Thursday, 31 October 2013

Across The Pond: Wilsky, Whisky and Bird


What follows is something a little different. An attempt at offering something a little new for readers and authors. It's a fictionalised interview between two authors who live on opposite sides of a very big pond.

The idea is to help authors and publishers to get a leg up internationally and to allow readers to meet some great writers from all over the place.

If you're a writer and would like to take part, here's what to do.

First off, read this interview and get a feel for the idea.

Secondly, pair off with an author who's across a pond from you (it doesn't matter which pond - the Channel, the Pacific, the Atlantic, as long as you've read at least on book or story by the author/publisher concerned).

Thirdly, intertview each other in the fictional setting of your choice.

When it's over the 1000 word mark and below the 5000 word mark, edit and send it here ( and we'll get it up as part of the series.

If it's really great, it may end up as something of a collection, but it's early days yet. Let's see how it goes.

For now, let's pick up with Jim Wilsky as he settles down in a Scottish pub after an exhausting virtual flight...

Wilsky, Whisky and Bird

So here I am sitting in Scots Pub on Rose Street in Edinburgh. Purposely, I’m drinking a whisky I’ve never had. When in Rome, and all that right? It’s called Famous Grouse. Ol’ Declan behind the bar over there recommended it. He’s a big boy. Full beard and big. I guess I already said that.

Seems to be a nice enough fella, but he’s sure looking at me funny. Like he doesn’t know whether to throw me out or pour one for himself. Probably a little of both. I think it was the Texas accent. And my boots.  

Place is starting to fill up and I’m glad for it. The added body heat is welcomed. Someone taps my shoulder.

I turn sideways and see the reason I’m here.

“Hey! You made it.” Nigel Bird says and slaps me on the back.

“Damn its cold here Nigel. I’ve lost the feeling in my extremities. It’s a hundred and four back home.”

“Yanks. Always bitchin’ about something.” He grins at me, then holds a finger up to Declan. “Are you hungry Jim or are we just drinking?”

“They got brisket here Nigel?”

“Not the kind you’re thinking of. How about some haggis, neeps and tatties?”

“Some who?”

“Never mind. Let’s just drink.”

“Sounds good to me, I’m warmin’ up to this Famous Grouse liquor.”

Declan sits down a McEwans Indian Pale Ale in front of Nigel and gives him a friendly nod. Then he slides a look over at me. One of those, I’m not so sure about you, looks.  

“Declan’s okay, just cautious. Well listen, we might as well get to this then before we get tanned and start slurring too badly eh? Who’s going first in this little exercise?”

“You can Nigel, because I have no idea what I’m asking you yet … but I’ll come up with something, don’t you worry.” 

“Alright then. You wrote Blood On Blood with Frank Zafiro.  Now I have enough of a problem writing alone, so I’ve no idea how a true collaboration might work.  How the hell did you keep it all together in a way that worked so very well?”

“I don’t have a clue either. Hell I can’t even spell collaboration without using spell check. I do know one thing, there has to be a certain connection with the other writer from the get go. It doesn’t just grow. It was pure luck for me to be able to work with him. He was the veteran, I was the old/new guy. Blood on Blood was challenging but really not that bad. Queen of Diamonds, the second book that’s out now, was much smoother in terms of coordination. The third book, which we just completed was probably somewhere in the middle.”

I finish my drink and look at Declan. I think I’ll be patient and wait for him to get closer. I glance back over at Nigel. “Now Frank however, would probably tell you that with me as a writing partner, all three books have been like a damn never-ending nightmare. 

"Me and an old pal had a connection once – fist to jaw.  His fist!  I really jawed him something special that night.  Wasn’t any good for writing – we never talked since, which was a good job for as speaking hurt like hell.  So I reckon it must be better to pair up with a veteran.  Less power in the punch, huh?

“Yeah, but Frank was a cop until his retirement about a month ago. They know when and where to hit you.” I look down and there’s a new drink in front of me. Declan is a tricky one and he’s already pouring a draft for somebody down the bar a few stools. I give him a silent toast down there and he nods.

“Declan’s okay like I said.”  

“Alright Nigel, here’s the first question for you. If I was payin’ for my drinks with the U.K. Amazon revenue sales I’ve had in two to three years…you’d be buying already. I’ve been lucky enough to make some great friends over here but damn my U.K. ranking is like #2 billion. And dropping. Have you had any luck in the U.S.? I mean it might just be that I suck. Tag on question, of the 10 different challenges and hurdles there are, which is the biggest for you? Language, style, book setting, familiarity, etc.?”

