Words and pictures
As actor Tom Cruise drools over PHILIP KERR's latest novel, the Scottish writer says his books are more than movies on paper. Words: Teddy lamieson
Hollywood seems to like Philip Kerr. The Edinburgh-born. London-based author who celebrates ten years as a full-time writer this December. has written eight books in his literary career. Every one of them has been bought for adaptation to the screen.
Admittedly only one has so far made the transition — a BBC version of his Russian thriller Dead Meat which certainly failed to thrill Kerr — but as the studios wait for screenwriters to mine his other books for workable scripts Kerr can look at his healthy bank balance (Working Title coughed up a cool million for his I995 novel Gridiron) and get on with writing the next novel for execs to drool over.
His latest. A Five Year Plan. has had none other I than actor Tom (‘ruise salivating. You can see why. The book is a thriller that sees an ex-con attempting an outrageous scam amounting to piracy on the high- seas. while fending off the unwelcome attentions of the Miami Mafia. drug-runners. Russian currency- bandits and the FBI. It is an amusing and pretty successful attempt to marry a hard-boiled crime novel to the tricksy high jinks of the typical bestseller.
‘Lately. I have done a few hi-tech thrillers and almost as , a break from that sort of thing
i wanted to write something that was slightly more i character-driven and funny as . well.’ Kerr explains. ‘Like a lot of people I‘ve long 3 enjoyed American crime novels. that tough guy dialogue and I wanted to have a go at writing that myself.‘
The result doesn't match his tough hero lilmore ' Leonard. but it is a creditable attempt. Kerr manages .| an American narrative voice without much stretching. : while the text is qtlaintly larded with very British
Kerr rails at suggestions that his books can be written off as mere movie scripts with descriptive passages. But he does admit he‘s probably more ; inﬂuenced by celluloid than hardcm'ers. and that his writing style is cinematic. ; ‘I tend to think very visually rather than verbally.‘ he says. ‘That‘s a dreadful omission for a writer to i make. Most often l‘m painting little pictures when
’When I get interviewed these days it's always money- orientated. The implication seems to be that I'm not a proper writer and I'm obviously in it for the money.’ Philip Kerr
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Philip Kerr: billed as Scotland's answer to Michael Crichton
I’m writing paragraphs of description. I think that’s what being a good writer is all about — painting a picture as simply and as evocatively as possible. without necessarily making it difficult for the reader. It seems to me there‘s so many people who want to make it difficult for readers today. I can’t see why.‘
A cursory glance back over his career would suggest that the trajectory of Kerr’s life as a writer has taken him from literary thrillers — such as his liar/in Noll“ trilogy and A Philosophical Investigation — to literate bestsellers. But while his publisher is pushing claims that he is Britain's answer to Michael Crichton. a comparison he is certainly not offended by. Kerr isn‘t keen to categorise himself soreadily.
Not that he has to. Others are so ready to do it for him.
‘When I get interviewed these days it’s always money-orientated.' he says. The implication seems to be that I‘m not a proper writer and shouldn‘t be treated in the same way as other proper writers as I‘m oby iously in it for the money.
‘And you read it and you want to smash these people in the face and say: “Look. I wrote for ten to fifteen years and never made a penny and I’d probably still be doing it ifl hadn’t been published.”
"l‘he money is a wonderful by-product. but at the end of the day as far as I‘m concerned, it’s a kind of glorified Arts (‘ouncil grant to keep doing the same thing.'
A Five Year Plan by Philip Kerr is published by Hutchinson at £15.99.
The write stuff
Feminist writer Andrea Dworkin reveals what motivates her work as her latest book Life And Death is published.
NAME: Andrea Dworkin AGE: 51
PREVIOUS JOBS: l was an assistant to the poet and anti-Vietnam war organiser Muriel Rukeyser for many years. I was a typist. a receptionist. a waitress, a housewife. a Hebrew school teacher, an Avon sales lady. I filled perfume bottles, and I made and sold beaded jewellery in my hippy days. One of the jobs I did, which is part of what Life And Death is about. was prostituting.
ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER: I wanted to do something that would create passion in people and social change and thought it would be by being a writer or a lawyer. My concern at the time was abortion which was criminalised. They weren't letting women into the law schools and I thought no one could stop me from writing.
DAILY ROUTINE: As long as I'm at home I start work a little after midnight. I take an hour's break at 3am and then work through until 6am when I stop and go feed my cats and read yesterday's papers which I find much more relaxing than reading them on the right day. Then I try to sleep.
INFLUENCES: At high school Allen Ginsberg was a big influence. Camus and Dostoevsky were also important. Feminist influences were Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourna Truth and Kate Millet.
AM BITIONS: I've never been interested in being less than a great writer. I'd rather try that and fail than do anything else and succeed. So I hope I'll be able to do the work I know I still want to do and I hope that it can be really sacred to people the way other people's books were sacred to me.
INCOME: Very little from writing - it's very hand to mouth and sporadic. Almost everything I make is from lecturing. (Dierdre Molloy)
l Life And Death: Unapologetic Writings On The Continued War Against Women by Andrea Dworkin is published by Virago at f 6. 99. Dworkin will be reading at Wa ters tone ’5, Sauchiehal/ Street, Glasgow, Thu 2 Oct, 8pm.
26 Sep—9 Oct I997 THE UST 93