Tag Archives: Gerard Brennan

Wee Danny by Gerard Brennan

 

wee danny

 

 

Gerard Brennan’s acclaimed novella Wee Rockets was a pulsating slice of Belfast grit, following the lives of a gang of teenagers who spent their time harassing old folks and getting wrecked in parks on cider and weed, a story which hummed with street smart credibility.  The recently released Wee Danny is a sequel of sorts and sees one of the main characters, Danny Gibson, now locked up in a young offenders institution.

 

Danny has worked out how to make it through his stretch and his eyes are fixed firmly on his upcoming release.  He knows to keep his head down, avoid trouble and play the reformed character.  Maybe he is being rehabilitated, he’s certainly behaving better than he did on the outside – making nice with his psychologist and teachers, side stepping the macho crap of his fellow inmates, or at least making sure he looks like the innocent party when the fists start flying.

 

Then Danny is befriended by Conan Quinlan – The Barbarian, naturally – a gentle giant with learning difficulties who prompts an uncharacteristic protectiveness in Danny.  Conan is a big target, physically capable of taking care of himself but lacking in Danny’s feral guile.  They’re an odd double act but their friendship is the kind that develops in harsh situations, sparked at random and tentative to begin with.  Danny is initially wary of Conan, not sure if he’s a threat or a friend, confused by his strange behaviour and intimidated by his bulk, but he feels protective towards him and when the opportunity to spend some time outside on a work placement arises he talks the prison psychologist into letting Conan out too.  A move which will lead to his rehabilitation being tested.

 

Wee Danny is a much gentler book than Wee Rockets, there’s violence but because of the setting it is contained and brief, more a battle of wills than all out warfare, and Brennan does an excellent job of teasing out the small slights and power games which define the hierarchy within a young offenders institution.  At the heart of this slim but perfectly formed novella is the relationship between Danny and Conan, and through it we see the tearaway of Wee Rockets in new light, capable of decency and kindness.  Maybe he’ll be fully reformed in a future book, or maybe it’s only his environment which allows him to show this new side to his character, hopefully we’ll find out at some point.

 

Gerard Brennan has always been a writer with a great flair for character and this has come to the fore in Wee Danny, a large hearted character piece which, despite the subject matter, is actually really touching.

 

 


True Brit Grit – the Luca Veste Interview

As if he hasn’t already earned enough good karma for the baddest Scouse bastard going with Off The Record, this month sees Luca Veste release another charity anthology for child literacy, in collaboration with Paul D. Brazill.  True Brit Grit features contributions from forty-five of the darkest and dirtiest Brit crime authors around right now, and at less than two quid you’d have to be an animal not to buy it.

Luca’s dropped by to tell us a bit more about it…

So, how are things progressing with the Luca Veste Centre for Kids Who Don’t Read Good?

Great! We have a chair with three legs and a collection of old copies of the Readers Digest now. Hopefully we’ll get a roof for the shed we meet in soon. Been tough with all the rain, not enough armbands to share around.

Serious answer, Off The Record has raised over £200 since December. Happy with that, but would like that total to keep rising.

After going solo with Off The Record you’ve collaborated with Paul D Brazill on this one, I bet he’s a tyrant, he is, isn’t he? Go on, you can tell us.

(sniffs) He…he…calls me names. Like…Beardy, and String Vest. It’s horrible.

I can’t lie, Paul is one of the best. It’s impossible to find anyone who doesn’t respect and like the bloke. He’s a great guy, who I’m honoured to call a mate.

Dude can write as well. Seriously great writer.

The line-up for True Brit Grit is seriously impressive, how did you and Paul go about gathering contributors? Blackmail, bribery, threats to insert things in places they shouldn’t be inserted?

I can’t take any credit. It was all Paul’s work on that front. He must have a list of writers he has the goods on, and just works his way through. I just had to make sure the book did the names involved justice, which I hope it does.

