The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Tom Pitts

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Tom Pitts to discuss his new book, 101 (Down & Out Books).

Congratulations on the publication of your new book! How would you pitch 101 to potential readers?

101 is a story rooted in California weed country on the cusp of legalization. A kid on the run from San Francisco hides out on a weed farm with his mysterious host, an old-time friend of his mother’s. His host and his mother share a dark secret and trouble soon erupts. The fuse the kid ignites burns all the way up the 101. A wild cast of characters soon collide and his mother, his host, and an unlikely crew battle bikers, gangsters, and a couple of loose cannon cops as they all race back Oakland to settle old scores.

What do you hope that readers take away from the story?

I’ve tried to push my exploration of the multi-POV to create a fast-paced page-turner with a cinematic feel. I hope readers get to see the movie I saw in my head when I wrote it. It’s brutal, funny, and I hope captures some of what I experienced while I was knee-deep in the muck of Humboldt County.

Your various books chronicle different aspects of California’s criminal underbelly – how important is it not to repeat yourself?

I’ve very conscious of it. True, they all spring from the underbelly, but they’re very different in many ways. Hustle was about junkie male prostitutes, American Static covered political corruption. Knuckleball was about a young Mexican kid in the Mission District. Coldwater (the next one) is about a couple who move to the burbs. I’ll admit though, after these four novels, what I call my California Quartet, I’m wondering if it’s all I’ve got to say. I started writing two more novels and put ‘em down because they just weren’t doing it for me. I felt like it was ground I’d already tread. So yeah, I’m very conscious of it. I wonder how some of the successful authors, like Lee Child, deal with repetition. It’s an odd thing in the literature world. People love series, there’s something about a familiar brand they love to return to. Publishers sense that and they’ll squeeze a series—and an author—dry. I think it takes a special disposition to make a series work. I don’t think I’m built that way, my books most definitely have endings, and when they’re done, I have to move on to an entirely new story.

Are there any subjects or themes that you would like to return to?

You know, I’ve been having this debate about whether gentrification in urban America has driven writers back to rural noir, and it keeps coming up because the cities seem to have lost a lot of their edge. There’s not a lot of crime and desperation left in the big burgs. That got me thinking about what real crime looks like in the big city. And that’s petty crime, that’s hobos and winos breaking into liquor stores, drug dealers getting robbed by fiends, car burglaries, shoplifting. That’s what pulled me into writing in the first place, so I’ve been writing some shorts relating to the homeless and what’s going on out there in the street. The homeless situation in San Francisco, in all of California, has never been worse and it’s an issue that’s underreported and inaccurately portrayed.

Of all your protagonists to date, do you have a favourite – and why?

It’s funny, all my protagonists seem to be vehicles for the antagonists. I mean, that’s where the show is, right? The protags often take a back seat. They drive the story forward, but aren’t usually the heroes or the villains. Quinn in American Static was fun to write. He was a charismatic but sociopathic wise-cracking psycho. Vic, the anti-hero in 101, is great fun too, but he’s got a moral compass. A cowboy complex. I think the protag’s mother really turns out to be the hero. I try to keep the reader off balance by switching up who rises to the surface as a hero or villain, protagonist or antagonist.

In your opinion, what are the quintessential California crime novels that everyone should read?

I don’t know, that’s why I’m trying to write ‘em! Seriously, Denis Johnson did a great job with Northern California in Nobody Move, but he’s not really a crime writer. Crumley he did a great job with the state, The Last Good Kiss is a must read. Shit, Johnny Shaw, he captures his corner of the state perfectly in his books. Jordan Harper’s novel and his shorts have both a literary and an authentic note. I mean, there’s lots of great California writers throughout the last century history. Steinbeck, Bukowski, Fante, Ellroy, Chandler, Hammett. But I don’t know if the best in contemporary California crime fiction has bubbled up to the surface yet.

