Saturday, 31 December 2011

Deserted London, and prawn boxing

Two interesting things, courtesy of mefi.

A photographer goes out early on Xmas morning, and photographs an eerie, deserted London.

(photo by Ian Mansfield)

And an astonishing new blog from Adam Curtis, in which he does the Adam Curtis thing linking 50's East End gangsters, property speculation, debt-based capitalism, the film industry, quantitative easing and films about boxers who happen to be giant prawns.

Monday, 26 December 2011

A quick Xmas tip

Alan Ryker's latest, Blood Tells True, has just gone live on Amazon. Go and treat yourself.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas

Family routine, Christmas Eve. Girls go get hair done at some ridiculously early hour. We drive through to Durham, pretending to the kids that we're not going to the panto that we've been to every Xmas Eve for the past six years. They pretend to be fooled. We sit in the front row, and this year get covered with shaving foam, and repeatedly harrassed by a man dressed as an elderly woman (my son, grasping for the correct panto terminology of dame, simply described her as 'the ladyboy'), and have a great time. Then we go to the same Italian restaurant we've been to every year, eat big, late, lunch, marvel that it's actually Xmas Eve already, and where the hell did December go anyway? Then drive back home, sort things out, settle down. Which is what I'm about to do now. Things are done. Things are sorted. I am knackered. We are all knackered. But things are ready.

So that's me done. See you on the other side, thank you to everyone who reads this, and I hope you all have a great one.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

December catch-up

Been on travels a little bit - Yorkshire for a few days, and down to London for a couple of days to have family reunion. Good times. Had tour of parliament courtesy of my sis, and we sat in on a debate in the House of Lords, only to be taken a little by surprise when Floella Benjamin stood up to speak. No Lord Cant, though, or Lady Hamble.

My books have been getting some love recently - Nowhere To Go has featured in a couple of best of the year lists over at Luca Veste's Guilty Conscience, and there's a lengthy and lovely review of Ice Age by Eva Dolan. As an experiment we've put Nowhere To Go into Amazon's new Select program, and made it free for a couple of days as a one point in the Amazon UK short story charts free category Nowhere To Go was number one and One Step Closer was number six.

I liked this set of New Year's Resolutions by Woody Guthrie. Speaking of Woody, I also really enjoyed last week's This Is England '86. The characters feel like a bunch of old mates now, and Woody most of all, because he reminds me of someone I knew in real life.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Gone all CBGBs this weekend

Time for another music post. Here's some of the soundtrack to the last few days.

Television - Days 

I love the guitar on this, it's just beautiful.

Richard Hell and the Voidoids - Love Comes In Spurts

There is nothing you could change that would make this song better, even the flaws.

Talking Heads - A Clean Break.

The Name Of This Band a fantastic album. Youtube fails me on this one, so here's a link to the audio on Songzilla. And here's a picture of David Byrne channeling Anthony Perkins.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Introducing Penny Dreadnought

I mentioned a little while back an exciting new project that I was involved with. It's now burst into life, with the first in a projected series of books: Introducing Penny Dreadnought, Insidious Indoctrination Engine of the Abominable Gentlemen.

From the malignant minds of the Abominable Gentlemen comes the first volume of Penny Dreadnought.

Within these pages you’ll find the following seeds of madness:

“Lilies” by Iain Rowan
“Cargo” by Aaron Polson
“First Time Buyers” by James Everington
“Invasion of the Shark-Men” by Alan Ryker

Introducing Penny Dreadnought, Insidious Indoctrination Engine of the Abominable Gentlemen is approximately 22,000 words, or 88 paper pages, and can be purchased at:

Barnes & Noble

Great things are planned for the future of the series, and I'm delighted to be keeping the company of such talented writers.

The Abominable Gentlemen will also be blogging

Monday, 5 December 2011

Bank robbers

“HSBC, Britain’s largest bank, has been slapped with a £10.5m fine by the Financial Services Authority for selling unsuitable products to almost 2,500 elderly customers…In many cases the five-year investment period for the bonds was longer than the individual customer’s life expectancy…a review of a sample of customer files found unsuitable sales had been made to 87% of customers.”
(Guardian, 5th Dec)

So, let me just take a minute to get this right. On massive scale, a subsidiary of HSBC has been making a fortune mis-selling a financial service to vulnerable, elderly people near the end of their lives. The service is intended to help people pay for their long-term care, but in many cases the investment period for the bonds exceeded the fucking life expectancy of the people to whom it was sold.

Am really struggling here. If someone preys on the elderly via a doorstep fraud, or a bogus roofing job, chances are they'll get sent to prison. The difference here is..?

I can't see it.

And the fine? Big fucking deal. I know £10.5 million sounds like a big deal, but this is a company that made a profit of £12 billion in 2010. Put it this way, it's like someone on £20,000 a year being fined £160.

That'll show 'em.

(I've just heard that the fine is less than the commission that would have been earned on the investments. Words fail me.)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

A Month In Music

A Month In Music is my favourite discovery of the last few weeks.

The author has thirty days of music in his iTunes collection, 10,513 songs. He switches iTunes to shuffle, and presses play. The result is a very well-written, sweetly melancholy blog that riffs off the songs played across the month to talk about music, and memories, and how life turns out as it goes past. As you read on, you realise that the blog tells the story of the end of a marriage, and the songs that soundtrack first meetings, time together, time apart, time done.

Good photography, good music, good writing. Check it out.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Rich, powerful and pompous

One of the best comments so far to come out of witness testimony to the Leveson Inquiry, and it was from Charlotte Church:

I don't want to single out [Daily Mail editor] Paul Dacre at all. Just in terms of editors and people who are high up in tabloid papers – he [Dacre] said that there were many journalists who were exposing the misdeeds of the rich, the powerful and the pompous. 
It just struck me that Mr Dacre themselves and other editors are probably rich, definitely powerful; I'm not sure about pompous, but if they were subjected to the investigative journalism, maybe they would come out whiter than white, but if they weren't then their misdeeds are much more in the public interest as rich and powerful people than me as a TV presenter/singer or my friends.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

'Scuse me while I kiss this guy

When Luca Veste invited me to contribute to the charity anthology Off The Record, we argued for a while about whether I could include 5-6-7-8 by Steps, but settled in the end on Purple Haze, an old favourite of mine. To celebrate, here's a few versions of the song, from the sublime, to the...well. Watch the videos.

Definitely the best version of all time, which takes you to the frontiers of psychedelic innerspace on a trip that even Hendrix could only have dreamed about:

A strong contender for second best:

What appears to be a mashup between Purple Haze and the Seinfeld theme tune:


We're lost in a purple haze, again and again and again and again. The Cure:

Chamber music, from the Kronos Quartet:

But finally, what better way to stay true to the spirit of the original, than by this version brought to you by a choir of very elderly people. Actin' funny, but don't know why? It's because you forgot to have your bran for breakfast this morning, dear.

Off The Record

Off The Record is an charity anthology edited by Luca Veste, featuring stories from a host of excellent authors, with each story inspired by a classic song track. It's been launched today, and is available on Amazon now (UK | US). Thirty-eight stories for just £2.29, it's a bargain, and all the royalties go to charity - the National Literacy Trust in the UK, and the Children's Literary Initiative in the US.

There's a new story in there from me, too. Purple Haze is a story about people getting out of their heads, and out of their depth.

Grab a copy now, get some great reading, and contribute to the development of child literacy too. Full contents list below (and now, a playlist of all of the songs, thanks to Court Merrigan).

