Sunday, October 14, 2012

QOTM - In The Kingdom #19...

Quote of the Moment:

Green Car Crash (1963), Andy Warhol

On it's back - wheels spinning like a cinema classic;
The door sags open and a man covered in blood 
drops the three feet or so to the pavement;
The car still rattling and shaking as if with a mind of its own, unwilling to die;
The man, fortyish, also after a time - an agonisingly painful period of time-

Is also unwilling to die.

In the Kingdom #19, Sonic Youth

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

At The Movies...

Okay, so I guess you all know by now, but Off The Record 2: At The Movies has been released. And I know that you're all very excited about the line up. In fact, quite a few anthologies have been released recently, for charity or no, so in case you forgot to actually buy the thing, I'll give you a moment to go get it.

Back? Okay, so what can you expect for your hard earned? Well, quite apart from the top drawer talent on display, with big names fluttering out from between the pages and all over your living room floor, and the fact that you get to sample the work of a large number of lesser known writers (like yours truly), I love the idea behind it. To take a film title and write to the idea that it gives you. It's thrown up some intriguing combinations.

For a start, what is Patti Abbott going to do with Mermaids? Or Chris Rhatigan with Jaws? Will it feature a shark? A big man with steel gnashers? Or something completely different?

I don't know Vincent Holland-Keen, but The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a curious choice. And I can't wait to see Benoit Lelievre's take on Weekend At Bernie's, or exactly what it is that I wanted to know about sex (but was afraid to ask) that James Everington has slipped into his story.

Gregory's Girl by McDroll, anyone? Exactly, me too. So make sure you've picked up your copy.

Full line-up, links, plus some great interviews with numerous contributors over at Luca Veste's gaff.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Les Edgerton and Real Life...

So, I've only just finished reading Les Edgerton's The Perfect Crime. It's full of excellent characters, principally the ex-cop hunting down his brother's killer, and the deranged, psychotic but brilliant career criminal who's convinced he's come up with the foolproof way to rob a bank. Strap explosives to the manager and make him do it.

In an interesting little postscript, Les notes how the book was nearly derailed permanently by publishers, but that at the time he wrote it in the 90s, he was pretty sure it was an original idea. Since then of course, it's been seen in movies and in real life, such as the case noted by Stephen Blackmoore on his LA Noir blog just the day after I finished the book.

What I found really interesting is at the bottom of the news article he linked to: apparently in 2003 a pizza delivery dude pretended to have been kidnapped and forced into robbing a bank. Unknown to him, the fake bomb he wore was not entirely fake, and he was killed when his 'friends' detonated it. Now that really is deceitful, cruel, and evil.

In fact, it sounds just like the bank robber in Les Edgerton's The Perfect Crime, who has a similar plan to get away without having to do any of that pesky 'sharing the proceeds'.

And so we come full circle. Nice and neat.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Long Walk - Stephen King

To be honest, I've never been a huge Stephen King fan.

Some of you may want to read that again. I know that lots of people (readers and writers) consider such a statement heresy, or at best the musings of a madman, or simply wrong. I even understand why people think that.

I guess I just took a wrong step on King Road. As a young reader (I'm going to guess somewhere between 10 and 13) I remember picking up a hefty tomb*, reading about a hundred pages to find that little of significance had happened, and putting it down to read something more exciting. I didn't pick up many King books again after that, although both my brothers are heavily into the King/Koontz/Herbert kind of thing. It simply didn't grab me, although I remember enjoying some of his short stories about the same age. Whether or not I'd enjoy him now I don't know.

A couple of years later I do remember reading, devouring in fact, a single volume collection of the Bachman books. And of those, the one that stood out in my mind, that still sticks in my mind, was The Long Walk. Quite simply, it blew me away. I love how little it gives away, and how utterly simple is the focus. There's no twists and turns, just characters moving towards an end that we are told about at the beginning.

It is also inexorably dark. One of the darkest books I've ever read, still.

The Long Walk is one of the books, and one of the first, that utterly changed my conceptions of what a novel could be, and what a novel could do. I love that a one sentence description of the book is also the entire plot. I didn't know you could do that, before I read it. I never even imagined it. The images it conjured in my head have never left.

James Smythe reviews The Long Walk here, as part of the Rereading Stephen King series in the Guardian. Well worth checking out.

*Offhand, I think it was Tommyknockers. I could be wrong.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

It's Hell over at TKnC

Hot on the heels* of my internet debut at A Twist of Noir, I'm absolutely thrilled to bits to have my short story Hell featured at the highly esteemed Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers. I'm right next to AJ Hayes, which is awesome enough in itself.

Check that shit out right here.

A big thanks to Col and the gang.**

*It's not hot on the heels. It's almost a year!

**Col and the Gang. Is it just me or could that be a band name? Wait, what? Kool and the... Damn it, all my best ideas have already been done.

this letter to Norman Court - Pablo D'Stair

First of all, let me say that this: excellent novella, really stylish and enjoyable writing, a really good little crime story that shows exactly why I like the novella form.

Now, today I read this interview with Laszlo Krasznahorkai, in which he talks about why, as a writer, he doesn't like full stops, insisting that they are false, a constructed literary custom, entirely artificial, and that "the readers in the last few thousand years have learned that a short sentence is easier to understand, this is also a custom, but if you think, you almost never use short sentences, if you listen..."

