Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Joe Dylan Ten Years Old.

The publication of the fifth Joe Dylan book is approaching us, and my main man Joe has reached his tenth birthday. Ten years ago, 2006, I published the book I had begun writing when I arrived in Thailand – Bangkok Express. The first edition in the plain brown cover appeared as a print on demand edition, sold a handful of copies, and disappeared without having made much of a ripple in the world of crime fiction. Joe reappeared as an eBook in 2010 published by Bangkok Books and by that time the second in the series Red Night Zone (available for free download HERE) was well under way.    

In the very first 2006 edition Dylan was recovering from a divorce and struggling with alcohol issues while living above a chippy in a London suburban street. By the third White Flamingo my hero was shooting china white at a Jack the Ripper copy-cat crime scene in a tropical crime metropolis. Now in 2016’s Fun City Punch Dylan has been blasted nine years into the future to a cash-free brave new world where government surveillance is rife. Self-mutilated transhumanists languidly stroke exotic pets while tripping on scopolamine shakes.

Hasn't the boy done well?  

I already had the character mostly formed in my mind when my son was born in 2004 and I decided to name both my character and my son Joe Dylan. Five books later, translations into Spanish and Italian, audio books, and a film adaptation in the works, I may have managed to set up my character Joe with a footing as solid as his namesake Joe Dylan Newman who began high school this week.

Well done, Joe.

And well done, Joe.  

But how did Dylan evolve?

Stirring this question around in my mind on the Bangkok bus (the place and the time where all the ideas come is the morning bus journey) I came to the conclusion that there are two main sources of inspiration for my birthday boy private eye.

Every author is the sum of two things – the books he’s read and the life he has lived. 

Dylan evolved from a fascination with two authors.

First up and without a shadow of a doubt the writer who has influenced my writing most is a Belgium cartoonist named Herge.

There, I said it.

Hah! Newman’s finally lost the plot. But stay with me here, I think I can explain. Hold on.

But first let me tell you the second.

The second writer who has influenced me the most is an American novelist, some of you may have heard of, by the name of William Burroughs.

A strange mix you may think, but, there is always a connection between two influences and that connection with these two is, believe it or not, the Boy Scouts.

Burroughs and Herge both lived by the code. Herge was a full blown member of the scout movement during his youth and his early Tintin is basically a grown up scout masquerading as a journalist. Burroughs not only wrote a book entitled The Revised Boy Scout Manual, he, always prepared, stockpiled methadone in his garage in preparation for the impending nuclear apocalypse.

Herge began his career writing for far right publications. Tintin and the Soviets, the Congo comic strip, and even Tintin’s adventures into America were written, with a fast deadline approaching, and were made pretty much to order, and in to be fair, pretty poor taste. His later adventures were landmark crusades detailing good over evil with breath-taking attention to detail and as such, Tintin, adapted over the years, his moral compass was firmly in place to the extent that he was read and enjoyed in every part of the world except, curiously, America.

Herge was at times a genius, a hard-working genius, and one who often worked too hard but he was a great, and in my mind a master of plot and research. Perhaps he was one of the best plotters of the twentieth century..

Novelists, whoever they are, struggle with plot development. While writing the Dylan series over the last ten years I’ve written myself into and out of countless holes. During these moments of frustration I will often turn to one of the Tintin books, and go through Herge’s process of story construction. The Castiafore Emerald is a mystery in which the culprit (a magpie) of the crime is pictured in the very first frame. I used this idea in one of the Dylan series – the killer is in the first grisly scene.    

Anti-plot Burroughs, was a gifted writer who, spare the first two, could never lay down a coherent sequence of events over the course of a novel. Burroughs was hopeless when it came to plot. He did, however, write Naked Lunch, with a little help from his friends, and Burroughs, whether you like it or not, basically predicted the future of the Western consumer society before he began to get a bit too handy with a pair of scissors and destroyed any chance he had of a mainstream career. Burroughs imagery in my mind has yet to be equaled in modern fiction. 
Herge saw the problems in the world and made us understand them and Burroughs tried, but ultimately failed to prescribe a remedy, yet left us with a sense of the condition we now find ourselves in.

So perhaps Dylan is what happens when good intentions go astray.

Both men were men of principles. Reclusive men who chose their friends well. They were both leaders of their respective fields, not always championed by the establishment, and often subject to persecution. Both men were exiles for a time. Burroughs for most of his life. They were welcomed back to the Fatherland. Herge played golf with the king of Belgium.

Both men were masters of picking up on the current political and recycling it for our humorous digestion and there seems to be an ethical battle taking place in all their work.

Both men are legends to aspire to and without them there would be, for better or worse, no Joe Dylan.

Dylan tries to do the right thing again and again, but like Burroughs, is attracted or distracted by what they call the Ugly Spirit.

So happy birthday Joe, and thanks to Uncle Bill and Georges Prosper Remi otherwise known as Herge..   

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