David Benioff arrived in the UK to promote his audacious debut novel 'The 25th Hour' which is described by veteran novelist, George Pelecanos as 'The kind of tough, honest, young-in-New York novel that you're always looking for but seldom seem to find'
A great endorsement for a first novel indeed.I had the pleasure in meeting up with David during the week, starting with the launch party held in a basement club in Soho. The party was great fun, and as would be expected, packed with people eager to meet this young and talented writer. I especially enjoyed observing the young women 'eyeing up'
the dark and handsome New Yorker as he talked modestly about his work. David Benioff is extremely well read, and his film-star good-looks prevent many realising the high level intellect behind his surface polish.
During his week in the UK, David Benioff found himself teamed with our very own John Harvey, US thriller master, Jeffery Deaver as well as the wise-cracking and now chart-topping Harlan Coben, in events staged at Brighton, London, Milton Keynes and Manchester, before returning home to Los Angeles.Benioff is a native New Yorker, now relocated to Los Angeles due his involvement in an array of Hollywood Projects. He worked in various eclectic jobs including a stint as a night club bouncer, but he continued selling his articles and short stories in GQ, Seventeen, and Zoetrope. Things changed when he got 'The 25th
Hour' published as a novel, and then followed the sale of the film script to Hollywood for $1.8m.
Filming started in May this year, with Spike Lee at the helm, and Ed Norton starring as Monty Brogan - the young, hip, would-be gangster on his last night of freedom before he is incarcerated in prison for drug dealing.I found David Benioff a very modest and articulate writer, and one that is sitting on the barbwire divide that separates the 'crime novel' from the so-called
'literary novel'. What I found refreshing is David's lack of concern at being labelled'a crime-writer'
when others may have preferred the 'literary' label, especially considering his classical education.However you wish to classify David Benioff, be it 'crime writer'
or 'literary novelist'
, you really must read 'The 25th
Hour'. It is a remarkable character-driven narrative detailing the final taste of freedom by Monty Brogan, a young New Yorker, forced to re-evaluate his life due to the shadow of prison bars that darken Brogan's door on this cold winter night in New York.Q Thank you for taking time out of your hectic schedule to talk to Shots Magazine.
A No problem, glad to be here.Q Can you tell us a little about how you started writing as you had short stories published in various magazines?
A Ever since I was a kid I think I wanted to be a writer, even in second grade I wrote poetry. It was either that or wanting to play for the New York Yankees.
Q ‘The 25th Hour’ reads more like a novella how did it become a novel?
A: ‘The 25 Hour’ reads more like a novella how did it become a novel?A It was actually the third book I'd written, but the first to get published. The first I never sent out, and the second got rejected by every publisher in America. I remember once getting 30 rejection letters all in the same day, which was rather nice.
The one theme of the rejection letters was - 'We like the writing, we like the characters, but it's huge, it's sprawling, it's all over the map.' They were looking for something a little more focused. So I started working on a story that took place in a compressed time frame. In my search for that story, I got thinking about something that could take place in the course of a day or even a night, and finally I came up with the last day of freedom.Q Another debut novel that explored a similar theme (a last night before consequences are faced) was ‘The Ice Harvest’ by Scott Phillips. It was nominated by the Crime Writers’ Association as a Debut Dagger plus shortlisted on the Gold and Silver Dagger Award. Are you familiar with the book?
A Yes I am. In fact Scott Phillips is a friend of mine, he lives near me in Los Angeles and we've read together at bookstore events. He's a very good guy and a very smart writer . I remember talking to him once and he gave me a really great piece of advice which is very clever. We were talking how well you have to know your characters before you can write the book, and he said to me - 'I think is important to know what your characters grandparents did for a living. But the reader doesn't have to know'. That is a really good tip, as you really do have to know the background, but you also have to know how much information you should share with the reader.Q A nice segue into your own characters or Monty Brogan, Jakob Elinsky, Slattery and, of course, Kostya the Russian.
