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Sunday, 30 December 2012

52 Songs...53 Stories - closedown

[EDIT: Now available as an ebook]



The fifty-second and last week of 52 Songs, 52 Stories. Which, due to the vagaries of the calendar, and my timing, turns out to be 53 stories. The fifty-third, and last, story: Closedown. It's been a slog at times, when inspiration has seemed very far away, and a lot else has been going on, but I am pleased that I stuck with it to the end.

Thank you very much for reading, those who have followed it throughout 2012.

The complete list of stories/songs:

Why Don't You Kill Yourself (The Only Ones)
Never Tell (Violent Femmes)
Sexyback (Justin Timberlake)
Psychokiller (Talking Heads)
Love Songs On The Radio (Mojave 3)
Caught By The River (The Doves)
Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants (Wild Beasts)
Sabotage (Beastie Boys)
Waiting For The Man (Velvet Underground)
These Days (Nico)
Come Inside (My Bloody Valentine)
4' 33" (John Cage)
Poems (Tricky)
The Grey Ship (EMA)
Way Down In The Hole (Tom Waits)
Invocation (...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead)
Angel (Massive Attack)
We're No Here (Mogwai)
Lucky You (The National)
Everything Trying (Damien Jurado)
Wolf Like Me (TV On The Radio)
Sad and Beautiful World (Sparklehorse)
Walk Away (Sisters Of Mercy)
Jimmy James (Beastie Boys)
Feeling Yourself Disintegrate (The Flaming Lips)
Someday I Will Treat You Good (Sparklehorse)
Keep On Knocking (Death)
TV Eye (The Stooges)
Elephant Gun (Beirut)
Admiral (King Creosote)
I See A Darkness (Johnny Cash)
Clandestin (Fatoumata Diawara)
The Boy Done Wrong Again (Belle and Sebastian)
Don't Ask Me To Dance (Arab Strap)
What We Gained In The Fire (The Mynabirds)
Four Ton Mantis (Amon Tobin)
A Grand Love Theme (Kid Loco)
Police And Thieves (Junior Murvin)
Seventeen Seconds (The Cure)
The Piano (PJ Harvey)
My Autumn's Done Come (Lee Hazlewood)
Blackout (Anna Calvi)
Come In Alone (My Bloody Valentine)
The Beast (The Only Ones)
Feathers and Down (The Cardigans)
Coward (Vic Chesnutt)
The Dead Part Of You (American Music Club)
Twins (Gem Club)
The Drowning Man (The Cure)
Daft Punk Are Playing At My House (LCD Soundsystem)
Hell Is Round The Corner (Tricky)
Beginning Of A Great Adventure (Lou Reed)
Closedown (The Cure)


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Writers Talk About Writing - Leigh Russell

It's been a while since I've posted my series of author interviews here.

So let's put that right, with an interview with Leigh Russell, author of a bestselling series of crime novels featuring Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel. Barry Forshaw, the UK’s leading expert on crime fiction, says Leigh’s books “take the reader into the darkest recesses of the human psyche” although Leigh claims she has never killed anyone.

I've linked to the Amazon UK versions of all of Leigh's books (apart from STOP DEAD, which is out later this month), but you can find links to other versions, audiobooks, large print versions and more at  Leigh's website.

Now, 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.

STOP DEAD is the second of the London novels in the Geraldine Steel series. Once again the reader follows Geraldine Steel’s search for a killer who proves to be elusive as well as deadly. The only clues the police have to the killer’s identity are two samples of DNA found at the crime scenes.  The first of these matches the DNA of a woman who has been in prison for twenty years, the second is from a woman who has been dead for two years. This makes no sense, but Geraldine has to solve the mystery if she is to find the killer who has embarked on a killing spree.  STOP DEAD is available to download from 21st December, and will be out in print in 2013.

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 first three books in the series are set in Kent. CUT SHORT was shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award for Best First Novel, ROAD CLOSED was chosen as a Top Read on Eurocrime, and DEAD END was voted Best Crime Novel of 2011 by readers in a poll on Crime Time. In DEATH BED my detective relocates to London. In each of the books she is struggling to track down a killer.

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?

Initially my publisher offered me a three book deal for the Geraldine Steel series. Those three books all went on to become international bestsellers so my publisher signed me up for another three books in the series. STOP DEAD is the fifth, so I’m currently working on the sixth. I’m meeting my publisher in a few weeks’ time to discuss our next contract and I’m hoping he’ll ask for three more Geraldine Steel novels. If he doesn’t… I know where he lives (cue evil laughter)

You have taught a course on crime fiction to your students. If you had to pick just five books to put on a set text list, what would they be and why?

CUT SHORT, ROAD CLOSED, DEAD END, DEATH BED and STOP DEAD – because I would be able to share something about the process of writing the series, which they might find interesting. At the moment we are looking at Ian Rankin, Simon Beckett, and Alexander McCall Smith, which offer a wide range of settings and styles. Last year I used Wilkie Collins, Conan Doyle and Ian Rankin, looking at the development of crime fiction since the nineteenth century.

You've written a long-running series with your Geraldine Steel books. Do you ever feel constrained by her when you are writing, or will you be sad to someday let her go?

Before I started, I would have thought it was easier to write from the point of view of a detective than a killer.  The opposite proved to be the case when I was writing my debut, CUT SHORT. My detective has to behave in a way that readers find credible. I have a lot of fans on the police force, and try to make her as authentic as possible in her professional as well as her private life. So I did feel constrained by her when I started writing. With my killers on the other hand, I have always been able to allow my imagination free rein. As the series has gone on, I have got to know Geraldine and it will certainly be strange when the series comes to an end and I have to let her go. But there is still a way to go before then, as my plan is to write twenty books in the Geraldine Steel series.

One of your secondary characters has taken centre stage, and may well be starring in a series of his own. Can you tell us a little more about him?

