Under The Influence – Jim Thompson – by Paul Heatley

Before I stared writing noir, I read it. Ellroy, Simenon, Himes.

Thompson.

The first Jim Thompson book I read was The Killer Inside Me. I remember picking it up from the Borders at Silverlink in the north east of England, and a friend I was with looked at it, the title, curled her lip and shook her head. Perhaps she thought it was a biography.

Before I reached his work, Thompson’s was a name that kept creeping up in regard to the work of other writers I’d read and admired. I was drawn as much by his life story as the reviews of his books (in much the same way I initially found myself drawn by the biographies of the likes of James Ellroy and Harry Crews). Those reviews, though – nightmarish noir populated by unlikeable characters taking the scenic route to Hell? I was there. I was front and centre. I couldn’t get at them fast enough.

The Killer Inside Me did not disappoint. Nor did The Getaway, or the pseudo-Greek tragedy of The Grifters. Then came my favourite – Savage Night. This took all of his themes, of bad people doing bad things and having bad things done to them, of being trapped within hellish dimensions of their own design, and amped them up to a surreal degree. The ending (I understand there’s a very experimentally laid-out version, but the one I read was straightforward) is quite probably the best, and certainly most memorable, he ever wrote. The image of the axe-wielding, infant-footed Ruthie practising walking on her abnormal limb is one that stays in the mind, as is the last line – ‘And he smelled good.’

Jim Thompson just didn’t give a shit. I mean, maybe he did, I wouldn’t assume to know the man – but if any shits were given they don’t show. His writing is off the wall, it’s running screaming into the abyss. As Stephen King said, ‘Thompson let himself see everything, he let himself write it down, then he let himself publish it.’

Thompson was part of the school of writers that ploughed through their work as if driven by demons, and it shows. There’s a frantic urgency, an intensity, to his plotting and his characters that sweeps you up and carries you along scrambling for purchase, charging head-on into a collision that you can see coming but can’t do anything to avoid.

This is noir. It doesn’t have to be long and it doesn’t have to be pretty, but it has to do something inside you. It has to stir feelings you’d rather remained unstirred. It has to show you how the world really is – that there isn’t always a happy ending, and things just don’t work out the way you want them to.

Jean-Luc Godard said to make a movie all you need is a gun and a girl. Thompson personified this motif in written form, then shows how far you can take these minimal props, and to what crazed, extreme lengths you can go. Sometimes he doesn’t even bother with the gun.

No other author, with the possible exception of Stephen King, has influenced my writing the way Jim Thompson has. I’ve never wanted to be the kind of writer that puts out a book once every five years or so. I want to be prolific. I want to take all these ideas in my head and get them down on paper. In many cases I want to write the kind of thing you can take in at a sitting, then hopefully sit back and think, Fuck.

My last novella, An Eye For An Eye, was shaped by the caper novels of Chester Himes. Fatboy, however, is all Thompson. It’s my ode to the uncrowned king of noir. It’s got the girl, and it’s got the gun. It’s got bad people doing bad things. It’s brief, and it’s to the point.

And the ending?

Well, I guess that all depends on your definition of the term ‘happy’.

Bio: Paul Heatley lives in the north east of England. His short stories have appeared online and in print for publications such as Thuglit, Horror Sleaze Trash, Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey, the Pink Factory, and the Flash Fiction Offensive, among others. His fiction is dark and bleak, populated with misfits and losers on a hellbound descent, often eschewing genre and geography to create a nightmarish vision of a harsh and uncaring world. His blog can be found here

 

Book Review: FatBoy by Paul Heatley

FATBOY

Author: Paul Heatley

Publisher: All Due Respect

Release Date: May 2017

After his girlfriend, Billie, leaves and takes their young son with her, hot-tempered barman Joey Hidalgo is left alone in the trailer that they formerly called home, with nothing to do but get drunk and try to figure out where it all went wrong. Convinced that the only thing he needs to win Billie over is money, Joey hatches a simple plan to get his life back on track, and get revenge against his tormentor (the eponymous FatBoy) – a morbidly obese regular customer with a penchant for racist abuse. Enlisting the help of Lynne, a skeletal hooker who hangs out at the dive bar he works at, Joey is about to find out exactly how far he is willing to go to get his family back…

Paul Heatley’s grim, gripping An Eye For An Eye (Near To The Knuckle) was one of my favourite books of last year. It blended raw violence and visceral thrills to terrific effect, and is well worth seeking out. Heatley’s hot streak continues with FatBoy, a US-set noir that matches its predecessor blow for bloody blow. The plot may sound deceptively simple, but – in tried and trusted noir style – Joey’s scam spirals dangerously out of control and plunges him into a grisly, hellish nightmare.

Boasting great characterisation and pitch-perfect prose, FatBoy is a well-judged excursion into classic noir territory. Another excellent crime novella from the All Due Respect production line.

Reviewed by Tom Leins

Cage Fight! Adam Howe and Tom Leins go hair-to-hair…

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it is time for the feature that you have all been waiting for: Cage Fight!

To celebrate the release of Adam Howe’s excellent new novel Tijuana Donkey Showdown – which features an eye-popping cameo from Nicolas Cage – I invited Adam back to my blog to go head-to-head (well, hair-to-hair, really) in a no holds barred Cage-off.

We each selected five Nicolas Cage hairstyles – plus one audacious bonus hairstyle – to do battle.

The guest referee charged with prising the ragged hairpieces apart was Jordan Brown, a man who served alongside me in the DVD Monthly trenches, back when working in print media and being Nicolas Cage were both legitimate career options.

Grab a bowl of popcorn, sit back in your favourite easy chair, and enjoy some of the strangest hairstyles ever committed to film. Let battle commence.

