Wednesday, 28 January 2015

January Roundup



Along with many others, I'm sure, I normally find January to be a real grind as emotional lows and dark nights really start to take their toll. Not so this month. If anything, I feel more at ease with the world than ever. This could be due the the pain medication I'm on for my back, which also involves the taking of an anti-depressant for the nerve problems. Whatever it is, I'm not complaining.

The writing's fun just now. Even though the paths through my current novel haven't been quite as easy to find as I might have hoped, I've been able to hack my way through the mass of thoughts and return to the main drag often enough to keep up the momentum.

Film

Favourite film of the month was one I stumbled into last night, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. As I don't get out much, TV is my main access to movies, so they're not always current releases. This one was a real surprise, a well-handled coming-of-age piece that was able to use the odd cliche and still remain engaging and fresh. As well as being vibrant and energising, there was plenty of dark material in there as the story unfolded. I did cry at the end and that doesn't happen too often. 

Pressies

I also picked up a couple of belated birthday gifts. The first was a pair of slippers (always welcome) and the second is photographed at the head of the page. It's the text of White Fang presented as an image. I love the result and am writing beneath it now. There are loads of other classics over at Spineless Classics if you're looking for a suitable gift for a book lover.

Reading's been slow but delicious. 

Novels

First off, a novel by George Simenon called Striptease. Essentially, it shines a microscope onto the lives and relationships of those who work in the club. Celita is the long-standing mistress of the proprietor of the club and is keen to keep her man even though his wife is constantly watching and all-knowing. Problems arise when a new and pretty young thing arrives and captivates Monsieur Leon with innocent ease. The result is not so much a love-triangle as a love-knot as bodies and stories are shared between the characters. Though not my favourite Simenon by quite some way, it's still a treat to read. Some of the descriptions of the relationships are possibly telling about the author's own attitudes to sex and I did occasionally feel like a voyeur as he pulled back the curtains and allowed me to gaze in. The ending has a real energy and power to it and I'd recommend you give it a go.

One of the reasons that my reading has been even slower than usual is that I took Willy Vlautin's The Free down from my shelves. I read it in small bites because I wanted to savour each section and as I came to the end, didn't really want to finish. It's a complex tale that builds up through the telling of a number of simple stories. Leroy is the veteran of the Iraq war who is a hospital patient and who survives in an imaginary world where he's on the run with his girlfriend. They're being chased by right-wing conservative vigilantes who are brutal and unflinching in their pursuit of the eradication of the mild. Though a central character in the piece, Leroy is also like the skeleton that allows the flesh of the novel to stand up. The flesh comes in the form of two wonderful people who work in Leroy's hospital. Pauline is a nurse with an enormous heart who gets by in spite of the weight of life she has to carry. Freddie is the night watchman who cares for the patients and also holds down a dead-end job in a paint store; the weight of medical bills and general misfortune are constantly threatening to wear Freddie's life down and every day brings a new battle. The celebration of Pauline and Freddie is surely also a celebration of those who care in general and the nursing profession in particular. Pick up a copy and see if you don't enjoy Freddie's routine stop at the donut shop as much as I did. It's a special story that makes me extremely grateful that we have the National Health Service here in the UK - let's not let that fall apart under any circumstances.

Short Stories

My short story fix has been more than satisfied by the latest issue of All Due Respect magazine (number 5). This is a nicely varied collection of tales with twists. It kicks off with Steve Weddle and a novel excerpt. It's a great slice to be presented with as it seems to stand alone and yet completely whets the appetite for the whole story. I can't wait to get my hands on that when it's released. He's interviewed later by Jed Jedidiah Ayres and you wouldn't want to miss that. There are short stories in this collection by a range of talents - Paul D Brazill, Angel Luis Colon, Garnete Elliott, Gabino Iglesias and Joe Sinisi. These are all great pieces. There's also another story, Alkaline by Keith Rawson, which is my favourite in the pack. I loved the voice and the set-up from the opening and was keen to follow the story wherever it went even though I didn't have a clue where that might be. This rounds off sublimely and definitely has a real bite. If that weren't enough there are also a series of reviews including the latest Hard Case Crime pick and one for my own Southsiders. I'd like to thank Chris Rhatigan for his fine and kind words and for remaining an inspiration in the world of books. If you've not tried one before, please do yourself a favour and check it out. If you won't believe me, here's a tiny piece from a 5 star review that says:

'Take all these great stories and add reviews for Nigel Bird, Westlake, and Brewer and you have a must own collection here.
My TBR pile is extensive on any given day, and it just got bigger, as ADR just recently released a new one by Jake Hinkson and just published Uncle Dust by Rob Pierce. Guess what two books just jumped to the top of my TBR pile? I am in love with All Due Respect Books! Keep them coming!'


