Saturday 20 October 2012


John Kenyon is a classy writer.

In ‘The First Cut’ (US), he offers a collection of stories that is a pleasure to read.

One of the features of his work is the ability to plant a seed in a reader’s mind and then chop down the plant as soon as it appears so that another seed can take its place.  There were times when I thought I had outsmarted the author and knew where a piece was going, only to find that it was Mr Kenyon who had the upper hand every time.  This kind of loop-the-loop is a lot of fun to be part of.

Another feature is his ability to create a story in an unusual setting – there are lots of tangents from the ordinary here to enjoy.

This collection might also offer a number of tips to the reader, should they ever find themselves in a tight spot, a kind of self-help book for the criminal:

how to bury a body the right way.

how to deliver the perfect Christmas gift to your child when you’re short of cash.

how to ease your conscience after a hit.

why a little-white lie might serve better than a full confession.

how to keep out subliminal messages and maintain self-control.

My favourite in the collection is the opener, a story about a hit-man who has grown to resent Quentin Tarantino movies and who becomes linked in with organ-donation in a rather macabre fashion.

I'd also like to point you in the direction of Grimm Tales, published by Untreed Reads.  It's a really great anthology that John put together through his site 'TIRBD'.  There's a foreward in there from Ken Bruen, who sells it far better than I might.  Check it out.

Friday 12 October 2012

When The Protectors Need Protecting

I hope you caught Thomas Pluck’s excellent piece on how he put together ‘Protectors – Stories To Benefit Protect' yesterday.  It demonstrates the hard work and commitment of the editor and I take my hat off to him for what he’s achieved.

I wanted to support the collection by writing about why I wrote the story – Patti Abbott has opened the doors to her blog with her ever-flowing generosity – and I’d have sent her something had I not just done the very thing for Both Barrels.

Instead of taking up Patti’s space, I thought I’d write it here at home instead.

My story in ‘Protectors’ is called ‘Baby’s In Blue’ and in many ways it came very differently to others I’ve written.  In some ways, I needed protecting from my own creation as I put it together as I felt extremely uncomfortable as I worked.

The starting point is something that really happened, much as I wish it hadn’t.

Several years ago now, a young woman collected a severely-disabled girl from her family to give them respite care.  At some point in the evening, the carer wrapped up the child in a blanket and left her outside in her wheelchair and then went into a party.

It must have been one hell of a party, too.

When the taxi turned up to take the child to school the next day, she wasn’t there.  She was found where she’d been left the night before almost dead after sitting through temperatures that dipped below zero. 

That such things can happen beggars belief.

I guess I wondered just how good something would have to be to make someone forget that kind of responsibility.  The lure of alcohol or drugs and the distractions of love and sex can be mighty powerful, I suppose, but I couldn’t find it in me to sympathise at any level.

That forged the ending of ‘Baby’s In Blue’.  I wanted to use the situation, but in a different way.

To fuse things together and to create the necessary baby of the title, I got to thinking about fertility clinics.  The money people spend to conceive a child.  Surely there must be loads of folk out there doing it in unorthodox ways in order to overcome the problems on the cheap.

Take a lesbian couple.  How about they just get a mate to sleep with them.  No strings.  What man could resist a threesome if his own wife was actually asking him to help out?  Certainly not the character I created.

And then I imagined what it might be like for such a man to see his son being brought up by a couple of women.  Wouldn’t he think about adding a little male influence on the child in the interest of balance?

Which is where I was.

I use the words ‘character I created’ back there quite deliberately.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t claim responsibility – it’s as if they’re already formed in some way when they arrive.

This time, however, I was manipulating the people in the story like a puppeteer.

There was a major consequence to this.  As I was the one pulling the strings, I was also the one leading the situation to its terrible conclusion.  Instead of playing God, I was playing the devil.

