GUEST POST BY AIDAN THORN

Hello. On the blog this time it my pleasure to hand over to a very talented writer, Aidan Thorn. Aidan has recently released his excellent second collection of short stories on Near to the knuckle publishing, which I reviewed on here last time (see  Mazy run 5, below if you missed it). So…Over to Aidan.

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When I wrote my first collection of short stories coming up with a title was relatively easy. Every story in that collection involved a crime and so, Criminal Thoughts was born. This time it was a little trickier. See, since completing Criminal Thoughts I’ve tried to broaden my range a little. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still primarily a crime writer but I’ve tried to do two things, write different genres and write strong characters. Characters that you can get inside the head of even if you don’t want to. Characters that you can understand, not agree with, but see how they got where they are.

When it came to putting this collection together I found I had a real range of characters that had led to a more diverse collection of stories. Yes, there are still gangsters and coppers, but this time there are a lot more ordinary folk caught up in extraordinary situations. There are office workers and small business owners and we get to see more of the life that surrounds the characters, the co-workers, the friends and the families affected by the central stories. I guess what I’ve tried to suggest with this collection is we’re never really sure who’s who and what’s going on in seemingly ordinary lives. And, often we’re closer to a story than we ever really realise. My last collection primarily kept the criminals and the crime operating in their own world, with occasional straying into ordinary lives. This time I’ve put Joe Public right alongside the criminals or given them problems of their own, problems that we hear about every day but probably never think much about the consequences unless they’re happening to us.

My last collection was complimented for the amount of humour I managed to inject into a lot of my stories of dark deeds. I’m not sure there are many, if any, laughs in this particular collection, but it’s definitely a collection of work I’m very pleased with. I think the stories are strong and entertaining with a lot more heart than I’ve previously written. Just don’t expect the corners of your mouth to turn north too often when you’re reading it. This time I hope readers will stop at the end of each story and feel some connection to it because the characters involved had had an impact on them.

Simply put this is a collection of stories about people living in a city. Stories from the dark underbelly of a city, an underbelly that sometimes pops up and drags people in. And, so this time I called it Urban Decay, it’s about more than crime, it’s about desperation, depression, vulnerability, debt, bankruptcy – the struggle to keep move forward.

Sounds like a lovely read, right? Go grab a copy, cheer yourself up! In all honesty, although, as you’d expect from a book called, Urban Decay, it’s got some pretty dark themes and I don’t think I’m going anything away if I tell you, not everyone makes it out alive there’s also a lot of hope and moments when the reader will feel heartened – I promise.

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Available:

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NEXT TIME ON ANOTHER MAZY RUN: Maybe something about Borneo, travel…shit like that.

MAZY RUN 5 DAYDREAMS and DEVILS

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Hello and once more into the maze. Been a wee while. Quite a bit happened since my last post. My Dad died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s and all the fall out that comes with that. His ashes now sit on my writing desk. The little urn a reminder of the transience of life and that we’re all just dust in the making, whether we like it or not. So, whatever your personal ‘it’ may be, do it now. Live without regret or worry, like there’s no tomorrow…One day you will be right. More positively, I was recently invited to join the McRenegades, a bunch of Independently minded Scottish writers, doing it their way. I look forward to discovering a lot of interesting writers and their work. I’ve made a start with the wonderful ‘The Bookies Runner’ by Brendan Gisby, Which I’ve reviewed below. There’s been a hell of lot of good Indie books coming out recently and I’ve reviewed a few of the best below. But I haven’t just been reading, oh no. To add to the Indie book fest, I’ve finished my own second novel ‘Daydreams and Devils’. So, what’s it about? I thought you’d never ask.  (pretty slick eh).

Without any spoilers, it has two storylines woven together. One follows the exploits of Vincent, a sociopath who follows the road of the gangster as a means of entertainment to keep the boredom of life at bay, something he finds generally pointless. Picking up useful associates on the way, captained by the sadistic Frankie, Vincent plays the game of criminal expansion by terror, employing mind games and violence to achieve his aims and also as sources of pleasure in themselves. The second strand follows James, a young school leaver, dreamer and Morrissey fan who decides, as so many of us do, to form a band. Upon recruiting his own ‘gang’ he’s quickly confronted with the reality of band life. Personality clashes, musical differences, but also the magical alchemy of creating music and friendships from strangers and inanimate objects. Eventually the two worlds collide, the daydreamers meet the devils and…that’s yer lot. Don’t want to spoil it.

