Interview: Ray Banks

In the category of Authors Deserving More Recognition, Especially Here In The States, I present Ray Banks.

Ray Banks, hailing from the shores of Edinburgh, has worked, in his own words, “as a wedding singer, double-glazing salesman, croupier, dole monkey, and various degrees of disgruntled temp.” He is the author of the Cal Innes series which recently concluded and made it to the shores of America with Beast of Burden. He has written for a variety of short story markets, including Shotgun Honey with Pineapple Rings, his novella Wolf Tickets recently concluded in NEEDLE and his semi-biographical (not really, but maybe?) Dead Money released to e-books everywhere from Blasted Heath.

You can learn more about Ray at his websites The Saturday Boy and Norma Desmond’s Monkey, he’s a bit of a movie buff, a fact that was totally missed in this interview.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford. Those guys. They taught me that crime fiction was something to aspire to, not shy away from. Before them, I was dicking around in a literary fashion, putting out epiphany stories told in voices that weren’t authentic. Cain, Thompson and Willeford (and then later, Bruen, Woodrell, Himes and Lewis) showed me that crime fiction wasn’t all about police procedurals and mysteries to be solved. It could be as personal as any great literature, but it had to be narratively compelling too. As challenges go, that one was irresistable.

To name names, that’s an impressive line up. Some usual suspects. Americans even. Was there any one book that turned you towards crime writing? A book who made you think, “I can do that?”

Does anyone have just one book that turns them to crime writing? I’m suspicious of anyone who does, to be honest. It’s either a pat answer or something pathological. In my experience, it’s never one book that does it. You read and read, and then one day you find yourself writing a crime novel and it feels like the most natural thing in the world. And none of those authors made me think I could do it. Quite the opposite. They were so good, all I could do was aspire. But they showed me that there was something to aspire to, which was more important.

For those who haven’t read a Ray Banks’ novel, short story or even your recent flash story here at Shotgun Honey, how would you describe your writing?

At the risk of sounding like a pretentious twat (too late): Profane, but humane. I’m not particularly interested in genre as I am in damaged individuals, some of whom happen to be criminals. I hope my stuff’s reasonably amusing, too. There’s nothing worse than bleak for bleak’s sake.

Speaking of pretentious twats, on the shelf in my study is a copy of Saturday’s Child, the first Cal Innes novel. What fuels Cal Innes?

A deep, abiding dissatisfaction with the private eye story in Britain, which was (and still is for the most part) mired in a kind of pseudo-hardboiled Chandleresque pastiche. As for the character himself, he’s fuelled by misplaced indignation, codeine, vodka, cigarettes, and complete and utter self-delusion.

Was The Saturday’s Child the first effort as a writer and can you describe the road to your first published work?

God, no. I had at least four or five full-length novels before The Big Blind that will never, ever see the light of day.

I didn’t really start writing for publication until around 2001-2. My first paid-for story, an Innes story as it happens, was picked up by Handheld Crime in 2002, and from there I did what everybody does these days, which is write as many short stories as I could and sub them to places that either paid or edited. I built up a small readership as well as got to know other writers online, and after The Big Blind did the rounds of various publishers and agents that either gently rejected it or were downright bilious that I’d deigned to submit, I shoved it over to Allan Guthrie, who had a Writer’s Showcase thing over at his website, Noir Originals. I figured I’d leave it there and get on with something else. Al ended up becoming commissioning editor for PointBlank Press and asked me if the book was still available. It most certainly was, so they published it to what I can only assume was a rapturous silence.

You’ve taken Cal Innes through 4 books, concluding with Beast of Burden, the final book in the series. What comes next?

With Cal? Nothing much. Otherwise, I’ve got Wolf Tickets, which recently came to an end in Needle, and Dead Money is out now. I’m working on a semi-sequel to that called Inside Straight, I’ve got a couple of screenplays on the go, and about three different books that I have to choose between as the next project. Busy, busy, busy.

Wolf Tickets was a wonderful addition to Needle. Was it written specifically for the magazine and what considerations did you have writing it as a serial as opposed to a straight piece?

Thank you – very kind of you to say so. It was kind of a trunk novel, that one. Started as a collaboration with a very famous Irish crime writer who wrote the first chapter (and whose identity is obvious when you read it), but couldn’t continue due to contractual issues, so I asked if I could rewrite his stuff and continue with it. He gave me his blessing so I finished it off in a month, stuck it in a drawer and that was that. Because there was no way on God’s green earth that a book about a dog-killing drug dealer and a shoplifting drunk would ever be seen as marketable.

Then, when the guys at Needle said that they were looking for serials and I realised that I didn’t have much else out that year, I asked them if they were interested in Wolf Tickets. Bless their skidded pants, they said yes, and so I did a rewrite as and when it was needed to make it work as three separate chunks. From what I hear, Farrell and Cobb have been quite popular, which is gratifying, considering how parochial it is. I’d hoped to take them into a series of their own – make ’em my Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Johnson or my Hap and Leonard – so we’ll see what happens with the sales when it comes out as a one-er next year.

Well, here’s to success towards future Farrell and Cobb stories. I saw mention that Wolf Tickets will be released sometime as an e-book, like Dead Money and Gun before it. What’s your take on the format?