1.Neil White - Stairway To Heaven
2.Col Bury – Respect
3.Steve Mosby – God Moving Over The Face Of Waters
4.Les Edgerton - Small Change
5.Heath Lowrance - I Wanna Be Your Dog
6.AJ Hayes - Light My Fire
7.Sean Patrick Reardon - Redemption Song
8.Ian Ayris - Down In The Tube Station At Midnight
9.Nick Triplow - A New England
10.Charlie Wade - Sheila Take A Bow
11.Iain Rowan - Purple Haze
12.Thomas Pluck - Free Bird
13.Matthew C. Funk - Venus In Furs
14.R Thomas Brown - Dock Of The Bay
15.Chris Rhatigan – Shadowboxer
16.Patti Abbott - Roll Me Away
17.Chad Rhorbacher - I Wanna Be Sedated
18.Court Merrigan - Back In Black
19.Paul D. Brazill - Life On Mars?
20.Nick Boldock – Superstition
21.Vic Watson - Bye Bye Baby
22.Benoit Lelievre - Blood On The Dancefloor
23.Ron Earl Phillips - American Pie
24.Chris La Tray – Detroit Rock City
25.Nigel Bird - Super Trouper
26.Pete Sortwell – So Low, So High
27.Julie Morrigan - Behind Blue Eyes
28.David Barber – Paranoid
29.McDroll - Nights In White Satin
30.Cath Bore - Be My Baby
31.Eric Beetner - California Dreamin'
32.Steve Weddle - A Day In The Life
33.Darren Sant - Karma Police
34.Simon Logan - Smells Like Teen Spirit
35.Luca Veste - Comfortably Numb
36.Nick Quantrill - Death Or Glory
37.Helen FitzGerald - Two Little Boys
38.Ray Banks - God Only Knows

Also includes forewords from UK writer Matt Hilton, and US writer Anthony Neil Smith.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Catching up

Hectic times at the mo. Lots on at work, and outside work a lot of the last couple of weeks have revolved around the kids who have been in their first professional production at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle. Son made front page of the Journal this week, which made me all proud and something-in-my-eye and, inevitably, got the 'new Billy Elliott' tag. Am also still quite drifty after what happened in September/October (and angry - is a weird thing about grief, how it can prompt this inchoate unfocused anger at well, everything), but trying to get my act together now and get on, because there's a lot to get on with.

I've started a new novel, and am working away at it with the intention of submitting it to the Debut Daggers. It's about working undercover, identity, madness, the protest movement, the illegal arms trade, and not knowing who you are, or who anyone else is. Know where it starts, and where it ends, and a fair bit of what happens inbetween, but am spending a lot of time getting inside the protag's head at the moment. Am also planning something a bit different around point of view, which may or may not work out, but will be interesting to try. Don't have even a working title in mind, so for now it is just The Novel.

Julie Morrigan has interviewed me over at her place. Paul D Brazill has announced the impending release of his anthology Brit Grit 2, which features a brand-new short story from me called Looking For Jamie. Probably one of the most bleak stories I've ever written, which given some of my other short stories is something of an achievement. Luca Veste's charity anthology Off The Record will be out soon too, and  will include Purple Haze, a short story from me specially written for Off The Record.

Too soon to blog about them in detail just yet, but in the last week I've become involved in two really interesting and exciting projects. Hope to tell you more about them soon. One's a new project around a series of short story collections, working with some excellent horror/dark/weird fiction writers and which promises to be a huge amount of fun (and see a few new short stories from me). The other might see some previous linked short stories of mine packaged up and turned into a novel for a magazine publisher's new ebook venture - but there's 20,000 words of new fiction to be written to get it there.

Better get on with it then, hadn't I.

Well, nearly everywhere

Barack Obama, January 2011:

"I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters.

The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere."

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Review time

Been catching up with some interesting short ebooks recently. Victoria Watson's I Should Have Seen it Coming is a short story published by Trestle Press. The narrator progresses from redundancy to an initially reluctant but increasingly successful career as a psychic - until her new vocation brings disaster. It's a quick and entertaining read with a controlled narrative voice, and I liked the gradual disintegration of the narrator as the story moved on.

Luca Veste's Liverpool Five is a collection of short short stories - five of them, surprisingly enough. The stories cover quite a range, from crime stories with an entertainingly dark twist like Heavy Sleeper and Model Behaviour, to acutely-observed stories that capture a moment in someone's life, told with great economy. Writing short is sometimes much harder than writing long. I'm really looking forward to seeing more from Luca.

Darren Sant's been writing a series of stories set in the same location, the fictional Longcroft Estate. Rowan's Folly (no relation, although I have been responsible for much folly in my time) is another slice of Longcroft lowlife and the longest story - and, I think, the best - so far. The story features a convincing range of characters all following their own storylines which intertwine as the story progresses. If you've read the earlier stories set you'll spot a few references and characters as the author continues to build up the grimly fascinating world of the Longcroft.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Mail fail

The next time the Daily Mail decide to grumble about falling standards in education and the dumbing down of youth today, they should pause to take a look at their own:

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Halloween giveaway

As we're into Halloween season now (and I can't believe we had no-one at the door yet), here's a couple of seasonal stories of mine for you, for free.

Lilies was originally published in Postscripts and then reprinted in Stephen Jones' Best New Horror anthology (it appeared between stories by Neil Gaiman and Ramsey Campbell, which still makes me go all funny).  It's about dead people, war, passion and desperation.

Sighted is a story of a sniper crawling through the ruins of a wartime city, and what he sees through the sights of his rifle. It was first published in At Ease With The Dead, the fourth anthology from Ash-Tree Press, which was shortlisted for both the Stoker Award and the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Anthology.

Both free, you can get Lilies at Amazon (US version) for Kindle or at Smashwords for any other format, and Sighted at Smashwords only as Amazon hasn't matched the free pricing.


Friday, 28 October 2011

And in today's news

The clergy of St Paul's cathedral announce that they are taking legal action to evict the Occupy London Stock Exchange protestors from outside the house of mammon god.

Jesus Christ, when asked for comment on the St Pauls' decision earlier today.

And in no-way related other news, total earnings for directors of FTSE 100 companies increased by 49% last year. Just in case that appears to be a typo, yes it does actually say that their earnings went up forty-nine per cent. In one year.

"It's a competitive market": a director comments today, live on the BBC

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Politics: bought and owned

A persistent criticism of the Occupy protestors is that they don’t have any clear demands, that there’s no obvious focus to the protest, no five point manifesto. To some extent, this misses the point. The point of the protests is to shift the Overton Window, to reframe public debate, to identify problems and to demand that those problems are tackled, not ignored. It’s antithetical to the nature of the protests to demand specific solutions, because the protests are organised around consensus, and it’s not the job of the protestors to impose a solution on everyone else. The protestors want to initiate debate but for people - the 99% - to take wider ownership of the discussion of what solutions might address the problems identified. That’s the bigger job - as Slavoj Žižek says in the Guardian: “There is a long road ahead, and soon we will have to address the truly difficult questions – not questions of what we do not want, but about what we do want.”

But we can’t do that if society, government, politics sticks its head in the sand, and refuses to recognise that there’s a problem.

Hence the protests.

One of those problems is the fact that our political culture is corrupt. Not corrupt in the crude way of brown envelopes stuffed with money - although that goes on - but corrupt in the sense that political culture is shaped - overtly or covertly - by corporate money.

That’s on two levels - the individual level, and the party level. Parties are mindless animals, which exist for one reason only - to perpetuate their own existence. Political decisions are taken, not because they are in the long-term interests of the nation, not because they are the morally right thing to do, not because they help those in society who most need help, but because those decisions will help that party get re-elected. For an example, look at the setting of the budget. Austerity early in the life of a parliament, sweetners as re-election looms. To continue perpetuating their existence, political parties need money. A lot of money.