It’s a mix of coming of age, crime, contemporary lit and humour. I don’t make it easy for myself when it comes to Genre and corresponding marketing strategy. But I believe in just writing what I want to write and the genre is what it is. As usual with my writing the focus is on characters and dialogue, but there’s an entertaining story there too. More verbs than adjectives. Too much description slows things down for me. Just my opinion. Themes also seem to play a part in my books. It’s not something I decide when I start writing, just something that evolves, but just as when characters evolve, it helps focus the writing…Or am I just being a pretentious twat? Probably. Anyway, in ‘The Search for Ethan’ it was a search for redemption. With ‘Daydreams and Devils’, it’s probably about a search for approval in its various forms. Maybe it’s because of the amount of dialogue, but when I write my mind turns to film adaptations. (James isn’t the only daydreamer). These might give you a flavour of them. ‘The Search for Ethan’ I saw being directed by Peter Mullen. Any friends of Mr Mullen, feel free to give him a call on my behalf, finder’s fee applies J. With Daydreams and Devils its part Shane Meadows and part Guy Ritchie. Same deal! It’s out now on kindle, with the paperback mid June. For more flavour, here’s chapter one to whet your appetite. Enjoy.

CHAPTER 1

VINCENT

Vincent O’Neill was bewildered by life. Not afraid, because he was afraid of nothing. He just saw no point to it. His early years at school only reinforced his belief that his presence in the world was a mistake. He looked around on a daily basis for someone or something to give the game away. But they were good this lot. They played, they learned, they kissed, they planned, formed groups, had fun, bullied, sought stature or at least acceptance. They learned the rules, though some they just seemed to know, didn’t ask too many questions, not big ones anyway, and on it went. Outside of school were the old hands, the ones who had got to the end of the manual. They had worked towards and found their place in it all, based on a career, be that a job or benefits, and a family with a few random add-ons, aka hobbies. And that seemed to be it, other than the small spattering of humanity who tried to squint beyond the surface before taking their place in one of two camps: the religious, who searched with various degrees of fervour for answers, and secondly, those who searched only for oblivion. To Vincent it was all part of the same thing. But what? Acts within a play? Sub-routines within a program? The cliché of wheels within wheels? He didn’t care. That was all just the whimsy of poets and philosophers.

When very young he did wonder why he was different. Parents? As far as parents went, his lavished him with what he learned was called love and affection. He also got the best toys, smartest clothes, anything he asked for, which wasn’t much. To him clothes were clothes: functional. Occasionally, out of curiosity or boredom, he’d ask for something ridiculously ostentatious and then destroy it, watching his parents wither a little each time. But he didn’t blame them for how he felt. He didn’t blame anyone. Blame them for what? He wasn’t unhappy. It was just how it was, a situation he could accept or not. No more than that. And what to do about it? No point in whining, that much was clear. One option would be resolution by suicide. I don’t want to do this life thing so I’m stopping it. He’d given it some thought, researched the different methods, their respective discomfort, practicalities, reliability. Eventually he’d decided to experiment with life, be in the world, but not of it, playing the game to his strengths – his lack of fear and empathy. Immune to emotional snares or blackmail, oblivious to any kind of punishment, whether physical or psychological, he would continue in the world and be free from it.

When he was fifteen, the school and his parents decided that something had to be done, that they had to get to the root of the problem, to give it a name, a label. After some amusing sessions with the medical cabal they had their wish. They had their name. The name was ‘sociopath’. A few weeks later he found a label of his own. When asked by his careers officer what he wanted to be, he answered simply.

“Feared.”

Available on Amazon: UK USA

REVIEWS (in the order read) I’M DEAD AGAIN If you’re a fan of Nixon’s ‘The Fix’ you’re in for a treat. You’ll find some of the same characters, this time given bigger roles (Russian maverick Konstantin and the sinister puppet master Lamb), but its journalist on the edge Dave Brodie who owns centre stage here, as he kamikaze pilots the ‘Shit machine’ through a kaleidoscope of events, twists and characters which takes a highly skilled writer to pull off. ‘I’m dead again’ is a taught, fast paced crime thriller with a noir tint, sprinkled with cynical wit. Another cracker from Keith Nixon.

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THE BOOKIES RUNNER This is a beautifully written tale, told by a son wistfully looking back on his father’s life. As he sets off on the bus to school on the first day back after the holidays, Brendan uses the bus journey as a metaphor of his dad’s life journey, each stop triggering another chapter, a device that works wonderfully well. It’s not a story of high drama and exceptional achievement, but rather finds and shows the extraordinary in the ordinary in a way that few writers can. It’s not a misty eyed rose tinted remembrance, as Brendan doesn’t shirk from baring his family’s failings and there is anger amongst the pride. It’s not the Walton’s. Real life isn’t, but it reminds us of the poignancy of everyday life and indeed everybody’s life, that we all take for granted.  I’ve got a few more of his books loaded onto the kindle, which I look forward to.

