Wednesday, 24 June 2015


My short story, "Bothersome", has recently been published in Darkest Minds, an anthology published by Dark Minds Press. As usual I'm blogging about the gestation of the story for those who might be interested. There could be spoilers as part of this post.

I actually wrote "Bothersome" about four years ago. It's one of those odd stories which can often be hard to place in anthologies/magazines because it doesn't easily fall into any particular genre, however when I saw a call for submissions themed around 'crossing a border' I knew I'd give Darkest Minds a shot. In my day job I handle incoming social service calls and one day I was struck by a conversation with someone whose mother had dementia. He commented that "she gets lost even in her own room". I thought this concept was superb (as well as being incredibly disturbing), and decided to explore it in fiction. Because I wanted to write the story from the main character's perspective I didn't want to explicitly state that she has dementia which probably makes the story a little difficult to access for readers if they don't want to do some work. I also thought I'd make my protagonist a retired scientist so that some aspects of her thought processes linger in a past where - whilst still muddled - sparks of genius remain. Ultimately the story is a metafictional fantasy vs reality piece which hints at memory and lost opportunity, of how intelligence can be whittled away until even going to the toilet becomes problematic, of how we might end up prisoners of ourselves, of how we can cross borders within ourselves.

I remember a red pencil. HB. Stem hexagonal rather than circular. With a point of graphite at one end and an eraser at the other. I journey along the pencil. From the graphite making marks on paper at one end of the journey to the eraser removing them at the other.

Darkest Minds also includes fiction from Glen Krisch, Robert Mammone, Clayton Stealback, Ralph Robert Moore, Mark West, Gary Fry, Tom Johnstone, Benedict J Jones, David Surface, Tracy Fahey and Stephen Bacon.

Friday, 19 June 2015

A Childhood In Books

I'm glad that I'm a writer - but most of all I'm glad that I'm a reader. Sometimes I wonder about the nature/nurture question. Do I write because I read a lot, or did I gravitate to reading because somewhere inside me there lurked a fledgling writer? I guess it's something I will never know (and indeed, will never need to know), but thinking over this question has led to this blog post. These are the pivotal books in my reading/writing journey which I believe influenced and nurtured my writing journey in my childhood years.

I won't start with picture books, suffice to say that I remember liking Dr Suess, the Meg & Mog series, and two books which I remember being read to me repeatedly by my mother, "Goodnight, Little Bear" and "The Runaway Kangaroos". I adored both these books and still have them (although I had to re-buy the latter online).

My first memory of a 'proper' book is my aunt arriving with Enid Blyton's "Five On A Treasure Island". I have vivid memories of the cover, of leafing through the pages on my bed, and feeling some excitement as to the contents. I don't recall reading anything of that length before, and I'm sure I read it quickly - followed by the remainder of the series. Blyton's books instilled a sense of adventure, mystery-solving fun, and an almost-punk notion that if you put your mind to it you could do anything (to the extent that you could be a child solving crimes).

I progressed through some of the other Blyton series, and quite liked the Adventurous Four and the Barney Mystery series but wasn't keen on the Secret Seven. My favourite of them all, however, were the Five Find-Outers. There was something about the dynamic between these five which really appealed - and perhaps because they seemed less known than the other series they felt exclusive to me. Thankfully these don't appear to have been rewritten for the modern age, as I've noticed in a recent edition that one of the children has retained their nickname of Fatty.

From Enid Blyton my next great find was the Three Investigators Series. 'Presented by Alfred Hitchcock' these books featured three friends, Bob Andrews, Pete Crenshaw and Jupiter Jones who in the tradition of Blyton also had crimes and mysteries to find and solve. Unlike Blyton, many of these mysteries had a supernatural element, and this was probably my first encounter with this genre which might well have influenced my own fiction. Whereas the supernatural was debunked at the end of the story, this weaving together of reality and fantasy greatly impressed me (unlike many of my contemporary writers I didn't read the Pan Horror Series and have never read Lord of The Rings or the Narnia novels).

Compiling this list it seems interesting that the older I became the fewer protagonists I needed:

Five Find-Outers
Four (Adventurous)
Three Investigators
Two (Adventurers).

My next find were Hal and Roger, the two protagonists in Willard Price's Adventure Series. These were sons of a respected animal collector who had taken time off school to assist in capturing animals for zoos and nature parks. Whilst this flies in the face of modern conservation, these books continued my thirst for adventure but also gave me an appreciation of wildlife which I respect to the present day. They also gave me a passion for travel. I must have stopped reading this series in 1979 when I was twelve, because I never progressed beyond "Tiger Adventure" and I remember it being published with a completely different cover to the rest of the series which annoyed my sense of continuity.

My passion for animal welfare was further developed through the following two books. "Freedom For A Cheetah" I remember borrowing repeatedly from my local library and "Bichu The Jaguar" was a book I had at home. In both titles, the animal/human relationship is considered more from the animal's point of view than in the Willard Price series. Perhaps it's no coincidence that I've often featured animals in my stories ("Slender Lois, Slow Doris", "Spilt Beaver", "The Honey Badger's Child", "Monochrome Tiger").

I view the above two books as a transition between my childhood and adolescent reading. Whilst I remember picking up several Gollancz yellow SF books from my library around that age, and also recall some of Asimov's robot stories, nothing else has stood out. Perhaps I remember books in a series more simply because they were in a series, or maybe a series appealed to me due to character development. Either way, around the age of fourteen I was devouring Ian Fleming's James Bond books and also Agatha Christie (both books usually featuring one main character, as per the above 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 countdown).

