TOUR DE FRANCE IS BACK SOON. BRING IT ON!
Here’s something to whet your appetite for the big one in a couple of weeks. New Tour documentary focusing on the legendary riders of old. Froome looks in great shape this year with Nibali, Contador and Evans waiting to pounce. Right that last year’s runner-up gets chance to shine.
Click here to buy/pre-order
Tottenham 2012/13: Scores on the doors
Two listless 1-0 home defeats to Wigan and Fulham cost us a Champions League spot for next season - not giving up one-goal leads on both visits to Merseyside in a season where we prospered on the road and showed a soft underbelly at fortress White Hart Lane.
Make the Lane a psychological 12th man again next season and we can push on in Andre Villas-Boas’ second full campaign. The wily tactical tinkering that saw us score in all but one away games en route to an impressive haul of 34 points was the primary reason we collared a Premier League best of 72.
You will not find many people outside the club, who would have predicted that when AVB took the helm. The gravel-voiced Portuguese has kept a low profile, of that we are thankful following Harry Redknapp’s tiresome quote happy tenure towards the end.
Generous in praise when faced with victory or defeat, he deserves plaudits in much the same way as Hugo Lloris. The Frenchman came with a glittery reputation that existed outside the rough and tumble of the Premier League. One season down, after seeing off rugged Brad Friedel, he can justifiably claim to be our unsung hero.
Gareth Bale and Jan Vertonghen may have grabbed the spotlight, but ask Spurs fans who they were quietly impressed with and Lloris will be the answer. Much in the same way that Aaron Lennon has fostered a fan favourite reputation, the former Lyon custodian looks set to follow suit. What better place to start my end-of-season ratings then than Lloris himself…
Hugo Lloris - 8
We could have done without the arrogant Didier Deschamps ultimatum at the start of the season, however when Lloris did finally get a run of starts he showed why he was so highly rated for France and Lyon. Even if his punches make us nervous, his impeccably timed dashes from the line to snuff out danger and imperious shot stopping soon won us over. Real class act.
Brad Friedel - 7
Brad could have spat the dummy big time when Deschamps and Lloris were questioning his place in the team at the start of the season, but he didn’t. A true pro, the American just got on with his job and when replaced cheered on from the bench. Lloris is an upgrade, nevertheless Brad did us proud and happy to have him.
Kyle Walker - 6
Kyle was living the dream after a great season last time out, but all good things come to an end. He has been found out this season, much to his own disappointment. His ability to highlight his own mistakes and work harder, rare in a professional footballer, has made him a fan favourite. His displays improved in the second half of the season and he will benefit from a settled back four next season.
Jan Vertonghen - 8
With our rock Younes Kaboul sidelined, Big Jan came in from Ajax and took the Premier League by storm. He got found out in a few games with tricky opposition attackers, however his tough tackling, surges forward and pitch leadership mean he will provide a fearsome pairing when Kaboul returns. Capable of rocket free-kicks.
Michael Dawson - 7
How the club ever thought of getting rid of him, I don’t know. The spiritual heartbeat of the side in Ledley’s absence and best role model I can see in present day for kids in terms of attitude on and off the pitch. Hugely underrated centre-back too, who prospers when playing alongside class like Vertonghen but struggles when paired with dross like Gallas. Around for a while yet.
Steven Caulker - 7
Seventeen Premier League starts for the England international this season. How AVB picked Gallas ahead of him for key Europa League games, we will never know. Still maturing defensively and slow on the turn occasionally, one to keep for next season if part of a rotation with Jan, Daws and Younes. Bright spot off the bench this season.
William Gallas - 4
He did a job when Redknapp first brought him to the club, but looked shot last season and put in three of the worst defensive displays I have ever seen at home to Chelsea and Basle, then away to Inter Milan. Much like Adebayor, a former Arsenal/Chelsea poison that needs removing.
Younes Kaboul - NA
One Premier League start is all we got out of Younes this season and, boy, did it show at times. The rock upon which we had become too reliant last season, his absence put too much pressure on Vertonghen. A fierce competitor and superb all-round athlete, his presence next season will be paramount to mounting a charge in all four competitions.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto - 6
I have defended him in the face of his detractors for a few years now. Sadly for Benoit, the sublime performances we saw last season have not been repeated this time around. Obviously injuries haven’t helped, but he does not look the same player. His careless play suggests Danny Rose or a world class replacement could see him sold or benched.