This book was published by Down & Out Books; do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

My tastes vary, but I do read quite a few contemporaries. I get asked to write a blurb now and again, or I’ll get excited by an internet buzz. However most of my choices still come from the age-old tried-and-true word-of-mouth.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

Is this for potential jury selection? I talk a lot about the ladder or the food chain. That guy’s a few rungs up the ladder from me, or that person’s way up the food chain. I’m usually looking up at others accomplishments, but if they’ll still talk to me, I consider them a peer. I mean, shit, I still talk to Joe Clifford daily, but he’s more than a peer, he dragged me into this mess. Besides, he’s a few rungs up from me too.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

That’s a tough question. When I was young the lives of so many writers seemed oddly glamorous to me. The wild nights, the heavy drinking, the broken hearts. When you get older though, you realize these things are the fallout of awful selfish people, and I don’t want to leave a wake of wickedness (although I’ve left my share.) Then I really started to write, and I learned it was really about the discipline. That’s the trait I truly admired. The guys who were able to sit down and write. Elmore Leonard comes to mind. He’s never tried to write the great American novel, and I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite novel of his because they’re all good. He had one hell of a work ethic and didn’t let success spoil it, so I guess I’d have to go with him. He was an inspiration. Now if I could only implement a few of those lessons learned.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

It looks like the next one, Coldwater, is coming out in 2020. After that, maybe a short story collection. But, God willing, there’ll be more novels. I’m sketching out a period piece right now. And by period piece, I mean the 1980s.

Bio:

Tom Pitts received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive. He is the author of AMERICAN STATIC, HUSTLE, and the novellas PIGGYBACK and KNUCKLEBALL. His new novel, 101, is out on November 5th.

Website:    http://www.tompittsauthor.com/    

Buy 101

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The Interrogation Room – An Interview with Math Bird

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Math Bird to discuss his new book, Welcome to HolyHell (All Due Respect).

Congratulations on the publication of your new book! How would you pitch Welcome to HolyHell to potential readers?

If I only had one sentence, I’d describe it as ‘Kes meets The Getaway.’ However, if I had a few more sentences I’d go onto say that Welcome to HolyHell, set in the borderlands of northeast Wales, is a crime, noir coming-of-age story about loneliness, hope, the past that haunts us, and the fear of growing older – packing an emotionally-charged punch to every hard-boiled reader’s heart.

The book is set in the 1970s – what was your thinking behind using that era, and was it tough to iron out the period details?

Well, I love all things ‘70s: music, films, books, art, history etc. I spent my pre-teen and early-post teen years in the ‘70s. So, creatively, the decade has been a huge influence on me. The novel is set during the drought of 1976, which I remember quite vividly. Also, in an historical sense, it’s an era I’m able to reference quite easily, although I have researched the ‘70s quite extensively for many years and stored that information alongside my own memories and experience. Plus, it’s a fantastic decade to set a crime novel. ‘70s UK and noir are an ideal match. What more could you want? Also, Welcome to HolyHell is the first novel in a series of three with the subsequent books set in the mid-80s, followed by the late ‘90s. So, the ‘70s was a perfect place to start.

What do you hope that readers take away from the book?

The main thing I hope is that they enjoy the story. I hope it’s a solid, entertaining read. That’s always my main objective. I hope they enjoy the novel’s humour, tenderness, and of course its darkness (well, enough not to ask for a refund). And other than that, I hope they get a better understanding of northeast wales especially the borderlands between Wales and England – which for anyone who has read any stuff of mine will know is a central theme, in some form or other, throughout all my fiction.

Is there a rich tradition of Welsh crime novels that you are tapping into, or are you mapping uncharted territory – crime fiction-wise?

There’s certainly a rich tradition of Welsh fiction and short stories, which crime and some noir are a part of. I researched Welsh crime fiction quite extensively for my PhD, as it was the main part of my thesis. So, I could reel off a host of great writers who are worth exploring for so many reasons. But I won’t, mainly because I’d hate to leave anyone out. But what I would say in relation to mapping new territory is that most Welsh fiction be it crime or literary tends be set in the south, Cardiff (the Welsh Capital), or the north West. And northeast Wales as the eminent scholar and biographer M. Wynn Thomas once wrote remains ‘an unexplored territory and has yet to find a place in the popular imagination.’ That’s still kind of rings true today, although it’s not entirely an undiscovered country. So, in my own way, I’m trying to remedy that. Hoping that my fiction can play a small part in pushing northeast Wales a tiny step further into the popular imagination, using a genre I love.

