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Hellhound On His Trail
One of Britain’s leading music journalists Charles Shaar Murray has taken the plunge into fiction. He talks about the challenge of moving from critic to novelist with his explosive debut The Hellhound Sample.
Olaf Tyaransen, 03 Oct 2011
Dubbed the “rock critic’s rock critic” by Q, Charles Shaar Murray has been writing professionally for practically all of his adult life. A teenage contributor to the notorious Schoolkids issue of Oz magazine in 1970, which saw him involved in the consequent obscenity trial, and one of the star scribes at NME during its ‘70s heyday, he has produced countless magazine articles and penned well-received biographies of Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and John Lee Hooker. However, it’s taken until now for the 60 year-old Englishman to finally realise his lifelong ambition of writing a novel.
“It was something that I always wanted to do, but I could never figure out how it was done,” he explains, talking down the line from his London home. “Eventually these characters who’d been hanging around in my head for ages combined with bits of plot from various uncompleted short stories and other bits and bobs. It basically took a long time to assemble the ingredients and let them gestate, but once that happened the actual first draft of writing took place implausibly quickly.”
It took him just three months to write the first draft of The Hellhound Sample – a heavily hip, immensely readable, and musically knowing tale of bluesmen, rockers, rappers and gangsters.
“It was very weird the speed with which it came together,” he says. “It was almost like a trance experience. I would find that stuff I had plotted in advance wouldn’t happen because the characters didn’t seem to want to. Sometimes a conversation that was supposed to be a simple exchange over a few paragraphs ended up expanding because the characters kept coming through.
“At the end of it, I had this thing – which I then did nothing with for a few months. When I came back to it, and read it again, it was almost like reading something for the first time. I started doing revisions. Then I showed it to a few other people who made suggestions, most of which I incorporated. Basically they spotted where I’d left a hole in the plot or a gap in somebody’s character arc. They sort of interrogated the book and I had to provide answers to their questions.”