You may remember that the Danny Bird series made it on to my Books of the Year post and I’ve been lucky enough to get hold of a copy of the latest book ahead of the crowd. You can read that review tomorrow – which is when Death of a Devil comes out – but today I have an extra treat – an interview with the author, Derek Farrell. So, here we are, and it has book recommendations, so I apologise if this is about to cost you money…
Hi Derek and welcome to the blog!
Can I just say thanks for asking me here today?
I’ve been a reader of VerityReads for ages, and love how the site reflects the books you love regardless of genre, or of what we ‘should’ be reading.
My whole life I’ve read what I like to read, and finding a place on the web that celebrates that – and then being asked to actually talk about what I do – is amazing, So thank you.
Stop it! You’re making me blush! So first of all, where did the idea for Danny come from?
I think he came from my wanting to write a story about a bloke who wasn’t perfect, but who was trying. And who wouldn’t be cowed by the curves life threw at him.
From wanting to make a character, to be honest, who was a lot like me, only better: Smarter, funnier, fitter, younger, and with fewer hangups.
So – and God, I’ll be killed for this – I guess Danny is a sort of wish fulfillment. Only, of course, he now has a life of his own and a readership that means he now gets to dictate his world, not me.
Danny’s got his own posse – a sort of found family – did you always have that in mind or did it just happen?
Always, right from the beginning.
As a kid, I was, like many writers, sort of solitary. I observed, and I read, and I was never unhappy on my own.
But I think, if I’d stayed like that, I’d be a dead man by now.
My family – the one I was born with, the one I inherited when I met my husband, and the one I made for myself – is everything to me.
I wanted Danny to have a family and a set of friends (and sometimes not friends) that he would belong to and with. I wanted him to be part of something, not some faceless gunslinger who walked into town, fixed problems, and left without making any connections.
So I created Ali, the world’s most miserable bar maid; Danny’s (to date unnamed) Dad – a Cabbie with the knowledge of the universe at his fingers; Nick, the pretty but too-nice-for-his-own-good copper; and Chopper Falzone, the part local gangster, who’s a cross between the Werthers Grandpa and Hannibal Lecter.
I also gave him Ray and Dash, Danny’s sort-of-nephews, who are collectively referred to as The ASBO Twins, These two appeared in my original notes as a couple of minor-to-the-point-of-extras characters, but suddenly, when they hit the page, took on a life of their own, and became solid parts of the gang.
But the Queen of the Gang – the woman without whom Danny would be lost – is his best friend in the whole wide world: Caz. Or – to give her full name – Lady Caroline Victoria Genevieve Jane De Montfort, only daughter of the thirteenth Earl of Holloway.
Caz, again, was a ‘friend’ for Danny who – as I wrote her – became more solid, more complex, to the point where people have actually written in to the publisher asking for a standalone Caz series.
But then, we’ve also had people asking for a standalone ASBO twins book, so who knows: Maybe the Danny Universe will expand. I quite like the idea of an ASBO Twins Graphic novel, and a Lady Caz Musical.
So this is the third book featuring Danny – did you always plan it as a series and if you did has it gone to plan or taken on a life of its own?
I honestly can’t remember. I think it started off as a standalone. One I was, to be frank, writing for myself, cos I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to publish a detective novel about a gay bloke that took place in the backstreets of South London and had no sex or open violence in it.
But as I created the backstories for my characters, carved out the universe they lived in and finally realized that this was a world I was excited by and proud of, I finally realized I had enough ideas for more books. And for books that I actually wanted to write.
I know that by the time I had finished the first draft of Death of a Diva, I had started plotting book two, Death of a Nobody, as well as making sketches for what would become Death of a Devil, and the book after the next one.
I think, to be honest, the characters made it a series: They came to life. They had stories to tell, and they didn’t fit in to one book.
So when a pub-full of characters are each shouting “Remember the time I…” it becomes – at the risk of applying for Pseuds corner – the writer’s responsibility to tell those stories.
Plus: I am so much in love with this gang. Who’d want to leave them?