This book was published by All Due Respect; do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

I guess, like most folk, I read a mixture of both. I buy and read anything that catches my eye. I read a lot of indie crime and noir novels; however, a lot of mainstream novels that I’ve really enjoyed I’ve later discovered that the writer was once part of the indie scene, writers such as Scott Wolven, and Sean Dootlittle for example, whom I later learned had early stories published in the brilliant ‘Plots With Guns’, where I’ve placed some of my stories too. Incidentally, I must say I love ‘Plots With Guns’, currently on hiatus, but my favourite online crime and noir literary journal.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

There are lots of contemporary writers I read and admire. Although, I’d never dare to say they were my peers. That’s not for me to judge. Although, I do love the current indie crime scene of All Due Respect, Down & Out Books, etc. – a family of which I’m a very proud to be a small part of. I love all the stuff those guys do and produce, and long may they continue.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

Any writer who can churn out entertaining, quality crime fiction on a regular basis and make a living out of it has my utmost admiration and respect, because, as we all know, it’s no mean feat.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

Well, I’m writing Goodbye HolyHell (Book 2) and Return to HolyHell (Book 3), so I’d love to place those at some point.  I’m also rewriting an early novel entitled Bordersands and again would love to place that.

Bio: Welsh writer Math Bird, has had stories broadcast on BBC Radio 4, Radio Wales, Radio 4 Extra. His work has also appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. A collection of Math Bird’s stories, including his Pushcart Prize-nominated story ‘The Devilfish’ can be found in: Histories of the Dead and Other Stories published by All Due Respect.

His novel Welcome to HolyHell published by All Due Respect books is available from October 19th 2018 at all the usual places.

Buy Welcome To HolyHell

 

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Hector Duarte, Jr.

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Hector Duarte, Jr. to discuss his new short story collection, Desperate Times Call (Shotgun Honey).

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of Desperate Times Call! How hard was it to select the stories – and indeed the running order?

So, this collection was my thesis for grad school and it was a three-year process batting back and forth with my advisor and having her tell me she didn’t like this story because… or, maybe I should revisit this story here… As far as the order, it’s actually almost chronological in the order I wrote each piece.

Do you have a favourite story in the collection? If so, why is it your favourite?

Probably ‘Cabernet’, because it’s the longest short story in the collection and I really feel it’s the best job I did in the whole thing, where I actually created this little world that twists and turns into itself. That’s the fun part of writing, when you can do something like that.

What is the oldest story in the book? How do you think your style has evolved since then?

The oldest story in the collection is ‘Accounts Payable’, which I wrote for a fiction workshop I took in the grad program. That’s from 2009. I’d like to think my writing style has improved since, in that I can write a tighter story and I’m not trying to impress anyone with my words and language, which I think is a huge rookie mistake.

How have your editorial duties at the Flash Fiction Offensive impacted on – or even influenced – your own short fiction?

I am forever grateful to Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts for trusting me enough to pass the FFO editing over to me, which helps me understand the importance of every single sentence, word, and letter. It’s taught me the importance of writing something that does not drag or waste the reader’s time. Get to the point and just raise the stakes from there.

Do you think crime fiction is too safe? Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

All kinds of crime fiction exists out there, the stuff that is afraid to offend and, on the other side of the spectrum, stuff that tries to be too edgy but doesn’t really have anything to deliver as a proper story. It’s all good to me. Mainstream or independent, as long as I’m entertained and being taken for a ride. Like right now I’m reading The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell, which many might categorize as mainstream, but the way he opens up that novel, man, is fucking brilliant. Can I curse on here? He writes a grisly crime scene to open a near 600-page crime novel that just gets the thing rolling on all cylinders.

Your collection has been published by Shotgun Honey/Down & Out Books – do you have any favourite Shotgun Honey/D&O authors or titles you would like to recommend?

Go on the site and check out the latest by Angel Luis Colon, C.S. Dewildt, Nick Kolakowski, Rusty Barnes. There are a ton of others up there. Can’t go wrong with that crew.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

This is a tough question because it could make me sound like an overconfident douche but the following are writers I started off admiring and emulating, and eventually met and realized they were very down to earth, cool people who I’d like to think I can call friends. M.J. Fievre, the aforementioned Joe Clifford, Beau Johnson, Jose Ignacio Valenzuela. This is just naming a few.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

I’ll just answer this by saying my main goal with writing is to just keep writing. If the day comes when I can finance my life solely by writing. And, I mean a very simple life, enough to not have to stress over money and just be comfortable (I’m not looking to make “fuck you” money or anything like that), then that would be the best outcome.

