Crime Writer Gerard Brennan is a Wee Rocket

Belfast author Gerard Brennan sells two books to Blasted Heath e-publisher. Listen to a reading here

Most authors have a simple, three-step career plan: write a book, find an agent and get a publisher. The end result of which, it is hoped, will be a Derek Landy sized advance cheque on the doormat come Monday morning.

Belfast based crime author Gerard Brennan gave the process his own spin. He found an agent, Edinburgh based Alan Guthrie of Jenny Brown Associates, and turned him into his publisher. In 2012 Guthrie will be bringing out two of Brennan’s novel through his e-publishing company Blasted Heath.

It would be the best of both worlds, but unfortunately Brennan did have to fire agent-Guthrie before he could sign a deal with publisher-Guthrie.

‘Al is that strange creature, an agent with ethics,’ Brennan sighs over his coffee. ‘He thought it would be a conflict of interest to negotiate my contracts with himself. So I had to pick which professional relationship I had with him, agent and author or publisher and author.’

It wasn’t an easy choice to make. Good agents are hard to come by at the best of times, which this isn’t for the publishing industry, and an ‘editing agent’ like Guthrie is even rarer.

‘I did think I was giving up quite a lot,’ Brennan admits. ‘But, as Guthrie said, we’d been working together for two years and not sold the books. They were just sitting doing nothing when they could be getting read.’

For Guthrie that is the whole point behind Blasted Heath. He started out with an interest in self-publishing (he is a writer as well as being an agent and a publisher) and became a Kindle best-seller with a novella. It would have ended there, if the co-founder of Blasted Heath, Kyle MacRae, hadn’t convinced him otherwise.

‘At gunpoint,’ Guthrie adds with a grin. Blasted Heath plan, ambitiously enough, to publish 30 eBooks in their first year. Brennan’s Wee Rockets is going to be lucky number 9 of their debut list. ‘Wee Rockets is about a teenage gang running riot in West Belfast, getting increasingly audacious and dangerous. It has been described as City of God in Belfast. I am a big fan of that movie, so I quite like that comparison.’

Of course, that begs the question, if it is that good, why couldn’t it find a home with a traditional publisher?

‘When my work was being pushed to the big crime fiction publishers there was a feeling it fell between two stools,’ Brennan explains, weighing his imaginary novel in the air. ‘It was too literary to be crime fiction, too crime fiction to be literary.’

That dichotomy of genre made Brennan’s work difficult for the publishers to package and market. Particularly, he believes, since his work had a very strong Belfast influence. He couldn’t be marketed as ‘the next Stuart Neville’ or ‘the next Brian McGilloway’, and publishers didn’t have faith that ‘the first Gerard Brennan’ would sell.

‘They want something new, edgy and different,’ Brennan says wryly. ‘Yet the same.’

Despite his foray into e-publishing, Brennan isn’t abandoning the print and paper book. Pulp Press has just released Brennan’s novella The Point in paperback, and on Kindle. Guthrie, who was still Brennan’s agent at the time of the sale, describes the book as ‘full of pace and humour and heart.’

The humour part is something that crops up in most reviews of The Point, somewhat to Brennan’s confusion. He didn’t set out to write a funny book, he just wrote the way people he knows talk.

‘I guess we’re a lot funnier than we know here,’ he shrugs.

Readers will have to wait till January to find out if Wee Rockets – a novel Brennan once described as being about ‘granny-bashers’ – is funny too. As the publisher, however, Guthrie is confident that the novel will live up to the Blasted Heath mission statement: ‘fascinating characters, gripping stories, deadly writing’.

Wee Rockets,’ he says, ‘is right on the money everytime.’