Sunday 30 March 2014


On the back of my copy of Out Of The Whirlpool is a lovely quote that’s attributed to The Observer. It says, ‘Taut, laconic, superbly sandpapered novella.’ I really like that as it says all it needs to in many ways. Still, I intend to expand and add my own spin.

The image of sandpaper in the quote is very well chosen – it speaks of craft and work, as well as hinting at something abrasive.

Peter Granby is a young lad who has grown up in a hard area of Nottingham. The book opens with him seeing local streets being demolished, offering glimpses into the lives of those who’ve been there while turning those days into rubble and dust.

He’s out and about avoiding being at home, where his mother lies. Her whole situation is described thus in a letter he’s paraphrasing that’s from his mother to his grandma: ‘She’d had a breast off and her back was still killing her. ‘So come as soon as you can. I’ve got nobody else to turn to.’’ Laconic’s right. This small quote also shows something of the mixed points of view that are used. The leaps from one thought to another. Like a jigsaw that has been put together with the pieces in the wrong places and yet managing to tell more of the story because of that.

Following an act of kindness, Peter comes into contact with a middle-class, middle-aged woman, Eileen, and into the possession of a five-pound note. He spends it on a knock-off radio and this act of law bending will later get him into trouble with the police. It also gets him into a difficult situation with his grandparents:

“I gave five quid for it.”

“More fool you.” He slopped his supper of spuds, meat and greens as if the bomb were going to drop in two minutes instead of four. The length of fat that hung from his mouth like a snake didn’t stand a chance. Peter had never told about the woman giving him the five-pound note, for fear he wouldn’t be believed. “You’d better go upstairs if you’re going to listen to that monkey music.”

This is another of those slices of brilliance. A character nailed to the page with no chance of escape. It shines a beam on his working-class roots and the life of a generation that came before him.

The class divide is spoken of again when he ends up being rescued by Eileen after he’s once again over-stepped the mark.  A sprinkling of description about breakfast is all it takes:

‘Two fried eggs seemed as big a breakfast as even a condemned man would need…

‘The pot of tea was all for himself, with a large mug…

‘He wondered how she could drink black coffee with no sugar.’

It’s not long before Peter’s lust and need to find something that’s shaped like love create a situation with Eileen. Sillitoe handles that really well as ever, creating a strong sense of passion and more than a whiff of eroticism. Not only does he describe the sexual drives really well, he explores the power in the relationship and the way Peter is blown about in the power of its energy.

As the book tells its story, the many facets of Peter are revealed. They shine brightly and offer a superb example of character writing at its very best.

This is an absolutely terrific book. It offers punchy writing that displays am amazing ability to describe people, place and plot while avoiding any wasted words. Like that fat sucked up by his grandfather, excess stands no chance with Sillitoe’s talent.

A really top read that gives a strong sense of time and place and yet manages to feel incredibly alive and current at the same time.


Thursday 20 March 2014

One Man's Opinion: THE RIVERMAN by ALEX GRAY

The Riverman is an old guy who is charged with the responsibility of fishing out the bodies from Glasgow’s Clyde. You might not think there’d be much for him to do, but when a serious problem is discovered in a major accountancy firm he becomes a very busy man.

There’s a lot to like about this book and there a few things that counted against it for me.

Essentially the plot is interesting and the characters are all well sketched out. There’s an element of suspense under the surface and this sometimes rises to really grip.

There are also a lot of strands to the book that, while enjoyable in their own way, seem to interrupt the flow of the police investigation and the various adventures that some of the population are involved in. A couple of cases in point concern the main women in the novel. Both of them seem interesting, but the biggest concern they have centres around questions relating to their partners’ fidelity. For me it did them a disservice on the one hand and the book on the other, given that these strands lacked tension. Alongside this, the narrative is divided into a large numbers of points of view and this didn’t really work for me. It’s as if a rather good piece of literary fiction and a pretty good police procedural have become tangled up and lack the necessary symbiosis to fully carry this off.