Do you crave mainstream success, or is developing cult status satisfying enough?

I think a solid following is better than mainstream success. Like I said before, the type of career that allows me to keep writing, and in different forms. I’d love to try my hand at screenwriting. I listen to a lot of jam bands, Phish and Umphreys McGee being my favourites. If there is anything to learn from those bands, it’s the work ethic: constantly produce and give back to the audience because without them there is no career.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’m currently working on a first novel and after that I have an idea that I’m going to keep tucked under my sleeve until it’s done.

Bio:

Hector Duarte, Jr. is a writer and teacher out of Miami, Florida. He’s current editor at The Flash Fiction Offensive. His work has appeared, among many others, in Shotgun Honey, Spelk Fiction, HorrorSleazeTrash, and Just to Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction inspired by the songs of Johnny Cash. His first full-length work, the short story collection Desperate Times Call, was published by Shotgun Honey books in 2018. He loves his fiancée Samantha and his cat Felina very much.

Website:

www.facebook.com/hector.d.junior

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/Hexpubs

Buy Desperate Times Call

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Chris Rhatigan

Next up in the Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Chris Rhatigan, the man behind All Due Respect — contemporary fiction’s finest purveyors of lowlife literature. 

For those readers unfamiliar with All Due Respect, can you tell us a little bit about the press’s origins and how it has evolved in recent years?

All Due Respect publishes lowlife literature. It began as a website featuring one short story a month. The book publishing side started in 2014 and since then we’ve done around 60 titles. ADR occupies a niche genre: we exclusively publish crime fiction told from the perspectives of criminals.

What was the first book you published, and how was the response?

God, I had to look this up. Our first book was you don’t exist, a double feature of novelettes by myself and Pablo D’Stair. (Pablo is a legit genius and everyone needs to read his series about small-time grifter Trevor English.) Our most successful early titles were Rob Pierce’s Uncle Dust and Mike Monson’s Tussinland.

I’m going to hit you with a tough question nice and early: if you have to select one book which best typifies the ethos behind ADR, which one would it be?

I’ll go with The Sin Tax by Preston Lang. It’s about a guy who works at a bodega and gets blackmailed into doing shady shit. Lang writes about lowlife characters in this spare and beautiful prose style and as soon as I saw this manuscript I knew I had to have it.

This year alone, you have published/are publishing a number of books by British authors – including work from England, Scotland and Wales – how do British submissions differ from US submissions?

When I was first becoming interested in crime fiction I was reading plenty of UK authors—Allan Guthrie, Ray Banks, Paul Brazill, Nigel Bird—so this feels like a natural progression for ADR. British writers tend to be funnier and take themselves less seriously than Americans, which I appreciate.

I’ve read and edited plenty of books by British authors but there are still expressions, words, grammatical constructions, and slang that go over my head. Luckily I have Nigel Bird on board to straighten me out!

Looking back at the ADR catalogue, is there a book that you wish more people connected with?

If I had to pick a book that’s superior but hasn’t received enough attention, I’d go with Jake Hinkson’s short story collection, The Deepening Shade. Hinkson is a legend and every story in this book is a well-crafted gem.

And is there a book that you wish there was a sequel to?

I enjoyed the protagonist Joey Hidalgo in Paul Heatley’s Fatboy. But for reasons that are obvious once you read the book, I don’t think we’ll be seeing that character again any time soon!

You have published books about grifters, hitmen, thieves, ex-cons and other undesirables – is there any kind of criminal character that you feel has been under-represented to date?

There’s this Charles Willeford book, Honey Gal (also released as The Black Mass of Brother Springer) which is about an everyday guy in Florida who leaves his secure job and his wife with no direction. He gets a job through this crooked monk in which he takes over as the preacher of an African-American congregation in Jacksonville. I love this premise—the guy’s scam just involves working a mundane job that he isn’t qualified for.

So that’s what I like and will always try to do with ADR—small-time crooks shoplifting and scamming their way to mediocrity. Then, of course, their small crimes snowball and everything comes crashing down.

Publishing activity aside, you have written a number of books yourself over the years. Presumably ADR swallows up a lot of the time that would otherwise be devoted to writing? Is that tough?

