By Jon Mitchell
RR: How’s the tour going?
EB: Yeah, it’s all right. I’m glad to be here. I mean I
wouldn’t say it’s fun because I’ve been working a lot – I’ve done
seven things today, interviews, book signings you know that sort
of thing. But it’s all right, it’s fun, I like London, I wish
it wasn’t so hot – it’s just like LA.
RR: Dog Eat Dog has been getting lots of coverage
over here. Are you pleased with the attention it’s been getting?
EB: Oh yeah, it’s been getting great attention. It’s been
getting a lot of attention in the United States too, but this
has been remarkable. The books are selling very well too and it
looks like it might be what they call a break out book. The advance
reviews in the United States are unbelievable. It isn’t even out
yet and they’re already on the second printing
RR: It’s been 15 years since your last book, Little
Boy Blue. Why the long wait?
EB: Well for one reason Little Boy Blue got great
reviews but it sold almost nothing – 3300 copies and didn’t even
get a paperback sale. It got published in France and it sold pretty
well there – all my other books do well over there. In the meantime
I wasn’t writing books because I wrote Runaway Train which
did very well and I’ve been doing movie re-writes which pays a
lot of money. You don’t get any credit necessarily but they make
you a lot of money. There’s more money in Hollywood than anywhere.
I mean even now with this book I’ve made more money off the option
to the movie rights than I did off the three book advances in
Britain, United States and France put together. If they make it,
which I think they’re going to, it will be many more times more
than any book advance I’ve ever got. It’s been optioned by Ed
Pressman, the man who made Wall Street and The Shawshank
Redemption and Dead Ringers. I think it would make
a good movie. As good a movie as Pulp Fiction
RR: You played Mr Blue in Reservoir Dogs of course.
Did the success of that film help raise your profile as a writer?
EB: In Britain it’s really been beneficial. Right after
Reservoir Dogs I got a quote that Tarantino made [calling
No Beast So Fierce `The best first person crime novel I’ve
ever read’] and they pushed the Mr Blue angle and it made my book
sales rise. But people still buy my other books too so they are
things they want to read. In France I’ve got even more of a cult
following, in fact it’s more than a cult because I’ve got a pretty
wide audience. I probably helped the film in France.
RR: Your books give the feeling that you’re not making
much up. Are the three main characters in Dog Eat Dog drawn
from people you knew? Are the events autobiographical?
EB: My other books had elements of it. I knew those people
– I wouldn’t say they were autobiographical but I can identify
with them sure. My other books I could say were more or less autobiographical.
There was an autobiographical character in all of them and a lot
of the events were autobiographical. In this book I knew those
guys. I knew two of them real well – they came down to see me
when they were on that robbery – I was a friend. One of them I
had to fill in out of my own mind and I changed it by thirty years.
I modernised some of it. It’s fiction but I don’t have much of
an imagination in the sense of thinking things up but I have lots
of material and I form it, shape it and try to find some king
of a significance in it. It’s not just how it happened, it isn’t
journalism it’s fiction. But lots of writers take stories from
here and stories from there…. I mean some do and some don’t.
RR: What about your friend James Ellroy?
EB: Oh James makes everything up. He’s the opposite of
me. He makes everything up – I make nothing up but we’re very close
friends – I love James. I adapted one of his books, Suicide
Hill for a French producer, Samuel Hadida who’s the guy that
made True Romance and Killing Zoe. He says he’s
going to make it this Autumn. I mean I think they’re going to
make it. The script’s a good script, I did a very good job on
it. Better than I thought I was going to do when I started. They
got a couple of director’s that say they’d like to do it. John
Carpenter has read the script and thinks it’s great, and would
like to do it and Jonathan Demme who owns the rights to Seven
and Reservoir Dogs also said he likes it.
RR: What do you prefer writing screenplays or books?
EB: If my books made money, I mean if they were really
successful – and I don’t mean necessarily that they’d have to
be at the top of the bestseller list – but I even if they made
a nominal amount of money then I’d much prefer to write books
because it not collaborative. I like writing movies too – particularly
if I have a director I like. But a books your book – it’s your
everything. But no matter what with a screen play it’s always
collaborative with the powers that be. They pay you very well
but you’re very low down on the totem pole. I mean everybody and
their wife might change the script – you know the stars wife might
not like something. You get on a thing and the director my take
your first scene and put it last. Sometimes you have a good working
relationship but you don’t have to – your the low man on the totem
RR: How did you start writing?
