MAZY RUN 12 …AND ANOTHER THING

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My fourth book, Firm, is finally out in both Kindle and paperback.

The book essentially has two facets. Sectarianism (hate) and friendship (love). The first forms the background to the story in the form of the ‘religious’ divide that still colours parts of Scotland and of course Ireland. However its main outlet isn’t in the church or the chapel but, as in ancient Rome, in sport or rather football. In Glasgow its Celtic v Rangers. If you’re a catholic you support Celtic. If you’re a Protestant you support Rangers. End of. Or..

As someone with a foot in both camps (and I’ll say no more than that as you don’t need to be a referee to know all about accusations of bias) I have friends who support both teams and I’ve tried to maintain a balance. When you actually look at it objectively that’s actually quite easy as, to quote one of the protagonists, “There’s cunts oan baith sides.”

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Being 178 years old I’ve have noticed real change in the hardness of the divide, especially since the Good Friday agreement introduced sanity into the politics of Northern Ireland / six counties and beyond. I’m optimistic that the friendship portrayed in the book will one day become the norm and the bitterness and hatred will be left in the past…But not the banter. Love the banter.

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Which leads to the other facet. While the previous one provides the background the second is the real story, the friendship of Gary Docherty and Michael Starky, two ordinary boys who dreamed together and now as young men decide to make those dreams come to life against the backdrop of America (pre Trump). They head out on a long promised road trip taking their deceased Grandfather along for the ride to realise his dreams too. But along with these characters other come along for the ride, some in the passenger seat others in the shadows. All fairly bizarre.

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I always wanted to go on a road trip across the States but given I haven’t got any younger since the earlier paragraph I was aware this may be as close as I’ll get. “So, Robert,” I said to myself, (not out loud, that would just be weird), make it memorable. Hopefully I have. I’ve tried to mix humour, adventure and a bit of the thriller in this one but essentially it’s a comedy albeit with serious undertones. It also mixes dialects which, according to a couple of American readers, helps rather than hinders with the getting the characters across.

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I’ll say no more about the story and let you enjoy it for yourself. And now you can. Right here.

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Still not sure? Fuck, you’re hard work.

Here’s the start…

CHAPTER 1

Gary Docherty glanced down at his watch. The Sekonda told him it was almost five-thirty. He checked again. The watch hadn’t changed its mind. Five-thirty on the day of his grandfather’s funeral and he was alone… finally. After days and hours of shock, of comforting and being comforted, of planning, he was for a moment free to mourn the man who’d brought him up as a son after his father had mysteriously died in his childhood. Years later, when deemed old enough, he heard the word ‘Cancer’ but whispered lest he too may catch it. With his mother lost in childbirth, he and his sister Patricia were both taken in by their paternal grandparents. And now his grandfather was gone too.

So he stood back in a quiet spot, alone with his pain and his grief… if only for a moment, watching as friends and family made their way into the upstairs function room of The Orb to eat, drink and remember James Docherty.

“Last time I saw that face it was proppin up Senga McPhee’s arse… Sorry for your loss, wee man.”

Gary’s eyes, mouth and heart opened wide. “Staz! When did you arrive?”

“Got in last night.”

“Yae should huv said.”

“I knew you would have a lot on your plate.”

“Ach, we hidnae huv minded. I wisnae sure you would make it. Were yae at the funeral?”

“Aye. I just sat at the back. Didn’t want to cause a fuss.”

“Did yae get something tae eat?”

“I’m fine, mate. I wouldn’t have missed it, Gary. I loved your old Granda. More than my own Grampa actually, but he was a cunt.”

Gary laughed. “He wis that. Bet he’s still goat that stick.”

“The batterin stick? Na, he lost that years ago. Threw it for his dog. The dog grabbed it and just kept running. Never seen again. He died a week later.”

“The dug?”

“Na, Grampa. He loved that stick. Hated that dog.”

“Sorry, mate.”

“I preferred the dog to be honest.” Staz smiled, looking down at his old friend’s clump of wild red hair a good eight inches below. “I see you’re still a ginger then. Not dyed it.”

“Wae cannae all look like Elvis. Anywae, I’m proud ae it. It says I’m a Celt, I’m a warrior, I’m a—”

“Ginger.”

Gary laughed. “What about you? You still a Hun?”

“You still a soap-dodging wee Tim?”

“Faithful through and through.” Grinning, Gary wrapped his arms round the other half of the old firm. “Christ, it’s good tae see ye.”

“You too mate. You too. Lager?”

“Aye, and a couple ae shots. It’s goin to be a long night.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

“No standin here yull no.”

Gary stood alone again watching his friend, Michael Starky, aka Staz, make his way to the bar. God, he’d missed him. Had it really been six years since he’d emigrated to America. It seemed like only yesterday that every night had been like this, the two of them together in one bar or another, albeit without the dead family member. He looked over to his gran, surrounded by family, friends…Women were so much better at this stuff, or sympathy, to give it its proper name. The men, they just got pished. An old friend of Granda’s nearly didn’t survive the meal, almost drowning in his soup. A more generous portion would have finished him off for sure. Must be scary, though, feeling the reaper’s grim breath that bit stronger every time they hear the words “Have you heard? So and so’s died.” No wonder they eat, drink and feel Mary while they can. Because tomorrow…

A couple of glasses snapped him back into the room. “There you go, mate.”

“Cheers, Staz.” Gary took a long gulp. “Whit the fuck’s this?”

“Carling.”

“You know they don’t sponsor you lot any mair, so you can stop buying their pish and buy some decent beer.”

“When did that happen?”