And there’s no shortage of corporate money to come flooding in. But they want something for it. And generally, they get it. So politics is further distorted, as policy becomes not just about gaining re-election, but about pleasing the donors whose money is vital in order to win re-election.

Against that, one voter, with one vote, is really of no interest at all.

The scale of this distortion is worse in the US, because the money there is bigger (in the run-up to his 2008 election, Obama received over fifteen million dollars in donations from Wall St firms like Goldman Sachs, BoA, Morgan Stanley and others alone). But it’s a problem in the UK too. The police investigation into cash for honours may not have been able to lead to prosecutions, but I have little doubt that for decades - centuries - one of the ways to a peerage is to put your hand in your pocket. The murky revelations around Liam Fox and his friend, and the corporate backers hidden away behind charities lift the curtain a little - just a little. Mandelson sitting on a yacht with Russian oligarchs or intervening on behalf of Indian billionaires making passport application. Andrew Lansley as Shadow Health Secretary, accepting donations from the chairman of a private healthcare provider. The recent round of party conferences where everything had a corporate stamp on it, ‘private dinners’ with senior politicans are organised by business (and which don’t have to be declared on the register of members’ interests) and there appeared to be more lobbyists than party members.

The revolving door that sees civil servants drafting policy and legislation and then - surprise! - leaving the civil service for jobs with companies that have benefited from that legislation. The fast-spinning revolving door that sees Ministers responsible for legislation and regulation and then - surprise! - there’s a non-executive directorship on the board, 40grand for two days work a month. Is that payment for what they’re doing now, or payment for what they did before they were employed?

Rich people get to be rich by not throwing away money for no reason. Donations get influence. Influence shapes policy. Policy shapes law and regulation - or lack if it. That is a corrupting of politics.

On occasion, it’s just plain old-fashioned corruption. The MPs' expenses scandal showed that many MPs were prepared to be shameless - and criminal - in sucking down cash from the public teat, so it is really unthinkable that would turn their nose up at some sweet, sweet money when it came from a company rather than the taxpayer? Anyone who thinks that doesn't happen should really ask a grown-up to hold their hand every time they cross the road.

So, coming back to the start, and what the protestors want, well there's one thing. A decoupling of politics from corporate paymasters and their lobbyists. And why do protestors have to protest? Well, this issue is a scandal now, a cancer gnawing away at the insides of our supposed democracy, and it has been for years, and here is what our political parties have done about it:

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Post Office: now recruiting vultures

An irritation of modern life is that it's hard to conduct a transaction now without the person serving you trying to sell you all kinds of crap that you don't want, don't need, and have no interest in. You could make good money selling badges to people going in to W H Smiths that say 'no, I don't want any half-price chocolate, I just want this fucking newspaper'.

One of the worst offenders is the Post Office. You take some time out of your lunchbreak to stand in a queue for a while, you finally get to a counter and have your parcel weighed, or whatever, and then the person behind the counter asks you if you have a credit card, or a mortgage, or life insurance, or whatever because 'today we're talking to our customers about credit cards/mortgages/life insurance/whatever'. You avoid the temptation to say look, I don't ask my credit card company to sell me stamps, so do me a favour, and just let me get away from here with some time to spare to eat a sandwich, so instead you just politely say 'no, I'm fine thanks.' And that's an end to it.

Or at least, it would be if the Post Office actually valued their customers as people, rather than valuing them like a con-artist values his mark. The smiley-faced counter staff ignore you, of course, and press on, as if you hadn't spoken. 'It's just that we're offering a special rate and...blah blah blah'.

Today though, was something else.

My mum died last month. It's the way things are that when someone dies, as well as grieving, you have to get on with a lot of very mundane bureaucratic form-filling. It's dull, it's frustrating, you really don't want to do it, but it has to be done. And it's best to get on and do it. Today I had to spend an hour in a bank, closing down accounts, and then go to the Post Office to post something to my mum's life insurance company. I had to send it special delivery, so I needed to queue up and see a member of staff.

The man behind the counter who weighed it and stamped it had obviously read the address, because when I had paid he said: 'See that this is to a life insurance company, and we're talking to our customers today about life insurance and --'

'No thanks.'

'It's just we wondered if you have life insurance--'

'Look, I've just lost someone close to me, which is the reason I'm posting this stuff, so trust me, now is not the time.'

What would you say at that point? Would you apologise? Or just end the conversation? Say thank you, and hope that an awkward situation goes away? If you've answered yes to any of those, you're not cut out for the high-pressure sales world of  Post Office counters.

What he said was, 'OK, would you prefer to make an appointment to discuss it, then?'

I had really two choices at that point. Turn around and walk out, or do something that would lead to me getting arrested under the Public Order Act. I walked out. Part of me - the seething, furious, sweary, counter-thumping, display-trashing part of me - regrets walking out. Part of me knows that I could not have stayed there and done anything other than very counter-productive things, which would have ended up with me as the person in the wrong, and weakened my case.

So, formal complaints are now in, and I am not in a cell, and I have dealt with it all very maturely and blah blah. How terribly grown up.

I'm interested to find out whether it's Post Office policy for their staff to read the address of letters they are being asked to post, and to do a sales pitch to the customer based on them, so I have asked that question, and to check the answer I've asked for  bunch of documents under FOI. I think it's very wrong if that does turn out to be the case, as I'm supplying them with that address to provide the service I'm paying for, not to use it as a chance to up-sell me on all kinds of shit I don't need or want or care about.

I know it's Post Office policy for them to encourage their staff to not take no for an answer, and to go on and on about said shit, even if the customer is patently uninterested, because I experience it every time I go in there. I also know that they do have a policy which says that Post Office staff 'deserve to be treated with respect'.

And I don't disagree. They absolutely do. Which is why it would also be fair if the Post Office also treated its customers with equal respect. And by that, I don't mean putting a pointless poster on the wall and a statement on the website with the usual anodyne platitudes about we value your blah blah blah while acting in a way which makes it patently obvious that you do not give a flying fuck about your fucking customers if you can screw another sale out of them.

So, no. I don't want any life insurance. I don't want a credit card or a mortgage or car insurance or home insurance or van insurance or motorcycle insurance or pet insurance or a cash ISA or broadband or telephone. I really, really don't. If I did, I would ask you. But I don't. I JUST WANT TO POST A FUCKING LETTER.

Might get that put on a tee-shirt.

Oh, and I'd like to be able to do it without some twat using my mum's death to try and sell me life insurance. Is that too much to ask? Looks that way.

Monday, 24 October 2011

catching up

Catching up with things a little bit. Amazon have finally reverted One Step Closer to being paid, after about a month as a free ebook. It was a good run while it lasted. The story stayed at #1 in the Amazon short story charts for free ebooks for the whole month, and although I don't yet know the final totals, a week or so ago there had been over 10,000 downloads of the book across Amazons US and UK.

The intention of making it free was to get my name in readers' minds and for OSC to act as a gateway to Nowhere To Go. Not much of a jump in sales, but it could be too early to judge. I will be disappointed though if it makes no difference, as it will leave me feeling a little what-the-hell-do-you-have-to-do.

Why it had such a good run is interesting, even if I don't quite understand it. I think the unknown is the trigger, what kicked it off to do well in the first place. I do believe though that once it did, that sales/downloads do become self-sustaining. Once that initial pulse of downloads happened, the book became visible: it was at number #1 in the short story charts, high up in the general free stuff charts, appeared on lots and lots of 'also boughts'. In other words, if the much talked about Amazon algorithm picks your book up, from that point on, impetus will drive sales. Obviously at some point some form of saturation will occur and sales will drop off, but I reckon a good run can be had in the interim, and that also it would be unlikely that sales would drop back down as low as they were before it all took off.