Music

Younger by Therailsofficial
Bad Place For A Good Time by Kate Tempest
Metamorphosis by Pinkshinyultrablast 
and
Swing Like A Monkey from The Len Price Three (tops) which is from a film called Pub Monkey which looks fab.

Coming soon...

I'm hoping to get into the latest release from Anthony Neil Smith courtesy of Blasted Heath. It's called Worm and the cover is fab.
The same can be said of Uncle Dust by Rob Pierce and I can hear that one calling to me loud and clear. 
Bitter Water Blues by Patrick Shawn Bagley and published by the excellent Snubnose Press is also one for your list.
And if that wasn't enough, there was another release from Number Thirteen Press this January, The Mistake by Grant Nicol.

Here's to a good February. Thanks for coming.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Christmas Tree, My Christmas Tree


You know, I took my Christmas tree down ages ago, but I keep finding Needles all over the place.


Needle Magazine: made to make your mouth water.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

ROGER SMITH: CONFRONTING THE HORROR By Rory Costello


Anyone who’s read Roger Smith’s fiction knows that the world he depicts is rife with the horrors of the human condition. He never flinches or pulls any of his punches – and that’s a big part of what makes the stories he mines from those horrors so compelling. Roger has kindly agreed to give some more insight into his vision.

Q: For you, where does the horror lie? Is it more in society or more in human nature itself? How do you see these forces counterbalancing?

I don’t know that I can separate the two, but for me writing is all about character and my characters are the beams that illuminate society’s horrors.

Q: In a 2012 interview, you responded to a question about censorship, by yourself or others, by saying “If people do it, I write about it.” Personally, how much of this horror can you take?

I try to reflect reality, even when that reality is uncomfortable and difficult—for the reader as well as for me. I’ve written a lot about the Cape Flats, Cape Town’s mixed race ghetto, whose inhabitants are stricken by all manner of hardships and horrors. What always shocks me is when readers from the Flats say to me, “Yes, you’ve got it right, but if anything the reality is even worse than your books.”

A video interview that I did with an ex-convict who lives on the Flats who describes a brutal prison gang killing gives some insight into this. 

Q: A couple of years before that, you told Keith Rawson of Spinetingler, “Writing crime set in South Africa isn’t only relevant now, for me it’s about the only way to stay sane.” How do you avoid becoming jaded?

This links to a later question of yours: with my new book, Man Down, I’ve taken a wider view, setting the novel both in South Africa and the U.S. which was an interesting challenge for me. I’m not saying that I won’t be writing about South Africa in the future, but the idea of a larger canvas is appealing.

Q: In another interview from 2012, you stated, “More and more I’m submerging myself in the worlds of increasingly dark and messed up people, and I’ve grown to trust that my readers will follow me there.” How do you find that your readership has evolved over time?

My books are not at the “easy listening” end of the crime spectrum, the police procedurals and P.I. novels that, while they depict brutality and amorality, are largely optimistic because good (shopworn and battered, perhaps, but still good) triumphs over evil, allowing readers to turn out the light and sink into their slumbers with their faith in the essential positivism of human nature unchallenged.

My novels take the reader on a more troubling ride and I’m pleased to say that over the years more and more people have happily jumped aboard for the trip and have come to expect a certain type of book from me. That’s very gratifying.

Q: With Vile Blood (under your Max Wilde pseudonym), you turned to a setting in an imaginary United States, influenced by horror comics, B-movies, and lurid American true crime. What are the differences between that breed of horror and your crime fiction? Or perhaps they’re not that far apart?

I chose to write Vile Blood as Max Wilde in order not to confuse—or piss off—readers who were expecting one of my more realistic crime novels. (Although, judging by a couple of on-line reviews, there were some who were still pissed off . . .)

Vile Blood was me having fun. It was liberating not to have to write about a real place with very real ills and the respect and diligence that those ills demand of a writer. But the themes of Vile Blood are not dissimilar to those of my “Roger Smith” books: corruption, the loss of innocence, moral ambiguity and regeneration through violence and the tormented heroine Skye has a lot in common with Sunday in Dust Devils, Dawn in Capture and Louise in Sacrifices who are victims of brutality and indifference and then (with mixed success) take charge of their lives and fight back, and the giant sheriff, Delbert Drum, could well be kin of Gatsby Barnard, Mixed Blood’s scumbag rogue cop.

Q: Your latest, Man Down, also has an American setting, not South African. What was behind this choice?

Well, as I said earlier, it’s set both in South Africa and America. In contemporary Tucson, Arizona, the home invasion of an expatriate South African and his family triggers a series of flashbacks to a crime he committed in Johannesburg ten years ago.