“Last year.”

“Fuck them then. That’s the last penny Mr Carling gets off me,” said Staz.

“So why buy it if yae don’t like it?”

“Well, you like to do yer bit, eh” said Staz, glowering at the glass. “Thank Christ it’s over, though, because it is fucking swill. Stella from now on.”

“The wife beater?”

“I’ve heard it called that but I don’t get it. Have you ever heard of anyone saying ‘Ah didnae mean tae batter yae darlin, ah wiz jist Stella’d oot ma nut?’ Never… Buckfast maybe.”

“Aye, Buckie defo, but no Stella,” said Gary, nodding.

“Na, no Stella,”

Gary took a thoughtful sip. “Maybe it’s Brando’s fault?”

“Brando?”

“Aye.”

“Marlon Brando?”

“Aye.”

“The Marlon Brando?”

“Aye.”

“What you saying Gaz? Marlon Brando battered his wife when he was Stella’d out his nut?”

“Naw, naw man.”

“Well, it sounded like that’s what you’re saying. Marlon Brando’s not a wife beater. Can’t be… He’s an activist.”

“Naw, naw, Staz. In the film.”

“What film?”

“Yae know.”

“No ah don’t know, that’s why I’m fucking askin.”

“The wan… The wan that’s no On the Waterfront.”

“Not On the Waterfront?”

“Naw.”

“Last Tango in Paris?”

“Fuck, naw. He was definitely Stella’d out his nut in that wan.”

“Ehmm, Streetcar?”

Gary nodded. “Aye, A Streetcar Named Desire. Mind the part where he’s pissed… Well, wan ae the bits where he’s pissed. He’s oot in the street screaming up at the windae…‘Stella! Stella!’”

“And he did get a bit physical.”

“He did. So am wonderin, mibeee that’s where it came fae.”

“What?”

“Whit? Whit wuv been talkin aboot.”

“Honestly mate, I’ve kind of forgot,” replied Staz.

“Stella getting called ‘wife beater’.”

“Ah, right.” Staz thought for a moment. “I reckon you could be on to something there mate,” said a bemused Staz, shaking his head. “Your round.”

“Stella?”

“If it’s good enough for Brando.”

 

‘FIRM’

Christ, it’s been a while since my last post. In my defense I’ve been engrossed in the writing of the new book, now definitely called ‘Firm’. I had hoped by the end of the year that I would have broke the back of it, but it’s way past that. The first draft is in the bag.

My last book, ‘For all is Vanity’, was a dark, introverted, experimental affair, stretching me as a writer and hopefully the reader too. I was a bit nervous when it was published as to whether people would ‘get it’, so different was it from my first two. Thankfully the reviews have been great and sales well in excess of what I expected.

For the next one I wanted to write something different. 180 degrees different. Still in some ways dealing with madness, but this time a comedy about the wonderful madness of Glasgow exported out into the world…Or at least the American part of it. Authentic Glasgow, or Glesga, including its own rich dialect. A commercial gamble no doubt, but…fuck it. While I’ve avoided accents before, for ‘Firm’, it was a no brainer, a fundamental part of the characters and their story. As I mentioned elsewhere, not going with the full accent would be as authentic as Tesco own brand Irn Bru. A very unsatisfactory experience I can assure you. My sink didn’t seem to like it much either.

Another part of the Glasgow experience, the ‘Old Firm’ rivalry of Celtic and Rangers, and the sectarianism that fuels its unique intensity forms the platform for the story. But it’s a platform transcended by friendship, which is what the book is really about. Gary Docherty (Celtic) and Michael Stark (Rangers), and their journey from funeral, the East end of Glasgow, New York, to New Orleans. Suffice to say they cross paths with a few interesting characters along the way.  I’ll give more details nearer publish day.

I’ve enjoyed writing this book more than any other. I’ve loved it actually and while it has its serious moments, if you laugh half as much reading it as I did writing it then, job done. I really can’t wait to get it out. There will be the usual editing, proofing, cover design malarkey to get through but it’s close.

Till next time.

MAZY RUN 9 ‘FOR ALL IS VANITY AND FALLEN COMRADES

 

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Well the new book, ‘For all is Vanity’ is out. Available on kindle and if not already, in the next few days on paperback. What could be finer?

I talked about where it was heading a few posts ago and it pretty much got there. My son asked what it was about.

“It’s about someone going off the deep end.”

“All your books are about someone going off the deep end.”

Maybe so, but this one’s about someone really going off the deep end. Starting with the premise suppose you lost everything, or more importantly, everyone you loved, how would that feel? How would you react? I basically wanted to get in someone’s head as he disintegrates and the best way to do that seemed to be a diary. What could be more intimate? Then, as he loses touch with reality, doesn’t know what’s real anymore, I switched format to a novel, i.e fiction, but with diary excerpts to maintain the intimacy. I also experimented with first, second and third person narrative, to add to the madness. The voices / characters in his head just evolved. I don’t plan anything. I’m in the wing it and see where it goes camp. At one point I thought about booking into a hotel for a fortnight and writing nonstop in full on wasted insomnia mode. Maybe once upon a time, but from the feedback I’ve had, my imagination and memory seem to have been enough.

Thankfully I seem to have achieved what I set out to do and had great feedback too. Cally Philips did a wonderful piece on it in her blog. Her phrase “A profound and profoundly disturbing book”, as well as being a great ad sound bite, summed up exactly what I wanted the book to be. You can read the whole thing here if you’re interested.