Yep, Wolf Tickets will be out sometime next year, date to be confirmed. As for ebooks, well, here’s the thing – I’m a niche writer and, unless I totally fluke it, I probably always will be. As much as I love being in hardback, I know of only a few people who’d buy a new author in that format, and I’ve long since thought the trade paperback an awful, over-priced invention. As a writer, I want to get my books in the hands of as many readers as possible, as cheaply and as quickly as possible. I also want to feel like I’m working with my publisher, that I have some kind of voice in the process, and I want to be paid more money and more often. As it stands, I can only get that with e-publishing. That’s not to say I’ve forsaken print – I still have the print rights to all the new stuff coming out from Blasted Heath, and I’m open to offers – but print is no longer the priority. Getting the work out there is.

Why don’t you tell us about Blasted Heath and your new release, Dead Money?

Certainly. Blasted Heath are a couple of spunky young things by the names of Kyle MacRae and Allan Guthrie. otherwise known as Sexy and Sexier. Kyle’s an entrepreneur, Al’s a former agent and editor – when they get together it’s MOIDAH! Anyway, they got this wacky idea to start up an e-publisher and because a bunch of us owe Guthrie considerable amounts of money, he signed us up on long-term unbreakable contracts. As a result, you’ll probably see a lot of ebooks coming your way, starting with the five launch novels, including my own Dead Money, which is about a philandering, borderline alcoholic gambler of a double-glazing salesman who has poor taste in mates, but will help you dispose of a body at a pinch. He gets caught up in all manner of hilarious scrapes and comes to learn how to be a better person. Or something. I’m kind of shit at this.

I suspect Guthrie has screws to a lot of talented writers, his name comes up a lot. I want to thank you for spending time with us, but before you go, do you have any parting words or pearls of wisdom for our readers?

He does. He’s an animal. As for pearls of wisdom, if I had any of those, I wouldn’t be writing. Pig ignorant, me.

Pineapple Rings by Ray Banks

It was Daymo’s fault. Daymo was shit crack at the best of time and a mardy, simpleminded cunt the rest. But he was minted, and he had this place out near Penrith, a dingy cottage which was an inheritance from some relative who clearly didn’t like him. Place had an open fire, stone floors, no electricity or running water and no one around for miles. In short, the perfect place to trip your balls off.

Yeah, right.

An hour in, Fat Murray felt the melt, but Daymo was giving us the usual shit: “Can’t feel nowt. You got ripped off. Telling you, it’s that shitehawk Francis. He’s got it in for us, just ‘cause I bummed his hoor of a missus.”

“Murray’s alright.”

“Murray’s a fuckin’ lightweight.” Then he started talking about Francis again, and Francis’ filthy lass. Halfway through a sentence, there was a giggle that told us the dose had kicked in. “Hey. Hey. You know what we should do. We should get the Playstation out. Get my fuckin’ Micro Machines on.”

Like he was from the streets when his mam and dad lived up Woolsington and had a heated pool.

“No leccy, Daymo.”

“Get it on. Nyerrrrr-nyeeeeeeeeeeeerrrr.”

I picked the spliff from the ashtray. Daymo droned on. The fire spat and crackled in the grate. I gave it another five and then dropped.

Staggering the doses was Fat Murray’s idea, as was keeping a carton of orange juice in the cooler. He reckoned vitamin C and sugar was a quick and easy remedy in case someone got the fear, and Fat Murray was a trainee nurse, so he obviously knew his stuff. Me, I found a thick spliff just as effective.

Relaxation was the gateway.

Fat Murray made a noise like an angry cat. He shook in his chair, his face pink and slick. Textbook bad dose. I got out of my chair and went to the cooler. Nothing in there but beer. “Daymo, where’s the orange juice?”

I heard him giggle, the twat. Cheapskate fuckin’ tight-arse shit. Oh yeah, he was happy to shell out for unstable blotter – remembering now the look on Francis’ shiny smiling face when he sold it to us, like he wanted to burst out laughing – but he was fucked if he’d spend a quid on a carton of Aldi OJ.

Daymo was serious now. “Pineapple rings.”

“You what?”

He waved a hand at the kitchen area. I went to the cupboard, found a tin of Tesco Value pineapple rings in juice. Before I got a chance to pop it, Daymo snatched it out of my hands. “Give it here. I’ll do it.”

I watched him approach Fat Murray. I sat down and retrieved the spliff. My skin felt weird. I rubbed my face. Daymo muttered something to Fat Murray, sounded like he was trying to calm him down.

And then I heard Fat Murray choke. And when I turned I saw the concentrated expression on Daymo’s face.

“Fuck you doing?” I shoved Daymo out of the way, heard the tin clatter and roll, juice spraying us. Fat Murray’s eyes had rolled to the back, his mouth was open, and I could see the curve of a pineapple ring bent up against the back of his throat. “You’re just supposed to use the juice, you daft prick.”

Shaking his head. “You don’t get it. He’s not right.”

“You’re not fuckin’ right. It’s just a bad dose.”

“It’s him.”

He lunged for Fat Murray. I got in his way. His face shifted, rippled. I knew it was just the flicker of firelight, but I couldn’t hold the thought. Something primal screeched in the back of my head.

Daymo snarled. I shoved him away. He slipped on the wet stone and something cracked when he landed. I didn’t breathe. Then I saw the blood pool behind his head.

Fuck.

Looked at Fat Murray. He was limp and motionless.

Fuck.

I sat down. Couldn’t hold the spliff for shaking. A bad dose coming and two bodies in the room. My hands were sticky. I watched the cracks in the floor open into canyons.

It was going to be a long fuckin’ night.