I think I’m in love with them too, although I’m not sure I’d survive a night out with Caz! Does this mean we can expect a fourth Death of… book?
Last month I sequestered myself, my two best mates, two liters of gin, two liters of vodka, a case of chardonnay, two botltles of vermouth, twenty four pullet’s eggs, eight avocados (avocadae?) three bottles of prosecco six bottles of Shiraz, a decent Calvados and a stocky block of fur and love called Ellie (part Staffie, part Labrador; totally Danny) away in a cottage in a valley in Wales.
And – in between walking Ellie to the local pub (amazing cider, lovely regulars, barmaids that were aiming for Ali’s crown and a cottage pie I’d sell my soul for – if my publisher didn’t already have an option on same) ordering my mates to make me a drink, and lying in the blazing sunshine reading, listening to music and remembering what LIFE feels like – Danny4 was plotted.
Seriously: Even I was amazed – especially after a pretty dark time last year trying to figure out how to make funny stuff in a world filled with grimness – at how easily it came.
But even better was the fact that the weeks before, and a trip to the ENO rehearsal space in North London, had given me an idea for Danny 5.
Of course, the ideas are easy. The writing is hard. The editing? Well, I shall simply point out that I consider a back sack ‘n’ crack wax – something I have experienced only once, and wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy – as preferable to editing.
If Danny’s adventures were turned in to a movie or a TV series, who would you like to see in the cast?
Ah, now that’s a tricky one.
I have some people in my head, but I’d rather hear what you or your readers think: Who – when you read the books – is Danny? Who would you cast as Caz? Ali? Ray and Dash? Chopper?
All I’ll say is that one third of my cast list are dead; one third are too expensive; and the remaining third are currently serving me with restraining orders, so best we stay schtum.
But seriously: Who do YOU think should play the characters?
I’m not telling! I think some of mine are dead too though. Now as you probably know, I read a lot of cozy crime books – and I think of Danny’s stories as sort of cozy-adjacent, but I think they would the spot for cozy readers looking for something a bit different. So what would your elevator pitch be to people who are more used to crafters, coffee shops and pastel colours on the cover?
The Danny Bird Mysteries were born from a love of Cozys.
I was raised on Agatha Christie, Patricia Wentworth, Gladys Mitchell, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, M.C. Beaton and Rhys Bowen.
The coffee shop, in the Danny Bird books, is a run-down, faded, frankly grim pub in a back street in South London. But it has – as much as any coffee shop, bookstore, or cat hotel – a character of it’s own.
The crafters, in the Danny books, are the denizens of the pub: Ne’er-do-wells, dodgy geezers, lairy birds and penniless toffs.
And as to the pastel colours – well, have you seen the absolutely gorgeous covers?
Of course, none of that is an elevator pitch, is it? So I’d say: If you adore the well- plotted, character-driven books of the golden age, and love the quirkiness and humour of the modern cozy; and if a few well-chosen profanities are unlikely to send you off in a fit of the vapours, then The Danny Bird Mysteries might be very much up your cul-de-sac.
Danny’s obviously a gay guy, living his life and doing his thing – how important is it to have representation like that in books – especially where the fact that Danny’s gay isn’t key to the plot or the most important thing about him.
This is my all-time favourite question. Thank you.
It’s absolutely vital, I think.
With Danny, I wanted a character where his sexuality was not the primary source of the drama.
Stuff happens to Danny, and it could happen to him if he were straight.
That said, I think his worldview and the fact that all LGBT people tend to get used to viewing the world on a simultaneous micro and helicopter view makes him a more natural observer and commentator.
What was especially important to me was that his family – from his parents through to his siblings and on down to the ASBO twins – be completely accepting. There’s some badinage – the twins refer to him as a “Shirter” in the first book – but it’s a family filled with Love, as was my own, and I wanted that to come through as often as possible. This is drama featuring a man who is gay, not drama caused by the sexuality of the protagonist.
