Gravy Train cover reveal

Regular readers will remember that I mentioned a few months back that my first ever full-length novel, ‘Gravy Train’, is due out from All Due Respect in November.

Well, work has been going on in the background ever since and the big news is that the book now has a cover. And here it is.

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I love it. I love the grungy look, I love the sense of speed conjured in the top image, I love the fact that it could easily be a street corner pub in Birmingham. I even love the font, which is similar enough to the one used on ‘Raise the Blade’ to be something of a Tess Makovesky brand. Many thanks to Eric Beetner for all his hard work in conjuring this up from not much more than a blurb and some vague mumblings from me.

November might sound like ages away yet but it’s only five months and the time will pass in the same high-speed blur as the cars on that photo. I’m already getting excited – I hope you are too.

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Podcast!

Shure_mikrofon_55SThanks to an invitation from Eric Beetner and the nice folk at Writer Types, I have suddenly become Tech Girl.

Well, not exactly, but after much battling with software and microphones, I did manage to record two minutes of myself talking about the locations in my upcoming novel ‘Gravy Train’, which has now been included in Writer Types’ latest podcast.

You can find the podcast here – and don’t worry, it’s not just me waffling on, but includes loads of other cool stuff too including fellow debut novelists Aimee Fix and Michael Pool, plus music, plus author interviews, plus… well, head over there and you can see for yourselves!

In my case I’m talking about Birmingham’s canal network, which is a real hidden gem of the city and provides a major part of the backdrop for ‘Gravy Train’.

I’ve never done this recording/podcast stuff before, so I’m oddly proud of the result!

Canal tour of Birmingham

These days I don’t get back to Birmingham all that often. However, we were in the area over the Christmas break so I took the opportunity to visit the city centre. The weather was freezing (there was still snow lying on the ground in the suburbs) but the sun was shining and the light was perfect for photography, and I wanted to try out my new camera on some of the sights. Most of all, I wanted shots of the area around Gas Street Basin, which is where large chunks of my new novel ‘Gravy Train’ are based.

And I wasn’t disappointed. I wandered all over the city centre, snapping away, and ended up at the back of the International Convention Centre, where Brindley Place meets Broad Street and where the canal network suddenly blossoms into the vast and picturesque Gas Street Basin.

It’s an amazing sight at the best of times, and very unexpected for the centre of a city that sadly, doesn’t have the best reputation for heritage, architecture, or anything much else. It’s not a reputation it deserves, as you can see from some of these photos. The area around Gas Street has recently been tidied up and the wonderful juxtaposition of old and new buildings, bridges, wharves, hoists, tower blocks and walkways gives it an atmosphere that’s hard to find anywhere else.

And if you believe the events in ‘Gravy Train’, it’s perfect for hiding the odd body or two as well!

Here’s a taster of the scenery:

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Gas Street Basin through the Broad Street bridge. The main thoroughfare of Broad Street, complete with Victorian buildings, runs straight across the top of this bridge; if you’re walking along the street you’d hardly know this was there.

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Picturesque canal-side buildings – many turned into bars and restaurants – line the towpath, which as I mention in ‘Gravy Train’ is edged in places by no more than a line of different coloured bricks.

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A view across the barges to the old Canal House (complete with hoisting gear) and some of the city’s swankier office blocks.

I took a whole heap of photos of other parts of the city and will hopefully share those over the next few weeks.

Exciting news

Yesterday I had official confirmation of the good news I’ve known about for a few weeks now, which is that my first crime novel, ‘Gravy Train’, has been accepted for publication in 2018 by All Due Respect (an imprint of Down and Out Books).

The book is a comedie noir romp in which a bunch of dodgy characters chase a bag of ill-gotten gains around Birmingham’s back streets and canals. As with my last book ‘Raise the Blade’ the title is nicked from a Pink Floyd track, this time the rather appropriate Have a Cigar.

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To say I’m over the moon is an understatement. Until recently I wasn’t sure I could write a whole crime novel, and it took the combined nagging of three writer friends (Linda Wright, Irene Paterson and Jackie Baldwin) before I even tried. After much head-scratching, crossing-out and sheer hard work, I’d increased the novella version of Gravy Train to double its original size, but still wasn’t sure it was suitable, enjoyable, or even much good.

But I’m delighted to say that All Due Respect loved its breathless pace and offbeat characters, and felt it fitted well with their ‘low-life’, noir ethos.

The book is due out in November next year, which seems like ages to wait but will no doubt whisk past in no time at all. In the meantime, here’s a brief blurb so you know what all the fuss is about.

“Who’ll take a slice of their pie?