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THE SWITCHED Reading the blurb you may be expecting a festering cauldron of perversion, obscenity, bodily fluids and every deviantly murderous coupling conceivable…Well, okay, welcome to the ‘The Switched’. But there’s a lot more going on here than that. While other writers try to out f*ck each other, they lack Bracha’s creativity, imagination and intelligence. A good example is the jumping from third to first person, allowing the reader to really get inside the heads of the characters, hear their rage, fear, hopes and feel their pain, raising them above the two dimensional cartoons they may have become at the hands of a less skilled writer. I don’t want to give details of the wonderfully inventive plot away, I’d rather you discover them for yourselves, but it does contain an interesting spin on the phrase go f*ck yourself. It’s been said by others that he’s a writer at the top of his game. I’ve read most of his work and have to agree that this is, in my opinion, his best so far. If you haven’t read any of Brachas’ work, start here and work back. A magnificent achievement.

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URBAN DECAY – Aidan Thorn I first came across Aidan Thorn from his piece in the ‘Near to the Knuckle Presents – Rogue’, anthology. When I saw this coming out I decided to check out what else he could do, and am glad I did. This is a fine collection of short stories from a young writer, displaying surprising maturity with the quality of writing You expect from a ‘near to the nuckle’ publication. Thorn avoids cliché’s both in his characters and plot to present rounded, realist stories that are gritty, but believable, inhabited by people you feel you know even after a few pages. The writing is evocative without getting bogged down in an ocean of adjectives. The story comes first, which keeps the pages turning and the reader interested, which is at the end of the day what it’s all about. Several of the stories have a thread linking them, which gives more breadth to the overall work and I believe there is a novella coming soon, which seems a logical next step. Look forward to it. In the meantime, this is certainly worth checking out. A writer to watch.

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MAZY RUN 4 TEAM INDIE AND MY ROAD TO ROGUE

So, ‘The Search for Ethan’s in the bag, what now? Well like most aspiring writers I jumped on the ‘Find an agent express’, with eyes on the prize of a deal with one of the big publishers and a huge advance which would allow me to write full time under their benevolent patronage, encouraging and developed my undoubted genius to greater and greater…Aye right. The first two replies were positive on the book, but not what they were looking for. The third a standard pass, as was the next…and last. This was obviously going to take time. Now, having no fucking patience whatsoever, what’s plan B? That’s when I looked into the self-publishing option. Once upon a time self-publishing, or at least a lot of it, was dubbed ‘Vanity Press’. Not an attractive label for any aspiring writer. But the ebook explosion has destroyed the previous publishing models in the same way that punk did with music. Anyone could play, record and release their music, even start their own label. Now with the digital revolution it’s even easier. The down side is quality control is essentially eliminated, left to the ‘market’ to use a political / economic analogy. But who says what is good and what is shit? I’m a colossal music snob, despise the XFactor, but what are the quality control alternatives? One thing that became obvious very quickly is that the big publishers, especially post financial meltdown, were very risk averse, only interested in things which fell into readily marketable genres. Oh, and celebrity books, lots and lots of celebrity books (with a readymade audience). Now from a business perspective it makes perfect sense, but if publishers have tossed their creative pretentions to get down and dirty with the rest of the business world ie In the business of making money above all else, to my mind they have abdicated their right to be the gate keepers of literature. If you think of some of the classics, would they be published now? Many, I doubt.

Now, if someone came dangling a big fat cheque would I bite? If it meant I could write full time…maybe, but only maybe. Why? Well I’m definitely at one with the Clash’s ‘Complete Control’ philosophy. With music I had to write, play, record everything myself. Same with writing. The idea of being told to change this, add that…fuck right off! And that’s the absolute beauty of self-publishing. You have the opportunity (no more than that) to keep your own voice, write and publish your book, not someone else’s version, uncorrupted by commercial concerns. I say opportunity because some self-published authors look at their enterprise through the lens of commerce and who am I to dump on them. We’re all free to plough our own furrow.

So, decision made, now what? Good question! The answer to that was the answer to most things, initially at least…Google. What would we do without it? There were two aspects to look at. Publishing / distribution and marketing / promotion. On the first, the two main options are Amazon, the new Colossus of publishing and Smashwords, which is basically a gateway to the other main sales outlets. So I knocked my ebook into the shape format wise, uploaded, pressed ‘publish’ and hey presto, job done…Bollocks. At least it is if you want more than a wee pat on the back from family and friends. So, promotion…Geez, do I have to? I just want to write…Jump back a line Robert…Aye, okay…Fuck.