Ian Peterson is a character I have liked from his first appearance in CUT SHORT. Like Geraldine, I’ve tried to make him fairly normal, the kind of bloke everyone would know or be able to relate to.  I tend to save the peculiar quirks of character for my minor characters, and my killers. As Geraldine’s supporting sergeant, Ian Peterson has become quite a popular character in his own right so I’m currently exploring the possibility of a spin off series with him as the protagonist.

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

It’s not for me to say whether I do this well, but I enjoy creating characters. The Times critic, Marcel Berlins, described my writing as “psychologically acute” and Peter James wrote that STOP DEAD has “a deeply human voice”. Barry Forshaw said that my books “take the reader into the darkest recesses of the human psyche.” I’m not quite sure how I get there!
There are lots of things I wish I could do better – everything in fact! Location is probably my weakest point. In DEAD END my detective moves around the country and the scenes described are as far apart as Whitstable and Scarborough.  In DEATH BED, real locations in North London are described. I worked quite hard to show those locations to my readers.

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

Yes. CUT SHORT grew out of an idea that occurred to me while walking through my local park. It was a rainy day and the park was deserted.  There is a tangled copse of trees and shrubs on one side of the path, opposite a children’s playground. As I approached the trees, a man appeared around a bend in the path, walking towards me.  I wondered what I would do if I walked on and saw a body in the bushes.  Afterwards I would be able to identify the man who had been there in the park, the man who had killed a woman and left her body in the bushes. I walked on, and of course there was no body in the bushes, but the idea stayed with me and when I got home I began to write the story down.  That turned into the first draft for CUT SHORT which went on to be shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award for Best First Novel.

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?

Sales of e-books have overtaken sales of print books in the UK this year. It took 4 years for that to happen in the US. Here in the UK it has taken just 2 years.  Even Waterstones, our largest remaining bookshop chain, is aggressively marketing kindles instead of championing print books.  Not that there’s anything wrong with e-readers. On the contrary, they seem to be encouraging people to read more. There’s a place for both e-books and print books, and as long as people are reading, the medium doesn’t really matter. My only concern is that if too few people buy print books, they will stop being financially viable. Books, bookshops, libraries and publishers will disappear.  There is no question the publishing world is changing very fast, and it’s difficult to predict where it will be a year from now.

What book do you most wish that you had written?

There are too many to list! To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, The Remains of the Day, 1984… the list is endless.

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

It’s character for me every time. If I don’t care about the characters in a book although I may still enjoy the story, it won’t really grip me.

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

Write for its own sake. Being published is very exciting and gratifying, but the real buzz is writing. If you write just because you want to be offered a publishing deal, you are likely to be disappointed.

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

‘Write what you know’ always strikes me as very limiting. It hardly makes sense, unless the phrase was dreamed up by someone who writes non-fiction. What’s wrong with imagining events and settings? Isn’t that the definition of fiction? I don’t suppose JK Rowling has personal experience of riding on a broomstick, any more than I have experienced what it feels like to kill someone.

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

To begin with I kept fairly quiet about my writing but as the series has become so successful, it has become impossible to conceal, even though I write under a pseudonym. The reaction has been very supportive and positive, and there still seems to be a lot of kudos attached to being a traditionally published author.

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

I try to make my books believable as I think that makes them more frightening. This involves a lot of research, if the stories are going to seem authentic.  With this in mind, I consult a host of people including police officers, fire officers, and medical and forensic experts. I’ve spent time with a murder investigation team and a team of firemen, and taken advice from many police officers, a professor of forensic medicine, the human remains department at the National History Museum… the list goes on…. At the same time my plots and characters are all fictitious and I have fun making stuff up.

People who are shortlisted for a CWA Dagger are just the nicest people, aren't they?

I’m not going to argue with that! Thank you very much for interviewing me here.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Instant gratification

Bought it yesterday. Can't have it for five weeks. My inner child has a pet lip so large it's a trip hazard.

Still, isn't she lovely.



Friday, 16 November 2012

The Hoard



Alan Ryker, our founding Abominable Gentleman,  has a new book out: The Hoard.

You should read it.

In paperback (UK, US) or in ebook (UK, US, R'yleh)

Friday, 2 November 2012

Penny Dreadnought - now in print



The mighty Penny Dreadnought Omnibus edition is now available in print, from Amazon in the US and UK. Ebook version also available, as are versions in illuminated manuscript, stone tablets, encrypted cipher, and small man called Pierre who has memorised it all.

Inside the beautiful covers you will find all sixteen of the stories from the first four volumes, and a bonus gallery of the cover art that might have been, but never was.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Hell on halloween

The scariest thing you will see all night.



Have a good halloween everyone.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Spooks, of all kinds


I've just finished watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the seven part BBC series from 1980, with Alec Guinness as George Smiley. Fantastic production, smeared with 70s drear (and everybody smoking, all the time. Funny how that stands out so much now). Very little in the way of action, but full of suspense all the way through: a difference that a lot of modern TV drama could well do with understanding. Brilliant acting, from a stellar cast, and a script which crackles with wit, double meaning and things left unsaid.

High on my Christmas list is another DVD box set. This one's a compilation of BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas, a few of which I have in various states of crackly VHS transfers, and a few of which I have on BFI DVD. This though, is how they should have been released a long time ago. The Signalman, Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You, A Warning To The Curious, and more. 

And while I am on a horror theme, I really enjoyed Mark Gatiss' three part series A History of Horror. A follow-up's coming at the end of October, this one a feature length documentary on European horror. From Murnau's Nosferatu to del Toro. Perfect Halloween viewing. 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Festivus

Regular readers may remember a little while ago that a very short story of mine won the Flashbang competition for a crime story in 150 words or less.

The prize for the winner was a pair of tickets to CrimeFest, and I'm now booking my hotel and that sort of thing, and seeing who else is going to be there and getting quite excited, even though it's over half a year away.