This reminded me of a this letter to... because to some extent this is also how Mr D'Stair writes, with sentences, thoughts and ideas that flow seamlessly, one to another, in and out of their surroundings:

"I wondered how long she'd wondered about it, wondered why hadn't Norman got back to her about this or that, how long she'd wanted to but never did ask him out loud- I wondered how many moods Herman'd had she'd interpreted as his knowing, grappling, forgiving, changing his mind and I wondered maybe it was this letter winding up gone had got the creeps in her, led her to end it off with Lawrence if that's how it'd gone or let him end it out with her, whichever."

See what I mean? It flows.

Now I get the idea, this isn't quite stream-of-consciousness but it's well on the way, with the idea being that this more accurately reflects the mental process, that one thought blends into the next half-formed, or half-finished or only half-begun. That this is more naturalistic.

But is it?

I confess I haven't read any of Krasznahorkai's work but I have seen the film Werckmeister Harmonies, based on his novel The Melancholy of Resistance. To me it was a film full of full stops. Something is presented and we are given ample time to consider it's (lack of) meaning before anything else happens. One of those bleak, cold Eastern European films where you can imagine a screenplay that reads:

"The stranger is covered in mud. 
The villagers stare at the stranger.
They stare at him for a long time.
The washerwoman whispers something unintelligible to the potter."

And that would be a full five minutes of action. (I exaggerate, but not by much. Excellent film, by the way.)

So is this a fault in my interpretation of the film, or the director's interpretation of the book? How is my experience of the work so different from the author's ideas (acknowledging that this novel was written decades before the interview and his style may have simply changed)? Do I just think differently from Krasznahorkai and D'Stair?

As a further consideration, I would certainly class this letter to... as noir, in mood. It has that air about it, the doomed protagonist, the mistakes we see him making, the greed and opportunism and fatalism of his actions. But to me classic noir is full of short sentences:

"When we came to a vacant lot I threw out the rope. About a mile further on I threw out the handle. Going by a curb drain I shot the glasses into it. Then I happened to look down and saw her shoes. They were scarred from the tracks ballast.
'What did you carry him for? Why didn't you let me-'
'Where were you? Where were you?'
'I was there. I was waiting-'
'Did I know that? Could I just sit there, with that in the car?'" 
                -Double Indemnity, James M Cain

So (classic) noir is full of full stops that never really stop anything, and questions that are never really answered. And it seems to me that I often think that way, and I certainly think that way about writing. Sure, I use lots of long sentences. But mostly they don't flow, they staccato. But isn't a full stop that doesn't really stop anything just a disguised comma? Well, no, I don't think so. I like that a full stop is definite. This is an idea. Just one. On it's own. Even if the stop is a lie. A comma is never definite. Are thoughts definite and defined as they form in our minds? Well, sometimes, and sometimes not. But actions are often definite, like 'When we came to a vacant lot I threw out the rope.' That is a whole, single item that doesn't blend into anything. The rope is gone, finished. And couldn't all those run on sentences be separated, cut off from each other by application of stops? Well, yes. But it really wouldn't be the same thing at all, and I quite like D'Stair's style just as it is, thank you. The blending of thoughts and actions gives a wholly different texture to the work. Is the style just a literary conceit? Well, aren't full stops just that anyway, according to Krasznahorkai?

Perhaps it just comes down to how much the writer wants to define what happens as opposed to what it is that this person thinks happens, and perhaps those two ideas really aren't very close at all. The actual events may be the same, but the author's intent could be very, very different. Perhaps it comes down to how deeply embedded we are in the protagonists head.

this letter to Norman Court: excellent, stylish, perfectly formed. Accessible to flow thinkers and staccatists alike.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Summers (Almost) Gone...

It's been a long, hot summer. I mean hot. Damned hot. Cicadas burst into flames even as they scream out the heat, glass windows have melted, feet leave scorch marks on wooden floors. And when the rains finally came? Well, the humidity quickly went from oh-my-god, to surely-not-possible, and topped out at I'm-a-paleoclimatologist-and-this-level-of-humidity-has-never-been-seen-ever-on-this-planet.

It's not quite over yet, either. It's well over 30 outside with big storms next week. Should be fun, if my building doesn't collapse or the local river burst it's banks.

Anyway, I'm back, more tanned but just as lazy. I haven't quite done as much writing as I would have liked over the summer, and not anywhere near as much reading as I wanted, but that only means my TBR list is full of exciting and wonderful things. And as I head back into full-time employment (boo), at least I should have plenty of spare desk time to update you all as to what I have and haven't been doing, and what I thought of things you probably read or watched two years ago (or more). So yay for that.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Busy, Busy Inksters...

Since the release of Pulp Ink 2, the various Inksters have been busily doing what Inksters do best.

Chris Rhatigan has signed on as an editor at Full Dark City Press, a new e-press dedicated to noir. I for one am hugely excited to see what they come out with, and the first collection in the works looks fantastic. He also gave away some free copies of PI2 on his blog, but I'm afraid you're a bit late for that one, they were snaffled up like hotcakes on a chilly, English summer's day.

