Where the heck Wednesday: Tess Makovesky

Great news everyone, the semi-regular Wednesday feature is back, with some fascinating guests planned over the next few months. And I’m kick-starting it with a quick look at myself, because I realised I never took that opportunity last time round. So, without further ado, let’s stoke the engines, release the brakes, and let the ‘Gravy Train’ steam into town…

Book Title: Gravy Train

Setting: Birmingham (UK)

Author: Tess Makovesky

http://www.tessmakovesky.com / Facebook / Twitter

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So, why pick Birmingham as a location, I hear you ask? After all, it’s the dullest place on earth – nothing but Spaghetti Junction, motorways, factories, and endless 1960s concrete.

Well, no, actually. Birmingham is the UK’s second city – and quite probably the one with the least-deserved reputation. There is concrete (show me a British city without the stuff), but there’s also so much more. The tightly-packed city centre is a wonderful assortment of old and new, with everything from the gleamingly modern Grand Central station/shopping mall to the Town Hall, designed by the same bloke who came up with the Hansom cab.

Beyond that there are swathes of Victorian and Edwardian suburbs, scattered with gems from earlier times: churches, medieval manor houses, a mill that made it into The Lord of the Rings, even an ancient pub or two. And then – pure joy for crime writers like myself – there are the maze-like back streets, the vast parks, and best of all the canals. Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice; they stitch the industrial towns of the Black Country together and form their own pasta-like sprawl across the landscape. There are canal-feeder reservoirs, bridges, tunnels; there are places where one whole canal system goes over or under another; there are entire sections in the city centre that are almost lost, and only reappear as ghostly imprints in the canyons between office blocks every now and again.

When I lived in Birmingham I found it hard to write about the city. There was a sense of it being a comfortable place to call home, rather like an old pair of slippers, and it was hard to see past that to view the place objectively. However, once I moved away the over-familiarity wore off and I began to set more of my stories and books there. ‘Wheel Man’ in the Drag Noir anthology from Fox Spirit Books uses the suburb of Acocks Green. My novella ‘Raise the Blade’ is set in various locations including the well-hidden Edgbaston Reservoir and Highgate park. ‘Gravy Train’ starts and terminates in the inner city district of Hockley (home of the world famous Jewellery Quarter) but stops off at Cannon Hill Park, the leafy suburb of Moseley, and Broad Street’s “entertainment quarter” along the way.

And, oh, those canals. The Worcester & Birmingham branch has a body fished out of it in ‘Raise the Blade’. And ‘Gravy Train’ makes equally good use of them, for all sorts of nefarious purposes. The old Gas Street basin, originally used for turning narrowboats around, gains a new function as a handy dumping ground for incriminating evidence. And when crime bosses George Leary and Vernon Ball set up a meeting to hand over some stolen cash, it’s the basin they choose, with all sorts of unexpected consequences.

I had a lot of fun writing about the various locations, and more fun re-visiting them recently to take lots of photographs. I’ll be posting those on my blog over the next few weeks and months, but in the meantime if you’d like to find out more about Birmingham, then take the train. Just please make sure it’s the ‘Gravy Train’!

New reviews

There’s a couple of really nice mentions for my stuff turned up in the last few days.

Raise the Blade FrontFirst, Graham Wynd has included ‘Raise the Blade’ in his list of favourite books of 2016, with a great write-up that had me glowing.  You can find the list here; do take time to read all the entries because there’s some other great books featured, including titles by Richard Godwin and Renato Bratkovic, and the Dark Minds anthology.

Second, and rather a long time after publication but still a very welcome surprise, there’s this from the British Fantasy Society about the Drag Noir anthology, which featured my story ‘Wheel Man’ amongst many others.  The reviewer has some nice things to say about the story, although there’s a spoiler alert if you haven’t yet read it yourself because they do rather give away the plot!

 

Watching the wheels come off…

100Drag NoirMy ears pricked up when I first heard about the Drag Noir anthology because it was such an interesting combination. I immediately started to think about story ideas, mostly involving the typical boy-meets-girl, boy-finds-girl-isn’t-a-girl-after-all scenario. Then I had second thoughts. Other people would probably go down that route, and go down it a lot more skilfully than me. What I wanted was something different, something that delved into why a character would don drag, rather than just the fallout when he or she did.

Nothing really sprang to mind until a chance remark by Stephen Fry on, of all things, the BBC tv quiz show QI. This is an entertaining mix of humour and weird knowledge, and always worth a watch for the laughs, and the esoteric facts you can pick up. During one particular exchange with the contestants, Fry revealed that car theft is, as he put it, “the last great bastion of sexism in British crime”, and explained that the organised gangs running it will simply not accept cars stolen by women.

This was extraordinary enough to set my mind racing. What better reason for someone to take drastic measures if the life they loved, the work they loved, was threatened in this way? Soon Justine was born, and developed into a feisty young woman with an important skill – the ability to hack into modern, keyless cars. Add in weakling Fred, her sometime lover, sometime partner in crime; and archetypal thug Sy who dislikes women and isn’t afraid to let it show; and you have all the elements of a plot about covering up, in more ways than one.

