Friday 29 June 2012


Tony Black’s book ‘The Storm Without’ takes a slight deviation from the police procedurals he’s been releasing of late.

It’s tells the story of a man returning to his home town of Ayr, having made decisions in the past that leave him unsure of his direction in life.

As he arrives in the town, he sees a familiar face, that of an ex-girlfriend.  She’s waiting at the bus stop, so he pulls over to offer her a lift.  The old chemistry hasn’t completely gone and they end up going for coffee.  Turns out her son is being charged for murder and that he needs some help to prove his innocence.

The good news is that our man Doug Michie is a seasoned hard-man who has spent time in Ulster working for the RUC in Belfast.  It means that when the trail leads him to some powerful and dangerous people, he’s not entirely out of his depth.

There are many things in this book that will seem familiar to fans of lone-wolf detectives and private-investigators.  These will make you feel very much at home.  You may get whiffs of Ken Bruen  or fleeting moments of déjà vu from older stories. 

How then, does Black make his character stand out from the rest? 

Michie is partial to Robbie Burns.  He knows his work and likes to quote him from time-to-time to illustrate his thinking.  He’s also a guy who pays attention to the world and will use the things he remembers to illustrate his points.  And he’s a pretty reflective sort, finding that returning to his home town raises questions about his life, his value to the world and his mortality.

It’s also slightly different in that this was first released in serial form.  This has some impact on the style and means that new chapters occasionally revisit previous ones to make sure the reader is clear about where they are in the story.

Telling a story in the first person isn’t an easy thing; Tony Black pretty much gets the balance of introspection and action right.

‘The Storm Without’ is another example of Black’s talent and it’s a rather pleasing tale.  If you’re short of holiday reading this summer, this book will certainly help to fill the hole.

A welcome edition to the Blasted Heath collection.

It's available in kindle format (Amazon US and Amazon UK) as well as a paperback.

And a wee reminder for you that you can still pick up a copy of Pulp Ink for nothing just now:
Amazon UK  Amazon US

Thanks to all those who've supported the collection so far.

Wednesday 27 June 2012


First of all, thanks to all who downoaded With Love And Squalor over the weekend.  It's the first time I've really had any success with a promotion and hit 3600 giveaways in the end.  3400 of those were in the US, so a special thanks to those across the water.

Next, big congratulations to Chris La Tray who has won the Watery Grave Invitational competition for the second successive year.  You'll be able to read his winning story over at The Drowning Machine some time soon.  Thanks to all involved in setting that up, putting up the prize money and judging - it's appreciated.

Apologies, slipped in here, to anyone who uploaded In Loco Parentis and found there were a number of mistakes.  The print and kindle copies have now been corrected and if you need me to make amends, let me know and I'll send over a PDF.  I'd also like to thank Nicola Rain Jordan for her help in spotting the errors and also in helping me to correct them.  I found that I'd uploaded the wrong file and also that the right file still needed further work.  It was a long week, I can tell you.

To the main focus for me today.

Next week (all being well) the follow up to Pulp Ink will be released.  It's going to be published by Snubnose Press and there'll be a paperback copy available also.  Thanks to Everyone involved in getting that up, but for now I'd like to single out Eric Beetner and R Thomas Brown for the their work on the cover and getting the Createspace file together. 

We're creative types at heart, so we thought we'd go for a left field title to the follow up and call it Pulp Ink 2.

To celebrate and to get the publicity campaign off to as good a start as we can manage (Pulp Ink 2 is a charity fundraiser and we want it to do incredibly well) we're giving away copies of Pulp Ink this week.  To get yours you can go to Amazon in the US or the UK via the links and download. 

It you already have a copy you can tell your friends, Tweet, Facebook, send telepathic messages, click the Like button when you get there (not sure why that works, but you could try) or even leave a short review about it. 

If you haven't read it, I'm going to say that you really should.  It's a brilliant collection and it's a great appetiser for what's about to come.

Thanks all.


Wednesday 20 June 2012


Kuboa Press have a really great ethos.  You can pick up the books in a lovely pocket-sized paperback format for buttons or you can download them for free over at Smashwords.  It may not make economic sense, but I find it refreshing that the financial aspects of writing can be left aside from time to time just to get work out there because it deserves to be read.

One such book is the short story collection by CraigWallwork entitled ‘Quintessence of Dust’.

It’s a collection of huge variety which is linked by the author’s style and faint echoes of theme that bring some overlap within the diversity of subject matter.