Crime pays. So barmaid Sandra thinks when she overhears details of a betting scam and wins herself and fat husband Mike eighty thousand pounds. But they’ve reckoned without mugger Lenny, lying in wait outside the betting shop door. And he’s reckoned without a top-notch car thief, his own devious boss, and Sandra’s unpleasant almost-uncle George.

Mayhem ensues as a bunch of disparate – and desperate – characters chase the bag of money around Birmingham’s back streets. Plenty of them help themselves to the cash, but none of them are any good at hanging onto it. As they hurtle towards a chaotic showdown on the banks of the local canal, will any of them see their ill-gotten gains again? Or will their precious gravy train come shuddering to a halt?”

Can’t blog… writing.

cartoon_gravy_train_grinding_haltYou’ll have noticed I’ve been rather less than my usual chatty self lately.  There’s a good reason for this – I’ve been working hard on rewrites to my first novel, ‘Gravy Train’, as well as a number of other projects.

‘Gravy Train’ started life as a novella, rather like ‘Raise the Blade’, but when several of my writer friends pinned me to a wall and threatened me with dark deeds if I didn’t make it longer, I decided to have a go at just that.  And after many months of scribbling, I’ve got it from 35,000 words to almost double the length.

Now comes the scary bit – submitting it to publishers.  My first choice regretfully rejected it (no hard feelings – it just didn’t fit).  But this morning I’ve taken the bovine by the facial protuberances and sent it out again.  After first re-formatting the entire manuscript to take out lots of pesky extra spaces after all the full stops.  And finding a few typos and howlers as I went.

On top of that, I’m about to submit two more short stories, one to an anthology and one to a magazine.  Cue yet more fiddling and polishing, and a couple more deep intakes of breath.

After that, I’m hoping things will quieten down a little, and I’ll have time to catch up on all the blogging I haven’t been doing for a while. As long as my own gravy train doesn’t come shuddering to a halt…

Crime and Publishment 2017

I’m up with the larks this morning (or more accurately, next door’s yowling cats), after a brilliant weekend at this year’s Crime and Publishment writing course.

I’ve been three times before and have always loved it, but I think this one was the best yet.  All the old faces were there, plus lots of new people to meet and make friends with, and a set of truly inspirational speakers in Lin Anderson, Tom Harper, Michael J Malone, Paul Finch and agent Simon Trewin.  All five were fascinating on their own subjects (including forensics, adding tension and suspense, the art of positive thinking, and how to write a horror/crime novel).  Paul in particular was so passionate that he’s convinced me to try my hand at a horror novel – and I don’t even like horror!  And Simon gave us some valuable insights into the way literary agents work, and how to get on their good side.

As ever the sheer friendliness and opportunity to chat to fellow, like-minded authors was equally invaluable and I’ve come away fired with enthusiasm to finish ‘Gravy Train’ so I can start submitting it.

Many thanks to Graham Smith as ever for organising such an informative and above all enjoyable weekend.  If you can put up with me I’ll be back next year for sure!

Homework!

This weekend sees me trek north to Gretna Green for the annual Crime & Publishment weekend.  It’s two and a half days of writing course with sessions run by various tutors from the crime fiction world, plus a chance to chat and socialise with other crime writers, plus a chance to pitch work to a publisher and/or agent on the last day.  I’ve been for the last two years and it’s been brilliant – as much for the networking and friendships made as for the information gleaned.

This year, we have homework.  A brief questionnaire from one of the tutors, and a quick run-through of the novella I’m hoping to pitch.  I was expecting the latter to be really hard work.  I wrote ‘Gravy Train’ in a matter of weeks early last year, then tossed the file onto a shelf and have hardly had time to look at it since.  Usually when that happens I have to more-or-less rewrite the book because it’s such a mess, with loose ends, contradictions, and bits that just trail off.  This time, though, it hardly seems to need anything.  A few typos here and there, a few minor additions to clarify, explain or describe things better, and hey presto!  I’m actually happy enough with it that I could submit it to a publisher tomorrow.

If only all my books could be as accommodating as that!

 

Next off the conveyor belt

I’m feeling tired but happy this afternoon, because I’ve just written the last sentence in the first draft of my latest novella, ‘Gravy Train’.

The book tells the story of a bag of money, which is chased around Birmingham, often unintentionally, by various criminals and low-lifes, all intent on their own nefarious ends.  Will any of them end up with the cash?  Will the undercover police officer save the day?

The story was partly inspired by various local news items about bags of money being found in Birmingham’s canals, as well as stories in the press about sports betting scams and the shenanigans of undercover police.  I had an absolute blast with it and have rarely written the best part of 30,000 words so quickly, which I’m hoping will be a good sign.

Of course, the glow of finishing it will soon wear off and the hard work of editing will start.  But it’s a very nice feeling while it lasts.