And a tragedy as the wheels come off, of course. Because the other thing to remember is that this is noir, and in noir there is no happy ever after, or even a happy for now. Justine and Fred don’t get to drive off into the sunset in one of their stolen cars. But you’ll have to read the story to find out why. All I’ll say is that it’s no coincidence the story’s title, ‘Wheel Man’, is a bad pun on ‘real man’, and one that’s appropriate in a number of different ways…

Drag Noir released

Exciting news from Friday, which I didn’t get a chance to share until now thanks to a frantic weekend.

100Drag NoirFox Spirit have released the latest in their noir series of anthologies, Drag Noir, “where glamour meets grit, where everyone’s wearing a disguise (whether they know it or not) and knowing the players takes a lot more than simply reading the score cards…”

This is a terrific collection of 15 short stories and (of course!) includes my own story ‘Wheel Man’, set in the dark and dubious world of car theft.  Hurry over to Fox Spirit for more details, or grab your copy (Kindle or paperback) from Amazon now.

Great timing

The timing of this article on the BBC website could hardly have been better, coming as it does just days before the release of Drag Noir.

The article explains that car thieves are increasingly targeting more expensive cars – those with supposedly thief-proof keyless locking and ignition – by using computers to hack the systems.

Believe it or not, the heroine of my story ‘Wheel Man’, Justine, has developed an app to do exactly that.  And believe it or not again, but I’d already written the story some six months before this story appeared.  So I didn’t copy the idea… nor am I psychic, nor did I pay the journalist to run the thing right before the launch.  In the end, it just seemed like a sensible solution to a modern ‘problem’ for criminals – how to break into the unbreakable.

Mind you, expecting computer software ‘intended only for mechanics’ to stay secure in the face of losses, forgetfulness, hacking or plain corruption was perhaps a tad naïve.  Great background for a story, though.

Oh – and the picture is every bit as appropriate to ‘Wheel Man’ as the news article… but you’ll have to read the story to find out why!

Wheel Man taster

100Drag NoirTo whet your appetite, here’s a brief excerpt from my latest short story ‘Wheel Man’, which is due out in ‘Drag Noir’ from Fox Spirit at the end of the month.  Hope you like it!

Clear of the city streets, she buzzed the electric window down to feel the wind stirring her hair, and shifted to sixth gear. The last few dregs of the suburbs reeled past in a smear of street lights and rain; soon the bungalows would be replaced by hedges, fields and trees. She shouldn’t be this far out, of course. Fred’s place was back in the suburbs, tucked into a courtyard where hardly anyone went. This was a twenty mile detour; this was wasting fuel. But she could never resist the urge to put her foot down, to try the car for size. There wasn’t much point nicking cars if you didn’t get the chance to drive them for yourself.

And this one was a gem, if she did say so herself. Sleek, fast, built like a tank. The sort of car that young men dreamed of owning, and old men drove, too fast for their waning reflexes, once they’d made their pile.

Somewhere out beyond the airport she sighed, slowed down, and used a handy roundabout to turn for home. This was a good car, but there’d be others, better, more expensive, faster even than this. She’d hand this one over, get her cut, and do the whole thing again another night. At least Fred would like this one. He’d been weird about her cars lately, but one look at this and not even he could say no.

***

“What the fuck d’you mean, you can’t take it? It’s a great car.”

Drag Noir cover reveal

Cue music, lights and feather boa. Like a stripper at a high class lap dancing joint, I can now reveal… the cover for the forthcoming ‘Drag Noir’ anthology from Fox Spirit. Like the stripper, it’s worth the wait. Like the stripper, it’s snazzy, stylish, and alluring. Unlike the stripper, it doesn’t promise more than it delivers. In fact, it’s an absolute doozy, as you can see for yourself:

webDrag Noir

The book, a whole collection of stories devoted to men and women wearing a disguise (whether they know it or not), is due in October. If, like the stripper’s customers you can’t wait that long, you can find out more at the Fox Spirit website. The list of contents includes my own short story ‘Wheel Man’, a poignant tale set in the gender-obsessed world of car theft. I get the impression the rest of the collection is going to be every bit as good as the cover, and (like the stripper’s customers) I’m struggling to stay patient too. I’ll have to try not to trip over my high heels and feather boa in the rush.

Cover image (c) sljohnsonimages.com, by the talented Stephanie Johnson.

What a drag…

Or not, since I had another short story accepted over the Easter weekend. This time it’s the turn of ‘Wheel Man’ in the forthcoming Drag Noir anthology, edited by Kate Laity, from Fox Spirit.

Set against a backdrop of car theft, recently described by Stephen Fry on quiz show QI as the last bastion of sexism in British crime, ‘Wheel Man’ is a bleak tale describing the lengths one woman is prepared to go to in order to keep the job – and the man – she loves.

I don’t yet have full details (cover art, release date, other contributors) but as soon as I do, I’ll pass them on.