The main investigating characters are rather engaging. They come in the form of William Lorimer, the Chief Inspector, and the psychologist Solly Brightman. The pair work reasonably well together, but I’d be happier if there was a stronger bonding at the book’s heart.

Glasgow feels like one of the characters, as does the river in question. This was a real strength for me.

I enjoyed this enough to get to the end and can imagine a good number of readers lapping up the quality of the writing. Suck it and see.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Blow That Horn - RONE Awards

It's hard to be heard against the white noise of us all out there blowing our trumpets to try and get our work noticed. 

My approach seems to be like the comedy sketch where someone (a Brit) in a land foreign to their own (usually France) seems to think it's likely they'll be better understood by someone who doesn't speak their language if they raise their voice. 

When it comes to self promotion, I tend to try and blow the trumpet with greater gusto and simply add to the din (I'm no Chet Baker, believe me).

Here I am blowing again. I blowing and I'm asking for a little help in raising the roof.

HOW TO CHOOSE A SWEETHEART has been nominated for an award by the good people at InD'tale Magazine in the Contemporary General category. It's the first stage of the process and they're looking to create a shortlist for reading by the judges via a voting system.

There are 2 ways that you can vote for Sweetheart. One is to follow the previous link, subscribe to the site and vote directly on-line. The other is to send an email to some time this week naming the title and me as the author. It's a pretty simple process, but it does take a few minutes of the voters time. 

If you've read the book and think it worthy, if you fancy reading it this week and then deciding or if you feel like offering support I'd be most grateful.

Now I'm off to try and learn a new tune.

Many thanks to you and the team behind InD'tale.


Sunday 16 March 2014

Glen Garber’s wife dies in a road accident, taking out a local family in the process. Her blood is full of alcohol, yet she’s never been a big drinker.

This sits uneasily with Glen. Besides having to cope with the emotional stresses of the loss, he’s got to look after his daughter and continue a battle to keep his business afloat.

His journey takes him into the world of counterfeit goods, but the bags and the prescription drugs aren’t the only fakes he encounters – it seems that practically everyone he ever knew has been faking something or other.

The twists and turns are clever and woven into a structure that means this is one of those reads that is difficult to put down. There are very few chapters that end and don’t create an itch to find out what happens next that needs to be scratched immediately.

Glen is a fantastic central character. An average guy with an average life who watches as his life tumbles before him like a house of cards. Some of the most touching moments centre around his attempts to protect his daughter from the outside world, including his powerful mother-in-law, but he’s also keen to look after his employees and even some of the broken people he finds along the way.

There were a few points when I felt the author might have stretched things a little far. The way the mountains of bad luck and sinister revelations build, it is relentless and things are taken as far as they could be in every single direction the plot takes. I found myself questioning whether some things were credible and then that idea would be swallowed by the need to read on to find out just how incredible it might get. The bottom line is that the plot has been so well constructed that each tangent fits to the central hub really well and the characters are so well put together that their actions always make sense in terms of who they are in the circumstances they’ve been in.

It’s a very exciting read that has a really strong sense of pace about it. I’m generally a slow reader, but these 470 pages took me only 4 days and that’s really some going for me.  

Great fiction.

Sunday 9 March 2014


A couple of things before the review.

First of all, if you’ve missed the news about the fabulous event I’ll be involved with this Friday and you happen to live in the East of Scotland or are passing through, check out the information over at Ed James’s blog. I’m really looking forward to it.

Next, if you want to enter a competition where the prizes include a paperback copy of How To Choose A Sweetheart or The Rocks Below, follow this link to ebliving (it’s all online and no purchase is necessary).

And now news of a book that I read on International Women’s Day.

I was lucky enough to have a few hours to myself as I waited for my children to complete various tasks and functions. My choice of book was Ravenfold by Kath Middleton. It had me so involved that by the time I had a few hours free in the evening, it was the book that became my focus.

To my mind, this was the perfect read for a day set aside for reflecting about the rights of women. Not only that, it’s so well written that the journey was a pleasure to take.

