Monday, April 30, 2007
Sunday Interview: Denise Mina
Yeah, yeah, I know, today's Monday and the title says Sunday Interview. What do you want, your money back?
Anyway, today's guest is Denise Mina. She has written a number of novels, including THE FIELD OF BLOOD and THE DEAD HOUR, the latter of which was nominated for an Edgar Award this year. Mina has also written short stories, plays and comics. Her stint on the long running Vertigo title HELLBLAZER ended earlier this year (and it was brilliant). She is currently working on another graphic novel along with the next book in her Paddy Meehan series.
Before she started her writing career, she taught criminology and criminal law while working on her PhD.
Denise lives in Scotland, which I hear is really nice.
She's also a horrible typist.
Noir Writer: When did you know you wanted to be a novelist?
Mina: I was in a damp bed sitting, listening to pigeons coo on the roof and reading Zola when I was struck by some phrase or turn of the story and thought what a wonderful thing it would be to do with your life, to touch another human being like that.
Noir Writer: How has your background in law influenced your work?
Mina: Well, I went into law to try and save the world and effect a social revolution. It made me see how much the workaday process knocks the passion out of people and made me want to do something else. Possibly bar maiding. I think the law is a thinking style and I am quite belligerent. Also, saves you from doing a lot of background research.
Noir Writer: In your latest series of novels you trace the true story of Paddy Meehan (also the name of your series protagonist), which is not well known in the States. What significance does the real Meehan serve in these novels?
Mina: He's the story she refers to to try and make sense of her life / find guidance / look for models. I think every human being has stories that operate that way: the Qu'uran, Jesus's life or whatever. We understand all of life through narrative. It was important that she was living according to different model than her family.
Noir Writer: Paddy Meehan, the fictional one, is a journalist. I think former reporters, which you are not, write almost all the books I've read with journalist protagonists. Why did you choose to make Paddy a reporter?
Mina: Because the nature of journalism has changed over here so much in the past few decades. They used to be really ferocious self-educated working class guys and now you need a degree to get a start. Also the industry is declining all the time. Plus of course she's looking for stories all the time, which is a gift.
Noir Writer: You've mentioned that your Paddy Meehan series has a finite number of books. Does this free you in anyway when you write?
Mina: Yeah, I was supposed to write one Paddy, then a free standing one-off then a Paddy and a one-off but because I know it's finite I find I've become carried away and can't stop writing about her. It gives you the freedom to make massive changes in her life without worrying about nine books ahead.
Noir Writer: [Note: This question and its response were both written weeks before the Edgar Awards ceremony last Thursday]You're up for an Edgar this year for THE DEAD HOUR. Do you already have your acceptance speech written?
Mina: Well, I won't win so to be honest no. However I'd like to take this opportunity to say thanks to no one, I did it all myself but the following is a list bastards who've held me back:
Noir Writer: I've told you this before, but I loved your run on HELLBLAZER. Do you think you'll ever return to writing a serialized comic?
Mina: Yeah I'd love to. Hopefully I'll be doing an original series soon for DC.
Noir Writer: When can we expect to see your graphic novel, A SICKNESS IN THE FAMILY?
Mina: I think this Fall but I'm not certain. Or Summer. Or next year.
Noir Writer: I stole this question, and I think you'll know where it came from: [Note: The following comes from Mina's own biography on her website.] "How does [Mina] do it all? Well, her personal grooming is shameful, her house is filthy and her children run wild in the fields. She found a mushroom in the shower the other day. What sort of woman is that?" Well?
Mina: A bad slovenly woman. My mum is a lady of the fifties and can’t understand how I can care so little about separating my whites and colours for laundry.
Noir Writer: You have two young children. As someone who also has two small ones, I really want to know how the Hell you get any writing done? Do you wait until after their bedtime? Please help me.
Mina: Well, I live in a big extended family of women and they look after the kids during the day. Also, I often don't leave the house for days at a time and sometimes work covered in baby sick (not literally). I think you loose all the messing about and wasting time worrying and so on and just get on with it. I used to worry a lot and go for walks to calm myself down and go to the gym and crap like that. Now I eat, sleep and work. Those are the things I get to do for myself. Although I don’t always get to sleep.
Noir Writer: In one of your HELLBLAZER stories you use scheudenfreude in a brilliant way. Are there times when you enjoy other's misfortunes? Do you have a wicked streak in you?
Mina: I’m a nasty piece of work. I couldn’t go on Big Brother because I'm so argumentative. Actually there should be a Scottish word for Scheudenfreude because ridicule is a national sport here.
Noir Writer: Let's talk about Scottish cuisine. How often do you eat haggis and cullen skink? And is it true that most Scottish cuisine is based on a dare?
Mina: Most Scottish food is highly dangerous. We batter and fry mars bars here (delicious!) Scotland has the highest rate of heart attacks in Europe and we’re second only the US in obesity. Hurrah! The sugar from plantations was imported through Greenock and we all eat insane amounts of sugar. And yet we're bad tempered. Go figure.
I love haggis. Lots of people here eat veggie haggis because it's delicious. Cullen skink is a big deal here too, lots of soup shops for lunch.
Noir Writer: As someone outside of the US, what do you think of the current American political situation, especially President Dumbass…er…I mean President Bush?
Mina: Yeah, I saw Bill Baily the other night, a great comic. He said Bush is the benign likeable face of something much more evil: the bobble hat on a leopard, a tank top on a scorpion. I think he's a pasty who's being worked from behind by the military industrial complex.
Noir Writer: Let's talk about Scottish culture. Can there be only one Highlander? And if so, why are there so many sequels?
Mina: My friend’s favourite line in all movies is 'I loov yei Moraigh' terrible Scottish accent (from Highlander One). Actually, Glasgow was famous for sword fighting in the seventies and eighties. Bad injuries. One night in casualty a doctor asked a guy what kind of sword he was hit with and he said 'Auch, just an ordinary sword'. That's how common it was. Someone wrote a thesis that the injuries in a Glasgow A&E dept were like those from a medieval battlefield.
I love the sequels. Especially 2.
I want to thank Denise for her time and sense of humor. I hope you've enjoyed the interview and are now inclined to read some of Denise's stuff. See ya next time.