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.