Graveland: Alan Glynn. Movies, Murder & More
Dublin born, Alan Glynn, is a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. He has written three previous novels: Winterland, described by John Connolly as ‘timely, topical and thrilling’, Bloodland, which, according to the Sunday Independent is, ‘a cracking conspiracy thriller worthy of Le Carré’ and his debut, The Dark Fields, which was released in 2011 as the movie Limitless, and went to number 1 at the box office on both sides of the Atlantic.
His latest novel, Graveland, released this month, is the final part of a loose-trilogy of conspiracy thrillers. A Wall Street investment banker is shot dead while jogging in Central Park. Later that night, one of the savviest hedge-fund managers in the city is gunned down outside a fancy Upper West Side restaurant. Are these killings part of a coordinated terrorist attack, or just coincidence? Set deep in the place where corrupt global business and radical politics clash, Graveland is the explosive thriller of, and for, our times.
I had arranged to meet Alan Glynn at his Dublin home. He arrives to the door; phone in hand, as he deftly finishes one interview, ready within moments to begin another. He’s a natural. It was a pleasure to sit over a welcome cup of tea, surrounded by books, as he chats easily about his writing career, movie deals and his time spent in New York.
I ask him if he still gets a buzz to see his novel hit the bookshelves and was delighted with his answer. His eyes light up as he told me of the first time which, ‘was in a Barnes & Noble store at Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street in New York. That was when The Dark Fields came out.’ He smiles at the memory, ‘it was published first in New York.’ It is surely all the more poignant then, to hear that this book store is yet another victim of the world Glynn so eloquently writes about; the words, Closed Forever, visible through the glass doors which shut for the final time on 31 December 2012.
Glynn, many years ago, worked in magazine publishing in New York. ‘I started proof-reading for a cable television magazine and then I moved in to the production offices of a couple of other magazines and it was great.’ You can feel his enthusiasm, ‘I was in New York, I was young, I was working in an office – it was very exciting – and it was great to be working in that environment.’
It is a vibrant city he clearly loves and which is an ideal location for Graveland. While we see much of the city through the character of Frank Bishop, a recession-hit architect, I notice that Glynn doesn’t, in the regular sense, describe his characters physical characteristics, yet through his writing, we still conjure up their images.
‘Interesting that you mention that, because nobody has ever said that to me before,’ Glynn laughs, ‘but it’s true!’ He tells me that he became aware of it in Winterland with his main character, Gina Rafferty. ‘I don’t describe her at all. It’s funny, I’ve often asked people who read it and they’ll have a visualization of what she looks like, but they don’t realize that she’s not actually described. I didn’t deliberately do that, but I remember noticing at a certain point,’ he pauses, dramatically, ‘I haven’t described her.’
Even the larger than life, James Vaughn, legendary CEO of the Oberon Capital Group, who lurks in the shadows of Graveland, is depicted with a few choice words. Glynn tells me ‘he’s got very sharp blue eyes, they’re mentioned a couple of times. The fact that he’s small and frail, maybe, but not a lot of detail.’ Yet the reader has absolutely no problem in recognising the man that Glynn has created, a man, who, despite his failing health, refuses to give up control easily, and we soon see just how far-reaching and pervasive his influence really is. Glynn is insightful in his observation, ‘when we read now, we have such a huge visual database already in our heads of stuff, that we can supply all these things. Whereas in the nineteenth century novel you could spend three pages describing somebody – every detail – and that was fine for then, but I think we have very little patience for that now.’
The title of his first published novel, The Dark Fields, was taken from the last line of The Great Gatsby, but it was released as the hit movie, Limitless. I wonder if Glynn was upset with the change. He sits forward as he quotes, in his soft Dublin accent, “where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.” I already know the answer. ‘Yes, I was,’ he says. ‘I was really attached to the title, and as well, because of where it came from it spoke to the themes in the book. They had kept it right up until the very end. I had suspected they might change it, and then they didn’t, and they weren’t going to and it seemed fine, right up until the very end . . .’ Apparently, Neil Burger, the director, was also reluctant to change the title, but eventually it became the movie, Limitless, which Glynn agrees, works very well.
