Today, after a long absence, I’m pleased to bring you another edition of “The Third Degree” where I subject authors to a grueling interrogation to discover more about their published work and writing techniques.
This time around, English author Tom Leins – author of “Boneyard Dogs” – has agreed to be my latest victim guest in the hot seat. So, without further ado, the chair is ready, the spotlight is on, let the grilling commence. Enjoy the interview!
*Please note I’ve left the interview as it was received and not changed the English spelling of certain words to the American spelling.
Hi Tom. Thank you for your time. Would you like to tell us about yourself?
Hi Dave, thanks for having me! My name is Tom Leins and I live in Paignton, England. Over the years I have worked as a deckchair attendant, an agony uncle, and a DVD reviewer. I currently work as a telecoms analyst and journalist, but I’m (hopefully) best known for my ongoing series of Paignton Noir books and stories.
How would you describe your writing style?
The Paignton Noir stories are a mash-up of noir, mystery, pulp, trash, and hardboiled fiction. I sprinkle a handful of horror on top, give it a quick stir and crank it up until it reaches boiling point!
Describe Paignton Noir for those who haven’t read any of your work.
The Paignton Noir books detail the exploits of an unlicensed private investigator called Joe Rey. Rey is a hard man, who stumbled into investigative work as an offshoot of his muscle-for-hire activities. He is neither particularly talented, nor particularly tormented, but his moral code hardens as his client list expands – forcing him to confront some unsavoury incidents in his family’s past.
I’ve read all of your work and need to ask, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Ha! I get that a lot! Believe it or not, I never set out to make the stories as dark as they end up. Too many crime writers pull their punches and produce weirdly bloodless fiction. That approach holds little appeal to me, and I make sure I follow these grisly scenarios through to their natural conclusion. That said, I always appreciate it when readers pick up on the vein of dark humour that runs through the stories. I work hard on the jokes!
Congrats on the release of “Boneyard Dogs.” How did it come about?
Thanks! To cut a long story short, I started writing ‘Boneyard Dogs’ around a decade ago, for a ‘first novel’ competition that I had no hope of winning. I revisited it a number of times, but it never quite clicked. After Close To The Bone published “Meat Bubbles & Other Stories” last year I dusted down the manuscript, and reworked “Boneyard Dogs” as a direct sequel to that book. This new sense of context helped me to iron out the glitches and I’m really pleased with the end product – a book that almost never happened.
Let’s talk about your central character, Joe Rey. How did he develop?
Rey first appeared many years ago (2007, I think) in a story called – appropriately enough – “Paignton Noir.” (It was published by a Canadian literary magazine called Front & Centre, and will never be reprinted!). He started out as a cynical tough guy who did favours for friends, and slowly evolved into a private investigator, which suited the crime-driven stories I started telling in subsequent years.
It was only really when I published “Skull Meat,” and some people expressed confusion over his status, that I realized I had to hammer out his back story and character arc.
“Repetition Kills You” delved into certain aspects of his past (his unhinged uncle and his ex-wife, for example), and ‘Spine Farm’ explores others, but “Boneyard Dogs” is where his background is properly fleshed out.
It was also important for me to use this book to establish his credentials. The private investigator is the most American of professions, and I wanted to explore how someone could do this job in a town like Paignton. His PI status arguably started out as an affectation, and that was something I was keen to address in a meaningful way.
Likewise, how do you develop your grim-and-grimy plots and characters?
I seem to go from one extreme to the other. For many years, I would stitch together stories from loose scenes and shards of dialogue, but I am increasingly finding that my synopses emerge fully formed, and I write to that blueprint. I basically pitch myself a series of plot ideas and go for the strongest one. There is nothing worse than clumsily applying a clunky synopsis onto a book long after it has been written!
Characters are a different kettle of fish. A lot of the supporting characters are based on people I have encountered in real life – given a hellish tweak – like everything else in the Paignton Noirscape. The more lurid antagonists are generally created to suit the storylines. I’ve got a lot of the more extreme characters out of my system, but there are some impressive maniacs on their way in future books.
How do you go about writing the violence?