For all is Vanity

As I mentioned on a previous post, I didn’t expect anyone to like it as it is very dark. Turns out a lot of people like dark, so I also learned I know fuck all about what people like. It’s also reinforced my conviction that you write the book you feel compelled to write, because at the end of the day…see previous point.

Anyway I don’t want to bang on about my book forever. Makes me feel like a Jehovah’s Witness. If you are a Jehovah’s Witness you’re lost, and I sleep late on a Sunday morning. Anyhow, if you fancy it, you’ll get it here.

Amazon:  UK    US

GARY DONALDSON

About six months ago I bumped into an old mate I hadn’t seen for years. Appropriately it was at a jam, as that is how I remember him best back in the day. A guitar in one hand a bottle of wine in the other and the stones on all our lips. Some things never change. It was great, and as always the wee man made a big impression. So much so that a couple of days later I wrote a short story inspired by the day. If you missed it first time round catch it here:

Honour amongst thieves.

I met up with him again over the Xmas holidays at the Magic Roundabout Social Club in Bellshill. He’d heard about the story and to my relief loved it. He also told me he had a hundred stories he could tell me. A lot of people boast about ‘Ah the stories I could tell.’ In Gary’s case you knew he had more than a hundred, they would be better than anything I could make up…And they’d all be true. Sadly I’ll never get to chance to hear them as Wee Gary passed away today (15/4). The word legend is tossed around like confetti these days, but in Bellshill he certainly was that. I can just here Lemmy saying to him “For fuck sake Wee man, take it easy.”

Many in Bellshill who knew him better than me will be feeling it. Sad day. Great memories.

REVIEWS

WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFIN – MARK WILSON

The latest offering from the most prolific writer on the indie scene isn’t a typical Mark Wilson book. But since there’s no such thing maybe it is. This is Wilson at his most experimental, pushing himself as a writer but most importantly taking the writer along too.

At its heart it’s the story of one man’s life, but quickly you realise that there’s no such thing. The narrative shifts between those who share his story, family and friends who’s own lives are profoundly affected by Wullies decisions, mistakes and failings. It’s a book of love, pain, forgiveness and redemption. An exploration of the human condition told in an intriguing way as Wilson plays with time, and first, second, third person narrative.

For me it’s Wilson’s most rewarding read yet.

AMAZON:  UK   US

 

SNAKE FARM – GARETH SPARK

Gareth Spark has a real talent for writing evocative, cinematic noir. I first came across him in the 12 mad men anthology and for me his piece ‘The wild hunt’, was the standout. It’s included here too.

Gritty and stripped down like Springsteen’s Nebraska come to England, each story is unique and original. A refreshing voice in the genre. Highly recommended.

AMAZON:  UK   US

 

 

PALADINS

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This baby is now out in all its many forms and formats. If you’ve been hibernating somewhere and don’t know what it is, it’s a collection of short stories by a bunch of great indie writers, put together by Aidan Thorn, in tribute to an inspirational lady by the name of Henrietta Furchtenicht. More from her shortly. He even let me get one in it bless his big ginger heart. All proceedings go to charity, so if it helps sweeten the deal think of it as making a donation with the bonus of a free book.

However, having read the collection, trust me when I say no such deal sweetening is needed. It’s an absolute fucking belter. I’ve read quite a few anthologies and while all have been good, they can be a little uneven. I was blown away by the consistent high level of writing. There’s no filler here. Why was I surprised? Because even with writers who I am familiar with, who’s work I’ve read and enjoyed including full novels, several times I thought, ‘This is the best thing you’ve ever done.’ Also, well done to Mark Wilson for the great cover and Craig Douglas for the technical work.

Everyone made sure they brought their A game, no doubt because of who it’s for. No-one wanted to let Henri down. Well they didn’t.

Amazon: UK      US

Speaking of Henri, here’s her foreword from Paladins which has a lot more power than anything I could say. X

“I have come to realize that heroes often grace our lives when we least expect them, sometimes in the form of complete strangers. The authors of the stories you are about to read are a perfect example of that. Social media has the amazing ability to bring our worlds closer, to offer us the chance to meet those people we would have otherwise never known. We share our shining moments with them along with our darkest days. Eventually the world in which we all live in seems a little less foreign and a whole lot more inviting. We find that no one is truly a stranger and that the heroes have been there all along.

A few years ago I would have never imagined myself writing these words on the night before Christmas 2015. When my oncologist first diagnosed me with Multiple Myeloma in June of 2012 he only gave me 6 months to live. I was already in the last stage of this rare form of blood cancer that attacks the plasma cells found in the bone marrow. At the time of my diagnosis I had seven broken ribs on my left side. He told me that there was no cure for my type of cancer. We could only treat it to the point of remission with high doses of chemotherapy and stem cell transplants. This is when I was first introduced to Dr. Guido Tricot, the finest oncologist that Belgium has ever produced. He has kept me alive, though at times I thought he was trying to kill me in the process.

My husband Craig and I are so fortunate to live very close to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. In the first year we easily spent more time in that place than we did at home. I underwent two stem cell transplants each consisting of 3 ½ weeks of being quarantined in a hospital unit with nothing but Craig and a puke bucket. Neither of them left my side during the entire ordeal. During the hours that I was in a self-induced trance Craig wrote to keep his sanity. By the end of the second transplant he had finished his first novel. Months later I found it hidden away in a desk drawer. After a bit of wifely persuasion he reluctantly published it.

