Ever since I studied an American Noir module at Queen’s University, I have been a devotee to No Alibis book shop, located on Botanic Avenue. This independent, crime specialist, book shop is a haven for all book lovers. The owner, David Torrans, is always welcoming, and if you are looking for something in particular or just browsing, he is always at hand with a spot on recommendation. As well as stocking a fabulous selection of titles, the shop also hosts regular events, from book launches to live music. Tonight No Alibis hosted Mark Billingham, who was launching his new book Die of Shame, in conversation with fellow novelist John Connolly.
When I arrived, it was standing room only. As well as fans of both Mark Billingham and John Connolly, fellow crime authors Stuart Neville and Steve Cavanagh were also in attendance.
No Alibis does not do by the numbers book launches. It always offers something that little bit different and that bit more intimate. Rather than having Mark read from his book followed by a Q&A with the audience, the conversational element with John Connolly allowed the discussion to flow organically, and created a fun element to the night’s proceedings as it was evident that these two are well acquainted.
When Connolly asked about whether Billingham, who has a background in acting and comedy, felt the same rush from writing, Billingham replied: “Writing is a performance: a different kind of performance. Today writers have to sell themselves as much as the book.” Bellingham laughingly pooh poohed the idea of writers who claim they write for themselves, stating: “I write to be read. When I’m writing, there’s almost an invisible reader standing over my shoulder.”
Whilst listening to Connolly and Billingham riff off one another, it is clear how much music is integral not only to their daily lives but also to their writing. Billingham’s series protagonist, Tom Thorne, is an aficionado of country music, much like the author himself; Connolly has created soundtracks, which complements his series of novels featuring detective Charlie Parker. Connolly states it is only natural music plays such a role in writing as, “we spend our lives with music constantly playing somewhere.” Billingham believes: “Music is an esperanto – it’s something we can all talk about.” When talking about the difference between how music is valued now compared to years ago, he says: “You had to save up. It was hard work and a big deal to buy an album. Music was something to cherish as it was something you earned.” With today’s music being available at the touch of a button, their isn’t the same intrinsic attachment to the music on our phones and our iPods.
I have a huge admiration for authors and am always intrigued by the process that goes into writing a novel. Whilst ‘where do you get your ideas’ is a question I am sure every author hates being asked, it was interesting to hear Billingham talk about his writing process, likening it ‘driving in the fog’: you have an idea where you are heading but can’t see a clear path to get there. He also emphasised how writing is not a 9-5 job, saying: “The book is in your head all the time; you’re writing when you are in the supermarket, picking the kids up from school, walking the dog.”
Whilst Tom Thorne is the character most associated with Mark Billingham, he has said Nicola Tanner, the Detective Inspector featured in Die of Shame is “anti Thorne; she’s everything he isn’t.” I think this will certainly make for an intriguing read, even more so when Thorne and Tanner team up in the book Billingham is currently writing, which is scheduled to go on sale next year.
Mark Billingham is a powerful writer, who can build unadulterated suspense without having to rely on tricks and gimmicks. With my copy of his new book, signed by the man himself, now in my possession, I can’t wait to get stuck into his latest offering.
Mark Billingham’s Die of Shame is out now
PARKER: A Miscellany, is a non-fiction companion to the Charlie Parker novels by John Connolly is available in a signed and numbered edition at No Alibis. John Connolly: Soundtracks Vols I-VI is also out now.
For the latest event information or for more information on No Alibis visit: www.noalibis.com