Now, imagine walking into Tesco and seeing a big banner saying ‘Asda have got some great deals on, go have a look!” A ridiculous notion eh? Actually no, but I’m getting ahead of myself. (Impatience be gone). So, promotion. The main avenue, initially at least, is social media. Now prior to all this I’d viewed Facebook as the internet version of big brother (the TV show not the book), a platform for dull people to share the minutia of their dull lives with other people with duller lives. (Eating my second custard cream of the day).  A heavy price to pay for selling a few books. Now before you all run to the unfriend button, my view has been radically transformed to the good. I love Facebook now, as my wife will confirm (“Your worse than the weans” (Scottish for children)). I’ve ‘met’ a lot of great people who I would never have come across without it, and rediscovered some lost ones too. Twitter, I’m still figuring out. Ok, account created…How to find readers? Well, you don’t, or I didn’t. The idea of approaching strangers and saying, ‘Hello… Buy my book’, just seems so embarrassing and desperate. I don’t know what text speak for shudder is. ^v^v^v maybe? It is now. Anyway, I can’t do it. One thing I don’t have is a brass neck. Having been on the receiving end of it, I’m glad I don’t. “Your book looks interesting…I think you’d love mine” or best of all “Thanks for friending me, here’s a promo for my book on your timeline”…Fuck off! How welcome is a cold call when you’ve just sat down for your dinner? Do you love it when the Jehovah Witness’s come calling when you’re in the throes of the Devils own hangover? Me neither.

But now on with the far more prevalent and positive side of it all. Where to start? Finding people in the same boat seemed a good idea, and for me that started with a text from a mate saying ‘I found this guy online, writes books, used to go to Bellshill Academy, names Mark Wilson’. So I friended good Ol’ Mark  on FB, read his posts, chipped in a few comments…tried not to feel too stalkery in this strange new world. I read and enjoyed some of his stuff which lead to the ‘People who read this also read…” banner on Amazon. One title which stood out was “Twelve mad men” Twelve! So same again, try to get to know people as you would normally. Not being pushy. If your reading this and starting out too…basically, don’t be a dick. I’ve checked out other peoples work and If I’ve enjoyed it left a review. If others do the same, in their own time, that’s cool. Do unto others as an old book says. (Are you listening Jehovah’s Witnesses?)

Time to jump back to the Tesco analogy. If writers viewed each other in commercial terms, we are competitors. That’s just a fact, especially if writing in the same genre. That for me is one of the major differences between the traditional publishing business and the indie scene. One is competitive, the other supportive. Without wanting to sound too gushy…ah fuck it, gush away…I have been blown away by the support, advice and encouragement I’ve received from what for me is ‘Team Indie’. Not just in terms for positive feedback on the book, but advice and practical help. Example, early on I posted looking for advice on the best format for a paperback. Almost immediately I got advice, links to tutorials guiding you step by step. Fantastic. Then Ryan Bracha told me to send it through and he’d do it for me, a complete stranger at that time! He asked for 24 hours (asked?), he did it in 12, waiting in my email inbox when I got up the next morning! His only request was that I ‘Pass it forward’. How fucking awesome is that? And not untypical. And so it’s gone on. Darren Sant is another deserving special mention. Such a public spirited, generous gent who’s given a lot of advice and support.

It’s been a very positive and humbling nine months. I’ve read a lot of great stuff by amongst others, Ryan, Mark, Darren, Keith Nixon, Paul D Brazil, Martin Stanley, Craig Furchtenicht, Neil Cocker, Colette Brown, Gerard Brennan, Allen Miles, Gareth Spark, Stuart Ayris…The list continues to grow. Check them out, you won’t be sorry. As well as being great writers they’ve become friends and for that and more, I am profoundly grateful.

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Which takes me to (drum roll)…the Rogue Anthology. I read the first anthology, ‘Gloves off’ a while back. Another five golden stars of awesomeness and great introduction to and reminder of, how many great indie writers there are. Rogue is the follow up, with some of the same people as ‘Gloves Off’ and some new names. There are twenty two stories, from people like Ryan Bracha, Paul D Brazil, Keith Nixon, Aidan Thorne, Cal Marcius, Benedict Jones, Tess Makovesky, T Maxim Simmler…and many others, to discover. There’s also one from me (‘Security of Supply). A big thanks to Darren and the Rogue’s for allowing me on board this exciting project. I for one can’t wait to read it.

And I no longer have to. Yes, it’s out today on kindle (2/4/15). Fill yer boots. Your life will be better for it!

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US

PS: Only if you have any room left in said boots AFTER loading up with the life affirming purchase of Rogue, ‘The Search for Ethan’ is on kindle countdown next week 7-14th only £$0.99… Feeling grubby…going for a shower to scrub the shame off…^v^v^v^v) Now go read Rogue.