Which reminds me…he still hasn’t sent those pictures back…

It’s an interesting mix of big names and bubblers-under, did you make a conscious effort to try and bridge the gap?

I think the idea with this was always to show the quality of writers out there in the U.K. So, whilst we have big names in there, there’s quite a few lesser known ones in there, and taking away the names, I think it’s difficult to see the difference in quality of writing.

In the introduction Maxim Jakubowski puts the Golden Age of crime fiction firmly in it’s place. Do you see the Brit Grit school becoming dominant finally?

I think for crime fiction, it’s very difficult to beat a good British writer. With the rise of ebooks, it’s proved to be a great platform for the less commercial gritty writers out there to make a mark.

Also, I think Brit writers are getting quite a few fans over in the US as well, which can only be a good thing. Shows there can be a wider audience for those types of stories.

Crime is a universal language anyway. Doesn’t really matter about the setting, every country has similar characters about the place.

Ever tempted to write a cat mystery? Maybe do an anthology of cosies…

An anthology of cat mysteries…now there’s a thought.

Cosies aren’t really my thing. I like death too much. It’s far too interesting to not write about. And death is so horrific, I could never treat it with kid gloves.

I want to do an anthology where every writer writes in a genre they have never written in before. Ray Banks doing a Lee Child style story. That would be cool!

Child literacy is obviously a cause close to your heart; which books fired your reading as a kid?

Enid Blyton at first. Moved onto fellow Scouser Brian Jacques and his Redwall series. Then, I was about 12 at the time, I convinced my Dad to let me read The Stand by Stephen King. Still my favourite book.

I stopped reading anything around the age of 16-17. Then was recommended a Mark Billingham book (his first one, Sleepyhead) about 6-7 years later. Haven’t stopped reading since.

Stav Sherez put it perfectly for me (earlier today in fact) “That’s the thing I love about books, the way they can pull you out of your day to somewhere totally different & make you forget who you are.” That’s exactly how it was for me as a kid. And still continues to be now.

And who’s doing it for you now?

Obvious answer (and always mentioned, and will continue to be for a long, long time) Steve Mosby. I got a sneak peek of his upcoming book ‘Dark Room’. An incredible novel, and his best yet. He’s a remarkable writer, paints intricate pictures with just a few words. Even though I’ve become friendly with him in the past year, reading his stuff just makes me go all fanboy.

Other than Mosby…Helen FitzGerald, Neil White, Mark Billingham, Ian Ayris, Nick Quantrill, Sean Cregan, Les Edgerton, Julie Morrigan, Harlan Coben, Tim Weaver, Dennis Lehane, Will Carver, Tom Wood, Howard Linskey, Ray Banks…I could go on and on. So many good writers working today. We’re very lucky as readers.

If there was one contributor you’d love to get next time around, who would it be?

Sean Cregan aka John Rickards. A fantastic writer, who everyone should be reading.

Never asked him as I have no idea if he even writes short stories, and the dude seems to be constantly busy. Next one, I’m just going to ask. Fuck it, he can only say no.

Or, choke me in my sleep. I’ve heard stories…

True Brit Grit is available now from Amazon UK ans US, and all proceeds go to charity.


Criminal Classics – Gerard Brennan

 

Gerard Brennan is a Belfast-based author and ex-rockgod.  His novella The Point garnered rave reviews, and his debut novel Wee Rockets has been justifiably compared to The Wire and City of God.  Gerard also co-edited the Spinetingler nominated Requiems for the Departed, a collection of short stories based on Irish folklore and featuring the creme of contemporary crime fiction.  He blogs at Crime Scene NI.

Here’s Gerard on The Truth Commissioner by David Park…

 

 

 

David Park’s The Truth Commissioner is minimal in action and big on introspection. Each of the four main characters is believable in their flaws, entirely human and utterly miserable. I’m slightly worried that they’re a depressing representation of modern Northern Irish man:

Stanfield – The truth commissioner. He’s been drafted in to oversee a vital stage in the peace and reconciliation process in which the circumstances around the ‘disappeared’ are investigated. However professional he seems, his personal life is far from enviable.