Patti Abbot has been kindly hosting some of the Inksters in her 'How I Came To Write This Story' feature. Eric Beetner, Andrez Bergen, Katherine Tomlinson and Jow Clifford have all talked about the inspiration behind their excellent stories.

And talking of excellent stories, you can check out the openings to three of my favourite stories in the collection over at popculturenerd. Clearly the Nerd has exquisite taste, as of course do the people at Short Story 365, which has featured several of the stories.

Julia Madeleine has been encouraging readers in her own unique way: she captures men and forces them to read the book while simutaneously torturing them with a buzzing needle. Sort of a cross between A Clockwork Orange and the Saw movies.

And not content with having a story in Shotgun Honey, Andrez Bergen has been writing articles on new pulp for journalist Damien G. Walter.

Phew! I'm sure I've missed a few (let me know). And that's not even mentioning the non-PI2 themed stories and book releases. I, of course, have been busily bumbling around doing what I do best: procrastinating, and watching movies with a bottle of wine or two. Hectic, just hectic.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pulp Ink 2 and Other Stuff...

Fantastic weekend at the beach celebrating a friend's birthday. The sun was hot, the sea was warm, the cuba libres were cold. The sand was yellow and my skin turned pink (although I'm sure it'll fade to a lovely even honey colour over the next few days. No, really.)

Along with the friend, S.O, and myself were Marley and the latest addition to our household, Lady Bumble. She's a gorgeous 2 or 3-year-old of indeterminate origin, who had been fostered from a local dog shelter by a fantastic couple in Seoul.

Life's a bitch/beach - Lady Bumble (right) & Marley relax in the shade.
 Nobody's quite sure of her story, just that Bumbles came from Busan City dog pound about 6 months ago. Although she started very shy and nervous, she's really come out of her shell in the few days she's been with us, and is settling in very nicely indeed.

In the meantime, some people have been doing some real work, such as those lovely lot over at Snubnose Press. Pulp Ink 2 is out now. The first book earned a bunch of rave reviews and this one will do the same, I wager. You lucky yanks can even get your hands on a paperback edition (and thus get to hold Eric Beetner's cover in your own hands), or buy for your fancy-dan-ooh-it's-like-living-in-the-future Kindle device here (US) or here (UK). The line up is seriously good:


Where the first book was all about crime, this one is a crime/horror mixture. A lot of the crime stories have a horror bent, and vice versa - but it's still got the same cool vibe as the original. And with names like those above involved, you know you're in for a treat.

Great job everyone involved: Snubnose Press, editors Chris Rhatigan and Nigel Bird, and all those writers for giving up some fantastic stories to charity.

This is what the cool kids say:

“It’s varied, it’s wild and it’s not for the faint hearted… An addictive collection.” – Benoit Lelievre of Dead End Follies 
“This anthology shone so brightly that I felt I had to wear shades when reading it… This is up there with the best of them and possibly my most enjoyable read this year.” – Darren Sant of Daz’s Short Book Reviews 
“Murder and madness, sex and seduction, revenge and redemption, Pulp Ink has a little bit of everything going on.” – Elizabeth White of Book Reviews by Elizabeth A. White

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Publications and Other News...

- Pulp Ink 2: Chris Rhatigan and Nigel Bird have done a fantastic job as editors, and the charity anthology is with publishers Snubnose Press. Amongst a whole host of great writers is my little story, Topless Vampire Bitches of the SS. Available any day now. I've had a sneak preview and guess what: It's fricking awesome!

- About the time that I was editing TVBotSS, S.O. gave her first paper at an art conference. She attended by Skype to present a collaborative effort with a friend/ partner in the UK. AND, their paper was one of the few to be picked up for publication in a resulting journal. She's working on the final edits now, and the only thing that makes me happier than her success is the fact that with PI2 I will just about beat her to print publication.

- My story Dirty Beaches, published at A Twist of Noir last year, has been nominated by Christopher Grant to be considered for a new Otto Penzler edited anthology. The story is with Mr Penzler now, so I'm waiting to hear on that, but I'm going with the just so happy to have made it this far line.

- On its way to Mr Penzler, my story passed through the hands of a famous literary agent, who has emailed me to ask if I have anything longer to show him. And I do. I have lots of longer work, so instead of writing this I should really be sitting down to knock out a synopsis and editing my last completed novel. And that's what I'm going to do now.

- I have also completed the first draft of a crime novella. It needs plenty of editing and tidying up but I'm pretty pleased with the result. Unfortunately, nobody is interested in looking at it right now, but hopefully more places will be accepting submissions by the time I've done some more work on it. Otherwise I may just, possibly, perhaps, dip my toes into the chilly waters of self-publishing. Hmmm, more thought needed on that.

So that's where I'm at. With plenty to be getting on with and, inbetween, hopefully I'll be able to knock out a few more short stories. And hopefully some people will publish them, somewhere. Because that would be great.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Gut Punches...

May and June: not so much months as a series of punches to the gut interspersed with good news and double whammies, just to make sure I was paying attention.

In May my oldest dog - six-year-old Maltese, Fritz - was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. At about the same time I unexpectedly became unemployed. This was better news as it meant between us S.O. and I could give Fritz the round the clock care he needed. And it was bad news as the vet bills rapidly mounted up.

