Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Martin Stanley to discuss his Stanton Brothers series.
Firstly, for readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you pitch the Stanton Brothers series to readers?
The brothers (Eric, the brains, and Derek, the brawn) are a pair of criminals who make their money by stealing from other criminals (mostly drug dealers and thieves). They tend not to kill those they’re stealing from, because most of them know better than to involve the police in their business. Also, killing’s bad for trade – the police do stick their snouts in that kind of trouble.
How did you come up with the characters, and how have they evolved since their first appearance?
I came up with the idea of two bickering criminal brothers many years ago. They’re loosely (very loosely, I might add) based on stories I’ve heard from people. Their characters and the situations have been jumbled up and boiled down by my imagination over a few years into what appears in the novels and novellas. The brothers got their surname from the manhole covers. A few years ago, I found out that the DJ duo Stanton Warriors did exactly the same thing.
Because of the slapdash way I write, which is to come up with ideas and storylines long before I actually put fingers to keyboard, it means that I end up writing and publishing in no particular order. For instance, the latest book Fighting Talk is chronologically the first tale, but because of the way I write it means it has come around last. What this means is that I must think about the character narrative slightly before writing begins. However, Eric starts out a bit more sentimental and heroic in the earlier narratives, but becomes a cold-hearted bastard by the time The Glasgow Grin rears its nasty head. Derek remains a fuckwit throughout, but I doubt you’d want anybody else by your side in the event of a fight.
What are they up to in your new book, Fighting Talk?
They’re still working as debt collectors for Alan Piper in this one. Eric is sent by his boss to get to the bottom of why his favourite (think most beautiful) client has missed her last few debt payments. What Eric discovers leads the brothers into the path of a rather unpleasant dog-fighting syndicate. Although they have to break a few bones to reach that point.
What do you hope that readers take away from your books?
Honestly, I hope they get entertainment. I write readable prose, and can weave together some nice descriptions when the mood takes me, but I’m not a stylist. I’m more interested in telling a good story, one with a few twists and turns along the way. I’ll leave subtext and metaphor to those who are better equipped to use them.
What are the main positives behind self-publishing – and what are the chief drawbacks?
The positives are total artistic control. Nobody tells you what you can publish or how to publish it. The drawbacks are total artistic control – if you fuck up, it’s on you. Other drawbacks are that unless you’re very lucky then you’ll sell the total of fuck-all.
Even if you’re lucky and have a success (I had a modicum of success with The Glasgow Grin a few years ago – several thousand sales), maintaining it is incredibly difficult. Over the three years since The Glasgow Grin, I’d say I’ve lost about eighty to eighty-five percent of that audience. I haven’t published enough new content to maintain my sales figures and build on my audience. Quality control, advertising, book covers, marketing, it’s all on you. Which is why, from next year, I’m probably going to pitch new material to Indie publishers first. I just don’t have the time needed to do an adequate job of self-publishing.
Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?
Both. I like a mixture of Indie and self-pubbed authors and mainstream stuff. The more exciting writers and fiction seems to be coming from the Indie side at the minute. Independents are reworking old genres and rewriting the rules. Traditional publishers seem to be wedded to police procedurals or missing ‘Girls’. Unless there’s a twist, or some brilliant writing, the police procedural might be the dullest fucking genre in crime fiction. How many sad cops with family issues can there be? I tend to be drawn to criminal protagonists or private detectives, and the grittier end of crime fiction.
Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?
Paul D Brazill treads a similar path to my own, though he’s a far better writer (particularly his prose, which often leaves me more than a little envious). Keith Nixon is another writer I’d consider a peer, though again with stronger writing chops. I certainly respect and admire Ryan Bracha; he emerged around the same time as I did, though his stuff tends to be more experimental and he’s not afraid of taking risks. His best stuff is great.
If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?
Maybe James Ellroy. I dislike his right-wing politics, and his tendency to ham it up for interviewers, but his books sell in big numbers and he gets critical respect, even when it feels like he hasn’t earned it (his most recent novel Perfidia being a case in point). His best novels are some of the finest crime writing you are ever likely to read. The LA Quartet should be read by anybody with even the slightest interest in writing crime fiction. If I write anything that’s even half as good as any of the books in that series, I’ll be able to say I wrote something good. Until that day, however…
Finally, what are your future publishing plans?
I’ve got a novelette, Get Santa, that’s been collected together with some previously released Stanton brothers’ shorts due in October; then in November or (more realistically) December I’m aiming to have another novella (currently titled Sexy Lexy) due for release.
After this I may put the brothers away for a while and finish The Amsterdamned (which is a companion novel to my first book The Gamblers). I will pitch this to Indie publishers and see what happens. If nobody bites, for any reason other than quality, I’ll self-publish in 2020. If it’s a quality issue, I’ll assess what I need to do to ensure it’s good enough to publish myself.
Martin Stanley is the author of the Stanton brothers’ books (in reading order): 1) The Curious Case of The Missing Moolah; 2) A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum; 3) The Green-eyed Monster; 4) Bone Breakers; 5) The Hunters; and its direct sequel 6) The Glasgow Grin. He is also the author of The Gamblers, a violent crime thriller set in Bristol, and a Stanton prequel novella Fighting Talk.
Martin lives, works and socialises in London. He likes drinking craft and Belgian beers, watching classic movies and bingeing on TV shows. And he obviously loves to read (often with a pang of author envy).