Never was I happier than when a lovely advanced copy of “The Ties that Bind” popped through my letter box – cue a mad two days of frantic reading. It was a superb novel and today you can all get your hands on a copy – Erin kindly answered a few questions for me about the book and here is what she had to tell me.
Tell us a little bit about where the story came from.
Like all my novels, it began with a scene rather than a grand plan. There’s an episode early on in the book where Jem gets Luke’s name tattooed on his side after they’ve spent just one night together. Most people would react in one of two ways to a grand gesture like that: they’d either find it incredibly romantic and sexy or they’d run screaming for the hills. I knew that Luke would stay – and the interesting thing was finding out why. For all that he’s read up on organised crime and violence, he hasn’t got much of a nose for danger when he’s close to it himself.
Is the Brighton setting one you know well?
Yes. I lived in Hove for a while; I spent the summer of 1998 working in a call centre by day and clubbing at the weekends. A few years later, it was where I fell in love with my husband. I still have good friends in the area and I go back a lot but not as often as I would like. Perhaps there was an element of wish fulfilment in setting my book there. In my acknowledgments I call it my second city and, after London – where my friends, family, work and support network is – it’s the place I would most like to call home.
That said, I didn’t know it as well as I thought I did. It’s a paradox of writing books that the better you think you know a place, the less likely you are to double-check your research and there were a couple of geographical bloopers in the proof copy that would’ve had people writing scathing reviews with Amazon open in one window and Google maps in the other. I’m extremely grateful to fellow novelist and Brighton resident Julia Crouch for pointing out my errors literally five hours before we went to print on the hardback.
Do you enjoy reading True Crime stories yourself?
Until I started writing this book, I’d read a handful of books that could be classified as true crime/literary crossover: the two stick in the memory (as I’m sure they do for anyone who has read them) are In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry. But a whole new world of pulp memoir and biography was opened up to me during the research of this book. I stuck to what Luke would call the ‘classics’ – men who were operating in the middle of the last century. Contemporary crime has changed beyond recognition, and although the books that detail it are often brilliant, I wanted to keep my focus tight, as Luke would have.
You’ve got to be careful, though, as everyone else writing around the same subject has naturally read the same books, and writers’ minds often work in the same ways. I can think of at least three brilliant novels set in the shadow of the Krays’ empire that paraphrase, if I’m being generous, from The Profession of Violence by John Pearson, which is probably the benchmark for the kind of true crime writing Luke is most interested in. It’s hard not to cannibalise, even unconsciously.
Are the characters of Luke and Joss based on anyone from real life?
Let the record show that none of my characters are ever entirely lifted from real life. Glad we’ve cleared that up for the lawyers.
I don’t come across that many former gangsters. Joss Grand is pure invention, although his speech patterns are loosely based on this grizzled old man who used to sit at the end of the bar and whinge into his pint of light and bitter when I was a barmaid at a pub in Romford Market.
Luke is more of a composite. I once met an incredibly meek, geeky boy who was weirdly obsessed with the Krays. Friends who are brilliant journalists increasingly struggling to write the stories they want to as the market for print journalism is in freefall, and there’s a lot of soul-searching going on – Is this really what I want? Was all my training a waste of time? What else can I do? This very real insecurity informs much of Luke’s behaviour throughout the book. And there’s actually quite a bit of me in his background: I come from Irish Catholic stock and years after the end of my convent education, it still informs everything I do.
Best book you have read lately.
I’ve been re-reading a lot lately because I’m teaching a creative writing course and I’m using some of my favourite texts as teaching aids. I picked up Perfume by Patrick Suskind as a good example of what omniscient narration can do in expert hands. I started on page one and four hours later I was still in the same position, transfixed all over again. There’s a reason so many people love it.
The best contemporary book I’ve read in the last few months is Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary. It’s a grisly story, beautifully told, and hard to believe it’s a debut.
