Interview / Tony Black: ‘Before I knew it, Gus was back, voicing and his opinions on everything’

It’s been ten years since the last outing of crime writer Tony Black’s inimitable cop Gus Dury – but the “punk rocker of the Scottish crime scene” is back.

AAA caught up with Tony to find out what fans can expect from new novel, Wrecked.

The Gus Dury creation first made waves back in 2009 in the author’s debut title, Paying for It, where the hard-drinking Edinburgh cop landed himself in hot water for headbutting a politician.

“I think it’s safe to say that was some powerful wish fulfilment right there,” says former Edinburgh journalist Tony.

“There might have been a drink or two taken by Gus, but nutting a politician, even a Tory on the steps of the Scottish Parliament is a bit over the top.”

The book, published by Penguin Random House, proved a hit with readers – even its German translation scoring a top ten hit in the biggest book market in Europe.

The screen rights were snapped up by Richard Jobson and Dougray Scott was earmarked for the lead role in a feature film.

But, Tony was pumping out two Dury books-a-year and growing tired of his creation.

Eventually, Dury sent the author to the other side of the world, seeking an escape from his protagonist.

“After the German publication things started to go a bit nuts, my publisher there had my face on billboards the size of a house and lifesize cutouts of me in all the bookstores,” says Tony.

“The publisher was flying journalists over to interview me and I’d just take them down my local drinker in the east end of Edinburgh and talk any old nonsense.

“Thankfully, I can’t speak German because I was really winging it — the TV interviews were dubbed into German – I’m kind of glad I can’t make out what I was yakking on about.

“I got fed up, packed a bag and waved goodbye to my Easter Road flat. I headed for Melbourne. I needed a long break, somewhere far, far away from Gus and the publishing circuit.

“I’d carried this loudmouth, ranting alcoholic around inside my head for four books and a number of newspaper serials, one after the other, and I thought that was enough.”

The break stretched into ten years for Tony, with further stints in Ireland and the Isle of Arran before he returned to Edinburgh in 2018, where he found Gus Dury waiting for him.

“It was very strange, after being away from the place for so long, to find myself getting reacquainted with all my old haunts,” he says. “The city had changed so much and before I knew it Gus was back and voicing his opinions on everything.

“I started off with a few bits and pieces, monologues and some scenes, but it wouldn’t stop. Gus eventually crowbarred his way back into my affections, and before I knew it, a new novel was finished.”

And that book is Wrecked…

“It’s a hardcore crime novel, I always think my other work seems a bit tepid compared to the Dury books, but this one is the grittiest of the lot,” says Tony.

“There’s quite a few scenes that made me wince and say to myself, ‘where the hell did that come from?’

“I’d finish a writing stretch and go downstairs to tell my wife, ‘you’ll never guess what this nutter’s done now!’

Still set in the Scottish capital, a number of Gus’s more gruesome discoveries occur in East Lothian, where the author now calls home with his wife Cheryl and young son Conner.

“I moved out to Dunbar from Arran late last year and the place sort of insinuated itself into the book,” says Tony. “I’m always looking out for great locations and Dunbar’s so nice it seemed like the perfect place to set some gory killings.

“It’s always tragic to read about a killing anywhere, but when it’s set in a scenic, peaceful location it adds that extra shock element for the reader.”

Going by the readers’ verdicts, Tony’s books are doing the trick.

The author lists some of the biggest names in the writing business among his followers with Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh calling Black his “favourite British crime writer”.

Welsh also calls Gus Dury “the genre’s most interesting protagonist”, a quote that obviously rung true for Black’s publishers at Dockyard Press, who snapped up the book for their new Glasgow-based venture.

Wrecked, which is out now, is the first title from the independent Dockyard Press.

“Irvine Welsh names Tony Black as his favourite British crime writer, and we agree with that,” says Dockyard Editor-in-Chief Greum Stevenson.

“But we disagree somewhat with the Daily Record’s description of him as ‘the punk rocker of the Scottish crime scene,’ because he’s a writer beyond category.

“Since Dockyard Press sees the standard publishing model as anachronistic, and intends to create a new model, it only made sense to start by publishing a book by an author whose writing is brilliant and unique in equal measure.”

Early responses to Wrecked would seem to bear out the publisher’s confidence.

Bestselling Irish crime writer Ken Bruen says , “This is a superb novel, just the best.”

But, Tony, who has penned more than 20 books, garnered eight Crime Writer Association (CWA) shortlistings and a runner-up award in the Not the Booker Prize, says he is unsure if Gus Dury will return after Wrecked.

“I can’t say I’ve lost interest in writing, but I’ve certainly lost interest in publishing. It was a rough business when I went into it years ago and I think it’s even worse now.

“Success depends on Amazon algorithms and a relentless promotional routine; I doubt I’d have been published at all in the current climate.

“I’m heartened by my new publishers, though, I hope it’s a big hit for them because I’d like to continue to work with Dockyard Press. And they’re Glasgow-based, a place with so many natural storytellers that the city deserves a top-class publisher.”

Wrecked is published by Dockyard Press, priced £14.99, and is available now from bookstores and most online outlets.

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