10 August 2015

10 facts about Benjamin Black

1. Black is the alter ego of Booker prize-winning novelist John Banville. His "Quirke" series about a pathologist is set mainly in 1950s Ireland.

2. He began writing his first Quirke book in March 2005 - the same year that his 14th novel, The Sea, won the Booker Prize. This first Quirke novel was based on a screenplay for an earlier TV mini-series that never got made, and became Christine Falls (2007).

3. His agent, Ed Victor, had already suggested doing a crime novel. Banville had written a thriller many years earlier, "which, I am glad to say, remains unpublished".

4. Banville thought he'd write as "Benjamin White". It's the name of a character in both his early novella The Possessed (1970) and his first novel Nightspawn (1971). His publisher and agent suggested that Black was a better pseudonym - and was nearer the front of the alphabet.

5. Black is a much faster worker than Banville. A Banville book takes three to five years to write; a Black book takes three or four months.

6. Black is also prolific. There have already been seven books in the Quirke series so far, and The Lemur (2009) is a standalone thriller set in modern America and Ireland. Under his Benjamin Black name he also wrote a "Raymond Chandler", The Black-Eyed Blonde (2014).

7. Black's Quirke character lives in the same Dublin apartment in Upper Mount Street that Banville inherited from his aunt and lived in during the 1960s.

8. Banville/Black had little to do with the 2014 TV adaptation of the first three Quirke books: "I met Andrew Davies [the co-writer with Conor McPherson] and we spent a very pleasant afternoon walking round Quirke's Dublin and went for a pint and he asked me some questions about Irish phrases - that was about it really."

9. Inspector Hackett, a constant character in the Quirke series, also pops up in several Banville novels - as Inspector Haslet in The Book of Evidence (1989) and as Inspector Hackett in Athena (1995).

10. University College Cork sometimes offers an evening course on "John Banville and Benjamin Black: From Mystery to Murder". It compares Black's work with Banville’s The Book of Evidence and The Untouchable (1997).