Kyle Naughton - 5
He tries hard, but just doesn’t have what it takes to stake a permanent place. His defensive performances alongside Gallas were the essence of comedy at times. Again, the fact he was played out of position at left-back should go in his favour nevertheless he just doesn’t look good enough to be part of a side looking to challenge the top three. His gun photo antics suggest he’s not at the races mentally.
Aaron Lennon - 7
We do not look nearly as potent when Azza misses games, simple as that. His defensive work tracking back should be held up as the template for wingers worldwide, even if his attacking end product sometimes disappoints. He keeps defenders on their toes and his crossing was incisive this season. Few more goals and we’d be even more happy.
Clint Dempsey - 6
Seven goals and four assists from 22 Premier League starts. The jury is still out on Clint for me. He can disappear for long stretches of play, which you simply can’t get away with in a side looking to win every game they play. Big game player who has a nose for goal and a cute touch at times, however he needs to step up his impact in lesser games and ditch the often grumpy attitude.
Sandro - 8
He was near enough the best central midfielder in Europe statistically before he got injured, so you can imagine how much we missed him for the second half of the season. An absolute monster around the pitch, he let Dembele focus on what he does best and protected the back four too. He is key in terms of how we fare next season on all fronts. His Tweets of support before and after games highlights spirit.
Scott Parker - 6
Fifteen Premier League starts for Scotty, however not the same player as last season due to a combination of fitness problems and no Luka to help him shoulder the load. Honest as the day is long, he should find himself benched next season if AVB wants us to mix with the big boys.
Mousa Dembele - 6
New midfield maestro or second coming of Jermaine Jenas? Difficult to tell with the Belgian hit by niggly injuries all season long. When paired with Sandro and fit, he looks the real deal. When paired with anyone else and looking scared to dribble, let alone tackle, he is a complete passenger. Hopefully the former wins out and he can produce way more end product in the final third and belters from that lovely left peg of his.
Gareth Bale - 9
Whatever anyone may say, he played for himself last season and it cost us time and again in big games like City, Liverpool and Arsenal away. This season he has been the ultimate team player, while boosting his own stock in the process. The strong bond with AVB and his team-mates is there for all to see. Bring in someone to take the load off the left flank next season and he can roam to devastating effect again hopefully. Must not be allowed to leave.
Gylfi Sigurdsson - 7
Classic confidence player who shrinks away when the team is packed full of players on top of their game, but steps up when others are under par and he can be the star man. He had a poor first half of the season but, arguably, our most improved player in the second half. If he can get used to being a squad player, then the sky is the limit. Gutsy worker, who should try his luck more from distance.
Tom Huddlestone - 5
T-Hudd has had more than enough chances to stake a claim over the years. He looked like he had finally cracked it during our Champions League campaign a couple of years back, but injuries have set him back physically and emotionally again. Like Jenas, thinks he can just turn up to get plaudits instead of getting stuck in and making best use of his talent. Would not be unhappy if he moved on this summer and AVB played Carroll more.
Lewis Holtby - 6
Too early to tell with our German bit part player. You cannot fault his enthusiasm, however needs a run of games with a properly identified role to show his talents. Just like Gylfi, might have to be happy with an impact squad role unless he ups his game considerably attacking wise.
Jake Livermore - 5
Feel for Jake. Whenever he was asked to step in for Scotty last season, he did so with aplomb. Sadly this season he missed the boat on all fronts and I think a permanent move away might be the best solution as his loan days look behind him as a full England international. Combative.
Emmanuel Adebayor - 5
World class one minute, Sunday league the next. Injuries have taken their toll, but it does not excuse the lousy attitude and sitter missing throughout the season. His sending off at Arsenal sums up why we would be better off without him. His Chelsea away display suggests he still might have it in him. If AVB can find a buyer, the temptation to let him lope off could be too much to resist especially with his big wages spent on younger, hungrier strikers that would score more goals.
Jermain Defoe - 6
I have a soft spot for JD. He’s never complained when he hasn’t been in the side during his spells and he knows where the onion bag is. He came out of the traps this season superbly and looked the arch poacher we know he can be at his best. On the flip side, he showed on his injury return how infurating he can be when his radar is off and he refuses to pass to team-mates in better positions.