Yeah, fuck. I was never someone who wrote every day, but I liked to get into a flow and write at least a few times a week. It’s difficult to just pick it up now and then and get anything going. I haven’t finished anything of my own in a couple of years now. Whenever I have time to work, it’s always editing and publishing these days. I’m hoping to take off a few months at some point and write because I miss it.

Last question: where do you hope All Due Respect will be in five years’ time?

Honestly, still in existence. It’s difficult for independent publishers to survive even for as long as ADR has already, especially because we target a niche audience. Five years from now would be almost a decade, which would be a good run.

BIO: Chris Rhatigan is a freelance fiction editor and the publisher of All Due Respect Books.

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Sandra Ruttan

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Sandra Ruttan to discuss her new book, The Spying Moon (Down & Out Books).

Congratulations on the publication of your new book! How would you pitch The Spying Moon to potential readers?

Constable Moreau became a cop so that she could investigate her mother’s disappearance. Just miles away from beginning that mission she’s reassigned and sent to a border town where she faces racism and sexism from both suspects and the other cops she’s supposed to be working with. Will her personal mission undermine her ability to solve a teenager’s murder before more teens die? Or will her uncertainty about who to trust put her in mortal danger?

There’s also another thread throughout the story. This is a young woman who lost her mom when she was a child and spent her life in the foster care system. As a person who is part Aboriginal, she’s lost all connection to her cultural heritage. She holds on to the principles her mother taught her, which is why she does the right thing instead of what she wants when she’s reassigned. She’s a strong, respectable character. Her mother also represents a sobering reality – no group of people is at greater threat of violence in Canada than Native women. Moreau is trying to figure out who she is, find answers about her mother, and understand where she belongs. And she won’t have all of those answers at the end of this story. To me, that would be a fairy tale.

What do you hope that readers take away from the book?

Some people have to overcome obstacles every single day just to do their job. In spite of this, I think we all hope for good cops out there like Moreau, who tries to do the right thing, even if it means she doesn’t get what she wants. A reviewer referred to her as admirable, and that was such a great compliment.

Do you think that crime fiction has a duty to draw readers’ attentions to subjects that often slip through the cracks?

No. Crime is a pretty wide genre with lots of different sub-genres, and it isn’t always going to perform that function. That said, I’m drawn to crime books that do. I write about issues because I’m often thinking about big issues. If I was a trust fund baby I’d live my life on a picket line, I’m sure.

Your book has been published by Down & Out Books – do you have any favourite D&O authors or titles you would like to recommend?

I really enjoyed Dana King’s Bad Samaritan. Dana does a great job of balancing the challenges a male PI faces in the #metoo era. Marietta Miles delves into stories about very unexpected protagonists, and I am inspired by that. You know I have to stop, because the list would go on and on and on…

If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?

One? Literature by Guillermo Stitch. It’s a dystopian sci-fi crime thriller that is amazing. Now, if I could sneak a recommendation for Brian Cohn’s The Last Detective in as well and mention I’m looking forward to reading Shawn Cosby’s debut novel…

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

This is the hardest question I’ve ever been asked. For me, the worlds that opened up to me through books were my escape. I was a very serious kid. I’ve never fit in. There’s a whole popularity/hierarchy thing in the publishing world, too. I don’t belong in that. I talk about books I’ve read and promote what I love and say what I think, even if it’s unpopular. That’s what I’ve been doing online since 2005. Sometimes, for a brief second, you can put someone on a reader’s radar or make a difference to a writer who’s struggling and needs some encouragement, and that’s nice, but I’m nobody in the book business. I’m just in my own corner doing my own thing. I don’t go to conventions or readings or anything so I don’t hang out with anyone. My husband should do that. He’s likeable. There are a few people I’d like to see again before I die, but at least one of them seems to have quit writing…

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

Well, it’s too late to be Gordon Korman, which sucks. But once I hit grade 8 and hadn’t written a publishable manuscript that was the case. Really. He wrote This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall when he was in grade 7 and it was published when he was 14. I’m not even sure you can say you grew up in Ontario if you didn’t read that book when you were a kid. That’s why it gets mentioned on Letterkenny.

I honestly can’t think of anyone I know of that’s taken the path I’m hoping for now.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

In an ideal scenario I’ll be able to get Toe Six to the next level, publish the manuscript we’re half a centimetre away from signing and put out some great cross-genre novels by up-and-coming writers.

