Thursday, 29 July 2010


“Hell we going to do with fifty cents?”

Estragon didn’t answer, just rolled the coin between his fingers and stared at the machine.

“No point asking him.” Vladimir stood. Tried to work the cold from his joints. “Thought they’d never see you’re little tricks, huh?”

Estragon had been practicing for years. Could vanish things before your eyes.

On the boat across he’d fleeced them all. Took money from them like they were bank tellers.

Things had been different when they hit the city. Those boys had eyes like hawks.

“Split a bagel?” They hadn’t eaten since the day before.

“Put it in the machine.”

“Fifty cents to our name, we don’t got no future.”

Vladimir rested his forehead on the glass. Let the bruises cool.

Medium Sibille seemed to be urging him on. One wax hand hovered over a crystal ball, the other held the Ace of Hearts. It was his lucky card.

“Toss you,” Vladimir said.

No need to call. Estragon always played heads.

Vladimir removed his hand and there was nothing.

Estragon took of his hat, slapped his brother across the face and walked away.

Godot, watching the whole thing, felt the coin materialise in his hand.

He stepped over his begging cup and headed for Sibille.

As the coin dropped, the fortune-teller’s eyes flashed and he nodded his head.

Three hard bangs and Godot almost jumped out of his skin.

Pulled out three jewels big as his fists.

Squirreled two away in his pockets.

Threw the third to Vladimir and limped towards the morning mist.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Lansdale to Larsson

So I'd finished the Maigrets and had another week or so of holiday left.

Perfect for the job was the 'Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' by Stieg Larsson. The Millenium Trilogy had been recommended to me so many times by people I respect that I just had to go for it.

It's sold so many copies that I don't suppose my two pennies' worth will hold their value. Even so, I'm going to offer them just in case.

Once I'd bought the trilogy a while ago I put the books onto one of the 'to be read' shelves and they looked a little too intiimidating to take on. Individually they're huge, in a trio they're enormous. Then again, some of my favourite books have been on the large side ('The Count Of Monte Cristo' or 'Clockers' for example). Anyway, there was no way to dip in a toe, I just had to jump in.

And boy was the water cold. Freezing in fact.

There's a lovely prologue, intriguing and suggestive and a great hook line. Two old men on the phone discuss the latest pressed flower sent as a brithday gift to one of them, a business Tycoon coming to the end of his life. He has the flowers lined on the wall and he's had one every year for most of his adult life. One is missing. Since the 1970s the flowers have been sent anonymously from places around the world and with no clues as to who might have sent them. Later on we might kick ourselves for not having the confidence to go with the first thought, but hey, it hasn't been the first time, right?

Then came Chapter 1. It moves in to the world of one of our main characters, loveable liberal Carl Mikael Blomkvist. He's just come out of court with his unblemished reputation as a journalist in tatters.

Why? I found myself thinking 'who cares?'. I'd seen Twitter posts by people starting the book. Sounded like they wanted to hang themselves. I wondered if it was a touch of jealousy concerning the book's success, now there I was thinking exactly the same. 500 more pages at that pace would make Moby Dick seem like a Ladybird book.

I wondered how the book had ever got published.

All the things I've heard about approaching editors and agents, this book went against the rules. There's overloaded tell rather than show, it's ponderous and wordy and needs a good edit if you ask me. I reckon that either Larsson had a good friend in the industry or put together one hell of a synopsis when he was selling it on.

He even says it himself on Page 22:

"So where is the story in this?"

The answer:

"Be patient."

It's as if he knows.

So, fifty pages in and I was all for giving up. Problem was, he'd introduced some pretty good characters, namely Blomkvist and a spiky, young woman hacker / misfit Salander. It's their chemistry as well as the plot (the search for the murderer of a missing girl) that sucked me in.

Once over the first hurdle, I couldn't get enough of it. I was reading whenever I could.

It's dense. There's not a great deal of snappy dialogue to help you through it. Description is heavy, detail is sometimes overdone, but the drive is there and all you have to do is fasten your seatbelt.

In the end I'm delighted I stuck with it. It's a cracker.

Deserving of it's position in the sales ranks? Such things bewilder me completely, but yes, I think maybe so.

Best thing about it is that I've got two more fabulous reads ahead of me in the near future.

So it had taken me a week and a lot of concentrating to complete 'Tattoo'. I needed more fun. Something lighter. Something completely different.

Step forward Joe R Lansdale.

I've done the Hap and Leonard books in a really muddled order. It hasn't really mattered.

I love the pair of them. They are a great team and an unusual one.

There are so many contrasts between them that it's difficult at first to see why they're so loyal to each other. As you get to know them, you see more and more of their common ground. Their personalities seem to mingle at times as they come close and face the world together.