Now I know what you're thinking about small dogs but this was one big personality. Fritz was a tough little dog, a real character who left a mark on everybody who met him. He loved doing things - anything interesting and exciting - and loved meeting people or exploring. He lived in 3 cities and about 7 different apartments, hung around bars and went to parties, climbed mountains and demanded recognition. Nothing fazed this guy. When he was diagnosed through a blood test, his levels were off the chart. The vets were amazed he still had so much energy and vigour. Even on a 24 hour IV infusion he loved nothing more than popping out to inspect his territory and mark everything in sight. Unfortunately, it was probably because he had so much lust for life (he was nearly named Iggy) that the disease was so advanced by the time it was diagnosed.

But the thing about CKD is that it doesn't show any symptoms until the kidney is almost gone. Even with a heap of medicine and a special diet, his kidney wore out quickly and so did his energy, and we were forced to let him go a little over a week ago.

So here I am with no job, and plenty of time to be getting on with my writing, but little energy or motivation. I certainly haven't got anything done in the last couple of months. But things do pick up day-by-day, not least because we still have Marley, Fritz's 5-year-old no-we-don't-know-what-he-is brother.

In the same couple of months there has also been good news, but that can wait for tomorrow.

Monday, June 4, 2012

True Brit Grit - Paul D Brazill and Luca Veste (eds.)

Where to start?

Well okay, let's start with some of the big hitters. Tony Black and Ray Banks weigh in with typically top-notch writing. Allan Guthrie does what Allan Guthrie does best - you know what that is and you know how well he does it - and Nigel Bird, Paul Brazill and Richard Godwin all show, again, that they have what it takes. The stories and styles are diverse but class is class, and these guys have it in spades.

Any more? Well if I said that Victoria Watson's Cry Baby was one of the best stories you'll read in a year, or that Ian Ayris has pulled another gem out of the bag, you wouldn't be too surprised, I'm sure. At least you shouldn't be. At 45 stories long, there may be a couple of writers you haven't come across before. Do yourself a favour and get introduced, because talent oozes from every blood-soaked, tobacco-stained, booze-addled page. But I'm sure you already know what people like Veste, Bury, Sant, Morrigan, Hogan and Williams can do, and so you hardly need me to tell you that this is a fantastic collection. It's seedy, gritty, humorous, shot through with music and violence and very little hope for this collection of lowlifes, scumbags, junkies and losers.

And that's just the occasional policeman who shows up.

Brit-grit is black and bleak, sometimes funny, always honest, and doesn't give a fuck who you think you are. This collection showcases the incredible breadth of talent working in Britain today, with no let up from start to finish. For anyone who enjoys the rougher side of the crime-fiction tracks, it is utterly essential.

And it's for charity. Did I mention that?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

God Knows...

... I'm no fan of Coldplay. You could count me amongst their many haters except I can't work up that much energy for them.

So this, you can be assured, is the only Coldplay song I will ever like.

(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) by Coldplay

Proof that a great song is a great song, whatever. And no, I don't care if you hate it.

I don't care at all.

Monday, April 30, 2012

QOTM - Voltaire

Quote of the Moment - 

"I have seen the worst," Candide replied. "But a wise man, who since has had the misfortune to be hanged, taught me that all is marvellously well; these are but the shadows on a beautiful picture."
"Your hanged man mocked the world," said Martin. "The shadows are horrible blots."
"They are men who make the blots," said Candide, "and they cannot be dispensed with."
"It is not their fault then," said Martin.

- Candide, Voltaire 

Saturday, April 28, 2012


A sunny afternoon, sitting in the park and sipping beer. Families, couples, weirdos, weirdo families. Ideas for a new work slipping through my head. Scenes and phrases and characters picked up, examined, set aside until I can see how they relate to the rest. Watching my dogs play in the sun. Watch the sun slip behind the mountains.

A lazy evening. Just finished a big piece of work in the last week. I think I like it. I think it's my best stuff to date. Or maybe it's wank, I can't tell yet. It can breathe for a few weeks before I go back to it.

Plenty of other bits to get on with. Editing to do on my last completed novel. Query letters to send on the book before that. But for now I'm thinking about the next piece, the next project, worlds to create, characters to birth. They all percolate through my mind. Drink a couple of cocktails, a couple of coffees.

Wife goes to bed early and the dogs go with her. Dipping in and out of Chris Rhatigan's Watch You Drown. Great writing, fantastic little scenes, pictures of other lives. I read a couple of stories and let the taste linger like good chocolate. Read another couple of stories. Think about which novel to read next.

Rugby on the internet. Great game for a neutral. Good Czech beer and bad Scotch whisky. Still the puzzle pieces slip in and out. I just need the hook, the line, the one element that gets me excited to start setting it down. I like to get the first line right, first time. It starts to define the work in my mind. If I have to go back and change it later, things get messy. I don't need to know where I will end up, just which direction I'm driving.

Maybe tomorrow. A line, a conversation, a scene, a chapter, a new start, a new story, a new purpose. Everything will happen, one element following the other, if I just let it come. Right now, anything is possible.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Anthology Awareness Week...

Last year we had some great e-published anthologies and looks like this year will see more of the same. The line up for Pulp Ink 2 has just been announced, and as someone said over at Death By Killing, it's like an all-star team.