EB: For many years I took a correspondence course in English
punctuation and sentence structure. I didn’t learn anything but
I got A’s so I figured I wrote a coherent sentence. And then I
read all these books – you know like How To Write A Novel And
Get Published! I guess they were some help but maybe they were
a detriment. I had no creative writing classes, nobody to show
it to except other convicts so I read a lot of books and I compared
them with what I was writing. And then later on you learn. If
there’s anything you can learn by the written word it’s how to
RR: But it took a long time to get published?
EB: Yeah. It took me six novels and over a hundred stories
spread over 17 years.
RR: What made you persevere ?
EB: Because it’s my nature to persevere. There was nothing
else I could do. That’s the way I did my time and that’s what
I wanted to be. I mean there was nothing else I could do. Of course
I didn’t know it was going to take 17 years. But I kept going
forward and writing as best I could. I still have the manuscripts
of my first novels and my wife says that if she’d have read them
she’d have told me to give it up – no talent.
RR: Did the publication of No Beast So Fierce and
the sale of the movie rights play a significant part in changing
EB: It changed my life in a lot of ways. It put me in a
different situation. I got out, I was working on the movies, I
met people. I didn’t have any great metamorphosis that changed
me all of a sudden. I didn’t see any great blinding light. I wasn’t
a different person – I just didn’t want to do anything stupid.
I mean I’d never done anything but steal money but I didn’t want
to go back to the penitentiary for doing something silly and have
all these guys signify on me. You know what I mean by that? You
know – rib me or put it on me. I had it all together man they
wouldn’t have let me forget it. I didn’t want to go back for something
stupid. And one thing led to another and I stayed out. A lot of
thanks belongs to my wife, I’ve been with her for almost 18 years
now. I didn’t change so much as my circumstances changed and over
a long time I changed because the circumstances were different.
RR: One of the themes in your books is that the justice
system perpetuates crime and criminals.
EB: It certainly doesn’t do anything to stop it. I guess
some people it stops – it stops them while they’re in prison.
But I don’t think it does anything to reform people. If people
reform in prison – as some do – it’s in spite of the prison not
because of it. It’s also because of time. Most criminals burn
out at a certain age anyway – you find very few 40 year old bank
RR: The characters in Dog Eat Dog are unashamedly
criminal and often extremely violent but at the same time still
EB: I think some of them are BAD lizards. I think that
all of them are human and nobody’s a demon. I’ve know many killers
and crazy people and if you look back at their lives I’m sure
you could find the reasons for it. That’s not to say that people
are not responsible for their behaviour – or at least society
must hold them responsible for their behaviour in order to hold
itself together. It has the right to protect itself.. In point
of fact it’s been my experience in life that those who succeed
always attribute their success to their great virtues and those
that fail always attribute their failure to bad luck. And I don’t
know what it is – whether it’s luck or virtue.
RR: Do you ever miss the bad old days?
EB: Oh yeah I miss things. I used to be able to just knock
someone down if I felt like it but now I have to watch myself.
They sue me now. I miss the freedom of just doing what I want
to do. I have to compromise some but one of the advantages of
being a writer is that you don’t have to answer to people very
RR: What about the future?
EB: I have a volume of my memoirs. It’s like a series of
stories and each one is kind of connected. Some of them are not
polished but it’s pretty well publishable now. But it’s only the
first volume – my vanity thinks I can get three books out of my
life. I might be writing a movie with Michael Mann who’s got a
project he’s been talking about. I’ll keep writing and just do
the best I can.
RR: Which writers do you read? Do you read much crime fiction?
EB: No I don’t really read crime fiction at all. I don’t
really consider myself as a crime writer. I think I’m only considered
a crime writer in Britain. I mean Dostoyevsky could be seen as
a crime writer because of Crime and Punishment. I think
over here I gotten that kind of press but they don’t consider
that in France and in America they definitely don’t. I read Ellroy
though – he’s kind of on the line too. When I was younger I would
read all the newest novelists as they were announced and pronounced
as the great new thing. But as I get older I find that I’m going
back to the writer’s I like that will stand up like F. Scott Fitzgerald
– writers who have their place in any time.
RR: You’ve achieved a great deal in the last few decades.
Have you been making up for lost time?
EB: You can never make up for lost time. Time is gone.
You appreciate life more but you can never make up for anything.
A day gone is a day gone.
Copyright © Jon Mitchell 1996