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.