Monday 26 September 2011

Guest reading at Smokelong Quarterly

I'm excited to be guest reading at one of my favourite writing venues, Smokelong Quarterly, the week of October 17th. So if you have a story under 1,000 words that you think I'll love, please submit to the magazine following the website guidelines during that week. If you're brand new to the venue, here's the story I had published in Smokelong a while ago. And here's my interview with them. All stories will be read blind, so I won't know whose stories I'm seeing, but you know the sort of thing I love. Dark, funny, moving, character-led, offbeat, horny. Or simply honest.

Friday 23 September 2011

Yesterday's Man in Stalking Elk

I'm thrilled that my short story about déjà vu, Yesterday's Man, has been published in the third issue of the excellent Stalking Elk magazine, alongside great cartoons and illustrations, not to mention an interview with comedian Robin Ince. The issue is themed, and the content is humourous. But you got that, from the cover, of course.

Monday 19 September 2011

Post Mortem #1

The Night Season by Chelsea Cain

I thought it would be fun (and informative) to start a series that deconstructs books I’ve enjoyed to get at what makes them so good. This is the fourth crime novel from Chelsea Cain. I have to confess I found her earlier books a bit richly camp for my taste. Her female serial killer, Gretchen Lowell, is a classic creation. January Jones (of Mad Men fame) has optioned the rights to play Gretchen onscreen, thereby ensuring her longevity. But I felt a strong impulse to laugh while reading the passages between Gretchen and the books’ hero, Archie, victim of her peculiar brand of perversion. The Night Season is different, in that Gretchen’s taken a backseat to a new story, led by Archie and Cain’s most successful creation, journalist Susan Ward. Archie and Susan make a great team, here against a backdrop of rising floodwaters and deadly toxins wielded by an ingenious psychopath. The book is dark, funny, stylish and seamless. A triumph, in other words. And worthy of analysis, to see what makes it tick so smoothly. Of course, much comes down to personal preference, but I’ve singled out some aspects which seem applicable across the genre.

1. Strong sense of place (which also plays perfectly to the title: steamy streets, falling rain and rising floods, permanent dusk).
2. Clever use of humour, which binds the reader to the author effortlessly and often.
3. Credible characters who spark off one another, coupled with the author’s skill in knowing when to bring the characters together and when to isolate them.
4. Layered tension and rising stakes. The layers come from Cain’s skill at creating intimate threats within a larger picture (in this case, the rising wall of floodwater). And synchronising the threat levels so that we get a real sense of rhythm in the story (see also 6 below).
5. Knowledge that’s imparted to the reader but kept from the main characters, so we know what’s coming even when they don’t. (Which is not to say she gives away the ending, because she doesn’t.)
6. Seamless transference of tension/threat – like a baton being passed between characters and scenes – as one situation is resolved, another takes its place. An incremental tightening of this pattern as the book approaches its first, second and third acts.
7. Tight management of multiple viewpoints to share knowledge between characters, keeping some in the dark at key moments.
8. Avoidance of intrusive flashbacks, but timely reminders of the hero’s fault-lines, at intervals when our fears for him are heightened.
9. Great, visual settings. A derelict fairground. A flooded aquarium.
10. Early seeding of ideas that come to fruition in the climatic scenes, without the need for lengthy explanations during action sequences.

That’s my starter for ten. If anyone else has read and enjoyed The Night Season, please pitch in. Likewise, if you hated it, let me know why it didn’t work for you.

Quick round-up

My review of The Track of Sand by Andrea Camilleri is up at Reviewing the Evidence today. This was my first encounter with Inspector Montalbano, and I had mixed feeling about it. Nice descriptions of grub, though.

In other news, I have a quick flash with a fairytale theme over at Every Day Fiction today: The Cottage in the Woods may tickle your funny-bone, or so I hope.

And I'm making my debut in Stalking Elk magazine, issue three, with my short story, Yesterday's Man. The editor tells me there's a smashing illustration accompanying the story, so I can't wait to get my print copies.

Monday 5 September 2011

Voices - new anthology

Lancashire Writing Hub is launching its Voices anthology at the Continental in Preston on September 15th. Kicking off at 8pm, the evening promises to be a blast. Stories by Andrea Ashworth, Martin McAreavey, Gaye Gerrard, Jennifer Palmer, John Hindle, Alan Taylor, Ismail Karolia & me. You can listen to audio recordings, including me reading my flash, After a Long Illness, Quietly at Home, here.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Thirteen Hours

I was lucky enough to meet South African crime writer, Deon Meyer, at CrimeFest earlier this year. I asked if he thought crime fiction was by its nature subversive and he said yes, explaining how no one was able to write let alone publish crime under apartheid: 'How could you have a hero policeman under apartheid?'

Meyer also writes short stories and told me a collection should be available in the UK later this year. In the meantime, his Benny Griessel novels are a great way to discover Meyer's writing talent. My review of Thirteen Hours is up at Reviewing the Evidence today. Trackers is his next one.

Plucky young backpacker Rachel Anderson is on the run, from the gang of men who cut her best friend’s throat. In another part of Cape Town, Alexa Barnard wakes from a drunken stupor to find her cheating husband Adam’s been shot dead and she’s the chief suspect. Until Inspector Benny Griessel arrives on the scene; Benny is a recovering alcoholic whose spontaneous sympathy for Alexa nearly results in her death by suicide. As she recovers in hospital, the police begin investigating her husband’s murder and that of Rachel’s best friend. Seemingly unrelated, the paths of the two crimes do cross. It’s up to Benny Griessel to find out how, and why.

Read the rest of my review here.