I don’t know if I’ll have another novel out. Always depends on how well the current one does. I do have a short story called ‘The Graves by the Juniper Tree’ out next month, though.

Bio:

Sandra Ruttan has been hit by a car, had her foot partially severed, survived a crash in the Sahara Desert and almost drowned. Who—or what—ever wants her dead will have to try harder. Ruttan’s books include The Spying Moon and Harvest of Ruins.

Website:

https://sruttan.wordpress.com/

Buy The Spying Moon

Book Review: Violent By Design by Paul Heatley

VIOLENT BY DESIGN

Author: Paul Heatley

Publisher: Near To The Knuckle

Release Date: September 2018

Set one year after the brutal events of An Eye For An Eye, Violent By Design opens with a raid on one of Newcastle mobster Neil Doyle’s drug houses. His new right-hand-man, Jimmy Finlay – fresh out of HMP Durham and keen to make a name for himself within Doyle’s firm – opts to keep the news from his ill-tempered boss and deal with things himself, only for the situation to go from bad to badly fucked. The culprit is a near-mythical ‘taxman’, whose past exploits sound so far-fetched that they are dismissed as junkie horror stories. The only problem is, he isn’t finished yet, and an all-out war erupts, splattering Newcastle red with blood. By the time the dust settles, it is clear that no one’s lives will ever be the same again…

Heatley’s recent novella The Runner was a nifty little companion piece, but this is definitely the book that fans of An Eye For An Eye were waiting for! Still coming to terms with the events of the earlier book, world-weary fixer Graeme Taylor has retreated from the city, and now lives at the very caravan park where the previous book ground to a halt – within spitting distance of his personal demons. Meanwhile, ‘Tracksuit’ Tony Gordon has traded his leisurewear for a proper suit, and climbed the muscle-bound ranks of the Doyle empire. And as for Doyle himself, he is vowing to go straight(-ish) with a bold new nightclub venture.

Last month I described The Runner as hardcore, dog-eat-dog Geordie noir. If that book’s antagonist, Davey Hoy, offered a canine-level threat, then I can’t even begin to work out where these savage motherfuckers come on the food-chain! The canvas is broader this time around, and the narrative scope more expansive, as Heatley serves up a ferocious rampage across the Newcastle underworld. Suffice to say, the various plot strands congeal in a glorious blood-slick mess.

Violent By Design is a shotgun-toting, tooth-ripping, skull-crushing treat, which cements Heatley’s burgeoning reputation. Cracking stuff.

Review by Tom Leins

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An-Eye-For-An-Eye-Paul-Heatley

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Nigel Bird

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Nigel Bird to discuss his new book, In Loco Parentis (All Due Respect).

Congratulations on the publication of In Loco Parentis! How would you pitch the story to potential readers?

When the systems let down a young child, teacher Joe Campion decides to take matters into his own hands. With justice as his compass, his personal life loses its bearings and his world quickly disintegrates.

What do you hope that readers take away from the book?

I’d like them to feel something. To experience the sadness, the tension and the humour of Joe’s story. I hope they get an insight into the mind of someone who is struggling to survive and maybe to look at others and see that most people are working really hard to keep afloat. Maybe they’ll see teachers in a different light, too. That they’ll be a little more understanding of how the job can carry too much weight even for those who don’t go so obviously off the rails as they try and cope.

This book was published by All Due Respect; do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

I read crime fiction from both the mainstream and from independents. There’s a lot to recommend a varied diet of books to any reader and that applies even more to writers. There’s exciting work coming from everywhere and we’re lucky to be around at a time when we have such choice and that publishers like All Due Respect exist. A lot of what I read was written a long time ago, so it’s a case of buying second-hand much of the time.

If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?

The first two that come to mind are:

William Boyle’s Gravesend, a superb and beautifully written novel that has a strong emotional charge.

Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock. It ticked boxes I didn’t know I had. This short story collection is a masterpiece.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

When I was focusing upon writing short stories, I had the good fortune to be published in a number of really great anthologies as well as to compile a couple. I see each of those collections as being communities of writers and that’s where my crime-writing roots lie. I also see Blasted Heath and All Due Respect as loose families of sorts and they are other communities which I’m proud to be part of.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

I don’t really see writing as a career anymore, so I’d be happy to follow the path of any author who just kept on writing. I wouldn’t mind having Simenon’s ethos or to knock things out with the rhythm of Ed McBain. They’d do.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

All Due Respect will be putting out a couple more of my titles, Smoke and Mr Suit. They’re both stories I think work well and that I’m proud of. After that, I have a novel that will be published at the end of 2019, the first in a series of police dramas. I have contracts for the first three, but if I’m still enjoying writing about the characters by the end of the third, it’s possible that there may be more.

