Photo by Jonathan Russell
Craig Russell is the author of the Jan Fabel detective novels and the 1950's Glasgow crime series Lennox. We asked him a few questions ahead of his appearance at this years' BCNegra festival.
You have previously been a policeman on what some people call the most violent beat in Scotland, how does your previous experience inform your writing and do you think it gives you an edge over other crime writers?
There is no doubt that my police experience aids me in the depiction of violence and specifically in accurate descriptions of scenes of violent death, but I really don’t think this gives me any kind of ‘edge’ over other writers of crime. Writing powerful fiction is, after all, an act of imagination and word craft.
That said, like all writers, I cannot separate my life experiences from what I write.
You have recently published The Long Glasgow Kiss featuring your new(ish) Lennox character but are also still publishing Jan Fabel novels, how to you keep the two apart in your head and what made you want to start over with a new protagonist and series?
Lennox and Fabel are so separated by geography, chronology and character that it is very easy to keep them apart in my head. The funny thing is that the characters I create really do live in my head (something I perhaps should not admit to if there is a psychiatrist in the room). Lennox and Fabel are such different people for me.
Lennox came about because I wanted to write something truly, unapologetically noir. Glasgow in the 1950s just leapt out as the ideal location. Lennox himself took form as someone who had a wicked sense of black humour. I cannot tell you how fun he is to write.
Hamburg, where the Fabel books are set, and now Glasgow in the Lennox series play an important part in the books, how significant is setting for you when writing and what research do you do to make it as believable as possible?
The research is intense and continuous. I have been described as a ‘method’ writer and there is some truth in that. Whether it’s contemporary Hamburg or 1950s Glasgow, I totally immerse myself in the location and period. I listen to the music Lennox would listen to when I’m writing a Lennox novel, likewise with Fabel. It’s led to a very eclectic music library! As a result of writing the Lennox novels, I have become a Mel Tormé fan, much to the groans of my teenage children.
I read that you wanted to write a truly definitive noir when starting your Lennox series, what does that mean to you?
Wisecracks, violence, black humour, sexy women, tough men, stylish clothes, dirty dealings, cool cars, double-crossing, triple-crossing… All good stuff!
I love noir and always have. It is so stylish and elegant and has a class all of its own. I would say that my concept of noir is as influenced by movies as it is from novels.
Who in your mind are the best crime writers and do you read other crime novelists?
I actually don’t read much crime at all and my influences come more from outside the genre. The exceptions are Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Jim Thompson.
You've worked as a policeman, a creative director and a freelance writer, did you always want to write novels?
Since I was eight. It just took me a while!
Describe your approach to writing a new series - do you have the character ready before the plot or is it the other way round?
Obviously, the Lennox and Fabel series are both character-driven. The ‘big idea’ is always the situation they are plunged into. I like to think that there is a lot more going on in my books than just a crime story: the historical, cultural and social contexts of a time and place are what I like to explore.
Every novel tends to form around a central ‘Big Idea’: the engine that drives the story. This ‘Big Idea’ is what I hope adds an extra dimension to what I write.
Your character names in the Lennox series all have amusing monikers, how important is humour in your books and do you think there is a place for it in crime writing?
In the the Lennox series there are characters called: Singer, Twinkletoes MacBride, Hammer Murphy, Small Change MacFarlane…
Glaswegians have a unique and very dark sense of humour, and that makes the city ideal for noir. I think there is a real place for humour in crime novels and those without it risk being dreary. Humour is, believe it or not, something one encounters all the time with police officers and others who have to deal with violence and death. It’s a coping mechanism, I suppose.
Your worked has been adapted for the TV, how involved to you get with that process and is it something you think about when you are writing?
The producers have involved me very closely and they are a joy to work with. I know you’d expect me to say that, but it’s absolutely true. They are very faithful to the novels and work hard to preserve my vision. Obviously, there have to be changes to fit the constraints of the medium, but I am always happy that my novels are in good hands.
I don’t, however, think about the adaptation when I’m writing the book. That would be to cheat the reader. My aim is to deliver the best novel I can deliver.
Your books have been translated in many languages, how have you been received in Spain and the rest of Europe?
I am very lucky to have a fantastic Spanish publisher, Roca, who has done a marvellous job in building awareness of my writing across the Spanish-speaking world. And Germany is actually my biggest market. There are so many other territories where the novels have become best sellers: Turkey, for example. I now also have a very highly respected French publisher, Robert Pépin at Calmann-Levy, who is doing a marvellous job with Lennox in France.
I think that the reception my writing has received around the world is the most important thing for me personally. I get messages from fans as far apart as Mexico and Singapore. How cool is that!
Craig Russell will be in conversation alongside David Peace and RJ Ellory on February 2nd, 4pm at La Capella (C/ de l'Hospital 56).