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Q&A with CRUSHER Author Niall Leonard

September 26, 2012

In July I got an email with a manuscript attached, I didn’t know anything about the book but the note in the email said “please read this this weekend”. That intrigued me, so of course I downloaded the file and read it the next day, in one sitting. When I got to the final page all I had to say was “damn, that was great!”. Crusher by Niall Leonard is a murder mystery, told from the point of view of a teen whose life hasn’t been going so smoothly anyway, so imagine the chain of events set off when he arrives home to find his dad has been murdered, and he’s the prime suspect. Today the author joins us for a Q&A about Crusher, writing for TV and movies, writing novels and much more!

What book made the strongest impression on you as a child?

As a child, No Boats on Bannermere by Geoffrey Trease.  Set in the Lake District of England, it was a kid’s adventure that felt utterly real and believable, as if it could happen to me.  As a teenager, the Táin Bó Cuailgne (The Raid for the Bull of Cooley) translated by Thomas Kinsella – an Iron age epic that took place in the part of Ireland where I grew up. It featured a lot of swords and sorcery, rather like Lord of the Rings, but unlike that book it was grounded in real history and real places.

What is one thing about you that would surprise your readers?

I bake a mean apple pie.

Do you use social media? If yes, how do you feel about the role social media plays in your writing life?

I use Twitter because I like to have odd conversations with my brothers, sisters and friends while standing in line at the supermarket or waiting for a bus.  I have a Facebook page as well but keeping it fresh is a lot like hard work.  Both of them are a distraction from proper writing, but I find it easy to stop Tweeting when I have to.

What has your favorite event experience been so far?

At a book launch last week I met the English novelist John O’Farrell who writes wonderful funny, perceptive stories that don’t need any murder mystery to keep you reading. I was kind of intimidated by the prospect of meeting him but he was lovely, probably because writers as accomplished as he is don’t need to show off.

What was your favorite genre to read as a teenager?

Historical fiction.  It still is.  I am fascinated by fictional stories set against real events, like the novels of Patrick O’Brian and Bernard Cornwell.

What are you currently reading?

McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime by Misha Glenny, about the new generation of gangsters for the 21st century.

What’s your favorite snack food when you’re writing?

Apples.  If I ate candy at the same rate as I eat apples I wouldn’t fit through the door of my work-shed.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

If I am properly focused I can write anywhere.  If I were not focused, and someone locked me into an empty closet to write, I would still find some way to distract myself. 

Do you have favorite music to listen to when you write?

I never listen to music when I write.  I can’t.  My parents were wonderful, and growing up they made sure we had lots of books, but we didn’t have enough music, so it never became part of my working routine. 

What inspired you to write CRUSHER?

A friend of mine said her son never read any books because he wasn’t into vampire romance or sci-fi dystopias, and that was all she could find in the local bookshop.  I thought to myself, someone ought to write a book about a 17 year old guy investigating a murder, but set it in London, and keep it really gritty and realistic.  Crusher grew from there.

You’re a writer for television, how is novel writing different, or similar?

In novel writing you can, if you want, describe what people are thinking, what happened to them in the past, and use any of their senses to tell the story.  In movies and TV you have to find a way of saying all these things visually and dramatically, and that challenge can be a lot of fun, but it can also be quite limiting.  It has always bugged me that movies never smell of anything – what did the spaceship in Alien smell like, or the Well of Souls in Raiders of the Lost Ark?  In a novel you don’t have to wonder – the novelist can tell you, and that sort of description can affect the reader on levels movies never reach.

And as a TV or movie writer, you have to stick to the budget.  You can’t always blow things up or have car chases down busy streets – those things cost money, even if you do them all as CGI.  In novels the only limit is the writer’s imagination. 

Will there be more books with this character or setting, or are you on to something completely different?

I am working on a sequel to Crusher, and in time there will be a third part to Finn Maguire’s story.  In the interval I hope to work on another novel, but in a very different genre – historical ‘faction’.

Do you plan to continue writing YA, or do you think you might write for adults down the road?

I never planned to write YA in the first place.  Part of me doesn’t believe in categorizing books that way — when I was 17, I often read books aimed at adults, and as an adult I often read books aimed at teenagers.  A good yarn is a good yarn, whatever the reader’s age.  The hero of Crusher, Finn Maguire, is 17, but that’s the only thing that makes it a YA novel.  I didn’t pull any punches writing it, or skirt around stuff that was grim  – I tried to write a book that I would like to read.  I hope that every book I write every age group will enjoy.

What is one piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring authors?

Figure out your story, start writing and keep moving forward until you get to the end.  Don’t make excuses, and don’t put it off,  or when you get older you’ll kick yourself about all the books you could have written if you had just knuckled down to it.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

All the time.  But when writing for TV you have a deadline and a producer breathing down your neck, so you don’t have time for the luxury of writer’s block – you find a solution to the problem and you make it work.  Novelists don’t have that sort of pressure, but sometimes it’s just what they need.

What was your favorite chapter, or part, to write and why?

I think the confrontation in the restaurant, because so much happens, and because I ‘directed’ the action in a way that avoided some of the movie and TV clichés that annoy me. It felt good to have that sort of control, and the freedom to do things in a quirky way.

Which character speaks the loudest, to you? Do any of them clamor to be heard over the others?

Maguire, of course, because he’s the one telling the story.  He does and says the things we’d all like to do and say if we were smart enough and tough enough and brave enough.

Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Enjoy the book, and look out for the next one.

You can view the trailer for Crusher here.

Many thanks to Niall Leonard for joining us at RAoReading today, Crusher is in bookstores and libraries now, don’t miss it!

Please share your thoughts in our comments section.

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