Gilroy – The ex-provo politician. He’s tied in to a particular ‘disappeared’ case under investigation but the issue seems to be overshadowed by his daughter’s impending marriage.

Fenton – The ex-RUC officer. His involvement in the investigation has dragged him out of a peaceful retirement.

Danny – A young man trying to build a new life in America. But not even the Atlantic Ocean can insulate him from his past.

There’s a melancholy running though the book. Isolation and loneliness seem to be the predominant feelings shared by the cast. They’re all haunted in their own way, and for much the same reason in the cases of Gilroy, Fenton and Danny. Little comfort to those who believe they have suffered loss at the hands of these characters, but perhaps a hint of a way towards reconciliation? Yes, we’ve all been hurt by the Troubles, even those perceived to have done the hurting. Is that the book’s message? Possibly. This one will leave you thinking.

As far as an examination of the political situation in Northern Ireland goes, The Truth Commissioner is a well-balanced and very interesting assessment. It’s not preachy and nor does it lean towards any particular political opinion. We need more books like this, and I need to read them. If you’re Northern Irish, you could almost consider it therapy.

 

– Gerard Brennan

 

The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.


Review – Wee Rockets by Gerard Brennan

After last summers riots, and the resulting chorus of accusation and analysis from a remote middle class media, Wee Rockets feels like a very prescient book, focused on feral kids with lives dominated by casual brutality and rabid consumerism.  Reading some of the early reviews I was concerned that Gerard Brennan had turned out a piece of thinly veiled moral commentary – much talk of disenfranchisement and wasted lives – but he’s a far better writer than that and sidesteps the tedious politicising in order to produce another brisk and spiky crime novel.

Set on the mean streets of West Belfast – heartland of The Troubles but now in the throes of regeneration – Wee Rockets follows a group of young working class boys who aspire towards thugdom; you couldn’t call them a gang at the outset but they’re causing enough trouble to have the residents association worried and after they beat up an old dear local Gaelic footballer Stephen McVeigh turns vigilante on them, out to give the area some Provo-style justice.

The Wee Rockets leader, Joe Phillips, scents trouble and bails, at which point the gang dynamic shifts dramatically.  Taken over by a banger-wannabe with a chip on his shoulder they quickly graduate to harder drugs and more extreme acts of violence and Brennan creates a terrible velocity around their crime spree, making it seem inevitable that they will, at some point, kill.  Their growing reputation brings more attention from McVeigh, who’s still gunning for Joe, dating his mother Louise in order to get close to him.

Even away from the gang Joe’s problems deepen.  His dad Dermot’s back in town and looking for a reconciliation.  Louise isn’t buying the reformed routine – she knows what a charming gobshite Dermot is – but she tentatively approves; a boy needs his old man, even if he is a no-good, sucker-punching drug dealer who wants Joe for an apprentice/sacrificial lamb.  With the Wee Rockets out for his head too Joe has to find a way to extricate himself from the chaos, keeping his life and his liberty as both begin to look increasingly at risk.

Wee Rockets is being marketed as a hardboiled crime novel and it works perfectly as one – Brennan knows his skank as well as any writer around right now – but it’s packaged like a YA book and from the first page I thought it felt like the kind of dark, urban grit literate 11-14 year olds would love.  This is their world after all and Brennan has gone into it very sympathetically, saying ‘this is just what you have to do to survive.’  I think a lot of teenagers would respect that position while his adult readership might have forgotten the truth of it.

Brennan impressed me hugely with his debut novella The Point and Wee Rockets has cemented my opinion that he belongs among the top rank of Northern Irish crime writers.  He has a strong, recognisable voice, which sounds like a throwaway compliment but is actually very rare – how many writers could you identify from reading a single page?  Not many.  Brennan is unmistakable though.  His characters are unpleasantly authentic, his dialogue script-ready and his plotting tighter than a marching drum.