So, it all comes down to that initial pulse that creates that self-sustaining visibility. How do you that? Well, with OSC...I have no idea. Which is helpful. But I would love to work it out.

I've written a new short story, for Luca Veste's song-themed charity anthology, Off The Record. Purple Haze is a story about getting way out of your depth. Luca has his own collection of short stories out, Liverpool 5, (I have my fingers crossed that the follow-up will be called Man Utd 0), and speaking of good people with new work, Julie Morrigan has a new novel out called Heartbreaker)

Great review of Nowhere To Go appeared in the last few days too, over at Eva Dolan's Loitering With Intent: "Some of the best short fiction out there.  Buy it." You know what? I can't disagree with that.

infinity plus singles

infinity plus are now established as an ebook publisher of a wide range of high quality fiction from a diverse and interesting set of authors (and, uh, me: declaration of interest here: both Nowhere To Go and One Step Closer are published by IP too).

They've now released the first of a range of bite-sized ebooks with gorgeous cover art, short stories that can be read in a single setting, cheap and accessible samples that might provide an introduction to the work of a particular writer. Dip in, try a couple, and see what you like.

The line-up of initial releases looks like this:

One Step Closer (singles #1) by Iain Rowan
Has Anyone Here Seen Kristie? (singles #2) by John Grant
The Time-Lapsed Man (singles #3) by Eric Brown
Head Shots (singles #4) by Keith Brooke
Old Soldiers (singles #5) by Kit Reed

But infinity plus have stories lined up from Lisa Tuttle, Sarah Ash, Neil Williamson and Anna Tambour, as well as the authors listed above and a growing list of others. Check out all of the details at the infinity plus website.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

First Time Buyers

An excellent and unnerving story from James Everington's very good collection The Other Room, available free as a Halloween treat. Check it out.

Then draw the curtains.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The October Country

My favourite time of year is coming. I can smell it.

photo thanks to Quapan

Cool, clear mornings, the night stealing in darker by minutes every evening, the first low, hanging mist, grass starry with dew and the promise of frosts to come, the smell of autumn in the air, warm yellow lights on in the windows of dark houses, the leaves spinning round and round and down, halloween and the gunpowder stink of fireworks and the woodsmoke stink of bonfires and the the not very hidden child inside kicking through piles of leaves and relishing the run up to birthday and Christmas, the expectation always the best part because expectation always turns out to be better than the thing itself.
"That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain." (Ray Bradbury)

Friday, 14 October 2011

Fruit loops

This is about a week out of date, but what the hell. I like a lot of the products that Apple make. I'm typing this on a battered Macbook, with one of the command keys not working due to the introduction of the tea virus, and various bits of plastic chipped off the body. Before that it was an ibook, that worked for years and I passed it on and it worked for years more until I was helpfully moving it and dropped it (less six inches, and it daughter dropped it down an entire flight of stairs and it was fine). My next computer will probably be a mac. I rarely go out without my little ipod in my pocket, and although I don't own one, the phones and ipads are shiny too, and look fun.

Steve Jobs was a clever businessman with a single-minded vision, and I admire him very much for his insistence that things should look good, as well as work well, a piece of simple design philosophy that had somehow managed to bypass pretty much the entire tech sector. He sounded like quite a tosser as a person, but I didn't know him, so that's just based on other people's stories. His company makes nice stuff. His other company have made some excellent films.

But I did see the commotion around the time of his death, and it was interesting because I was wrapped up in my own thoughts about such things too. The sight of people holding candlelit vigils outside Apple stores (did I really just type that?) reminded me of something that stuck in my mind after the surreal paroxysm of faux-grief that gripped much of the UK at the time of Diana's death. It was a story from a girl, whose close friend had travelled to London to be there for the funeral, and to lay flowers out on the street. The girl telling the story had lost her father a while earlier, and the 'close' friend had never laid flowers for him, or given any to her, yet embarked on this pilgrimage to do so for someone she only knew through the media. The mourners outside the stores, with their little post-it notes and their candles burning on an iPad screen - an image I honestly thought was from The Onion or the Daily Mash - reminded me of that story.

The free ebook experiment

Not sure it's conclusive yet, but a progress report nonetheless..

On 22nd September, we made One Step Closer, the first story from Nowhere To Go, a free stand-alone ebook as a sampler for the collection. A gateway drug that will draw readers in, give them a taste, and make them crave another hit of short crime fiction. One Step Closer won the Derringer award, is a decent short story, and I think it's reasonably representative of the rest of the stories in the collection. The experiment was to make it free, and see how well it worked as a promo for Nowhere To Go.

In the subsequent three weeks, One Step Closer has been downloaded over 10,000 times from Amazon. It's been the number one free short story across the whole of Amazon UK for just about three weeks solid. I'm surprised and pleased in equal measure.

Impact on sales of the short story collection?

Pretty much zero, to date, but it might be early days, and I don't know how many of those 10,000 copies have been read. Given my suspicions that free stuff gets hoarded, I don't know how many of those 10,000 copies will ever be read. We'll see.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


Bernadette Rowan, 10 August 1932-30 September 2011.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Shelter by James Everington - Review

When I was growing up, I lived opposite a field with horses in it. In the dragging, oppressive heat of late summer, in the minutes before  a thunderstorm, they'd charge around the field like mad things, breathing hard, eyes wild. They knew the storm was coming.

The first half of The Shelter has that kind of feel. Everington is excellent at evoking a mounting sense of unease, turning to dread, that close, oppressive feeling when everything is still and ordinary, but the whole world is filled with the sense that something huge and terrible is just about to happen. The Shelter is set in late summer, in the heat and boredom of the long school holiday that I can remember from my own childhood, adventures in woods punctuated by occasional casual, random violence of  older kids. A group of teenagers at that confused, angry transition between childhood and an adulthood not yet understood, set out across the fields and woods  to explore an old air-raid shelter. The tension builds and builds, and then terror ensues, and that's the second success of this impressive novella.

Horror fiction often disappoints me, as the suspense and dread rises, but then you see the monster, that it? The terror in The Shelter is mostly unseen, and mostly revealed through the actions of others, and as a result is far more unsettling and interesting. Just enough is explained, and more importantly for me, just enough is not, and all of this happens within a confident and controlled narrative and natural, convincing dialogue.

One of the best things about the growth of the ebook market is that it's far easier for writers to make available stories that might previously have been deemed 'uncommercial' in length, and this is a perfect example. The Shelter can be read in one sitting, which I think is one of the virtues of horror fiction at shorter than novel length, as the atmosphere can be sustained. Don't start it though if you have something to do, as you won't want to stop until you've finished.

Everington's The Other Room was one of the most impressive debut collections that I've read in some time, and The Shelter follows this up and takes it further, and would absolutely not be out of place in any print anthology. Start reading James Everington now, so when he's a star of the genre you can be smug about the fact that you've been reading him from the start.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

One Step Closer

We've made One Step Closer, the opening story from Nowhere To Go, free on Amazon from today as a taster for the collection. One Step Closer was first published in Hardluck Stories, and won the Derringer Award for best short story.

It's currently the number one free book in the Kindle short story charts on Amazon UK (eighth in the US), and it's ranked 126 across all free content for Kindle in the UK.