(Adam disclaimer: For the purposes of Cage Fight, I chose to concentrate on ‘Wig-era’ Nicolas Cage. Tom opted to fight dirty. And greasy.)

ROUND 1.

ADAM HOWE:

NAME: Stanley Goodspeed

MOVIE: THE ROCK

BEST LINE: “You broke out, let me see if I can get this straight, down the incinerator chute, on the mine car, through the tunnels to the power plant, under the steam engine – that was really cool by the way – and into the cistern through the intake pipe. But how, in the name of Zeus’ BUTTHOLE! … did you get out of your cell?”

As FBI chemical weapons specialist, and self-proclaimed Beatlemaniac, Stanley Goodspeed (“But of courshe you are”), Cage’s ROCK hairpiece is, by Cage’s standards, relatively restrained; a sweaty forelock during action scenes is about as Cage-esque as it gets.  At the time of THE ROCK, Cage was an untested action hero.  Despite winning the Best Actor Oscar for LEAVING LAS VEGAS, he still lacked the star power to make outrageous hairpiece demands.  But I remain convinced that, left to his own devices, Cage would have chosen a Beatle mop-top for the character:

 

Of course, it’s quite possible that Cage’s ROCK co-star, fellow wig wearer Sir Sean Connery, who sports (count ‘em) TWO toupees in the picture – “grunge” and “regulation British military” – fearing he would be upstaged, had it written into his contract that Cage be adorned with a modest hairpiece… Nicolash, with the greatesht reshpect, ash one Oschar winner to another, I musht inshist that Shtanley Goodshpeed wearsh a conshervative hairpieshe.

Connery’s influence on Cage’s future hairpieces cannot be understated.  I like to imagine the two actors kicking back on the set, mocking Michael Bay and swapping toupee tips between scenes.  Rumor has it the gruff Scot even gave Cage the number of his personal stylist, ‘Wig Maker to the Stars’ Arturo Sasso.  After working with Connery, Cage’s hairpieces would become increasingly flamboyant.

TOM LEINS:

NAME: Cris Johnson

MOVIE: NEXT

BEST LINE: “I’ve seen every possible ending. None of them are good for you.”

Nicolas Cage’s idea of cool is never queasier than in NEXT, the 2007 thriller very loosely based on ‘The Golden Man’ by Philip K. Dick. Cage stars as Cris Johnson, a Las Vegas magician with clairvoyant powers who performs under the name ‘Frank Cadillac’. Next was released a year after the enjoyably mind-bending Dick adaptation A SCANNER DARKLY.

Suffice to say, the most mind-bending thing about this film is Cage’s hair. Receding but voluminous, short yet long, restrained yet unpredictable. It feels like Cage’s hairstylist got disillusioned halfway through working on him and left the job weirdly unfinished.

The hypnotic hairstyle arguably upstages Cage himself – it certainly upstages the lukewarm sci-fi thriller. Paired with Cage’s omnipresent tan leather jacket, it highlights Hollywood’s favourite oddball at the peak of his stylistic powers.

JORDAN’S JUDGEMENT:

THE ROCK flirted with absurdity at the best of times. Between Goodspeed’s frankly cavalier handling of the arse-clenchingly deadly chemical from the halfway mark and the aforementioned dialogue, things were clearly reined in on the hairpiece front. Allowing himself to be outdone by his co-star, Cage’s pedestrian do is as much of a surprise as Michael Bay knocking out this superb actioner.

NEXT, on the other hand, is not a superb actioner. As somehow Nic’s baffling bouffant is arguably the most interesting element in this loose Philip K. Dick adaptation, it frankly trounces its humdrum opposition. Sporting a thick, long bob that starts halfway over his head, this unashamedly daring look adequately reflects the Cagemeister’s approach to his career choices around the time. Cage does whatever the hell Cage wants – both on screen and scalp.

Adam 0 – Tom 1

 ROUND 2.

ADAM HOWE:

NAME: Cameron Poe

MOVIE: CON AIR

BEST LINE: “Why couldn’t you put the bunny back in the box?”

Cage’s CON AIR ‘do, and the actor himself, appear in TIJUANA DONKEY SHOWDOWN, so it’s only fitting to include Cameron Poe’s gnarly mullet in my list.

During Cage’s mid-90s run of action pictures (The Holy Trinity: THE ROCK, CON AIR, and FACE/OFF), such was Cage’s star power that he was permitted to sport arguably the greatest hairpiece ever committed to celluloid.  And you just know that this rug was Cage’s idea.  I suspect the actor was overcompensating after being denied his Beatlemaniac mop-top in THE ROCK.

To be a fly on the wall of the CON AIR production office!  When Cage arrived bedecked as Cameron Poe, tossed the tails of his mullet upon his shoulders and proclaimed to a stunned Jerry Bruckheimer that the wig was “true to his character.”

And talk about throwing down the gauntlet to the other actors.  After seeing Cage’s hairpiece, you think Malkovich, Rhames, Buscemi, et al, didn’t bring their A-game?  Damn right they did.  What a power play by Cage!

‘The Poe,’ as the style has become commonly known, remains a perennial favorite in barbershops across the US South.  It is especially popular with strip club bouncers.

TOM LEINS:

NAME: Johnny Collins

MOVIE: ZANDALEE

BEST LINE: “I wanna shake you naked and eat you alive…”

ZANDALEE is unusual insofar as it is one of the few Cage films that can legitimately be described as an erotic thriller. The early 90s yielded dozens of eye-catching erotic thrillers of various shapes and sizes – this is the one you have never heard off. Title character Zandalee – not Cage unfortunately, although his Southern-fried gigolo aesthetic makes you wish it was his name – ditches her dull boyfriend Thierry (Judge Reinhold, coasting on a post-BEVERLY HILLS COP II high) and enters a tempestuous world of softcore super-sex after hooking up with her charismatic old friend Johnny (Cage). Set against a smouldering New Orleans backdrop, Cage’s greasy locks ooze sex appeal – or something altogether less pleasant – throughout. While Cage’s wet-look vibe arguably represents a low in most situations, it represents a delirious high in this one.