When I say face the world, I dont' mean it in the you and I sense. I mean their world. Hard men who find themselves in troubled waters against crazy guys with guns and huge fists and plenty of attitude.

Mostly, they find themselves in closed off, narrow minded communities where they're the outsiders having to face hostility from almost everyone.

They set themselves up like they might have if it were an old western. Given it's Texas, perhaps it's like they're in a new one. We know the fights are coming, we just have to hope that Hap and Leonard are tough enough to give and take a beating (we know they are, but the other guys always have some kind of advantage).

In 'The Two Bear Mambo' our boys are looking for a girl who's gone missing. She's a black girl who poked her business in to a Klan town.

Course Hap and Leonard are going to follow her down to find out what happened to her, even if Leonard (black, full of attitude and gay) will be about as welcome as the in-laws.

There's fighting and tension and fun. Best of all, there are similes that most writers wouldn't even get close to. He's a master at imagery. Oh, and there's the humour. I laughed out loud many times. You go there, you will too.

Joe R Lansdale's a real force. As his characters get themselves into and out of deep shit, we get to know a little about the world, have to think about it. Some of his questions are challenging, though not always pleasant.

Any book that can offer so much fun and social commentary has to be worth a read.
Put on your hard hats.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

My Old Friend Maigret

I've just returned from a couple of weeks in France, of which the first was spent in Paris.

It was a marvellous time in a beautiful place and, funnily enough (after many visits there), was the first in which a had a partner to share it with (most other trips have found me watching silently in hope that one of the many amazinlgly attractive women would just come and fall in love with me - it never happened).

I packed a couple of Maigrets in my bag (I'd chopped them up and managed to get them through customs without them noticing the smell emanating from the bodies).

For me, Simenon is the perfect read for the Metro, for cafe tables and hotel rooms there. You get a flavour for the city that helps to sharpen all the images.

It also helps to give an impression of a time gone by - pre and post World War 2, where heat is generated by stoves and light by lamps.

I used it sometimes as a tour-guide for route planning. At one point during my reading, Maigret described a waffle stall as the best and largest in the city. Needless to say I went to track it down and, needless to say, it had gone (if it had ever existed) seventy years from the time of writing.

Reang Maigret makes you hungry and crave a spot of alcohol too. He's not the hard-drinking private-eye type, nor the lost soul, but he does like to take lunch and an odd glass over dinner. Brasseries, restaurants and bars feature heavily in his life and the lives of those he investigates. If only I still drank booze I'd have downed more than the odd bottle of red or tumbler of Ricard.

Course, you don't have to be in Paris to appreciate his work.

He brings the place to life wherever you are, like any good writer would.

I read 'The Bar On The Seine' (written 1932 when Maigret was a lowly Inspector) and 'The Man On The Boulevard' (from 1953 when he's Chief Superintendent).

There's are intersting contrasts in Maigret in his roles on the force. As Chief Super he spends much of his time wanting to get out on the street rather than to have to rely on his staff (a lovely, loyal bunch of talented cops).

Even so, he's still the same man. He gets under the skin of those he's checking out, hangs round in their haunts, sometimes even hangs out with them (Columbo style). He blends into the background easily whether he's dealing with the rich or the homeless, observes minute detail wherever he is, knows the norm inside out so that he can spot a hint of the unusual from a mile away, reads people like newspapers, plays them like puppets.

Beneath it all, there's a strong sense of humanity - a love of people and of life. He often befriends the perpetrators of crimes, respects and likes them in a way that is unusual. He'd prefer the company of a murderer with a sense of being genuine to any hypocrite with less to hide, any day.

Simenon wrote books other than Maigret, too. In fact, for the crime-reader, these might be the place to begin. There's a different feel to those novels. More darkness, certainly, more angst, blends of Dostoevsky and buds of existentialism perhaps. Strongly European with an aftertaste of the harder boiled Americans.

I'd write more detail about the stories themselves, only I don't need to. That's been done many times. You might get hold of a copy of Crimespree, Issue 34. Yes, I'm in it, but that's not the reason. 'Hey! It's Ayo Onatade' has 4 pages in there with lots of detail that you might find informative and I'd definitely recommend the piece to you.

The picture at the head of the page has me sightseeing. I'm outside the Quai Des Orfevres, Maigret's base, the office in which he'd handed out enough rope for many to hang themselves.

It was hot when we were there. We settled down in a shaded square, the type perfect for a game of boules, and watched as a film crew went about their business. We were allowed to stay in the background as long as we didn't watch the camera. Wonder what that was all about.

And if you go along to the Quai, too, just behind it you'll find a cathedral worth checking out (if you've got time) - Notre Dame I think it's called.