Although I've been writing for quite a while, this is actually the first con-type thing I've ever been to, so it should be a lot of fun. For years I've half-planned to get to Harrogate, not least because it's reasonably close, but it usually falls at a time of year when it's very hard for me to take leave.

I've also had a long-standing reluctance to go to a festival or con before I had a novel published, on account of feeling like a fraud. I know, I know, but that's the way my head works. A good time to have gone would have been after the Debut Dagger nomination and when I was signed up with Gregory & Co, but it didn't quite work out.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to it, and if you see me there, say hello.



Thursday, 27 September 2012

Off The Record 2: At The Movies

Out now, Off the Record 2. An anthology of stories inspired by film titles. All proceeds to charity. A bunch of fantastic writers. What's not to like?

Do you like short stories? Do you like films? Do you like doing good things that help with child literacy?

Of course you do. So you'll love Off The Record 2: At The Movies, a second anthology of short stories put together by Luca Veste and Paul D Brazill to raise money for the National Literacy Trust in the UK, and the Children's Literacy Initiative in the US. The 47 stories are all inspired by a film title, and the line-up is just stellar.




Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The *real* news today

Today, a shameful cover-up and conspiracy has finally been brought into the light.

The police and ambulance service, politicians, and press, conspired to lie to cover up their failings and complicity in the deaths of 96 people. For twenty-three years, this terrible, shameful lie has persisted, despite the efforts of the families to uncover what really happened

Finally, the truth has come out, one of the biggest national scandals of the last quarter century, surely it's such dramatic news that it would take over the front pages of some of the biggest newspapers in the country...


BUT FUCK THAT, THERE'S A NEW IPHONE OUT!





Monday, 27 August 2012

Fifty-two stories

Just a reminder that my project 52 Songs, 52 Stories is still rumbling along, publishing a new story each week inspired by a song.

This week's story comes from the Mynabirds' song 'What We Gained In The Fire' and you can read it here.

By my reckoning, it's the thirty-sixth story so far this year. Each pretty much written on the spot, maybe tinkered with for a minute or two, and then published. Which is quite liberating, and one of the best things I have got out of this is that I know for sure that even if I feel bereft of all inspiration, I can sit down and force myself to it and lo, after a little while, inspiration comes along. That's something I really need to keep in mind.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Um, what?

Received an email from Amazon yesterday, telling me that I have to confirm that I have the rights to distribute Ice Age, or to get the rights holder to contact them direct.

The email manages to both threaten that if I don't do this within five days my book will be pulled, and to tell me that the book has been pulled already (which doesn't appear to be true), which doesn't exactly fill me with confidence either.

So I've emailed them back to point out that they have sent their email to Iain Rowan, who is holder of the Amazon KDP account in the name of Iain Rowan, asking him to prove that he has the rights to the book Ice Age by Iain Rowan, which is a collection of short stories, each and every one by...Iain Rowan.

So essentially, they have asked me to get in touch with myself and ask myself if I am prepared to allow myself the rights to distribute the book that I wrote, and then get back to them and tell them that I do in fact agree with myself.

Which seems a really sensible use of all our time.



Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Booker...not

Well, that's nice. Thanks to some kind people my novel One of Us is on the long list for the Guardian's Not The Booker Prize.

If you've read One of Us and have a Guardian account and can be arsed to write a short review over there, then that might help it onto the final shortlist. Instructions on how to do that are in the article above.

As a reward for even thinking about it, here's a picture of me for you to cut out and keep.


Friday, 6 July 2012

Wait long enough, and four come along at once.


If you have missed out on the Penny Dreadnought series, or if you haven't but you're a bit weird and would like to buy them all over again, the Penny Dreadnought Omnibus is out now.

It brings together all the stories from the first four volumes of Penny Dreadnought, and gives you sixteen stories of the strange and the frightening and the really rather weird, together with bonus cover art from the estimable yet abominable Mr Ryker.

You can find the Omnibus edition at Amazon UK, Amazon US, and at places where the fabric of the world tears, ever so slightly, and the dark comes in. Not sure that they take Amazon vouchers there though, only cash and your soul. Maybe major credit cards too.


‘Lilies’ - Iain Rowan
‘Cargo’ - Aaron Polson
‘First Time Buyers’ - James Everington
‘Invasion of the Shark-Men’ - Alan Ryker
‘Falling Over’ by James Everington
‘All the Pretty Yellow Flowers’ by Aaron Polson
‘Ice Age’ by Iain Rowan
‘A Face to Meet the Faces that You Meet’ by Alan Ryker
‘Precious Metal’ by Aaron Polson
‘Only the Lonely’ by Iain Rowan
‘The New Words’ by Alan Ryker
‘He’ by James Everington
‘Occupational Hazard’ by Iain Rowan
‘The Aerialist’ by Alan Ryker
‘Packob's Reward’ by James Everington
‘Poe's Blender’ by Aaron Polson

Friday, 29 June 2012

Turn, turn, turn.

So.

Today I sold my parents' house.

There was no ritual handing over of keys, no final moment, no looking back. I was a hundred miles away, keys were left or sent down by post, and the last time I was there was more than a fortnight ago. I hadn't know then that it would be my last visit, but that's the way it turned out. So no chance for a last goodbye, and maybe that's a bad thing, maybe that's a good thing, I don't know yet.

We didn't grow up in that house, me or my brother or my sister, but for twenty years it had been the other place that we could go that still felt like a home, and for our children that only even more so. We all spent a lot of time there in the last three years, after my dad died and my mum was very ill. And then we've spent time there in the last few months too, in a house that had lost its soul but was full of two lives, and the history of those lives, and the history of large chunks of our lives, stuffed into photo albums and packed up in boxes, and tucked away between the pages of books.

We took the things that mattered to us, and we left a lot that mattered too, because you can't take all of it, and if you did, what would you even do with it? So we took what mattered most, and regretted the rest, and then we each left for the last time and Wednesday and Thursday a firm of house clearers came in and took everything else, and left the place a blank canvas for the people who would start a new life there, and make their own history.