Tom Carroll - 6
He is a delightful player on the ball, of that there is no doubt. Modric showed how you can succeed with a slight frame once he hit his Premier League stride and there’s no reason why Tom can’t follow suit. We lack a possession player in midfield with a glint in his eye for a crafty through ball. Would prefer to see him used next season.
Andros Townsend - 7
Along with Gallas’ continuing selection, the January loan to QPR was a rare mistake for AVB this season. As he showed when he came on in his substitute appearances and subsequent starting role for Redknapp in west London, he finally has the application to add to his pace and trickery. His attitude has been ropey before, and his gambling problem is a worry just when we thought the penny had dropped, but he should be welcomed back.
Ones for the future
Great back-up for Kyle Walker and should be on the bench at all times. Loves to get forward and superb long shot.
Not sure Ryan has what it takes to shine at the very top of the game, however would be nice to see AVB let him try.
Looks like falling behind Cristian Ceballos in the pecking order, despite a cute Spanish passing game.
Hugely impressive on loan at Wycombe, surely Lloris’ deputy the season after next when Brad hangs gloves up.
Has the talent learned at Barca, now lets see him get games off the bench to show his midfield trickery.
Willing forward worker off the bench at most in a team looking to hit the heights like Tottenham.
Why not give him a try off the bench in pre season and see if he can stake a permanent squad place. Bundles of pace.
He is a curious one, Obika. He can look unstoppable one moment and pedestrian the next. Worth giving a look.
Already showed he can impress at Peterborough, exactly the type of midfield schemer needed to unlock defences.
No reason why we cannot challenge for the top four again next season now we have got rid of our Old Trafford hoodoo and improved our away performances. Two, hopefully three, world class additions and dead wood removal would give us even more impetus. Steffen Freund’s infectious enthusiasm off the bench is a big plus, while Daniel Levy needs to buy early this summer. COYS!
Literary Crime Fiction Interview: Paul Doiron
Stephen King has a lot to answer for. Maine has been the setting for most of his novels thereby fostering a spooky, supernatural view that does not entirely reflect the most forested state in America. Author Paul Doiron is seeking to change that perception with his riveting series of literary crime novels featuring Maine game warden Mike Bowditch.
The first The Poacher’s Son has been brought out by Constable & Robinson in the UK with novels two Trespasser and three Bad Little Falls following before the year 2013 is out. Paul was kind enough to take time out from his busy schedule as a writer and journalist to chat with me via Skype from his Maine home about his Edgar nominated creation.
Matthew: Were the Maine game wardens wary about you when you first started researching for The Poacher’s Son?
Paul: “They were a little bit wary. I am strictly a civilian, but I am a registered Maine guide. The state licences people to take anyone who wants to go out fishing, hunting or camping into the wilderness. You have to pass a series of tests, which are actually administered by the Maine Warden Service who are our state’s off-road police force. That’s how I’ve gotten to know a lot of those guys and that’s why I write about them.
“Whenever you deal with law enforcement, they are aware of the fact that their jobs are interesting to the public and obliged, in some ways, to take me on a ride along if I want to go on patrol. I am also a journalist, which adds another element to it. Everyone is suspicious of journalists!
“My fourth book Massacre Pond is about to come out in the States and I was invited to the Warden Service’s annual meeting and award banquet. That was great because I had wardens that I didn’t even know coming up to me and telling me what big fans they are of my books, which was a great compliment.
“I do my best to get their job right, because it is a very unusual job. I had to do a lot of research in terms of the specific police procedural aspect of it. Years ago I managed to get hold of a volume, which I’m not sure is meant for the public, which is the Warden Service’s manual that they give to new wardens. It’s about 1,000 pages long and everything from how long their sideburns can be onwards. It is very detailed and it helped me get certain details right. Hearing the jargon that they use, that sort of thing.”
Were you consciously aiming for a crime fiction novel out of the gate or did it evolve into one once you had set the character of Mike and his world in motion?
“I started my writing life as a literary writer. I went to Yale and I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. My inspirations were always Hemingway, Fitzgerald and all the modernists, but then about 10 years ago my wife gave me my first PD James novel. I read it and thought this is literature.
“I always had a long interest in crime fiction and one of my favourite series of all were the Sherlock Holmes books. I began to read more and more crime novels and I discovered that there were many books that were being written that were extremely well done and as good as any books that I was reading in other genres. Things came together when I was spending more time outdoors and I realised that the Maine game wardens are involved in every aspect of crime in the state.