Zandalee is mysteriously unavailable on DVD in the UK, but a cursory glance at Amazon revealed that you can get a cut-price Dutch import ‘Dubbelpack’ which pairs the movie with TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Presumably someone was drunk the day that pairing got signed off. Either that, or Dutch people find grease-soaked Nicolas Cage sex scenes weird and unsettling? Who truly knows…

(Note: Personally, I prefer to classify every Nicolas Cage movie as an erotic thriller, except maybe 8MM. That would just be weird.)

JORDAN’S JUDGEMENT:

Sure, there’s an argument to be made for Cage’s greasy Guy Fawkes look. However, in an attempt to add to ZANDALEE’S sex appeal, they went and applied this do to the one thing in the film that was already maxxed out in that regard – Cage’s folicles. The effort is impressive but is utterly dwarfed by the stylistic behemoth that is ‘The Poe’. No discussion really required on this one. Just a glimpse at Cage basking in the blistering Lerner Airfield sun with his locks blowing in the wind and it is game over for this round.

 Adam 1 – Tom 1

ROUND 3.

ADAM HOWE:

NAME: Fu Manchu

MOVIE: WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE S.S.

BEST LINE: “Ah-haHAhaHAha, ah-haHAahAHAha, ah-haHAhaHAha!!”

Such is the gusto Cage brings to his cameo in this faux movie trailer (for the ill-fated Tarantino/Rodriguez double-bill GRINDHOUSE) that it would be almost tempting to see a feature film version.

Except: Rob Zombie.

So let’s just enjoy what we have, and imagine how many movies could be improved with these simple words: “And Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu.”

TOM LEINS:

NAME: Herbert I. “Hi” McDunnough

MOVIE: RAISING ARIZONA

BEST LINE: “He explained to us that Edwina’s insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.”

As legend has it, Nic Cage offered constant suggestions to the Coen Brothers on the set of RAISING ARIZONA, all of which they ignored. The on-set tension prompted the leading man to grumble: “Joel and Ethan have a very strong vision and I’ve learned how difficult it is to accept another artist’s vision.” He may have been given short shrift in the creative department, but Cage is his own man in the hair stakes, and RAISING ARIZONA boasts one of my favourite Cage haircuts of the pre-hairpiece era.

It’s a wacky, freewheeling film, and HI’s hair is up to the task, sprouting crazily in several directions at once. The wilder the baby-stealing caper gets, the wilder Cage’s hair appears. Frankly, it is a joy to behold. Little did Cage know, he was living on borrowed time, and his luscious locks would soon be retreating forlornly, leaving him staring into the Hollywood hairpiece abyss.  Cage’s hair remains unpredictable, but for entirely different reasons.

JORDAN’S JUDGEMENT:

Awarding the victory to Cage’s Fu Manchu would seem an obvious choice were his appearance not delivered for comic effect. Quite simply, though hypnotic to look at, Cage’s Fu Manchu tries too hard. It might have squeaked a victory against say Castor Troy or Memphis Raines, but up against Hi McDunnough, it’s up against a do with almost as much acting chops as the head upon which it’s perched.

Adam 1 – Tom 2

ROUND 4:

ADAM HOWE:

NAME: Cage-san (is my best guess [Tom note: Gallain, according to IMDB!)

MOVIE: OUTCAST

BEST LINE: “Hhhiiiiiyyyaaaaa!”

OUTCAST failed to receive a wide UK release – quite inexplicably – so this is one that, to my shame, I’ve yet to see.   I don’t now if it’s “white man gone native” revisionist history along the lines of THE LAST SAMURAI, DANCES WITH WOLVES, and, uh, AVATAR, or if Cage is playing an actual, honest-to-god Samurai.  I sincerely hope it’s the latter.  Clad in flowing black robes, with a Toshiro Mifune man-bun, and apparently channeling John Belushi in Samurai Delicatessen, Cage makes a persuasive argument for “cultural appropriation.”

TOM LEINS:

Name: Eddie King

MOVIE: ARSENAL (aka SOUTHERN FURY)

BEST LINE: “Oh, you think we’re even, you and I? I know of way we can both earn what we deserve.” (I think – Cage’s drawl makes it difficult to tell.)

It stands to reason – the cheaper a film’s budget, the cheaper its hairpiece budget. Cage’s gusto is generally undimmed by the lowered expectations of his late-period material – something that deserves our respect. In ARSENAL (aka SOUTHERN FURY) he finds a ludicrous, larger-than-life hairpiece to match his knack for B-movie quirkiness.

Cage’s hairpieces usually veer on the side of wispy plausibility, but this one is defiantly unrealistic. How sweaty must his head have been under that synthetic monstrosity? Chuck in a hideous fake moustache – which literally looks like it has been scraped out of a barrel – and you have a genuinely distracting Cage appearance.

Weirdly, it has been suggested that Cage’s Eddie King character is actually the same character who appeared in 1993’s critically mauled DEADFALL. The idea that Cage is actively pursuing follow-up projects to some of his worst movies – based solely on hairpiece potential – fills me with a queasy, uneasy kind of joy. What a man. What a career.

