Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Andrew Nette to discuss his excellent novel, Gunshine State (Down & Out Books).
Firstly, congratulations on the re-release of Gunshine State. How would you pitch the book to potential readers?
Thank you very much.
Gunshine State is a very Australian take on the classic ‘heist gone wrong’ story, set in Surfers Paradise in Queensland, Thailand, and Melbourne. Think Garry Disher’s Wyatt series, Wallace Stroby’s Crissa Stone and Richard Stark’s (Donald Westlake) Parker books and you’ll have an idea what you are in for.
As for the storyline, here’s the pitch: Gary Chance is a former Australian army driver, ex-bouncer and thief. His latest job takes place in Surfers Paradise, working as part gang run by an aging stand over man, Dennis Curry, who runs off-site, non-casino poker games, and wants to rob one of his best customers, a high roller called Frederick ‘Freddie’ Gao. The job seems straightforward but Curry’s crew is anything but. Chance knows he can’t trust anyone, but nothing prepares him for what unfolds when Curry’s plan goes wrong
Compared to a lot of ambiguous crime fiction protagonists, Gary Chance is an open-book. Was it a deliberate decision to make him so open about his background?
While I didn’t particularly set out to write Chance as an open book, I did deliberately want him to have a discernable character with at least elements of a backstory. As much as I dig those crime stories where the criminal protagonist is a complete mystery person, solely focused on whatever criminal endeavour, I wanted Chance to be fleshed out a bit. I wanted him to have weaknesses and kinks and I was also keen to leaven out the dark material in the book – and the story gets pretty dark – with some humour, even if it is bleak humour. And you need some depth of character and backstory to do this. All this said, there is a lot about Chance I didn’t put in book one, so stay tuned.
I enjoyed the episodic nature of the story. Did you write the book in a linear fashion, or was it pieced together afterwards?
No, I write in a pretty linear way, starting off at the beginning and progressing in order until the end. The episodic nature of the novel also my attempt to signpost that the story takes places in very particularly phases, each with its own particular atmosphere.
I also appreciated the abundance of background details when setting the scene – how important is location in storytelling?
For me, hugely. Location is the part of fiction writing that comes easiest to me, as opposed to character, which is something I really need to work at. It is also the aspect of writing I enjoy the most. For me, the process of putting together the flow of a novel is a lot like watching a film, if that makes sense. I think about the story very visually and if I come up with a particular setting I really like, I’ll deliberately write the plot to include it.
A chunk of Gunshine State takes place in Thailand, and your previous book Ghost Money was set in Cambodia – what makes South-east Asia such a compelling backdrop for crime fiction?
Partly it’s the fact I spent a large part of the 1990s workings as a journalist in Indochina and I have travelled around the region extensively since then. It has given me a lot of material to play with. South-east Asia is also such a vibrant region and so much is going on – both incredibly good and heartbreakingly sad – you just can’t make up scenes and characters as good as the material you stumble across every day on the street in parts of Asia. My fascination with Asia as a setting for crime fiction is also a product of the fact that, in Australia, we are part of the region, increasingly so, but there are only a handful of crime novels set in it, and local publishers don’t seem to be at all interested in it. I have never been able to figure why this is so, but I try and fight against it.
Who do you consider your peers? Is there an Australian crime scene to speak of?
Does a bear shit in the woods? There is a huge Australian crime scene, which is far too broad to go into detail about here. The one sub-genre of crime fiction that Australia has historically not had a lot of is noir and hardboiled, which are my two favourites, although that has started to change over the last few years. In terms of Australian authors on the darker end of the scale that your readers might want to check out, I’d suggest David Whish Wilson, Emma Viskic, Leigh Redhead, Iain Ryan and Jock Serong. You can’t go wrong with any of their books.
Gunshine State has been published by Down & Out Books – do you have any favourite D&O authors or titles?
There are a lot of Down & Out authors I have not read, so I am not sure how informed my opinion is. I am a big fan of Eric Beetner’s work, as well as being in awe of his productivity. I have enjoyed the writing of Tom Pitts and Gary Phillips. I recently read Cleaning Up Finn by Sarah Chen, and really enjoyed that.
If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?
Hmmm, probably James Ellroy, even though I thought his latest book, Perfidia, was terrible. So many crime writers owe a debt to Ellroy and I am one of them. He blew a giant sized hole in what people thought crime fiction could be. How cool is that?
You are a big film fan: who would you cast as Chance, given the opportunity?
Easy, a young Bryan Brown. He IS Gary Chance.
Finally, I believe a sequel to Gunshine State is on the cards – how much can you tell us about that?
Yes, there is definitely a sequel on the cards. I am working on it at the moment. It is called Orphan Road and the plot revolves around one of Australia’s largest and most famous heists, the Great Bookie Robbery in 1976. I don’t want to say too much more about it, except to let your readers know that Gunshine State includes the first 5,000 or so words of the follow up as a teaser.
Andrew Nette is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, reviewer and pulp scholar. He is the author of two novels, Ghost Money, a crime story set in Cambodia in the mid-nineties, and Gunshine State. His short crime fiction has appeared in a number of print and on-line publications. His non-fiction includes, Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950-1980, which he co-edited, an upcoming book on Norman Jewison’s 1975 dystopian classic, Rollerball for the independent film and media studies publisher, Auteur. His reviews and non-fiction have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Sight and Sound, Guardian Australia and Noir City, the magazine of the US Film Noir Foundation.