Monday, April 16, 2012

Insecure by Michael Shevlin - A Review and an Interview

As part of my I Love My Kindle series I've decided to read some of the books published to Kindle by other fellow bloggers,  The very witty Mr Shev (he of the Donkey badge fame) has written a book called 'Insecure', which is kind of middle class Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  The book is somewhat succinctly described on Amazon as:

"Two brothers who don't want to and don't know how to rob a bank...have to try and rob a bank."

Rich and Dan are two brothers: one is a frustrated and skint graphic designer, the other is a flashy and skint nightclub owner. After a glass of wine and a spliff too many they decide it might be a good idea to rob a bank.  Insecure is a wonderfully fast-paced book that has plenty of comical moments and a few shocks along the way.  The story takes you from London to Switzerland and back again, meeting some full on gangsters and high-class professional criminals along the way.

Finding themselves way out of their depth with some thoroughly unpleasant people, the two brothers somehow manage to bring on-board some professionals who will hopefully help to keep them alive and out of jail!

You instantly warm to the central character as he desperately tries to back-track and get out of the plan that, for all intents and purposes, will probably go tits up.

As well as reading the book I thought I would fire off some questions to the author about the book and publishing to Kindle. Here's what he had to say:

How long did it take you write the book?

That’s a difficult question to answer.

I started it ages ago in longhand and then left it for years. We moved house and I found it in a box and decided on a whim to ‘digitise’ it and it sat on the hard drive for a while longer and I forgot about it. Years later I had a bit of free time and re-read what I wrote, liked it, and then decided to see where I could go with it.

I completed the bulk of it in a mad five or six months…but editing has taken at least double that amount of time.

Did you try and get it published first before you self-published on Kindle?

I did. I managed to get it onto the desk of an editor at a large traditional publisher and he liked it but he only gets to edit and publish 10 books a year from new authors. He had 20 books on his desk (18 from literary agents) and mine didn’t make the 10, even though he liked it.

The number of manuscripts they get is truly astonishing and he said that he personally gets nearly 2000 manuscripts a year (literary agents get far more than that.) In his opinion 1800 of those are shit, unreadable, inept garbage. 100 of the remainder are derivative or unwitting facsimiles of current novels. 50 of what remain do not capture the imagination…are dull…have no spark at all – however well structured or written.

The final 50 is down to zeitgeist, literary flair, something original, a great author back-story or pure, unadulterated genius. Sometimes it’s as simple as an author being able to tell a cracking yarn.

Who are you most like Rich or Dan?

Dan definitely. The characters are all based on people that I know. I will, one day, reveal who those people are. I’m not sure they’ll be happy about that or not.

Doesn’t Dan do the same job as you?  Does this mean you’re harbouring a secret desire to become a bank robber?

He does something similar. I went by the old writing maxim: write about what you know.
Would I rob a bank? They seem to spend their time robbing us so there would be a certain poetic justice about it – but I just don’t think I could do it. I’d worry about going to prison.

What would you do with the money?

I would do something good with it – set up a foundation for disadvantaged families so that they could give their children the opportunities they wouldn’t normally be able to give.

Failing that I’d buy an island…maybe make it a sovereignty…design my own flag…get myself a bad-ass army together and wage war on somewhere small…like The Isle of Man, Greenland or Luxembourg. Then I could build a monorail and maybe a shark pit.

If Insecure was made into a film, who would you like to see play the main characters?

I reckon Taylor Kitsch would make a good Rich and…I think Seth Rogen as Dan. It sounds a bit crazy, but I think it might work.

Did you set out to write the book with a comedy angle or did it just naturally end up that way?

It’s just the way that I roll. I can’t help it. It took a while to find my writing voice (if that doesn’t sound too wanky) and it’s just easier to write that way.

The ending is very dark compared to the rest of the book, was this a deliberate decision from the start?

No. It just felt like the way the story was going. I put a hell of a lot of thought into that part of the book and I wanted to be true to the characters and the plot.

Everyone who has read it has something to say about that part.

Do you have favourite part of the book? - My favourite scene is when Andy the computer hacker is upstairs doing his stuff and Dan’s mate turns up a bit worse for wear (pissed).

The parts set in Switzerland. I didn’t even live in Switzerland when I wrote those sections, but they were really fun to write and they read back well to me.

Is the Switzerland scene anywhere near where you live? – It sounds idyllic.

Zurich is about three hours away. We live next to Lake Lemain and it’s warm and sunny at the moment…but I can drive for half an hour and I’ll be in a couple of feet of snow and see Mont Blanc and The Alps reflected in the lake. So, yes, it is pretty idyllic.

Are you working on another book?

I have four on the go!

I am writing a book about being a stay-at-home Dad. I have also started a weird book about revenge (that is good in sections, but I kind of dislike – I don’t know why…). I have drafted out a children’s book that I hope to illustrate whenever have some spare time.

I am also working on a sequel to Insecure – but it is going very slowly and I have no idea where I am going with it.

Do you think Kindle has revolutionised book reading?

Wow, big question.

The Kindle has revolutionised reading and writing. Reading in one sense in that people can read whatever they want without judgement. If you like reading Tom Clancy or the odd bit of saucy literature then no one can tell what you’re reading and there is no stigma attached to it. 

The Kindle chart is a really interesting insight into what really sells. Lots of fantasy, sci-fi and Young Adult stuff.

The other side is that Kindle gives you access to free classic novels and a massive catalogue of self published books. The self publishing phenomena is making the big publishers a little bit nervous because many books in the Kindle charts are self edited, promoted, marketed, designed and published with a far larger cut than is usual going towards the author.

Does it mean we have more bad literature to wade through that was before sifted by editors and literary agents, the gate-keepers of literature? Maybe. But technology has made this happen and the big publishers and literary agents either need to get on board and embrace the new way that words are being consumed or they’ll be left behind holding the paper rights to a couple of Jeffery Archer novels and some Moleskin diaries in their cold, dead hands.

Sorry, that was a bit overly dramatic.

I’ll leave now.

Insecure is available from the Amazon Kindle store at £1.97.