Because of that book, through one social media site or another, we have both become friends with each of the contributors of this anthology. Fighting cancer was not how I wanted to meet any of these amazing people, but whether they knew it or not they gave me encouragement I needed from a world away. They kept me going when it would have been so much easier to just give up. I saw Ryan and Rebecca Bracha bring their beautiful daughter Delilah into the world, went to Borneo with Robert Cowan and got to wish Aidan Thorn’s father a happy birthday. Darren Sant told me what an oatcake was. I saw Matt Mattila go to California, admired Katrina Tia Davies in her wedding dress and watched Keith Nixon move his family across country. I’ve seen a little girl paint her dad’s fingernails and his son holding a “Refugees Welcome” sign in his little red boots. Each one of these writers and so many others have given me the strength and hope that the cancer has tried to take away.

I have read many of the stories written by these authors, including my husband’s. Though they are dark and gritty and downright unwholesome, I must laugh when I get over the shock of reading them. I know for a fact that each of them truly has a heart of gold. When Aidan Thorn approached us with the idea of putting a book together to help support the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, words could not begin to describe how blessed I felt. So much love for these people that I thought my heart would burst. So enjoy the book and take comfort in knowing that the proceeds will go towards finding a cure someday.

Thank you all for giving me a love for life. Much love to each of you:

Linda Angel, Bill Baber, Jason Beech, Ryan Bracha, Robert Cowan, Christopher Davis, Craig Douglas, Craig Furchtenicht, David Jaggers, Cal Marcius, Matt Mattila, Keith Nixon, Darren Sant, Gareth Spark, Aidan Thorn, Gabriel Valjan, Mark Wilson, Graham Wynd. “

 

Henrietta Furchtenicht

craig and Henri

MAZY RUN 8 – BOOKS, DRUGS AND ROCK N ROLL

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I saw this Hunter S Thompson meme on Facebook and it got me thinking about the mood altering power of, well, let’s call it art, though I can never figure out why all of a sudden singers, musicians, actors etc decided they were ‘artists’. When did being a singer, songwriter, actor, or musician stop being enough?

Anyway, back to the thing. I remember when I was in Borneo (as you do), sitting, looking out at the jungle, cold beer in one hand, Kerouac book in the other. Life was good, I felt good. I then pulled out the Ipod, scrolled to Exile on Main Street and…God, I suddenly felt so much better than good. It felt more akin to some sort of religious ecstasy. An endorphin rush even Dr Keith’s 24 hour pharmacy would struggle to match. By the time I got to tumbling Dice I was mesmerised with the wonder of Keef and Charlies perfect groove. Strip all else away and I could have listened to them for all eternity, eyes joyously wet, mouth fixed in a mad beaming grin, head nodding, but never as rhythmically as K and C, as such a thing is far beyond mere mortals. Heaven existed and it was tuned in open G.

I’ve found that talking to people about music falls into two categories: 1/ People who ‘get it’ and 2/ People who don’t. The way you can tell the difference is in the length of the conversation, and in the eyes. With people who love…I mean really love music, their eyes come alive and the conversation can last for hours. Sure, the names will change (singers, bands…not fucking artists), but that’s as it should be as we really are all different. But the passion, the effect on you when you listen and even more importantly the impact it has on your life, is the same. The intensity of it can be impossible to overstate. These people become heroes, not just because of their musical skills or because they look cool on a T shirt, but because, to paraphrase Lennon, they transform black and white lives into colour. The Stones certainly did that for me and more, and I rue their deaths as much as a family member, such is their influence been on my life. It’s a ruing made all the more present by the passing of such seeming immortals as Lemmy and in particular, David Bowie, a man of such creative and personal courage.  And certainly an artist. Never saw that one coming. Still can’t quite believe it.

But try and explain any of this to a category 2 fan…it’s glazed eyes and a short conversation, as doomed as seeds scattered on barren soil. I used to feel so frustrated by this. Now I feel something more akin to pity. I know for them music is something literally in the back ground (where most of it belongs). Naming names, I know that Take that, Adele, Coldplay and the XFactor spawn will never really affect them on any emotional level, never change their lives or the world, which is how Punk truly felt like at the time. It’s just entertainment or something to dispel the silence (a much undervalued sound).

So, to the million dollar question. Can books make you feel the same as albums? Can writing produce the same emotional response? Can writers change lives? Okay, three million dollar questions. Truth?.. I don’t know. Whereas music is about the gut and the heart, writing can seem mainly aimed the head…But, and I say this as someone who neglected reading for years, in my recent reading frenzy I am feeling it. A year or two ago, on holiday in exotic St Andrews, while everyone else went out shopping I stayed in and read Thompsons ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. I also read it completely in one sitting, the first time I’ve read a book in a day since childhood (Enid Blyton in those heady days). It’s a book whose style and subject suits speed reading, which I usually do anyway, just the way my brain is. (my comma use is probably all over the place but fuck it). Reading it made me feel as wired and detached from reality as the characters in the book, but happily without the fear and loathing. So yes, writing can get under your skin, into you nervous system and flick those switches. Some Kerouac has done the same. The rhythm of it as well as the words. Sometimes the words don’t even matter. Who cares what the notes are, just fucking listen. Others I’ve read can alter your view of life or just leave you in awe with the genius of the writing. Some writers, like their rock n roll brothers, can energise you inner middle finger and that’s always a good thing.  So it is there. No doubt people will be screaming (if anyone actually reads this) of course it does you fuckwit, read X, Y, Z (sounds like a boyband) and that process is underway. Ask the Dust by John Fante, took my breath away at times, such was its evocative beauty. The Road by Cormac McCarthy, page after page of…just  a man and his son walking the road, trying to survive in some sort of post-apocalyptic future. A book with arguably no real plot…yet utterly engrossing.