Down near the bottom of that list you might just notice a newcomer amongst the heavy-hitters. That's right, little ol' me. Between the same covers as Merrigan, Funk, Abbott, Lowrance, and over a dozen other fantastic writers (including Eric Beetner, who also contributed the awesome cover).

Thanks to Snubnose Press and the hard work of editors Chris Rhatigan and Nigel Bird, it should be out sometime in July.

You don't have to wait that long for a great anthology, though. Heath Lowrance is putting together his own gang, including several great writers (and personal favourites) and a couple of writers I don't know but am eager to get acquainted with. After all, they're in good company. I'm sure you'll agree when you check out the details of Burning Bridges at Psycho Noir. And as if that lineup weren't enough, he's putting it out for FREE. Available on May 1st.

But we're not finished there. Not by a long shot, because also in May we have True Brit Grit, edited by Luca Veste and the tireless Paul D Brazill. A bumper crop of 45 Brit Grit stories await. So many of my favourite crime stories right now are coming out of the UK (not least by the two editors) and it's no secret that I loved Brit Grit Too, so my mouth is already watering. Expect it sometime next month, and expect my blog to go quiet for a few days after it's released. Don't write, don't phone. I'll be busy.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Paul D Brazill - Snapshots, & 13 Shots Of Noir

Someone once said that time flies like an arrow. They lied. Time ducks and dives like a boxer on the ropes.

Anyway, no sooner (so I thought) had I finished one Paul Brazill collection when along comes another. Can't be ignoring that, I thought. And I don't want to be one whole collection behind the times. I know, I thought. Why not review them both together?

"After enduring forty-five years of a marriage that was, at best, like wading through treacle, Oliver Robinson eventually had enough and smothered his wife with the beige corduroy cushion that he'd accidentally burned with a cigarette two fraught days before."

So opens Snapshots, with death. And, truth be told, there is a lot of death in each of these collections. What we find in Snapshots is prime examples of one of Brazill's skills as a writer. The reader is immediately supplanted into the scene and mindset of the primary character. We see the world through their eyes, follow their choices and take the consequences. I don't know many other authors who can so quickly and effectively make us feel the stories behind the stories. He is a master at the detailed turn of phrase, the little things that turn reading into an experience.

Many of them are literally flashes: stories like Warsaw Ghosts, White Ink, and the short revenge tale Donkey (surely not even 500 words) are moments of a greater whole, caught in the first big hits of lightning as the storm finally breaks overhead. Of course, much of Snapshots is very short or flash fiction. Dark, bitter, pained, grimy. Each story is noir to the core. Inevitable, no matter how we struggle. What varies are the characters, the situations, the settings. But one thing you know: a Paul Brazill story ends badly for someone.

In Snapshots Brazill creates the maximum from a minimum of words. 13 Shots of Noir contains more conventional short stories, and allows the writer to show off his full arsenal, so to speak. Not only can he effortlessly place you in a scene, but he can skip through weeks, months or even years with a well placed phrase, and make you feel the weight of that time upon your shoulders. The situations and plots are allowed more time to develop, but the characters are as in your face as ever. Reading the flash fiction of Snapshots would convince you that this was a talented writer who had a few useful tricks up his sleeve. Reading 13 Shots shows that he's got the whole bag of tricks at his disposal: he'll dazzle you with character, only to sucker punch you with plot; or else he'll lay out the plot up front, in order to suck you down with the character. And he can do it in more ways than you can imagine.

But I don't want to suggest he's only a skilled craftsman. That's just the tool he uses to show what really matters, a genuine and affectionate portrait of every kind of fuck-up, every tender sacrifice, every last tired wheeze of an old man. It's the content that makes it, in sad little tales such as The Friend Catcher or The Ballad of the Kid, creepy vignettes like M, or classic Brit Grit dark humour like Sins of the Father and Everyday People. There are a range of stories here, but every one of them has seen an honest and complete commitment from the writer; there's nothing half-hearted, nothing half-arsed.

There is a third part to these 2 collections. Snapshots also contains stories from Brit Grit, the collection previously published by The E-Press Who Shall Not Be Named. Re-reading these stories was a delight. There is more humour in these early stories, a black, bleak, British humour true, but genuinely funny at times. These are exactly the kind of stories that exemplify the current Brit Grit movement, and Brazill definitely withstands re-reading.

Amongst his writing one thing stands out. The prose is hard-boiled, and noir, and essentially British, and has a consistency whatever the tone of the piece. In many ways it is the definition of Brit Grit (however you want to define that). But I don't think there is one stylistic quality that you can pin down as being the hallmark of Paul Brazill. And I mean this as a good thing. Paul Brazill is an author dedicated entirely to the authenticity of his characters. We live and breathe with these characters. If it doesn't fit, it isn't in there.

And this brings us finally to the little Brazillisms. There is no overbearing author's voice, but there are elements that continually crop up. Certain characters, of course, but more than that are the repeated turns of phrase, locations, and of course the musical references. What I love about these are that they aren't added for cool effect, because that would be an intrusion of the author. Instead, for people of a certain age, the songs are simply part of the fabric of living in Britain. From Showaddywaddy, through the Ramones and Madonna, the Clash and Gladys Knight and more, this is part of the aural reality of living in the UK over the last thirty years or more. Rather than showing off how cool he is (something that always drags me out of a story) and more like the radio playing a current hit in Eastenders, Brazill's musical references help to draw us into a reality we have all lived through. Just, with more dead people.

