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JOAN BRADY: FROM BALLET DANCER TO WRITER

Written by Jack Claverly

JOAN BRADY
Joan, first off I'd like to welcome you to Shots Magazine and thank you for taking the time to speak with us.


You've been publishing since the late 70's, which means you've been writing for a lot longer than that, yet Bleedout is your first real venture into the crime/thriller field. Could you start off by giving us a bit of background and tell us a bit about yourself?

I started out as a ballet dancer, which is a somewhat unlikely beginning for a writer. I made up for it by marrying Dexter Masters and so becoming a writer’s wife. We’d been living abroad for about five years when I got an idea for a short story that I wanted him to write. I explained and explained. He said, ‘A sentence maybe. Maybe a paragraph. But a whole story? I’m afraid you’re going to have to write it yourself.’ With his help, I did, and it appeared as my first published work in 1975.

I wrote a few more stories, sold a couple, then published my first novel in 1979. It wasn’t very good, I’m sorry to say, but at least it wasn’t about a sensitive young girl. After that I wrote an autobiography, Prologue, about my dancing days, which did pretty well. Then, casting around for subject for another novel, I remembered some weird things my father had said about my grandfather-that this little white boy had been sold as a slave when he was only four years old-and I spent the next ten years writing Theory of War based on what I could find out about my grandfather’s life.

To my vast surprise I won the Whitbread for it and couple other prizes. And everything changed.

Overnight I went from ‘Joan Who?’ to somebody whose opinion mattered. Newspapers asked me to comment on budget. I was compared to Jack London, John Steinbeck, Angela Carter. Who, me? I kept thinking. I represented England at the Centenary of the Nobel Peace Prize; one reviewer even called me a genius, which I never let anyone forget, especially when they’re getting the better of me in an argument. All very flattering.

Two more novels followed, The Émigré and Death Comes for Peter Pan. Then came Bleedout.

How would you classify the books you've written before Bleedout? Literary fiction, or something else?


My previous novels were marketed as literary fiction, although personally, I’d say they all veered in the direction of thrillers. A couple of them were referred to that way in reviews in the press-also very flattering, I thought.

In the acknowledgements section of Bleedout, you mention that you were inspired to write the novel, a thriller, by a run-in with South Hams District Council. It sounds like an interesting story in itself. Is it something you'd care to elaborate on?

The South Hams District Council sneaked through planning permission to install a shoe factory in a beautiful, one-time theatre adjoining my house (both buildings were listed). The noise was terrible. My house trembled to the touch; sawdust drifted down from the beam above my desk. I began building walls to protect myself.

But noise was the least of my problems. The factory was also venting its unfiltered fumes from glues and solvents directly onto me: I developed a neurological disease as a direct result. The Council’s response? They tried to prosecute me for tearing out an old staircase to build the protecting walls, a crime that carried a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a £20,000 fine. They did nothing about the poison, which would have eventually put me in a wheelchair, until I gave up everything else to fight them.

And what was it that drew you to a thriller, rather than something more sedately-paced?

This ridiculous battle went on for two and a half years and fifteen court appearances. I hadn’t had any idea before this what injustice does to a person. My reactions seemed way out of proportion, although found out since that they’re pretty standard in people who are cornered, especially people unjustly accused of crimes. All I thought about was blood and destruction. I kept watching Terminator. I wanted to kill people. I was too agitated to complete the literary novel I was working on, so a friend suggested I try a thriller instead. Bleedout was the result.


Do you read much crime fiction? What are some of your favourite recent reads?

The only fiction I read is crime fiction, and my tastes are pretty popular. I’ll read anything of Grisham’s and Turow’s. I long ago finished all of Agatha Christie, Chandler and that master of them all, Eric Ambler.

Did you find much difference between the fast-paced thriller that appeared as the end result and the fiction you normally write? Was it any easier or more difficult to write?

I certainly found the thriller more suited to the disturbed state of somebody under siege, as I was. I’d been working on a literary novel when the prosecution began, and I couldn’t finish it properly. I still haven’t finished it, and I begin to think I never will. A friend suggested I pour my upset into a thriller instead; he also offered to work with me on it some. For these reasons, Bleedout was easier: an emotional outlet when one was much needed and someone to goad me into keeping at work on it. The actual writing process though is much the same.

How much research was involved in writing this book, and how did you go about doing it? How much of your fictional Springfield is based on reality?

There was masses of research. It seemed that I needed to research something for every second page of the manuscript. Much of it was done over the internet. In fact, I’d say the book couldn’t have been written without Google. Springfield though is largely from memory. My husband grew up there; I still have friends there, and I’ve visited it a number of times over the years. All the restaurants but one are real. I made up a couple of street names, but the streets are there. The layout of the town is exactly as I describe it.

The character of David Marion is an interesting man - he's an integral part of the plot in Bleedout as in much of the plot revolves around him and relies upon his history. Did you like him as he evolved, and are we likely to see him again?

I always like these difficult guys. But David was a year old before I began to get to grips with him. The friend who suggested I write a thriller in the first place, worked as a contributing editor for most of the first year of the writing, and he had very different views on the character. Only after he lost interest in the project did I find David beginning to flesh out into the person he finally became. And, yes, you are likely to see him again. I’m so glad you find him interesting.

What are you working on at the minute, and what are we likely to see next from Joan Brady? Do you have any intentions of sticking around the field for awhile, or will this be the only crime fiction from you?

My contract is a two-book deal. Bleedout is the first of a quartet of crime novels.

If any of our readers wanted to head into your back catalogue, to read some of your older works, where would you recommend they start?

Either Theory of War or The Émigré. Both could pass as psychological thrillers of a certain sort-especially The Émigré.

Joan, thanks for the interview and best of luck with the book.

Thank you, I hope people enjoy reading it.

Read the book review: 
http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/reviews2005/reviews0405/bleedout.html

Joan Brady



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