Crime writer Mark Billingham’s new novel, Die of Shame, is released in May and is based on murderous goings-on in a therapy session. I spoke to him about addiction, country music and sitting around in his pyjamas all day…
The last time we spoke, you’d just released The Other Half – your spoken word album with country band My Darling Clementine – and your most recent Tom Thorne novel, Time of Death, had come out.
Now your new stand-alone novel, Die of Shame, is about to hit the shelves. Without giving too much away, what we can expect?
Mark Billingham: It’s a stand-alone psychological thriller and in some ways it’s a very modern take on the classic locked-room mystery, but my locked-room is a therapy group for recovering addicts.
There are six people in a circle who meet every Monday evening to talk about shame, which their therapist is convinced is the key to their problems with addiction and crucial in aiding their recovery.
One person in that group will die at the hands of another. Writing about addiction – a subject I’m fascinated by – enabled me to create a cast of characters from a variety of backgrounds, which is always an enjoyable challenge.
My best friend is a recovering addict and his experience and advice was hugely helpful. It’s a very different sort of novel from those in the Thorne series, but the bottom line is that it’s still a murder mystery and one I’m enormously proud of.
Tom Thorne usually makes a cameo appearance in your stand-alone books. Will he crop up in Die of Shame?
MB: Yes, of course he will. And Phil Hendricks is in there as well…
Music is never far away from you and some of the characters in your books – particularly Tom Thorne. What were you listening to while you were writing Die of Shame? Have you heard any new albums that have blown you away? I’m loving Richmond Fontaine’s latest record and I know you’re a big fan of them…
MB: Well, like you, I’m hugely in love with the new Richmond Fontaine album [You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To].
It might even be their best yet, which is ironic considering that it’s almost certainly their last.
I’ve recently discovered Margo Price, who is just wonderful, and I’ve been really enjoying Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds In Country Music.
I’ve been playing a lot of M. Ward too, and when I really need to get into a dark place, I put on Gorecki’s Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs. That stuff makes Hank Williams sound like The Wombles!
There’s not too much music in Die Of Shame, because there isn’t much Tom Thorne, but like you say, it’s never very far away…
I recently picked up the My Darling Clementine Record Store Day EP, which features As Precious As The Flame – a song you co-wrote with the band. It must be great to have a track you worked on out on vinyl?
MB: Absolutely – it’s a real thrill. I’m very proud of that song, which I think is a wonderful ending to the album and the live show of The Other Half. It’s fantastic to see it on the My Darling Clementine EP.
You’ve been touring The Other Half with My Darling Clementine. How was it going out on the road?
MB: The tour was a lot of fun, but bloody exhausting. Whenever I complained about all the travelling, Michael and Lou from My Darling Clementine would just say, “welcome to our world”.
I drove somewhere close to 7,000 miles doing the show, so now I’m appreciating the luxury of sitting at my desk all day in my pyjamas and not having to go further than the kitchen. I adored doing it, though. Michael and Lou remain a joy to work with and I’m very proud of the show we did.
Do you have any plans for some more musical collaborations?
MB: Collaborating is something I would highly recommend for anyone who works on their own most of the time.
Aside from the artistic benefits, it’s great to have someone to go for a beer and a curry with at the end of the day. I’m certainly up for doing something similar in the future, should the chance come along. Obviously I’m still waiting for Elvis Costello to call…
It’s going to be a busy year for you, as you’ve got some more gigs with My Darling Clementine planned, you’re promoting your new book in the UK and US and your novels In The Dark and Time of Death are being filmed for TV by the BBC. Can you tell us more about the TV adaptations?
MB: They’ve been filming for a week now and everything’s going well. Danny Brocklehurst has written four brilliant scripts and the BBC have put a fantastic cast together, so it’s really exciting.
Fans of Peep Show will be familiar with Matt King, who plays Super Hans, and it’s brilliant that we’ve got him playing Phil Hendricks.
Obviously, I’m going to spoil everything in a couple of weeks when I rock up to do my cameo, but I’m sure it will be fun.
The stories have changed a bit, as they should when you move from page to screen, and there’s no Thorne at all. The series focuses on Helen Weeks, and MyAnna Buring, who is playing her, is fantastic.
I’m sure some readers will be up in arms because the TV show is not exactly the same as the books, but how can it be? They are different animals and should be judged differently. I’m closely involved with the scripts and as an executive producer, so there’s nothing going on that I don’t completely endorse. We’re just trying to make the best TV show we can.
I fully expect my cameo to wind up on the cutting room floor, especially as I plan to ham it up shamelessly…
Have you started writing the next Thorne novel yet? When can we expect it to be released and can you give us a teaser?
MB: Yes, I’m halfway through the next one. There’s a new detective in Die Of Shame called Nicola Tanner. In many ways she’s the ‘anti-Thorne’, so I’m having a lot of fun putting her and Tom together in the book I’m currently writing.
Fun is perhaps the wrong word, as I’m actually writing about a subject that is very dark. I don’t want to say too much at this stage – I don’t even have a title yet – but I’ve never felt angrier writing a book. I hope that turns out to be a good thing…
Following on from your appearances on TV quiz shows Pointless and Celebrity Mastermind, you’re going to appear on Eggheads, as a member of a team of crime writers. When can we see that?
MB: I think it’s due to go out in September. I was part of a team of crime writers, alongside Val McDermid, Martyn Waites, Doug Johnstone and Chris Brookmyre. It was a lot of fun. I’m not allowed to say how we got on against the Eggheads, but I would urge people to watch!
Finally, can you recommend any good books, other than Die of Shame?
MB: Chris Brookmyre’s newest book Black Widow is fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed David Hepworth’s book about the music of 1971 – Never A Dull Moment.
Another non-fiction recommendation would be Chasing The Scream by Johann Hari. It’s a brilliant history and detailed dissection of the war on drugs and I guarantee it will change everything you ever believed about addiction.
It’s absolutely fascinating and a huge eye-opener.
I’m currently reading John Connolly’s new Charlie Parker novel, A Time Of Torment, which is as sickeningly brilliant as usual. If I didn’t like him as much, I’d hate him…
Mark Billingham’s new novel, Die of Shame, will be published in the UK by Little, Brown on May 5 and in the US by Grove Atlantic on June 7.
For more information, visit http://www.markbillingham.com/