NEXT TIME

Fuck knows.

MAZY RUN 3 – WRITING ‘THE SEARCH FOR ETHAN’

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Previously on Another Mazy Run…Birth, education, friendship, music, madness and …well just scroll down for details if you’ve missed it. (That’s the wee spinny thing if you’re using a mouse, or the up / down thing on the right)

Right, so I finished last time on the cusp (what a great word) of writing a book of some sort. Firstly, why? Having covered my love of music previously I had got to the point of realising that, well, that just wasn’t going happen. So what then? Well, throughout the musical journey, intertwined every note of the way were its two cousins, literature and cinema (or books and films to you and me). Certainly the stuff I was into was intertwined with rock n roll. Mean Streets, Good fellas, Performance are saturated in the imagery of rock n roll, never mind their soundtracks. And the corrupting influence and danger injected by ‘On the road, Junky, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas… unquestionable. But it was a two way street, each daring the other to go a little further…further still, Kerouac, Burroughs, to Iggy, Patti Smith, Malcom McLaren. Anyway you get the idea. The point is that far from being the coffee cream of the creative chocolate box, in the current X Factor reality (with a very small r) and given the vibrant indie scene (which I’ll cover in a future blog, maybe the next one, but anyhow…), the point is…writing is the new rock n roll!

But write what? I’d toyed with the idea of a film script and indeed one of the first parts of what would become ‘The Search for Ethan’ (Let’s call it Ethan from here on in), was written as just that, or my untrained, pig ignorant interpretation of a film script. However I quickly decided to go down the novel route. Why? Well, down to the intertwining mentioned earlier. You write a film script you get a film. You write a novel, it gets turned into a film…a film with a soundtrack. The Holy Trinity right there. So, how do you write a novel? I had no idea…and didn’t really want to. When I was first thinking about writing I had a look in my local Waterstones’s for books on getting published and left with ‘How to write a novel and get it published…for dummies’. I’m not shitting you. However in my defence I never even looked at the first part, only the part on publishing which is a subject for another time. The reason I mention it at all is that at that time the idea that someone could teach you how to write a novel seemed…a bit like painting by numbers. I’ve come to be a lot less arsey about the merits of creative writing training the more high quality stuff I read by such trained people, but in the beginning the old punk / beat, three chord, first thought best thought Hendrix and Buddy Rich were self-taught dude was alive and kicking for all he was worth. In my mind, at that time at least, untrained = unconstrained. It also meant I could just get on with the fucking thing which is always a very attractive and convenient notion.

So getting fucking on with it (for the love of God please, you rambling old twat), what to write about? Well I suspect what you’re supposed to do is plan out your story to a reasonable degree, your characters, figure it all out then start at the beginning and work through to the end. I suspect…But with all the patience of a pebble (WTF?) I just dived in. Well, other than that it would be about two boys, one good, one bad, drugs would be involved, a tragedy would occur, a tiger mum would try and protect her son, whichever one that turned out to be, and redemption would form some part of the story. Then I dived right in. I would just sit down and write at least 1,000 words, whatever came to mind, linked however tenuously with that theme. No two chapters were written in order, which is pretty easy when you don’t have a story. As mentioned, initially I thought about a film script and the first thing I wrote was the two main characters, (at that time unnamed, called only GG (good guy) and BG (bad guy) in a night club, under the sub title ‘charity fuck’. This eventually found its home about 2/3rds of the way in. However, quickly I decided on a full blown novel and that’s the way it progressed, writing 1,000 word set pieces. As my moods can swing about a fair bit I decided to put that to use. When upbeat I’d tried to write funny (hopefully) material. Angry, write dark, bitter and twisted material. Depressed write despair (or nothing). It seemed to work and certainly I found out pretty quick that trying to work against the emotional grain was futile, generating only shit and resentment of the ‘why the fuck am I doing this variety’.

So on I went like this and as I did the story developed by itself, as did the characters who really are the story, driven mainly by dialogue. Some of it was pretty intense set as it was in the late teenage years, which are the most emotionally turbulent years of your life. They also consequently remain in many ways the most vivid even after all this time. Throw in drugs, sex, and death, well it ain’t going to make ‘The Readers Friend’. Is it autobiographical? Are the characters real people? The short answer is no. That said some things you can only write about with any authenticity or conviction if you’ve had some direct experience. Imagination needs something to work with. I’ll take the fifth on the rest. Most of the time I felt like I was just typing it up, keeping out the way, as surprised as any reader when things took an unexpected twist. I remember sitting in Tesco carpark when the concept of the subtle tie in with the film ‘the Searchers’ came to me, (and  hence the title)…this was after having already written at least two thirds of the words. It was at this point that I decided to put the ‘set pieces’ into some sort of order, or editing as I believe it’s called. Not a new experience as it’s similar to song writing where you come up with bits then decide ‘ok that’s the chorus, that’s the verse, intro, middle eight’. I then had the chance to read this thing I’d been working on for so long for the first time, which was a pretty special experience. It was even more amazing that it hung together as well as it did, considering my methodology. There were gaps to be filled as I knew there would be, and filled they were, in an equally random order dictated by mood. And suddenly…it was done. ‘The Search for Ethan’ a novel by Robert Cowan.