JORDAN’S JUDGEMENT:

ARSENAL’S audacious ‘tache-hairpiece combo renders Cage as the lovechild of Ned Flanders and Anton Chigurh. Looking like it was fished out of a mannequin factory’s wheelie bin, this polyester audacity is enough to leave even the most ardent Cage aficionado scraping their jaw off the floor. Even in still images, this monstrosity looks utterly independent of Nicolas’ bonce.

Top-knots are rarely acceptable. In fact, pretty much the only instance in which they are allowed is when wielded by a samurai or shogun. Cage’s piece in OUTCAST is therefore permissible as it so strictly adheres to historical accuracy (as I’m sure the rest of the film does). Not only that, this one’s got a bit of ‘The Poe’ about it, which is always going to garner some kudos. Overall it’s hardly a classic design but, up against a toupe that looks like it was made by Vileda, it snags the victory.

Adam 2 – Tom 2

ROUND 5.

ADAM HOWE:

NAME: David Spritz (ugh!)

MOVIE: THE WEATHERMAN

BEST LINE: “It’s my real hair.”

Another one I haven’t seen… But can you blame me?  Look at that thing!  About his hairpieces, Cage has been quoted as saying: “Sometimes people think I’m wearing a wig when I’m not wearing a wig, and then sometimes they think I’m not wearing a wig when I am wearing a wig.”  Well, this monstrosity isn’t fooling anyone.  Chestnut brown, with an age-inappropriate boyish floppy fringe; it’s a style that says Just-Plain-Nic.  If this guy was your weatherman, you’d kick a hole in your TV.  For my money, this is even more outrageous than Cage’s CON AIR ‘do, and it is no coincidence that Cage’s star began to wane after THE WEATHERMAN.

TOM LEINS:

Name: Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman.

MOVIE: Adaptation

BEST LINE: “Do I have an original thought in my head? My bald head. Maybe if I were happier, my hair wouldn’t be falling out. Life is short. I need to make the most of it. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I’m a walking cliché.”

ADAPTATION offers a glorious two-for-one, with Nicolas Cage playing celebrated screenwriter Charlie Kaufman – and his fictitious twin brother Donald. Granted, both hairstyles are exactly the same, but when Cage is rocking a receding afro – twice – you know you have hit fake-hair pay-dirt. Nothing says self-loathing, sexually frustrated writer like a receding afro, and Cage wears the hairpiece with gusto. Frankly, the Kaufman wig is so strange that it appears hypnotic.

Reassuringly, Cage is also said to be wearing a fat-suit under his sweater-and-slacks combo. This isn’t an obese Eddie Murphy-style fat-suit, this is a plausible, slim-line fat-suit. People often joke that Cage has hit rock bottom, but I would beg to differ. As soon as he starts reaching for the proper BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE-style fat suits, that will be rock bottom. Who knows, if the lure of the straight-to-DVD thriller starts to wear thin, maybe one day we might be compiling tongue-in-cheek features comparing Cage’s finest fat suits…

 JORDAN’S JUDGEMENT:

Adam’s right on the money here. Each shot of this film looks like he’s thinking “Are they buying it?” No, Nic. Nobody’s cashing that cheque. Utter. Wispy. Rubbish.

While Cage proudly sported follicular mayhem in Next, here he’s looking deeply uncomfortable trying to conform to societal standards of hair dos. Gore Verbinski should be ashamed of himself for trying to ram a square peg in a round hole. Like Mark Wahlberg’s character in THE OTHER GUYS, Cage is a hairpiece peacock – you’ve gotta let him fly. It genuinely saddens me to see this great man looking like a melancholy terrier chained outside in the rain.

Obviously then, the anarchy atop his noggin in ADAPTATION bulldozes over the competition. Smacking of Thurman Merman’s superbly curly locks in BAD SANTA, this receding, balding ‘fro is where Cage is in his element and, as Tom says, we get it twice thanks to him playing both Charlie Kaufmann and his made-up sibling. This bold look allowed Cage to chew through scenery as two characters. He looks comfortable, animated and…well…Cage-esque. It’s an easy win.

Adam 2 – Tom 3

BONUS ROUND.

ADAM HOWE:

NAME: Stanley Hill

MOVIE: I AM WRATH

BEST LINE: “All I wanted in the world was to be a Catholic priest…”

Cage was once attached to star in revenge-thriller I AM WRATH, later to be replaced by syrup-sporting Scientologist, and Cage’s FACE/OFF co-star, John Travolta.  I admit to a ghoulish fascination in watching fallen A-list stars flounder in Direct-to-Video dog-shit like I AM WRATH.  In fact, it’s become something of an endurance sport.  Usually I last no more than 15 minutes before changing the channel.  But Travolta’s WRATH rug held me rapt throughout.  I can only assume that this was the hairpiece assigned to Cage, and Travolta simply took the toupee along with the role; how else to explain the poor fit?  I was pleasantly reminded of the character Joe Pesci played in Oliver Stone’s JFK, Kennedy conspirator and alopecia sufferer, David Ferrie.  For the hairpiece alone, I heartily endorse I AM WRATH to bad movie enthusiasts.

TOM LEINS:

NAME: Superman

MOVIE: SUPERMAN LIVES

BEST LINE: N/A

In a nutshell: Superman-as-rock-star!

SUPERMAN LIVES, Tim Burton’s intended reboot of the Superman film series was cancelled only three weeks before filming was set to begin in April 1998, with Nic Cage in the lead role. In many ways it is easy to guess how a Tim Burton Superman movie would have panned out:  Helena Bonham-Carter as Lois Lane, Johnny Depp as Lex Luthor, kookiness dialed up to 11. Cage – and his high-impact post-CON-AIR flowing locks would have given the film an edge of genuine unpredictability.