“Everything from what we usually think game wardens would deal with like catching poachers to things like apprehending people who are growing marijuana in the woods, to finding lost children, snowmobile accidents and dealing with drowned bodies in lakes. They are partnered with every law enforcement agency, so I thought this is great and the perfect job for a crime series. It’s unique to Maine.
“Game wardens’ job responsibilities vary across the States. In the state of Maine, a game warden is essentially the equivalent to a city cop or a state trooper. They go to the main criminal justice academy and then they go to their own school. They have full investigative and arrest powers, so they can pull you over for drunk driving or investigate rape and murder.”
Mike Bowditch is an intriguing main protagonist. He does not fit the tired, clichéd mould that we see so often in crime fiction. How did you come up with him?
“I was pleased with how people reacted to Mike in the first book. I was very nervous about it frankly. Typically in crime fiction you meet the protagonist in a series when he or she has already established themselves in their profession and found their personality. When you meet Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, he is already Philip Marlowe.
“I was interested in the idea about how someone becomes a hero. How does a younger protagonist, who is a flawed, damaged and very green rookie, turn into a character that you would think of as being more conventional and heroic. I wanted readers to try and cut Mike a little bit of slack because he is very impetuous and headstrong from his upbringing. The book is about and his relationship with his father - a criminal, larger than life man’s man.”
How important then is it to have two characters in Charley Stevens and Kathy Frost that act as father and mother figures in the series?
“Mike’s very much discovering the father that he wished he had had in the retired game warden Charley. He had an emotionally abusive distant father that always made him feel less of a man, who he admired nevertheless because of his woodsmanship and bravado. Charley is equally woods wise, but always wise in the ways of a human being. He’s also funny and sharper than he looks. Mike’s sergeant Kathy is a profane, wise cracking person, who I thought Mike needed in his life to challenge him and call him to task for a lot of his self-involvement and youthful over enthusiasm. It felt important to me to have characters like that to serve to some degree as surrogates for the reader.”
The novel started to stray into literary crime for me when Mike goes back to Charley’s home and sees firsthand the retired life he leads with wife Ora. Those types of scenes peppered throughout the book elevated it into James Lee Burke territory for me.
“It was something that I had allowed myself to write and there were a number of chapters in the book that are flashbacks too. There’s a scene earlier in the book where Mike is nine years old and he goes out on a trapping expedition with his father that is pretty disastrous, for example. If your expectation from a crime novel is that it hits the ground running and then keeps moving forward at this fast pace, it could seem a little disconcerting to have these chapters where they are very much about relationship building and are quieter too.
“I was quite nervous about writing those parts, after the fact. While I was writing them I felt that they were right, but I was fully expecting that when the time came for me to find an agent and publishers that those were going to be troublesome areas. Instead what I found was that everybody seemed to have the reaction that you had, which was that those elements of the book took it out of one territory and put it into another which is what I had intended. My philosophy is that if I am not surprised reading the book, then the reader probably isn’t going to be surprised reading it.”
Let’s move onto one of the most fascinating characters that I have read in crime fiction for a while, Brenda Jean aka BJ. How did you capture the mindset of a fiery, damaged, manipulative young woman with a sting in her tail so well?
“Brenda Jean is a character who comes into this very remote north woods world as a little girl and grows up at a sporting camp. Maine is actually the most forested state in the US and there are parts of it that are very, very remote. This American Indian girl has been put in one such place where her mother has died and her father has an alcohol problem, while whoever is staying at this lodge for the most part is a man. What does that do to her in terms of shaping her? She is attractive, so she learns a lot about men in terms of how to manipulate them but you can also see she is a very troubled person in terms of her unusual upbringing. It’s hard to read her in terms of how much is she a femme fatale and how innocent she is.”
How hard was it for you writing the second, third and fourth in the series after the critical success of The Poacher’s Son and the inevitable pressure of publisher deadlines?
“The advantage that I had with Trespasser was that the publication of The Poacher’s Son was delayed by a year. I had sold it as part of a three-book contract, so I actually knew I was going to have three books to tell what was going to be the beginning of Mike’s story. However, I had this two-year window when my US publisher decided that they thought it was going to be a breakthrough book and wanted to give it a long, lead time to unroll it.
