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Joe Stein about ... Another Man's World

Another Man's World by Joe Stein
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Read the Book Review of Another Man's World by Joe Stein
Joe Stein interviewed Jun 2008 by Sarah Rudd

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I hadnít read your book until my boss told me sheís like a review, which is why itís taken me a while to get back to you Ė I had to read the book first. Good job, by the wayÖ So, here are my questions for you:

Garron is such a colossal contradiction Ė where did the idea to mix up subtle emotion and male detachment come from?

It didnít seem like such a contradiction at the time. I didnít want a one-dimensional character who simply is what he is. Some people in real life are like that, but most change as they are affected by the things that happen to them and by the people around them.

Hereís a guy that grew up in a tough environment, but not a criminal one and found what he thought was his way out through the boxing. When that didnít work, he found himself without any skills except those he learnt in the ring and on the street. His decision to use those skills is not sudden and his struggle with what he can and canít do is the main line of the first book, ĎCold Fire Calm Rageí. In that story, his descent into this life is slow, but he becomes more self-aware as he goes on and the character develops. He is initially indecisive and makes mistakes, but he develops.

In ĎAnother Manís Worldí, the action is deliberately much faster paced and the character develops more by interaction with others, than by introspection. A lot of thriller lead characters are tough guys, but itís takes more to be tough when youíre thinking about what is going on and are doubtful about what is going to happen, than if you simply have a stock reaction to events. Iím more interested in why someone does something, rather than what they do.

Why Donald Duck masks for the raiders? Why not Mickey Mouse or Goofy?

Both Mickeyís and Goofyís ears are too big and would get in the way. Plus, Mickey Mouse has connotations in London slang of something being poor quality (as in Ďitís a Mickey Mouse outfití) and Goofy has the implication of being, well, goofy. Donald Duck is by far the most in your face and arrogant of the three.

And that second point is not altogether me being flippant. Without getting too pretentious about it, I think that people bring a lot from their own experiences and reference points into what they read and your mind automatically picks things out from words and phrases. Thatís why a scene can be transformed by using a phrase that clicks with a reader. I wouldnít necessarily use this as an example, but the theory is there.

The girlfriend angle comes from out of nowhereÖ and also seems to blossom pretty quickly despite Garronís nervousness. Did you intentionally make Garron a stuttering ladies man, or did it just kind of happen that way?

Yes, it is deliberate, but itís on both sides. These are two people who have been through their own traumas and they can recognise that in each other, even though they donít initially know what those problems have been. Garron can see enough to be careful of doing or saying the wrong thing and scaring Jenny off and they are both wary of letting anyone into their own worlds. They both recognise that part of what the other is looking for is honesty. Itís a bit of a clichť, the two damaged people, but I donít think it reads like one here and they make for an interesting relationship. Itís not easy to have the two characters talking about themselves to each other and keep it credible, but I hope it works.

Mick seems alright but actually eats away at Garronís sense of right and wrong like a parasite Ė do you think Garron would ever be able to go straight and cut loose from him?

That is a hell of a question and you are the first interviewer to pick this up.

SoÖMick is one of Garronís few and oldest friends. He got him the flat he lives in and is someone Garron can talk to. Heís in the life. But Mick also uses him for work to both their advantages. Does Mick simply tell Garron the truth as he sees it, or is there an element of manipulation? If there is, does he even realise it himself? Certainly Garron doesnít view it like that, he genuinely values Mickís comments, butÖ

There is a tendency in first person narrative stories to trust the person talking to us implicitly. He/she is our friend and we see things through their eyes. But they can be wrong, lied to, or unintentionally misled, just as we can and maybe they donít ever find out. Iím not saying that is the case here. I think of Mick as Garronís friend and almost an older brother type figure. But then I can be wrong as wellÖ

I think there are some things in a story that the reader needs to be absolutely clear on otherwise it gets too confusing, but there are other elements that are open to interpretation. And as I mentioned earlier, readers bring their own interpretation to what they are reading and that is as it should be. Different readers will see different things in the same text.

Hillier isnít that scary (and maybe thatís intentional), how come there werenít more broken bones and mangled fleshy bits?