I would have especially loved to have seen long-haired Superman in Clark Kent mode. Cage’s Superman is not a man who would gladly hold down a low-paying media job in order to blend in with society. Cage makes headlines – he doesn’t write them. Sadly, Cage never got to slip into the Man of Steel’s trunks, and the men who did – Brandon Routh and Henry Cavill – probably couldn’t pick one another out of a line-up. If we can have a world-weary Batman, I’m sure we can have a world-weary Superman – preferably one with tax problems and long, synthetic hair.

JORDAN’S JUDGEMENT:

I’m a massive fan of Superman and here, I’d love to heartily award the spoils of victory to Superman Lives. However, Cage’s Kal-El is a whole new flavor of wrong. While Tim Burton’s styleset was ideally suited to the Caped Crusader, Superman remains too iconic to mess with like this. Where Batman benefitted (well, mostly benefitted) from many different interpretations, Superman has barely changed since he first graced the cover of Action Comics. While it would be impossible to look away from a Cagey portrayal of Krypton’s last son, Supes needs to be Supes – and the requirements are too restrictive for a man of his acting calibre. Cage is at his best when unhinged – which is why everybody loves the Ghost Rider movies so much.

While it would have been interesting to see SUPERMAN LIVES, the hair just isn’t on. While Clark Kent has sported his fair share of styles in the comics, on screen it needs to be a side parting and, if you’re sticking to the Reeve series, a forehead curl. Maybe the style could have worked alone, but paired with Cage, it’s just too much.

As a result, I can’t award it heartily, I have to do so grudgingly as it wins simply by virtue of not being a hand-me-down for John Travolta. Adam’s entry into the bonus round is disqualified due to instilling a longing for that very hair to be on the head of Nicolas Cage.

 FINAL SCORECARD:

 Adam 2 – Tom 4

 

 

Book Review: Tijuana Donkey Showdown by Adam Howe

TIJUANA DONKEY SHOWDOWN

Author: Adam Howe

Publisher: Comet Press

Release Date: December 2016

Adam Howe has been probing the dark recesses of Americana with his sweaty British fingers for some time now, and he earned plaudits last year with his grisly triple-threat novella collection Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet. The wonderfully titled Tijuana Donkey Showdown plucks hapless hick hard-man Reggie Levine out of the previous book’s opening story, Damn Dirty Apes, and plunges him into a similarly reckless adventure.

Recruited by a down-at-heel used car salesman to retrieve a Chinese crested terrier from a fleapit roadside zoo – where the spectacularly ugly dog has been improbably mistaken for the Chupacabra – punch-drunk ex-boxer Reggie soon finds himself embroiled in a deadly criminal conspiracy involving sadistic neo-Nazi drug smugglers and a freakishly endowed adult entertainment donkey named Enrique. Unable to extricate himself from his increasingly sticky predicament, reluctant hero Reggie has no choice but to see his bizarre mission through to its explosive conclusion.

Of the three stories that made up Die Dog, Levine’s adventure was arguably the one crying out for a sequel, and this is a bigger, ballsier follow-up. Funnier and nastier than its predecessor, in Tijuana Donkey Showdown, Howe spoon-feeds you unsavoury content and then cranks up the ‘80s action movie theatrics to disorientate you. If you like your crime fiction laced with twisted humour, surreal violence and animalistic urges, then Howe’s work is definitely worth investigating further.

Great title. Great cover. Great story. (And a great cameo from Nicolas Cage!)

Reviewed by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Benedict J. Jones

Benedict J. Jones has carved a reputation as one of the most compelling British crime writers to emerge in recent years. Tom Leins caught up with him to discuss his new Charlie Bars thriller, The Devil’s Brew.

Firstly, for readers unfamiliar with your Charlie Bars series, can you tell us a little bit about his back story, and how he ends up in Northumberland at the outset of this book?

Charlie “Bars” Constantinou is an ex-con with three-strikes to his name. At the end of a stretch that saw him spend his thirtieth birthday inside he decided to give the straight life a go. His love of painting, that he picked up inside, didn’t get him too far and after looking into attacks on a pair of drug dealers for their boss (“Real Estate”) he found himself working in his uncle’s kebab shop for minimum wage. From there he got himself working as the leg-man for private investigator Mazza Toshak in a kidnapping case, which featured in the novella “Skewered”.

After that the two of them formed a partnership of sorts that saw Charlie investigating a blackmail case (“Dirty Pictures”) and a lost book, bound in human skin (“The Book of Skin”).

A case involving a missing call-girl took on a darker bent and saw the two knocking heads with a deranged killer using the city as his playground (“Pennies for Charon”). “The Devil’s Brew” starts with Charlie struggling to deal with the fallout, both mental and physical, of the cases he has thus far been involved in. “Pennies for Charon” saw him pushing the limits of what he was capable of and that has to have an effect on him.

After a string of stories set in London, were you nervous about extracting Charlie from his natural habitat for The Devil’s Brew?

Very. I’d always thought of London as one of the main characters in its own right in the earlier stories and have always wondered how well Charlie could work away from his usual backdrop. That said I was also intrigued by the idea of throwing him into an environment that was somewhat alien to a city-boy like him and seeing how he would deal with the challenges. That said I have written outside London before – not least with my Westerns, but this was really about splitting Charlie from his city.

Do you see Charlie Bars as your signature character, or does he have a use-by date? Some crime writers are keen to tell a character’s story within a trilogy, others like to chart the character’s evolution over time…

He’s definitely a signature character of sorts and is also the one who has stuck with me the most. If he stopped “talking” to me then the stories would dry up but he shows no signs of stopping yet.

Right from the off I wanted Charlie to be a character who evolves. The things that he experiences have to colour how he moves forward. I don’t think that I would be staying true to the character if I didn’t do that. The things he sees affect him and through that they change his character – I’d like to think he is already different from the ex-con we first saw in the short story “Real Estate”.

