Interview/discussion by emails with Ken Bruen between 2008 and 2010, except for the last question, which Ken answered on August 5th, 2012. Some of this material has been published/translated in French, but it is here for the first time in its original version.

If some people earn the right to complain about the shitty cards life has dealt them, Ken Bruen is certainly amongst those, and I don't know anyone who wouldn't let him do it. But here's the thing; this gentleman has decided to make the most out of these cards without complaining publicly and without spending the rest of his life pissed off and trying to get some sort of revenge. Ken Bruen can see life as the constant battle between light and dark, or good vs evil, that it is. Life can sometimes get so dark that it becomes blinding; all you face is the emptiness in your days, like an abyss that tempts you to let go and plunge into it. Ken Bruen has faced his own abyss and he has tried to fill it up with boiling rage, with booze, and he even considered it with a bullet. But he has resisted being angry at the world, he has resisted drowning his pains in alcohol, and he has resisted blowing his brains out. He felt the pull of the void and he probably lost a part of him to it, as there is certainly a part of the void left inside him. Ken Bruen decided to fill up the abyss with sharp words, with bleeding pages, and with stories of hurt. Like a wounded knight unexpectedly emerging from a desperate battle, he came out of the dark to show us what true evil can look like, but also how beautiful and worthwhile the alternative can be. That's how he played his cards.

His books have won many awards and piled up raving reviews in many countries. Born on January 3rd, 1951, Ken Bruen possesses the gentleness, the generosity, and the intelligence of a very old soul. Here is my interview and email/talk with him.         

--Let's start with a little politic if you don't mind. Québec has often been compared to Ireland, for different reasons, like wanting to be recognised as a distinct nation and getting out of the British system; population is pretty much the same (we're just over 8 millions in population, I think Ireland is close to 7 millions); we love our beer(s) of course; and Montréal has one of the largest Irish community in North America and the second biggest St. Patrick's Day Parade after the one in Boston. We could probably find other similarities and links. What is the situation in Ireland; from what we hear it seems pretty calm right now. What's your view on life in Ireland?

K.B.--We went from Mass on Sunday to Microsoft with no preparation and like any poor nation, went crazy when we got rich and we got greedy. I'm glad we're not poor any more but we lost a lot too, we've become a mini America, and now we're heading for meltdown, we're really fooked if we have to go back to austerity, and quel dommage, the poor get poorer as the rich get richer.

--Can you share some of your experience of growing up in a violent Ireland. Did you grow up wanting to become a writer or a teacher, or did you have something else in mind?

K.B.--I wanted to be an actor, books were banned in our house and I read under the blankets with a torch, I became a teacher as my Dad said actors were homosexuals!!!!...
I always wrote.
The violence in the North was a constant dark and darker cloud, it becomes part of your spirit, the belief that peace is unattainable.

--As if that wasn't enough, you went through a traumatizing experience (to say the least) in South America while teaching. It's certainly something that will stay with you always, but what was the turning point that 'saved' you and gave you the will to survive without being a lost soul on earth; where did you find the strength to start enjoying life again?

K.B.--I attach a blog I wrote recently that explains fully what saved me.
(you can read it at the end of this interview)

--When you started writing, did you know you would write crime stories or did it come naturally? I read interviews where you mention rage fuelling your writing; one would think you could write pretty scary horror novels also. Did you ever think of writing in a different genre? 

K.B.--I wrote three mainstream novels, re-published in a FIFTH OF BRUEN but I felt something was missing and crime novels fulfilled me in ways I never expected.....I've written a lot of short stories recently dealing with the supernatural, and even one Western......I try to stay open to different genres and am currently writing  a play for the national broadcasting service.

--Your characters are often bums, rejects, alcoholics, drug users, crooks, etc but a good portion of them have good manners and positive life values. Although they're fundamentally good, it doesn't often end well for them. As in real life, they sometimes are just a helping hand or a lucky break from being out of trouble. Can society change that, and if so, how can it start working on the problem?

K.B.--I understand those people so well as I've met so many and I don’t think society has any real wish to help them, except for a few beautiful people who are truly saints...........

--To continue on good manners and life values, it seems to me we went from authoritative and strict parents and education to a sudden lack of it all. Do you see it getting worse or is there hope of going back to some respect of authority?

K.B.--It's getting worse and the reason is, no consequences, here, a guy raped a nun and got one year suspended sentence, the world has become vulgar and greedy, manners are regarded as passé and the only God is Mammon.