But I’ve yet to read something which produces the same endorphin rush as great music and maybe that’s the difference. A song or an album, like a drug, is something you can indulge in repeatedly, putting it on every time you want a ‘fix’, with gratification instant. Maybe that’s one reason rock stars make more money than writers. Literature is different. You don’t listen to a book again and again. Maybe 2-3 times over your lifetime if it’s really made an impact. But still, it’s a different habit, a different analogy, different effect…and just different.

So, what about writing it? Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it. Staring at a blank screen wondering if you can fill it with the wonderstuff , or with anything at all. Fear and loathing right there. Genius or delusional shite. Succeed? Fail? What does that mean and who cares anyway. It’s the trying that counts, and the fucking mad, heroic, gloriously conceited endeavour it is. To draw a smile, a tear, or a middle finger… and maybe that second or third read.

NEWS: My next novel is currently being edited. It’ll be called ‘For all is Vanity. Out early Spring.

REVIEWS:

ON THE SEVENTH DAY – MARK WILSON

Some may be offended by this book, may consider it blasphemous. NRA sponsored militia’s in the ‘bible’ belt may. Those Christians who would turn their back on refugees fleeing warzones may. Those church goers who would snatch what little dignity the poor have left may. If that’s you then I’m glad you wasted your money, though given the blurb well, that would make you Donald Trump stoopid. And as your reading this you’re obviously none of the above.

It is irreverent, no doubt. Such is the nature of satire. Satire also makes you think. Given the current state of the world, if there was a God, does the idea of him / her pressing the reset button seem so far-fetched? If you’re a Christian, a proper one, not like them in the previous paragraph, wouldn’t you think after yet another act of cruelty…fair enough? Fuck it, this isn’t working?

But like good satire it’s also entertaining. There are two threads interwoven. One, Jesus (Jay) and Moses (Mo) trying to save the world. The second has Satan (Nick) sitting in a bar telling his woes to a girl (haven’t we all) about how it came to this. I have to say I empathised most with the Nick character. What that says about me is between me and my team of therapists. Story details, how it all ends…read it and find out. Unless your one of those first paragraph people, in which case I can recommend a great film called ‘The life of Brian. Trust me you’ll love it.

It takes guts to take on something like this. It takes writing skill to pull it off. Mr Wilson has both in spades.

AVAILABLE: UK   US

 

TOLLESBURY TIME FOREVER – STUART AYRIS

Some books are a bit special, and this is one of them, beginning with one of the most intriguing prologues I’ve read.

It’s a book of two halves, and two very different halves at that. Part one finds Simon, the subject of the book, transported back in time to an older Tollesbury, frightening and bizarre, leaving the reader as disorientated as Simon, before he goes with the flow of this strange, dream like new reality and its mix of chilling and childlike characters, until an incident occurs which drags him back to, well, the other reality.

Part two begins with Simon under psychiatric evaluation for his schizophrenic episode, the coldness of which in some ways gives the book its power, as the reader, like Simon, is forced to abandon his fantasies and get back to the nitty gritty of ‘normal’ life. But what is the true reality? The one you see or the one which keeps you out of hospital?

A real mix of surreal poetry, tale telling and stark realism. A fascinating read and one I plan on revisiting.

AVAILABLE: UK    US

 

DOWN IN THE DEVIL HOLE – DAVID JAGGERS

I first came across David as part of the ‘Rogue’ anthology and decided to give this a go. No regrets. ‘Down in the Devil hole’ is a series of gritty shorts set in a rural America untroubled by social graces and populated by a bunch of characters who simply ooze off the page.

There’s an interesting use of a storm to link the pieces together as dark and menacing as the stories themselves, stories which have a common flavour but avoid repetition. Jaggers writing is fast paced and evocative, his characters twisted but authentic in a world without mercy.

Some very enjoyable storytelling which will keep you reading into the night.

AVAILABLE: UK    US

 

NEXT TIME: Some new release news, updates…Hopefully nothing about people dying. RIP Dave.

MAZY RUN 7 – LONGS, SHORTS AND DETOURS

covers

As ‘Daydreams and Devils’ continues to do well on Amazon, picking up great reviews and pulling ‘The Search for Ethan’ along in its slipstream, I’ve been busy working on a few new things.

Firstly I’ve been writing the next novel, which is going to be a very different book to the previous two. Why? No reason. No logical one anyway. Logically I’d build on the momentum of the first two, write something with good snappy dialogue, realistic, interesting characters, humour and a fast paced plot to hang it off, hopefully with some soul. It just so happens that the next idea to interest me has a lot less of some of those things. Using a Lou Reed analogy, if ‘The Search for Ethan’ and ‘Daydreams and Devils’ are ‘Transformer One and Two, the new one is ‘Berlin’, and I’m mindful of how that went down at the time (career suicide was one reviewers comment). So I know I’m taking a risk but…Fuck it. I’ve never been too bothered about genre or style anyway. One of the good things about being independent is you don’t have publishers / editors / agents perched on your shoulder, shitting their expectations all over your work. You have, as the Clash once sang, ‘Complete control’.

I strongly believe you should write what you feel, at that moment, otherwise there’s no pleasure during the writing or pride when it’s done. For some that’ll be writing the best horror, fantasy, crime, YA or whatever novel they can, and that’s great. I tend to be a little less focused, more random and diffuse. It was the same during my musical adventures. I wanted to write different styles of song, play all the instruments, sing them, (however badly), engineer, produce …A bit like the Denis Waterman character in Little Britain now that I think of it. I also trained in a variety of martial arts over the years… I just like trying different things.

