With a staggering number of successful works behind him, Ken Bruen’s accomplishments would make any novelist just a little more than envious. But for Ken, it’s all about his next chapter, his next book. He talks to Jo Lavelle about his recent successes and where to now.
A down-to-earth and charming man, Ken’s humble nature means he rarely bigs himself up. But having 28 novels behind him, and having just signed the deal on the filming of 11 of his movies here in Galway City over the next 11 years, he is one of Galway’s most valuable ambassadors.
Meanwhile, the filming of his novel London Boulevard has just been completed, with an all-star cast of Kiera Knightly, Colin Farrell, Anna Friel and Ray Winstone. A recent feature in Empire Magazine has dubbed it the “gangster movie of the year”.
It came about after Academy Award-Winner William Monahan, the man behind The Departed and Body of Lies called Ken up one day saying he’d read his novel, loved it, and wanted to direct, produce and write the screenplay for it. “I almost fell off my chair when I heard Bill on the line. Then I heard who the cast was; it was just after ‘In Bruges’, which I think is a brilliant masterpiece. I thought Colin Farrell’s on top of his game and that’s just really lucky. And there isn’t a guy on the planet who’s going to object to Kiera Knightly. But they’ve deliberately kept it all low-key.”
You’d imagine that the excitement of being whisked around the world to glittering high profile events in LA, New York, Japan and Europe would put a stop to his work for a while, but Ken’s not one to fall for the fantasy. “I make the time to write no matter what’s going on. If I’m on tour, I just say, there’s three or four hours I have to have by myself. It’s very easy to get out of the habit. And it’s a great break for me to write, and it also stops me buying into the hype, thinking, ‘Here I am in LA, and I’m really shit hot’, or something. It stops all of that nonsense. And I say to myself, you’d better produce the goods, because this is what got you to here and if you want to keep doing it, you’ll want to keep producing. And there’s so many writers out there, you just have to keep going.”
Having just finished number ten in his critically acclaimed Jack Taylor series, there are no plans to call a halt just yet. “As soon as it gets stale, it will finish and God knows I’ll know. As soon as it sounds as same old same, same old thing, then I’ll stop. I did that with the English series, I stopped on book seven.” A self-confessed failed actor, Ken actually played a priest in Blitz, the film based on the book of the same name from the English series. “I spent a week administering my priestly functions to Jason Statham. It was just crazy; I loved it.”
Ken was 17 when he got accepted to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but his father’s lack of approval, which he admits he craved after all his life, sent him in the direction of college. “I always had ambitions to be an actor. I think that’s why I became an English language teacher. They say the best English language teachers are failed actors.” When he finally got a chance to act in a couple of Roger Colman movies about seven years ago, he realised that his failed actor status was for a good reason. “When I watched the movies back on DVD, I realised I was the worst actor I ever saw in my life – awful. I even showed the movies to my friends, everyone came around to the house, and they all went, ‘Jesus, you’re brutal; you’re just so bad.’ My friends don’t pull any stops. They’re Irish, they don’t build you up.”
If Ken Bruen ever had reason to suffer from the beast of writer’s doubt, that slate should be wiped clean with his latest success. A special nod could also be made to the first agent he ever had at Curtis Brown who told him he’d never be anything but a cult writer. “I believed her. She said the way you write and the kind of stuff you write, there’s never going to be a huge market for it. So make sure you stay teaching. She was in the business she knew. In my wildest dreams, I never believed that a film would be made of my works.” Makes the signing of the deal for 11 Jack Taylor Movies in the next decade (which incidentally he fought to have filmed in Galway), even more sweet no doubt.
The first movie of the series called ‘Jack Taylor’, will be shown in September. His fourth film to come from his novels – ‘The King of the Tinkers’ starts shooting this month, and a movie is currently in the pipeline from his first kids’ book, ‘Peter and his Magic Pencil’.
And to add a few more accolades to Galway’s most successful modern writer, he has been nominated for a number of prestigious awards in recent months. There’s the ‘Best Crime Novel of the Decade’ Barry Awards 2010 for ‘The Guards’, where he’s up against Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. ‘Tower’ is also up for three other international awards at the moment.
So what now? “Someone recently asked me if I was going to retire, leave Galway, and I just thought, Are you crazy? What else am I going to do? My family’s here, all my friends are here. I can move around and nobody bothers me. It hasn’t changed my life this far, and I don’t think it’s going to change it now. I have too many friends who would bring me down to earth and if I ever got a notion in my head, they’d quickly rid me of that. And if it all stopped in the morning, well certainly I’ve had a great run, I’ve enjoyed it, and boy have I been lucky.”