--Another similarity between Québec and Ireland is the control that the Church had over everything, for so many years. Scandals of pedophilia started arising in recent years; we had some public trials and the Church started to lose even more parishioners. Now homilies are echoing on churches walls and falling on empty pews; do you see a return to religious beliefs "en masse" or do you think it'll become more a family value taught at home only. (Catholicism has recently been withdrawn from public schools in Québec). What do you think would be the best religion for mankind?

K.B.--Exactly the same here, there is a growing trend for the radical fundamentalism brand of Catholicism which is as repugnant as the old bully boy days, I'd teach Zen and believe it is the last decent hope.

--My father wasn't a bad man, but he would have agreed with yours on homosexuality. We see more and more writers (and many of them crime writers) who have characters being very open on their sexual orientation. Is it a conscious writer's choice for you, or is the character born like that on the page?

K.B.--I lost 2 great wondrous friends to Aids so swore I'd always have a gay character in my books, The Hackman Blues was supposed to be banned, I didn't know until book 2 of the Taylor series that Ridge was gay, the characters tell me who they are as the series unfolds. In the new Taylor, I had a gay bashing scene and the publisher tried to edit it out till I sent them the newspaper clipping of the horrendous beating the gay man received.

--You mentioned somewhere that Falls was supposed to die in the first book. When did you know Serena would die, how did you decide on how to do it, and why? Did you want to see how far you could go with Jack's misery?

K.B.--I always knew Serena May would die but not which book, nearly in book three but I felt she wasn't established enough for readers to care, it was also living out a parents worst nightmare and I know about it as I lost my eldest daughter to a drunk driver three years ago and too, I wanted and still do, to see how much one man can endure before he goes postal. Truly Jacques, I lost some great friends as a result of that ending, they couldn't believe I would do that as I have a daughter with Down syndrome and when that book won me my 2nd Shamus award, I was stunned.

--Let's have some fun now and ask Taylor and Brant what they would say about you,

as a writer:
K.B.--Taylor would say, give me a fookin break and Brant would sneer........stop feckin whining.

as a friend:
K.B.--Taylor would say........he means well in a very sarcastic tone and Brant would go……I don’t do wankers as friends .

and about the life you gave them:
K.B.--Taylor would go............the hell are you killing me for? And Brant would be delighted.

--And what do you have to say about each of them. How would you describe them?

K.B.—Taylor is Dante’s ninth circle of hell in person and Brant is the Devil in a uniform.  

--Also, you told me you wanted to be an actor; from the movies you like, which roles would you have wanted to play?

K.B.—Sonny in The Godfather, get rid of all me rage and Russell Crowe in L.A. Confidential.

--Speaking of movies, will the Jack Taylor adaptation be an international movie for the big screen or a TV movie/series (BBC, HBO, etc). When are we supposed to see it?

K.B.—Soon, as a feature movie. (Jack Taylor Films)

--Will Taylor and Brant cross path in the future? Do you see them going on for many books, or do you have other characters that could have their own series of books?

K.B.—They met in The Killing of the Tinkers though I was forced to call Brant, Keegan and no, that’s it, no more meetings……..There is one more Jack Taylor after the one I’m currently finishing and Brant is finished after Ammunition, I have a new character, Merrick, totally different.

--What are the best and worst critics you've had about your books? Do you care either way?

K.B.—The American critics have been just wonderful, the UK and Ireland are very tepid and I’ve yet to meet a writer who didn’t care about the critics, despite what they say…….A bad review always hurts, but I try to learn from it.

--In Cross, we have Gail, this pure evil character born out of rage after her mother's death. Taylor thinks that her mother wouldn't like what she's doing, but from the flashbacks, we actually know that she would be making her mother proud. She’s a true evil person and, what is really scary, is that we believe (and know) that characters like her exist. Do you challenge yourself in creating a very bad character or are you influenced a lot by what you see and hear in the news and it comes easily?

K.B.--I have so many damaged, deranged and outright psycho's that in fact, I underwrite them.

--Do you come up with a storyline or with characters first? What do you know when you start writing a story?

K.B.--A little of both but I always let the characters tell me the story.

--Your writing conveys so much in terms of emotions, even in the non-dit (between the lines) and it is so honest and natural that I have a feeling you don't rewrite a lot.

K.B.--I used to never re-write but the last five books, editors have been on my back and now, I have to do maybe five re-writes per book, I hate it and believe it spoils the raw power I wanted.........e.g., my new book, the best scene I ever wrote, in me own eyes, they removed completely.

--When you write, do you see everything unfolding in front of you, or are you inside each character?

K.B.--Whichever character I'm writing, that's the voice I hear, Jack is so Irish then with Brant, I hear this London wide boy tone, the story unfolds as the characters develop.

--Can you name two books that you wished you had written?