Interesting stuff, but will it draw people into shelling out for the collection? Time will tell.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Gimme Shelter

Regular readers will know that I've raved before about James Everington's collection of strange and scary fiction, The Other Room (Amazon US | UK), one of the most promising debuts I've read in a long, long time.

James has just released a new novella, The Shelter (Amazon US | UK, Smashwords), a story of four friends in a hazy, lazy summer at the end of the Eighties. They go in search of a rumoured WWII air raid shelter, and when they find it...well, you'll have to read the book to find out.

It's also got an excellent cover that is disturbing and makes me not want to look at it for too long.

I've just grabbed a copy from Amazon, and I'm really looking forward to it. You'll find a review here soonish. (It pre-dates The Shelter, but you can also read an interview I did with James here).

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Innsmouth Look

Nice - and in-depth - review of Nowhere To Go posted at Innsmouth Free Press.

(Quite taken by: ' The story evokes the teenage wasteland of A Clockwork Orange, but if anything, it’s bleaker' and ' Rowan’s world is dark and pitiless'.)

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

We're all in this toge--actually, no, we're not

Two Tory peers who were jailed for fraudulently claiming thousands of pounds of parliamentary expenses have been released early after serving only a quarter of their sentences. (Guardian

I wonder if daft kids who stole a bottle of water through an already-broken shop window in the riots get the same consideration.

Actually, that's a lie. I don't.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Circus of the Grand Design and Infinities

Robert Freeman Wexler is an excellent and dazzlingly imaginative writer, and his book Circus of the Grand Design has just been re-released via infinity plus ebooks. You can read much more about the novel over at Keith Brooke's blog, but check this out for a quote, from the excellent Graham Joyce.
“Robert Wexler is an author who walks between the sea and the sand. He has a genius for configuring the state between waking and dreaming, and the delicious anxiety of never confirming which of these states presides. It’s a superb trick, used to brilliant effect in Circus Of The Grand Design.”
– Graham Joyce

In other infinity plus news, the sampler/catalogue/book of rare delights Infinities is now free at Amazon, and currently #2 in the genre anthology charts. 100, 000 words of short fiction and novel extracts from:

Eric Brown, John Grant, Anna Tambour, Keith Brooke, Garry Kilworth, Iain Rowan, Kaitlin Queen, Linda Nagata, Scott Nicholson, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Steven Savile.

All free. Check it out.

Stories from Nowhere To Go #2 - Chairman of the Bored

The August riots in the UK prompted a lot of soul-searching about what it was that caused a local protest to flare up into something which drew hundreds, thousands of people on to the streets.

A lot of this debate missed something very important, in my opinion. A lot of the people were on the streets not because they were making a socio-political statement about Coalition policy, and not because they were feral career criminals doing the bidding of their gang leaders. A lot of people were on the streets because tearing stuff up is a buzz. It's fun. It's a thrill. Don't take this to imply approval of any kind, but to pretend that this isn't the case is just sticking your head in the sand and ignoring human nature. A lot of kids throwing stuff at the police were doing it for the same reason that men in their thirties organise fights down back-alleys on match day.

They get a buzz out of it. It's not dull. A lot of life is. This isn't. It makes them feel alive.

In an otherwise routine life, transgressing the rules, doing something wicked, has a charge to it, a powerful feeling of freedom and control in a life in which, day to day, control is largely absent. Doesn't make it right. But it makes it happen.

Chairman Of The Bored is a story told into a tape recorder by a boy. He's making the tape for a reason you'll find out about if you read the story. He's a smart boy, with a very low tolerance for boredom, and quite possibly the most broken, disturbing character that I've ever written. He starts the story by explaining that although everyone will assume he's done the terrible things he's done because of some trauma in his life, abuse or bullying or drugs, that's not the case. He's had a good upbringing, a loving family. The reason he does what he does, has something in common with why otherwise ordinary people decided on a spot of looting and assault.

So, I've got none of the usual excuses you lot trot out. But I am still a bad lad. I've done bad things to good people. And I didn't do them because I was damaged, mad, poor, a victim. Generally, I just did them because I was fucking bored. 
Take the first time I killed someone. 
I was messing about in a factory unit on the industrial estate. I'd been piss bored, gone out for a stroll, ended up there, and thought hey, that looks like a challenge. There was nothing there that I really wanted, but that wasn't the point. I got two storeys up a fire escape and onto the flat roof, and then in through a skylight that didn't fit properly. I wandered the factory a bit, looking at the machines. They made doors there, the white plastic ones that people put in when they get double glazing. Imagine, spending your whole life making the same door, day after day. Can you imagine that? Well that's how life feels to me. Day after fucking day. 
Thinking that it wouldn't be a proper burglary if I didn't nick something, I went to the office and found a few quid in the petty cash. I considered taking a laptop but I couldn't be bothered, I don't get on with computers, they go wrong and tell you that it's your fault, and I hate that. In the end I had a brilliant idea. Mam was always complaining about our microwave at home not working properly, and it was her birthday coming up. I found a little kitchen and they had a good one in there, 800 watts, and not minging dirty either. I thought I'd clean it up a bit, stick it in a box and she'd be happy as larry. It weighed a fucking ton but I was so pleased with my good idea, I didn't let that put me off. 
I was about to climb down the fire escape again, when I saw movement. I flattened myself against the roof and peered down. Some fat bloke poured into a turd-brown security guard's outfit was peering in windows and trying door handles. Must have been an alarm. He didn't seem to have thought of the fire escape, though. He was losing his hair, a big bald patch expanding out from the crown of his head, just to add to his other problems, and for a minute, hanging my head over the edge there looking down on him, I was really tempted to gob on it. Instead, I tracked him around the building, lugging the microwave with me, waiting to see if he would go away. He was a few yards from the bottom of the fire escape, and although he was bound to be stupid, what with doing the job he did, even a rentacop like him might put two and two together once he'd seen that all the doors and windows were secure. And I was getting bored up there. 
In physics, we'd learnt about the scientific method. You know, you form a hypothesis, based on observations of the world around you. And then you carry out an experiment designed to test whether your hypothesis is true. That's what's led to progress and the advance of the human race through history, we were told. So I thought to myself, hypothesis: if I drop this microwave off this roof now, it'll kill the fucker. Force of gravity, inertia, momentum, metres per second, blah blah blah. So I did, and so it did. QED. I bought me mam some slippers instead.
Read the rest in my collection of eleven crime stories: Nowhere To Go, available now on Amazon and Smashwords, price slashed throughout September.

(previously: A Walk In The Park).

Monday, 12 September 2011

Forty Noises That Built Pop

This is a lot of fun. Wouldn't be the same without the samples. #35 is right though. The Yamaha DX7 is the piano sound that Satan uses for the muzak in hell. (Over the top of gated reverb drums a la 29)

Writers talk about writing - Darren Sant

Darren Sant is a mixed up soul. He writes dark tales but inside of him there is a kitten that always wants to give the reader a happy ending.  Extensive shock therapy should eventually cure him of this. Darren's a relative newcomer to publishing, but I've had the pleasure of reading a couple of his short stories recently, and am sure we're going to hear a lot more from Darren. In 'A Good Day', the first of his stories set on the Longcroft Estate, he shows a strong eye for telling detail, and easy, natural dialogue. His disreputable protagonist scams and robs his way through most of the story, manages to find some redemption, but there's a nice touch at the end which keeps him well in character. 'Community Spirit' explores the Longcroft further, and is a heart-warming little story about the neighbours turning out with more than a cup of sugar, and some very pointed political grafitti. It's going to be interesting to read more of the stories as they come out and flesh out more of what I'm sure is going to be a very productive and gritty setting. As regular readers will know, I do like a bit of flash fiction, and Darren's also turned out some nasty little tales of revenge in his flash fiction compilation.

