Monday 29 February 2016
Funnily enough, this is my second suicide related book of the year. This one has a very different feel to the first. Whereas The Jump offers an attempt at an in-depth probe into the psychology of a jumper and the resulting waves created in the aftermath, A Long Way Down uses it more as a situation and squeezes out humour wherever it can be found. The attempt at suicide is the thing that brings the main characters together and is the glue that binds them as the story unfolds.
Four characters go up to the roof of Toppers House with the intention of killing themselves. Because they all arrive together, they end up saving each other and set off on a journey that will change their lives forever.
The four are wonderful creations. They tell the story from their own points of view like a tag team. Maureen is a middle-aged Catholic lady who has no partner and cares for her disabled son alone. Martin's a celebrity who has had the humiliation of having his sordid private life exposed. Jess is a barmy product of a chemistry formed by New Labour parents, life at the local comp and a missing sister who has probably taken her own life. JJ's a cool American who suffers from existential angst and a the knowledge that he's become a total failure as a rock musician.
They form an unlikely bond, set themselves goals and begin to care for each other. Their friendship is, however, defined by the only thing they have in common and is therefore rather shaky.
The events that follow are often touching and frequently very funny indeed. As the book enters its third part it feels like the author has no painted himself into a corner. The ending is either going to see a death or it isn't and in some ways neither of these options can be totally satisfactory.
There's plenty of social commentary and Hornby does a great job of exposing the flaws of each character by painting them in different ways through the eyes of others.
Though there's a lot of entertainment to be had here, and the book did cheer me up every time I picked it up, I wouldn't want to give the impression that it's entirely trivial. There are plenty of sobering moments and also subtle examinations of human pain that are nicely handled.
So, now I'm on a roll with books on suicide, can you suggest a third? I'd be happy to hear your recommendations.
Sunday 21 February 2016
I have a new novel out there and it's called The Shallows.
It's available for kindle via the following links and I'm keeping the price down until St Patrick's Day:
UK US Can De Fr and other regions here.
What's it about? Something like this:
Lieutenant Bradley Heap has gone AWOL and taken along his wife and son. They’re managing to cope until a chance encounter with a gang of drug dealers turns their world upside down.
With no money and no contacts, the Heaps are forced underground. It’s a tough path they’ve chosen, but they can cope with anything as long as they stay together as a family unit.
Detective John Locke of Police Scotland joins forces with the Navy police in the search for Heap and his wife on a trail that will take them from the middle of Scotland to the edge of the South Lakes.
The Shallows explores the limits of human endurance and examines how far people will go to protect the ones they love. It is a twisting tale of tension, despair and intrigue that encapsulates the essence of hope.
If you like the sound of that, I hope you'll think about making a purchase. If you enjoy it, perhaps you'll leave a review. You can also help by sharing this on social media in the way that suits you best. It goes without saying that I'd greatly appreciate the effort on your part, so thanks in advance if you put your shoulder to the wheel.
It's good to be bringing something fresh and new to the table once again. I hope you enjoy it.
Monday 15 February 2016
I still get a buzz when I remember that Blasted Heath publish my work. That they have taken any of my pieces is truly wonderful. For them to have a novella and a series, well that makes me feel special.
It makes that tingle even more powerful when I read books like Holy Death (US), the new Lafitte novel from Anthony Neil Smith. To be in a solar system that includes a title like this, even if I’m out in the range of Pluto and have experts wondering if I’m a planet or just a rock, that’s enough for me.
Another treat that comes my way because of the Heathen association is that I get to read the odd book before it’s officially released. Holy Death was one of those and by the time I’ve finished I hope you’ll go and join the queue by making a pre-order purchase.
You may already be feeling like ignoring this recommendation. Feel that I’m merely trying to promote something to help my publisher and their stable. That’s not an unreasonable assumption, but it’s inaccurate in this case. I’ll try and explain why.
Holy Death is a neatly put together work that is told from multiple points of view.
Billy Lafitte is on the way to meet up with the love of his life for what he hopes will be one final time. There are a several obstacles blocking his way, however. There’s the security of the institution in which she is kept; an ailing heart battered by body-building products; and there’s DeVaughn Rose who is seeking revenge for his brother’s death many years earlier.
DeVaughn is an ex-gang member turned gambler. When we meet him, he’s getting to know a young waitress called Melissa. Melissa is aware of her short-comings. She’s tired of the limitations that life and living put upon her. She’s ripe for a world of excitement but the only folk who pick her from the tree are no-hopers. When DeVaughn and her collide, they mutually understand that there’s destiny and chemistry at play. When they’re with each other they’r e on fire. It doesn’t matter how long that flame burns, either, just as long as they’re together to keep it alight.
DeVaughn soon has to turn to his old gang for support after Lafitte dispatches the first wave of surveillance with consummate ease. This allows for a wonderful perspective on the culture from a jaded old-timer as well as from within. There’s detail and observation at a very high level, expressed with humour, sarcasm and abrasive dialogue.