“Hell, that’s a shame about the ranking.  You deserve better.  Thing is, I reckon it’s just one of those things.  I have the same problem in the US, though I’m lucky enough to have a great community over there who help by liking my work and buying it from time–to-time.”

Nigel sips his beer.  Tells me it’s the first beer he’s sipped in 8 years and doesn’t taste as good as he remembers.  I see him shudder as it goes down, then he says,  “There’s something in the style thing, definitely.  Someone should experiment with the form.  I mean, a couple of Brits and a couple of Yanks who have had some success on their own side of the pond swap things over.   Translate the story from one place to another.  It might be that a New York story found itself written in Preston, say.  Or Edinburgh.  I think it might work and if it didn’t, I don’t think it would be so hard to do that it wouldn’t be fun.” 

Our conversation is brought to a standstill by the thud of the double doors.  Hell, the whole pub freezes up like a waxwork museum. 

In from the street comes the gang from hell.  Edinburgh Capitals fans in their long, white tops with the cross of St Andrew and the lion of Scotland. 

According to the guide book I bought, the chances of meeting a group of Capitals fans anywhere in the city are slim as hell.  Last home game, I read, there were only 200 home fans watching them push the puck around the ice everywhere but into the net.

Nigel leans over and laughs. "They can’t be celebrating a win - that just never happens.  They can’t be drinking off a defeat, either – that’s just the way life is.

When Nigel sees the sticks they’re holding, I see a glint in his eye that suggests we might have a new horror on our hands. Let's face it, an ice hockey stick could probably take out an eye or the odd testicle if they’re not careful with them.

He looks over to me and tries to explain, but the words are lost in the chants of the squad. 

He counts them as they swarm around the bar.  5, 6, 7, 8, 9.  Too many for the locals to handle.

Declan doesn’t raise an eyebrow. 

When the mob ask for the drinks, he pours them like a pro.  18 pints of lager and 18 double shots of Glenmorangie.

The sight of the beers filling the glasses seems to quieten the crowd. 

“Could turn nasty,” Nigel says and takes a gulp of his beer.  This time, there’s no shudder.  “But we’ll see.  See them ordering Guinness, I’m wondering about the choice of an Irishman and a Pole in Blood On Blood.  You have any connections that way?”

“Well, I’m a Pollack with a little Ukranian mixed in there for some extra trouble. Frank is a retired cop so that was a natural too.”

The hockey boys at the bar start up a chant, or a cheer, or a war cry. Some damn thing. One old guy, a regular no doubt, gets shoved half off his barstool. I look across the bar at a big bastard and we lock eyes for a moment. I look away but come back to him. Guy is staring a hole through me. He’s got fresh game blood on his eyebrow.

Uh-oh. I’ve seen that look before but I’ll be damned if I’ll be the one to look away again. I’m just not real smart that way.

I talk to Nigel without breaking off the little staring battle. “Now, in Queen of Diamonds we developed our main characters based on a fairly good knowledge of people and place, what they did for a living and where they were from. I think that’s important. Writing fiction is hard enough."

"Ain't that the truth, lad."

“Like the old saying, write what you know. Smoke had to be that way for you right? Had to be a natural in terms of people and place. Were the characters loosely - or maybe not so loosely, based on real acquaintances here in Scotland?”

The hockey player looks away when a drink is put into his hand. He takes it down in one along with the rest of them and slams his glass onto the bar, first to finish in the race. Must be the leader of the pack.

Nigel seems unconcerned about the game over there. Just sips away like this is an everyday occurrence.

“Yeah, I guess.  Smoke’s about a town up the road. The place I work. Though it’s changing, it’ll never be one of the soft-centres in the chocolate box. Mostly there’re stones and rocks inside the Tranent confectionary. I work with kids and want to offer hope and Smoke’s about how hard hope is to find in such communities.”

The hockey players settle down a little.  Declan gives me a wink as he fills up the next round for the team.  Makes it look like he’s under control. I reckon there’s an ace or two up the guy’s sleeve.

“That’s true, brother,” I say to Nigel.

“But someone’s got to try, right?” I can tell he’s a teacher the way he won’t let reality cloud his vision.  “What you know helps as a starting point, but where the noir goes isn’t somewhere I’d want to live any more than I have to – there are things better left to fiction, right?”

“I know what you’re saying.”

“Like your guys in Queen Of Diamonds. I see you’ve got Ania as the femme fatale in this one. Wow she’s hot. Is that written from personal experience? Or is it just the cards?”


