In the first instalment of a brand new series, Dirty Books curator Tom Leins talks you through some of the tracks that influenced his new book, Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (Near To The Knuckle).
Drum & bass is about as an unlikely influence on crime fiction as you can get, but it most definitely influenced the title story of my new collection. I first encountered ‘Meat Bubbles’ by Dirty Harry on a second-hand D&B compilation, and knew I had to repurpose that wonderfully grisly title for my own malevolent purposes. After all, how queasy must a black-market surgical procedure be for it to cause meat bubbles?! For what it’s worth, drum & bass is actually pretty good writing music: brutal breakbeats, stomach-churning bass, and a sprinkling of paranoia. Go ahead, punk – give it a try…
In early-2017 I had a story – Incarcerated Scarfaces – published in This Book Ain’t Nuttin to Fuck With: A Wu-Tang Tribute Anthology. It was crammed with so many Wu-Tang Clan references it probably warranted footnotes! Pinky Ring takes its name from the 2001 single ‘Uzi (Pinky Ring)’, which was included on the Iron Flag album. The Wu-Tang references here are far more subtle – just the title and a reference to garbage bags full of hash. (Note: the killer sample is from ‘Parade Strut’ by JJ Johnson, which was featured on the soundtrack of Blaxploitation movie Willie Dynamite!)
Hip-hop is a huge influence on my crime fiction. I love densely packed imagery-rich lyrics, and like to build up stories one line at a time, shuffling the text around until the whole package starts to flow. I don’t plan my stories in notebooks – I scrawl them on scraps of paper like Eminem in 8 Mile! Walking around Paignton on my lunch break, listening to the likes of the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas and Notorious BIG, while soaking up the sights is a potent combo. Seeing drug dogs sent into sheltered accommodation, or men stumbling down Foxhole Road with bloody lump hammers in the middle of the day are striking images. Witness these things with Ghostface Killah rapping in your ear, and you know you are going to have a good writing session that evening!
THE GUNS OF BRIXHAM
I’m sure most writers have a dreaded first book attempt stashed away on their hard-drive – so lamentable that they can’t even bear to open the document any more to check how bad it was. Mine was called Thirsty & Miserable, and while most of the content was too cringe-worthy to even consider reworking, elements of the closing story The Guns of Brixham made it into a new story of the same name, which first appeared as part of the Akashic Books’ Mondays Are Murder series a couple of years ago.
Most notably, I resurrected the location of the climactic showdown and the character of Errol – no longer a bouncer – now an ex-soldier providing muscle-for-hire for a Turkish heroin dealer. Like the Wu-Tang Clan, The Clash are another band whose imagery blew me away the first time I heard them (‘White Man In Hammersmith Palais’, in that case), and like a lot of their records ‘The Guns of Brixton’ still sounds tremendous. I’m a sucker for picking my titles first and then concocting a story to fit, and this one is a definite example!
I first encountered cult Scottish indie band AC Acoustics when Placebo singer Brian Molko wore a t-shirt promoting their great 1999 single ‘Stunt Girl’. (Apparently this was on Top of the Pops, but I have no idea!) The early AC Acoustics albums didn’t quite work for me, and my favourite record of theirs was 2000’s low-key Understanding Music, which includes this song, ‘Dry Salvage’.
It was only after finishing my story of the same name that I grew curious about the origins of the phrase, and I discovered that the band had been referencing T.S. Eliot’s poem, ‘The Dry Salvages’. My knowledge of 1940s poetry unfortunately pales next to my knowledge of turn-of-the-Millennium Scottish indie bands, but it is a great phrase which worked perfectly for a story about a decrepit storage facility that harbours all manner of dark secrets. Dry Salvage is one of the last pieces in Meat Bubbles & Other Stories, and I hope the bruised and beaten mood of the story matches the subdued qualities of the song.
SNUFF RACKET: OBLIVION
‘Snuff Racket’, the novelette that closes Meat Bubbles & Other Stories, started life as ‘Didn’t Bleed Red’, a serialised neo-Giallo story which appeared in The Blood Red Experiment. The initial title was taken from an album track by cult ‘90s Brit-rockers Terrorvision, and inspired by the murderous antagonist’s early observation that a pool of blood ‘glints like dog piss on petrol’!
The original title was downgraded to a chapter heading when I reworked the story for publication, but the Terrorvision theme remained intact, with a number of other song and album titles appearing as chapter titles, including ‘Hide The Dead Girl’, ‘Perseverance’ and ‘How To Make Friends & Influence People’, all of which seemed weirdly appropriate! Fittingly, ‘Oblivion’ crops up in the epilogue…
Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Flash Fiction Offensive, Horror Sleaze Trash and Spelk Fiction. A pair of novelettes, Skull Meat and Snuff Racket, are available via Amazon and the short story collections Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (Near To The Knuckle) and Repetition Kills You (All Due Respect), will be published in 2018. For more information, please visit: Things To Do In Devon When You’re Dead.
Are you a crime writer? Would you like to write about the musical influences on your new book? If so, drop me a line via the contact form on the About page!