So, what’s it about? Buy the fucking thing and find out you cheap sonofabitch!…I’ll never get the hang of this marketing thing eh?…In some ways it explores the ambiguities of morality. Good people do bad things and vice versa. And does the notion of morality mean anything in a world where the killing of civilians can be deemed collateral damage rather than murder, depending on who’s doing the killing. In my mind it’s a story of friendship and trying to navigate the reefs we all have to steer, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. It’s about growing up, fucking up, hope, mercy and redemption. There’s more info on the ‘books’ tab up at the top. What did I learn from the process? Mainly that I can’t proofread for shit. No matter how many times I went over it, I just couldn’t get all the typos out on my own. I didn’t know the difference between to and too as well as I thought (and me with a B Higher English too (Ha, got you that time you two / three lettered can’t make up your mind bastard…I think)). Commas and hyphens still remain as mysterious as women. Next time I’ll get a pro to do it. Also, having read some great books, I’ve also learned that the idea that formal creative writing training is an impediment to great and imaginative writing is ridiculous, showing only a seriousness and determination to excel at the craft. (I’m not sure, but I suspect the authors of such greats as ‘Fornicating Frieda’ aren’t Oxford BA Lit graduates.) Me, I’m too lacking in discipline to do anything but admire theirs, but I’m happy I have a methodology that works for me.

NEXT TIME

Possibly the greatest thing I learned was that the expression ‘No man is an island’ is true even with such a seemingly solitary pastime as writing. More of that in the next Mazy Run on the Indie writing scene and the impending ‘Rogue’ short story anthology. Wipe yer drool. PS: if enjoyed feel free to click follow and share the link…I might even send you chocolates…coffee creams, but still…

REVIEWS

WEE ROCKETS BY GERARD BRENNAN Set in Belfast after the peace process, this is a gritty, authentic story of a teenage gang who roam its streets looking for escape. Not from the ‘Troubles’, which are fading into history, albeit tentatively, but from the universal boredom inflicted on all older teenagers. To paraphrase some other sons of the province, ‘They need excitement and they need it fast’. But Brennan doesn’t just throw out some laddish exploits to amuse, though there are some funny moments. No, rather than encouraging us to embrace the wee lad within, he does the opposite. The book begins with the gangs mugging of a grannie and the main characters decision to get out, away from that life, seeing it for the dead end that it is. I’m not one for plot spoilers, so no details. What this is, is an engrossing story of a young man’s search for who he is, and where he came from, intensified by the return of his dodgy,’ jack the lad’ father. It’s as story of relationships stretched and strained by fluctuating loyalties and spiralling desperation, made real by the believability of Brennan’s characters and dialogue. All of this would count for little, to me at least, if there wasn’t a plot to match it. Guess what?…Good guess. Never predictable or pedestrian, always entertaining, Brennan storytelling is more than up to the job. Another impressive Irish export…Their whiskeys pretty good too. A wee glass of Bushmills while you read it would do no harm. Highly Recommended.  

MAZY RUN 2

As mentioned last time, this appears pretty much as it spills out. Writing, the proper stuff that is, I take seriously. God knows how many hours, heart and soul etc. Myself, hopefully less so. I shall endeavour to avoid being puffed up, stuffy, smug, condescending or anything else which requires even temporary residence within the dark malodourous recesses of my  own colon…though the use of the work endeavour is probably a near miss.