Anyway, I have no doubt I’ll return to the earlier style as its one I enjoy and it’s probably the most natural for me. I also think the first two are really good books. it’s just that for this one I have something else in mind.

So what’s it about? In a nutshell, it’s about an ordinary man named Jack Laurence, which will probably be the name of the book. It begins as a diary, through which he documents his life, a life of the simple pleasures and problems we all have…until it’s not. I don’t want to give too much away. It’s a tale of loss, madness, revenge and…Well, I’m still working that out. As I’ve said on earlier posts, I don’t work with a detailed plan, only a basic idea to start with then I see where it goes. It’s not going to be a ‘Deathwish’ vigilante rehash.  It’s a lot more introverted, starting out as I mentioned, as a diary before the format and narrative person (first / third) changes as he loses touch with reality. Maybe the genre will jump around too, though what the genre is…Fuck knows. We’ll see. At the moment it feels like I’m halfway through the first draught, but I’ve stopped to edit what I have and also to get into Jacks head. If I can get it right it’ll be good. If not, maybe the next book will be about a wizard named Barry Trotter. It’s very dark. The next one will be lighter, if only for my own sanity. For that I’ve been thinking about something based on a road trip, maybe just to give myself an excuse to fire up a Ford Mustang and go on one. “Just nipping out to do some ‘research’ Honey. See you in a few weeks.”   Good luck with that one Robert…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In addition to the new novel, I’ve also been writing some short stories. The first was recently published on the McStorytellers website, which concentrates on stories with a Scottish connection. Normally I back off from accents. For this one it seemed right and I went for it. It’s called ‘Honour amongst Thieves,’ inspired by jam sessions with my mates at ‘One eye dog’ rehearsal studios in Motherwell. Don’t worry John, the Hammonds safe. It’s all fictional (sort of), but this is how I normally speak, though I usually tone it down for foreigners, both south of the border and beyond. Unless I’m drunk, in which case you’re fucked. Hopefully it’ll give you a laugh. There are lots of other good stories on the site too. Have a look around.

If you missed it, just click here: ‘Honour amongst Thieves’

A second short story, called ‘Pass the Parcel’, is for a forthcoming anthology being put together by Aidan Thorn and Craig Furchtenicht, in support of Craig’s wife Henri. I’ve never physically met Henri, but such is the power of social media, geography is no longer an obstacle to friendship. She’s battling multiple myeloma, a rare form of cancer, and doing so with a potent mixture of courage, humour and rage. The number of writers who’ve signed up says it all. Kick its ass H! All proceeds go to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. It will rock and should be out early next year. I’ll keep you posted.

NEXT TIME: Maybe something about tractor juggling, or the healing power of tantric yodelling…But probably not.

REVIEWS

BURRYMEN WAR – BRENDAN GISBY

Having read and enjoyed ‘The bookies runner’ this is my second book by Brendan Gisby and a very different affair it is. Told in a similar flashback style, which works superbly well, this is a far darker story, telling the tale of a South Queensferry tradition which one year goes tragically wrong. But that is really just the vehicle. The journey / story is Central Scotland’s shameful battle with bigotry. The Billy’s and the Tim’s. Here, the catholic side find themselves once more shut out from the ‘Burryman’ ceremony and hatch a plot to sabotage the official proceedings by staging their own alternative ‘Fenian’ Burryman. As so often happens in real life, banter, albeit with a bitter edge, mixed with alcohol leads inevitably to violence.

Most of the book takes place in the local pub, so there’s humour here; such is the nature of pubs after all. But mainly there’s a weariness and regret from the main character as he looks back without nostalgia at the futility of his past and whether anything has really changed.

This is a fine book, skilfully written, tackling a dark subject in a thought provoking yet entertaining way.

Available here: UKUS

WHEN THE MUSICS OVER – AIDAN THORN

Having read and enjoyed Thorns Urban Decay shorts collection I was looking forward to this, his first novella. It’s an excellent story centring on retired hitman, Wynn MacDonald, called back by his old bosses to track down and kill the murderer of one of said boss’s son. It moves along at a good pace, but the well-developed characters (Wynn in particular) make you savour, rather than gulp the pages down. As the aging heavy hunts down his victim, he finds himself torn as what he discovers along the way makes him question not only his mission but also his life’s work.

It a story filled with sub plots and depth, with equal parts menace and melancholy, beautifully written to a satisfying conclusion. Highly recommended.

Available here:  UKUS

MAZY RUN 6 BORNEO AND BEYOND

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Firstly, thanks to everyone who’s bought a copy of Daydreams and Devils. If you’ve gone further and left a review, then you will get your reward in heaven. I understand seven virgins is the going rate, though if you’re a lady it’ll be seven studs dressed in the uniform of your choice since a bunch of trembling, pimpleoids saying sorry every ten seconds probably isn’t your idea of heaven. If you’re LGBT (which still sounds like a sandwich) you will have your choice of the above, even the pimpleoids. Anyhow..

I was asked recently “If you won a million pounds what would you do? I immediately answered “travel”. Later on I wondered why. I’m still wondering, but partly at least I think it’s because people are naturally curious. You just need to look at the range of “reality” shows and gossip mags to know what a bunch of nosey bastards the human race is. But I also think most of us have a yearning for something better, to check if the grass might not be greener elsewhere. It maybe shares that aspect with religion / spirituality…but that’s a whole other discussion.

