Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville writes best-selling mysteries as Benjamin Black (whose Elegy for April is out now). He talked to us about his double life.
Why did you decide to start writing crime fiction?
Back in 2004, I read Georges Simenon for the first time. I was immensely impressed. I thought, I’m going to try to do something like it myself. Banville needed a bit of a push, a kick in the pants, to shake him out of complacency.
Do you find the Black books help you write your Banville books?
I wouldn’t want to dismiss the Black books as just preparation for something else. I’m terribly proud of them. When I set out to write [them], I made a pact with myself to not write in clichés. Most crime fiction is clichéd, which is why it’s so easy to read. When I was a kid I loved Agatha Christie, but they’re completely unlike life. I think that good crime fiction is very like life. More than perhaps we’d like to think.
Is the writing process for Black different from that for Banville?
I always say what you get with Banville is a result of concentration and what you get with Black is a result of spontaneity. I refuse to let myself start fiddling with the intricacies of the sentence. I say, Just leave it and go on.
Do you think you’ll continue to switch between the two?
I could lose a lot by staying away from my Banville desk, and I could lose a lot staying away from the Black desk. I don’t want to lose either.
So if you stay too long as Black, you might end up becoming him?
Well, yes. There is certain leakage between the two. Often I will look over a Banville book and I will find that the other guy has leaned over my shoulder and done a bit of writing on the sly. So that has to be excised, not because it’s bad, but because it doesn’t fit.
Sneaky Benjamin Black!
Sneaky Benjamin Black, indeed. Taking over my life. He’s out of control.