So…My life in miniature part 2 (Pt 1 is below if you missed it.) First thing to say…my memory of the eighties is a bit hazy but this isn’t about details. So…The end of band 2…was a sore one. It brought with it the realisation that I may actually have to ‘work’ for a living, get a proper job, do the things I’d always viewed as a waste of life…as the opposite of life…something that had seemed unthinkable just moments earlier. Trying to think back to exactly how I felt…too long ago (I use the three dots of drama even more than the word apparently…). Anyway, I’m sure I felt tired, bewildered and maybe a little bit defeated. So reality it was to be. I got a job as an engineer, designing a new truck from scratch which sort of approached interesting in its own problem solving sort of way, got married, bought a house, grew up. Well, all but the last one. I still loved music and wanted that to be what I spent my time doing, I was only a little bit defeated remember (pay attention). So, bands were out. Fuck that! I’d do it all myself. Easy! Jump back…Prior to band implosion I bought a guitar, mainly to write songs, never to be Hendrix (Even I was never that deluded!). Anyway, jumping forward again, at this point a miracle appeared in the form of a Tascam Porta 1. A four track recording studio the size of a shoe box. A…recording…studio…in a box. Think about that! Game changer, Xmas’s at once etc…Suddenly it was all do able. Sgt Pepper was recorded on 4 track FFS…but there the similarity ended. (Rambling pish alarm on amber). Condensed version. I wrote like a demon, made tapes, sent them to record company A&R types and as I type this in my Malibu beach mansion with my personal assistant Candy picking out my new Lear jet…mmm. Most were standard letter, polite fuck offs, some were hand written but still polite fuck offs (I felt a bit cheated I never got a ‘your shite give up, fuck off’ one) and a couple were ‘sounds interesting, put a band together and I’ll come see you’. Interspersed with all this was fun with the boys, summed up by being strip searched on return from Amsterdam one weekend (I hope never to hear another man ask me to lift my scrotum), a visit to the heart of darkness, and an ongoing sort of Buddhist stumble to the light with some martial arts mayhem thrown in. This is called another mazy run for a reason. Anyway back to music. As I was all too aware, fronting a band was not something I had in the locker, unless gibbering wrecks became the must see performance. No, for me it was all about the studio…Brian Wilson had done that after all…WTF Robert! Anyway, such ambitions faded. If only I had more confidence, more talent, definitely more hair, blah, blah…been someone else essentially. But that’s not how it works and that’s fine.

Why is that fine? Well amidst the daftness and by the graciousness of the lovely Carol, I was gifted a son, Keith (named after mr Richards), and a daughter, Fern, and what could be finer than that. Family life is good, and it’s something the great and the good usually miss out on. But does having a family mean you have to park your creative impulses and stick them in a box, padlocked, left to gather dust in the attic? Na…you can write a book.

NEXT TIME…probably something about books.

REVIEWS

BEN TURNER IS A DEAD MAN – RYAN BRACHA

The first thing to point out is that this is the second part of a trilogy, so to avoid any WTFness, read the most excellent Paul Carter is a dead man first. My review for that can be found by clicking on the Goodreads thing on the right and having a rummage. But in brief, the books are set in a New Britain dictatorship, set in the near future, where all the mind numbing, soul sapping shit that destroys us at the moment via the internet and TV…still does, but on steroids. You break the “guidelines” for, say, swearing, a big no no, viewers click away at home to sentence you to death. In episode one Paul Carter gets a few hard kicks in to the government’s nuts before escaping beyond the wall to the paradise that is Scotland.

Part 2 centres on the Ben Turner of the title. The sidekick in part 1, he emerges from Carters shadow, hell bent on upping the ante to bring this new order to its knees. Aided by reluctant accomplice Nat, who’s won over by a shared appetite for carnage and scores to settle, they set about generating an impressive body count, drunk on their cocktail of loathing and lechery. The reader has to hold on tight as the narrative shifts in time and place, keeping you off balance like all good rollercoasters. And it never lets up. Brutal, funny, but with the originality, warmth and empathy to avoid pastiche. Typical Bracha? I have no idea what that is…

AMAZON:

THE MAGICAL TRAGICAL LIFE OF EDWARD JARVIS HUGGINS – STUART AYRIS

This is definitely a marmite book. If you’re a fan of supermarket genre fiction it’s probably not for you…But it might be…variety, spice and all that. Me. I love marmite.

What drew me to it initially was an acknowledgement, thanking the Rolling Stones for Exile on Main Street, which the author listened to throughout. Well, referencing the greatest achievement in the history of music was always going to grab my attention. But having read the book, for me a far closer musical reference point is the Kinks master work, ‘The village green preservation society’, as this is a book steeped in an England of old, rich in tradition, comfortable in itself i.e. not ‘Ingerlund’.

It’s not a book that zips along at pace, jumping from one thrill or caper to the next. It takes its time, exploring and enjoying its own journey, hoping you do to. Briefly, it’s a story about Edward and his sister’s journey in search of his messianic destiny, climaxing in a game of cricket. It’s a book rich in metaphor.  Along the path, there are an abundance of intriguing characters all drawn to a time and place. The author’s presence is all over this with lightly scattered phrases throughout, adding energy and fun but never getting in the way. It’s a book about wonder, miracles, friendship and hope. Also, I now sort of understand the appeal of cricket, which for a Scot is a miracle in itself.

