4 May 2015

The Monday Grilling: Jonathan Dunne

In the interrogation room this week: Dublin writer Jonathan Dunne

His M.O.: short stories, sci-fi, fantasy, crime fiction, sports writing

What's under the spotlight: his debut crime novel The Takeover.

What has your writing journey been so far?
I began writing after I returned to school at 21. After finishing my Leaving Cert I won a number of short story competitions. While working my day job as a corporate insurance broker, I wrote my first book during my lunch break.
After dozens of rejections I was offered a publishing deal and I have since penned three books - two sci-fi fantasy books and one crime book.
I've also been a sports writer for a national broadcaster and I've been a columnist with a national martial arts magazines. At the moment I'm Co-Editor of the Irish Grappler Magazine.
Where did the initial idea for The Takeover come from?
I'd previously written a sci-fi / fantasy book (Fia The Envoy) and it was full of crime, outlaws and fugitives. A friend noticed my stories were always leaning towards crime and suggested a crime novel.
As a kid in the north inner city, you constantly heard folklore about local gangsters and the tales just seemed to stick.
Tell us about the research involved in writing the novel, including the interviews you did.
This is where I have to be careful. I've refused interviews because of requests to reveal my sources. Even before I began this interview, I had to get the nod on the content I reveal.
These people are very private individuals, but let me give you some inkling about the type of people I had to interview.
They are considered to be the top of their profession. One has served almost 20 years in prison for major offences and the other is considered one of the State's most notorious criminals.
They are north-inner city natives and two of the most secretive individuals in the criminal fraternity. The fact I'm from the area opened doors for me. However, further works could be compromised unless I tread carefully.
I hope this helps. These contacts are really important, and I believe it's an insult to readers to write on organised crime, unless you have credible content to build on.
Were you ever worried about covering similar ground to existing books - or Love/Hate?
Love/Hate was a fantastic piece of television. It was accurate, chilling and real-to-life. Where The Takeover differs is the scale and complexity of the story. I have portrayed a Dublin under the control of a major organised crime family. Their structure is built on the back of a major bank robbery and the organisational genius of Malcolm Doherty, the Godfather of Dublin.
They have built their empire based very much on the Mafia's structure, with layers between the bosses and the soldiers on the ground. There are complex blackmail plots involving the police and wholesale corruption that cements the power of the Doherty Clan.
They appear utterly invincible, until Nathan Corbally becomes one of their many victims. His rise is charted throughout the book and his cunning and cold-blooded attitude towards the kings, sets the story ablaze. Where Love/Hate is fractured and chaotic, The Takeover is a sweeping drama.
Tell us more about Nathan and what drives a story – plot or characters?
It is a tale of the underdog. Nathan Corbally is a pitiful youngster and the opening chapter is visceral and heartbreaking. We all suffer some setbacks in life, and it can grind people down.
The extremities of those setbacks can alter from person to person and none more so than Nathan Corbally; he is a classic case of a "product of his environment". But Nathan is a very extreme case.
Neglect is the central theme of the book. Children are sponges and absorb the influences around them. We get both sides of Nathan's life - when he is given a chance and when that chance is ruthlessly stolen from him.
If you had to do it over again, would you change anything in the book?
A few reviewers have complained about the story being too violent, and it's a common criticism - I'd probably tone it down a notch. However, it is a tale of a gangland war, so violence is to be expected.
Finally, give us three crime books (crime fiction or true crime) you'd thoroughly recommend.
The Godfather (a must read)
The Dolls House (Louise Phillips)
Cosa Nostra (John Dickie)