As the net around Lafitte closes, things are further complicated by the involvement of the FBI whose agents and ex-agents also have scores to settle.
The energy of the book is fabulous. The momentum of the chase is high. It’s complicated by the fact that, though it should be impossible to root for any of the characters involved, there are levels of sympathy created for almost all of them. Problem is, as the world heads towards a conclusion, the only thing that’s certain is there’s no way all of them can make it out alive.
There are several jewels in this crown.
The first is the way those points-of-view are handled. This is expertly done. We see the world through the filters of protagonists that are superbly individual. It’s not a case that the author simply throwing his voice and putting on different accents, he’s going all the way.
Next there’s the style of the book. The use of language is really creative. This guy’s the wordsmith that his name suggests. I derived a lot of satisfaction from the sharpness of the dialogue and from the internal voices because of this invention.
The last I’ll mention, and biggest for me, is that crackling relationship between DeVaughn and his lover. These guys are as good a duo as you’re going to find anywhere in crime fiction. The passion is extreme. There’s lust and sex and mutual respect. Their wholehearted commitment to their objective of seeing the end of Lafitte is something to behold and they are definitely much more than a sum of their parts.
Smith tells stories with a kind of scorched earth policy. He smashes everything up almost as quickly as he builds. He creates a world that is violent and exhilarating and action-packed, but the one thing that's definitely left standing after the destruction is the high quality of the writing.
So there they are. My thoughts on Holy Death.
If you’re still in any doubt about what to do next, just check out the cover. It’s a work of brilliance and, in this case, it’s a great indicator as to how this book should be judged.
Thursday 11 February 2016
Clayton Blaisdell (Blaze US) is a big guy. There's a dent in his head. He's the kind of person you're going to remember if he commits a crime, so it's even more important than ever that he takes precautions before he goes to work. The only problem he has is that his brain capacity has been severely hampered ever since his father beat him to within an inch of his life many years earlier. Because of this, he has to rely upon his old friend George to keep him right. This would be fine if George weren't dead and if his advice didn't come in random bursts.
When we meet Blaze, he's down on his luck. The only way he can think of to get back onto his feet is to carry out the one big job that George had planned when he was still alive, the kidnapping of a baby from an extremely wealthy family. It's a pretty good plan at that, except that Blaze is out of cash and has made no preparations for the welcoming of a new baby into his life.
The story splits into two parts at a fairly early point in the book.
The first strand follows the impending kidnapping and the consequences of the attempt. It's a nicely played out tale that balances tension and action really well. It also carries a warm strand of humour that is very pleasing and had me laughing out loud on several occasions.
The second part deals with Blaze's life in the institution in which he was brought up. This was really important to the book as it really alters the perspective on Blaze entirely. Instead of a loathsome kidnapper, he becomes a sympathetic character. The more I got to know him, the more I loved the guy. His heart's as big as his fist and circumstances have thwarted his bids for happiness at every turn. There's less humour here. The tones are somehow duller, yet the power they carry is all the more enhanced because of that.
I'd compare this to another Stephen King novel, but I realised when I took this on that this is the first I've ever read (unless my memory is even worse than I think it is). What it did for me was to suggest that I'd love to read more. I also found myself rooting around on my shelves (unsuccessfully, I'm afraid) for my copy of Of Mice And Men.
There is an introduction by Mr King, by the way. I started it, but abandoned it half-way through to get to the main course. I'm sure it's really interesting to his fans; to me his story did the talking that was necessary.
Blaze was a terrific read and is the kind of story I'd recommend for a long commute - flowing material and plenty of hooks to keep you going.
Wednesday 10 February 2016
I’d like to welcome Math Bird, great penname by the way . . . Why are you looking at me like that? It’s not your real name, right?
Unfortunately, yes. My name is Matthew, but in parts of Wales, it’s shortened to Math, and that’s what I’ve always been called (I’m sure I’ve been called other things, but you know what I mean).
And you like that name?
Yes. It has grown on me. Granted, having the surname BIRD and growing up on a large Welsh council estate in the 70s had its challenges. But it has stood me in good stead.
Hmm, interesting, and there’s me thinking you were just trying to give yourself a weird name to stand out from other writers and be pretentious.
Look, any more comments like that and I’m walking out.
Ok, sorry, so you mentioned you grew up in Wales, which part?
In northeast Wales, by the Dee estuary, it’s near the English border.
Yes, that’s right. It features a lot in your stories.
Yes, a beautiful, ugly place, part Welsh, part English, neither fish nor fowl so to speak. I write about it a lot. Culturally, it’s a hybrid. When people think of Wales, they tend to think of Dylan Thomas, Welsh Male voice choirs and How Green Was My Valley. Northeast Wales is nothing like that. Don’t get me wrong it’s picturesque and has plenty of sheep. But it has never sat comfortably with common notions of Welsh identity.