I’ve been lucky over the last year to have been able to see a couple of places I’ve wanted to visit for some time, namely China (through work) and more recently, Borneo. Let’s start there. This was basically a two week volunteer project at Samboja Lestari Orangutan sanctuary, a facility where orang’s who’ve lost their habitat, parents, health or for whatever reason have had to be rescued before hopefully being returned back into the wild. Why is it needed? Us. Humans destroying their habitat to replace it with palm oil plantations and mines. Or money to cut to the chase. I’m not going to condemn the locals for wanting a better life. It’s easy to sit in our distant ivory towers with no experience of real poverty and point accusing fingers. There are plenty more deserving targets for our pointy fingers closer to home. But something needs to be done, and what places like this do is to patiently, over many years, give the orang-utans the skills required to survive in the wild through different levels of “forest schools”, teaching them what their parents would. Alongside that goes the constant search for suitable and sustainable release sites. Orangutans are territorial and need huge areas.

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As to the why? Carol and I have always been big animal lovers and after watching the Monkey World documentary series about a chimp rescue centre in England, decided to look into it, see what we could do within the practical constraints of our ‘real’ lives. This ticked the boxes. I’ve always loved Orangs and their hairy Buddha-ness, chilled out and as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa. I also wanted to experience a different way of life, the one you see others living in documentaries as you sit thinking, “what a life you have David Attenborough”.

I expected this to be a bit special, but there aren’t enough fucks in my bulging fuck drawer to do justice to how truly fucking awesome an experience this was. But then somethings can’t be described in fucks, some even transcend fucks entirely. This was one of those…and yet still fucking awesome. It was life stripped down to the bare essentials. Peace, stillness, raw beauty, clear air, fresh, nutritious food… and a well-stocked bar.

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THE TEAM (Suneesh, Barry, Carol, Sam, Me, Kate, Wiwik, Vera, Bob, Kelly)

So, what did we get up to over the two weeks? Cue the Benny Hill theme. (One of the guys had it as a ring tone. It became an unofficial soundtrack, well that and the insects. Noisy buggers.) Anyway, in completely random order…Go!

Hosed clean the orang enclosures, play spraying the ones who enjoyed it, shitting myself if they didn’t.

Creating enrichment by cutting bamboo trees and ginger leaves, loading them into the truck, loading ourselves into the truck, hanging on for dear life as the driver tried to find the road between the holes, then filling the bamboo with nuts, porridge, fruit before giving it to the orangs.

Waded through muddy water, up to my neck in places, to clear the moat of weeds so the keepers boat could navigate the island habitats and food could be dispersed…in between weed and mud fights. Huge fun. Inner children well and truly embraced.

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Made friends with some of the best people I have ever or will ever meet.

Learned to play ‘bullshit’, a card game based on lying, which I was surprisingly shite at.

Trecked into the rainforest and saw wild monkeys, trees that strangled other trees, huge insects, huger lines of tiny ants, seriously there were feckin millions of these things and you don’t break the line or you get swarmed, aint that right Suneesh. Oh and a man and his dog fishing.

Found and rescued a fish that had spent its whole life in a plastic bottle and was now too big to pour out. Conservation always. “Don’t forget the fish!”

Learned the art of the machete, clearing dead foliage and generally chopping shit down.

Put live catfish in the Sun Bear enclosure (the sanctuary’s other residents). Was secretly relieved when the bears didn’t really know what to do with them.

Saw a shopkeepers look of joy at the influx of “rich” westerner customers flip in an instant to crushing disappointment as the cry “He’s nae magnums. Back on the bus,” rang out. Bet he’s got a freezer full of them now, like this guy had.

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(I like the hat so shut it)

Watched kids in gleaming white shirts and uniforms make their way to the village school. Mums are the same the world over.

Watched in awe and terror as seemingly random mass scootering, miraculously swarmed without incident. Not a mod in sight.

Read, Stuart Ayris’s the Buddha’s of Borneo, Jack Kerouac, listened to Exile on Main Street and drank cold beer. Thank you Bintang.

Almost became a hero at the local market, playing a game where you had to fully cover a circle with three smaller discs. With two well placed it was game on, the market hushed, the prize (a tablet of sorts, nae pish) within my grasp…but I bottled it. Mr Magnum dude, I feel your pain. We could have been contenders…bums it is.

Dug out foundations for orang platforms on an additional island habitat. Hot, hard and sweaty. (Cue Benny Hill)

What else?…went on a boat trip to see proboscis monkeys, sailed through a fishing village perched on stilts, followed by waving, grinning kids, shouting like we were the Beatles…or one Direction, though mistaking me for Harry Styles would be a bit of a stretch (ashamed I know who Harry Styles is…move on). Didn’t see any monkeys till we got to the exact spot we’d left from. I’m wondered if they phoned ahead and told them to “release the contingency monkeys”. They were never getting those guys back in any box though that’s for sure. Acrobatics galore.

Got spat on by Orangs young and old.

Was introduced to the Australian cultural pastime, the ‘Timtam slam’, which involves sucking coffee through a chocolate biscuit. Why?…Nope, got nothing. Great fun and tasted good. That’ll do for me.

Went to a shopping mall with the hottest aircon in the world

Screamed like a school girl when a Preying Mantis landed on my hand. It was a big green scarey fecker.

Went to a bear and cat rescue centre. They don’t mix them.

Heard the words an orang has escaped more often than I expected, along with “run” and “stay in your rooms.” There are a few criminals in the orang population even Alcatraz couldn’t hold.

Saw a wild python after it had eaten a rat in the laundry. Not sure if the rat was dead. Some emergency laundering may have been required.

Had an absolute ball!

What I learned:

Orangs, while chilled Buddha’s…are also a bit mental. Usually when you don’t expect it.

Borneo has the most wonderful people in the world.

