Gerry Boyle here. A film-buff friend on the west coast e-mailed the other day to say, Hey! Since when did you start using drugs and consorting with prostitutes. Hey, I said to myself. Getting a little personal there. Then he explained that he was talking about Gerry Boyle. The Irish cop. In the hot new movie The Guard.
In an indie movie that’s getting rave reviews, Gerry Boyle, played by Brendon Gleeson, is a contentedly corrupt small-town cop.
He hooks up with a straight-arrow FBI agent (Don Cheadle) to investigate a drug-related murder. They make a great pair, reviewers say, as Gleeson provides laughs and shocks galore. I’m going to see the movie this weekend as I love Gleeson’s work and I love the west of Ireland.
But I don’t expect that on my next visit I’m going to be able to find Gerry Boyle’s Ireland.
I say this having spent part of a day looking for another writer’s fictional world and coming up empty. I’m a huge fan of Ken Bruen and his books set in Galway, Ireland. In the novels, It’s a gritty place peopled by desperate characters, callous crooks, a parish priest with a heart of stone. I like the books so much (dialogue to die for) that last spring I stopped in Galway on my way to the west and looked around for Bruen’s down-at-the-heels city. I couldn’t find it.
I did find a nice town with a lovely square and pretty harbor. I met some very pleasant locals. In a pub, I asked the cheery waitress if she knew of Ken Bruen’s books. She stopped smiling. “Yeh, I know of ’em,” she said, and she turned and walked away.
Not a fan of Bruen’s Galway.
I bring all of this up for a couple of reasons (and you thought I was just rambling). One, I like the idea of Gerry Boyle as a dissolute cop, short on scruples and long on Guinness. But two, it was another reminder that the worlds created in our books don’t just replicate real life. I wrote about this here a few days back. But it’s on my mind more than ever as I make the rounds in the real Portland, Maine, talking about a Portland, Maine that doesn’t necessarily exist. In a TV interview earlier this week, I found myself saying that my new book, PORT CITY BLACK AND WHITE, is “all Portland, all the time.” Well, it is. But not necessarily the Portland most people know.
Yes, the book is very gritty. And cops and criminals might be the only ones who inhabit this side of the city. But it’s also because the bottom line is, we make this stuff up. Sure, some of our books are set against real backdrops. But on the page, those places are imagined. Reality comes in one end; fiction comes out the other.
It took me a while to quite get this. In fact, an admission here—and some advice for aspiring writers. It took me two or three books before I fully trusted my imagination. I had this idea that my realistic fiction had to be based on reality. Real places. Real people, or at least real composites, for characters.
So the advice-to-writers part: believe in your vision. Allow your imagination free hand. Let stuff pop onto the screen because it popped into of your head. Take reality and give it your own distinctive twist. Create. That’s what we do. Make up stories. Mine has a rookie cop in Portland, Maine. A Sudanese immigrant lost between two worlds. A mother and daughter who think the city is going to hell. A tough and wise lesbian cop whose parents disowned her when she came out.
Like Gerry Boyle, the Irish cop, they only exist in your head. And that, my friends, is the magic of what we do.
Gerry, what you just wrote here is so helpful to me right now. Thanks!
I must say that your depiction of rural Maine in your books is totally dead on. It’s the Maine I know and that tourists hardly ever notice.
Thanks, John. We must travel the same roads. When I started writing I couldn’t believe that no one had turned that part of Maine into crime fiction. Fertile ground, indeed.
Great advice, Gerry. New writers get so much advice about doing their research and being realistic, but we need the other advice as well. If it’s a running commentary on things anyone can observe, it isn’t fiction and it isn’t interesting.
Love gritty. And Black & White.
Just decided to see this movie tonight!
The movie is very good, funny. Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson terrific as always. It was slight too self-conscious for my taste, though my husband disagrees. In any case, I do recommend it.
Gerry here. Yes, I liked it very much. I agree. Thought it was a little heavy-handed in parts. You get that when writer-director doesn’t have anyone putting on the brakes. But Gleeson was great. Carried the film. And the other actors were first-class, as I expected. Echoes of IN BRUGES here and there and everywhere. Glad you liked it, Barb.
Gerry…already have that movie on my list, too. I look forward to your posts, which always seem to go right to the heart of something I’ve thought, or learned, or decided on. Or relearned, which seems to be a whole lot of this craft. In the end, it’s the world you create (and you do it so well) not the one you try to recreate from life, that will in inhabit the reader’s imagination.
BTW, I mentioned to my son that I would like a book trailer for the new Joe Burgess, coming in February. He said: What’s it about? I said: I’ll send you a galley when I get them, and hardcovers of the last two. He said: Are the Burgess books on Kindle?
Of course they are. Makes me feel so old fashioned, though.
Hi Kate: Good thing about Kindle is it’s global. My daughter in Ireland reads Kindle books on train commute. I’m doing a guest blog for a UK crime site only because I have a new Kindle release. It is the future. We should talk about putting backlist up. You’re doing that with yours now?