a serious bruising. So for someone with the stature of Pelecanos, say, to weigh in like that is great. It energises you and makes you want to do better."

Finally, if Alan Glynn today could give the Alan Glynn of 10 years ago one piece of career advice, what would it be?

"Three, 5, 19, 23, 24, 38, bonus number 41. Failing that, it'd be: 'Don't sit around waiting for the phone to ring or for people to get back to you. Don't worry about what people will think. Just get on with the work.'" HQ

Alan Glynn's Winterland is published next month by Faber and Faber, €16.99

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