And then there are the other things. Spit on a hot pavement, Booze N News, the Polish toast Na Zdrowia, the colour blue, and more. They crop up again and again. In less skillful hands this could be grating, but instead they fit easily into the texture of Brazill World, creating a seamless fabric that encompasses useless boozehounds, real-world PIs, fuck-up cokeheads, innocent murderers and murderous innocents, as well as the odd step into the supernatural realm.

The two collections between them contain what are possibly his most famous stories, Drunk On The Moon, the starting point of the werewolf PI series, and Guns of Brixton. With these, they feel somehow complete. Or, to be more precise, these two collections feel like Paul Brazill so far, the slate wiped clean ready for something new. I can't wait.

If you're new to Paul D Brazill, I humbly suggest you start with Snapshots. Then again, tomorrow I'd probably say start with 13 Shots. Both are highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

QOTM - Nick Cave

In a colonial hotel
We fucked up the sun
And then we fucked it down again

Well the sun comes up
And the sun goes down
Going around and around to nowhere

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Slow Boil...

Reading, writing, drinking, working. Not always in that order.

The Spinetingler Winter 2012 issue came out just a couple of weeks ago. Even if it didn't include a new Paul Little story from Aaron Philip Clark (one of my favourite finds of last year) it also comes with great fiction from the likes of Dan Luft, Thomas Pluck, Patti Abbott and Court Merrigan, among others. Cheap at any price.

Recently finished Nik Korpon's Old Ghosts. On his website he says it 'should be narrated by Nick Cave, but isn't'. Got that right. One of the really nice things about reading it, (along with, eg. Everything I tell You Is A Lie, recently reviewed in these very pages) is the change of pace.

These days it seems that everybody wants blood and action and sex on page one, and then things escalate. Well, okay, that sounds pretty cool. But there's still a need for fiction which takes its time. I like a writer who isn't afraid to build slowly, develop themes and characters and ensure that, when the punch comes, it really hits home.

Speaking of which, I'm currently reading Frank's Wild Years, by Nick Triplow. Now this is classic slow-boil noir given a contemporary setting. If you still have the patience for a book that can introduce concepts before tearing them down, that let's you know all about the people slowly being destroyed, that isn't afraid to make small things important, then I recommend it. And I haven't even finished reading it yet.

Hopefully, even in these crazy hazy OCD me now now now times, there is still a place for classy slow-boil noir. And hopefully there's still a place for authors with the balls to set the gas on low and wait for things to start bubbling in their own sweet time.

The fact that all my stories take their own sweet time for anything to happen (if at all) is of course, entirely beside the point.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kick It Together by McDroll

This collection draws together short or flash stories previously published in Kick It and Kick It Again. Some of them are not quite crime, or not quite noir. In fact one of the stand-out features of the book is the sheer range of qualities that McDroll displays.

There is crime, and blood, and dark moments. There are gritty tales from the streets. But there is also humour, humanity, bleakness, and a lot of tension. One thing that McDroll does expertly is to humanise her subjects. These aren't larger than life characters, these are the people who live next door, people you pass in the street or at the supermarkets.

In The Trip, for example, we meet that awful family you see in the car next to you at the lights. Overloaded with everything they could possibly need for a holiday, you see the look on the man's face and feel relief that it isn't you who has to spend a fortnight with him. You wouldn't want to spend 2 minutes in that atmosphere. Ever wonder what happened to them? The tension is built superbly, and even though I saw the ending coming it is so well done that I had to laugh out loud. Other stories are homely, or as bleak as anything else coming out of Scotland right now. And amongst the darkness there's a lot of humour splashed around. A Pot of Soup is about as black as black comedy gets. Very Roald Dahl.

WPC Gemma Dixon features in a few of the stories, and there's good reason she's a favourite for many. I'd love to see a longer work featuring her, or else a collection all to herself. I've also met local scallies Beeny and Jango before, and hopefully they will also return in the future. In fact, one of the strongest feelings coming out of this short collection is that I instantly want to read more by the author. Not always the case even with writers and books I like. McDroll: very morish.

So it's lucky she's just started publishing her series 'The Wrong Delivery'. From the opening chapter that I've read it seems to have a lot of the darkness and humour I found in Kick It Together. Count me in!

More from McDroll at I Meant To Read That.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Short, Middle, Long, Queries...

Over the winter I've been up to a lot of different things.

I've really got back into short stories in the last year or so. Haven't read this many shorts since I was a teenager, and it's a great way to discover new writers who push my buttons. I even had pretty good feedback on my first attempt - especially from Christopher Grant, both in public and by email, and he should know what he's talking about. Suitably encouraged, there may be a few more on the way.

I've also started a couple of novellas. Both of them are kinda stuck right now, but I'm sure I'll get back to them once I've worked them through my brain a few times. For now, they're set aside but I'm really excited about some of the novellas receiving e-publication these days. The length suits the format, and vice-versa. Definitely a growing market, I think. The likes of Ray Banks, Nigel Bird, and Allan Guthrie, just from the UK, are starting to explore the real strengths of 15-30k words. Novels seem to have become overinflated in the last 50 years or so. Sometimes less is more, people, less is more.