This morning, I woke up at 5:07, from one of the most vivid dreams that I have ever had. Most of the time, my dreams are meaningless jumbles: entertaining, surreal, scary, with nothing more coherent than an inchoate anxiety, or confusion. This dream was different. I was back at the house, because I had to choose the things that I was going to take away and keep. But this time, it was full in a very literal sense. Everything that I had owned and loved as a child, as a teenager, in those awkward years before flying the nest, it was all there. Every bike I had ever owned. Every guitar I had ever owned. Shelves upon shelves of books. I couldn't take it all, I wasn't able to. I could maybe choose one of everything, probably not even that.

All the things I had loved, a history of my life, and I could only take what I could carry, and all the rest I would have to leave behind. Doesn't take a Freud or a Jung, that one. Stayed with me all day, and will stay with me longer yet.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Now, where's Elite?


Been sorting out stuff at my mum and dad's house this week. Not the happiest of jobs, but I found something up in the loft that brought back some good childhood memories.


And yes, the little black thing on the bottom right is indeed an original ZX81 memory expansion pack, which gave you a whole 16K of RAM. Yes, youngsters, that's not a typo, it was K not Mb. And according to the box it came in, it cost £29.99, which is probably about a hundred quid now.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Nowhere To Go - print edition

Hard on the heels of One of Us, my collection of award-winning short crime fiction, Nowhere To Go, is now available in trade paperback format, with a great cover courtesy of Keith at infinityplus.

Available from Amazon UK for £6.99, and Amazon US for $10.99, made from real trees. Kindle versions available from Amazon (US | UK) for $2.99/£1.99 respectively, and all sorts of other ebook versions at Smashwords.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Paperback writer

Now that Amazon have sorted out their UK distribution, you can now get the paperback version of One of Us direct from Amazon UK. So that means a stable price (£7.99), and normal Amazon delivery options, like free delivery. Or next day delivery, because you're just so desperate to get your hands on a copy.


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Flash. And also, Bang.

Well, that's a pleasant surprise: my very very short crime story Search History has won the Flashbang competition. Many thanks to the organisers, Sarah Hilary in particular and also to CrimeFest for the prize, two tickets to CrimeFest 2013. Very much looking forward to that, and I haven't even seen the line-up yet. Will be my first con-type thing.

Nice review for Nowhere To Go, too. Turned out to be a good day.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Other Room

Want to read a collection of weird fiction that's as good as anything I've read in the past year? What's more, do you want to read it for free?

Well, dear reader, your wishes have come true. Get yourself here and find out how to get a copy of James Everington's fantastic collection The Other Room. If you want to know why you should, read my review of it from last May. Trust me, James is going to do Big Things and if you read it now you can be all smug and 'yeah, of course I was into them way before they released their first single'.




Wednesday, 2 May 2012

One of Us - Reviews

Lovely review of One of Us over at Indie Ebook Review. Quite apart from the fact that it's very positive (and thoughtful, and perceptive), I really like that the reviewer got it. If you know what I mean.

Update on things previously mentioned - now through to the final shortlist of 10 in the Flashbang competition, and sadly Nowhere To Go didn't win the Spinetingler Best Short Story collection review, but not really sadly as it was a thrill to be shortlisted and Alan Heathcock's Volt looks a truly worthy winner.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

On rewriting

Have posted this week's story over at 52 Songs, 52 Stories, with inspiration this week from Mogwai's 'We're No Here'.

I'd written this story a couple of days ago, and kept it in a draft post on Blogger which for some unknown reason then decided to eat all the content, and leave a draft post with the title intact, but nothing else. Only discovered it this morning, when I went to write it, and so had to write it again from scratch.

I've done this before, and it's a frustrating position to be in, because when I rewrite that accidentally-deleted story or scene, it never feels as good as the original. My suspicion is that this is entirely self-deception, and that if you made a bunch of writers do this and then posted their rewritten work together with their sneakily-restored first drafts, no-one would be able to consistently tell which is which. Still, it always feels that something is missing.

Anyway, it's done, and as I posted it I realised that this is the last story for April, and so I've managed to get through a third of the year keeping to the idea behind 52 songs of writing and posting one story a week. Which is something of a surprise for two reasons - firstly, that I've managed to stick to it which is a minor miracle in itself, and secondly, in my head it feels like we are a few weeks past Christmas, and suddenly a third of the year has gone.

April's been a good month for me. My sales are up across all of my books, although One of Us is having  depressingly slow start. Some reviews should be coming through soon, which may help that. But the rest are doing well...nothing spectacular, but each month since the start of the year has been better than the last, and if that continues I'll be very happy. I entered a piece of flash fiction in the Flashbang competition (crime story in no more than 150 words), first prize a couple of tickets to CrimeFest 2012 down in Bristol, and made the longlist of 20, shortlist of 8 to be announced on Friday, and winner later in May. Think all the shortlist win things like a DVD of The Killing or some crime novels, so if I make the shortlist, it will be good regardless.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Mean Mode Median

Aliyah Whiteley's an excellent writer, and for the next three days you can pick up the Kindle edition of her novel Mean Mode Median for free at Amazon. So, what are you still here for?

Friday, 20 April 2012

Penny Dreadnought: Uncommitted Crimes

“Behind every work of art lies an uncommitted crime” 
(Adorno)

From the criminal minds of the Abominable Gentlemen come four tales of murder, malfeasance and malarky:

"Occupational Hazard" by Iain Rowan
"The Aerialist" by Alan Ryker
"Packob's Reward" by James Everington
"Poe's Blender" by Aaron Polson



Penny Dreadnought: Uncommitted Crimes contains approximately 14,000 words of both new and previously published fiction. You can buy it at:

Amazon [US | UK]


Thursday, 12 April 2012

I'm interviewed over at Darren Sant's blog today. I talk about what my biggest weakness is (as a writer, the internet's not big enough for the rest), where inspiration comes from, and what the soundtrack to my novel would include.