But the reality is that Hate crimes against LGBT people are rising in the UK, as our government continues to enter into trade agreements with countries where people like Danny – and people like me – can be put to death.
The world is still an uncertain – not to say, a sometimes, terrifying – place for anyone who is less than “Perfect” in an increasingly narrow definition of the phrase.
So The Danny Bird Mysteries are about celebrating people in all their variety.
In Death of a Devil a Trans woman – who is one of my favourite characters ever – is abused and has her home vandalized just because she’s living her life honestly. That shit is happening today, and it makes me furious and sad at the same time.
Frankly, as far as representation goes, I say: Fuck Tolerance. Fuck acceptance. Fuck The Right Thing. Let’s Party.
And now I have a (large) T-Short slogan and an X-Rated interview.
No, that’s absolutely fine by me. I’m with you. So, finally, what have you been reading recently that you’d like to recommend – once people have read Danny’s latest adventure obviously!
Oh, now we are in trouble…
I read a ton of stuff, so apologies if some of this is a bit random, but of late I have read and enjoyed
Helen Cadbury – Bones in the Nest & Race to the Kill
Death of a Devil is dedicated to Helen. When I met her she was an already established crime writer, yet she welcomed me – at a conference in Iceland – with hugs, love, laughs and a genuine interest in Danny & co.
Her own books – I’ve been lucky enough to have a pre-release glimpse of Race to the Kill, which is out in September and is Brilliant – are interested in the same things that mine are: The marginalized, the way people get on with their life; the joy to be found amongst the hardships of modern life. And Sean Denton – another everyman with a differentiator he refuses to allow define him – is one of my favourite discoveries in a long time.
Helen died as I was finishing Death of a Devil, and though we knew each other for the blink of an eye, her loss – and the loss of all the brilliant stories and poems she would have given us –hit me hard. Perfect for loves of urban grit with heart.
Jo Perry – Dead is Good / Dead is Best / Dead is Better
I’ve described these books as like Crime novels by Samuel Beckett, and I stand by that. They’re told by a dead man who is accompanied in his attempts to fix the messes the living make by a mute, yet unbelievably simpatico Red Setter (also dead). They are filled with humanity, beauty, and an at times hard-to-take sadness at the horrible things we do to each other. Highly recommended for anyone who loves mystery, literature, dogs humour and – because I imagine him soundtracking the movie – Randy Newman.
Peter Ackroyd – Queer City: The often hidden Gay History of London.
A city I have adopted as my own. A history I feel steeped in. It’s funny, gossipy, heartbreakingly sad, and absolutely human. As all the best histories are. Recommended for anyone who wants to understand how we got to where we are.
Aleksander Crapanzo – The London Cookbook
BIG foodie here. Huge. Seriously: I don’t have a collar size so much as a post code. But this – Current and past London eateries share their best recipes, most of which you can make at home – is brilliant. And I’m claiming it as research for Mr Bird’s future adventures in gastronomy. Get this one if you love London, Food, Restaurants, or books that are nice to finger of an evening. Which sounds like a euphemism, but isn’t. Honest.
Duncan MacMaster – Hack
I hate Duncan MacMaster. He’s on the same publisher as me, only he’s funnier. I don’t know why I’m recommending his book, only it’s a genius blend of the dream all writers have – invited to ghost-write a book with a movie star so famous he only needs one name – with the nightmare we all share – murder, finger-pointing, and assasins shooting at you – makes for one of the funniest romps I’ve enjoyed in ages. Witty and clever. Perfect beach read.
I think that list may turn out to be expensive for me, but I’m totally with you on the Duncan MacMaster – I loved Hack when it came out (there’s a review here) and I interviewed him too (you can read our chat here) – and Jo Perry, she’s on my summer reading suggestions. Thanks again for talking to me Derek, it’s been a pleasure. The new Danny Bird book, Death of a Devil is out tomorrow (that’s Monday), when I’ll be reviewing it. In the mean time, you can preorder it here or start at the beginning of the series and buy yourself Death of a Diva – which is 99p on Kindle at the moment.