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first_imgPaul CharlesPaul Charles is a legendary musical booking agent who just happens to also write amazing crime novels and loves Donegal.It also so happens that his wife hails from our wonderful county and they spend as much time as possible here.To celebrate the launch of his latest novel, St Ernan’s Blues, (which is set in Donegal), he answers a Q&A for Donegal Daily on what makes him tick. Why did you set the novel in a “retirement home” for priests?I really wanted to write this Starrett story in the Agatha Christie tradition but instead of having the victim and all the suspects on a train or a ship, I thought a Donegal retirement home for priests would serve my story better.What is your relationship with the Donegal coastline described in the books? It plays a significant role in the mood of the story.My wife Catherine is from Donegal and I’ve a few long-time friends who also live there. Geographically speaking Donegal it’s very isolated; it’s very difficult to get to, so it wasn’t on the obvious tourist trodden path. It’s not been overdeveloped nor spoiled. Ramelton, Starrett’s base, is a heritage town and the ancient buildings are perfect settings for (and I mean this in the nicest possible way) fictional crime scenes). It’s very rural, picturesque, stunning landscape with breath-taking coastline and a big sky. It’s naturally very soulful and if you can avoid the showers you can find some of the best beach-walks in the world. A few years before I started work on the Starrett stories I started to spend a lot of time there and everything I needed location-wise for this series was right there slap bang on my door step. Is St Ernan’s is a real place – what made you set the story there? Yes St Ernan’s is very much a real place. I’m always discovering that real locations are always infinitely more interesting than fictional ones. Take the case in point for instance; St Ernan’s House on St Ernan’s Island, located a stone’s throw from Donegal Town. I was intrigued by it from the first time I encountered it. I believe Catherine (my wife) and I may have stayed in it when it was a guest house, and I admit that might even have been my imagination. But either way bit by bit I discovered the history of the Island; the story about how the causeway was built is true; the fireplace coming from the burnt out Erke Castle, the original antique pen nibs addressed to then owner,…, being found in the house are all true and have been included in attempts to try and make fiction read as real. The four master writers that Starrett discovers amongst the St Ernan’s residents in the house are a nod back the original 4 master writers who were based in the nearby Donegal Town Castle and endeavouring to write the history of Ireland.When I was doing research for St Ernan’s Blues I was intrigued by both the house and the island. I tried several times to fix up a visit to go and examine the Island and, if I was very lucky, the house. The owner was very polite; the times weren’t convenient, maybe check in again in a few months. Eventually he agreed I could come over and Catherine dropped me off by the front door and she and her father Gerry and our two nephews, Oisin & Darragh, went off for a drive around the grid lock that is Donegal Town, promising to return to pick me up. The owner was very generous with his time and showed me around the wonderful historic house. I was always conscious I was encroaching on his time and tried really hard to do the swiftest version of the tour, while keeping my wish for an investigative walk around the island to myself. Don’t get me wrong, the owner was at all times very hospitable, but I believe by the time Catherine returned to pick me up, his sigh of relief was definitely visible. He walked me out to the car and as we were saying our goodbyes, he though he recognised someone in the car.“Is that Gerry McGinley?” he asked.“It is indeed,” I replied. “How do you know Gerry,” he asked, as he quickly walked over to the car.“He’s my father-in-law,” I replied.“Sure you should have told me that,” he said, as he opened the car door and started shaking Gerry’s hand furiously.You see my father-in-law was a much-loved legend in Donegal; very sadly he has since passed. The owner knew him and everything changed immediately. As he chatted away to Gerry he invited me to have an explorative dander around the island, “go and look around the house again if you want to” and when I returned they were still chatting away ten to the dozen. From their chat I got a sense of the old Donegal, of how people dealt with each other, of how when people know you are connected to people they know and respect they are prepared to offer you the same genuine hospitality friends of theirs would get in return, were the situation ever reversed.I came away from my visit to St Ernan’s Island with the words (and melody) of a famous traditional song of the county. “Your hearts are like your mountains in the homes of Donegal,” ringing around my head & my soul.Did you feel nervous about broaching the subject of abuse in the Catholic Church?No not at all. Just like for every less-than-perfect priest, there are literally 1000s of priests who are decent God-fearing people. For instance, in St Ernan’s Blues Fr. Robert O’Leary, at least appears to show the other side of the coin.How do you approach creating a character like Starrett upon him a whole series of books will be based?In a weird way it’s like he was there already and I met him and got to know him the way you get to meet and get to know someone who becomes a good friend. When I was working on I’ve heard the Banshee Sing, a DI Christy Kennedy mystery, Kennedy finds himself working on an investigation that starts off in Camden Town, next visits Kennedy’s original home time before a quick trip into Donegal where Kennedy meets up with and works with a local Gardai inspector. So when I started to consider this Gardai Inspector, even thought it was a small part I started to try and make him come alive, as it were, I started to consider him and think, what’s your story and out he came. I like the character a lot. Later I was invited to do a short story for Meeting Across The Water – a collection of crime stories based on the Bruce Springsteen lyric of the same name and the idea I had was more suitable to Starrett than it was for Kennedy. A bit more of Starrett’s character came through and I was on my way.How would you best describe your style of crime writing?Well I like to try and take a piece of fiction and make it read like a true crime story. Like I’m reporting the facts of a case rather than making it up.The something rather nostalgic in your books, a yearning for a simpler time. Does that reflect your own feelings about the world?I think it does, yes, but at the same time I try really hard to balance it out so that it doesn’t ready like a “the good old days” manifesto because the good old days are good and gone and some of them weren’t really all that good.Do you plot your stories before you start, or do they unfold and surprise you as you go along?I do a lot of work and research beforehand as was the case with St Ernan’s Blues, with the island and the house and even Donegal Town itself. I also spend quite a bit of time putting my cast of characters together. I don’t like people just to appear on the page, I like them to have a past. I need them to have a past. I need to make them real to me to be able to complete the process. However I love to start each book off the way a detective starts off an investigation and I just love to go on the journey with Starrett not knowing what’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen. So I go the book each day to try (like the detective and hopefully the reader) to discover what happened and solve the puzzle of the crime. With the DI Christy Kennedy mysteries I always do a lot of work and research on the unique method of murder. So I’ll start with a perfect murder and then work backwards from there to try to figure out it happened.Do you read widely within the crime genre, and if so, who do you enjoy?  And who inspires you most?Oh yes I positively devour crime books both true crime and fiction. I love Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song where he writes a true crime story as a novel, a process I try to reverse. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is another major achievement. John Connolly’s books I love and then Michael Connelly as well. Colin Dexter’s books are such a joy to read and re-read.The moralising of the church, and the strict code by which its members are supposed to live provides an interesting opportunity to scrutinise people’s decisions and their motivations in the book. Was this your original intention?It was certainly something I wanted to examine. I’ve always felt that there are bad people and there are good people and if you’re a priest it doesn’t necessary make you a good person and if you’re a crook it doesn’t necessary make you a bad person. Equally if you’re a priest it doesn’t guarantee you’re a bad person either. People are people and we all deal with our foibles the best we can.
