Interview with Paul Heatley, author of Guillotine

I spoke with Paul Heatley recently author of All Due Respect’s latest. In Guillotine, Lou-Lou looks to escape after suffering a lifetime of tyranny under her father’s oppressive rule. Problem is, daddy’s also known as Big Bobby Joe, a dangerous and powerful man in the local area—powerful enough to put out a sixty grand bounty on the head of the man she’s run off with, who also happens to be one of his ex-employees.

Chris Rhatigan: What comes first for you when writing? Is it voice, character, plot? Or does it depend story to story?

Paul Heatley: It depends story to story. Mostly I get an idea, a vague theme, and then I work from there. Usually the characters come next, and in creating the characters I’m able to develop further plot points and sub-plots etc. The voice comes during the writing of the story itself and works itself out, sometimes after a few false starts. 

CR: Guillotine’s main character, Mikey, is a hit man. Does he enjoy violence or not?

PH: I feel Mikey would say he doesn’t enjoy violence, however I think this would be a denial. He would blame it on circumstance, on his past as a soldier, but really there’s a part of him that thrives on it. He enjoys being a hitman. He couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything else. As much as he’d like it to not be the case, as much as he’d like to believe that in reality he’s a good guy and that if he had the choice he wouldn’t live this life, it’s the truth of who he is. He’s a violent man, and you don’t stay that way without some enjoyment of it. 

CR: Have you found it challenging to write about the US in Fatboy or Guillotine? How does it compare to writing about England in the An Eye for an Eye series?

PH: When I started out writing crime fiction I found that everything I wrote worked best when I set it American. The stories flowed, the dialogue flowed, it just worked for me. A part of me genuinely believed I couldn’t set things in England, that I couldn’t make them work the same way I could with the American stuff. However, a part of me always wanted to set something in Newcastle. I think it’s a great city, and when it comes to crime fiction it has some great pedigree in the likes of Get Carter and Stormy Monday

They did take a little more work, at first. The accent, particularly. Working out how best to translate certain words into the actual dialogue. It was just a case of getting into the swing of things with the setting and the characters and, like I said, the colloquial language, but once I got over that initial hurdle coming back to setting things in the north east was like slipping on an old boot. 

There are some challenges with setting things in the US, but I read and watch a lot of American fiction. Luckily whenever I get anything wrong I’ve got you or the other American editors to keep things right! 

CR: I’m always impressed by the dialogue in your stories and indeed, looking at the blurbs for Guillotine, so is everyone else. Do you have any rules for writing dialogue? How do you go about capturing each character’s voice? 

PH: Thank you, I appreciate that as dialogue is something I’ve always prided myself on. If I have any rules for the writing of it, I’ve always found i’s a great way to keep the story moving, it reveals the characters and their motivations, and it’s the best way – when done right – of using exposition. It gets round that whole ‘show, don’t tell’ rule, I’ve always found it’s the best way to show. One of my earliest influences that showed me how to tell a story through speech was George V Higgins, and to be honest he’s probably been the biggest influence on my storytelling style.

A technique I would recommend for anyone that’s maybe worrying over a particular phrase or conversation or whatever, would be to say it out loud. Have both parts of the conversation with yourself if necessary. That’s a good way to find if something sounds and feels true. 

In terms capturing each character’s voice, that reveals itself during the writing and then during the edits I flesh it out a bit more. It might even be the case of a character using a word no one else does, and in the read-through attributing that word more to them than anyone else. In Guillotine Big Bobby Joe speaks with barely restrained aggression (a bit like the Kingpin in the Netflix Daredevil show), Mikey’s dialogue is minimal, a la Clint Eastwood’s man with no name, and Tommy speaks rapid-fire with breaks for hard sniffing as befits a rampant coke user. 

CR: Who are some current crime writers whose work you’re keeping up with?

PH: Tom Leins, Gabino Iglesias, Marietta Miles, Paul D Brazill, Beau Johnson, S A Cosby, Rob Pierce, Don Winslow, and James Ellroy. 

CR: What are you working on now? What do you have coming out soon?

PH: I’ve got a book coming out with Fahrenheit 13 called Bad Bastards sometime in the first half of this year (no set date yet) which is about two young fools falling in love. Also, the girl’s father is a member of a brutal motorcycle gang, the eponymous Bad Bastards, and he’s really not happy about her new boyfriend. 

Other than that I’m working on something set in the north east of England about some young drug dealers. I try to keep busy! 

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