Dad’s the word: Crime author on his new direction

Tony Black with the apple of his eye Conner
Tony Black with the apple of his eye Conner
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To a greater or lesser degree, all authors draw from their own experience. The more they go through in life, the deeper the well of inspiration and ideas.

It’s perhaps appropriate, then, that shortly after becoming a dad for the first time at the age of 40, Tony Black’s latest novel is called His Father’s Son.

The contents of the book – a touching story of a family struggling to come to terms with its past – is also a sign that the author, who has made his name with a series of highly acclaimed gritty crime novels, has developed a softer side.

“I think you either progress or you decay,” says Black, whose Edinburgh-set crime novel, Long Time Dead, is to be filmed this year.

“I could have quite easily sat and ­written another ten crime novels without breaking sweat but I had a real sense of having been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.

“My life had moved on too, I became a father for the first time and that experience changed my outlook dramatically.

“I had this overwhelming sense of the importance of the task ahead of me in raising a child and I think my focus shifted towards creating a world – on the page anyway – that I’d like my son to grow up in rather than one I wouldn’t.”

Although His Father’s Son is a notable departure from the type of fiction that has seen Black named by Irvine Welsh as his “favourite British crime writer”, the author admits it probably still isn’t entirely suitable bedtime-reading ­material for young Conner Black – to whom it is dedicated.

“On a simple level, no, it’s not in the crime genre, but a lot of the content of my novels didn’t sit comfortably in that genre either,” says Black, who married his wife, Cheryl, last year.

“All my books have at their heart a deeply-felt character study and a lot of family back-story.

“Much of the crime content – the murder, investigation, resolution – was weaved around disintegrating relationships, divorces and problem children, so in many ways His Father’s Son is just the same without the scaffolding of a crime plot.”

But even without that scaffolding, Black has still managed to construct a gripping tale, using the slick, punchy prose and memorable characters that have become his trademarks.

The book sees Irishman Joey Driscol and his wife Shauna emigrate to ­Australia in an attempt to forget the troubles of their past.

Before long, they welcome their son, Marti, into the world and all seems well. But, as the years pass, their happy new existence comes under threat.

With their marriage hitting the rocks, Shauna disappears back to Ireland, taking Marti with her. Joey knows that, if he ever wants to see his beloved son again, he will finally have to confront the ghosts of his past.

Having been born in Australia (although, it must be said, there is no hint of a ‘g’day mate’ in his accent) and spending time living in Ireland, the ­locations featured in the book do hint at an autobiographical element.

“People always used to say that about my Gus Durie novels,” laughs Black.

“Gus used to be a journalist, like I was, but he was also a ­private investigator and an alcoholic – which I wasn’t! So His Father’s Son is definitely a novel, although there are some aspects that run parallel to my own life. The story shifts between Ireland and Australia, both countries I know. I was born in Australia and grew up in Ireland at about the same time as Marti arrives there.

“A lot of the encounters Marti has with priests and guards and barefoot tinker boys are my own from that period in the seventies.

“The whole culture shock he experiences and the cadence of the Irish voice the story is told in are mine too. I loved Australia and I loved Ireland but they are poles apart, in every sense, and that’s what I drew upon with this story.”

So will Black’s growing army of crime novel fans take to his new ‘softer’ approach to fiction?

“Well, they’ve been quite well catered for of late!” says Black, who now has eight crime thrillers to his name. “Besides, I wouldn’t rule out writing crime fiction in the future. The early reviews for His Father’s Son have been very kind so maybe that’ll swing it for any of my readers who might be having doubts. They do tend to stick with me whenever I push the boat out so I’m sure they’ll trust me on this one.”

n His Father’s Son (Black & White Publishing), by Tony Black, is out now.