You’ll find out about Minotaur and a new labyrinth, a magical wall of photographs, how demons can help win a woman’s heart, the consequences of having a small neck and about the digging of holes amongst other things, holes being one of those recurring themes in the book.

The concept behind each tale suggests to me that Wallwork is a hugely creative thinker.  Must have been a day-dreamer in classrooms.  Is the kind of person who is able to take any thought to its extreme in order to find out ‘what would happen if?’ Again and again he produces ideas that are highly original and left of left field.  You never know what’s coming next.

My favourite pieces in the collection are the openers.   

‘Night Holds A Scythe’ is the first.  I’d recommend the book just to get you to read this one.  It’s beautiful and painful at the same time.  A father is flying with his daughter trying to find safety.  The problem is that, because of a deadly virus, the only way for them to stay alive is to stay awake.  I guess it’s a straightforward concept, but it’s what Wallwork does with it that counts.  It tapped into many of my own insecurities about being a human and a father.  What wouldn’t I do to keep my children safe?  How awful would it be to sense their inevitable destruction and to be the only one in a position to take any action at all?  It’s tense and difficult, yet it is gentle and soft, the looping theme of alphabet cards that structures the unfolding of a family’s world.  ‘E’ is for excellent. ‘O’ for outstanding.  ‘L’ is for lump in the throat.  ‘X’?  ‘X’ is for X-factor, that feeling I sometimes get in the core of my body after a brilliant tale – a cross between awe, defeat, admiration and pain. And ‘B’ is for buy it.

‘Railway Architecture’ is a little less intense, but is superbly penned.  It’s a moral tale about a man who has never been comfortable with others even though he’s a student of human behaviour.  He’s found a passion for the making of fine chocolates and sets about using his skills to win over the heart of a beautiful lady colleague.  Problem is, he happens to be married.  Wallwork takes the idea and turns the world on its head.  I loved it.

These are my picks because they moved something within me.  They struck a chord with me given the experiences I’ve had and the person I’ve become.  Pick this up and it’s likely you’ll find you pick different stories – a G where I’ve picked a C minor, or an F sharp instead of my B flat.

Let me know.

And a few free things to finish, including some of my own work for chilrend and some of my more grown-up poetry.  A couple of them won't be free for a couple of days, but keep checking if you're intrested.

First off, Steal Softly Thru' Sunshine by Kitty Wakes, the story of the decline of one era and the confusion of another as the hippy movement limps back into the mainstream.

You can get Len Wanner's beast of an interview with Ian Rankin for free over at Blasted Heath if you follow the link and enter 'stirling' in the discount code box.

Should you have young children to entertain, you might take a free download of either The Day My Coat Stuck On My Head, Little Grey Cloud, Gran or The Funfair.

And if you like poetry, Busted Flat is also free in a couple of days.

Saturday 16 June 2012

And the winner is...

And the winner is...

Before the announcement, here's the drum-roll.

I'm looking at the glass and wondering about the half-full, half-empty thing.  The glass doesn't appear to have enough liquid in it to get to half-full.  As I imagine it, there's about a shot of whisky's worth contained in a pint-jar.  In terms of promotion, I guess that's about all I can stretch the success to, but I'm a happy chap on this one.  Half-full is my conclusion.

That's half a pint of whisky.

Better still, something I can actually drink.  Half a pint of strawberry milkshake.

The positive I'm taking is that 3 people out there want copies of In Loco Parentis enough to expose their Limerick writing. 

And I'm to pick a winner.

I've just been on a 3 day course about the role of support for learning teachers in a changing world.  It was all very exciting and occasionally challenging.  I'd go as far as to say that the email-link I established on Monday to let me know about Postman jobs in my town doesn't feel so important a life-line now as it did when I set it up.  Maybe I can rise to the challenges ahead and make a difference.  That's what I'm intending to do when I start the new school year, anyway.  The only issue will be the response of the more conservative (and teachers often have a conservative view of the world, no matter what they say.  Don't be fooled by the propaganda, think about the way we've all maintained the establishment views and risen through the establishment to get our positions).  I'll be hoping to work with the fresh and enthusiastic as well as the radical (they do exist) to try and catch a little of what they have.

A part of that will be to continue to do what I've [hopefully] always done, which is to celebrate effort. 

As soon as I saw there were 2 Limericks to choose from, I knew that I was going to send them both copies.   I decided at that point to send books to whoever entered and hoped the promotion wasn't too successful.

Clearly it wasn't.  Which is kind of a blessing - I don't have to shell out more than I can afford.

David, Kyle and Thomas, thanks for the support and for providing some entertainment.

I'll be sending the books out to you as soon as I have a postal address.