And you try to address that?
In my own little way, yes.
Through crime and noir fiction?
Yes. For me, story is the most important thing. But through that, I try to blend in some of the cultural and social themes that interest me.
So why crime and noir fiction, has the genre been a big influence on you?
Yes and No. TV-wise, I grew up watching Frank Marker’s Public Eye, and Callan, and loved films such as Get Carter, and The Long Good Friday. But when it came to reading, I loved and tried to copy (very badly may I add) classic Welsh writers, such as Gwyn Jones, Rhys Davies and Caradoc Evans. Especially Gwyn Jones, some of his darker stories such as The Pit, The Green Island and the brilliant Brute Creation are noir without the title. So I started writing noir without actually realising it and as I discovered Jim Thompson and James M Cain added more crime elements into it. Then, when I started reading brilliant magazines such as All Due Respect, Pulp Modern, Shotgun Honey, ThugLit, Plots with Guns, Plan B Magazine etc., I thought this reads like the stuff I write.
And you’ve placed stories in some of these magazines?
Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to do that. My story Histories of the Dead was written especially for All Due Respect and my story the Devilfish was written especially for Pulp Modern, and luckily, they were both picked. I love the fact that among stories set in Texas, Chicago, Seattle, there are crime stories set in Northeast Wales, and I love and respect magazines such as ADR, Pulp Modern and PWG etc., for taking that chance.
But your latest novella, the psychological noir thriller The Whistling Sands (US), isn’t set in northeast Wales; it is set in West Wales, right?
Yes, but the main character, Ned Flynn is from northeast Wales, and he has all the baggage that comes with that.
Sounds interesting, tell us more.
Well, without giving too much away. The story is in the tradition of Jim Thompson and James M Cain, with a modern take. Fundamentally, it’s about obsessions, greed, lust and the stories we tell ourselves, and what we want to believe. It has a lot of noir elements, losers, femme fatales, murder, and good intentions gone wrong and spiralling out of control. And the ending, in my opinion, pulls no punches.
Sounds great, so what’s next?
A new Ned Flynn novella at some point, but I’m currently working on a new novel called Welcome to Holy Hell. It’s set in the 70s, a cross between Barry Hines’s KES and Thompson’s The Getaway . . . That’s about it really, unless there are any more questions.
Yes, a little bird told me (pardon the pun), that your PhD thesis was on The Regional Welsh Thriller.
That’s a bit useless isn’t it?
How do you mean?
Well, if you were on an airplane and someone asked is there a doctor on board and you stood up and said, “Well, yes, but I can’t offer any medical assistance, all I can do is tell them about a few obscure Welsh writers.”
Right, that was your last chance. I’m stopping this interview now. There’s a dark side to you. I’d have been better off interviewing myself.
Thursday 4 February 2016
It wasn't that long ago when the Kindle and ebook revolution threw up the opportunity to writers to publish single short stories. Go back five years and there were plenty of them to be had. It was a treat and great to see work coming out in a range of shapes and sizes. For 75p or 99c, you could get a quality short read. To some that might sound a lot, but in terms of value that seems pretty good to me.
Things have changed a little. Market forces have done what they usually do and ironed the world out. Flattened it in some way and taken away some of the edge. And it's not something I have a big problem with, it just seems like a shame, that's all.
In a world where people are able to get hold of great novels for 99p or less (even for free, of course) it stands to reason that a short story for around the £1 mark isn't going to seem like value. I'd argue that, given the single short story can't be available any more cheaply, it's the longer work that should be priced higher to give those little guys a chance.
To offer comparison, surely a tightly written story is worth about the same as a couple of tins of beans or half a mug of coffee in a cafe (and less than half if you're going for your Starbucks take-out).
This isn't a moan. It's simply an observation.
The reason it came to mind was Tony Black's decision to release a short story called Stone Ginger (US). The actual title is Stone Ginger: a short noir story, which is great because there can be no complaints from readers that there aren't enough words. It's a piece that I really enjoyed and feel is well worth that lowly price of entry.
The only problem I have with the length is that it doesn't leave a lot of room to work with in terms of a review. The blurb reads:
'When Charlie 'Minty' Lamb meets the gorgeous Ginger down the local boozer he thinks all his Christmases have come at once. Even the boys from the back-shift can't believe his luck, that is until one or two of them start to notice that Ginger might be something other than she appears. Soon Minty's questioning himself, and everyone else with good reason. A fast-paced noir short for fans of the classic London crime caper.'
That's a pretty good summary.
I'd like to add that the story-telling voice is strong and that the twist isn't the one I was expecting. There's a good line in humour and it's oozing with flavour. There's a lot packed in here and it's well worth taking the time to check it out.
If you feel that the price-tag is too big for your pocket and you're a Kindle-Unlimited subscriber, you can get this one for free, so what are you waiting for?