Anyway, on with the interview:

We're in a lift, I'm someone important (come on, pretend), you've got thirty seconds (tall building, slow lift) to tell me about your latest book.

Tales from the Longcroft Estate will be a series of stories all set in the fictional Longcroft housing estate. The first story A Good Day Amazon US | UK) deals with a man who is a drug addict. He doesn’t work and spends his time trying to get the money for his next hit by criminal means. He begins to notice flash cars that don’t belong on the streets of the Longcroft turning up outside of his flat.  His new neighbours seem somewhat quiet and mysterious in a place where everyone knows each other’s business. He makes a surprising discovery that eventually leads him to a moral dilemma.  Does he do the right thing or seek personal gain?  You could say the story is a morality tale that looks at that idea that all people have a shot at redemption.  The question is do we take that shot or go for the gold?

Uh-oh. Not sure lifts are meant to stop suddenly between floors like this. Guess we've got a bit more time. Ignore the flickering lights and creaking sounds above us. Would you like to tell me about other books or stories that you have available?

The second Longcroft tale, Community Spirit (Amazon US | UK), has already gone to the publishers for final edit. In addition I am excited to say that Trestle Press also have a collection of short stories of mine to publish soon called Flashes of Revenge.  This is six short, very different, stories all based around the broad theme of revenge.

Short stories by me can be found in Byker Books excellent Radgepacket series volumes four and five.

The ePocalypse: emails at the end which is an anthology published by Pill Hill Press featuring a collaborative story with Nick Boldock and myself is available in paperback or on kindle (US | UK).

I have short stories published on various excellent online magazines such as The Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Thrillers Killers ‘N’ Chillers and Pulp Metal.

Please stop repeatedly pressing the emergency button. The comment about building a ladder of bones to reach the ceiling hatch and get out of here was just blue-skies thinking. So, what are you working on now?

I’m working on a collaborative story with a sci-fi flavour with Giovanni Gelati of Trestle Press.  I have a story going in a crime themed anthology that will be out soon.

I am working on more Longcroft tales on an ongoing basis.

The Longcroft Estate sounds like a lovely place to live. Tell us about it.

The Longcroft Estate is like every other large housing estate you have ever visited. The only difference being that you, the reader, get a birds eye view of the action.

There are good people doing bad things and bad people doing good things.  Bailiffs, loan sharks, repo men and football hooligans populate its streets. You can have a beer in the Red Lion.  You can have a kebab at the Kebab King.  If you like a flutter there is always You Better You Bet the bookies. The Longcroft is a place for the shades of grey not just the black and white. Every street corner and every alleyway tells a story.

A lot of your stories deal with people living on the edges. What draws you to that, rather than other kinds of crime fiction?

I suppose it’s the fact that people who have fallen on hard times are more desperate. They can be more unpredictable due to the stresses they are under. The blurred edges away from the conventional likes of me that work nine to five. Am I really more than a few pay packets away from being a thief myself?  To committing a desperate acts to help feed my family? I’ve studied sociology, psychology and counselling. I even did voluntary work for the Samaritans for two years. So it is fair to say I am interested in people and what motivates them.  Part of me wants to help.  Another part, the storyteller, wants to entertain and explore ideas.

What pushes your buttons in crime fiction? Conversely, what bugs you?

 I’m fairly new to the crime fiction scene to be honest.  What pushes my buttons in any fiction is a good story told at a good pace with interesting lively, unpredictable characters. What bugs me is over long clunky stories that dwell too much upon things not essential to the plot.  Sometimes the reader wants a light lunch not a ten-course banquet.

In your own writing, what do you think you do well, and what do you wish you could do better?

I think all writers have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to their own work. I believe that I do well with pace.  I can tell a story in relatively few words and it doesn’t meander needlessly. I wish that I could characterise better.  Since I write short stories and have yet to work on a novel my stories tend to be plot driven.  Taking that fantastic writer Ian Ayris as an example he can build a character very quickly with a strong voice and still makes it a short, sharp punchy story.

Can you remember what made you sit down to write your first book or story?

This is an easy one for me.  I’ve been an avid writer since the age of about ten.  I love all kinds of fiction and ever since I first picked up a book I’ve wanted to be able to create the magic that has always captivated me so much.

Do you have a book or story that you're very fond of, but you think should get more attention from the world than it has.

I know it has always had a cult following and now a feature film but for me Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series deserves more attention than it gets.  I like writers who can make me think. Adam’s made me laugh and think at the same time, a rare gift.  A man who summed up the now old fashioned idea of an Englishman in a way no one before or since has been able to.  By that I mean he had a terrific grasp of our humour, irony and our thought processes.  Another genius that left this mortal coil too soon.

Print publishing is a doomed but still predatory dinosaur rotting from the feet up. Ebook publishing is the vomiting out of the world's slushpiles onto the market. In the ongoing war of words and hyperbole, where's the happy medium to be found? Where do you think the publishing business is heading over the next few years, and what are you doing to be ready for it?

I think as with most things it will settle down and find a happy medium. Part of the problem over here has always been the mentality of the publishers. The big publishers have always wanted to have their cake and eat it. It’s all about the money now and not the big picture.  Well, life and writing is not that simple.  Some things don’t easily fit into a genre. Just because vampire fiction might be popular doesn’t mean that is all readers want to see. Some fiction is different, speculative but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth putting out there. They have been too rigid for too long and now they are suffering because of it. They need to adapt and to speed up the way they work.

As for e-books I personally don’t care if they are not as well edited if it’s a great story. So long as it is isn’t awful and it’s been edited properly then I’m not a whinger. If you are paying 99p instead of £6.99 should you expect the same quality? It’s a point to be argued.  Pub meal mentality if you like. If I am paying £3.99 for Gammon and chips in my local pub I don’t expect the standards of the Ritz. E-books are giving writers a chance.  Ultimately it’s the reader who should be a judge of quality. If print publishers want to survive they will adapt to this new market with an open mind.

What book do you most wish that you had written?

If I could expand that to include a series of books. The Gunslinger series by Stephen King widely considered to be his Magnum Opus.  They have a bit of something for everyone and are a shining example of storytelling at its finest.

You're publishing ebooks now  - have you learned anything in that process?

Well those nice people at Trestle press do the hard work with regards editing my work and creating wonderful covers and helping to promote their authors. A very forward thinking publisher that are modern minded, approachable and nothing is too much trouble for that fine them.

As for what I’ve learned. I’ve learned that you have to get over your natural humbleness a little and sell, sell, sell. The way I get over that is I tell myself that if I’ve taken a little slice of my life writing something then I owe it to myself to promote it.

Do you do much promotion for your books? What do you think is the most effective thing you've done?

I use most of the social networks to bring my work to other people’s attention. In terms of effectiveness I think being a sincere reader and avid vocal enjoyer of other peoples work has helped a lot. I have a little blog where I review other people work:

Daz’s Short Book Reviews over at  HYPERLINK

Writers are appreciative of a review and I like to be able to show my appreciation to someone that has entertained me a number of hours.

I also write as “Old Seth” over at  HYPERLINK
Seth has been known to do a few author interviews himself. I believe people appreciate the exposure and are happy to reciprocate. It’s a tough old market out there so why not help each other out as much as possible?

What is it that really pushes your buttons as a reader? 

I have a widely varied taste in reading.  The thing that I enjoy most is a good story well told however that is achieved. I don’t mind if it is character or action led if it speaks to me I will read it.  I have a soft spot for dystopian fiction. Now I’m reading more crime fiction than ever and am loving it at the moment.