Bless you all.

Nicola Rain, if you want one, I'll send one to you, too.  Just send me your address.  I know you've read it because your review was tremendous.  Maybe you could send the address with your 'Dancing With Myself' interview.

Before I go, a little mention for Chris Holm following the review I put up of Dead Harvest yesterday.  I was fair chuffed to see my name in the acknowledgements, so thank you.  The first paragraph of those acknowledgements is special and I doubt you'll see many better.  I feel a post coming on.

And thanks also to Tony Black, Blasted Heath and McNidder + Grace.  Tony's clearly been busy.  In my post this morning (and that makes me think I wish I was out there in the rain delivering rather than having my stomach churn already at the prospect of a stressful couple of weeks to end the term) was a copy of 'The Storm Without'.  It looks great.  Earlier in the week I had a copy of the Kindle version of the same book and am making it my next read (how could I not given such generosity?).

Signing off.


Friday 15 June 2012

One Man's Opinion: DEAD HARVEST by CHRIS F. HOLM

There’s a lot of class in the writing of Chris F. Holm.  Read his short works in ‘Eight Pounds’ or his entry in ‘Pulp Ink’ and that will become immediately obvious to you.

Stepping up to writing a novel that’s going to engage and maintain the interest of the reader is a different matter entirely.  I was confident Chris was going to pull it off, but one can never be sure.

Apart from loving the author, I must say that it was the cover on this book that clinched my purchase.  It’s retro-chic with scratches to boo.  It shows a guy reaching into the chest of another man within a circle of light.  If I had a pound for every person who came up and expressed an interest in it and then told me they thought it was a second-hand classic, I’d be at least £20 better off.  Maybe I should have charged.

The story is slightly outside my usual reading selections in that it involves souls and heaven and hell.  Quite something to attempt as a debut novel, that’s for sure.

Sam Thornton is the protagonist.  He’s a collector.  He picks up the souls of the damned and delivers them upon request.  I suppose he’s a kind of bounty-hunter of sorts, only there’s no bounty and the guilty are always going to be unsuspecting.  The book opens with him at work, the inspiration behind the cover image.

Job done, Sam’s given another job. 

This time it’s to collect the soul of a young girl who’s brutally murdered her family. 

Problem is that when he reaches in to take her, he senses that she’s innocent.  That being the case, he decides he needs to go against his bosses and save her – taking back an innocent soul will spark off a major war between Heaven and Hell, so it’s imperative that he does the right thing.

The right thing’s not easy to fathom, however, and it’s made a lot more difficult given that when he runs away with the aforementioned girl he becomes the most wanted of the police, the angels and demons alike.

What follows has the feel of a classically, hard-boiled, detective story that is full of the supernatural and has the energy of a chase thriller.  And you know what? Chris pulls it off really well.

There’s a lot of information to take in at various points about the types of spirit entities that exist.  Like pieces in a chess game, each has its own moves and rules.  Some need bodies.  Others have no free-will.  They have different strengths and weaknesses. 

Thankfully, these points are made with as little fuss or strained exposition as it’s possible to imagine.  Sam keeps having to explain things to the girl he’s helping and to some of the people who help him along the way.  What is important is that the rules were set and remained consistent, so that there was no confusion as the plot unfolded.

Another aspect of the tale, possibly my favourite one, is the story of how Sam became a Collector in the first place.  It’s woven through the chase tale and gives the inhuman collector a very human feel.  It’s a short story of sorts and I’ve already pointed out that Chris is an artist in that field.

I found the book to be extremely entertaining, often gripping and always kept me on my toes.  I was also very satisfied and rather surprised by the resolution of the book.  Which makes it a damned good read.

The good news is that this is the beginning of a series and the opening of book 2 is at the back of Dead Harvest.

My advice is that you should pick up a copy of this opener and I’m pretty sure you’ll give the follow-on serious consideration when it’s released.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Win A Copy Of 'In Loco Parentis'

There was an old man from Dunbar
Who wrote in a colour called noir
His friends thought him crazy
And nothing but lazy
Didn't think that he'd get very far

OK.  Poetic licence. 

I'm not old, but I certainly am not young.  And I'm not that lazy, not when it comes to the business of writing.

Anyway, I brought out In Loco Parentis as a tree-book last week.  Which means I can give a copy away. 

I'll send one to the winner of this competition.

I got the idea while teaching last week.  I was covering a class and decided to try and do some work with them on Limericks.  It's an easy form on the surface, but for youngsters it can be really difficult to get all the ingredients right at the same time.  Sometimes the rhymes there without the pattern and so on. In the end, it was me who did the learning.

