Before finding success as an author, Fifer Ray Banks worked as a wedding singer, a double-glazing salesman, a croupier, a dole monkey, and a disgruntled temp. He recently spoke with our friends at Byker Books about deep fried Mars bars, John Terry’s libido and more.
Interview with Ray Banks
Someone had moved the thread I’d placed across the door. The game was up. I straightened my hat, took a quick swig from the Sloe Gin in my hipflask and entered the room. My eyes blinked in rapid succession, goddamn it was dark in there, like looking up a tunnel with a blindfold on. Luckily for me my hearing still worked just fine and I heard the soft sound of a hard man trying to exit quietly.
– Hold it right there Banks, you’ve got some questions coming…
And that was that. Eight foot Scottish Geordie Ray Banks was in the hotseat and for once, my light was blinding him…
- So, Ray, much happening these days?
Not much, kidda, has to be said. Pecking away at various things, but mostly doing the same as everyone else – trying to stay sane and solvent. You know how it is. (I’d be happy with either really. Ed)
- Who would you say inspired you to take up the pen initially?
Good question – I have no idea. I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t doing this or something like this. But then I’m getting old and my brain is in tatters thanks to my “fun days”. Probably family or a teacher or something like that. Our cat told us to do it. Yeah, that’s probably it. He told us to do the writing thing or kill hookers. Figured writing would be the easy option. Figured wrong.
- It’s extremely difficult getting anywhere near either an agent or a publisher these days – how did you manage it?
The usual – luck, timing, and giving stuff away. I started writing short stories for publication in 2002 and made a point of subbing to the ezines that edited. Lucky for me, I had some fantastic editors, so I learned a lot. Then, when I wrote the first book and that had been roundly rejected, I sent it to Al Guthrie over at his nascent website Noir Originals, which had a showcase type thing (I think it still does, actually), and he liked it enough to take it on when PointBlank came on the scene. In the meantime, one of my short stories caught the interest of an agent. Then, bingo, I was allowed into the Published Authors Society where, after the ritual paddling and shit-eating initiations, I was given a badge which allowed me discounted entry to museums and galleries all over Tyne and Wear.
- What are you reading at the minute then?
Tony Parker’s The People of Providence, which is a series of oral histories of people living on a London council estate. Next up is Red Hill, a book about a mining community the year after the strike. Again by Tony Parker. He’s the kind of author that inspires gluttony. I also have his soldier, murderer and Belfast books to read.
- In your last outing for Callum Innes (the magnificent ‘Beast of Burden’) you finished off the series – do you plan on some standalones next or another series of books based on one main character?
I don’t see myself doing another single-character series, but never say never. If a decent idea came up and people wanted to read it, I dare say I’d give it a crack. At the moment, though, I think I’m going to potter around with some bigger standalone stuff, see what sticks. I’m not about to commit myself to anything unless it feels right. This is what the day job’s for – so I can afford to be all wishy-washy about my plans.
- Deep fried Mars Bars, Ham and Pease Pudding Stotties or Truffles?
Deep-fried Mars Bars all the way. People moan on about them being disgusting – those people haven’t had one. It’s fried chocolate and caramel, for fuck’s sake, what’s the matter with that? Also deep-fried pizza. And a big bottle of Irn Bru. And then probably a defibrillator.
- Who are your literary heroes and why?
Ted Lewis, Derek Raymond, Charles Willeford and Daniel Woodrell are the ones that spring immediately to mind. They’ve all managed to make their genre personal, thrown in something else – Lewis from the working-class Brit perspective; Raymond with the focus on the victim, the metaphysical violence; Willeford with his unusual eye for American obsessives; Woodrell’s hardbitten lyrical prose couple with complete empathy for the outsider. When these guys wrote (or write in Woodrell’s case), they wrote with everything they had. And when someone writes like that, you have to pay attention.
- Any advice you could give the unpublished masses out there?
Same advice I always give: don’t do it. Seriously. Learn a trade. Work in a soup kitchen. You’ll feel better for it.
And if you must do it, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Do you want to write, or do you want to be a writer, because the two aren’t the same thing at all. The criticism will outweigh the praise, the respect will be as non-existent as the money, and if you want to write novels, well, if you believe anything you’ve read in the last year, the novel’s dead as Diana. It’s all about ebooks and video bridges and high concept ideas. Y’know, the same good stuff that wrecked Hollywood.
So if you’re going to do it, you better fucking enjoy it. Because there’s a good chance you’ll be your only reader.
- Have you ever told your agent to get you on Celebrity Big Brother in a bid to flog books?
Ha, I can barely do readings without wanting to stick a screwdriver into my throat. The idea of being on Big Brother, Celebrity or otherwise, would mean I’ve suffered some terrible brain damage and should be put out of my misery quickly and without fuss.
- Do you follow the old ‘write what you know’ adage or do you reckon that’s a load of nonsense?
Do I follow it? I did, I suppose, with the first book and still do. If you don’t know it, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to write it without conviction. But just because you don’t know it, doesn’t mean you can’t know it. Write what you want to read is the adage I’ve always found more helpful.
- Who would play you in the film of your life?
Josh Brolin. He shits rainbows. Or Paddy Considine, also a rainbow-shitter. But if we’re going to be accurate, it’ll probably be Vincent D’Onofrio, carrying all that Full Metal Jacket Pvt. Pyle weight and glaring through his eyebrows like the psychotic simpleton he is. The film would be mostly shots of D’Onofrio sitting around eating stuff he shouldn’t and staring at walls.
- And what sort of soundtrack would you like playing?
Tom Waits. Late Tom Waits. When he sounds like a Kurt Weill drunk or a Southern Gothic snake-handling preacher. When he’s banging pots and screaming about murder. That, mixed with Ennio Morricone and Toots Hibbert.
You know what, this is a hell of a fucking movie. I’d pay to see it.
- What about the future – Ever fancied writing for the stage or screen?
Done both already. The stage stuff was at university, none of it particularly good. The screen stuff is out there, but I won’t say anything else for fear of jinxing it.
- And finally…as you’re a bit of a literary ‘name’ these days is there any chance of you plugging us to some of the great and good? Failing that could you be pictured falling out of a night club alongside Ashley Cole and John Terry with a copy of Radgepacket under your arm?
Cole and Terry? I’d be afraid they wanted to fuck me – they’ll do anything with a pulse, them two. I’ll keep on plugging the Packet, though but. Quality read, that.
The Radgepacket team and all at Byker Books would like to take this opportunity to thank Ray for his time and wish him further success – because he’s a big, beardie Scotsman and he’ll kick wa heeds in if we don’t!
Buy Saturday’s Child from the Dear Scotland Shop by clicking the cover below:
Byker Books promote writers who are ignored elsewhere, writers who don’t fit into rigid ‘genres’, writers who are new and uncertain, writers who hail from working class backgrounds and most of all, writers who live in the real world and know that it’s not fair. They put together quarterly collections and ensure that copies get dropped on to the desks of literary agents up and down the UK. More at Byker Books and their work at Radgepacket online.
More on Scottish literature on the first Monday of every month from Alistair Braidwood.
Next month ‘Boyracers’ by Alan Bissett. Perfect summer reading. Buy it from the Dear Scotland Shop too:
More from Ray at www.saturdayboy.tumblr.com
Photo Credit: Agency Group