For one of the few times in my experience as a writer, I felt damaged by the ideas and the acts of the story.  There was a burden to it.  A dark mass to be carried on the inside.   It was a rough and unpleasant thing to go through and I could only let go of the negative thoughts when the last full-stop was put in place.  In some ways an explanation mark might have felt safer, or putting the laptop behind bars.

I think it holds a great darkness in spite of some of the humour and the attempted lightness of tone.

When I sent it to TP, I was really worried that he’d never speak to me again once he saw what I’d done (for that’s how it felt – like I’d done it).

TP, gracious as ever, accepted the story and even embraced it as part of the collection.  That made me proud I can tell you.

There was also another feeling about the story.  If I’d felt such a revulsion during the process, did it mean that it was something special?  A work not even from my top drawer but from some secret cupboard somewhere?

I’m yet to read it again, so I’m not sure.  When I do, I won’t be the best judge anyway.

Should you get there, and I recommend that you at least buy the book (it’s to help the vulnerable, after all), maybe you’ll check it out and let me know.

Thanks again, TP, for all your hard work and dedication.  I shan’t be forgetting it any time soon.


Wednesday 10 October 2012

Title Fight

‘Tranent was one of the few places that, to Carlo, looked better in the fog.’

My novella ‘Smoke’ is set in Tranent, the town in which I work.

It’s a satellite town of Edinburgh that has its roots in mining and agriculture.  The mining’s gone, however, and the town may never have really recovered from that.

The mushrooming of new housing and an influx of families from the city is changing the character of the place slowly, whether people want it to change or not.  Even so, it remains a tough town.  A hard place.  An area with its own culture and ways of doing things. 

It’s also an area where there are pockets of extreme poverty and with that, as is often the case in the Western world, comes a battery of problems – health, alcohol and other drugs, violence, defiance and anger.

I picked up this tweet the other day from Kirsty Gibbins.  It’s perfect:

Fifty years ago, Friday night dances in Tranent were banned due to ongoing "disturbances and damage to premises". I'm saying nothing...’

I was lucky enough to have an article in the local press a while back on the subject of ‘Smoke’.  In the comments section there was a guy who was really pissed at me because the town has a bad enough press as it is out here in East Lothian (outside of East Lothian, I doubt many have heard of it at all).

He might have a point.  Maybe it does. 

The way I see it, I generally hold back the punches when I talk about the place out of a sense of respect for the families I work with and also because a lot of the things I know aren’t for sharing.

In terms of the novella, however, I don’t think it should upset anyone who lives there.  It’s not Tranent in any real way - it’s simply a background to tell a tale.  Like the wash behind a water-colour painting or a landscape by an impressionist where the detail might be difficult to find.

When Blasted Heath came to creating a cover for the book, the title of it and the themes were problematic.

I wondered whether it could be something other than ‘Smoke’.

At the top of this piece, I mention the fog.  Fog is smoke-like, but there were more links to it that meant the title had to stay.

There’s Nan Ramsay, mother of the two young hoods who are central to much of the violence of the story.  She’s smoked herself into the ground.  Sits with her oxygen mask on in between puffs.  Sells illegally imported cigarettes to anyone who wants them including in ones or twos to young children

There’s the smoking high that’s sought by burning wheelie bins and inhaling the fumes – it’s something the fire-brigade were getting pretty fed-up with a few years ago.

There’s the smoke from the barrel of a gun.

There are the twin towers of the chimneys down at the power-station in Cockenzie, always filling the air with clouds.

There’s the exhaust from the old Capri that Jimmy’s dad drives when he decides it’s about time he got it back on the road so that he can sort out a few problems in his own way.

There are the smoke-and-mirror tricks behind the use of a town in a way that would make any tour based upon the novella an impossibility to set up.

And smoke gets in your eyes – I hope when you read it, you may get a real sense of that and that you might even well-up whether it’s from wincing or emotional resonance. 

Saturday 6 October 2012


Nicola Jordan Rain offers up 2 really good stories in this book.

