My interview with Arco Van Ieperen. 

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On Saturday 22 September, I took part in the Festiwalu Literatury Wielorzecze  in the town of  Elbląg here in Poland. Nick Sweeney and I were interviewed by Arco Van Ieperen.   Radek Obuchowski translated. Here is a version of that interview that I thought some of you might enjoy.

Why did you choose the genre of Crime Fiction for your novels and short stories?

Well, maybe the genre chose me? I started writing regularly in 2008, after discovering online flash fiction sites – most of which were crime fiction focused. A Twist Of Noir, Powder Burn Flash, Beat to A Pulp. That said, it’s also an area of writing I’ve always enjoyed. Crime fiction covers a multitude of fictional sins and – outside the mainstream – allows for odd character studies – from Jim Thompson to Patricia Highsmith to Damon Runyon and more.

What are the difficulties in getting short stories and novels published nowadays? It is different from, say, twenty years ago in your opinion? Do you think it’s easier to get published in a major language such as English than in a less popular language like Polish?

I’d never even considered writing – well, never finished anything – in the good old bad old days of publishing, but my scattershot attempts at storytelling conveniently coincided with the rebirth of indie publishing – most of which is in English. It looks like it’s even harder to get published by the Big 6 these days. Publishing is a business, after all.  And business doesn’t like risk. If you write in Polish, you’re only going to get published in Poland in the beginning. But the success of Scandi Noir shows that it’s possible to do well when translated into English. I’m not sure why Polish writers haven’t cracked that market, to be honest.

Humour is an important element in your novels and short stories – what is the function of humour in your work?

I write about people. People in extreme situations. People at odds with life, their frailty. As Charlie Chaplin said. “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”

You mainly write short stories and novellas. A Case of Noir, although it has the same protagonist throughout the book, reads like a series of short stories. Do you prefer shorter forms of fiction to longer novels, or is it only a question of time before you write a longer work?

I started writing via Six Sentences- tell a story in six sentences – and the stories got longer, so a novel is probably on the horizon.  A Case Of Noir is indeed a series of short stories that I did for a now defunct Italian publisher but they’re stitched together with a rusty needle and a loose thread.

 In an interview with David Nemeth you said that you “have already written more than most people need.” Do you think the crime fiction market is saturated or and does that discourage you from writing more, or do you give in to the constant need to write more?  

I was joking- a bit- in that I’m well aware that my stuff has little chance of mainstream success. You’d think that the crime fiction market would already be saturated but reports of its death have clearly been exaggerated. I’ll keep plodding on doing my own thing, whatever.

Your work is readily recognisable as British fiction, regarding vocabulary, slang and subject matter. What makes British fiction different from its American counterpart in your opinion?

Maybe our sense of absurdity. It’s something we relish in many ways. American’s are sometimes chastised for lacking irony but I think it’s just that they can be painfully sincere.

 I’ve read that you played the bass in a number of bands in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Your work is filled with references to music, musicians and lyrics. How important is music for you and what role does it play in your fiction?

It’s probably because I’m too idle to stretch to far outside the parameters of my own experience. But life always has a soundtrack, doesn’t it?

I know it’s a tedious question as I’ve been asked myself hundreds of times but: Why Poland?

Unlike Groucho Marx, I’ll join any club that will have me as a member! After I finished my TEFL course, I applied for lots of jobs in lots of places and a school in Poland were on of the first to answer. It seemed churlish to say no.

Has living abroad affected your writing in any way? Is it easier to write about your home country from a distance?

For sure it’s a view askew. Discombobulation is its own reward.

 I truly enjoyed your novel Last Year’s Man, which of course is this year’s book. Could you tell us something about the story and how it came about, without providing too many spoilers, of course?

The big influence was the British comedian Tony Hancock, and also Takeshi Kitano.  A sense of resignation to time moving on. An existential shrug of saying – ‘Stone Me, What A Life!’ And the fool’s errand of nostalgia.

Alcohol and drugs play a significant role in your work. Characters are often drunk or hungover, or drinking to stop being hungover. Do you think it reflects the crime scene and/or the ex-pats scene, or is it more of a Marlowian mood setting that you aim for, a wink to the noir from the forties and fifties?

Well, it’s never a great stretch! For sure the shadow of those tropes is cast, but it’s more about writing about people I know and situations I’ve known or know of. And most heavy drinkers are hopelessly deluded. Unholy fools. Which is great for absurdist noir fiction. As I’ve said before, crime fiction is about bringing order to chaos and noir is about bringing chaos to order.  So ….

Brit Grit on the Laikonik Express

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Brit Grit on the Laikonik Express – na Wielorzeczu po angielsku.