I've just cleared my bookshelves at home. The books no longer stand two deep. I revealed my old second-hand (each and every one) Simenon Collection, including his biography. I didn't realise I had so many. Most of them are in the green penguin crime series. I even found my only hard-back. I bought 'Sept Petites Croix Dans Un Carnet' on a hitch-hiking tour over twenty-five years ago. The idea was that I'd translate it and improve my French. Proof enough that I didn't were my poor efforts at communication this time round - I can still only read the title and not the first sentence.

Going back to Maigret for me was like meeting up with an old friend. If you don't already know him, I highly recommend you make his acqaintance, meet him in some bar you've never been to before, buy him a Pernod and a coffee.

Georges Simenon, prolific writer and lover. Thanks.

Friday, 23 July 2010


At the beginning of the year, Allan Guthrie gave me a book. Thought I might enjoy it. How right he was.

By Donald Ray Pollock, Knockemstiff is probably my favourite collection of short stories ever.

I wrote a review of it here; some of you may remember.

I also emailed Don to thank him. Very graciously he got back to me. Said he'd been reading a novel by someone called Frank Bill. 'Damn, he certainly out-grits me'.

Now grit's not everything and Knockemstiff has so much more than rocks and hard places.

Even so, I had to check Frank out and I'm so glad I did.

Turns out he's been a busy man. It was easy to get to read his stories as many are available for free on the net. Go check yourself, you won't regret it.

Looks like he's the King of Hillbilly noir. I hope that many flock to join his kingdom.

A good place to start looking would be his blog, House Of Grit over at:

Tag line? I don't waste words, I write them.

Great news is that Frank had his novel 'Donnybrook' accepted this week. Great for him so he can write with fewer of life's pressures (I hope) and great for us as we'll be able to read it. You don't buy a copy when it's out, don't blame me.

Which brings me to the new Needle banner at the side of the page.

Frank's in Issue 2 and so am I. Looking at the company I'll be keeping, looks like I'll need a life-preserver and some arm-bands, but I'm proud as anyone could be to see my name up there.

The second issue of Needle will be out shortly. Don't buy that one and you might be in the wrong place right now.

Frank appeared a while ago in a column over at Spinetingler as part of a series called 'Conversations With The Bookless.'

One of my favourite things of late is to see the comment 'Bookless No More' on their pages or on a tweet somewhere. Remember that ringing bell in 'It's A Wonderful Life'? Yes, it's just like hearing an angel has got their wings.

Stephen Blackmoore heard the bells recently, too. He's mentioned some of those in the series over at:

I was interviewed as part of the series earlier in the year. That's at:

Point of this all is, Spinetingler have managed to pick a hell of a bunch of writers to interview. Their fingers are so tightly on the pulse that they're practically piercing the skin.

It's a great site altogether, one I frequently visit.

Apart from the excellent and, almost soothsaying, 'Bookless' it is updated frequently with work that is worth seeing.

Reviews, stories (and writers are actually paid there - how's about that then?), competitions, news, links and awards make it one of the best around. Keep in touch with them and you'll get to feel the pulse without too much effort.

Congratulations on them for helping another up and comer get a book deal.

Lets hope there are more wings to be given out soon.

Makes me want to return to my novel after a short break for short story work, getting married and a list of excuses that I won't bore you with.

Check out the Tinglers at:

to find out what I'm talking about.

I'd like to thank them here for their support.

And Shabba to you all.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The Things I'll Carry

I'm getting married. Would you believe it. I'm so excited I could blog.

Seriously, it's one of the most romantic of times and with special people around and about the town last night, it's an amazing weekend.

Yesterday I got word that I'd had a piece accepted by pulpmetal magazine. Talk about a great wedding gift. I'm made up. It comes from a long story of some 80000 words, a year and a half's work, bruises inside and out. I distilled a piece of it into 1000 of flash fiction and there you go. The year and a half wasn't for nothing after all - it's true what they say, nothing written is wasted.

You'll find pulpmetal at:

I managed to avoid cutting myself when I shaved this morning bar one slice that will be OK.

Tomorrow it's off on honeymoon and the children are staying here with Gran and Gramps.

That means holiday reading.

Here are the things I'll carry:

Georges Simenon - The Man On The Boulevard

Georges Simenon - The Bar On The Seine

(we'll be in Paris and Maigret is one of my oldest friends)

Malcolm Price - The Unbearable Lightness Of Being In Aberystwyth

Steig Larsson - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

(have to start sometime)

Joe R Lansdale - Two Bear Mambo

Needle Magazine Issue 1

(Brother finally brought it over from the States):

Can't wait for the books and can't wait for any of it. I'm a hell of a lucky guy.

Wish me luck and cross your fingers.

And the picture at the head of the page? I'm the tall one in the hat wearing a dahlia.