Speaking of which...if you want to read the first chapter, Keith Brooke's posted it as an extract. If you read it and enjoy it, it just so happens that there's some links afterwards that will take you to where you can get the book. An uncanny coincidence.

 And to fit with tomorrow being Friday 13th, my collection of eight strange and chilling short stories, Ice Age, is going to be free on Amazon for two days. Tell your friends. Actually, feel free to tell complete strangers on public transport, too.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Easter round-up

This week's story is up over at 52 Songs, 52 Stories: this week, it's based on the Tom Waits song Way Down In The Hole. No-one throws a rock at a security camera in it, though.

The free promo for Nowhere To Go went well - towards the end of the promo period it sneaked into the top #100 Kindle fiction list, and was #1 in the Amazon US short stories list (for free books, both). In the UK it made it to #2 in the short stories list, but wouldn't quite take that last step. Over 3000 copies overall, but now to see if it has an impact in sales now that it has gone back to full price. First day has been promising.

For the rest of today, Ray Banks' Dead Money is free on Amazon, and because he and the Blasted Heathens crew are the warm-hearted bunnies that they are, they're throwing in his novella Gun too (which I reviewed, here, and very good it was too).. Find out how to get them both here.

Now, off to look for chocolate.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Google knows

When you type words into the google search box in my browser it gives you popular search phrases you can pick to save having to type out the full thing. I wanted to know something about setting up mail on my new toy, and I got as far as typing in "how know if" and the first suggestions from Google have a kind of sad poetry to them, particularly in the order they come in.

- how know if a girl likes you

- how know if a guy likes you

- how know if you are pregnant

- how know if you have HIV

- how know if your in love

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Step Right Up

Gas lighters, three for a pahnd -- no, sorry, hang on.

What I meant to say, is that between now and Friday, you can get the bargain of a lifetime and pick up Nowhere To Go for absolutely nothing from Amazon (Amazon US here). Eleven quality crime stories for  free.

Not only does that save you money that you could then put on a lottery ticket which wins you millions making me directly responsible for changing your life, but if you are in the UK as it's free you will pay no VAT and so you will make George Osborne sad, and that will make lots of other people happy.

So, get rich, make people happy, pick up a copy today.

It's currently standing at #2 in the Amazon UK short story charts, and it would be very nice for it to get to #1.

Now, where was I. Santy hats, santy hats, pahnd for yer santy hats.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Let's Stop Here

Eva Dolan's running a series over at her blog in which assorted writers describe favourite literary crime fiction. My turn, this week. I outline a dark and noirish crime story about the lust for power, what it makes people do, and the inevitable descent into violence and tragedy. Plus it has witches and moving trees. Keith Brooke talks about Seven Things He Hates About E-Publishing, which he follows up by publishing an interview with me. Hmm.

I went off to one of my favourite buildings last night, to see Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells play the small Sage hall. Same venue I saw King Creosote and Jon Hopkins in back in January, and I really like the place. Is small, and intimate, perfect for this kind of gig.

The support act was RM Hubbert, who was new to me. It's one of the things I like about some gigs; finding someone I hadn't heard before, and I liked his percussive, sometimes flamenco, sometimes Celtic acoustic guitar mixed with diffident, amusing confessional interludes and an extended coughing solo. Most of the set was instrumental, but he ought to sing more, as when he did it was excellent. As a closer, Moffat came on to do the vocals on the terrific Car Song, from Hubbert's last album Thirteen Lost and Found (produced by Alex Kapranos, who also contributes to Car Song).

Everything's Getting Older was one of my three favourite albums in 2011. There simply isn't a better lyricist writing today than Aidan Moffat, and given the age I'm at, a lot of his preoccupations have real resonance. As well as insight though, he's scabrously funny.

They played as a four piece, Moffat singing and playing a couple of toms, a couple of cymbals, a harmonium and a transistor radio. Not all at once. Bill Wells stayed at the piano, Stevie James played double bass, and just about every track was lit up by Robert Henderson's muted trumpet. He added an additional hand to the piano on The Copper Top and held his trumpet in the other for a solo at the same time. Now that's multitasking.

The set was all of Everything's Getting Older, plus the Cruel Summer EP: yes, a cover of the Bananarama song of the same name, along with Box It Up and Man Of The Cloth, a typically Moffat story of dressing up as a priest for a fancy dress party, pulling Barbarella, and then flirting in Safeways with a shopper who thinks he's a real priest).

 Terrific stuff, and I hope the two of them are working on a second album.




Sunday, 1 April 2012

Sample Sunday - One Of Us



One of Us is my debut crime novel, published by infinityplus. An excerpt here, for Sample Sunday. 

Anna's a former medical student who had to flee her own country when the police there murdered her brother and imprisoned her father.  Anna has been trying to get fake papers so she can stay in the UK, but she doesn't have the money. She's offered a deal - she is needed right now for her medical skills, and if she agrees to do the work, she will be provided with a legitimate identity. Her work turns out not to be a one off, and she is trapped into doing more in return for the papers she desperately needs. As she does, she starts to realise what kind of people she is working for.


ONE OF US


The next time was easy. Easy for me, not so easy for the big man with a dislocated arm.

"Fell off a horse," he said, and grinned. Then he tried to look down my t-shirt as I bent over.

"I am going to put your arm back into place," I told him.

"You can do what you like with me, love, I'm all yours. Does it hurt much then? Don't mind a bit of pain, know what I mean. What about you, love?" He laughed like a pig snorts, and sat with his fat legs wide open so I had to lean against them with mine to get close to him.

"No, it does not hurt," I said to him, and to his friends who were watching. "I did this once for a little girl. She had fallen off her bicycle. She was very brave, and I did it and she did not make a single sound. After I was finished, I gave her a lollipop for being so good. Do you think you can be as tough as a little girl?"

I put his shoulder back where it should be.

"No lollipop for you," I said.

The next time they sent me to see a girl who thought she had a venereal disease. She was small and blonde, and she did not stop drumming her fingers for a moment, even when I was examining her. Her cheek bore the mark of a fading bruise, but there was not anything that I could do for that. She told me that her name was Maja, and that she was from Slovenia.

"How did you end up here?" I asked.

The man sitting reading a newspaper and pretending not to watch my examination coughed. Maja glanced at him, and did not say anything more, she just drummed away on the bed frame, like she was tapping out a distress signal in morse code.

When I was finished I told her that she did not have a venereal disease that I could see, she had a very bad case of thrush, and what she should do about it. But I also told her that this did not mean that she did not have any diseases that I could not see.

"Have you been to a clinic?" I asked her.

She shook her head. "Not allowed. This is why I see you."

I shook my head. This was madness. "Tell Corgan," I told the man. "Tell him she needs to see a proper doctor. She can go to a clinic, it will be anonymous, she won't get reported to anyone if you need to keep this all so secret. Tell him."

He laughed. "I'm not going to tell Corgan anything. I'd wash your hands now love, if I were you."

"Why?" I said to him. "I haven't touched you."



Saturday, 31 March 2012

Rather unexpectedly, Nowhere To Go has been nominated for the Best Short Story Collection in the 2012 awards run by Spinetingler magazine. This alone is great, but to see the company that I'm in is even better. It's an honour to be alongside the other authors shortlisted.

Voting's now opened here.

Lovely to see Luca, Chris and Nigel all in the running for best anthology (and best short story on the web and best cover for Nigel), and Blasted Heath for crime fiction publisher.

Print edition of Nowhere To Go will be out soon, with the gorgeous new cover designed by Keith at infinityplus.


Sunday, 25 March 2012

One Of Us

It's been a long, strange trip.

One Of Us started as a short story, that came out of nowhere. There was just the voice, Anna's voice, and then the story of her and Corgan fell out of that. It got published in Hitchcock's, was destined for an anthology called Best New Noir until the publisher pulled the plug on that one, and then grew into a novel, which much to my surprise got shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger award.

It didn't win, but I got to go to a nice awards dinner at the Hilton, and meet some incredibly nice people, and listen to the world's most meandering speech from James Naughtie. I also ended up signing with an agent with an incredible reputation, although after nearly a year and some unexpected heartbreak, I ended up unsigning. Long story, with a pointed moral about not counting chickens, but also about writing what you want to write.

But now, One Of Us is published, in paperback (US, UK to follow in a couple of weeks) and ebook (US | UK), by infinityplus, and I'm happy, because I like it a lot, and hope that you do too. If you do, be a star and spread the word, please.




Saturday, 24 March 2012

Guest blog - Convictions, Heartbreaker and the power of ‘free’


Time for a guest post here at More News From Nowhere. Long-time readers will know Julie Morrigan well, not least from her interview here a little while back. She's been having great success with both short stories and novels, and hit an amazing run when she made her first novel, Convictions, free for a little while on Amazon. Not only did it do incredibly well while the offer was on, that continued when it went back to its usual price, and it's still doing very well now. 

As of today, Julie's making her second novel, Heartbreaker, free for just this weekend. But I'll let her tell you about that.

Over to you, Julie.

You’d think the last way an author would go about boosting sales would be to give their books away. And yet, that’s exactly what I did with my debut novel Convictions three weeks ago.

The book went from barely noticed to bestseller within days. (And when I say ‘bestseller’, that’s after it stopped being free.)

If I’d known all I had to do to get a book into the top 100 on Amazon UK and to keep it there for a couple of weeks was give away several thousand copies, I’d have done it months ago!

Still, I catch on quickly, and so I’m trying it again. This weekend it’s novel number two, Heartbreaker, that is free.

Unlike Convictions, it’s not a straight crime novel. This one’s about music. Loud, blues-based rock, to be precise, and it tells the tale of fictional band Heartbreaker all the way from the 60s to the present day. The deaths are tragic, the riffs are magic, and the party rolls on despite the drama, secrets and lies.

As much as I’m fond of Convictions and its characters (and I really am), it’s probably fair to say that the Heartbreaker crew are closer to my heart. Even the band name (and book title) is driven by two of my favourite bands: both Led Zeppelin and Free have songs titled Heartbreaker. And the story gives me the chance to drop various little references and snippets in there for other people to spot and hopefully enjoy.

Don’t think that if you aren’t a devoted music fan that you won’t ‘get’ it, though. At its heart, the book is about people: who they are, what makes them tick, and how they react when the chips are down.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what some other people have to say.

‘Julie Morrigan’s book explores probably the deepest desire of all music fans: spending time with your idol and getting to be their friends. It also explores the price to pay for fame and how prejudices and a touch of jealousy can twist even those you love the most. Morrigan’s writing is fluent, filled with twists and humanity.’ — Alessia Matteoli, AAA Music

'With Heartbreaker, Morrigan has taken a completely fictional band and brought them to life more realistically than many actual rock biographies I've read managed to do. Her obvious knowledge and love of rock and blues is infused throughout the book, adding little details, references and layers of realism that makes Heartbreaker a pleasure to read on several levels. You not only get a great story, you get a mini history of classic rock along the way. Heartbreaker is the best new band I've discovered in a while ... and a hell of a book.' Book reviewer Elizabeth A. White

'Morrigan has taken a myth, a myth that applies to many rock bands, and made it her own. In her tight structured prose, her razor dialogue, her observed humour and her strong evocation of what the price of fame is, she has written a story full of human drama. The title fits the novel perfectly. I cannot recommend this highly enough.' Richard Godwin, author of Apostle Rising and Mr Glamour

Heartbreaker is free on Amazon (UK | US) all weekend. If you grab a copy, thanks, and I hope you enjoy it. Let’s see if we can make this one a bestseller, too!

Round-up

If you like short fiction, and you like music (and if you don't, don't click on the 52 Songs, 52 Stories link above or to the right, you'll hate it), then check out Neil Schiller's excellent 7" fiction project. Original post here, first B-side here, an update here, and a new A-side here.

Speaking of 52 Songs, the next story is going to be up tomorrow. This one's inspired by an old Tricky song.

Issue 21 of David Longhorn's excellent Supernatural Tales is out now. One of the stories in it is a sad little thing from me called The Edge Of The Map. I'm honoured to be in there alongside some very good stories from some very talented authors. Full line-up:

Stephen J. Clark - 'The Vigil'
Sam Dawson - 'The Last Fight'
Steve Duffy - 'The Purple Tinted Window'
Adam Golaski - 'Translation'
S.P. Miskowski - 'A.G.A.'
Bill Read - 'Virpus'
Iain Rowan - 'The Edge of the Map'
Steve Rasnic Tem - 'These Days When All is Silver and Bright'

I'm generally deeply cynical about much of what you see labelled as advice on 'how to be a writer', but I like what Gary McMahon has to say on it all, although it's not going to go down too well if you're a goat. If you are a goat that writes, I'd suggest you don't need any advice, just go straight for getting the best agent you can, and avoid bridges.

Sure I've mentioned it here before, but Fragments of Noir is a great blog that would always merit a second mention.

And I dunno who to give credit to for this, but it just about sums up this week in politics in the UK:


My dull week

....and I'm back. Been quite here for a little while, because I've been caught up in the throes of what was a speculative job application, which much to my surprise turned into an interview, which even more to my surprise turned into an invitation to a final round of interviews...which was far more in line with my natural state of cynical pessimism. Wasn't far off, but it's not the Olympics and there's no medals for being placed. In one way I'm really pleased I got that far, as the job is quite a change from what I'm doing now, and I was very much an outside and outsider candidate, but the further I got, the more I wanted it. Really interesting job working for an educational charity, and a lovely, lovely bunch of people. Ah well.

Would have meant a move down to Yorkshire for all the family, which in is no bad thing, as we're shuttling backwards and forwards between here and Leeds 3-4 times a week anyway, but that did up the stakes a bit.

Anyway, I spent most of my free time over the last month writing presentations and reports and mugging up for interviews, so at least now it's over things can get back to normal.

Or at least as normal as things get in a week which has seen: two days of interviews and not getting the job, having to have the police out over some idiot being an idiot, son in casualty start of week to get staple in his head after another kid tossed a bottle at him, son back in casualty again at end of week because he's gone over on his ankle and ended up on crutches and strapped up, no dancing for six weeks, but fortunately ankle not broken.

So, not much going on, really.

Oh, and next week, my novel's going to be published.


Monday, 12 March 2012

Mug shots

As mentioned, my novel is going to be published soon and we're going to change the cover design of Nowhere To Go, my short story collection, to match it. Top work by Keith Brooke on this one, I love it.

This is the wraparound cover for the print version (yes, for the first time Nowhere To Go is going to be available in print too).


Sunday, 11 March 2012

Tumbleweeds

Been a little quiet on here, due to Real Life Things, which might turn out to be very good things indeed, but probably won't.

Anyway, will be back to normal in just over a week. Meanwhile, you can read my latest story in the 52 Songs, 52 Stories project. This week's story is a dark little creation, inspired by the song 'Come Inside' from the Tindersticks (excellent) new album.


Sunday, 26 February 2012

Sample Sunday - Ice Age

Here's a sample from one of the short stories in my collection of strange and chilling stories, Ice Age. It's a few hundred words from the opening of my short story Lilies, which was first published in print in Postscripts magazine, and reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 16. (It was between a story by Neil Gaiman and a story by Ramsey Campbell, which was great company but a little daunting).

If you enjoy it, and want to read on, you can find Ice Age on Amazon (US | UK). If you're quick, it's free until midnight today (Pacific Standard Time).

# # #


LILIES

It was autumn, and the city was at war. As the pavements turned slick with wet, yellow leaves, the hills to the north talked to each other in low rumbling voices. Soldiers clattered into the city in trains, spent their money in a whirl of drink and women, and left for the hills. Fewer returned. Those that did, drank more quietly, eyes on the floor, worn coats patched up against the spiteful wind. The leaves fell, the war carried on, and every day the night stole in a few minutes earlier. It was autumn, and the city was at war, and Alex was afraid.

He was one of the lucky ones. He had spent fourteen days on the front, cowering in holes in the ground while the earth erupted around him and men that he had spoken to just hours before lost arms, legs, lives. His entire world had been mud. He had lived in mud, tasted mud, pressed himself into the mud as if it could shelter him from the world being ripped apart around him. Then his sergeant had crawled up to him one morning, spat in his face, and told him that his daddy must have lined somebody’s pocket: he was to report to the back lines for transport to the city, and when—not if, when—he returned to the front the sergeant would make it his personal mission to ensure that Alex was first in the firing line.

Back in the city he was assigned duties couriering messages back and forth, from civil servant to general, to minister, to anonymous civilian. It was tiring, it was tedious, and it was safe, but Alex was still afraid and often when he ate all he could taste was mud. He spent hours shivering outside closed doors, shuffling his feet in the rotting autumn slush. He hurried from one side of the city to the other, two stops on the train, six stops on the rattling tram, hours of getting lost in strange streets, and everywhere, the dead.

Alex tried not to look at them, conscious of the impulse to stare, embarrassed by it. He had seen the occasional dead person back in the village, as had every child. He’d even slept under the same roof as one, when his grandfather came back. None of this prepared him for the city. In the village, custom was that families kept their dead to themselves, that the week was a time for private moments, not public display. In the city, Alex thought at times that the dead outnumbered the living. If the war went on much longer, maybe they would.

As he searched an elegant row of tall houses for the address on the letter in his hand, he passed one of the dead. The man stood on the pavement, looking at the houses, slowly moving his head from side to side in an unconscious mockery of Alex’s own search. It struck Alex that the reason there were so many dead in the city was that they could not find their families. They were cut off by the dislocation of wartime, everything in motion. Perhaps the man standing in the street, vacantly considering doorways, belonged to a family who had all died together, and now for a week they wandered the streets with the same cold stare, looking for one another, never finding each other, always lost.

Alex was only nine the day that his grandfather came back. The old man had been ill for weeks, sweating and wheezing in his bed. Alex had spent dutiful hours by his bedside, alternating between fear and boredom. It had seemed that his grandfather was over the worst and would live to sit glowering by the fireside another year, but then he sat up in bed, said something about last year’s apples, and died. He was buried the next day. Alex stood uncertain in the soft rain while his mother cried and the village priest stumbled through his words. Then the mourners walked away, Alex’s uncle putting a hand on his shoulder to guide him. Halfway across the graveyard he looked back.

The graveyard workers stood around the shallow mound while the black-coated priest knelt in front of it. His coat tails flapped around him, and for a moment Alex thought that he was not a man at all, just a swirl of crows, come to reclaim their graveyard from the intruders. Then the priest thrust his hands into the soil and pulled, and Alex saw the thin white legs of his grandfather appear, heard the priest muttering the blessings.

"This isn't for you," his uncle said softly, and the pressure of his hand kept Alex walking. He still looked back though, and he saw his grandfather's rebirth from the ground, the soil falling from him like black snow. When the priest had brought the body back into the world again, he nodded his head and the graveyard workers draped a shroud over it, and carried it slowly into the place of rest. "Now we wait, son," Alex's uncle said. "Now we wait for the miracle."

Three days later, as Alex steered his dinner from one side of his plate to the other, there was a heavy knock at the door. Alex’s mother gasped and closed her eyes. His father stood up and said, “Well. Well.” Alex took the opportunity to drop several vegetables under his chair.

“You go to your room now, Alex,” his mother said.

He looked up cringing, thinking that she’d caught him, but saw that her eyes were still shut.
“No,” his father said as he walked to the door. “No, the boy should stay. He’s old enough.” Standing outside in the rain was one of the workers from the graveyard, and just behind him stood Alex’s grandfather, looking confused, as if there were something very important that he should remember that he could not. Alex’s father handed over the customary couple of coins and the worker nodded and then walked away.

“Come in, father.”

The old man shuffled into the house and stood in the middle of the kitchen as if he were unsure what to do. Alex stared at him, fascinated. He was the same grandfather to look at as always, but his skin was pale and his eyes were clouded, the way fields were by the early morning mist. Alex’s father ushered the old man to his usual seat by the fire, his mother cried, and the boy hung back by the door, wondering, uncertain.

#

Alex climbed worn stone steps and knocked on a dark green door. An elderly man in an ornate servant’s uniform cracked the door open and raised a trembling eyebrow.

“Message for the colonel.”

The old man held out his hand, and Alex gave him the letter. Noise came from the end of the street, a brief scuffle, the sound of running feet, but no voices. Both Alex and the servant turned to look into the gathering darkness, but a voice bellowed from inside the house and distracted them.

“Who’s that? Who is it there, eh?”

“A messenger, Colonel,” the old man said. “Message for you. I have it here, I will bring it up.”

They both looked out at the street again, but whatever the noise was, it had stopped.

“A courier, eh.” The colonel had come down the stairs, and stood in the hallway red-faced, breath wheezing, looking at Alex. “Know what the message is about, son?”“No—no, it’s sealed sir, I wouldn’t read it—"

“Don’t have to read it, son. Know what it’s about. Know what they’re all about, every damn one of them. They're about how little by little we are trying our hardest to lose this damn war. Don’t look so shocked lad, you think that’s treasonous talk, you should hear what the generals say. A drink for the cold, eh.”

The servant creaked off towards a side-table in the hall.

“No, my orders—" Alex said.

“Bugger your orders. Who gave you your orders?”

“My sergeant.”

“Bugger your sergeant. I’m a colonel, still counts for something. A drink for the cold.” The servant had returned with two shot glasses. The colonel handed one to Alex.

“You been there, have you son? At the front?”

“Yes,” Alex said.

“Thought so. See it in your eyes. Changes a man. Those who go there, they're not the same as those who come back.” He raised his glass in a toast. “To the end of the war.”

“End of the war.” The raw spirit burnt Alex’s throat and made his eyes water. He bit down on his tongue, desperate not to cough. The servant took the glass back, and Alex began to retreat down the steps.

“Yes, the end of the war,” the colonel was staring out into the dusk, one hand tugging at his beard, seeing a landscape that wasn’t the city. “Don’t go back there, lad.”

Alex saluted and hurried away down the street. Just before he reached the main road, he saw a dark huddle on the pavement. It was the body of the dead man. Alex looked around, wandering what to do, who to contact. The man had obviously been searching for his family or old friends, and had not found them. Now his week had passed, and he was gone for ever. Given a chance for those last goodbyes, and it was wasted. Sad. Alex bent down over the body, and then he saw the white petals of the lily that had been placed on the man’s stomach.

The fire of the alcohol in his stomach turned to a sour swell of fear. He looked up and down the street, saw no-one, and hurried away towards the main road, towards the light. Alex knew what the lily meant: it meant that this was none of his business, and that he should leave now, before those responsible saw him there, considered him a witness to their crime. It had never happened in his village, but he had heard the stories, knew what the lily, flower of mourning, meant. It meant political support for the enemy over the hills, it was a mark of rebellion against everything—the government, custom and tradition, all the old ways. Those who left the lilies were subversives who put into practice the ways of the enemy. They committed the strangest of murders. They killed the already dead.