On Saturday 22 September, I’ll be taking part in the Festiwalu Literatury Wielorzecze  in the town of  Elbląg here in Poland. I’ll be chatting with Nick Sweeney and  Arco Van Ieperen.   Radek Obuchowski will translate.

Here’s some more information about the gig, in Polish:

Po raz pierwszy w historii Festiwalu Literatury Wielorzecze zapraszamy Państwa na spotkanie autorskie z pisarzami anglojęzycznymi. To prawdziwa gratka dla filologów oraz miłośników kryminałów.

Rozmowę z Paulem D. Brazzilem i Nickiem Sweeney’em poprowadzi Arco Van Ieperen. Brit Grit on the Laikonik Express 22 września o godz. 18 w Bibliotece Elbląskiej. Spotkanie tłumaczyć będzie Radek Obuchowski. Zapraszamy serdecznie. Wstęp wolny.

Nick Sweeney mieszka w Londynie, pracuje jako niezależny pisarz, redaktor oraz muzyk. Jego opowieści zostały opublikowane w wielu czasopismach takich jak Ambit, Eunoia Review, In-flight, Writing Raw. Powieść Laikonik Express opowiada o Polsce, śniegu, wódce oraz podróżowaniu pociągiem bez powodu. Została opublikowana przez Unthank Books w 2011 roku. Jego krótka opowieść ‘Traffic’ została nagrodzona drugim miejscem w konkursie V.S. Pritchett Memorial Award w 2015 roku. Twórczość jest głównie inspirowana Europą Wschodnią i jej obywatelami oraz historią.

Paul D. Brazill urodził się w Hartlepool (Anglia), lecz obecnie mieszka w Bydgoszczy. Jest autorem Cold London Blues, Guns Of Brixton, Kill Me Quick!, A Case of Noir, Last Year’s Man oraz Small Time Crimes. Jego teksty ukazały się w wielu czasopismach i antologiach, m.in. The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime (część 8, 10 i 11). Jest również redaktorem kilku antologii, w tym bestsellerowej True Brit Grit (której współredaktorem jest Luca Veste). Jego prace zostały przetłumaczone na język włoski, polski, fiński, słoweński oraz niemiecki. Prowadzi popularnego bloga pauldbrazill.com oraz jest nauczycielem języka angielskiego.

Dominika Lewicka-Klucznik, Stowarzyszenie Alternatywni

Nick Sweeney is at Polski Noir

polski noir t-shirtTRANSAKCJA – NICK SWEENEY (PRZEŁ. ALEKSANDRA GUZIK)

‘Witek Galicki nie mógł tego wieczoru nazwać sukcesem. Kobieta uśmiechnęła się w sposób, który można by wziąć za zachętę, ale Witek zsunął się z niej delikatnie i uniósł rękę w przepraszającym geście. Odwrócił się tyłem i przysiadł na brzegu łóżka. „Nieudana transakcja” pomyślał.’

Read the rest here.

Recommended Read: Laikonik Express by Nick Sweeney

Laikonik ExpressNolan Kennedy teaches English in Istanbul. One day, Kennedy, the son of an unsuccessful American  Beat writer, accidentally finds out that  Don Darius, his main boozing partner, has been secretly writing a novel – and a bloody good one it is, too.  But Don has already upped sticks to Poland  so Keenedy decides to track him down. Kennedy’s fool’s errand soon melts into Don Darius’ own romantic quest.

Nick Sweeney’s Laikonik Express is a marvelous novel  that is full of warmth and charm.  Although the young protagonists are a touch pretentious and overly earnest it’s still a pleasure to spend time in their company.  The real strength of Laikonik Express, however, is its rich supporting cast of people and places. Highly recommended.

Grab Exiles: An Outsider Anthology for only 99p/ 99c!

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Exiles

To celebrate the latest ALIBI  noir festival in Slovenia, EXILES: AN OUTSIDER ANTHOLOGY is currently only 99c / 99p!

A powerful Noir short story collection edited by the Bukowski of Noir, Paul D. Brazill. Exiles features 26 outsiders-themed stories by some of the greatest crime and noir writers, K. A. Laity, Chris Rhatigan, Steven Porter, Patti Abbott, Ryan Sayles, Gareth Spark, Pamila Payne, Paul D. Brazill, Jason Michel, Carrie Clevenger, David Malcolm, Nick Sweeney, Sonia Kilvington, Rob Brunet, James A. Newman, Tess Makovesky, Chris Leek, McDroll, Renato Bratkovič, Walter Conley, Marietta Miles, Aidan Thorn, Benjamin Sobieck, Graham Wynd, Richard Godwin, Colin Graham, and an introduction by Heath Lowrance.