I would have come to James Bond from the movies and then seeing the books in my local store, but there is also no doubt that the covers greatly appealed, particularly the 1970 Panther Triad editions featuring semi-clothed girls straddling giant guns. I remember becoming aware for the first time of eroticism in fiction, but also the potential for violence. Christie, in comparison, was a calmer, more traditional voice; but with both writers - as indeed, most of the above - the plot revolved around explaining a mystery (as an aside, I usually read Christie in large print as our library had the best selection in those heavy black and white covers, but I loved their paperback cover designs such as the one below). Understanding that the world might not quite be what it seems is just as relevant in detective novels as it might be in science fiction, fantasy or horror. And whilst some of my contemporaries might be aghast at how little read I am in those genres (I have never read Tolkien, never read King), I feel richly grounded in fiction which attempts to find understanding amongst confusion, where the difference between what appears to be real and what is real are sometimes only a parlour conversation away.

After the Fleming and Christie I began to turn my eye to other books in our library. I think I was aware I was reading above my 'expected' age group, and like the Bond I was occasionally attracted to books from the cover alone. I remember a brief Kingsley Amis period, where "Take A Girl Like You" and "I Want It Now" fed my brain. But the remainder have been forgotten. I was about to start experiencing a more direct approach to reading, fuelled by academia. It's fair to say that for a while the fun was taken out of it. The age of innocence dead.

When I was fifteen I took a General Studies class where I was introduced to 'proper literary' adult fiction and I voraciously read Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Camus and Orwell, in addition to the obligatory "Brave New World" and "Lord Of The Flies" in English classes. From then on, the pulsating vortex of potential reads swirled around me, and I read more and more and more. Currently, I have a list of over 250 books on my reading list awaiting my attention, and I buy all the time, but I think those years from around 8 until 15 were the formative ones developing myself both as a reader and a writer, and perhaps unsurprisingly given the list indicate why I've turned to crime.


Monday, 1 June 2015

Church Of Wire

Last week saw publication of my new novel, "Church Of Wire" so I thought I'd blog about how the novel was created in the hope of stirring some interest. There will be spoilers.

"Church Of Wire" is the second in the series of my crime novels featuring Mordent, a PI who began life in short stories and made his first full-length appearance in "The Immortalists" last year. Mordent is a very easy character for me to write. Like most of us he's a complex individual with conflicting moral concerns, but also he's very simple. It's the dichotomy between the complex and simple which fascinates me - both in my own life and in art. It often seems to me that people like to pigeonhole themselves with a fixed sense of morality and identity, whereas in reality the opposite is the case. I believe - for example - it is possible to hold two conflicting opinions simultaneously and equally believe in both. This is why I feel comfortable in describing Mordent as being complex yet simple.

I had the title for a while without being sure whether to use it for a novel or a short story, however after completing "The Immortalists" I realised the feel of the title very much fitted into the neo-noir books I had begun to write. The main thread of the story is also something that was bubbling at the back of my mind for some time: I was going to write about a serial killer who targeted survivors of previous serial killer attacks.

It seemed such a neat concept that I wondered why no one had done it before - this is where the comment box below comes in useful as you can list everyone else who has.

As well as this thread to the novel I knew I had to work out how the Church of Wire fitted into the story. I'm not a religious person, so I felt I needed a different kind of church for this book. A few years ago I wrote a story, "Caravan Of Souls", which hinged on the biblical idea that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In that story I followed this through with the suggestion that whilst God was resting on the seventh day he slept and dreamt - and that those dreams also formed part of creation (the weird stuff that exists that we find hard to understand). I decided to expand on this and utilise it as a concept for the Church Of Wire to peg its beliefs onto.

All I then had to do was to tie the two strands together (or not, as the case might be), weave it with noir, and have my regular ensemble cast (Mordent, PI; Hubie, informer; Martens, mortician; Kovacs, police chief and Morgan, bar owner) interact with a few suitably named villains (Reflective Tony, The Frame) and a love interest, Jessica. Not forgetting Astrid, Mordent's new bubblewrap girl.

Paul Finch, author of the Heck series of novels including "Dead Man Walking", says: Beautiful prose, a razor sharp eye for detail, and chills aplenty. Hook rebirths the noir, but with a very hard darkness and a disturbing air of mystery.

The book is available in both paperback and on kindle. Naturally kindle is cheaper. Please consider checking out a copy, as the success of this book will determine whether the next two books in the same series are commissioned and it's too early for Mordent to die a death. Whereas the book can be read as a standalone novel, here are the links to "The Immortalists" in both paperback and kindle if you wish to be particuarly generous.

The official blurb is as follows:

Ex-cop, Mordent, is an irascible, anachronistic PI with a noir sensibility and a bubblewrap fetish. Hired by the enigmatic Isabelle Silk to unearth dirt on a business associate, he becomes involved with Jessica – a floozy with a fake Southern Belle accent – and hunts the Residue Killer: a twisted individual intent on despatching survivors of previous serial killer attacks.

All the trails lead to the Church of Wire. Yet does this surrealist religious sect really lie at the heart of the killings?

Church of Wire is the second in a series of exciting crime novels putting a neo-noir twist on the genre conventions of bums and dames, corruption and perversion, and cops and informers; all played out on rain-soaked streets amid a shadow-filled city.

Praise for "The Immortalists": ‘The interplay between Mordent and the other characters is a delight to read, as is the prose throughout with its hard boiled sensibilities, short sentences that cut like diamond on glass and metaphors as apposite as they are off kilter.’ Peter Tennant, Black Static