I don’t really have a set plan for his story arc in terms of anything definite but there are a few places I want to take him. I’d like to think we will just keep going and see where the story takes us.

Speaking of series characters, who are your favourites to read?

I’ve been a big fan of the Bernie Gunther books (Phillip Kerr) since the initial Berlin Noir trilogy, the Charlie Parker (John Connolly) books, and the Jack Taylor (Ken Bruen) series. I also really enjoyed the “Shardlake” series by CJ Sansom for a complete step back in time. There’s probably a few others that I have forgotten, and I do wish Gary McMahon would give us a few more Thomas Usher books.

The Devil’s Brew is a defiantly British story – who are your favourite British writers – crime or otherwise? How have they influenced your own writing?

One of the big influences on the development of Charlie Bars were the “Cal Innes” cycle from Ray Banks. They’re a quartet of four really gritty UK private eye novels, partially set in Manchester, and as well as those Ray’s other work is well worth checking out. Ken Bruen’s “R&B” series were likewise very formative being set around south east London and helped in making me believe that it would make for a decent backdrop.

A lot of my influences also come from the horror genre, people like; Adam Nevill, Gary McMahon, Gary Fry. They all have a dark quality to their work that I like to try and inject into my own.

I’m a big fan of Graham Greene and the ambiguous morality that he shows through his characters. I’m currently rereading a lot of his stuff at the moment. I think he shows that the main character doesn’t have to be a “hero”, in fact no one does, and that can be quite important when attempting to ground your work in realism.

In addition I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention David Peace; his Red Riding Quartet was hugely influential to me in regarding the “secret history” that can lurk beneath the surface. If people haven’t read those I would urge them to dig them out.

In terms of contemporary fiction, the British private eye character still feels underexplored compared to its American equivalent. Do you have any homegrown influences or recommendations? 

There’s a few people doing it well but it does seem like the UK market, outside the small presses, is more dominated by the police procedural and the like. I do think that is perhaps because the PI as an archetype is more of an American concept – even Sherlock Holmes is a consulting detective rather than a private one.

As I mentioned before Ray Banks was quite formative. Victor Headley and his Yardie books made me see that you could do nasty low-key British crime fiction that didn’t need to be a parody of times past. I like the humour in Paul Brazill’s stuff and the bleakness in Gareth Spark’s work. There’s a tonne of really good small press stuff out there at the moment.

Outside of crime fiction, I know that you have dipped into other genres, such as westerns and horror. The Devil’s Brew seemed to channel this: Charlie fulfils the role of the brooding, troubled outsider figure often seen in westerns, and the Thirlwell Family’s dark arts drive the story into unashamed horror territory. Was this deliberate? Is genre fluidity a benefit when writing crime fiction?

Oh, yes. I love blending genres and crossing over into others. I’ve often thought the most effective way of subverting genre tropes and the like is if the reader doesn’t know what they’re reading. But in today’s world where books are pigeon holed into genres that can be difficult. If you are reading a “horror” book you are expecting the supernatural and the like and I really feel that can lessen the impact.

For me there has always been the idea of lifting things from one genre and placing them in others. Although I don’t think that I am in anyway unique in this. Especially with regards to using Western motifs in Crime fiction (and vice-versa). It’s something you see quite a lot – I’m a big fan of trying to identify non-Western Westerns, a good example of that is the film Copland which really pushes that idea of using tropes from one genre within another,

How much research went into the ritualistic aspect of the Thirlwell Family’s behaviour?

I wanted to try and get their psychological make-up right. They’re a pretty damaged bunch of people, and with a family history like theirs there doesn’t seem to be much hope that that will ever change.

The costumes they wear were influenced by a few different things; mummer plays, the Morris, and a large dose of my own imaginings. In terms of their “remembering” I think that was more coloured by general ideas about past lives but also the reincarnation/genetic memory stories by people like R E Howard and Henry S Whitehead which people don’t seem to write as much today as they once did.

Quite a bit of research was need in regards to the dog fighting which features in parts of the book as that was a world I knew little about – some reading and a couple of documentaries put me straight in that regard. I can’t say that it was easy reading, or watching, but I’m not one to turn away – this stuff happens in the real world and if I was going to put it in then I wanted it to be right.

Violence is clearly a way of life for Charlie, and there are a lot of gratuitous scenes in The Devil’s Brew. How did your amp yourself up to write those sustained rampage scenes at the end of the book, and maintain the aggressive tempo?

Violence does seem to follow Charlie, doesn’t it, and no matter how much he rails against it he is awfully good at it when he has to be. That in itself opens up some interesting questions about Charlie and his use of violence, and also just how reliable he really is when telling us his thoughts.

In part being able to unleash violence was what the book was about; The Devil’s Brew inside of us that we can tap into as and when we need it. I suppose I try to channel that when writing. “Straw Dogs” was a big influence on certain scenes in “The Devil’s Brew” and ever since my first watch of that one thing really stuck with me – if you ever drive a thinking man to violence you had better be prepared to be on the receiving end of a man who has thought and considered what he is going to do. In a way I think that sums up a writer and what he should be doing if he is going to try and show violence, especially realistic ultraviolence, on the page.

One of the most difficult parts I find is after the frenetic action to try and show the kind of damage caused. I really try to shy away from people being, say, clubbed unconscious and just having a lump on their head for a couple of days. I’d like to think that I try and show the effects that violence of this kind can have on people and the lasting damage that it causes.

Finally, what is next on your agenda? Can we expect any more Charlie Bars stories in the near-future?