If you could give an aspiring writer one piece of advice, what would it be?

Keep writing.  We don’t all have the thick skin of a rhino but forget the rejection and keep on writing. I’m a firm believer that if you practice long and hard enough at anything then you will find your niche and discover where your own talents lie.

If you could tell an aspiring writer to ignore one commonly given piece of advice, what would it be?

I think that the best judge of our character is ourselves.  If advice works then take it on board. No one needs me to tell them what to ignore because what wouldn’t work for me might work for them.

Are you 'out' as a writer of fiction with work colleagues/family, and if so, what reaction did you get?

I am begrudgingly “out” now yes. Everyone has been very supportive.  I can’t have asked for more support really.  

Gibbons or tigers? (NB this question is to help me in compiling my List of People Who Are Wrong).

Tigers of course.  They are sleek, powerful and stealthy. Tigers is the nickname of Hull’s football team so I’d be lynched if I didn’t pick Tigers.    

What inspires you as a writer?

I am inspired by events that are at odds with the ordinary.  I saw a woman wandering down the street the other day wearing only one shoe and carrying a saw.  Who wouldn’t want to understand how she came to be in that situation?  Curiosity inspires me.

Meticulous research is both enjoyable and important / what's the point in writing fiction if you can't just make stuff up - discuss.

Depending upon what you are writing research is important. However, it’s not necessarily essential. You don’t want to suck all the joy out of writing a great story for the one pedantic person who will pull you down on a silly little detail. The kind of short fiction I am writing at the moment doesn’t require extensive research. Writing about what you know is perhaps the best way for a writer to start anyway.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Interview technique

I've been interviewed before, but never like this. Check it out, over at Nigel Bird's Sea Minor (and while you're there, follow the links to check out Nigel's own fiction).

Radio silence

Lost this week to the flu. No, not manflu. Slowly resurfacing. Sorry to people if I've promised reviews, interviews etc. this week, normal (well as close as I ever get) service will be resumed next week.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Can you say sales when it's a free ebook?

I've had my short story Lilies available as a taster for Ice Age for some time. I thought Lilies was a good choice, I'm as proud of it as I am any story I've ever written, and it was reprinted in the Best New Horror antho so I'm not just being delusional. Also, it's very me, and if people don't like it, well, they'd probably not like the rest of Ice Age either.

Thought I'd try an experiment with it. I've got Amazon to make Lilies free, by dropping its price at Barnes and Noble and Apple (via Smashwords). Without any promotion from me, within a few hours it was in the Amazon UK bestsellers list for horror, in the top ten free books in the genre, and just outside the top hundred free books across all genres.

Which is all very nice, but earns me nothing more than a warm - and illusionary - glow. The whole point of making it free is to get it in front of lots of readers, some of whom might like it enough to go on and buy Ice Age, or Nowhere To Go.

Will it do that? No idea. It might be that free simply ends up with the story up on the Kindles of people who hoard freebies, thousands of stories, hardly any of the read. But it's got to be worth a try. I'll let you know how it works out.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

If you like classic ghost stories and chilling and macabre fiction, you'll love the magazine Supernatural Tales.

Editor David Longhorn has been producing it for over ten years, and it's recently published its nineteenth issue.

This one's the first to come out as an ebook, as well as in print.

ST's published the work of excellent authors like Gary McMahon, Mike Kelly, Joel Lane, Gary Fry, Michael Chislett, Steve Duffy, Chico Kidd, Reggie Oliver, Simon Strantzas and many others. (Disclosure, I'm one of the many others).


Couple of quick updates.

I've finally got around to setting up a proper mailing list. Sign up if you want very occasional emails about new books, price changes, freebies or other news about my writing. Sign-up form is at the top of the sidebar, over to the right there.

(edit: just found out that MailChimp requires you to show your home address to everyone subscribing. Bollocks to that. Link removed, back to the Olde Mailing List. Link in the Get In Touch box in the sidebar).

I've also started a list of links of stuff I read regularly, and interesting places to go. Again, check the sidebar. Regular readers, if you think I've missed something (or even worse, that I've missed you), then drop me a line.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Stories from Nowhere To Go #1 - A Walk In The Park

To go along with this month's promotion of Nowhere To Go, throughout September  I'm going to write a little about the eleven stories that make up the collection.

I've written a number of stories that grow out of a place, rather than an idea. A Walk In The Park and Nowhere To Go in this collection are both stories like that, as are the stories The Circular Path and Through The Window in my collection of weird/horror stories, Ice Age. A disused chapel, an empty rented house with an open window, part of a wood where the birds seem to suddenly hush and the silence is that of something terrible about to happen, the image comes first, and then the character and plot come out of that.

In the case of A Walk In The Park, the place was where I spent a lot of my life between eleven and eighteen. When I was eleven we moved to a small village in the Kent countryside, at the start of a long lane through the woods. If you followed the lane, the houses stopped after twenty yards, and the trees started. The lane ran under a disused railway viaduct, and past a small pumping station that to an eleven year old was a mysterious, blank-faced, humming place.

If you kept following it along the road for a couple of miles - and I did, a lot, because roaming the countryside on foot or on bike was how I spent a lot of my time - you passed a house set back from the road. The walls were topped with barbed wire, there was a security camera, and two Dobermans prowled the yard, going batshit crazy whenever you passed. Not your average house round those parts. Village rumour has it that the person who lived there was something to do with the Great Train Robbery. To this day, I have no idea whether this was true or not.

A Walk In The Park came from wondering who might live in a house like that, and who might want to pay them a visit. The characters came very quickly, and with them the plot. Not Dobermans though, in my story. Something different.

Mason's typical of the sort of character that I find interesting to write about. In the story, a London crime boss has brought in a hitman from Newcastle to pay a visit to an old acquaintance who is now hiding out in the Kent countryside. Mason's given the job of driving him down, keeping him company, and keeping him happy. I could have made him the boss' right hand man, his enforcer, a seasoned hard man himself.  Nah. Far more interesting to make him the gang's accountant.

"My job," Smith said. "So my rules. You stick it somewhere safe. You keep it there. You don't mess with it, you don't play around with it, you just keep it there in case I need a backup and ask you for it. You understand?"
"Sure, whatever you say. It's your operation."
"That it is. And one more thing." Smith still hadn't moved his face away. Mason could smell the coffee on his breath.
"You point it near me--anywhere near me--and I'll kill you. You understand?"
Mason swallowed. "Yes."
Mason thought about just leaving the gun in the car, but he didn't want Smith to think that he was afraid, so he got out of the car and leaned in the back door. He pulled the gun from under the seat and put it into his jacket pocket, trying to handle it as if it were something that he did every day. When he turned back, Smith was standing by the side of the road, as motionless and dark as one of the trees, holding his gun down at the side of one leg. In the darkness, it looked as if he was pointing an accusing finger at the ground.
At first as they walked down the road the silence pressed in on Mason like a weight. After a few moments though, he realised that it was not silent at all. He could hear skittering in the undergrowth to the side, rustlings in the trees as if their footsteps were disturbing whatever was sleeping there. From a little way off into the woods came a noise somewhere between a grunt and a cough that made him jump; he looked at Smith to see if the other man had seen but the killer was walking ahead now, with cautious, quiet steps. They had reached the house.
The two men slunk across the road and into the shadow of the fence. Mason noticed that when they moved, Smith held his gun up high to the side of his head, as if he were listening to it, like people do in films. He loves all this, Mason thought. I bet he's got a bookshelf full of books about special forces. They waited at the fence, peering into the darkness of the garden, listening.
"What you reckon then?" Mason whispered. "Dog?"
Smith took hold of the fence, rattled it gently, waited. Then shook his head. "Would come running," he muttered.
"Might be in the house."
Smith just held the pistol up, then pointed it into the darkness and mimed a shot. Mason looked away. Killing a man was one thing, that was business, but killing a dog was just cruel. He'd always had a dog when he was little. He remembered how he'd cried when his red setter Rusty, as dumb as a plank but his best friend in the whole world, had run into the path of a delivery van. Smith climbed over the fence and into the garden, and Mason followed him. As he went over, the fence creaked, and to Mason it sounded like a tree falling. They hesitated for a moment, but no lights came on in the house, no doors opened.
Smith waved towards the side of the house. They were going to go in round the back. The two of them stepped cautiously through the shadows, following the edge of the garden around the house, walking silent on the soft grass.