Over ten years, Glynn had plenty of time to despair and wonder if the movie would ever be made. Especially when, close to production, Shia LaBeouf, who had been cast in the role of Eddie, had to be replaced after injuring his hand in a car accident. A year later he received a call to say that Bradley Cooper was interested, followed by another to tell him that Robert de Nero was on board – and the rest is history.
Now that Graveland is on our shelves, Glynn is currently working on his next novel. ‘What I’m hoping, is that the book I’m working on at the moment will be,’ he pauses, head to one side as he grins, ‘a “prequel sequel” to The Dark Fields. Called, Under The Night – it comes from the same sentence, “the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.” It’s my attempt to reel The Dark Fields back in.’
I ask Glynn to tell me who, of all the characters he has created, are his favourites. Vaughn seems a likely candidate and Glynn admits to liking him a lot. ‘In a way he’s my favourite because he represents the things I’m interested in the most; the whole corporate grip on the world. I’d say he’s the one I’m most fascinated by and the one I’d like to explore more. But I really like Gina Rafferty, the main character from Winterland.’ Listening to him, you can tell Glynn enjoyed writing such a strong female character; he explained: ‘there’s something dogged and determined about her.’ Finally, Glynn concludes that Eddie, from The Dark Fields, would also have to be a contender. He admits that the character of Eddie is not autobiographical, ‘but it’s written in the first person and there’s a real sense of identification with that character – and it’s set in New York, and it comes from the time that I spent there,’ he stops for a moment to ponder his favourite, ‘it would be a toss-up between Eddie and Gina.’
Glynn was inspired by many writers over the years, ‘going back from when I was a kid, I would say, Raymond Chandler. He really hit something when I was a teen, the language, the atmosphere.’ JG Ballard, author of the semi-autobiographical Empire of the Sun, Joyce and, of course, F Scott Fitzgerald are mentioned as he spoke about, The Great Gatsby, and how ‘a lot of what I wrote about is set in America and the theme in that is the whole idea of reinventing yourself – it’s such an American idea.’
When asked if he’d ever consider writing in another genre, Glynn shakes his head. ‘A lot of people are writing young adult, but I don’t think so.’ He laughs heartily, as he admits that his children constantly say, ‘c’mon Dad, write a kids book, write a book for us!’ But he admits, ‘I’d be intimidated, the standards would have to be so high.’
If he had to bring one book to a desert island, Glynn would choose, Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon. ‘It’s a very dense book, it’s long and it’s hard to understand, so if you were on a desert island it would certainly fit in with that. it’s very funny. A masterpiece.’
I wonder if Glynn enjoys connecting with readers and other writers on social media. Apart from the conversation that time disappears on-line, Glynn admits, ‘I like Twitter – it’s fun and you can find a lot of information and it’s a good way of communicating.’ Glynn, as well as a Facebook page, also has a blog where you can read a selection of his short stories, including, Five O’Clock Shadow, published last year.
As the interview draws to an end, I ask Glynn if there’s anything he’d like me to pass on to his readers. He appears to welcome the opportunity to point out that, although his books are described as a loose trilogy, ‘you can read the books in any order; one and not the others; the second one, then the third and then the first – it will make no difference – it might even be interesting,’ he laughs.
Graveland is published by Faber and Faber and is out now in all good bookshops and online.
(c) Susan Condon
Susan Condon, a native of Dublin, is currently editing her debut novel – a crime fiction thriller set in New York. Her short stories were awarded first prize in the Jonathan Swift Award, the Sport and Cultural Council (City of Dublin VEC) Competition and the Bealtaine Short Story Competition and she has also been long-listed for the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Short Story Competition. Publications include Original Writing from Ireland’s Own, Anthology 2012; South of the County: New Myths and Tales and www.fivestopstory.com
Susan blogs at www.susancondon.wordpress.com or find her on Twitter: @SusanCondon