K.B.--Pete Dexter's, The Paperboy and John Sanford's first Prey book. (Rules of Prey)

--You've traveled a lot; what do you keep from these experiences and do you speak many languages?

K.B.--Travel gives me a much wider perspective to draw on, I used to speak a whole slew of languages but these days, I focus on Irish as I so want it back as a living breathing one.

--Any plans of coming to Canada to promote one of the next books?

K.B.--I truly love Canada, my good friend, the wondrous Sandra Ruttan lives there, I'd give me back teeth to get to tour there. 
(Sandra now lives in Maryland).

--You are very available to your fans and media, how do you keep up with everybody and everything, while still keeping a family life?

K.B.--I try to answer every letter, email I get and believe it's the very least I can do for people who not only paid cash to buy me books but took the time to write, I get up at 5.00 every single day and by 9.00, I'm ready to bring my daughter to school

--Although your books are violent and full of rage, you have a lot of humour in them (mainly noir of course and tongue-in-cheek). Are you a cynic in real life, do you laugh easily or do you find it harder to do with everything that you went through and also everything that you see happening every day in the world?

K.B.--I write dark and live in the light and treat the world lightly, people never believe when they meet me that I'm the author as they say I seem too mellow!!!!

--How did having a daughter with Down Syndrome change you as a father and as a writer? Does creating Serena May helped you in any way or was it a way to bring attention to people with Down Syndrome and showing them as they are: human beings?

K.B.--A child with down syndrome truly opened my mind to the way people respond to :handicap:

In the collected early works, titled, A Fifth of Bruen, there is a novella , The Time Of Serena May which lays out exactly how I felt and feel about having a daughter with DS.
--How did the collaboration work with Jason Starr for your Hard Case Crime books; did you pitch ideas and then started writing, was it a story you already had in mind, etc? Charles Ardai said that Max Fisher was probably done after the third book but that you and Jason might be talking about something else. Is there hope?

K.B.--Jason and I are great friends, outlined the book while we were in New York then email chapters back and forth.......Book 4, is a whole new direction, we have such a blast writing together.

--Are you preparing a short story collection? Have you ever published under a pseudonym?

K.B.--The collection of short stories is constantly being juggled by my agent so I'm not sure when it will appear.
I've never used a pseudonym though they were so worried about American Skin they wanted me to use one.

--Let's say your publisher makes an offer you can't refuse, but the catch is that you have to write a crime novel in which the main character is you. What would be the first line of the book?

K.B.--He was a bad bastard.

--When you are not writing, how easy is it for you to look at the world without your writer's eyes? Or do you always see things as potential material for a story?

K.B.--Always listening and seeing the world as a plot.

--Do you still teach or would you be willing to teach a creative writing course? Or which other course would you like to teach?

K.B.--I was the writer for a Creative class at the unemployment centre, no one else would do it. I used to give a lecture twice yearly at the University on Metaphysics but so many crime fans came, they had to cancel it.

--You've got a Ph.D. in Metaphysics. What was your motivation behind the choice of this branch of philosophy and how do you apply your learning of it into your everyday life in general, and in your writing in particular? Does it help create more complex characters? Did it change your religion beliefs? etc.

K.B.--I wanted to know about comparative religions and beliefs, I see life since as a series of questions, and damn few gave me a real appreciation of Zen.

--I was reading an article recently about women's rights around the world. I learned that abortion is still illegal in Ireland, but the article didn't go into more details. Is it a religion thing?

K.B.--Yes, religion still has it's power.

--Are doctors forbidden to perform them or are there exceptions, like when the baby stands no chance of living, etc?

K.B.--Doesn't matter, a young teenager was forbidden to go to England after a rape where she could have got the abortion! 

--At this point in time, you are successful at what you do, but do you have any regrets; and what is there for you to accomplish (on a professional level and on a more personal level).

K.B.-- What I can no longer look at is 'Daddy'..........I think it's pg 185 (A Fifth of Bruen), just 2 pages and it hurts so now as I didn't mind my own late daughter.

I have so many regrets and all to do with people I should have loved more while they were alive and on a professional level, to write one great book where I it all to jell.  

--Can you reveal a title and possible pub date for the next book? Will it be a Jack Taylor?

K.B.--My next book is the final Jack Taylor, titled C-33 and will appear next year.

I feel fortunate to have had the chance to do this interview and would like to thank Ken Bruen for taking the time. Here's hoping I'll get the good fortune to meet him in person, in the near future.

For Ken Bruen's blog entry "On Break the 12th Lament" that he mentions early in the conversation, just click on this link.