A The only character that is based on a real living being in the book is Doyle -The Dog. Doyle appears in the first scene of the book, being rescued by Monty from the Westside Highway in New York. In Los Angeles I did live with a woman for a couple of years who actually did rescue a pit-bull from the side of a road - a dog named Olive, and Olive was a Bitch not a Dog, but aside from that, the dog was essentially the same character. The other characters….well there aren’t really human beings that inspired these characters, well not any one person in reality, they are more amalgams of people I know. Monty was that Character that everyone knows, you know, growing up in New York, he's the guy who when he walks into a room, he'd be the guy that everyone turned to look at. He's the guy that's got that magnetic personality, presence and charisma - that always interested me, like in high school, the guy who's the great basketball player, the guy who's good with all the girls. I think when things come easy to you, you look for the easy way out, and Monty is that guy, things have come naturally to him, things have come easily for him, so one of the pitfalls he falls into, is looking for the easy dollar.Q We've heard about two other projects that you are involved in. Firstly that David Fincher is working with you on your screenplay 'Stay' and that you've been commissioned to adapt George Pelecanos’ 'Right as Rain' into a screenplay.
A Hey where'd you hear that?Q We'll we have our sources (laughing)
A Yes (laughing) very impressive…Q Pelecanos is a big hero of mine.
A Me too, George is a huge hero of mine, aside from being one of the best writers in the game. Way before anyone had read my book (The 25th
Hour), he read it and blurbed it, which for an unknown writer is a great thing. To have one of the masters of the genre giving you his stamp of approval was amazing. I'm also a big Elmore Leonard fan. In my opinion he is the American Master when it comes to dialogue. I got my Masters actually in Irish Literature at Trinity College Dublin where I wrote my thesis on Samuel Beckett, so Beckett is probably the writer I studied the most thoroughly, in fact he's the one writer that I've pretty much ready everything he's written (that's available). So although I would never attempt to write like Beckett, he is still is like the grand master to me.'Right as Rain' is a terrific book and there is a lot of interest in Hollywood right now. Curtis Hanson ('L.A. Confidential') is talking about filming it so you can see it could be a fantastic movie.'Stay' with David Fincher ……Well Fincher is probably the smartest man I've met in Hollywood, he's a brilliant guy. I've been meeting with him once a week, for like three hours each week, and it's been a little like film education. Part of the time we talk through 'Stay' but part of the time we talk about Hitchcock. Listening to David Fincher talk about Hitchcock is worth more to me than any graduate education in film could ever be. It is one hell of an experience.Q So what’s next - are you going to work with screenplays or novels?
A A little of both, in fact I'm currently adapting Homer's 'The Iliad' for Warner Brothers, which is basically a retelling of the entire Trojan Wars.Q Wow…That is brilliant ! I studied 'The Iliad' in my youth…amazing.
A Yes it is brilliant, it was also one of my favourite stories too.Q How did it come about?
A Basically I walked into Warner Brothers and I pitched. The basic pitch was 'How come nobody's ever made a movie of 'The Iliad' it's like the great epic of Western Literature?' Particularly in the wake of 'Gladiator' which has revitalised the 'Sword and Sandal'
type of picture - showing that these types of movies can still make money. People in Hollywood are not too familiar with 'The Iliad' but that’s what I'm working on right now, and my next novel should be out in about two years.Thanks, and we appreciate you taking time out to talk to SHOTS and we wish you great success for 'The 25th Hour' as well as your future ventures, and enjoy your stay in the UK.
Thank you AliSHOTS wish to thank David Benioff, Jocasta and Henry at Hodder & Stoughton, Christopher Glasgow of Ottakars Milton Keynes, and Jude Davis of Waterstones Manchester for their help in organising this interview and profile.
'The 25th Hour' is available as a Hodder & Stoughton Hardcover priced £17-99 and also as a New English Library Paperback priced £5-99