Still, since I was about 17 my real love affair has been with the novel. And, in all honesty, I would describe myself as a novelist (unsuccessful) before I called myself a writer (unsuccessful). Because in all the years that I didn't write but knew one day I would, I knew I would write novels. Not shorts, not journalism, no reviews or biographies or poetry (although I've dabbled). It was always novels or nothing. To me, they are the supreme form of writing, one of the truly great inventions of mankind, to put up there with fire, the wheel, and Withnail & I.

So, I've dusted off my last completed first draft - and it has been lying fallow for some time now. The first draft is what I love to create more than anything. But the first couple of edits come close second, especially when it's been sitting on the shelf for long enough, and feels fresh and new. And suddenly I feel like a real novelist (unsuccessful) again. Brew up some coffee, add a good splash of bad whisky, here we go.

At the same time I'm sending queries for my latest completed novel. And I REALLY REALLY HATE sending query letters, so working on a fresh novel is both motivation and reward.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Quote of the Moment... Maxwell's Silver Hammer - Andy Rivers

This Brit Grit novel from Byker Books has been hanging about on my Kindle for a few weeks and I've finally gotten round to it. Showcasing the darker side of Newcastle (I'm a softy southerner - does Newcastle have a bright side?) I've only just started reading but it zips along at a fair pace and a few lines have already caught my eye, such as this one from the opening scene. Newcy noir, anyone?

"I'm at the entrance to the alley under the bridge, there's only one streetlight and I'm under it, darkness and shadows all around me, the fine rain is visible against the light and the wind blows sweet wrappers around my feet. I feel in my jacket pocket for the knuckle-duster, its chunky, solid feel is reassuring. Sighing softly I look up into the Newcastle night sky for what could possibly be the last time and wonder how it ever came to this."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Felony Fists - Jack Tunney

Now then, where was I...

Oh yeah. It was freakingly cold. When you wake up and your phone says '-22 or maybe colder, not sure, I may have broken' and there are two dogs - who can feel the frostiness emanating from the iced up window - and they look at you with eyes that say, 'You know what? We really don't need to go to the bathroom today. Or anytime until Spring, thanks.' Then you know it's just too damn cold.

But that was last month. Today, Spring is in the air, the ice has melted away, mostly, the sun is out, and busy, busy, busy times are gone. And I did manage to squeeze in some reading.

Felony Fists (Fight Card) - Jack Tunney

"Carter dropped. Done. Finished. If he ever got in the ring again, he'd end up the same way. I saw the fear in him and knew I'd broken him for boxing.
I pulled away from Pops, spitting out my mouthpiece. I walked over to the ropes and looked down at Cohen. I spat a gob of blood on the canvas in contempt."

Any crime fiction reader is familiar with the landscape of Felony Fists. It's 1950s LA, Mickey Cohen is kingpin. A suit and a hat tells people a lot about who you are, and a dress can tell even more. Half the cops in the city are on Cohen's payroll, and most of the rest are just happy to stay out his way and keep their nice homes and families safe.

But Patrick 'Felony' Flynn is different. He wants to be a detective, he wants his shot at Cohen, and he ain't scared of the consequences. He's never walked away from a fight - inside the ring or out - in his life, and he's not about to start now. He gets his chance when the police chief sees a way to use Flynn's boxing skills to score a point against Cohen - but that means stepping into the ring against Cohen's heavyweight contender.

Felony Fists is a real nice, easy-reading little book. It's lean, bloody, but doesn't over reach itself - this is a small story against a much larger backdrop, leaving plenty of scope for further titles. In fact this is #2 of three so far under the the Fight Card name and by composite pseudonym Jack Tunney. Deception, corruption and plenty of action are packed in, but it's nice to see that Tunney doesn't take the easy way of action for the sake of it, or substituting violence and blood for story. Instead he (they) have crafted a page-turner that spends plenty of time developing the characters, plot, motives, and the all important 50s LA backdrop.

As a novella, it's the perfect length for its scope, and a good example of why this format is coming back into fashion with e-reading. Recommended.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Quote of the Moment...Choke Hold - Christa Faust

'"He's puking," the kid cried from the back seat. "He's puking! Jesus fuck!" 
"Turn his head to the side," I said, flashing back to scraping a shitfaced and spewing Vic up off the sidewalk outside Gazarri's. "Don't let him choke." 
When the riceburner rear-ended me, I just about had a heartattack. The hit sounded louder than the shotgun and my forehead bounced off the steering wheel, scattering flaming pinwheels across my vision. I'm sure there were seatbelts somewhere in that old Buick, but I hadn't bothered to look before I peeled out of the diner lot. I would have tried to find one then, but my hands were locked, white-knuckled, around the wheel.'

Christa Faust grabs you by the wotsits and just keeps squeezing - Choke Hold from Hard Case Crime.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Everything I Tell You Is A Lie - Fingers Murphy...

I am extraordinarily busy for February. With S.O. in Tokyo for a month doing Very Arty Things with Very Arty People, I have to look after myself for a change. Between 8 hours of working, 2 hours of traveling, and 2 dogs who demand 2 walks plus 2 hours of attention each day, I have very little time for little luxuries such as eating. The washing up can wait until March and yes I am wearing the same clothes for the fourth day in a row. And?