I really enjoyed it. Some may find it too whimsical, but to quote Sheldon from big bang “What’s life without whimsy.”

AMAZON

MAZY RUN 1

So here we go. Mazy run number 1. The first thing to say is that what appears here will be pretty much what pops into my head, just typed up. I don’t plan on any editing, fixing, re writes etc. Whether you want to call it stream of consciousness or a load of rambling old pish…that I will leave to you. The posts will generally be short as they will give me a sore head too. There’s only so much rambling old pish any one can take after all. There will also be reviews of books I read, maybe albums too, though these will probably be of a prehistoric nature. I don’t plan on having star ratings, just let the words do the job.

So, why am I writing this? Truthfully, I have just written a book (see fetching cover / carving combo above) which I seek to shamelessly promote, and apparently this is what you do. Mercifully I suspect / hope there will be more to it than that or this will be short lived, withered on the vine by boredom all round. It’s certainly bad manners to introduce yourself by dropping your trousers and pointing at your bits, so, I believe its normal practice to give some insight into yourself, and there’s no practice like normal practise (rambling pish alarm):

I was born in Bellshill on 17th Feb 1963. No that’s not a typo. Yes it is a long time ago. I went to Mossend primary, where I did fine. On to Bellshill academy where I did more than fine, bit of a smart cunt truth be told. (Apparently I swear a lot…and use the word apparently), however, the only real long term legacy from school was meeting the guy’s I’ve been friends with since that dim and distant time. Billy, Boab, Cunny, Wilkie, Ricky I salute you. Shortly afterwards I also met Big Jim, so consider yourself saluted too. All that saluting and not a flag in sight…I digress. The other legacy from school was the ignition of a lifelong obsession with music. More of that will come in the future no doubt. Suffice to say hearing Billy’s brothers copy of the Stones Rolled Gold album was my year zero moment. To paraphrase / rip off John Lennon, before that, everything was black and white. God bless them!

Next up, Strathclyde University “studying” Mechanical Engineering. Far more importantly I bought a drum kit with my grant (Once upon a time students got free money…no really). Engineering books seemed such a waste of it, while I still have the drum kit. During my time there, myself and said mates started a band, playing mostly covers of the Stones, the Who, Stooges etc. A lot of good bands came from Bellshill. BMX bandits, Teenage Fanclub to name two. Check them out…Where was I, yes, so we played some gigs, including one out in the sticks which resulted in a sharp exit and high speed car chase…my memory is a bit vague, something to do with someone (not me) trying it on with someone from another bands girlfriend and mocking the audience as hillbillies…anyhow. We chased our dreams down the road as well but…the usual differences in ambition put paid to the band, but not to the friendships.

Around this time I met the lovely Carol, a seismic event, and with the foundation of a right good New Year snog, started going out and were later married. Altogether…Aawww. Still are. Aawww. Calm it.

I then joined another band with a guy from uni called Iain Burns (the guy not the band), and a friend of his, Colin Wakeford (who has some music on line, worth listening to). This was doing more original material. We even got on the radio as Mark Goodier’s band of the week. I remember vividly listening to it at a mates house thinking ‘This is it, I’ve made it!” What…a…fanny! Very exciting though. Again gigs, dreams of stardom but…see above.

Sore head.

NEXT TIME – My life in miniature Pt 2. The duration between next times will be pretty random as will most things…but random is good.

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REVIEWS

THE SEARCH FOR ETHAN – ROBERT COWAN

Fucking Brilliant. Buy. Click on books tab thingy above for more details.

dEaDINBURGH: Alliances (Din Eidyn Corpus Book 2) – MARK WILSON Available to pre order.

This is the second instalment of Mark Wilson’s dEadinburgh trilogy. If you haven’t read part one, (surely not?), the story is set decades in the future in a quarantined Edinburgh, infected by a virus which turns all those bitten into zombies. However, it’s not a typical zombie tale, all about staying one step ahead of the undeads permanently active gnashers. It’s much cleverer than that. The zombies are almost part of the landscape, providing the backdrop to far more dangerous adversaries.

I’m not going to tell you what it’s all about. I’ve never seen the point in that. Who wants spoilers? However, as in the first episode, it centres on the two main characters of Alys and Joey, who unite once more in a storm of martial arts and angst.   If anything this is even better than the first instalment, with Wilson showing no signs of running out of steam. Far from it. His writing matures with each book, and this one builds through a tight plot line and well developed characters, to an absolutely cracking finale, with a really unexpected twist.

This can be bought as a stand-alone, or as part of an anthology. Available to pre order now!

UK

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