First off is Backburner (US), the tale of a couple of exes meeting up after hooking up on Facebook.

I know from personal experience just how messy such a reconnection can be – there’s all that emotional energy that had you together in the first place, there’s the sexual tension, the ‘what if?’ question that will always remain unanswered and there’s the foggy pain of the separation.

All-in-all, it makes the perfect situation for a tight piece fiction where the darkness has the subtlety of the shadows rather than the full-on black of midnight.

It’s a very good story and an enjoyable read. 

The situation plays out in a very real way.

Harrie is in her late thirties.  Life hasn’t been easy for her since her split with Patrick.

Patrick, on the other hand, has what looks like a beautiful life – wife, child, home, holidays, good job and the trimmings.  Soon as he sees Harrie, though, the dissatisfaction with all he has descends upon him and he sees his opportunity of escape when his youth and lust are rekindled.

We know the outcome from the start.  The work is written in reverse sequence.  Rather than making it less interesting, this structure adds layers to the sinister feeling of it all and helps us get a strong sense of depth without having to reach in and explore all the details.

The second story, ‘The Devil’s Pretty Daughter’ tells the tale of a backpacker who hitches a ride with a serial killer and finds the van-door lock has been removed.  It has a claustrophobic tension that’s very enjoyable.

This is a book that is short and not-so-sweet.  It is, however, a kind of treasure in itself.

The style suggests that the author might be at home writing in any genre or for any medium. 

The stories have a feel that they’re written with a view through  2 lenses – there’s the main one where the bigger picture is on show and there’s another that sees things from an unusual viewpoint and adds a perspective that strengthens the work.

Also of note is a rather lovely use of description:

Patrick – ‘awash with approval and starting to turn tweedy...[he] had given up on ‘travelling light’, his new ethos was ‘dragging this crap all over the country’.’

Noise – ‘The whistle of the kettle was putting on weight.’

Travel – ‘I got a Skytrain to the outskirts of Vancouver.  I got a bus to the outskirts of the outskirts.’

Such lovely brushstrokes add to the pleasure of the read.
If you're interested, Nicola has the  second story from the book (The Devil's Prety Daughter) and also her work GPSimone available for free over at Smashwords.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

A Taste Of Honey

Shotgun Honey is one of the most exciting places to read fiction online.  Flash stories that win every single time. 

Now they've brought out a collection of their own, with some slightly longer stories that they usually publish.

Yesterday was the official blast-off and now we can all see what the complete project looks like.

What a lineup they've put together.

Check this out:

'Shotgun Honey has brought together 29 authors from around the world to produce our first anthology, Shotgun Honey Presents: Both Barrels. Featuring stories from: Patti Abbot, Peter Farris, Trey R. Barker, Hector Acosta, Cameron Ashley, Ray Banks, Frank Bill, Nigel Bird, Jen Conley, Paul D. Brazill, Thomas Pluck, Garnett Elliott, Matthew C. Funk, Chris F. Holm, Glenn Gray, Naomi Johnson, Nik Korpon, Kieran Shea, Julia Madeleine, Joe Myers, Andrew Nette, Mike Oliveri, Dan O'Shea, Tom Pits, Keith Rawson, Holley West, Frank Wheeler Jr., Jim Wilsky and Steve Weddle.'

That crowd make sweet, sweet music together. 

Blown away? You should be. 

I am too, to be part of such a celebration of fiction. 

You can pick up the kindle versions in the UK and the US and there's also a paperback on offer (which I'll be going for to put on my bursting shelves) - so what are you waiting for?  You know you want to pull the trigger.

And what about this for a new logo?  She's the new Mona Lisa the way I see her.  I have my suspicions that it's Sabrina Ogden in fancy dress, but that might just be my fantasies projecting themselves all over the place.

If you're short of the change needed for the book, why not pop over to Goodreads and enter the giveaway draw there.  It's got to be worth a shot.