And now the interview

Col’s Criminal Library also interviewed me recently, and Col has kindly posted the result to coincide with his review of Gravy Train yesterday.

He describes the process as “gentle questioning”, but pitch-forks and cattle-prods spring to mind! However, I had tremendous fun answering his questions on a variety of subjects from favourite books and movies to my typical writing day to the difference between short stories and novels. You can find the answers here, and feel free to check out his review if you haven’t already seen it, because it’s a tremendously entertaining resume of the book.

Advertisements

Collisions, comedy and collusion

GT v5There’s a terrific new review of Gravy Train at Col’s Criminal Library today, courtesy of its owner and one-man crime-reading sensation Colman Keane. Col knows pretty much everything there is to know about reading crime fiction so I was delighted that he enjoyed my book so much.

In particular he’s been complimentary about my characters, and about the zanier aspects of the plot. (The title of this post is his as well, in his summing up of the book as “Collisions, comedy and collusion, decisions, dreams and delusion” – an absolutely wonderful phrase.

Col also makes an interesting point about the size of the betting payout that kicks off all the action in the book. He hits the nail on the head: that £80,000 is a really odd amount, and perhaps not quite big enough to get excited about. However, it was a deliberate choice, for various reasons that I’m happy to chat about.

The first is simply that I wanted to avoid that old cliché of £1 million, which turns up with monotonous regularity in heists, ransom demands, lottery wins, and pretty much everything else. Secondly, I wanted an amount that was large enough to tempt people into nefarious acts, but small enough to slither under the authorities’ radar. Vast payouts from betting are still relatively unusual, and tend to come with their own added layers of publicity and security, which was no good for the plot. Lenny would have found it hard to steal the cash from Sandra and Mike if there’d been a queue of paparazzi outside the betting shop door. Lastly, with that much money in their grasp, characters would have been able to buy their way out of trouble – and I didn’t want to make things that easy for them. It’s much more entertaining to make them squirm a little.

So, did I get it right? Would it have been better if the payout had been larger after all? In the end, only the readers can decide. But there was some method to my madness at any rate!

And I’m forever grateful to Col, both for his super comments about the book and for forcing me to think about my reasoning.

Black, white or shades of grey?

Fellow crime writer and aficionado Margot Kinberg read my review of Brotherhood at Punk Noir magazine the other day and it set her thinking. In particular, the bit where I mention my theory that US drama tends to be morally ‘cut and dried’, whereas the British equivalent is more ambivalent.

I’m the first to admit that the statement is a. only my opinion and b. a shocking generalisation! It’s also probably more appropriate to film and TV than to books, which tend to have more space to develop their characters and plot lines. But Margot has brought her encyclopaedic knowledge of crime writing to bear on the subject, and come up with an excellently-researched blog post of her own, liberally illustrated with examples.

It makes for fascinating reading, and is much more well argued than my original blog post ever was. So do go and see what she has to say on the whole subject, and whether she agrees with me or not (I’m taking the fifth on that one, but it seems to have generated some healthy debate). I’m delighted that my wafflings sparked her, er, little grey cells into action.

What price brotherhood?

brotherhoodThose nice folks at Punk Noir magazine have reprinted my review of the TV series Brotherhood, which I originally posted on here last year.

If you missed it first time round and want to see what I liked (quite a bit, actually!) about this raw, gritty US crime drama based on the real-life figures of gangster Whitey Bulger and his politician brother, then head over to Punk Noir now. And while you’re there, take time to have a good poke round, because the zine is full to bursting with Good Stuff (TM) – fiction, poetry, news, reviews and book recommendations, all with a noir-ish theme.

A small helping of gravy…

41psoxo7d7lI realised the other day that I’ve never posted a good, solid, proper extract from ‘Gravy Train’ – something you can really get your teeth into, and that gives you a good flavour of the book. So, without further delay, here goes. This bit is from Chapter 27, when Lenny the mugger has lost the bag of money and is desperately hunting for clues to try to get it back.

Apologies for any salty language, by the way, but I hope you enjoy the ride.

