Monday, November 7, 2011
No Rules: RAY BANKS
It took me a long time to write this introduction for RAY BANKS. I kept writing stuff that sounded really gushing, or really fawning, and frankly I was making myself a little nauseous. The thing is, I really admire Banks a great deal and found it really hard to write an intro about him that sounded level-headed and cool.
Let's just stick to the facts, then. He hails from Scotland. He's one of the best, period.
RAY BANK's novels about Cal Innes are required reading if you want a sense of what can be done with the modern P.I., and for those who find Ian Rankin a bit long-winded (which I do), Bank's concise voice and relentlessly tight plotting are a welcome antidote.
His new (well, kind of new) book is called DEAD MONEY, and it's one of the first releases (along with Anthony Neil Smith's ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS) to be put out by the brand-spanking-new BLASTED HEATH.
I'm very pleased to introduce... RAY BANKS.
Back to the Drawing Board
Here's the thing, as much as I believe that you should reread books as often as you can, that belief doesn't extend to my own. Don't get me wrong, if you fancy poring over the Innes novels, looking for all manner of non-existent intellectual subtext (or - the more likely scenario - barely-concealed dick jokes), you be my guest and God love you for it. But as far as I'm concerned, once a book of mine staggers out there like a pisshead on dole day, it's on its own. I don't pick the bugger up again until I'm forced (and I do have to be forced) to do a reading, and even then I'll try to pick something from near the start, so I don't have to read too much of my own book.
It's not that I don't have confidence in the finished product, you understand. It's just that going over old stuff tends to be a rather frustrating exercise in what-ifs and could-have-beens - for all you manage to smother some of the book's problems, there are always others prancing in the wings, and they don't make their unfettered, moronic presence known until it's too late.
And tinkering with a "finished" book is a dangerous game. Unless you keep a cautious eye on proceedings you can end up compounding the old flaws with new ones, and then you're right up the creek. There's a reason, after all, why most director's cuts rarely work better than their theatrical counterparts - in the rush to fix things, a lot of creative types fix things that didn't need to be fixed.
So it may come as a surprise to those few of you who bought my debut The Big Blind to read the following blurb for my new one, Dead Money:
Double-glazing salesman Alan Slater is in trouble. He hasn't had a good sales lead in months. His wife rightly suspects him of playing around. His best mate Les Beale has turned into a bigoted, boozed-up headcase. And that's the least of it.
When a rigged poker game has fatal consequences, Alan finds himself not only responsible for the clean-up, but also for Beale's escalating debt to a man who won't take "broke" for an answer. As Beale's life spirals out of control, he becomes ever more desperately reliant on Alan to save his skin.
But Alan isn't about to be dragged into the gutter by anyone, least of all his bad-beat, dead money former mate.
After all, there's no such thing as a compassionate double-glazing salesman.
Now, unless you're already drunk - and it's after ten in the morning, so who isn't? - you could be forgiven for thinking I've just rebadged The Big Blind and foisted it upon the general public as a means to extract money for old rope. But you'd be (mostly) wrong. I'll admit, yes, my original aim was to re-release The Big Blind as an ebook earlier this year, but when I came to format the fucker (ah, the joys of formatting), I came to the clammy realisation that The Big Blind was sorely lacking in the old quality department.
I don't mean to have a pop at either the original publishers or the people who bought and liked The Big Blind. Indeed, my editor on that book has just had the misfortune to edit it again this time around - he's a glutton for punishment, obviously. As are those of you who buy it again. But things change, and The Big Blind is very much a novel of its time, reflective of the kind of deeply inexperienced yet admittedly passionate writer I was seven-eight years ago. So I couldn't in good conscience allow it out in public just in case someone thought it was brand new, hated it, and then went on to tell everyone they knew that this Banks fella was a fuckin' joke.
Hey, it happens. The Internet is dangerous and dark, and no place for a dewy-eyed, wandering ego.
And so I did the one thing I always said I wouldn't do - I tinkered. That tinkering turned into revision, which then turned into me rewriting the whole bloody thing from scratch. The book became wider in scope and, perversely, shorter in length. I took some of the less flattering comments people made about The Big Blind under advisement. I sorted out some of the plot elements that continued to bug me years later. I tried to think of The Big Blind as a first draft - some good stuff in there, but plenty of work still to do - and one of the reasons I changed the title was because it became a different book. Alan Slater is a couple of years older and now married, Les Beale's casual racism is now more than a character tic, and one of the main characters is of a different ethnicity. On a technical level, I got rid of most of the musical references and - a relatively new obsession of mine - most of the dialogue tags. And what I ended up with (and subsequently dumped on Blasted Heath's doorstep) was less a director's cut than another draft.
Or, as my fellow Blasted Heathen Anthony Neil Smith put it, Dead Money is the Desperado to The Big Blind's El Mariachi. Except, of course, that The Big Blind is now out of print, so if you're one of the dozens who own a copy, congratulations - you now have the only "rare" Ray Banks book. As for the rest of you filthy degenerates, I can only promise you what I promise everyone who buys one of my books - it may not be good, but at least it's short.