Exiles Guest Blog: How I got to The Place of the Dead by Nick Sweeney

cropped-exiles-artizan.jpgThe Djma el Fnaa is Marakech’s central square. By a linguistic quirk, its name can be translated as either ‘the Mosque of Nowhere / Nothing’ or ‘the Place / Assembly of the Dead’. It was too good a title not to use for a story, and several people have indeed beaten me to it in the 25 years since I thought of it, and done that. It’s a market place by day, but at night turns into a circus of a place, full of performers, storytellers, hustlers, vendors, snake bullies – they don’t charm them at all – musicians, dancers, pickpockets, some plying their trade only because of the tourists, and some just because they always have. As noted in my story, our guide book described it as ‘the most exciting place in all of Africa’, a ridiculous claim that I make a character address briefly, and somewhat flippantly.

My first wife and I spent five weeks in Morocco in July and August 1989. I’d been there about two weeks before I got to Marakech. I was used to the hustlers by then, which didn’t make them any less wearying. They didn’t want all your cash, just some. They weren’t bad people, just hungry, jobless – just bored, maybe. They weren’t begging; you couldn’t cut to the chase by paying them to go away. None of this stopped it being tedious, though, especially when you knew that you would extricate yourself from it only for it to start up again a few minutes later, a different bloke, same spiel.

A friend of mine had travelled in Morocco the previous year. He’d lost his rag with a hustler in some small town, told him to fuck off. After that, the man and his pals followed him around for the rest of his stay, saying, “You don’t say ‘fuck off’ in this town,” and making slit-your-throat gestures at him. They camped in his hotel lobby, occupied tables in every restaurant he went to. They said, “See you later, alligator,” each time he managed to get away, or when they had to go home for their tea. They were probably just having a laugh, labouring a point, or really had nothing else to do. When my friend gave up on that town, this entourage escorted him to the bus station. It was their last chance to slit his throat. Though he’d got used to it as a charade of sorts by then, a performance, he was glad to get on the bus. An old man boarded, shuffled and wheezed up the aisle and sat down, turned to my friend and grinned and said, “See you later, alligator,” not knowing it was  a goodbye and not a greeting; it was just some stray English, offered in friendship. It only freaked my friend out a little, I think.

So I knew not to tell the hustlers to fuck off, even though I wanted to sometimes. I said I was not interested in making a financial contribution to their ventures, at that moment – maybe I’d bore them into going away. But Moroccans are polite and patient, mostly. (One man was the exception, aggressively accused my wife of acting like ‘a Jew’. “There’s a very good reason for that,” she informed him, somewhat dangerously, but her actual Jewishness was beside the point he was trying to make. He was a carpet seller, though, a breed apart.)

It sounds like I had a bad time in Morocco, but in fact I enjoyed most of my time there – you can’t spend five weeks anywhere and have every single moment be a joy. I’m reminded of a scene in Nicolas Roeg’s 1980 film Bad Timing: a couple in a fractious relationship are in the Djma el Fnaa, and the woman chides the man for his petty obsession over some aspect of their life together. “Look at where we are,” she reminds him. I’ll probably never go back to Morocco, so I’m glad I didn’t let anybody, even an anti-Jewish carpet seller, spoil it for me. Why am I talking about all this, then?

The answer is that a story isn’t made up of the nice things in life. I’m also not a travel writer, and any guide book can describe the brilliance of Morocco better than I can – just as a postcard seller can supply a better photo of its monuments than I’ll ever take. I’ve tried to reflect Marakech’s atmosphere in The Place of the Dead, but it’s not a story about Moroccans. Think of the crowded streets I show in my tale; most of the people in them were unaware of us, and if they were aware, they were leaving us alone. As per the brief of this anthology, the story is about foreigners, outsiders, and how they might behave out of their comfort zones.

The couple in my story is not based on me and my first wife, nor on any of the many people we met. A few of the incidents described happened, such as the frustrating, lengthy journey at the opening of the story, the conversations with hustlers, the sunglasses that attracted a pint-sized opportunist, the constant assumption that we’d want an English newspaper, and watching that exciting ending to the 1989 Tour de France, a race that is often done and dusted in its last few days, and like watching paint dry. They are all only background, though. None of them make a story. The heart of the story is the people in it, and how they conduct themselves when faced with certain choices, and how their lives will be affected by those choices, and by their actions and reactions.

You can see more of my short stories on my website, The Last Thing the Author Said. Laikonik Express is my first novel, published by Unthank Books, and is a comic look at friendship and a quest, a road novel on rails, a sober look at the world of post-1989 Europe through a shot glass full of vodka.

(You can grab Exiles: An Outsider Anthology here)