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.

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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.

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.

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?

The most dangerous review on the internet

eclecticstormI woke to some unexpected but lovely news this morning, which is that ‘Gravy Train’ has been featured in a book review… on radio!

Eclectic Storm Radio, a YouTube based station which showcases new indie music alongside amusing tales and banter, also includes a review slot called Words on Words. Described (not altogether seriously!) as “the most dangerous book review on the internet”, it’s done in a maximum of 60 seconds, live and uncut, and in this particular case, blindfold!

Even in such a short time, and without his notes, co-host Dee Arr has the dizzying plot and whirl of characters down to a “T”, and says some lovely things about the book too.

Want to listen? Head over to Eclectic Storm Radio and check it out. It’s free, the music’s good and it’s a lot of fun, too.

Wet money and ducks

P1000417No, not my Christmas wish list, but a few of the things mentioned in my latest interview. And it’s an interview with a notable (perhaps even bonkers) difference, because I’ve been interviewing myself!

This is all thanks to fellow crime writer Nigel Bird, who runs a feature on his blog called ‘Dancing with Myself’, where authors both ask, and answer, their own questions. It’s a fun way of getting us to talk about ourselves, and previous victims have included Lisa de Nikolits, David Simms and Tom Leins, all of them worth checking out.

In my case I chatted (wittered?) about where the idea for ‘Gravy Train’ first came from, whether the characters were based on real people or not, what the link to Pink Floyd is, and what I’m working on now.

The picture shows the actual (ahem) bench that I used, in Birmingham’s Cannon Hill park. You can follow the trail at Nigel’s blog. Just watch out for that duck!

What a thrill!

GTcropThe latest issue of The Big Thrill (the monthly magazine for International Thriller Writers members) has just dropped into my inbox with a clatter and caused some excitement – because for the first time ever, I have an interview in it!

My interrogator Tim O’Mara asked some great questions about ‘Gravy Train’ and the way I write, and I had a huge amount of fun answering them. Thanks to Tim for making the whole process, which could have been quite daunting, so enjoyable. Topics include why I used present tense for one of the characters, why there’s an element of optimism in such a noir book, and whether I think there’s a difference between crime fiction in the UK and America.

You don’t seem to need to be a member of the ITW in order to read the interview so do head over and take a peek. Hopefully you’ll be glad you made the trip!

 

Gravy Train sets off

GT v5Exciting news today – my novel ‘Gravy Train’ has just set off on its travels, courtesy of All Due Respect (Down & Out Books).

£80,000. Seven people want it. Will any of them get it? That’s the tag line for the book, which features a bunch of losers chasing a bag of money (the aforementioned £80,000 no less) around the back streets of Birmingham. All of them are good at nicking it, but not so much at hanging onto it. And when it all blows up into a watery showdown on the banks of the local canal, it’s more a case of whether any of them can keep their hands on it at all.

To follow the adventures of barmaid Sandra, fat husband Mike, streetwise mugger Lenny, car thief Justine, crime boss Ballsy McBollockface and the rest, head for a station near you. The gravy train will be calling at Amazon US, Amazon UK, and all good book shops and suppliers. So hop on board and shunt your engine over there now. Just make sure you get off at the right stop, and mind the gap between the train doors and the platform…

Less interview, more interrogation!

interrogation-room-tess-makoveskyI’ve been interrogated! But don’t worry, there wasn’t a roll of gaffer tape or a pair of rusty pliers in sight – it was just fellow crime writer Tom Leins asking me some good hard searching questions about my books, my writing and pretty much everything else besides over at his blog The Interrogation Room.

Tom grilled me on all kinds of topics including how I’d pitch ‘Gravy Train’, what I hope readers will take away from the book, which other Birmingham crime writers I can recommend, and which other current crime writers I ‘grew up’ with. Head over to Tom’s blog to read my replies – or just to pick over my poor dead carcase. Just mind you don’t trip over the trailing flex from the cattle prod on your way in…

While you’re at it, you might like to check out the first review for ‘Gravy Train’, courtesy of another crime writer, Jason Beech, over at Goodreads. I realise the book isn’t even out yet but this isn’t cheating – Jason was one of the readers I sent advance copies out to – and he loved the book so much he couldn’t wait to post the review! Do pop along and have a quick look…