Paul Brazill is one of the too large number of authors I know well through the Internet but have never met. What makes Paul special is that he lives in Poland, which severely limits the chances of running into him even more.
It’s my loss. Apart from being great fun and a man I’d love to tip a few glasses with, Paul’s a hell of a writer, and prolific to boot. His books include Big City Blues, Too Many Crooks, A Case Of Noir, Guns Of Brixton, The Last Laugh and Kill Me Quick! His writing has been translated into Italian, Polish, Finnish, German, and Slovene and has been published in various magazines and anthologies, including three editions of The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime.
One Bite at a Time: Paul, it’s been too long since we caught up here. What’s been up with you lately?
Paul Brazill: Writing wise, I’ve had three books published this year by the British indie publisher Near To The Knuckle. Too Many Crooks, A Case of Noir, and Big City Blues. A Case of Noir was previously published by the Italian publisher, Lite Editions. Near To The Knuckle will also publish a collection of my flash fiction later this year.
I contributed to Ryan Bracha’s latest project, The Thirteen Lives of Frank Peppercorn, which is a novel in short stories. There are lots of top writers involved.
I’ve also had a veritable cornucopia of flash fiction published online at places like Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Metal Magazine, and Out Of The Gutter Online.
OBAAT: That’s great news. Congratulations. How did you get together with Near to the Knuckle? (Which is a great name for a crime publisher, by the way.)
PB: I’ve known N2TK’s Craig Douglas online for ages via the Near To The Knuckle flashfiction website and a few other online joints. I’ve had yarns in a couple of their anthologies too. When I saw that N2TK were going to publish novellas I knew that I wanted to get on board!
OBAAT: You’re British by birth but have lived in Poland for a long time. How did that come about?
PB: In 2001 I was living in London—I’d lived there for ten years though I’m from the north east of England—and took a sabbatical from work. This included trips to Toulouse and New York and also Madrid, where I did a TEFL course. After I finished the course, I applied for a few jobs and quickly got a job teaching English here in Poland. And here I stay, though I have moved around the country a bit.
OBAAT: Did you speak Polish when you first arrived?
PB: Not a dicky bird! I applied for TEFL jobs in various places as soon as I finished the course and I got the job in Skierniewice, Poland pretty much straight away. Two weeks after that I was living in the country. My Polish isn’t much cop even now, to be honest, since I rarely have to use it. More and more people speak English to a good level.
OBAAT: I know the interest in crime fiction varies quite a bit by country in Europe. France digs it and I’ve heard there’s practically nothing going on in Germany. Is there much of a crime fiction community in Poland?
PB: I don’t know about community but crime is certainly a very popular genre—and there are lots of Polish crime writers, mostly female it seems. Poles seem to favour Nordic noir or similar. Violent and grim! There’s an international crime fiction festival in Wroclaw every year and I’ve seen a few others mentioned too. The one in Wroclaw is the only one that’s in English, I think.
OBAAT: I never get political in an interview and don’t mean to now, but it must have been something to be a Brit living on the Continent when Brexit took place. Leaving politics out of it as much as possible—sorry, I know that’s a loaded question—what did—do—you think of that?
PB: What’s that German word? Schadenfreude. The whole thing seems to have been a case of chaotic, bad improvisation. A bit like the political version of Derek Smalls’ ‘Jazz Odyssey’ in Spinal Tap.
OBAAT: You have your own niche carved out of the crime fiction community. Probably your best-known creation is Roman Dalton, werewolf detective. How did you come up with the idea for Roman?
PB: A few years ago, Katherine Tomlinson was putting together the late lamented Dark Valentine Magazine. She was looking for cross-genre stories. About that time, I was listening to Tom Waits’ song “Drunk on The Moon.” It’s very noir in its feel and of course Tom sounds like a wolf—and he was also in the film Wolfen. So I wrote a yarn about a werewolf detective called Drunk On the Moon. And a few more yarns after that. Roman Dalton is having a bit of a kip at the moment but he’ll be back.
OBAAT: Your current book, Big City Blues, has story lines and characters going every which way: a London detective, a Polish cop, and an American PI. No spoilers, obviously, but what gave you the idea of combining such disparate elements into the same book?
PB: The title is a bit of a clue. I was a big fan of the TV series Hill Street Blues—and later NYPD Blue—they usually had three stories running together at the same time. With Big City Blues, I wanted to up the ante a bit more and change location a couple of times too.
OBAAT: I loved both those shows. Actually I love NYPD Blue in the present tense, as I’ve only started watching it in the past year and I’m still working my way through it. I’ve always been drawn to stories where there’s more than one thing at a time going on, probably ever since I first read Ed McBain. Who are your go-to writers in the genre?
PB: I was first drawn to crime fiction after reading a Charles Shaar Murrey article about Elmore Leonard in the New Musical Express in the ‘80s. I got Stick and Swag from the library and never looked back. After that I mostly read American writers such as Jim Thompson, Joe Lansdale, James Lee Burke and Patricia Higsmith. Since then I’ve given a lot of crime writers a try. These days, Les Edgerton, Tony Black, Eva Dolan, Cathi Unsworth, and Ray Banks are always a pleasure, never a chore. And lesser known writers such as Martin Stanley and Ian Ayris. But there are loads of good writers out there. Far too many to mention.
OBAAT: Do see any direct influences of any of these in your writing? (refers to the authors cited in previous answer: Leonard, Thompson, Lansdale, Burke, Highsmith, Edgerton, Black, et al.)
PB: If it wasn’t for the likes Tony Black, Ray Banks, Charlie Williams, Nick Quantrill and Alan Guthrie, I would never have dabbled with writing myself. They showed me you could set things in a world that I was familiar with and turn them into interesting yarns. The humour in Charlie Williams’ Mangel books was a sure influence, as was Damon Runyon—who I should have mentioned before.
OBAAT: I want to get back to Big City Blues for a bit. With three protagonists and disparate plot elements, how do you keep them straight, or make sure none have been neglected for too long? Did you outline first? Any variance from your typical practice when working on a book?
PB: Big City Blues is very similar to most of my other books—Guns Of Brixton, Too Many Crooks, Cold London Blues—where an oddball cast of characters are thrown together and then we see what will happen. I’ve never outlined but probably should give it a shot at some time!
OBAAT: What can we expect from you next?
PB: Well, as I mentioned, Near To The Knuckle will be putting out my latest flash fiction collection over the next few months. I’m just finished a sort of companion to my ‘seaside noir’ novella Kill Me Quick! (which was published by Number 13 Press). This one’s called Hit The North! And I’ve a few other unfinished projects which I hope I can get moving on! I was thinking of writing a cozy noir about a guilt-ridden canine detective. I’d call it ‘Out, Damn Spot!’