First lament

                    October made
                   No Autumn resolutions
                  Praying for
                 No single promise made
                Success and blundered aspirations
               Beat me blind

Time was, I was writing the lamentations

I was a teacher, doing good and heading for dizzy heights

Then a clusterfook of stuff happened and I literally dropped off the face of the planet

Months later, seemed like years, I re-surfaced in Brixton

They used to say it was the UK version of Watts

It was certainly simmering

A real good place to hide

I’d written me first crime novel and sent it to the outlaw press, the then cutting edge of

mystery, Serpents Tail

They’d published Derek Raymond

That’s all I needed to know

I was in bad shape

My mind was seriously fooked

You could buy anything in Brixton, long as you had the cash

I’d bought a Sig Sauer, the basic Model 220, 9 mm, carried nine rounds in the magazine

It was far from new and had black tape wound tight on the grip

Most nights, I’d sit in the one room kip I rented on Coldharbour Lane, not a spit away

from Electric Avenue, made infamous by Eddie Grant’s hit.

Coldharbour Lane, that I’d washed up in such a place, the irony of the name was not lost
on me

Most nights, I’d play The Pogues and The Clash and drink two tumblers of Jameson,

never more and then I’d play Russian Roulette

Sounds melodramatic but I just didn’t care

One of the graces of my life is I’ve always been blessed with remarkable friends

They came to me one damp wet Saturday, ignored the Jay on the table, told me of

marginalized kids who nobody could or would teach


What an ugly word

But what’s they used

Kids who’d been abused in every which way evil bastards can devise

Bottom line, would I take………pun intended…….a shot at teaching them

Like I had so many offers

My novel was with Serpents Tail for a year…………before they accepted it

I said ok, mainly to get am………….rid of them

First day, I felt the old tremor of excitement of teaching, only a fiant echo, barely able to

recall the days when I loved it

There were 13 kids before me, all black and surly

They stared at me, not with hatred but complete indifference, another white fooking

liberal asshole

2nd Lament
                                 Blown Irish-ed Print
                                ………………………broken by the London flat
                                                                    Lone living cuts the style bleaker
                                                                    To make one call
                                                                     Fear carves the simplest tasks

My years of teaching had given me the ability to face most any class and just go into auto

pilot and do the biz

Wasn’t going to cut it here

The usual clichés, the usual horseshite just wasn’t going to fly


The very essence of teaching, least for me, I’d once played The Clash for a group of

Japanese students

Gangsta rap or a sawn off was about all that was going to gel now


The truth

I went with that


“I’m fooked.”

A moment

Then they laughed

Laughing was as strange to them as to me

One kid, gap toothed, with the eyes of a wounded angel, put up his hand and when I


He asked

“What did they do to you?’

I told them

And so began my return to humanity

Those damaged kids healed a damaged adult

If you mentioned a book to them, they’d knife you

I re-wrote my crime novel to suit them, their streets, their jive, their melody

And snuk in a poet by the back door

When the book appeared, it was one of those moments, when the clouds part and you can

see, the light is nigh flowing in, those lost children running along the corridors, asking in


“Who’s this dude Rilke?’

My best review


3rd lament
                                To score revitalized
                                 The 100 points
                                In other’s condescension
                                 A damn……….they give
                              On sixpence turn

Six months later, the riots came

Cars, shops, homes burning, armed cops in riot gear making baton charges on

Coldharbour Lane

It was not a real good time to be white

I was coming home around 10.30 in the evening, treading careful, watching the alley’s

and my back when on Railton Road, I walked smack into a mob, carrying baseball bats,

knives and one guy even had a golf stick

No 9 iron if I remember correctly

They moved on me and then, one of the leaders said

“It’s the fucking Irish guy, the teacher dude.’
And they split in half, allowing me to walk between them

I got back to my tiny flat, sweat cascading down my body and knew, I had to write the

12th lament

It didn’t work, the music was gone and even now, I know the lines, I even know the tone

but the magic, the magic had broken

Last year, I was in London for a launch and one evening, went to Brixton, like

everywhere, it was unrecognizable from the area I’d known

On a street corner, I thought I recognized the wounded angel, those eyes I’d never forget,

grown now of course and nearly a man, I approached and before I could ask, he went

“Wanna score?’

I shook my head and he near spat

“Then get the fuck outa my space.”

Tom Troubadours Blues, the very first line unreeled like a cobra in my head

………………………….wasted and wounded……………….

Odd, I’ve lost my zest for Rilke

Go figure »

You can visit Ken Bruen on his website or on Facebook.

August 2012


  1. Thank you, Paul. Coming from you, it means a lot. All the credit goes to Ken Bruen for great answers; an honest, generous, and very interesting man.