Allan Guthrie’s shit is dark, funny, intense, and more than a little twisted. The author of such novels as Savage Night, Slammer and Hard Man, he’s one of the Nerd’s favorite writers working today, so you better believe I fucking relished the chance to hit him up with some questions about the new e-pub he launched this month with partner Kyle MacRae called Blasted Heath, and Two-Way Split, his ridiculously assured and gleefully noir debut novel that was recently made e-readable. If you haven’t read his shit before, then, you know, fucking do something about it toot-sweet.
NoN: You and Kyle MacRae recently launched an epub called Blasted Heath. How did the partnership with Kyle and the idea for publication come about?
AG: Kyle beat me into submission with a stick until I agreed. Seriously. My left arm’s still in a cast.
NoN: What kind of release schedule are you hoping to keep up?
AG: We launched with six titles and our schedule allows for two or three books per month. It’s pretty ambitious but as long as we balance original titles with previously print-published titles, it’s a manageable schedule. Hopefully!
NoN: Between being an agent, an author, and and an editor for and co-owner of a publishing house, when do you sleep? Is the secret to your productivity simply meth or are there just more days in the week in Scotland somehow?
AG: In 1998 I discovered a way to move between parallel universes. There are actually seven of me in this universe. It’s quite handy.
NoN: You’ve also recently released Two-Way Split, your debut novel, as an ebook. Can you tell us what it’s about?
AG: It’s a noir thriller about a classical-pianist-turned-armed-robber. He has mental health issues and stopped taking his meds a few months ago. The story starts on the morning he finds out that his wife and a fellow gangmember are sleeping together. To make matters worse, they’re all scheduled to rob a post office together later that day. It doesn’t go according to plan.
NoN: Do you recall what inspired the novel? Did you start with a situation or a certain character perhaps?
AG: It began with the first section where we meet Pearce, the ex-con with the strong moral code: he only kills people who deserve it. I wanted to write about a hardboiled sort of character. Most of my male characters are inept in many ways, and I wanted to write about someone who was a little more physically confident. I didn’t have a detailed idea of what he was like but I started writing to find out. That’s usually how I get to know my characters. I didn’t know his first name until two-thirds of the way through the book. (Gordon, btw).
NoN: Tell us something about what you went through to get Two-Way Split published.
AG: I wrote the first part of it in time to enter the CWA Debut Dagger award in 2001 and was lucky enough to be shortlisted. I finished it and then sent it to every agent and publisher under the sun, some of them more than once, and managed to amass an impressive number of rejections over the next couple of years. I was seriously considering self-publishing, a real no-no at the time, but was saved from that perceived ignominy by JT Lindroos who formed PointBlank Press and acquired Two-Way Split as one of the first titles. That was 2004. Still took a long time to find a publisher in my own country. Eventually those brave folks at Polygon took a chance and published it in 2005.
NoN: Was it your first attempt at a novel?
AG: I’d already written a few, including two previous crime novels: The Expurgator’s Son, about a hitman who wants to follow in his dad’s footsteps but is utterly crap at killing people, and Big Dunc’s Hammer, about a big man and his hammer. People who think I write some whacked-out shit these days should sample a few pages of those and see what whacked-out shit really is.
AG: Back then, I wrote pretty quickly. Probably six months or so. But I kept revising, as I do now. So each time I’d send out new submissions, they’d be quite different from previous ones. When they got different enough, I’d stick a different title on them and resubmit to places I’d submitted to before.
NoN: Who did you go to for input in the pre-published days?
AG: I didn’t know any pro writers, so I’m afraid Donna took the brunt. Draft after draft after draft. And she still married me. That’s love, you know.
NoN: Were there many changes needed once you found an editor/agent?
AG: The editor came first: JT Lindroos. And, yes, he helped polish it enormously. People think of JT as an excellent cover designer, and of course he is, but he’s also an excellent editor. Taught me a hell of a lot.
NoN: Two-Way Split, though a zippy-ass read, is stuffed with all kinds of classic crime shit. You have some psycho noir shit in there, a PI, a heist. revenge thriller stuff. It reminds me of watching LA Confidential as a kid (before reading anything of Ellroy’s work, naturally) and thinking that the writer somehow managed to fit everything they like about classic film noir into one work. Was including all these classic elements into one novel a goal as you were writing it or just something that occurred as it went along?
AG: I’d discovered noir not long before I wrote Two-Way Split, and I was jazzed about the genre. So it was definitely intentional to write a noir thriller. And I wanted to contrast the hardboiled character of Pearce with the noir character of Robin. But I didn’t set out to include lots of classic crime elements in the book, I just wrote what I wanted to read. I’m bad that way.
NoN: I’ve always dug how, much like Elmore Leonard’s work, a character who was a supporting character in one novel can show up as the protagonist in a later one. As Two-Way Split was your debut, did you know even back then that you wanted your own universe, a “Guthrie’s Edinburgh” much like a “Pelecanos’ DC?”
AG: I did. At the time, I would probably have referenced Balzac, since he was something of a favourite. Thing is, Balzac didn’t have screen character rights issues to worry about. And I wasn’t aware of them either at that time. So just in case anyone else has the same idea, be warned: having characters who flit from book to book is a major pain in the arse for film. Don’t do it!
NoN: Two-Way Split shows that from the get-go you were a master at the large cast, out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire fuckin’ free-for-all crime story, a plotting style you employed later in works like Hard Man and especially Savage Night. Was that consciously based on certain books or authors you were reading or did it just seem like the right way to do it at the time?
AG: Hard Man wasn’t plotted at all. I started that book with the opening scene in mind, and nothing more. And I just kept writing till it was done. I had to go back and rewrite like a lunatic, mind you. And Savage Night was even worse. I went through over thirty drafts on that one. So, there’s little that’s conscious in those books. Or at least not the first few drafts. I suppose by the time I was writing later drafts I had an idea of what I was trying to do, but I do tend to rely on my subconscious when I’m writing. Or certainly I did for those books. Two-Way Split wasn’t planned either but I had a bit more of an idea of what might happen, I think.
NoN: Any word on the movie adaptation front for Two-Way Split?
AG: Yes, it’s been in development with Plum Films for six or seven years, but it’s now part-financed and looking healthier than ever. Having faith in a movie getting made is never a good idea until it actually goes into production. But I think we can be cautiously optimistic it might finally happen next year.
NoN: Did you resist the temptation to make any adjustments to the novel when putting it into the ebook format?
AG: Hell, no. But I did resist the urge to make big changes. Unlike certain other books. A few months back I started tinkering with a novella, Kill Clock, and before I knew it I was rewriting everything, down at the sentence level. It’s 20% longer. Still haven’t finished it.
AG: I sub-licensed my Kindle rights from my UK publisher, so I have control over the publication of those. I’ve published Slammer. It’s out now, revised text. That edition is available for anyone who doesn’t live in the US. Savage Night will be next. Cover’s ready, really nice one too. I’m just doing a small edit first. Hard Man and Kiss Her Goodbye will follow, with the latter being available in the US as well. I don’t control the US digital rights to Slammer, Savage Night or Hard Man, however, so what happens with those is up to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
NoN: Any books or movies you’ve caught lately we should be looking out for?
AG: There are some excellent books available from these new digital publishers, Blasted Heath. Last movie I’ve seen that’s stayed with me is a Korean gangster movie called Breathless (Ddongpari), about a debt collector who makes Pearce look like a wuss. Violence and heartache aplenty. Highly recommended.