If you could live anywhere in the world…
This is the most boring answer ever, but I’d quite like to stay where I am in North London, just in a bigger house.
Favourite and least favourite thing about being a writer.
My favourite thing is the work – being paid to do what I love best in the world, and, I suspect, the only thing I’m any good at. My least favourite thing is being confined to a chair all day with all the aches, fidgets and fatness of arse that entails.
Thank you so much for taking the time!
Could a soul, once sold, truly be redeemed?
Luke is a true crime writer in search of a story. When he flees to Brighton after an explosive break-up, the perfect subject lands in his lap: reformed gangster Joss Grand. Now in his eighties, Grand once ruled the Brighton underworld with his sadistic sidekick Jacky Nye – until Jacky washed up by the West Pier in 1968, strangled and thrown into the sea. Though Grand’s alibi seems cast-iron, Luke is sure there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and he convinces the criminal-turned-philanthropist to be interviewed for a book about his life.
Yes I know its early to start talking about this one but when it dropped through my letterbox what did you expect exactly? That I would wait until nearer publication day? Pfft. You don’t know me very well…I mean for a start its Erin Kelly, add to that its me and my chronic impatience. So just to start this review (babble?) off lets take a “previously on” type look at things.
My favourite book of its year was “The Poison Tree” a book that haunted my soul long after reading, had one of my (still) most loved characters, Bohemian free spirit Biba and is also in my top 5 “Most Satisfying Endings Ever” list. Most. Satisfying. Ending.Ever. Then she followed that up with “The Sick Rose” (Also known as The Dark Rose) this time making me loathe some characters so deeply that I wanted to spit at them – in a good way of course, I was compelled to read the entire thing, and whilst it is not my favourite of hers it got me on the same emotional level. Then came “The Burning Air” which I have spoken about frequently, is in my hall of fame, and gave me that jaw dropping, throw the book on the floor, immediately re-read several chapters moment that doesnt happen to me often.
Each one has a high standard of writing, brilliant psychological insight, all giving an addictive reading experience but something a little different each time. This author doesnt stagnate having found a formula that works, she pushes the boundaries and tries out new things, whilst still, well, having found a formula that works!
So we come to “The Ties That Bind” . Here we meet True Crime Writer Luke who has found himself entangled in an obsessive controlling relationship – to escape from those bonds he flees to Brighton and stumbles upon a crime story that could make his career. But at what cost?
Its interesting really when I try and analyse the reading experience – it is again a different kind of read in a lot of ways from each of the others, compelling as ever, magical storytelling with a fascinating ebb and flow of twists and turns – but the ambience of it, as always, lies just below the surface. You just sense there is danger coming from somewhere for Luke but you are not sure where.
Its because the characterisation is top notch. Absolutely. Joss Grand, a character I fell madly in love with, is intelligent and scary,with an extremely intriguing edge to his personality. Luke himself is driven yet naive in a lot of ways. Ex Boyfriend Jem is stunningly well drawn – compulsive yet strangely sympathetic. Those three on their own could hold an entire novel but it doesnt stop there. As Luke tracks down witnesses, gets help from unexpected quarters, follows the trail towards the guilt or innocence of Joss Grand in the murder of his friend, you will barely be able to look away. This one is not about the result…its about the journey. And what an amazing journey it was.
The sense of an era is captured here beautifully, alongside an updated and colourful look at Brighton in the present day, I’d live there in an instant – add to that a resourceful, imaginative and creative story with some truly truly fascinating characters and this one comes HIGHLY recommended from me.
The whole thing had me turning pages late into the night, I turned away from it for a while yesterday, I did NOT want to finish it, at the same time, I needed to KNOW…so this morning in a glorious hour of locking the world out I sadly came to the end…and now the long wait begins again for another offering from an author who is right up there solidly now in my top ten of must read novelists.
Read it. Live it. Love it.
Find out more here: http://www.erinkelly.co.uk/
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Happy Reading Folks!