Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Dancing With Myself: VINCENT MCCAFFREY interviews VINCENT MCCAFFREY

Busy days here in the Sea Minor camp.

There have been a series of Brit Grit releases and articles including the very pleasing indeed 'A Good Day' by Darren Sant (with an prologue and epilogue that work spectaculary well as bread for the meat in this wonderful sandwich), an article by Paul D Brazill over at Ashedit and a release by Paul of the collection 'Brit Grit' (including the ridiculously great Guns Of Brixton), something we've been waiting for now for a good while. 

And there's been the release of Pulp Ink, of course, which is creating small trails around the internet for you to follow. 

I'll be dropping in the Pulp Trumps over the next week for you to cut out and collect, but in the meantime, back to the dance.  Here for your education is Vincent McCaffrey, so listen up.



Q: Mr. McCaffrey, your first book, HOUND, was published in 2009. Now you've written a sequel, A SLEPYNG HOUND TO WAKE. But you've been a bookseller of all sorts of genres, fiction and non-fiction, for over forty years. Why did you choose the mystery as the vehicle for your first books?

A: Mysteries are, far and away, the largest selling genre in the book market, both in sales and in the number of titles. What I actually wanted to write about was the death of the book, just the unnatural end of a 500 hundred year-old history of that medium of art, but a deadly subject by itself, and I needed a stage to dramatize the murder.

Q: Okay, one thing at a time. Why do you think that's true--why do people like mysteries so much?

A: By test results, year upon year, history is the weakest part of our public education. Not math, with which many people, like myself, have a difficult time. Not science, a cold-blooded craft. Not English or the component parts of any other language. The technology of everyday life is passed on fairly well in our schools. But as a world society--and most particularly in both in Europe and the United States--we produce very bright people who have no clue about their own past. This is what makes it possible to repeatedly make the same mistakes over and again. It's a cause of war. It's a cause of failed nations. It's the cause of failed marriages.

Q: History? But I asked you about mysteries...

A: So you did. As if mysteries spring forth in any soil, without seed or cause. But I'm getting to that. And I think this is one thing some people object to most in my own books. I don't cut to the chase. I spend time on the history of the lives that are being lived or lost. Perhaps too much for such small stories. Just one life lost, or two. But I believe lives are important and must be made important or else the loss is meaningless.

Q: I'm not sure the philosophy behind your mysteries is all that important to readers. Don't they just want to be entertained? Isn't the mystery essentially an entertainment?

A: Yes. So it is. And I'm trying to tell you why it entertains. We are entertained by magicians who make things appear and disappear and appear again, knife throwers who avoid impaling their subjects, small men riding large beasts at race tracks, and the most inane television shows. Many people will give up twenty years of their lives watching television! Yet, it's all part of the same fabric. The passage of time. And that brings me back to the subject of History.

Q: How so?

A: By the absence of a past, or the past. You see, don't you? We are each aware of our own self-ignorance, even subconsciously. Not knowing is the greater part of life, of course. And we each know very little about anything, after all--and collectively, we know even less, because we are sharing more ignorance than knowledge, and this pooled misinformation so often obscures the few facts we have gleaned. Something answered, something actually found out, gives us entertainment by offering a small grasp on our own lives.

Q: I don't see the connection. What about the death of the Book?

A: Give it a moment. And in the mean time, I'll bring in another part of the mystery. Religion.

Q: No. No! No one wants to talk about religion.

A: But we do. All of us. Everyday. We have relabeled it all very neatly to avoid confrontation, but we are all very concerned with it. Perhaps we believe in politicians instead of priests. We often believe in dogma instead of truth. We ignore facts, which are unpleasant, in favor of lies which make us feel better. Some of us find solace in books. We find answers to questions we forgot to ask along the way. We find someone willing to talk to us about matters we care about--like what has happened to the book, and why.

Q: I'm getting tired. I just wanted to know why you write mysteries.

A: But I've told you!...Starting again with that last thing. With religion. Our various faiths have so far guided mankind through all of its short history. For good and ill. But religion has now failed to offer answers to an ever increasing number of questions raised by science. The essential nature of the human mind is captured in a single word: why? Science, though historically speaking only at the very beginnings of its quest, has already produced more questions than it can deal with, and religion is doing nothing to relieve the burden. Math, by giving you the equation for boiling water, will tell you how to fry an egg--but a simple observation by only one of the several of our human senses will give you a usable answer far more quickly. Science offers an awareness of the vastness of time, but gives no beginning or end to it. The only definitive history any of us might know in detail is that of own short lives. Yet few of us know key events, such as when we were conceived, or why, and none of us will know when we actually die.

Q: You've lost me.

A: Essentially, a mystery is a story that entertains by offering solutions to problems that lack math. Just as our lives lack math. If you are told that the reason a person kills is thus and so, you might argue. If you are shown the process, you are more likely to understand. Understanding something about life and death--even just one life and death--gives reassurance. It's a process as old as the campfire--good and evil defined.

Q: So,...what you are telling me is, you write mysteries because you're a Boy Scout, and you don't understand why people don't read books anymore.

A: Well, essentially, yes. I suppose.


So now you know.

No excuses.

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