“Ania is a complex patchwork creation of Frank and I. There is certainly something real about her, based on our separate experiences. She’s a dangerous one. I’d imagine you’ve known an Ania or two yourself eh?”

“I will neither deny or acknowledge it lad.”

I smile at Nigel and knock back another drink. The whisky goes down smooth, spreading it’s warmth.

“The cards? Boy, I do love the cards. There’s a danger there too, not unlike Ania in a way. There is always the threat of losing it all. Demise is always sitting there on your shoulder in cards. Threatening you.” 

We both look up and over at a sudden outbreak of shouting between two of the Capitals fans. A group roar rises up and then boisterous laughter fills the tavern.

“So anyway, threatening, yeah. I always think that threat and tension are just as good as the bad deed itself if it’s written well. Impending doom and all that. You agree Nigel?”  

“Isn’t there that thing about showing the bomb? You know, that if no one knows there’s a bomb on the bus, there’s no tension. Soon as the cat’s out of the bag, there’s a little rise in the temperature. Like with the guys hotting up at the bar. I can practically feel the accident waiting to happen.”

The smell of sweat and testosterone takes over from the aroma of alcohol. It’s a tell-tale sign that the action’s not far away. Declan seems to have picked it out. He’s working under the bar where his hands can’t be seen. Working a little magic, no doubt.

“I liked an article by Lee Child recently about keeping readers hungry. Planting seeds and growing their appetite. You’ve got the big seeds in Diamonds – the dangerous woman who could turn on a pound coin and the cards that can ruin a life in a moment. Not to mention a cast of desperate men.”

A glass breaks over in the ice-hockey quarter. Shatters musically like a piano being dropped from a great height.

Nigel keeps at it. Ignores the tune. “The tension in this place right now? How do you reckon Cord and Casey would handle this?”

“Well, they both were gamblers and both had talent with the cards. The thing that separated them, in my mind anyway, was the way they saw themselves…when they looked in the mirror.”

“Cord saw a winner, plain and simple. He was arrogant, over confident, conceded and massively self-absorbed…but he’d admit that gladly. Casey though, Casey looked at himself as the constant underdog, un-respected and there was always a little self-doubt creeping around the edges.”

“Okay so, like I said, how would they handle this?” Nigel waves his hand over at the Capital’s boys.

“Cord would buy everyone in the place a drink and then ask if anyone wanted to play some cards. Not really giving a rat’s ass whether he won or lost with this bunch. If he started winning, he’d find a blonde. If he started losing, he’d find a blonde, and then graciously excuse himself.”

“And our boy Casey, how about him?

“Casey would sit at a table, start dealing cards and try to prove himself, even here. Serious as hell. All or nothing. Desperate. He’d look pissed off and about ready to puke at the same time. If he started losing, he’d bet more and more. When he couldn’t pay, he’d get his eyes permanently crossed by a couple of those boys over there.”

From over in their corner, there's a deep bellow and a chair's kicked over. I look at Nigel and grin.

“The important question is right now though is how are we going to handle this?”

“Well, neither one off us has a blonde hanging on our shoulder.”

“True. True. You know I used to like to mix it up a little. Then again that was about a hundred years ago. I could go about one hard round now.” I point at the unruly mob. “But that looks like a lot more than one round.”

“I think we’re both past clearing out a barroom, but it’d be fun dropping at least one of them.” Nigel stands up and looks over to the mob in time to see the first punch. A big boy has thrown a roundhouse at one of his own.

He looks back at me now. “Cord was the smarter of the two don’t you think?”

“Yeah. I’m biased because he was my character, but yeah, I think so.”

“Well then, minus the blondes, let’s graciously excuse ourselves.”

As we move to the exit, tight to the wall and taking on the blending-in characteristics of chameleons, Declan makes a move.

Through the swinging door I see something rising above the 42 inches of the bar. I can’t pick the make, but it sure as hell has been sawn off.

The bang doesn’t explode until we’re in the fresh air, lost now in the Rose Street crowd like starlings swirling in formation.



  1. Nicely done, guys. I think this is a cracking idea.

  2. Jump on board Chris. It would be good to have you.

  3. Thanks Nigel. I might just take you up on that...

  4. Hey Chris!

    Hope all is well. Thanks for reading. - Jim

  5. Well done. I'm only a reader, but have branched out to UK authors. For some reason, many of them seem to think that readers in the colonies won't like their books.