Anyway, February posts will mostly be very short reviews of books I have absolutely loved recently, and first up is Everything I tell You Is A Lie, by Fingers Murphy.

This novella was a fantastic change of pace. I mean, I love hardboiled noir drama as much as the next guy, but Everything I Tell You... is something different. To start with it's one of the most intelligent things I've read recently. I don't mean other stuff around is dumb, or that the book is high-brow or pretentious. The protagonist is anything but, but this is the first thing I've read by Fingers and one of my first thoughts was: this writer is a smart guy. Not wanky, not showing off, just smart.

Second is the pace. It feels slow, as if the story is feeling its way. And I don't mean slow reading. One page rips to the next, and it's very hard to put down, but the story - presented as an interview with a prison psychologist and a series of reminiscences - takes its own time. There are no plot twists and turns purely for the sake of action, but everything happens naturally. The whole is beautifully constructed with a superb balance of surprise and that familiar noir feeling of inevitability. An aura of menace inhabits the whole.

One of the most original and interesting noirs I've read recently, and it certainly won't be the last Fingers Murphy book I read. And the writing... oh the words. At times, you can't help but feel that special shiver you get when a paragraph is EXACTLY right. I mean perfect. It's not showy writing, it just feels right.

In short: really, really, effing good noir. Highly recommended. Whatever you need: If you're a noir fan you should read this book.

I hunted down Fingers, and you can find more here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Corpse Wore Pasties - Jonny Porkpie

 After reading a lot of Brit grit recently, I was looking for something a bit different, a freshener, and Jonny Porkpie - author, narrator and hero of his own book, as well as self-styled Burlesque Mayor of NYC - certainly delivered the goods in style.

When a burlesque performer drops dead on stage, Jonny's got a problem. Not only is it his show, but 50 witnesses saw him hand the girl the 'prop' that killed her. With the cops not looking any further than him for a suspect, he's going down if he can't uncover the murderer before Officer Brooklyn and Officer Bronx pin some damning evidence on him. Trouble is all 5 girls in the show and a number of others had both motive and opportunity.

In some ways this is an old-fashioned murder mystery, with Jonny interviewing the suspects in turn and sorting out just who could and would have done away with the dead girl. But with larger than life characters and set against the sleazier side of the Big Apple, The Corpse Wore Pasties turns into a killer romp through New York City. Its tongue is kept firmly in cheek, while cheeks grind furiously into the New York night. Like burlesque, it is a little bit dark, very sexy, and often hilarious.

More from Jonny Porkpie here:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Life Needs Some New Ideas...

Life imitating art. Well, not just imitating. Like Hollywood, life seems intent on just rehashing old movies.

Still, I'd love to have been a fly on the wall when they counted the money.

"Six months. Six months in a frigging hole!


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Quote Of The Moment...Black Friday

"No, he's wrong," Charley said. "It's still Friday the thirteenth." And he went on looking at Hart.
Rizzio frowned and scratched the back of his head.
Charley said, "It's Black Friday and for certain people it's a day that never ends. They carry it with them all the time. Like typhoid carriers. So no matter where they go or what they do, they bring bad luck."
"Meaning me?" Hart murmured.
Charley nodded slowly. Then very slowly he reached into his overcoat pocket and took out the gun.

- Black Friday, David Goodis 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Brit Grit Too, ed. Paul D Brazill


 For a fair number of reasons, absolutely everybody should buy this book. Number one reason might as well be because all of the authors are giving their money to charity. It's for the kids.

There are another 32 excellent reasons collected between the covers, so the warm glow of generosity is not the only good feeling you'll be getting out of your purchase. Editor Paul Brazill has gathered 32 of the most exciting young (in author years) talent that the UK has to offer.

If that seems like a lot, don't worry, there's no let up in quality. It literally hums and buzzes from every page, like a chippy sign on a wet Saturday night. The gritty rain-soaked back streets of Britain also give enough of a common thread to hold the whole thing together while allowing an astonishing array of talent to share the same pages.

Some of my absolute favourites are from familiar names like Nigel Bird, Richard Godwin, Luca Veste, Charlie Wade, Fiona Johnson, Gerard Brennan, and, of course, there's the editor's own contribution. That's a lot of genuine noir talent pulled together.

And while we're on familiar names, Hard Times by Ian Ayris is the sort of dark little tale that exemplifies the best of British. It twists under your skin and then smacks you where it hurts, nothing overblown, not a word wasted, but with such texture that you can feel the dirt getting under your fingernails.

Let's be honest, you'd pay a coupla quid just for that little lot. Even it wasn't for kids. But there's plenty more. One of the delights is coming across new authors (new to me, that is, 'cause I'm not the quickest on the uptake) and getting completely blown away by them.

Andy Rivers' superb Geraldine comes immediately to mind. A twisted tale of football fans and murder, told with real sympathy (underneath the macho exterior) and a genuine voice. The narrator honestly feels like somebody I've met and forgotten. Iain Rowan and Luke Block's respective contributions - amongst others - will also have me looking out for their names.

All in all, this feels like a snapshot of a nation: a dank, musty, blackly-humorous, rain-sodden little nation where everybody's going to hell but a lot of people can really write. Frankly, you should buy it even if you hate kids. It's that good.