Thatís kind of a core question. I try to write credible books about real people, some of whom get caught up in bad situations as people sometimes do. And obviously in various parts of the world and in the UK there are terrible things going on. But Iím not necessarily writing about those things, Iím writing about these characters, and Hillier, whilst a criminal, also runs businesses and clubs. Maybe he mangles peopleís flesh elsewhere in his organisation, but probably not if he can help it, or without a reason. And thatís true of the writing as a whole. There is plenty of action in the book, more than in the first story, but violence for itís own shock value sake in a book is not what Iím looking for. And making someone scary just for the sake of it, I think (maybe wrongly) lessens the realism. In the real world, these people like Hillier exist and when they ask you, politely, to do something for them, they have a weight of personality and an underlying menace that is there. I think that the fact that Garron, de-sensitised as he has become, finds himself not scared of Hillier, although he realizes what he is capable of, possibly means we, the readers, identify with that view slightly as well. Maybe thatís a mistake there! But I think the sense of what Hillier is capable of is definitely there. And the sense of his control.

So, more about you then,Ö what turned you onto writing Ė was it an event, a vocation or just a deep desire to see your name in print?

No, not a desire to see my name in print, although itís very nice that itís happened. I wanted to try to write to see if I could do it. I used to like reading (although I lost that for a bit in my teens) and then when I started working and with the boxing training, I thought I might have some stories to tell and I wanted to see if I could tell them in a way that anyone else would want to read. And Iíve got a lot out of it. Not financially, but a lot of satisfaction from producing the stories that I wanted to write. A lot of the people I mix with donít read at all and the idea of writing a book is an alien concept to many of them. Itís not easy to do, but itís good to have something buzzing round in my head sometimes that isnít the day job.

Have you written off Garron now heís apparently going straight Ė or will he resurface at some later point?

Who said heís going straight? Heís not finished his journey yet. And the fact that this is, at least to me, a real character who is affected by what he does and what goes on around him, means that there is more to learn about him and more situations to put him in to see how he will react. Many fictional leads donít change, donít develop through a series. I hope Garron does.

Are you working on any new material at the moment Ė anything youíd like to share with us?

There is a third Garron book in the offing, although Iím not that far into it, and Iím working on a short story for one of my publisherís (bluechrome) mini anthologies.

If you could have one wish Ė what would it be?

Leaving aside the biggies such as world peace and family health, Iíd really like to have my 9 year old put on his socks in the morning without a ten minute fight.

I guess it would also be nice to be able to write for a living, but I canít, so thereís no use in whingeing about it. Iím lucky to be able to get my stuff published and having a day job is something I canít do without, just like everyone else. (Sorry, thatís two wishes - Iíll stick with the socks one.)

READERíS QUESTION (Brian Flannery): The book is totally believable and the fight scene is completely realistic; I felt like I was there. How did you create that realism and atmosphere?

Thatís another core question. Realism is different for different writers. Forensic detail in some books is realism. Gory detail of torture in another may be realism because in that circumstance, that detail is what you need to bring it to life. For me, the people in the books have to behave the way they would behave in real life. I wanted to write a full boxing scene near enough in real time and having it as an unlicensed fight made sense both for the story and because of the length of the fight. I donít think I could have sustained a ten round, three minutes a round fight, but the unlicensed fight was the right timeframe. Then it was a case of writing it as I would have fought it, if that makes sense. To some extent that is impossible as fighting at that level becomes instinctive, not something you think about, but your brain does process information and react and describing that, I guess, is the test for the writer. Iíve had a lot of good reaction from the book and also from that scene, so hopefully it has worked. As to how I do it, Iím not actually too sure. I havenít analysed it to that level. I certainly donít look for approval from anyone else, I just need to know that it reads and feels right to me.

Read our full review of Another Man's World by Joe Stein

Author Extras

Year of Birth: Will 60s do?

Residence: North London

Educated: Er, slightly and mostly against my will at the time.

Hobbies/ Interests: Donít have time for any now, but in the past, music (used to play blues guitar) and the boxing/Jieishudan. Nowdays my main interest is whether I can get out of bed in the morning and make it through to the end of the day in one piece. Oh, and of course my family, before they get annoyed with me.

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