“What that meant for me in terms of the second novel was that I had to fly on my own without a sense of what the reaction was going to be to the first one. Now I am on a book a year schedule, it does change the way you go at these things but what makes it easier now is that I am working with characters that I know a lot better. If Charley or Kathy reappears I know what they are likely to say, but I still try and leave myself room for things.”
An Edgar nomination for your first book helped get momentum behind you. How pleasing was it to get affirmation from such a prestigious body so early in your career?
“The Edgar nomination was amazing. What was even more amazing to me before that was that the early reviews for The Poacher’s Son were all so positive. I kept waiting for the shoe to drop and it never did with that particular book until the Edgars came along. It was a tremendous, affirmative experience for me and it gave me lots of confidence going forward.”
How did you want to portray your beloved home state Maine to the outside world?
“Warts and all, definitely. Stephen King has certainly introduced Maine to a worldwide audience but in a way that people think of as being supernaturally focused. One of my motivations is to render the state of Maine as vividly as possible to people who have never been here before. I live in a special and unique place. Like anywhere in the world it has its flaws and dark corners, but the incredible beauty of the nature here is something that I want to get across. It’s something that I respond to in really good fiction and crime fiction.
“I am open in my admiration for James Lee Burke, who I think is masterful at portraying southern Louisiana especially. He is most associated with the Cajun country. You read those books and you can smell the night blooming flowers. You can hear the thunderstorms rolling in across the Gulf of Mexico. It gives me something to aspire to in my own books.”
Do you think a rising backlash in the face of western society’s obsession with urbanisation and technology has played into your hands with readers?
“The world in general is becoming much more urbanised and as that process takes place people become more disconnected from aspects of country living whether it is something as simple as agriculture. People don’t know where their meat is coming from. They think a steak comes from the store, so I have an audience that is not as familiar with what it is that I am trying to describe. I want to try and educate as well as entertain.
“There is a reality TV show called Northwoods Law, which is about Maine game wardens. I did an article about it for my magazine and I asked them how they got fixated on this themselves. They said they started with this question, “What was Alaska before Alaska?” If you go back 100 years, it was the state of Maine. That was what drew them up here.
“It might feel exotic as it is not a way of life many people are experiencing right now like they used to in previous generations. One of the interesting things for me is to watch where books are being translated and Eastern Europe is covered well. I have sold translation rights to Romania, Czech Republic and Slovenia, and that feels very right for me. I am glad Constable & Robinson are having success with me in the UK too, which is the birthplace of crime fiction. You are the toughest critics!”
Please check out Paul’s website to learn more about him.
After a couple of months hard work, I have launched my new travel business where you can hire me to take a photography package and write article copy or buy my photos for commercial, editorial and personal use.
Photography is a huge passion of mine and has kept me sane when I’ve had setbacks in life. Hopefully it will lead to a new profitable chapter in my career, so please feel free to help spread the word for me. Thanks, Matt
Literary Crime Fiction Interview: Derek B. Miller
Debut novelists are given big marketing pushes to try and stand out from the crowd and, often, the spotlight is far too bright in relation to the quality of the actual book. Thankfully Norwegian by Night by American writer Derek B. Miller delivers on the publishing hype with its fascinating 82-year-old Jewish American ex-Marine Sheldon Horowitz at the core.
A meandering novel that straddles the crime and literary fiction genres, it is being promoted hard by Faber with British broadsheet newspapers tipping Derek as one of the writers to watch in 2013.
I was lucky enough to spend an hour talking with the former Boston native about his intriguing premise, the difficult themes it tackles, and his hopes for this new writing career, which would have to complement his “day job” where he is the Director of The Policy Lab, and a senior fellow with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. While The Policy Lab is based in Boston, Miller resides in Oslo with his wife and children.
Matthew: Are you surprised with how enthused the British press are for your book?
Derek: “It does feel that there is a certain coterie of people who have a strong connection to this book and become very strong advocates for it. Word of mouth amongst the intelligentsia of Britain, so to speak, seems to be getting around. As soon as The Times pegged me as being one of the writers to watch in 2013, it must have had some impact.”
It stands out in the sense that it meshes two genres successfully. How do you see it?
“It’s being sold as a crime novel in Britain whereas in half the countries it’s being published, it is not. I don’t really read much crime. The crime came much later than the character - it was a theme driven book. Partly for me to grow as a writer, I needed something that had a more traditional structure than a previous manuscript I had written. Writing in the crime genre forced some discipline on me as a writer, which I need. Ultimately, I really wanted to write about Sheldon.”