Over the last few decades an estimated one million white South Africans (of a total population of less than five million) have fled the political turmoil and violent crime in their country and settled in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UK and the U.S. I wanted to touch on this in my book and also deal with the collision of a very American crime with a very South African one.

Q: How do you view the parallels in U.S. and South African society – issues of race and class?

Both South Africa and the U.S. were settled by Europeans at roughly the same time and in both countries those settlers took off into the vast hinterlands where they wreaked genocide upon the native inhabitants. The U.S. settlers were more successful in this due to their numerical superiority, but the two countries birthed frontier mentalities that share a vengeful Calvinist God and the implicit belief in the right to bear arms and use them with seeming impunity. When Jimmy Carter, while recoiling from apartheid, famously said “I am an Afrikaner” he was acknowledging this similarity. 

Q: One of the things that struck me after reading your books is the kinship (at some level) with some American naturalists, like Nelson Algren. I took the title of this Q&A from a critical study of Algren’s work. Other American authors from the past come to mind too: Frank Norris, James T. Farrell, and Hubert Selby Jr., to name a few. The sense of tragedy and doom is the common bond. Is that just a coincidence, or did any of them influence you at all?

I’ve read Algren and Selby and found them very powerful, particularly Selby, but it’s a later generation of American realists that influenced me more: the so-called Dirty Realists (or Kmart Realists) of the 70s and 80s, like Jayne Anne Phillips, Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff and Richard Ford. They were mainly short story writers (although Ford, of course, has written great novels) with a fatalistic—or even deterministic—world view who were concerned with the “other America”: the dispossessed, the unemployed, the alcoholics and junkies, the people at the margins and in the trailer parks.

This struck a very real chord and, along with the more obvious influences of the darker crime novelists like James M. Cain, David Goodis and Jim Thompson, helped me find a way to tell my stories.

 Q: Your work is very, very bleak – but I don’t think it crosses into nihilism. You offer some rays of sunshine – for example, with Nick, Dawn, and Brittany in Capture. How do you strike this balance?


I’d like to believe that my books are moral and that those most deserving retribution receive it. This retribution doesn’t come from within the criminal justice system which is corrupt and toothless but is rather in the form of karmic payback. The bad choices that my characters make trigger their own downfall and the more vile the character, the more savage the reckoning. 

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, December 2014



Having turned 50 and made it over the line for another year, the coinciding drives to shake things up have come together to suggest alteration.

I’m not sure what those alterations are going to be exactly, but I can feel them. Mostly they consider time to be a wonderful asset and the wasting of it a crime. They way I spend it isn’t entirely of my choosing. My teaching job has to stay because my writing income falls way short. My children need me around, albeit in a less intense form. The house needs cleaning and maintaining. I need to write and to find time to rest.

Among the many other uses of my time, I’d say that the internet takes up a huge amount of what’s left (and even eats into the other things I should or could be doing). It’s not that I do exciting things when I surf, it’s more that I find some kind of comfort in my browsing. I feel the need to do less of it and the blog is going to change because of that. I’m intending to do a monthly update, starting today, that encompasses things that might be of interest to others, particularly in the world of writing and fiction. I’ll throw in other aspects of life as they seem important. If you enjoy it, stick around. If not, point your board in another direction.

December 2014

I’ve already posted a review of Steve Finbow’s Down Among The Dead and would urge you to take a look at it. The immediacy of the story and the way a simple life is gnawed away at by an unforgiving past makes this intense and powerful. The book’s as long as it has to be to tell the story and I loved it.

Next came Hugh C Rae’s The Shooting Gallery. This one’s published by 280 Steps, a resurrection from days gone by. The book came as something of a revelation and I’ve clearly been missing something in my choice of reading material in the past. It opens with the body of a young man being dumped at a bleakly set hospital in a small Scottish town. Superintendent McCaig and a team of police officers set about identifying the curious issues surrounding the case, one that is complicated by the victim’s connections to society and to local heroin suppliers. We get to see the story unfold from many angles as Rae uses his characters to enlighten. Each perspective is outlined in broad detail and also exposes the personal landscapes of those involved. This novel is a slow burn. Rae describes moods and scenes in great detail and chooses similes and imagery like a natural (He blobbed out the paint until the air bubbles told him it was all gone, then tossed the gnarled tube over his shoulder like a peasant appeasing the devil with a pinch of salt). One the one hand, this is a page-turner of sorts, on the other it’s a book to be savoured. The only downside to this one relates to the errors – some odd words appear from time-to-time and an issue with the occasional lack of opening speech marks was slightly disconcerting. I’ve already stocked up on a couple of other books by Mr Rae and look forward to taking them on later this year.