As ever I seem to have a lot on the go at the moment. I’m trying to finish off a couple of longer horror projects as well as quite a few shorts that are in various degrees of completion.

In regards to Charlie I am redrafting a follow up to “The Devil’s Brew” as well as beating a few more short stories into shape so hopefully it won’t be too long before he returns.

 

Book Review: The Devil’s Brew by Benedict J. Jones

THE DEVIL’S BREW

Author: Benedict J. Jones

Publisher: Crime Wave Press

Release Date: November 2016

The Devil’s Brew, Benedict J. Jones’ follow-up to Pennies for Charon, sees ex-con-turned-private investigator Charlie ‘Bars’ Constantinou retreat to the Northumbrian countryside in an effort to put some space between him and London – where so much bad blood has already been spilled. Befitting a man with his chequered past, Charlie finds himself plunged headlong into the affairs of a local family, whose horses are being mutilated by unknown assailants. Little does he realise, the culprits are the Thirlwells, a rural clan to whom savagery is a way of life. With personal redemption on his mind, Charlie wades into the dispute, and ends up embroiled in a vicious game of wits with a deadly set of opponents…

The Devil’s Brew is a well-judged, self-assured follow-up, which simultaneously consolidates Charlie Bars’ credentials and demonstrates that the character can function away from his usual South London stomping ground.  The British private eye novel is a notoriously awkward beast, and while The Devil’s Brew doesn’t follow a typical PI narrative, it drops Charlie into an unpleasantly gripping situation without missing a beat. To Jones’ credit, Charlie Bars already feels like character who can be readily redeployed in leftfield scenarios, not one that will be hamstrung by well-worn genre tropes.

Get Carter, Straw Dogs and The Wicker Man have all been – accurately – cited as influences on The Devil’s Brew, while other, more recent, cinematic touchstones that come to mind include the likes of Dead Man’s Shoes (rustic vengeance) and Eden Lake (feral youth). The violent, extended climax is nerve shreddingly accomplished, and the book left me sweaty-palmed as the central conflict spiralled out of control. Tense, atmospheric and aggressively compelling, The Devil’s Brew is a top-drawer slab of contemporary Brit-crime.

Reviewed by Tom Leins

Under The Influence – Tony Hancock – by Paul D Brazill

They say that all small boys are influenced by their big brother’s music collection, and while that may well be true of me, I was also influenced by my family’s taste.  Luckily I grew up in a time when television and radio weren’t as youth focused as they are now and I could enjoy the same shows as my parents and siblings. Will Hay, Ealing Comedies and, of course, Tony Hancock. During the miners’ strikes in the ‘70s there were power cuts. Which meant no telly. Reading comics by candle light and listening to an old transistor radio. Radio 2, usually, since my parents were of that age group. The Navy Lark, Round The Horne and, of course, Hancock.

Tony Hancock – the easiest comedian for charades – and I share the same birthday, May 12th. Whether or not we share the same death day remains to be seen, of course, and let’s just hope we can put that little fact-finding mission on hold for a while, eh?

One of the UK’s major television and radio stars throughout the 1950s and early ‘60s, British actor and comedian Tony Hancock killed himself on 25 June 1968. He overdosed on booze and pills and left a suicide note that said:

‘Things just seemed to go too wrong too many times’

Indeed, Hancock’s eponymous character on radio, on television, and in film, regularly tried his hand at countless activities and endeavours that invariably failed.

One episode – The Bedsitter – teeters dangerously on the precipice of bleak existentialism. The Bedsitter is a one-room set, one-man-show, where Hancock endlessly flips through a Bertrand Russell tome trying to find meaning in life, but fails, of course.

In the most famous episode of his radio- and later television- show The Blood Donor,  ‘the lad himself’  proudly donates a pint of his particularly rare blood only to end the episode by cutting himself so badly on a breadknife that he needs a transfusion of his own blood. The radio broadcast was a resounding success but recording of the television version of The Blood Donor proved to be problematic as Hancock had recently been involved in a car accident and suffered from concussion so that he had to read his lines from autocue.

After the American failure of his film debut The Rebel, Hancock broke with his long time writing team of Galton and Simpson, who were responsible for most of the great writing in Hancock’s shows, as well as ditching his long-term agent, the splendidly named Beryl Vertue. This pretty much led to his career decline.

Disappointment was always breathing at the back of Hancock’s neck, it seemed.

Hancock, and other character actors, are regularly in my mind when I’m creating characters. Quigley, the hit man in my yarn The Bucket List, was partly inspired by the image of Tony Hancock stalking the streets with a gun.

Hancock could be said to be the perfect noir comedian, in fact. I’ve said before that crime fiction is about bringing order to chaos and noir is about bringing chaos to order, and Tony Hancock’s comedy is pure noir. A natural loser. When I started writing I wanted to write small odd stories about small odd people.

And so was ‘the lad himself’, unfortunately.

Like his fictional incarnation, he was prone to introspection, a concoction of egotism and self-doubt which he bared when he was interviewed in the BBCs Face To Face programme in the early 1960s.

Spike Milligan said of Hancock that he was a ‘Very difficult man to get on with. He used to drink excessively. You felt sorry for him. He ended up on his own. I thought, he’s got rid of everybody else, he’s going to get rid of himself and he did.’

As Hancock said: ‘Stone me, what a life!’

Bio: Paul D. Brazill‘s books include Too Many Crooks, Guns Of Brixton, A Case Of Noir, and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including three editions of The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime. His blog is here.