Crossing Paths

Crossing Paths is where photographer Niall Macdiarmid posts his street portrait photography.

It's the best example of this sort of thing that I've seen. The range of characters that Niall manages to find, from the cool to the ah, different, is fantastic, and the portraits look fantastic, really letting the person shine through.

Well worth a visit. The new site's only got a few photos on at the moment (it's moved from its previous location where there were more), but it's updated regularly.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Ebook pricing

A typically thoughtful post on ebook pricing over at Keith Brooke's blog.

"What concerns me is trying to find a model that rewards the writers and encourages good writers to write, rather than making it harder for that to happen."

Thursday, 1 September 2011

flash fiction - Got My Dancing Shoes On

Left, left, right back and right and back and slide, slide, left, and stamp. No, no, should have been right. Fuck it.

I kicked the rail on the side of the game, then looked around to see if the old sod or one of his gimpy sons had seen me do it. The three of them gave me the creeps. They all looked like they come from the fifties, quiffs and that, like Elvis, and stank of cigarette smoke and oil. They didn’t like kids thumping the machines in the arcade, and I was barred from too many of the others to risk getting thrown out of this one.

The man was leaning against an Addams Family pinball machine, watching me. I didn’t know how long he had been standing there.

“Good dancer,” he said.

“Done better,” I said. And I had. When I was really giving it some, I was top of the high scores. And if someone else beat me then I'd find the money from somewhere to stay on the machine until I beat them.

“You must practice a lot,” he said.

I ignored him. Blokes that hung around the kids in the arcades, well. Some of them were just simple, kids themselves in grown-up bodies. Others, they were grown up all right, and they wanted grown-up things.

“Got very quick feet,” he said.

“The best,” I said. “You a pervert, then?”

He went red, looked quickly around to see if anyone had heard. “No, no, I’m not.” Meant nothing, but at least he knew that if he was, I had him made.

“Give us a quid then.”

He thought about it for a moment, and then fished in his pocket and held out a coin. I went to take it and he pulled it back so I couldn’t get it. Here we go, I thought. But he surprised me.

“It’s for the dance game,” he said. “You can’t take it and spend it on whatever. I want to see you put it in the game.”

“Whatever turns you on,” I said. Not like I could do much else with just a pound, is it.

So I danced, and he watched. Most likely got his kicks from it, but at least I got to dance. And I was good. Got in the rhythm, got in the trance, when I’m dancing like that there’s nothing else in the world. And in my world, that’s a good thing.

I danced, he watched, and every so often he handed over some more money.

“I think that’s enough,” he said in the end.

I pulled a face. If I got in the high score top ten one more time, it would just be my name, over and over.

“Tell you what,” he said. “Instead, I’ll buy you a coffee, and we’ll sit down and have a little chat.”

You know what happens when you hit one of the machines too hard, or tilt it? Alarm goes off, loud as anything, and the old man or one of his sons comes over and kicks you out. Bar you from the arcade, if you do it enough. Anyway, my alarm went off, just like that. Coffee and a chat? Not a chance.

“See you,” I said, and I jumped off the game and walked away.

“No,” he said, “Please, wait.”

But I was away down past the slot machines and the air hockey tables, and through the big glass doors that opened out on to the empty night.

A little further down the road, I found a ciggy lying on the pavement, only half smoked. I picked it up, and fished about in my pocket for my lighter. Then there were footsteps behind me, and I turned around quick because I knew who they would belong to.

He held his hands up, look, I’m no harm, me. Smiled, even. “It’s ok. I just want to talk to you.”

“Aye, that’s what they all say.” I’d seen kids from the arcades go off with men like him before. We all knew the score. I’d done some things to get more money for the machine, I tell you, but I hadn’t done that. Had thought about it, once, but I robbed a few quid off these younger kids instead.

He took one step closer, and another. “Look, all I’m asking—“ he said, and then he didn’t say anything else because I kicked him hard in the balls and he went down on the pavement like someone had folded him up.

I looked around quickly to see if anyone was watching, but the street was empty. Round here, chances are they’d have turned and walked off anyway.

“Fucking pervert,” I said, and then I kicked him. Only meant to do it a couple of times, but then I felt the rhythm and I followed it, Left, left, right back and right and back and slide, slide, right, and stamp.

Fair out of breath when I was done. Not as much as he was, mind.

Went through his pockets. Found thirty quid in cash, some plastic I could sell for fifty a card, a picture of some woman with a nose twice as big as it should have been, and a load of leaflets about Jesus and some shelter place for kids on the street. Looks like he wasn’t a pervert after all. Ah well. How’s a girl supposed to know?

I stopped off at a corner shop, bought a litre of vodka and sixty Lamberts, got a bus into town, and headed for the arcade by the bus station. Wasn’t barred from there either. Got my dancing shoes on tonight.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

September offer on short crime fiction collection

In a literally unrepeatable, never to be seen again, one time only offer[1], you can get the same eleven acclaimed crime stories in my collection Nowhere To Go for only one third of the usual price. Throughout September, Nowhere To Go is down from the usual price of $2.99 to just 99c/86p at Amazon.

Eleven stories originally published in magazines like Hitchcocks and Ellery Queen's. A collection that includes a story that won the Derringer Award for Best Short Story, and a story that ended up as the start of a novel shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger award.

Look out for posts here throughout September on each of the stories in the collection: what the inspiration was behind each story, what I learned from writing them, what's happened to the stories since original publication, violence in the bucolic Kent countryside, why not to get stuck beside me during a bank robbery, and how to avoid some of the all-time classic con tricks.

Nowhere To Go, just 99c/86p throughout September. Get it while it's hot.

Here's what some kind people have said:
"During the five years that I published Hardluck Stories, One Step Closer and Moth were two of my favorite stories. I loved the nuances and true heartfelt emotion that Iain filled his stories with, and Iain quickly became a must read author for me--everything I read of Iain's had this tragic, and sometimes, horrific beauty filling it, and was guaranteed to be something special."
(Dave Zeltserman, author of Outsourced, and Washington Post best books of year Small Crimes and Pariah)
"A short story writer of the highest calibre."
(Allan Guthrie, author of Top Ten Kindle Bestseller Bye Bye Baby, winner of Theakston's Crime Novel of the Year)
"Iain Rowan is both a meticulous and a passionate writer, and these stories showcase his ample talent wonderfully well. You owe it to yourself to discover Rowan's fiction if you haven't already had the pleasure."
(Jeff Vandermeer, author of Finch, Shriek:An Afterword, City of Saints and Madmen; two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award)
"Iain Rowan's stories never fail to surprise and delight, and just when you think you know what will happen next, you realize how much you've been caught unaware."
(Sarah Weinman, writer, critic, reviewer, columnist for the Los Angeles Times and News Editor for Publishers Marketplace)

[1] literally not meant literally