Dialogue and character sketches can be written at any time, but I have to fully immerse myself in the character of Joe Rey before writing the violent scenes – particularly the climactic showdowns. He endures a lot of physical and mental trauma in these books and his subsequent actions are raw and unfiltered. The final act of “Spine Farm” is a particularly good example of this! I always look forward to outdoing myself with future fight scenes, and there are some unhinged ones coming up.
These books are unapologetically violent, and the most recent one (“Dirty Bullion”) is possibly the most brutal one yet. A lot of the fight scenes in that book were directly inspired by watching an early UFC DVD. This was way before UFC became a slick spectacle, and this event basically consisted of brutish-looking men with moustaches fracturing each other’s skulls in a sweaty Puerto Rican auditorium, while horrified boxing commentators struggled to describe the action. That really struck a chord with me!
If any of your stories became movies, who would you like to see play Joe Rey?
To bring Rey to life, I would pick the English actor James Norton – based on his performance as Tommy Lee Royce in the cracking UK crime drama “Happy Valley.” The intensity that Norton brought to the role was hugely impressive, and he stood out in a great ensemble cast. While he was involved in some breathtakingly callous scenes, he was also a master manipulator who displayed a real toxic charm. I could see him doing a great job as Rey.
Does the Paignton Tourist Board know about your work or are you persona non grata where they’re concerned?
My little corner of Devon is a cultural vacuum, where creative endeavours are neither welcomed nor encouraged. Suffice to say, I don’t have too many readers in this neck of the woods, and I’m well and truly under everyone’s radar!
To be honest – based on my e-book sales – barely anyone in the UK buys my books at all. Sales in the US are far healthier, and I understand that, as my style is quite jarring compared to the kind of books most UK crime writers produce. I crank up the impenetrable British references, and graft them onto unashamedly Americanised narratives – making everyone uncomfortable in some way!
Who or what inspires you? Where do you get your ideas?
On the one hand: living in a poverty-stricken, drug-ravaged, under-resourced seaside town. On the other hand: spending my free time reading great US crime fiction from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. The two congeal in my overactive mind, and Paignton Noir is the unpleasant result!
Who are your favorite authors? What are you reading now?
The authors who have had the biggest influence on me are all US writers, namely: Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, George Pelecanos, Joe Lansdale, James Lee Burke, Andrew Vachss, Dennis Lehane and James Sallis.
The book I’m currently reading is a British police procedural: “The Birdwatcher” by William Shaw. I’m halfway through, and it’s excellent so far. For many years, I avoided anything that was situated anywhere near the mainstream, but I have realized that I was tarring too many good authors with the wrong brush!
While my inclination is still to gravitate towards short, violent books published by independent presses (All Due Respect, Close To The Bone, Shotgun Honey), I need a well-rendered location to make a book truly satisfying. ‘The Birdwatcher’ is set on the Kent coast, and the level of local detail sucked me in straight away. Great stuff.
What’s next for Tom Leins? What other projects are you working on?
In December All Due Respect will be publishing my wrestling noir collection, “The Good Book.” Some of the stories appeared online a few years ago and received a better response than anything else I have ever written, so I hope that people enjoy the finished article!
In the meantime, I’m working on a collection of three interlinked Paignton Noir novelettes, tentatively titled “Sharp Knives & Loud Guns.” To give you a brief teaser, the opening story will be “Slug Bait.” so anyone who is wondering where the dangling narrative thread at the end leads can expect a violent resolution soon. Real soon!
Thank you so much, Tom. I appreciate your time and hope “The Third Degree” wasn’t too painful. I’m looking forward to reading “Dirty Bullion” and “The Good Book.”
Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. He is the author of the Paignton Noir mysteries “Skull Meat,” “Snuff Racket,” “Spine Farm,” “Slug Bait,” and “Boneyard Dogs” and the short story collections “Meat Bubbles & Other Stories” and “Repetition Kills You.” “Dirty Bullion” – a collaboration with Benedict J. Jones, author of the Charlie Bars series – was published in August 2019 and “The Good Book,” a collection of wrestling noir will be published by All Due Respect in December 2019.
Suggested Paignton Noir reading order:
1. Skull Meat
2. Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (includes Snuff Racket)
3. Spine Farm
4. Boneyard Dogs
5. Repetition Kills You
6. Slug Bait
7. Dirty Bullion (co-written with Benedict J. Jones)
Where Can Readers Find Out More About Tom Leins?
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