Northern Irish author Gerard Brennan, a man who's work I've enjoyed reading more than once was kind enough to suffer a few questions regarding his reading and writing habits......
Is the writing full time? If not, what’s the day job?
Unfortunately, I have a day-job. From 2013-2016, I took a career break and became a creative writing student, which was essentially like being a full-time writer, and I loved it. But I can’t complain too much now either. I work three days a week at a public sector office job. Not one thing about it is interesting, but it doesn’t take up too much of my week, or my thoughts. And it pays some of my bills. I’m ready to jack it in at the whiff of a decent publishing deal, though.
What’s your typical writing schedule?
I try to do a little bit in the evenings on Monday to Wednesday to keep the brain ticking over, then on Thursday and Friday (my days off from the day-job) I do the bulk of my writing for the week. I’ve tried the early morning routine a few times, but I write better in the PM. I can read and edit pretty effectively in the mornings, though. So long as there’s coffee. I generally keep my weekends free, but I’ll use them to play catch-up if I’ve had a bad week. I prefer to spend that time with my family or at the gym when I'm ahead of myself.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
I’m more likely to insert bits of myself into characters, but I have taken inspiration from family and friends. I don’t tell them, usually, but if they read my work and they figure it out, I’ll admit it when they ask me. Usually they’re quite touched. Oh, and I gave my little brother a short cameo in Undercover, but I don’t think he’s read it yet!
You’ve written plays, short stories, novels and novellas, when you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
I’ve tried it both ways. Some books need to be figured out as they go along. But I have plotted out the last few novels. I think police procedurals and thrillers benefit from that kind of planned approach, but a few of my novels don’t fall into that category. One of them, Fireproof, is just plain weird, mostly because I kept making up madder and madder situations as I went along. The result was a horror/comedy-type thing.
I like to change up how I do things. It keeps it all fresh.
Are there any subjects off limits?
I haven’t tackled rape or child abuse in my work. It’s not that I’m dead set against writing about these topics, but I don’t think I’m the right writer for it yet. You spend a lot of time with your novel. I think I’d be an emotional wreck if I went in that direction.
Can you tell us a bit about your published books so far? Is there one you are more proud of than any of the others? Which and why? Which would you press into a reader’s hand ahead of the others?
I’ve mostly written gritty crime books set in Northern Ireland (except for that weird one I mentioned earlier), but I’ve explored the different subgenres within crime. Wee Rockets is a street crime book, Undercover is a thriller. The Point and its sequel are kind of an homage to the Guy Ritchie-style gangster flicks that were popular in the 90s and early 00s. And I’ve written one and a half police procedurals. I’m probably proudest of Wee Rockets if we’re talking about my published titles. I think it says exactly what I wanted it to say to the reader, and it was well-received by most of the people who’ve reported back to me. I just like how the whole thing fell together, so I usually recommend that to new readers. BUT, it might be knocked off its throne if I ever get a publishing deal for the book I wrote during my PhD. Disorder. I don’t love everything I write, but I’ve come pretty close to loving this one. Fingers crossed it sees the light of day.
What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?
Earning a studentship at Queen’s University Belfast and completing a PhD in English. I’d do it all again if I could. Fantastic experience and a ridiculous privilege.
A lot of your work was released through Blasted Heath and they’ve now shut their doors. Are there plans afoot to get the books back out there? Another publisher or the self-publishing route?
I published three novels and three novellas through Blasted Heath, and I’m grateful for the readers they put me in front of. When the rights for the books reverted back to me, I took some time to think about what to do next. In the end, I decided to ask my agent to attempt to place two of the novels, and I’m in the process of self-publishing one novel and the three novellas. It’s kind of an experiment to see which works best for me.
Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
I mentioned Disorder earlier – a book that examines the recreational rioting culture in Belfast – and my agent is also shopping around Shot, a police procedural featuring DS Shannon McNulty of the PSNI. It’s set between Belfast and Warrenpoint, the town I grew up in and wrote about in The Point. I like the small town and city contrast that this created. And to refer back to an earlier question, she’s also a character I based on a personality mix of my wife and my two sisters, all fiercely strong Irish women with a terrific sense of humour. I hope I’ve done them justice.
What’s the current project in progress? How’s it going? I might be mistaken but you seem to have been a bit quiet of late.
It’s the sequel to Shot, titled Drag. It’s going well, but I’m at the stage where I wish the first draft was finished so I can start fixing it. I have at least 25,000 words left to write before I get there, but I know where the story is going and I’m pretty sure this will be the downhill part of the journey. And yeah, I’ve been very quiet lately. Between working on the PhD, returning to the day-job, and putting my faith in my new agent (Hi, Svetlana!) to find homes for all my rough-sleeping manuscripts, my writing career has hit a natural hiatus. A mate of mine described it as taking a small step back for a breather before leaping forward with the next killer combination. We train at a kickboxing gym together, so he’s all about fight analogies.
What’s the best thing about writing?
Checking the word count and finding that you’ve managed to write 2,000 words or more in one session.
Checking the word count and finding that you’ve managed to write 200 words or less in one session.
What are the last five books you’ve read?
Frig. Memory quiz… Okay, in backward chronological order:
The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby
The White Trilogy by Ken Bruen
Dead Harvest by Chris Holm
Ravenheart by David Gemmell
Distress Signal by Catherine Ryan Howard
I think that’s right… Close enough anyway. I’ve definitely read all of the above in the last month or so.
Who do you read and enjoy?
Oh, loads of people. My taste is varied because I’m greedy. The list would be too long and boring. But I’ll give my fellow Norn Irish writers a proper hat-tip, since I’m always entertained by their work. That’d be, Adrian McKinty, Stuart Neville, Steve Cavanagh, Brian McGilloway, Claire McGowan, Anthony Quinn, Kelly Creighton, Jason Johnson… Actually, even that’s a long list. Better leave it at that. Sorry if I’ve missed any of the gang.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Not really. I’m happy to write the books that I’ve thought of myself.
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
Spending time with my wife and kids and training in Muay Thai (kickboxing) and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (grappling) at a local mixed martial arts gym. I’m one of the oldest guys on the mats, and I’ll probably have to hang up the gloves sooner than I’d like to, but I frigging love it, so I’ll put that day off for as long as I can.
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
Split. Saw it at the cinema with Mrs B. We love a good horror/thriller.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Brennan household?
Total addict. When I’m done training there’s nothing I like better than vegging out with a Netflix series. I’m re-watching Spartacus at the minute. Just finished a science fiction show called The Expanse, and I’m looking forward to watching the new episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. My viewing tastes are as varied as my reading tastes. I recommend Vikings, Breaking Bad, True Detective series 1, Top Boy and Archer, off the top of my head.
In a couple of years’ time…
I’ll be writing full-time again.
Many thanks to Gerard for his time....you can catch up with him at his website-cum-blog - Crime Scene NI.
Links to my Brennan reading below...