Short Sharp Interview: J J Connolly

J J Connolly wrote the classic London crime novel Layer Cake over a decade ago. Since then it’s become a thing of legend and was adapted for the big screen, starring Daniel Craig.

Now he’s back with a  sequel –Viva La Madness.

We had  natter.

PDB: In true Hollywood style, can you pitch Viva La Madness in 25 words or less?

JJC:  Viva la Madness is Goodfellas meets Macbeth, a Gothic gangster tale packed with intrigue, thrills and spills, shocks and surprises. A non-stop ride. Embrace the madness!
PDB: We’ve been waiting for Viva La Madness for ten years, why so long?
JJC: I was working on films, traveling, messing around, getting in and out of trouble, having fun. Two years ago I decided I better stop messing around and sat down and finished Viva.
I’d been working on it – on and off, more off than on, for almost ten years, since I finished Layer Cake, in fact. I got distracted, but distracted in a nicest possible way, in some nice places, with some nice people.
PDB: The world has changed a great deal between Layer Cake and Viva La Madness. Did that affect how you approached the book?

JJC: Although it was a ten year gap between the publication of Viva and Layer Cake the timeline between the two books is only eighteen months. The postscript of Layer Cake is actually dated April 2000 and Viva la Madness kicks off in August 2001 but what was interesting was how much technology has progressed in the intervening years – from 2001 to now – it’s come on leaps and bounds. It’s amazing how quickly things move now. 
Also with a retrospective eye, without giving too much away, I was able to use real historical events to date-stamp things and give perspective to the fictional events.
PDB: How was your time in Hollywood? Which films did you work on?

JJC: Hollywood is Hollywood. There’s nothing much more to say. You met some great people and some not so nice people but that’s true of the world over. I wrote a few screenplays but mostly did dialogue polishes – something people tell me I’m good at. I got paid well and had a laugh. I think I’m probably sworn to secrecy about the things I did rewrites for.
PDB: The film of Layer Cake was a critical and commercial success. In the beginning, were you worried that they might bollocks it up?
JJC: I was asked from the get-go to be involved in the film of Layer Cake – to write the script – but I was also taken aside and told from the start that a film adaption of a book is a different animal, a separate entity and not to be too precious. Things are gonna change. You get it?
I was prepared for major surgery but in the end – considering putting the whole of Layer Cake up on the screen would have meant a twenty hour movie – the film captured the true essence of the book. It was a nice surprise to watch the finished film because I’d braced myself for the worst.
A lot of people love that film so they must have done a very good job. And it’s never off TV in England. It’s strange for me to watch Layer Cake now because it’s so much about a time and place in my own life encapsulated, the people who were around me at that time, 2003 to 2004. Like finding an old diary. Yeah, it’s a kinda strange experience.
PDB: You’ve published Viva La Madness with indie/ academic publishers Duckworth. I assume lots of more mainstream publishers would have wanted to get their grubby hands on it, so why Duckworth?

JJC: I was loyal to Duckworth and Duckworth were loyal to me. I also wanted the sequel to be at the same publishers as Layer Cake – it kinda made sense. I wanted consistency. I’ve known people there for ten years and they let me do my own thing editorially. 
PDB: What’s on the cards now? Will we have to wait another decade for a new J J Connolly novel?

JJC: I loved writing Viva la Madness, so I’m not going to leave it so long next time. It was a struggle at times but then again anything worth doing is sometimes hard.
Norman Mailer said that writing a book is the nearest thing a male comes to giving birth and I get what he means. A lot of women have a child and vow never to have another one ever again… but a couple of years later they get broody and before you know it… no doubt I’ll get broody before long and I don’t plan to wait another ten years. I want to write another book with the narrator from Layer Cake and Viva la Madness, to complete a trilogy. I like the voice.
But I want to write sometime else before then with different characters and locations. I’m plotting something already but in the meantime I’m working on a couple of screenplays and enjoying the reaction to Viva. People are getting it. There’s a debate about which is the better book. I like that.
What did the guy outta Layer Cake say? Life is so good I can taste it in my spit. I wouldn’t go that far but life is pretty cool at the moment.
Thanks very much, JJ!