There’s some great attention to details in the police procedural aspects of the book. Have you spent time with police officers in the course of researching your books?I haven’t. I’ve always found it best to observe while being unobserved.Do you have any further plans for Inspector Starrett?Well there are a couple of Starrett short stories I can’t wait to do. When I started work on the first Starrett book – The Dust of Death – I had some of the main ideas, mainly Starrett’s back story, for the first three (Family Life and now, St Ernan’s Blues) I have an idea for the next one, which is pretty much suggested at the end of St Ernan’s Blues but I’m currently working on the 2nd McCusker, A Day In The Life of Louis Bloom and then I’m looking forward to getting started into writing the 11th Christy Kennedy Mystery.So who is Paul Charles?Paul Charles managed his first group, The BLUES by FIVE, when he was fifteen years old and his business card listed the number of the local telephone box in his native Magherafelt, Northern Ireland.He moved to London when he was seventeen years old and studied to be a civil engineer, but the music business was his real distraction and he was more interested in writing about the London scene for Irish music papers than surveying, planning and drawing.His real education began when he took on the multiple role of manager, lyricist, roadie, sound-engineer and agent for the Belfast band FRUUPP. Fruupp signed to Dawn Records and worked around the UK and Europe for several years in the early seventies. Sheba’s Song, with one of several sets of Paul Charles’ lyrics from that period (the fine music was from band member John Mason) was sampled and recorded with the original lyrics as Soon The New Day by American Rap artist Talib Kweli with Nora Jones guesting on vocals for Talib’s latest Warner Bros album, Ear Drum. The album entered the Billboard USA top 200 at #2 on 2nd September, 2007. Norah Jones also featured Soon The New Day on her “Featuring” album, released on Nov 16th 2010 on Blue Note Records which was also a USA Billboard Top 20 album.Fruupp eventually spilt up after four albums but by that point Paul Charles had met Paul Fenn and they became firm friends and, eventually partners in the Asgard Agency where, over the last 30 years, Paul Charles has been agent for a wide range of quality music acts including: Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Ray Davies, Lonnie Donegan The Blue Nile, Christy Moore, Don McLean, Elvis Costello, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Rory Gallagher, Gordon Lightfoot, Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder, Robert Plant, Planxty, Tom Waits, Van Morrison, The Waterboys and The Undertones. He’s also programmed the Acoustic Stage at Glastonbury Festival for the last 23 years.Music has always been a major force in his life: “I have a need for the music of The Beatles, Hank Williams, Nick Drake, Otis Reading, Bob Dylan and the artists we’ve been lucky enough to work with.”But as well as all of that he’s also a committed book reader—and collector—particularly British Detective fiction. “I have always loved dabbling in writing, lyrics, sleeve notes, short stories, etc., so in 1996, inspired by Colin Dexter (the creator of Inspector Morse), I attempted my first Detective Inspector Christy Kennedy Mystery, I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass, which was published the following year.”Nine further Christy Kennedy titles followed, including 2012’s A Pleasure To Do Death With You. In 2007 The Dust of Death the first of a trilogy featuring Inspector Starrett was published. Followed by Family Life, in Sept 2009 and the final Starrett title, St Ernan’s Blues in June 2016. His other titles are: The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes, a novella from the Fruupp days re-published recently as an ebook; Down On Cyprus Avenue, the first of the McCusker Mysteries set in modern day Belfast; The First of The True Believers, a novel concerning the Beatles; three Castlemartin novels, The Last Dance, The Lonesome Heart is Angry and One of Our Jeans Is Missing (2016); plus three factual music books, Playing Live; How to Succeed in The Music Business and The Best Beatle Book Ever written by Paul Charles (as opposed to the Best Book on The Beatles ever!www.paulcharlesbooks.comWHY VISITING DONEGAL NEVER GIVES FAMOUS AUTHOR THE ‘BLUES’ was last modified: June 15th, 2016 by StephenShare this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Tags:booksdonegalPaul CharlesSt ERnan’s Blueslast_img read more