AshEdit—News About Books & Writers

August 27, 2011

The Last Word with Ian Ayris—Brit Grit Part 6

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 4:42 pm

Elaine Ash: Are you a reader of both American and British fiction, and if so, what are the major differences, from your point of view?

Ian Ayris: I can only go on what I’ve read of both American and British Crime/Noir fiction which, to be honest, is not a great deal.  But here goes.

Elaine: I’m going to interrupt you here, Ian. The British tend to be modest, so when you say, “not a great deal,” you’ve probably read volumes, but you have to preface your answer with modesty. So please continue…

Ian: I think one of the differences, and this is a huge generalisation, is one of character vs plot.  A lot of the Brit Grit stuff tends to focus on character development, often of pretty messed up characters – Ray Banks and Allan Guthrie are fine examples (of authors, not messed up characters 😉 )  Even on the other side of the criminal fence, police procedurals such as Julie Morrigan’s brilliant Convictions and Nick Quantrill’s superb PI debut Broken Dreams focus as much on character development as plot.

I’m now just realising what a huge generalisation that is.  I suppose I’m basing a lot of American Crime/Noir stuff on my readings of Jim Thompson and Elmore Leonard.  Although I love Leonards’s style, both he and Thompson leave me pretty cold when it comes to character development.  They haven’t the humour of Chandler or the depth of Geddis, for me.  But the more I read of the current crop of online US Crime/Noir exponents, the more I love the American take.  The bang bang bang style, the hit and run wordsmiths.

But the Brits are funnier.  Sorry, they just are 😉

Elaine: In Los Angeles, Canadians are known as the funniest people in the world. I think that’s because they have British humor but Americans can understand what they’re saying.

Ian: Us British are known as a somewhat suppressed race, emotionally speaking.  Stiff upper lip, and all that.  And like a lot of stereotypes, I think there’s a fair degree of truth in it.  And the greatest defence used to soften the edges, to keep the unpalatable at arm’s length?  Yep.  Humour.  As black as it gets.  We are a passive aggressive race after all, so the old black humour thing really is very close to the surface.  There is also the massive influence of comedy legends such as The Goons, Spike Milligan, and Monty Python, those genius fellas that took absurdity to a new height. For me, my compatriot in penmanship, Mr Paul D. Brazill, is top of the pile in terms of Crime Fiction comedy writing.  I’d love to know what his influences are, but I’d bet the small hedgehog chained to the wall in my cellar the aforementioned comedy geniuses are right up there at the top.

Elaine: Can you give us some links and websites that would make a fine “Brit Grit Tasting Tour” for the  adventurous online tourista?  Disclaimer: There may be some repetition with parties mentioned multiple times in this Brit Grit series. I guess that means they should really be checked out…

Ian: My pleasure….

Ray Banks

Alan Griffiths

Iain Rowan

Paul D. Brazill

Nigel Bird

Julie Lewthwaite

Charlie Wade

Charlie Williams

Byker Books

Ian Ayris lives in London with his wife and three children.  He has had almost forty short-stories published online and in print and of his stories, SMALL PRINT, will be published next year in Maxim Jabowski’s prestgious Mammoth Book of Best British Crime.   Ian’s debut novel ABIDE WITH ME is due for release later this month. His blog is:



  1. Thanks for the mentions(s) Ian. In terms of comedy, though, none of the above. I’m more old fashioned: Tony Hancock/ Steptoe/ Likely Lads & Ealing Comedy And The League Of Gentlemen more recently.

    Comment by Paul D Brazill — August 28, 2011 @ 1:22 am

  2. Ah, now that makes sense. Especially the Ealing comedies. It’s like Father Tim walked right out of one, isn’t it.

    Comment by Ian Ayris — August 28, 2011 @ 1:32 am

  3. there may be some truth in Ian’s comments about the humor. I don’t mind black humor in my reading but it needs to be used sparingly. If there’s too much humor in a generally serious story I’ll usually just put it down. I don’t often get either British or American humor, but I’m more likely to get the American version. For example, I just couldn’t find Douglas Adams funny at all, although I do know many, many Americans who love his work. My wife, who lived for a long time in Canada, likes Adams, and she also laughs at a lot of stuff I don’t. She likes several of the British humor series while I’ve never been able to sit through an episode. Of course, I can’t set through an episode of most American comedy shows either, except for Frasier and Modern Family. One weird thing I see about humor is the tendency for people to not laugh at the actual event, but to laugh at the commentary ON the event. The show “The Soup” is exactly like that. My wife loves it. I don’t get it.

    Comment by charlesgramlich — August 28, 2011 @ 7:27 am

  4. I think you’re spot on here, Ian. The Brits are funnier and generally more concerned with character. Both good traits in my book.

    Comment by Chris Rhatigan — August 28, 2011 @ 9:09 am

  5. Hey I love this thread! Thanks Paul, Charles and Chris for the “added value” info on humor. It comes down to personal taste and sensibilities at the end, and I think humor is underrated in terms of the skill and timing it takes to do it well.

    Comment by ashedit — August 29, 2011 @ 8:08 am

  6. I really dig the British crime writing style and it works so well in short fiction. I would think it would be harder, or at least more challenging to sustain it for a novel length piece, especially when there is a comic element to it. Allan Guthrie and Declan Burke have mastered this because throughout a read of one of their novels I’m usually cringing at the violence one minute and laughing my ass off (out loud) the next for the entire read. But like Ian mentioned, there is a whole lot of character development to go along with the plot. Very informational post Ian, enjoyed it!

    Comment by Sean Patrick Reardon — August 29, 2011 @ 7:05 pm

  7. Just catching up on a few things so I’m a bit late commenting. Great stuff, Ian and thanks for the hat-tip. And I’m really looking forward to your novel debut.

    Best, Alan.

    Comment by Alan Griffiths — August 31, 2011 @ 12:20 am

  8. Just got back from holiday, so many apologies for the delay in replying to this thread. I think Charles and Sean make a great point about the judicious use of humour, especially within what might be a dark setting. If humour is juxtaposed againt the dark things of this world, it better be able to hold its own. Just a line, a single line, even just a word. That’s all it needs on those occasions.

    Something has also struck me about comedy in noir. And that’s the very thin line between absurdity and madness. Comedy and mania. Can be a very scary place, that one.

    Just leaves me to thank everyone who replied to the post – good friends all – and thank you to Elaine for inviting me to participate in this brilliant series.

    Warmest regards,


    Comment by Anonymous — September 4, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: