Wish You Were Here…?

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The title of this blog post is particularly ironic. I’ve realised that tonight we were meant to be in Birmingham for the Nick Mason / Saucerful of Secrets concert.

For anyone who doesn’t follow rock music, Nick was the drummer in Pink Floyd. He’s put together his own prog rock band, Saucerful of Secrets, and together they’ve been on tour performing some of Floyd’s earlier music.

As a mega fan of all things Pink Floyd I was really looking forward to the event but thanks to Covid-19 it’s had to be postponed. Currently it’s scheduled to take place in October but there are no guarantees and it may have to be put off until some time next year.

I absolutely understand the reasons, but you could say I’ve gone from ‘High Hopes’ to ‘Wish You Were Here’ in one sad step…

Jericho excerpt

Recoil_cropI mentioned yesterday that my short story ‘Jericho’ features in ‘Recoil’, the brand new anthology from Shotgun Honey. Well, here’s a little snippet from the beginning of the story to whet your appetite:

“Will there be a massive bang, Uncle Ryan?  Will it be like the Towering Inferno?”

Ryan sat back on his heels and wiped one sleeve across his burning forehead.  Even now, after all these years and with all his experience, he still sweated like a pig.  Partly that was the danger, of course, although he minimised that by taking every safety precaution in the book.  And a few that weren’t.  Mostly it was the sheer fiddliness of the work – the blocks of explosive to tape in place, the fuses and detonators to prepare, the wires to strip and insert.  In a place this size that could take hours, sometimes even days.  Every last minute seasoned with the thought that if he got a single detail wrong, people could die.

“No.  The whole point is it won’t be like a sodding inferno,” he said.  “That’s why I do all this preparation, so the whole thing will fold up like a house of cards.  No explosions, no fires, nobody gets hurt.  There’s just a big cloud of dust at the end.”

“Oh.  Right.”

Will sounded disappointed.  Typical bloody teenager, Ryan thought.  Always after the biggest and the best.  Couldn’t see that half the time, not having something go kaboom was the best.  Ryan knew that because he was the best – the best in the business, the best in this neck of the woods.  He’d brought down more buildings than most folk had set foot in, and all without a single mishap.  They didn’t call him The Leveller for nothing.  But Will was young; he’d learn soon enough.  Least, he would if he wanted to get on in this job.  Get it wrong and he’d be dust along with the factories, the cooling towers, the outdated blocks of flats.

Blocks like this one – the last still standing on the Castle Bromwich estate.  Forty years ago the planners had thought they were a good idea; now they couldn’t get rid of them fast enough.  Ryan had demolished another two six months ago, though he tried not to think about that…

There’s plenty more where that came from, and another 22 stories by amazing noir authors, so why not head over to Amazon and grab a copy of the book now?

Shotgun Honey 4: Recoil – out today

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I’m sure I’ve said it before, but books are like buses. Nothing new for ages and then two come along at once!

Today it’s the turn of this tasty collection of noir stories from Shotgun Honey, entitled ‘Recoil’.  It’s packed with good stuff from a grand total of 23 authors, many of them well known on the crime and noir circuits. And alongside those is my own offering, a dark story called ‘Jericho’.

In this, the Bible story of Joshua blowing down the walls of Jericho takes on an all-too personal meaning for a demolition expert working on a tower block in Birmingham. You could say the moral of the tale is not to trust the local crime boss – or an aggrieved youngster looking to make their mark on the world. As usual with my stories it doesn’t necessarily end well!

‘Recoil’ has been released today and you can find it as paperback and e-book on Amazon. I’ll post a few more details about the story in the coming days, but in the meantime why not check it out – before you get run over by the proverbial bus!

Raise the Blade ebook available now!

bladecoverGreat news today. After a brief delay while Amazon checked my rights, my darkly humorous psychological noir ‘Raise the Blade’ has gone live on both Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.

I designed the cover art myself, using a wonderful photograph by Twilightzone on Pixabay.com. The rest of the book has had a quick spruce up but is otherwise unchanged from the version published several years ago now by Caffeine Nights.

So if you missed it first time round, or were put off by the paperback price, or just fancy the ebook to add to your collection, now’s your chance. The Kindle version is available for only £2.99 (or the equivalent in your currency) whilst the book is completely free on Kindle Unlimited.

Here’s a couple of handy links for you to buy on Amazon UK or Amazon US. And if you do take the plunge then thank you, and I hope you enjoy the read.

Sweeney Todd – very odd

sweeneyStuck in lockdown and desperately looking for something different to watch on telly, I came across the 2012 movie The Sweeney, based on the old 1970s TV series. I’d never watched it before as I’d been put off by the low star-ratings in the Radio Times, but this time I thought I’d give it a go.

Bad move. Ten minutes in I was already regretting it, as a car full of unpleasant people made unpleasant jokes about more unpleasant people, en route to a ‘blagging’ at a warehouse somewhere in London. The twist? This wasn’t the baddies, this was the police. Or more specifically, the Flying Squad, nick-named (in London rhyming slang) Sweeney Todd.

Once at the warehouse they drove cars through the scenery and beat the living sh*t out of a number of bad guys, while still being unpleasant. And this was apparently supposed to be a massive success.

The action switched to the Flying Squad HQ, where more of the same characters hung around being unpleasant to each other, and then to a dodgy international bank, where they made a huge change by being unpleasant to the bank’s manager instead. And there was a scene involving suspending some baddie by the ankles from the top of a tall building, which was done to death in The Sweeney’s fellow seventies cop show The Professionals and about as original as mud.

At that point, I switched off. I’d lost all interest in the characters, the plot, the script, or pretty much anything else. I have no idea what happened in the end (except that it was probably unpleasant) and I had no great wish to find out. The reason? It was just. so. dull. Dull, cliched, and wholly wrong. If they’d chosen to stick with the TV series’ 1970s setting it might, just about, have worked. They didn’t. They updated it to the second decade of the 21st century. But they forgot to update the characters’ attitudes at the same time, so what came out of their mouths wasn’t just (yeah, okay) unpleasant, it was also horribly out of date.

I’m not saying an occasional police officer doesn’t speak like that, or even behave like that, from time to time. The point is, it would no longer be seen as acceptable. And that seemed to be the problem, because at no point in the 40-or-so unpleasant minutes I watched was that made clear. The end result was that characters we were supposed to sympathise with (the “good guys”, if you like) came across as thugs. And no different from the baddies they were supposed to be targeting. And utterly unlikeable.

I didn’t watch all that many of the original TV shows, but I don’t remember it being quite as unsympathetic as that. Yes, Jack Regan and George Carter were tough men, capable of doling out the violence if it got the baddies off the streets. But they also had hearts, and a conscience, and they were so well brought to life by John Thaw and Dennis Waterman that you felt like they were real. Ray Winstone and Ben Drew weren’t nearly as charismatic; Winstone in particular grated with his growly dialogue and endless swearing (something else that wasn’t in the original version, and which felt less uber-modern and cool, and more just, well, unpleasant).

Do I now see why it only ever gets 2 stars? Yup. Will I be giving this another go at some point? Absolutely not. Shame, as with the right cast, script and direction it could have been a worthy tribute to a classic TV show…

Cover reveal: Raise the Blade

I promised this a few days ago but things have been getting in the way ever since. However, at last I’ve knuckled down and got everything updated and I’m now all set to say…

*drum roll*

*fanfare*

Here it is, in all its gory glory! The new cover for ‘Raise the Blade’. I hope you like it – and don’t forget, the re-badged, re-published book is coming very soon! So keep checking back for more news.

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Pink Floyd concerts streaming

Good news for all fans of Pink Floyd and/or prog rock: the band have decided to release rare, remastered or unseen footage of their concerts for anyone to watch during the lockdown.

The concerts are streaming on the Pink Floyd YouTube channel and a new one will be uploaded every Friday at 5pm GMT – so make a note in your diaries. There’s already one available to watch: a restored, re-edited version of Pulse, filmed at Hammersmith in 1994. Guess what I’ll be doing this afternoon?!

New noir from Paul D Brazill

cover-brazill-man-world-300x480pxOut today is the latest noir gem from master of Brit Grit Paul D Brazill, published by All Due Respect. ‘Man of the World’ features ageing hitman Tommy Bennett, who returns to his north-east-coast hometown hoping for a peaceful retirement. But if you’re familiar with Paul’s other work you’ll know this is the last thing his ‘hero’ will find!

Described as ‘violent’ and ‘darkly comic’, the book follows in the footsteps of other Brit Grit volumes including The Last Laugh. And if it’s anything like as funny as that, you won’t want to put it down.

To get your hands on this fast-paced, action-packed thriller head to the Down & Out Books store now, before Tommy comes out of retirement to give you a right talking to!

Available now in a lockdown near you…

banner-covid-19-digital-sale-1100x418pxThanks to Coronavirus, we live in interesting times. Confined to quarters for weeks, perhaps months, with no chance of getting out to buy books at your favourite book store.

Well, help is at hand! Down & Out Books have started up a Covid-19 Social Distancing Digital Boo Sale which includes a whopping 39 of their most recently published books, all available at knockdown prices from their website and/or a range of online distributors.

Just head to the Down & Out website and click on the nice big colourful banner at the top of the page for more information and a list of books included in the sale. And happy shopping – and reading!

Sad news – and good

Publishing giveth and publishing taketh away, quite often on the same day. And that’s been the case today.

On the one hand I’ve had the sad news that my first ever book, ‘Raise the Blade’, is no longer available for sale. It happens; contracts come up on their sell-by date. I think what makes this sad for me is the fact that it was my first book, which makes it feel that little bit more special. However, I will be mulling over the possibilities of re-publishing it in the next few months, so keep checking back for further updates.

And the good news? Well, I’ve had a short story accepted in the latest (fourth) Shotgun Honey anthology. This is still very much in the early stages of preparation so I can’t reveal too much – but again, if you check back in a week or two I’ll have all the details of who’s in it, what it looks like, what my story’s about, and when it’ll be available. Don’t go anywhere in the meantime!

Birmingham Roundhouse refurbished

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A few years ago now Other Half and I walked along a part of Birmingham’s canal network we’d never explored before. The area was, roughly speaking, at the back of the National Indoor Arena and was full of canal history and a jumble of fascinating old buildings and gleaming office blocks. One of the former, which we only saw the back of, was really intriguing, because it seemed to be circular. There was no indication what it was, so I took a photo (above), made a mental note to look it up, and then forgot about it.

Last week our new National Trust magazine turned up, and there on one of the news pages was a snippet about the Birmingham Roundhouse, which the Trust and the Canal & River Trust are jointly refurbishing. It was built in 1874 and apparently used as stables and a store for the city’s lamplighters and ‘public works department’, presumably in the days when all lamps were gas, and when horses and carts would have been needed for workmen to get around.

The plan is to turn it into a hub for the canal network, including a café, offices and community space. It sounds terrific and we’re looking forward to visiting once the work is complete. There’s more details on the National Trust webpage; they’re calling for volunteers to help with the work, so if you’re in the Birmingham area and interested in heritage, why not get in touch?

Calling all Line of Duty fans

lineofdutyGreat news for fans of Line of Duty, the long-running BBC drama about the police anti-corruption unit AC-12: season 6 has been commissioned and is in the very early stages of production, as confirmed by this article in the Radio Times online.

Since they haven’t even started filming yet there’s no word on when it will be shown but it could be later this year, or early 2021 at the latest.

Every series so far has come with a massive kick in the pants, so I can’t wait to find out whether H has really been caught and whether DCI Hastings is truly innocent, or the best actor this side of the Oscars. How about you?