All you need to do to try and win my book is to write a limerick about yourself and post it in the comments.  I'll pick the one I like the best and that's it.  I guess the deadline is Saturday (for a moment there, I felt like God).  Saturday it is.

Is it a prize worth winning?  That's not really for me to say, but I think so.  There are also some reviews up at Amazon from some very generous and hard-working folk who seem to think it is (thanks to those who've taken the time - it means a huge amount).

Good luck.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Dancing With Myself: HJ HAMPSON interviews HJ HAMPSON

So, The Vanity Game is your fantastic debut novel, out June 11th 2012, published by Blasted Heath. What’s it about?

Why, thank you very much. It’s a dark comedy about a Premiership footballer called Beaumont Alexander. Beaumont is living the A-list lifestyle with his glamorous girlfriend Krystal McQueen, but an incident at a celebrity party sets off a chain of events that sees his life spiral totally out of control.

It’s a satire on celebrity culture.

Interesting, and what made you choose to write about footballers?

I think footballers are the epitome of the darker side of celebrity. A lot of them, particularly English ones, are plucked from shitty council estates when they are young and then suddenly find themselves earning more money than they ever could have imagined. It’s fairy tale for the fucked up 21st century. And footballers, out of all famous people, are most prone to criminality it seems.  When I first started writing the book there seemed to be a lot of footballers getting accused of sexual assaults and stuff… but of course, all these cases always got dropped.  And footballer’s girlfriends (WAGs)… many of them aren’t exactly down with the sisterhood are they?

Aren’t they? The character of Krystal McQueen, Beaumont’s girlfriend, changes a lot, is this a comment on the tyranny of the WAGs?

Not exactly… I’m not quite sure what the tyranny of the WAGs is, but it sounds good. Krystal is essentially a naïve girl, who gave in to the temptations offered to her by the celebrity wonderland she found herself in.  The way she changes though… yes, I did intend this to be a comment on the way that some footballers’ girlfriends present themselves.

You describe Beaumont as a ‘mega-brand’. Can we assume he’s based on David Beckham?

Absolutely not! Beaumont is much nastier than Becks. He certainly wouldn’t get an invite to a royal wedding. The ‘mega-brand’ is just one facet of Beaumont’s character, he has a little bit of John Terry in him, a bit of Christiano Ronaldo, a bit of Joey Barton, and lot of the dark voices that live in my head.

What I will say though is that one of the themes of the book is image versus reality, and David Beckham did inadvertently influence this. A few years ago I was on a coach in Thailand, heading to the Thai-Burma border, and stopped in this total backwater town for refreshments. I got out of the coach and was met by a huge billboard with David Beckham advertising Motorola phones. Beckham really is more famous than Jesus… but it is just an image isn’t it? No one really knows what is behind the image.  I think that is quite fascinating.

Most fascinating.  Did you just sit round reading celebrity magazines all day? Is that what influenced you?

Not really. My friend used to always buy OK! and the like when there was a big celebrity wedding, so I guess I absorbed some of that and they are satirized in the book. I was influenced by Andy Warhol and they way he made his own ‘superstars’, and generally made works about celebrity and death… I am a bit obsessed with Andy Warhol in fact. In terms of other writers, I’m a big fan of American writers like Brett Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk, and, of course, Dostoevsky.

I say, is that cocaine on the cover?

It is, yes. Blasted Heath really are a rock’n’roll publisher, aren’t they?

There are a lot of drugs (plus sex and violence) in the book, so we thought spelling ‘The Vanity Game’ out in coke would give readers a good idea about what to expect from the novel.

And what next?

I have just handed a second novel in to my agent. It’s not really like The Vanity Game though. But I am considering writing a sort-of sequel to The Vanity Game.

Well thank you, it’s been fabulous.


Available at Amazon UK and Amazon US NOW

Createspace And I

You'll probably know that I've embraced e-books with open arms, both as a reader and for publishing my work.

In spite of that, I retain that love of the physical book.  The whole physical experience. 

A few weeks ago, Chris Rhatigan suggested that we make a tree-book version of Pulp Ink 2 to compliment the Snubnose Press e-book release.  It was an easy decision.  Thanks to the support of Eric Beetner and R Thomas Brown who've done what was needed, that should be happening fairly soon.  Can't wait.

When it came to my debut novel, In Loco Parentis, I felt I'd like to mark it in a way that would make it special.  Attempting to make a tree-book seemed perfect.

I can think of 3 major reasons for making a physical book.

