We ask Aloysius Tempo author Jason Johnson some questions...
What inspired you to write a book about Aloysius, the Irish government's first-known hired assassin?
I love the protagonists from the genre – Bourne, Bond, Robie and others – and always enjoyed the idea of an Irish government assassin. I just needed the right reasons for a secret arm of the Irish state to go seriously searching for a killer. The approaching centenary seemed to provide the backdrop I was looking for.
The killer, Aloysius, is recruited to basically put paid to some people linked to the worst of Ireland’s most-publicised recent national problems, to symbolically close one era and open a fresh one as the next 100 years begin.
He is, in his own way, a uniquely Irish assassin, someone who might have been a more gentle soul if his youth had not been so polluted. I think there's something of the Irish character in being kind by nature but tough by necessity.
The theme of patriotism is touched on frequently in the novel; do you believe Aloysius' actions were considered patriotic to the Irish government?
I think any government in these circumstances would be happier to know the motivations of someone who is doing such a high-risk job. If you’re in it for the money or for your ego, then I imagine you’re someone who might be more likely to betray your masters. But if you do the work because you love your country, and believe it is in the best interests of your country, then you are a much safer pair of hands – at least from your employer’s point of view.
In the novel the point is made that Aloysius’ employers would be more content to know he loves his country, but Aloysius is less than forthcoming about his feelings for Ireland due to some of his background.
But ultimately I think his direct employer, Imelda Feather, does believe he is reengaging with his cultural identity and that he is beginning to reconnect with the land of his birth.
And if I do write the follow up, readers will see that he has come to call himself a proud Irishman and that his loyalty to his country runs much deeper than they might first have thought.
On the subject on assassins...are you a James Bond fan?
Yes. From the books to the movies, I can talk about this stuff for ages so I apologise in advance.
To my mind, Bond is something rare in literature in that he is a character who knows himself completely. You can see that in the drinks, the clothes, the choices he makes. He arrives fully formed, full of confidence and courage.
Normally protagonists learn something about themselves during a story, Bond learns only more about a changing world, not himself, and it’s the reader who learns about him. It’s a subtle thing, but a remarkable aspect of Ian Fleming’s writing and something that has led to the character being so famously repeatable.
I nicked a little bit of that for Aloysius, a sense of moving towards knowing himself better, of things clicking into place for him when he begins work as a government assassin. I have to say here, by the way, that Aloysius is nothing like James Bond. The poor man doesn’t even have a decent pair of trousers let alone a suit, and he doesn't use a gun. He is pretty good at getting rid of people.
Who, in your opinion, made the best Bond?
All of them have been good and are at their best when the script plays to their strengths. Some of the movies are real stinkers though, it has to be said.
All in all, I think the current incumbent, Daniel Craig, is almost perfect. Like Sean Connery, he comes across as very close in psychology to the original written character – a cold, blunt instrument of government, a thug in a suit, not especially likeable.
You work as a journalist. What's the divide between writing articles for work, reporting on real events, and the more creative aspect of your writing skills (writing novels), which are largely self motivated?
Writing a novel is kind of like journalism backwards. You start by introducing people and events and move it to a climax. In journalism you start out with saying what happened, then explaining how and why it happened. In one you can linger and lull and mislead and trip with your words, in the other you have little time to waste because the reader wants answers.
As a novelist, I'm writing about things and people I want to write about. That's not always the case in journalism.
Your books focus on a lot of action 'in a short space of time'. (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jason-Johnson/e/B001KIBGOK) The writing is very visceral, with your work described as 'fast and punchy'. Hence the inevitable stage/screen question crops up. Can you envisage adapting the book to a screenplay and have you ever written for the stage or screen?
I’m doing just that. I have a couple of actors and a director in mind and I want to get the story into their hands in script form (by the way, I handle rejection very well). I’ve written scripts before and been on a few shortlists but I’ve never had any luck with getting a drama off the ground.
I have been hired to write documentary scripts for BBC television and some comedy sketches for BBC radio in the past, but that’s not what I’d call my dream job.
I’m a very visual writer in that I see absolutely everything in front of me as I write it, from locations to expressions to the weather, and I think that’s why I can get drawn into writing script.
Have you ever thought writing a non-fiction novel about a real assassin in history?
Yes, but by their nature they are hard to find. There are the hired killers, terrorists, Mafioso sorts out there and many of them love to waffle on unconvincingly about their deeds.
But to find someone who has acted as a level-headed formal, covert professional killer for a democratic state? That’s pure gold for a writer, it would be detailing the dirtiest of deeds in what we are encouraged to believe are the cleanest of places.
And for some reason I have Israel in my mind now, and America, and Britain, and Russia, and others.
That said, I’m writing a non-fiction book this year. As a journo and a reader I’m drawn to powerful, compelling real life stories. The book is on the sex trafficking trade in Ireland and, I’m glad to say, Liberties Press are planning to publish it in 2016.
What authors influence most heavily your work?
Chuck Palahniuk springs to mind first. I love his books. I can open any one of them at any page and in minutes I’ll be marvelling at the way he slams and bends and slides words around, his breathtaking descriptions, explosive characters and mad turn-left-at-the-traffic-lights ideas.
Every time I read his stuff I end up remembering that there are no rules of engagement for writing and that can fire me up and send me straight to the keyboard.
But I'm inspired by anything bold or brave or smart or funny. Martin Amis, Brett Easton Ellis, Colin Bateman, and many others.
Will there be a novel no.5?
I hope so. I'd love to bring Aloysius back, even if that may not seem possible to anyone looking at the ending of this novel. All the same, I hope to send Aloysius on a mission for Ireland (set in 2021) which will both detail more of his background and take him into the Middle East. The book would begin with him learning the Quran verbatim as centenary celebrations are being planned in Ireland.
Describe Aloysius Tempo in five words.
Fast. Blunt. Strange. Timely. Irish.
We couldn't have said it better ourselves...except to add that it's brilliant and you should read it now!
Aloysius Tempo can be purchased here.