I am excited to bring you my interview today with author Des Burkinshaw as, not only did I love his previous ‘Porter and the Gliss’ book Dead and Talking, but I am on the tour for his sequel, Miniskirts are Murder, later this month!
Before I hand you over to my earlier self and Des for our book-related Q&A, here is a sneak peek at the upcoming book:
Blurb: Porter Norton, his friends and his sarcastic spirit guide, The Gliss, are on the trail of a young actress who went missing in Soho, London, in the Swinging Sixties. Still recovering from their last adventure in the battlefields of WW1, the gang are confronted by a transatlantic conspiracy.
Over to Des Burkinshaw now, for his thoughts on reading and writing, and some insider info about his own books…
As a writer:
Do you have any writing quirks / odd writing habits?
Stephen King said it’s really important to have a space you can call your own to write in. Through trial and error I have discovered that I write most productively sitting in the cold outside a coffee shop for three hours at a time. Bonkers really as I have a perfectly nice home office, but maybe I associate that too much with my day job running a small video production company.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I’m a musician. I have two albums out as theghostorchestra, released my first ever solo album as The Black Flames in January and have a second one due out in February 2021. All these are available on Spotify, Apple etc. Not surprisingly, most of my songs are story songs. I’m currently also mastering a double album of instrumental TV/Film themes that I record under my alter ego of Romano Chorizo.
What do you most love and/or hate to write?
The ending. Miniskirts are Murder will be my second published novel. However, I also wrote an experimental trilogy under a pen name last year (I’m not saying under what name!), and a book of stories from my 25 years in the media. The books write themselves until the end when my editor says I’m too keen to tie up every loose end, so all 6 have been through many rewrites.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I do read the reviews because my professional life as a journalist and film-makers means that critique and feedback are a daily part of my life. I’ve found 130 reviews of Dead & Talking online and across all the main booksites it’s still averaging 5 stars – just a handful of 4 stars and one 3 star. That’s healthy validation but I also take on board constructive criticism. You can’t please everyone, but it’s good to know what people think.
More importantly, the first book was read about 2000 times. I don’t think that would have happened without the bloggers and readers who took the trouble to review it. I’d love to have more readers but most marketing tools are still reliant on the reviews. I have tried to reach out to everyone who has reviewed me so far (you can’t leave feedback on Amazon unfortunately) to say how much I valued their time and feedback.
As a reader:
What is your favourite book (other than your own!)?
The first proper novel I read was Pride and Prejudice. It blew my mind aged 13. Last time I read it I thought it was even better. Austen was truly ahead of her times.
Which author do you feel deserves more love than they get?
That’s very, very easy. Christopher Fowler, author of the quite incredible Bryant & May books. He’s pro published and has 19 titles in the series which may make them sound rushed, but the first one was more than 20 years ago. Dark, witty, erudite, with some of the best characterisation I’ve ever read; a group of peerless crime books in which London is the third main character. I’ve read 1,000+ crime novels including all the main series writers, but no-one is even close to him IMHO. By coincidence, the audiobooks are the best audiobooks I’ve heard too because they are read by actor Tim Goodman, who gives every character a unique and spot-on voice. Apart from Holmes, Bryant and May are the only crime books I’ve re-read many times. The plots are intricate, but the characters are peerless. Want to start them? Book 2 is the best place: The Water Room.
What was your favourite book as a child?
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as a teenager and, by golly, Douglas Adams’ influence should be felt in my work. As an actual child, it was the Narnia series.
What book is top of your TBR pile right now?
I’m researching book 3 in the series at the moment, so lots of books about America in the early 60s. Case Closed by Gerald Posner is next, a re-read but it is hands down the best of the 30+ books I’ve read on JFK. Fictionwise, I’m about to start book four of the late Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series – Philip Marlowe updated to Nazi Germany.
With regards to THIS book:
One of my favourite aspects of Dead and Talking, the first book in your Porter and the Gliss series, was the characterisation; even the side characters (Feng, Namita, Karin) were distinct and memorable. Will they all be returning in this next book, and will we be meeting more paranormal characters too, like The Gliss?
Oh yes, they are very much a gang now. In fact, book 2’s central mystery stems from one of them, not Porter at all, though of course, he bears the brunt of the investigation because of his gift.
I felt like I made a bit of a mistake in book 1, but I only became aware of it after the book was out: by setting the crime in World War 1 there had to be a supernatural conclusion. However, all four members of the gang are sceptics and like you and I. This time I made sure there was someone living they could bring to justice.