***

Lenny shook the aerosol can one last time before pressing the button to release a steady stream. A neat outline: four feet, a swelling back. Black, as always. He only ever used black. True street artists went for subtlety. They got their message across with the barest minimum of colour and line. You didn’t catch Banksy using virulent pink, or acres of yellow and green. Banksy was Lenny’s hero; he’d love to meet him some time. They’d have a lot in common, he liked to think, and could swap notes about buildings conquered, walls and bridges scaled. Fat chance of that in reality, though. Lenny knew all about Banksy – how he was a maverick, how nobody knew who he was. It really wasn’t likely that the bloke would give up his anonymity , drop his disguise, just to come and talk to him.

He sighed and added whiskers to his giant rat, then a long and sweeping tail. It was hard to get the details right when he could hardly see the wall. The sun had set nearly an hour ago; dusk was hanging on by its fingernails but the nearest street light was a hundred metres away. Around it, a glowing pool of light. Here in the shadows, gloom. It’s why he’d chosen to place his artwork here – fewer prying eyes. But the rat’s eye was almost certainly too close to the end of its nose.

He pocketed the aerosol and stood back for a better look. Not Banksy’s standard, of course, but it wasn’t bad. It made its point. The rat represented ordinary people everywhere. Around its neck, a leash. Holding the leash, a few two-dimensional paces back, the robot Todd, with metal arms and an antenna on his head. The masses held back by technology. Something he’d been longing to draw ever since he first set eyes on Todd. He made a great subject, even if he was just a glorified chauffeur. A pity the rat wasn’t perfect. But Lenny wasn’t here for the art tonight. As a bonus, it would do.

He peered at his watch, but it was too dark to see the hands. And he’d left his phone at home. Thanks to the cow who’d nicked his van, he was having to make do with a bike, and the mobile dug into his backside when he pedalled his feet up and down. He spat into the litter around his feet. Bloody bitch. It was thanks to her he was here at all. Trying to get Ball off his back, trying to track her down. His usual contacts had been a bunch of useless jerks. He was hoping for better from his mate Jack. The lad worked for some fucker called Symons, who ran a ringing scam. And in order to ring cars, you needed to steal them first. And in order to steal cars, you needed to use people who, well, made a living stealing cars. It wasn’t much to go on, but hopefully Jack could give him a name. Assuming he ever turned up.

“All right, mate.”

Lenny spun and reached for his knife, but it was just Jack. The lad had his hoodie up and pulled around his face, but he’d recognise that hooter anywhere. Like an eagle’s beak, Jack’s mother had always said when they were kids. And I’m pleased to say you took after your dad. Not exactly a ringing vote of confidence, but then Lenny’s own parents had often said worse about him.

“Good to see you, mate. How’s things?”

“Okay. You know.” Jack shrugged.

Lenny did know, only too well. Stuff Jack had told him, coupled with word on the street. Fair enough Symons wasn’t as bad as Ball, because he left the girls and the gambling and the protection rackets alone. Concentrated on cars. But that didn’t make him a softie by any stretch. Word on the street also said he got all his lads hooked on smack so they’d be easier to control. Lenny had never quite dared to ask Jack if it was true, but Jack’s appearance had suffered over the years. He always looked pasty and thin, arms like matches, legs too skinny to hold him up. Like a zombie who never got the chance to eat. Time was when he’d have talked to Jack, questioned him, tried to find out more. Not now. Too long in prison had soured him inside. Leave well alone, that was his mantra now. Don’t go sticking his nose in other people’s business. He’d probably just make things worse. “Want to go for a pint?”

“Better not.” Jack shivered inside his hoodie even though it wasn’t cold. “What did you want?”

“I just needed a word. Your bloke Symons. I heard he’s into nicking cars?”

Jack’s face lost another few shades, going from pasty to pure mercury white. “Not so fucking loud. He’s got ears everywhere.”

“What, here?” Lenny looked round at the scruffy alleyway, the trade waste bins, the squashed cardboard and discarded bags. There was nothing else here except an unpleasant smell.

***

And that’s it for now. But if that helping of gravy tickled your taste buds, you can find the rest of the book on the Down & Out Books store. And thanks for taking the time to read my stuff.