Orangs are great spitters.

Australian women are world class swearers. Vera I salute you.

People need saving from ‘progress’ as well as animals.

Men take their dogs fishing the world over.

You don’t break an ant line. Ever.

Regardless of all else, kids go to school clean.

Crazy cat ladies get everywhere.

Malarone (anti malarial) is made from the Devils own dung. Makes me wonder if malaria is really that bad.

I won’t die if I can’t get online.

There are no foreigners, only people.

What else? Civilisation is a relative and misused term. You don’t need to consume high cost goods and services to be civilised or happy for that matter. But it’s easy to sit back all misty eyed about what those who live in areas of stunning natural beauty are giving up in return. A lot of the people are genuinely dirt poor so who could blame them for wanting, if not a better life, then a more comfortable one. But I saw how much and how warmly they smiled. I’m also very aware that the corporate marketers don’t mention the epidemic of mental illness there is in the west. Funny that. Also, now almost everyone in Borneo smokes. I remember Roy Castle (who had lung cancer at the time) turning his back on Thatcher when she visited the BBC because of the work she was doing with tobacco companies to promote their wares in emerging markets. The truth is these people are being exploited, as they always were, but with an extra layer of cynicism, to give the illusion of benevolence, of helping them to better lives. Yeah right.

I also saw how our governments and media lie about other countries. Jumping back to China, we’re fed the line that Chinese people and communists in general are all paranoid, miserable wretches who would sell everything they don’t actually own for our freedoms. What I found here (and previously in Cuba) were happy, friendly, sometimes playful people who were genuinely patriotic and would openly discuss the pro’s and cons of their governments policies.

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They are rushing headlong into a western inspired, high rise future. It looks like Bladerunner in some areas. There are also vast ghost cities ready for…I guess it’s the build it and they will come philosophy. And they will, of that I have no doubt. Everyone, in the cities at least, has the latest phones and gadgets. It’s tech central. They are developing at such a phenomenal rate its inevitable they will be the superpower in the near future, slow down or not. The City I was staying in, Shenzhen, home to a population of 10million was a fishing village 25 years earlier. But going back to the people, they work very long hours, under great pressure and I can see consumerism turning them into miserable wretches after all. I can see Borneo getting sucked in, albeit in a much smaller scale. The phones and Man United shirts are already there. Such is the power of marketing.

Also, assume leaders lie, have agenda’s, if need be just think of Donald Trump banging on that Mexicans are thieves, rapists and drug pushers with dodgy eyebrows. I haven’t been to Mexico myself (probably one of the few things I have in common with Donald Trump), but a friend has. He assures me he was neither raped, thieved or had drugs pushed, or pulled for that matter, during his stay. The eyebrow slur however is sadly true. Still, it didn’t hold Liam Gallagher back…Okay better make that Noel.

What else have I learned? I get sea sick. I learned that in China. It’s fucking horrible. When sailing, we were summoned together for a demonstration on putting on life jackets. Desperately trying to hold onto my stomach contents I heard the words “I’d like a volunteer”. Not me, not me, not me…It was me. With my teeth clamped together I got that jacket on and off in Olympic record time (projectile vomiting over someone trying to save my life seemed a bit ungrateful). Demonstration over I noticed the white-faced chap I was sharing a cabin with set off like a rocket to no doubt hurl in the privacy of the cabin. That option closed I headed to the well named mess area. Well, if the ships bouncing wasn’t enough, the faecal matter leaking from the toilet onto the floor certainly finished me off…There would be no kneeling though. (and mercifully no pictures!)

What has any of this got to do with books or writing? Fuck all probably, but I suppose the greater variety of people you meet, the more you understand the human condition and the less your characters will suck. Yeah, let’s go with that.

NEWS: My first novel, The Search for Ethan, is on Amazon kindle countdown deal now (6th – 13th Sept), only 0.99, so grab a bargain. Click on the ‘Books’ tab above for details.

REVIEWS:

BUDDHA’S OF BORNEO – STUART AYRIS

I read this while in Borneo, partly because I like Ayris’s writing and partly to ‘get me in the mood’ for the trip. As the book confirms, Borneo doesn’t need any help. It’s a lovely book from a man who still retains that childlike sense of wonder. That probably makes him as rare as some of the species to be found in this part of the world and for similar reasons. Growth isn’t always a good thing.

It’s a travelogue of sorts, documenting a trip to the Malaysian side of Borneo in the hands of his guide and driver, the Buddha’s of the title, but Buddha’s content, as all Buddha’s are, to leave the real work of enlightenment to the traveller and the experience. There’s a very moving part about the world war 2 death marches which I read after a ‘hard’ shift in the humid sunshine. Never have I felt such a whiney wimp.

But with Stuart Ayris it’s as much about the writing as anything else, the flights of lyricism, gentle humour, bewilderment and joy… and he likes a drink. What’s not to like.

Available:  UK        US

BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL – CRAIG FURCHTENICHT 

As someone who read and loved ‘Dimebag Bandits’ I was really looking forward to this. Thankfully, having set my expectations high I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a follow up but no re-tread and shoots out the trap at pace and keeps going, pin balling between adrenaline charged set pieces building to a great finale.

There’s a great mix of melancholy and humour, love and violence soaked into the atmosphere of the book as a whole, but nowhere more so than in the people. One of the many strong points of Furchtenicht’s writings is the roundedness of the characters. They have strengths and failings, all on display and all the more human for it. Losers maybe, but like Tom Petty once sang, even the losers get lucky sometimes.

Well it’s your lucky day, so have a read. Brilliant.

Available:  UK         US