Book one dealt with the traumatic experiences in the trenches of WWI, and I note from the blurb that this book will be set in London’s ‘Swinging Sixties’. With a main character that can access pretty much any era, due to his gift/curse, what particularly appealed to you about these eras? Did you use any real-life stories for inspiration, or draw mainly upon your imagination?
A lot of people thought the WW1 scenes in book one were very realistic. They should be: I read a dozen books of first-hand accounts in the run-up to writing. Most of the main plot points turn on historical events that really happened.
When I was a kid, one of my favourite films was Jack Lemmon’s How to Murder Your Wife. I rewatched it last year and it is sexist claptrap, but the thing I took from it at the time was that Lemmon played a famous newspaper cartoonist who drew a spy series. But he acted out all the scenes and his butler, Terry Thomas, photographed him so that the drawings were based on real life. I vowed then that when I wrote my first novel I would do the same. And I did.
I went to Flanders to make a film for the government about the role of colonial soldiers in the British Army. I got dragged around many sites not open to the public. You may remember the scene featuring a barn on a farm that had been a WW1 field hospital? I changed the name to protect the family who now own it, but, yes, I have been in that barn in the dark. It was eerie and uncomfortable. The academic I was filming cried at the thought of the tens of thousands who had been treated there.
This book’s central mystery is set in the Swinging Sixties. That has been my obsession since I was a kid. My job has given my amazing access to many of the big names from those days – musicians, actors, criminals – and to a large degree, I’ve been researching this one all my life. For example, I’ve interviewed (and jammed and eaten with!) people like McCartney, Michael Caine, Mary Quant, Charlie Kray, Mad Frankie Fraser, Brian Wilson, Nancy Sinatra, Roy Wood, Justin Heyward. As a journalist I also spent a lot of time with old cops. One of my best friend’s dad investigated the umbrella poisoning of a Bulgarian dissident in the 80s, and yes, I quizzed him about all of that.
As a consequence of book 1, I was asked to write a screenplay based on the 60s memoirs of Simon Napier Bell who managed Marc Bolan, the Yardbirds and, later, George Michael. We’ve been delayed by Covid, but we’re about to get on with working on a 6-parter for Netflix or Amazon. If nothing else, we’re going to make a posh pilot.
When we first meet Porter, he is struggling with his mental health and thoughts of self-harm/suicide, yet you manage to maintain the balance between this sensitive subject and the overall light-hearted tone of the story. Is the series set retain that sense of humour, or darken in tone as the characters get deeper into the world of supernatural murder investigation?
Everyone deals with things differently. When I was in my late 20s I went through that. I’m so British (though Cosmopolitan) and bottled everything up and joked my way through a period that could have killed me (I’m only here because I didn’t take enough pills, not because I wanted to be here). In my case, the second I woke up I knew I wanted to live. I’m extremely lucky to have had that revelation and move on. I’m now happily married with an amazing 13 year old daughter. Sadly, not all my friends were so lucky.
So yes, I tried to be sensitive, but in a sense, the whole of Porter’s investigation in book 1 is a practical solution to his depression. He’s in a much better frame of mind in the second book, though again, a couple of people who’ve been thoroughly traumatised in Book 2, unfortunately take their own lives.
Is there anything else you would like new readers to know before they dive on into your book?
I’ve been writing all my life, professionally. I arrogantly thought that I would find it easier than some to find an agent. I did get great responses, but they all said the same thing: this is brilliant, but which shelf does it go on?
This was a shock to me as the cross-genre of mine isn’t jarring, to me anyway: a normal bunch of people get involved in solving a historical injustice. They’re all sceptics. They find it hard to believe that they’re caught up in Porter’s supernatural side. So is Porter!
In that sense it’s a straightforward naturalistic thriller. Many of my BBC colleagues said my first book would make a great TV series and I think that might be the problem. Readers and publishers tend to know their genre and tropes. Books have to fit within them. TV is much freer – look at a crazy series like Dirk Gently – yes, Douglas Adams got it published then, but a newbie submitting would have no chance. But as a TV show you don’t care that the genre drifts.
I don’t know what you thought, but I thought Dead & Talking could be read by anyone who likes thrillers or the darkly comic. As it also has a literary side, I’d have just stuck in the contemporary fiction section, but what do I know! To me, my books have more in common with The 100 Year Old Man who Jumped Out the Window than Stephen King or James Herbert.
Thank you for these insights and the book recommendations, Des – personally, I am horrified I haven’t checked out Christopher Fowler before and will remedy that omission immediately! I was particularly interested in your last point, too, about the marketing perils of crossing genres, as most of my favourite reads tend to be cross-genre or un-pigeonhole-able. I do enjoy having my expectations subverted and exceeded! I look forward to catching up with Porter and the Gliss and co. very soon.