Noir on the Radio

mikrofonSaturday was quite a ground-breaking day for me, as I recorded my first ever full-length podcast interview for Noir on the Radio. I was pretty nervous about the process and it could have been daunting, but luckily my host, fellow noir author Nick Kolakowski, held my hand (figuratively speaking since he was about 4,000 miles away at the time) and provided tremendous support.

He gave up a chunk of his Saturday morning, phoned me all the way from New York, and asked a heap of challenging but really thought-provoking questions which got us chatting about not just my book ‘Gravy Train’ (the main reason for the podcast) but also whether we write by the seat of our pants, what influences our work, and why the movie Hot Fuzz is so much fun.

You can now hear the results over on Authors on the Air, on Soundcloud. I may be biased but I do think it’s quite interesting… so feel free to head over there and have a listen. And while you’re there, check out the complete list of Nick’s previous victims, oops I mean participants. They’re all fantastic crime or noir writers with a great grasp of their craft, and they all seem to have much more meaningful things to say than I ever could!

A ‘wheel’ man?

webdrag-noirThose of you with long memories may remember my short story ‘Wheel Man’, published in the fantastic Drag Noir anthology from Fox Spirit Books.

Well, now it’s in the news again, for two reasons.

First, this is where the story first started for car thief Justine and her on-off lover Fred from my novel ‘Gravy Train’. So if you enjoyed reading about them in that, you might be interested to find out more. Like how their boss Symons’ dislike of women affected them, why they weren’t even on speaking terms by the start of ‘Gravy Train’, and why the story’s title is so appropriate for Justine.

And the even better news is that you can now buy the e-book of Drag Noir, hassle-free and for the incredibly good value price of only £3.99, direct from the Fox Spirit catalogue. Just follow this link to find Justine and Fred, plus a whole bunch of really terrific drag-tinged noir stories. And happy reading!

Words on words

hqdefaultI know, I know, I said I wouldn’t be back on here for a few days and you all thought you were safe. But I had to pop in to mention that Dee Arr’s live review of ‘Gravy Train’ is now available as a standalone piece on YouTube. So if you didn’t get to see the original broadcast, or didn’t have time to listen to the whole show, then now’s your chance. All you need to do is follow this link to Eclectic Storm radio and the snippet involving my book is right there for you.

It’s great fun and should give you a flavour of the book in no more than a couple of minutes. And watch out for the deliberately mischievous false start and the blindfold.

Now I’m disappearing again, probably until after the New Year. So have a good one and I’ll see you all in 2019!

New interview

Just dashing in, covered in glitter and sellotape, to mention that Chris Rhatigan of All Due Respect has interviewed me for the ADR blog.

You can find my replies on a raft of topics, including why I wrote ‘Gravy Train’ from several different points of view, why I don’t write about spies and billionaires, and which other UK crime writers I can recommend, over at the blog. I hope you enjoy it!

Now, where did I put that gift tag?

Where the heck is where the heck?

Where the heck2You may well be asking what’s happened to the Where the Heck Wednesday feature the last couple of weeks. Well, don’t worry – it hasn’t vanished into a black hole never to be seen again. Instead, it’s taking a short break over the Christmas period and should be back with more authors, more books, and more odd but intriguing locations. Watch this space – and in the meantime, have a great festive break yourselves and don’t eat all the turkey…

Wish You Weren’t Here…

wish_hereNo, this isn’t me talking to the relatives at Christmas, it’s the title of the second anthology of crime stories from attendees of the annual Crime & Publishment writing course, which launched a few weeks ago but which I’ve been too busy to mention.

Bad me, because it’s a great little collection with a crime/holiday theme (hence that title, obviously), and it’s stuffed with stories by a wide range of authors, some published (Graham Smith, Les Morris, Angela King) and some getting their first taste of publication.

My own contribution to the collection is a dark little tale called ‘Last Chance Saloon’, involving a dirty weekend, a dodgy car and a remote country road. What could possibly go wrong?! The story was first published in Betty Fedora, which specialises in kick-ass women’s fiction, so you can tell it’s going to be a wild ride for the men.

Better still, a percentage of the price of each book will be donated to the excellent charity Break the Silence, which works with victims of rape and sexual abuse. So if the rellies really are getting you down at Christmas, then don’t pick up the knife you carved the turkey with – just grab a copy of the book and escape into the pages instead.