What was the launch pad for the themes that you explore?
“There are various themes and the question is whether a story could be found in the interrelationship of the themes. I wrote this in 2008 and the birth of my son was one of the major topics. Sheldon was a character from a previous manuscript that wasn’t published and won’t be in the future, even though I am pulling stuff from it.
“In many ways, I wanted to explore Norway. I knew we were going to move up here. I am less of the view that you should write about what you know than write about what interests you because presumably you’ll learn. It reminds me of an interview with Jerry Seinfeld after his TV show finished. At the end of it there was a Q&A where somebody from the audience said, “Why don’t you do any movies?” I liked his answer which was, “If you go to a bad movie, it’s two hours. If you are in a bad movie, it’s two years.”
“Writing a book takes a tremendous amount of time. I bore easily so I needed themes that I wanted to stay with. My grandparents’ generation was obviously passing and I was very concerned about how they are going to be remembered. Are they going to be taken seriously or are they going to be caricatured? That generation defined the 20th century and the platform we are building off now.
“Sheldon was a Jewish American character that I wanted to portray because I hadn’t seen it done enough or perhaps at all, but I had seen these people in life. There was a disconnect between Jewish men from that generation which was partly their own fault, at least in entertainment. That sort of clownish character has no resonance in my generation. There were 500,000 Jewish American soldiers in World War Two and that doesn’t appear in fiction. The Jewish population in the States is about six million so that’s a huge percentage, not to mention the ones that went to Korea and Vietnam. It doesn’t come up in conversation. It is so prevalent, yet so absent.
“A very particular sense of Jewish identity in the States is connected to that kind of emancipation that took place during the war. Given that so much of the Jewish immigration took place after WWI (though most of my family came earlier), it was during WWII that our “Americanness” was as much forged by American experience as European conduct. I don’t want to sound jingoistic or, tub thumping, but many of the complexities and contradictions that results in Sheldon — who more or less pushed his son into a Vietnam war that he didn’t quite believe in — come from this particular Jewish-American read of the American experience vis-à-vis our experience in Europe. We were given a chance to fight for something bigger than ourselves and we did.”
Korea is almost the forgotten war, so how interesting was it to research that period?
“Korea was a weird war, because I think there were only about 30 American journalists fielded over there during the entire war. We often forget from the American perspective that it was a United Nations war. It wasn’t one of ours, though we are still there. We have never stopped being on the Demilitarised Zone between the north and south. I have a PhD in International Relations and an MA in National Security, so I deal with war in my day job. So I had some background and knowledge here to draw upon — though I had to look up plenty of details.
“The one thing key to me about Korea was how soon it happened after WWII, which is something we forget. It was only five years later. A lot of the young ones who couldn’t fight WWII wanted to fight in Korea. One has to be careful about portraying it as Jewish guilt or Holocaust survivor syndrome, because it’s not. It was more a case of, ‘I wanted to kick ass with my countrymen, but I couldn’t because I was 14.’ It’s an impulse (wise or otherwise) that is inherent to being a guy.”
Taking that into consideration, how difficult was it to write the scenes between Sheldon the Korean War veteran and his son Saul, who is fighting the Vietnam War?
“Emotionally, I sat at my desk and cried when I wrote those parts. It can sound pathetic but, on the other hand, if I am not sincerely touched by what I am creating then I am not achieving what I want. There were two scenes that were the hardest to write that I was putting off for a while, but I knew were going to be central. One was the scene where Sheldon, in his mind, goes on his son’s final journey in Vietnam. I could easily have made it back story and never walked the readers through it. I didn’t know how it was going to play out when I was doing it.
“The other one was the conversation between father and son when Saul comes back from Vietnam. It was only upon writing and editing it that I was able to go back to earlier parts of the book and make sure the foreshadowing leading up to that scene was balanced. It wasn’t an argument. It was a discussion that had implications. It was everything that Saul was trying to do to be the son that he thought his father wanted him to be while for Sheldon it was to recognise that he didn’t have the words to tell his son not to do it. If the scenes didn’t move me, they didn’t get in.”
You also focus on another war that often gets lost in the historical mix, that of the recent Balkan conflict. Why that one in particular?