The ravens alluded to in the title are birds that have become close to their human friends, a group of teenagers who hang around together enjoying the things that only children can. Life’s an adventure of sorts for all of them, but the fact that they’re growing up means that there’s a dark cloud hanging over them, especially the girls.

Ravenfold (US)is set in medieval times. Things were very different then and those differences are woven into the detail of the story rather skilfully. Above all, the role of girls and women is so limited and rigid as to make the framework tense and charged in itself.

Romelda Bolt is almost fourteen and has caught the
attention of a brute of a man who rules the area,
Oswald. He has the power to crush people or to raise
their status at his whim. It’s not long before Romelda is
learning to sew and is then chained in marriage to her
drunken lord.

Marriage doesn’t make life any easier for Romelda or
her family. Oswald is no noble man and lacks any of the
qualities that a decent human being might possess.
There’s a sense of claustrophobia about the whole tale
as Oswald tightens his fist and we get to see what
powders crumble from between his fingers.

I’m loath to give away too much. Suffice to say, things
don’t go well and Romelda and her family are deeply
damaged by what occurs. It’s this damage that leads to
thoughts of taking revenge and for me, that’s exactly
what I wanted.

This is a really interesting story. It has a haunting
atmosphere right from the off when a young man
slaughters a pig and takes away a vial of its blood
before leaving. It has the feel of a really strong, dark
fairytale where the cruelty and chill have the power to
enclose and suffocate. This creates a real drive to find
what is about to happen and a real need to reach some
kind of escape. I was at the author’s mercy from an
early point; whether she was generous or barbaric, I’ll
not say.

Back to Women’s Day. A read like this is a strong
reminder of how much things have changed over the
years and had me reflecting over how much more
change is needed. As I sat in my own bubble in a world
full of bubbles, I had to remind myself that the shifts
that have come through processes of evolution or
revolution have not been uniform across the globe. The
reminder is not enough unless it causes a shift in
thinking in some way; reading a book like this is one
way to get the cogs moving. One small cog can
sometimes make a big difference. Here’s hoping.

Friday 7 March 2014

Facebook has a competitor. It's called Schoolbook and it hooks up old friends. It also leaves some of those friends dead.
Ghost In The Machine (US) opens with a blind date that ends in the murder of a young mother in an Edinburgh hotel. This sets off a chain of events that unfolds and brings in Scott Cullen, a detective who is new to me and who brings a wonderful energy to the world of the police procedural.
Cullen’s good at his job and is keen to do what is right. That’s not always as easy as it might be, given that his bosses are playing political games and looking after their reputations, while his juniors are often rather incompetent.

As he battles against the lack of imagination of his seniors, Cullen moves off on tangents by following a mix of instinct and logic. It’s a good job he does, too, even if it does get him into hot water with the powers that be. The thing is, he’s the one with the handle on the case and he’s the only one likely to come up with the right result.

I really enjoyed this one. The setting is colourful and the characters well put together. The process of Cullen’s investigation into technologies using ultra-modern techniques is fascinating and well-explained. The pace of the story is terrific and the plot really accelerates from the off. There are plot-twists that came totally unexpectedly for me, yet made complete sense once the pieces of the puzzle were put together. There’s also enough in Cullen’s personal life and general manner to make him a pleasure to get to know.

Most interestingly for me was the style of the book. To me it goes against the writing rules I often read about and discuss, namely in the way that it tells the tale almost entirely through dialogue. It’s a great example of how to buck the norm; in so doing, James creates something that feels fresh and exciting. It helps that he uses strong differentiation between the voices of the characters, whether that be through accent, manner or phrasing. This rhythm adds to the style and pace of the work and helped this reader to shift through the gears with perfect ease.

It’s fair to say that I was bolting along as the climax played out. I was totally hooked and had been from pretty early on. This is a bonus as it helped me save on battery life on my TV remote control, the telly being switched off for the past few days to make way for the real action.

Recommended to anyone who likes a solid police story. I’ll definitely be reading more in the series.