Firstly, I'm building a small collection of work for my children to have when they leave home.  I'd love them to be able to remember me in a way that reflects who I feel I am, as well as having a barrel-full of moments to keep with them when I've gone.  For that reason, I have 3 copies of everything I've done in print - Kuboa's Dirty Old Town, Mammoth's Best British Crime 8 and 9, The Reader, Crimespree Magazine and Needle Magazine

Second, I've always loved the idea that I will one day walk into a charity shop and find a copy of one of my books on the shelves.  Making a book would at least create the possibility.

And third, the people who keep saying they'd buy if they had a Kindle will now have a new avenue to ignore.

My encounter with Createspace was rather simple. 

As ever, once I had the idea I went at it like surfer catching a wave.  All gusto, no thought.

Thankfully, the package was easy to manage and had built in brakes.

"Sorry, this didn't fit on the page.  You need to do something about it."  That kind of message.

Eventually, realising that certain aspects of the warnings could be ignored, I pressed the send button and it was off.

I spent the whole of last week waiting for my copy.  I dashed from work to disappointment a couple of times.

Yesterday it finally arrived, what was at that point the only paperback copy of In Loco Parentis in existence. 

And you know what?  It's beautiful.  Just as I'd hoped. It is exactly as I'd hoped.  Cartwheel City (on the inside only due to my bad back).

Now it's available, I'd love for some of you to share the experience.  If you're up for it, the links are:

Amazon UK

Amazon US


It's £7.99 or $9.99.  As a 318 page book, that doesn't allow for much financial gain on my part, but that was my decision.  I'd rather keep it cheap than put it out of reach.

As for Createspace, I'd recommend them.  No reservation.  They've done what they said they'd do, made my experience fairly straightforward  and produced the novel perfectly to my taste.  Thanks for that.

So, In Loco Parentis.  Go forth and multiply.

Tuesday 5 June 2012


I'd been suffering from 'Reader's Block' when I picked up this offering from Charles 'Hank' Bukowski.

It didn't take more than a few minutes and a couple of pages to realise I was hooked.

To date, my main brushes with Hank have been through short stories and poetry, both of which I've loved.  Why I didn't immediately pick up his longer prose, I have no idea.  I have no excuses any more and there are more books in the post.

Henry Chinaski is the name of the German American boy at the centre of this book.  He's a solitary boy.  An outsider.  For lots of reasons.  One of them being that he's human and growing up in a time of depression and alienation.

Mr and Mrs Chinaski are tough cookies.  They're intending to make their mark in a kind of middle-class way. They're proud.  Hopeful.  God-fearing.

Early on, Henry introduces other relatives.  There's his alcoholic uncle and grandad.  Another uncle is all washed up and dying already, even though he's in his early twenties.  There's his aunt and his cousins, penniless and without a man in the house since the man raped a young girl and went on the run.  It's not a healthy family.

Each of the characters is introduced in a short chapter.  It's a collection of vignettes early doors, written sparsely and without pretence.  The pieces have the weight and craft of great short stories, each closing with a punch that had me feeling the encounter.  Seeing a bigger picture. Admiring the survivors of those tough times.

From family, he moves on to describe incidents with friends, sport, acne, alcohol, school, books, violence and girls.  They're wonderfully drawn pictures.  Seriously powerful. 
Right the way through, a spade's a spade.  Which makes me wonder why it's so bloody poetic.  Perhaps it's something to do with the juxtapositions of one idea onto another, the layers of meaning and less-than-obvious comparisons.
Take this one chapter.  Chinaski's in English class.  His teacher, a beautiful thing, sits out front with her dress rising.  In the back row, one of his classmates is jerking himself off.  The teacher tells the class about the European tradition of literature and talks about the new Americans who are going to blow them off the page.  Hank seems to be screaming out that what has come before is literary masturbation, what is about to arrive is the new breed.  And the new breed is Chinaski and the new breed is Bukowski and A-men to that.

What Bukowski seems to be doing is creating the legend of himself.  Taking his life and embellishing wherever he can or needs to. Maybe sometimes this goes too far, but at those points I found it useful to remind myself that it's a work of fiction and not biography.  Sure, he uses poetic licence, but he is entirely justified in that.

It would have been great to hear Hemingway and Bukowski comparing fishing stories, by the way.  'Mine was this big,' Hem might suggest while holding his arms as wide as he could.  'That was nothing.  Mine was bigger than this,' Hank might reply, dropping his trousers and admiring himself.

The story is fascinating.  Brilliantly told.  Refreshing and honest and dishonest and very well worth while picking up.

Read and weep.