“This was one I was familiar with from my normal line of work. From a Western viewpoint I think the essence of the story was that as soon as there wasn’t an obvious villain or hero we all turned over the channel. We thought, given the conduct of the Serbs, that supporting the opposition was the obvious thing to do, but we didn’t want to inflame the war. In fact, The KLA also acted atrociously.
“I made up the actual incidents, but I kept the names of actual villages where such events happened. I got those from newspapers. There is a tremendous amount of hatred there. For those of us who don’t truly understand the Balkans, we don’t realise how drenched in blood that region is.
“There are a significant number of people from there who are up here in Oslo now. In my novel, virtually everyone is an immigrant. Some have acculturated. Most haven’t. As for Sheldon, Norway doesn’t really have a Jewish history, for example. It’s largely alien to them. There has never been a Jewish history here like in London, or Prague, or Vienna. And this is unusual for Europe.
“More generally, I wanted to create a set of juxtapositions, because they are fun to use when telling stories. So immigrants — especially hostile ones — against the peaceful blue and sun of Norway was very appealling for a storyteller. Meanwhile, it’s topical too. One of the defining qualities of Norway right now is that it’s punching way above its weight class in terms of international political impact and I think they know it. Last I checked, it was the seventh largest gross contributor to the United Nations which is amazing for a country of around five million people. They have a huge influence on the world in terms of humanitarian and development funding. I’m certain it is well intentioned. But it would benefit by more strategic clarity, policy tools, and coordinated conduct. But now we’re moving into my day-job concerns.”
How much fun was it to write dialogue for an 82-year-old character?
“Fun. Big fun. You have to be true to the references, the tone of voice, the humour and the sensibility. If I may make a bold statement, Jews are funny. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen it all. I wanted Sheldon to be a serious character, but I didn’t want him to lose his sense of humour. Sheldon makes fun of the world. He can get away with anything as an old man. As I writer I would really cut loose with it. I think there should be a lot more characters of this age.
“On a personal note, something that is really fun for me at 42 years old, when life normally begins to narrow and you have to accept who you are and what you do, suddenly somebody threw open a door and said to me that I can go through here too! Behind it is this Wonderland, Narnia almost, populated by people and conversations that I never knew I would have in the literary and publising worlds. Meanwhile, an 82-year-old Jewish man wandering around Scandinavia is suddenly the talk of the town.”
Was keeping Sheldon’s child companion Paul silent throughout the story a conscious decision from the outset?
“I never set out to have him silent the entire time - I just went from scene to scene. If you are a traumatised kid to begin with and then you have another traumatic event like he has at seven years old, I just kept asking myself what would he do here. I kept feeling he wouldn’t speak. If he spoke a language, would it be Albanian, Serbian, Serbo-Croatian or Norwegian? I kept not wanting to answer that.
“The one scene where I decided he wasn’t going to say a word was when they are in the little blue house by the water. He wakes up, sees Sheldon and throws his arms round him. It wasn’t so much a hug of affection; more a drowning victim latching onto something that was floating. I respected what I was witnessing rather than what I wanted to write. If they would have had more direct conversations, it would have made Sheldon’s experiences in the past and present feel diverting.”
When is the next Derek B. Miller tome rolling onto the presses?
“You are the first person I have told this to, which is that I have 350 pages of the next book written. It’s a hell of a start. I don’t know how long it will end up, apart from being somewhere between 250 and 500 pages. It’s more of an ensemble piece than a one-man show, as it was with Sheldon. I’d like to have a draft done in the spring. I want to sit on it and see where we are. What I am sure about is that the only way to follow up Sheldon Horowitz is not to complete with him, but create a new world afresh. As a hint, I’ll be taking readers to New England…
“I am trying to break into an incredibly difficult industry walking the fine line of literary commercial fiction. The American release is coming out in May and other countries during the summer. I’m not depending on this financially. If it does well, that would be a beautiful thing but I am not counting on it. As it is, I’m feeling very lucky to simply be here. A debut novel like this coming out in eight languages and counting? I’m speechless.
“So anyway, the next one is more of a mystery and family drama than a thriller. There is no chase or shootouts. People won’t be waiting three years for it, though! What I can say is that my inspiration comes more from Safran Foer, Chabon, Franzen, Maxwell, Salter, Auster and Ford than the hard-boiled school of crime. So if that appeals to your readers, please look for me.”
Click here to buy Norwegian by Night. Learn more about Derek on his Facebook page.