Bio:

Nigel Bird lives on the east coast of Scotland with his family. As well as writing novels, novellas and short stories, he works in three rural schools as a Support for Learning teacher.

Website:

http://nigelpbird.blogspot.com

 

Book Review: Hell Ship by Benedict J. Jones

HELL SHIP

Author: Benedict J. Jones

Publisher: The Sinister Horror Company

Release Date: August 2018

Set in 1944 on the Strait of Malacca – the narrow stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra – Hell Ship follows the fortunes of nine survivors of the torpedoed Empire Carew vessel, adrift and barely alive in a lifeboat. After weeks in the water – surviving on condensed milk and seagull meat – the motley crew find safe haven on the Shinjuku Maru, an abandoned ship they encounter floating in a strange fog. Little do they realise, this ship harbours a grisly secret, which will make the horrors that they have already experienced pale in comparison…

With cinematic pacing and lashings of gore, Hell Ship is a satisfyingly sinister slice of nautical pulp horror. The superb, sadistic prologue – seamen splattered everywhere – sets the tone for the unrelenting sense of dread that follows, and the novella unfolds in an enjoyably gruesome fashion. Jones has fun with the period details, and breathes new life into the familiar cast – which includes the brutally efficient, axe-wielding sailor Busby and the quivering wreck of a commanding officer, Snell.

As the old adage goes, worse things happen at sea. Suffice to say, even worse things happen on the Hell Ship! Great fun.

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Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Martin Stanley

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Martin Stanley to discuss his Stanton Brothers series.

Firstly, for readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you pitch the Stanton Brothers series to readers?

The brothers (Eric, the brains, and Derek, the brawn) are a pair of criminals who make their money by stealing from other criminals (mostly drug dealers and thieves). They tend not to kill those they’re stealing from, because most of them know better than to involve the police in their business. Also, killing’s bad for trade – the police do stick their snouts in that kind of trouble.

How did you come up with the characters, and how have they evolved since their first appearance?

I came up with the idea of two bickering criminal brothers many years ago. They’re loosely (very loosely, I might add) based on stories I’ve heard from people. Their characters and the situations have been jumbled up and boiled down by my imagination over a few years into what appears in the novels and novellas. The brothers got their surname from the manhole covers. A few years ago, I found out that the DJ duo Stanton Warriors did exactly the same thing.

Because of the slapdash way I write, which is to come up with ideas and storylines long before I actually put fingers to keyboard, it means that I end up writing and publishing in no particular order. For instance, the latest book Fighting Talk is chronologically the first tale, but because of the way I write it means it has come around last. What this means is that I must think about the character narrative slightly before writing begins. However, Eric starts out a bit more sentimental and heroic in the earlier narratives, but becomes a cold-hearted bastard by the time The Glasgow Grin rears its nasty head. Derek remains a fuckwit throughout, but I doubt you’d want anybody else by your side in the event of a fight.

What are they up to in your new book, Fighting Talk?

They’re still working as debt collectors for Alan Piper in this one. Eric is sent by his boss to get to the bottom of why his favourite (think most beautiful) client has missed her last few debt payments. What Eric discovers leads the brothers into the path of a rather unpleasant dog-fighting syndicate. Although they have to break a few bones to reach that point.

What do you hope that readers take away from your books?

Honestly, I hope they get entertainment. I write readable prose, and can weave together some nice descriptions when the mood takes me, but I’m not a stylist. I’m more interested in telling a good story, one with a few twists and turns along the way. I’ll leave subtext and metaphor to those who are better equipped to use them.

What are the main positives behind self-publishing – and what are the chief drawbacks?

The positives are total artistic control. Nobody tells you what you can publish or how to publish it. The drawbacks are total artistic control – if you fuck up, it’s on you. Other drawbacks are that unless you’re very lucky then you’ll sell the total of fuck-all.