Then came a collection of crime novella’s called Russian Roulette: The Konstantin Files by Keith Nixon. This one’s a collection of novellas that work around two main characters, the cool, collected and lethal Russian Konstantin and a sympathetic dominatrix, Fidelity Brown. Konstantin washes up in Margate to lie low and has nothing to lose. He encounters a local gang and deals with them in a quick and brutal fashion. They didn’t stand a chance. Konstantin becomes involved with the lowlife of the local drug-scene and wipes it up with the ease with which a cleaner might mop a floor. Konstantin’s life becomes complicated by the arrival of Fidelity Brown into her life. She needs help in dealing with some financial problems with the local colour. Fortunately for her, and in spite of a sense of caring about nothing, Konstantin takes a shine to her that will see her protected and delving into some of the more complicated issues of her younger days. It’s a hard-hitting collection that will offer plenty to fans of urban crime, dark humour and huge KGB agents who are practically indestructible. My favourites, by some way, were the openers and these alone are well worth the price of entry. Publisher Caffeine Nights promise ‘fiction aimed at the heart and the head...’ and with Russian Roulette they come close to hitting the bull's eye.

Short Story Corner


Chris Rhatigan’s Wake Up Time To Die was published recently by Beat To A Pulp. It’s a collection of stories that have been seen before in many fine places and it makes a lot of sense to bring them together. I read this over the Christmas period and found it to be a real antidote to the sense of over-consumption and indulgence. The opener had me doing double-takes just to make sure I was getting it right. It’s about a man who covets his neighbour’s everything and finds himself taking it all over only to find that protecting his new found success will drive him insane. Story two sees our protagonist walk out on a good thing and decide upon a life of crime that ends with unexpected consequences. Next we’re in the company of Bill Gates (the Bill Gates) as he sets off to rob a local store to get his kicks and encounters a very unusual policeman. Next I was reminded of Gregor Samsa when Rhatigan’s character woke to find a gunman at the end of his bed, the gunman intending to follow his victim around all day. And so on. I found each tale to be unsettling, political, refreshingly honest in terms of the writers’ motivations, superbly written and perfectly rounded off. I reckon you should read it.

Music

A couple of great tracks for you.

The first is by Billie Marten called Ribbon. This young lady has a hauntingly beautiful voice and it needs to be shared. I hope (and believe) that we’ll all be hearing a lot more from her in 2015 and beyond.

Next, a band that tickle me, The Saint Gillbillies. I can’t find the track I’d hoped to as I’m not sure it’s out yet, so here’s a filler. A very cool interpretation of The Message.

Writing

Well, Southsiders is out there and ready to be read. There’s some love for it and there’s been quite a lot of faint praise. However others see it, I’m very proud of it. I’ll be working on the edits to the sequel as soon as I get them and will be starting work on #3 in the series very soon. It’s nice to enter a new year with a couple of things to get immediately involved in on the writing front.

Talking of writing, there’s a new issue of Needle Magazine (as in a magazine of noir). It features a story that was co-written by Chris Rhatigan and I and I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy as it’s always a thing of beauty out and in.

Bits and Pieces

For my 50th birthday, I was treated to a day out at the Lyceum, Edinburgh to see an adaptation of The BFG. This one was adapted by David Wood and directed by Andrew Panton and I loved it. It’s done for now, but I’ll be hoping they return with something next year because I’d be more than happy to make these guys part of an annual event.

Also, With Love And Squalor's free just now. 

And that’s about it.


Belated Happy New Year folks. I’ll be seeing you.

Monday, 29 December 2014

The Big Five-Oh - Seems Like There's A Hole In My Dreams



The festive fifty? Here on Sea Minor? What was that all about?

Truth be told, it was a little fun activity to help me pass the hours as time shifts and I move closer to my 50th birthday.

It's a time for reflection, without doubt. I've turned things upside down and inside out and looked at them through various lenses and I'm struggling with the view. For all the amazing stuff I find, it still seems like there's a hole in my dreams. 

Something has to give. It's just the way it goes. I just have to work out what that will be.

Something needs to go.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Festive Fifty (books and songs) 20 - 11



A new list in the Festive Fifty, this time from 20 - 11

20 The Song Is You by Megan Abbott and Frank Sinatra

19 The Good Son by Russell D McLean and Nick Cave

18 Northline by Willy Vlautin and Willy Vlautin

17 Road Rage by Ruth Rendell and Catatonia

16 The Mercy Seat by Martyn Waites and Johnny Cash

15 The Donor by Helen Fitzgerald and Half Man Half Biscuit

14 The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley and The Monochrome Set

13 Downtown by Ed McBain and Petula Clark

12 The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler and The Rosie Taylor Project

11 Live Wire by Harlan Coban and Wire (live)