Interview with Tony Black

What is the secret to your productivity? This year alone you have three books coming out. Do you have an iron-clad daily writing routine, or word count targets which must be reached? A special kind of magic coffee, perhaps? Please share your secret!

I like the sound of the magic coffee, but there's no secret apart from just keeping at it over the years. This year has been a bit special in that I've had three books out, I haven't done that before, mainly because I have been with one publisher, Random House, for quite a few years. When I left RH I had a stockpile of books that hadn't been published, one that I started writing ten years ago, and one that I wrote two years ago, and I sold them to separate publishers so here they are now coming out in the same year, with one other, that I did write last year.

You are probably best known as a crime writer but with two of your recent novels, His Father's Son and The Last Tiger you have stepped away from that. Was this a conscious decision to shake off the 'crime writer' label or did your work just naturally progress in that direction?

If I'm known at all, it's as a crime writer and that's primarily because I was lucky enough to get published in this genre. I'd always had an interest in more general fiction, though, and had actually started writing that long before I began the crime fiction. I'm quite happy to shift between the two now but most of the ideas I seem to be having are outside the crime genre.

Is there anything wrong with being known as a 'crime writer'? What did you think of James Kelman's remarks that Scotland gives too much praise and attention to crime fiction and 'upper middle-class young magicians'?

Well, you're not going to hear me complain about being a crime writer! But, I think Kelman's remarks are probably on the money, actually. In terms of the media and how we position Scottish writing it's very clear that the most popular genres are given the lion's share of interest. It never used to be like that, we had some great writing in the 90s that came from the likes of Duncan McLean and Gordon Legge that seemed to attract a lot of interest but sadly they've both published very little recently.

Can you tell us how your first book found a publisher? What practical advice would give to a writer trying to find a publisher for his debut novel?

My first book found its way into print by the old method of firstly working with an agent, through several novels, over several years. I don't see that as the only way into print now but certainly it's still a route worth trying. Nowadays there's the kindle first route too, which has been hugely successful for a number of new authors. I think if I was starting out now that's the way I'd go, simply because the odds on succeeding the other way are becoming slimmer - and more restrictive in terms of content - every year.

When we interviewed Ewan Morrison he said writers shouldn't bother with blogs and building a social media presence, but aren’t such things essential these days in acquiring a readership? Indeed, wouldn't your publisher encourage you to acquire these things? Do you find social media useful in promoting a book or communicating directly with readers?

Social media is an incredible drain on a writer's time and I think there's a danger of falling into the trap of thinking it's in some way helping you as a writer. It's not. The only way to improve as a writer is to write more. That said, since the web became all powerful, social media and blogging have become almost essential ingredients in any new book's success. I think you'd have to be Stephen King to get away with avoiding it altogether, but then if you're Stephen King you probably have a full-time employee doing it for you.

What are you working on at the moment?

Nothing. I'm taking some time out for a little while. This year, as you mentioned, I've had three novels out so it's almost impossible to write and promote those at the same time. I've been taking a lot of notes on new novels, jotting down new ideas and so on, but I think it'll be later in the year until I actually get to start something new. I've an idea for a new Rob Brennan novel that I might do and another quite different crime novel too but there's some more general fiction on the boil as well. Will wait and see which appeals to me the most nearer the time.


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