Even if you’re lucky and have a success (I had a modicum of success with The Glasgow Grin a few years ago – several thousand sales), maintaining it is incredibly difficult. Over the three years since The Glasgow Grin, I’d say I’ve lost about eighty to eighty-five percent of that audience. I haven’t published enough new content to maintain my sales figures and build on my audience. Quality control, advertising, book covers, marketing, it’s all on you. Which is why, from next year, I’m probably going to pitch new material to Indie publishers first. I just don’t have the time needed to do an adequate job of self-publishing.

Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

Both. I like a mixture of Indie and self-pubbed authors and mainstream stuff. The more exciting writers and fiction seems to be coming from the Indie side at the minute. Independents are reworking old genres and rewriting the rules. Traditional publishers seem to be wedded to police procedurals or missing ‘Girls’. Unless there’s a twist, or some brilliant writing, the police procedural might be the dullest fucking genre in crime fiction.  How many sad cops with family issues can there be? I tend to be drawn to criminal protagonists or private detectives, and the grittier end of crime fiction.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

Paul D Brazill treads a similar path to my own, though he’s a far better writer (particularly his prose, which often leaves me more than a little envious). Keith Nixon is another writer I’d consider a peer, though again with stronger writing chops. I certainly respect and admire Ryan Bracha; he emerged around the same time as I did, though his stuff tends to be more experimental and he’s not afraid of taking risks. His best stuff is great.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

Maybe James Ellroy. I dislike his right-wing politics, and his tendency to ham it up for interviewers, but his books sell in big numbers and he gets critical respect, even when it feels like he hasn’t earned it (his most recent novel Perfidia being a case in point). His best novels are some of the finest crime writing you are ever likely to read. The LA Quartet should be read by anybody with even the slightest interest in writing crime fiction. If I write anything that’s even half as good as any of the books in that series, I’ll be able to say I wrote something good. Until that day, however…

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’ve got a novelette, Get Santa, that’s been collected together with some previously released Stanton brothers’ shorts due in October; then in November or (more realistically) December I’m aiming to have another novella (currently titled Sexy Lexy) due for release.

After this I may put the brothers away for a while and finish The Amsterdamned (which is a companion novel to my first book The Gamblers). I will pitch this to Indie publishers and see what happens. If nobody bites, for any reason other than quality, I’ll self-publish in 2020. If it’s a quality issue, I’ll assess what I need to do to ensure it’s good enough to publish myself.

Bio:

Martin Stanley is the author of the Stanton brothers’ books (in reading order): 1) The Curious Case of The Missing Moolah; 2) A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum; 3) The Green-eyed Monster; 4) Bone Breakers; 5) The Hunters; and its direct sequel 6) The Glasgow Grin. He is also the author of The Gamblers, a violent crime thriller set in Bristol, and a Stanton prequel novella Fighting Talk.

Martin lives, works and socialises in London. He likes drinking craft and Belgian beers, watching classic movies and bingeing on TV shows. And he obviously loves to read (often with a pang of author envy).

Website:

www.martinstanleyauthor.com

 

Book Review: The Runner by Paul Heatley

THE RUNNER

Author: Paul Heatley

Publisher: Near To The Knuckle

Release Date: August 2018

Pitched as a prequel/companion piece to the author’s must-read 2016 book, An Eye For An Eye, this brisk, aggressive novella centres on Davey Hoy, a ruthless mid-level dealer who works for Newcastle’s notorious Doyle Family. Hoy’s already short fuse ignites when a bag of his ill-gotten gains is ripped off by Cathy, the girlfriend of his callow associate, Jackson Stobbart. Forced into action, the hapless Jackson sets out to retrieve the loot before Davey realises it is missing – setting in motion a memorably bloody chain of events.

The muscle-bound Davey Hoy is a fantastic antagonist, and his competitive streak and obscure motivations are an early sign that his knife-edge behaviour will spiral out of control as the book unfolds. Like An Eye For An Eye before it, The Runner has a chase dynamic, but the location and characters are entirely different, as the narrative swerves into the small coastal town of Amble. There are some neat call-backs to Heatley’s previous book, and I really hope to see the mythology surrounding the Doyle clan fleshed out further in future instalments.

The Runner is hardcore, dog-eat-dog Geordie noir. I look forward to the next book in the series, Violent By Design, in September!

Review by Tom Leins

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