Book Review: Too Many Crooks by Paul D. Brazill

TOO MANY CROOKS

Author: Paul D. Brazill

Publisher: Near To The Knuckle

Release Date: January 2017

When high-class fence Leslie Hawkins meets Peter Rhatigan in a sleazy London pub, he offers her the chance to get her hands on the Totenkopfring – a legendary piece of World War Two Nazi memorabilia – which she believes she can flog on to a degenerate collector for a tidy profit. Their meeting ends in chaos, however, following a bloody altercation with a member of a biker gang – an event that sets the tone for the chaotic violence that follows.

Meanwhile over in Poland, Dr Anna Nowak finds an amnesiac Englishman half-dead in the snow, and her commitment to helping him unravel his past leads them into surprising – and similarly dangerous – territory. Eventually, the various plot strands congeal like spilled blood, and old scores are settled once and for all.

Paul D. Brazill’s Anglo-Polish caper occupies the murky middle-ground between thriller and farce. If you can imagine a Guy Ritchie film re-cast with Carry On actors, you will come close to understanding this book’s offbeat charm! Chock-full of memorable characters, and engaging set-pieces, Too Many Crooks unfolds at a frantic pace. Regular readers of Brazill’s work will lap up the wise-cracking, booze-swilling, bone-snapping story, but this novella also boasts an accessible mainstream quality that should help him tap into a wider audience.

Pay your pound, slurp the Brit-grit broth and rub up against the Slippery Pole! Great fun!

Reviewed by Tom Leins

Under The Influence – Elmore Leonard – By Tom Leins

I was 25 when I picked up my first Elmore Leonard novel. The Big Bounce.

I plucked it off the communal bookshelf at a hostel in Tulum, Mexico, during a thunderstorm. The hostel was opposite a strip club, presumably very popular with truckers because the road outside was lined with 18-wheelers. For reasons I will never truly be able to explain, the hostel manager was listening to Tina Turner’s Private Dancer, on repeat. I was giving my liver a break from drinking games for the night, and this slim, battered volume grabbed my attention. At this point in my reading life, crime novels were still something of a novelty, and The Big Bounce was like nothing I had ever read at that time. The deceptively simple plot and effortless delivery hooked me in from the get-go, and I tore through the book in a couple of sittings.

It kick-started an obsession with crime fiction that gets stronger with every passing year. I remember following up The Big Bounce with a late period Matt Scudder novel in a collapsed armchair in a Mexican border town, waiting for an early morning bus to Belize… I read a Henning Mankell novel on a dilapidated coach in Guatemala, with a local farmer eating a Styrofoam container full of fried chicken over my head, his holstered machete clattering into me every time we hit a pothole… I read The Dogs of Winter by Kem Nunn in the hammock of a bare-brick El Salvador motel, guts churning with some unspecified ailment…

All great books, but it was the Leonard one that made the biggest impression on me and my writing. I had enjoyed the movie versions of Jackie Brown and Out of Sight years earlier, but never really considered tracing those movies back to the source – an oversight I duly corrected when I returned home. From the gritty, booze-swilling Detroit stories through to the more colourful Florida-set novels and beyond I envied the casual way he gently nudged bad situations into even worse ones. I envied the way that his taciturn tough-guy protagonists were always the smartest guys in the room. I envied the way his stories were cooler than everyone else’s.

Elmore Leonard is the kind of writer that forces you to get better. There were several occasions, after finishing a Leonard book, when the sheer impressiveness of what I had just read derailed my own writing attempts for weeks. Leonard’s influence on my own writing is probably difficult to detect, but he schools me every time I pick up one of his books.

Over the last decade, since picking up The Big Bounce, I’ve read dozens of Elmore Leonard novels, and never encountered a dud. How many authors can you say that about?

PS.

One of the strangest memories I have relating to The Big Bounce happened a couple of months down the line. We rolled into Honduras on Boxing Day after spending a rum-soaked Christmas at a vegetarian commune in Guatemala. When I’m on the road for an extended period, my first reaction is usually to switch on the TV – mainly to check that it works! I switched on the TV, cracked open my can of Salva Vida, and slumped on the bed. I thought I had lost my mind, as I saw Vinnie Jones, Owen Wilson and Charlie Sheen clad in Hawaiian shirts, appearing recreate a 40-year-old book I had read for the first time a few weeks earlier! (It was years before I watched the movie in its entirety, and it was every bit as bad as the reviews made it sound. Leonard was no stranger to bad movie adaptations, but this one plumbed new depths! A topic for another blog post, if ever there was one…)

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Gary Duncan

As the editor of top-notch UK flash site Spelk, Gary Duncan has probably read more short fiction in the last few years than most people encounter in a lifetime. He steps away from the editorial hot-seat to bring us a new collection of his own flash fiction, You’re Not Supposed to Cry, which blends the surreal, the macabre and the everyday to great effect. Cheeky, playful and thoroughly British, this well-judged collection is crammed with small but perfectly formed delights. Tom Leins caught up with Gary to discuss his new book.

Firstly, congratulations on the release of your new story collection You’re Not Supposed To Cry. What draws you to flash fiction as a medium?

Thank you! Why flash? The short answer, if you’ll pardon the pun, is that I like brevity. I like short sentences and short books, so flash was always going to be a good fit for me. I’ve always been into short stories, so flash was probably a natural progression — how short can you go and still tell a story?

Time is another main reason, of course. I’m pretty busy with my day job (I edit market research reports, rewrite press releases, etc., etc.), but I still like to write something every day. I usually do it in short bursts — 20 minutes, half an hour — and that lends itself to flash. I like to get a first draft down in an hour or so, maybe 500 words, and then go back to it over the next few days, chopping it and rewriting it till I’m happy with it and ready to send it out. I like the editing side of things — more so than the actual writing in fact — so that’s another plus for flash for me. Because they’re so short, I can go through the same story over and over.

I also think you need to write to your strengths. I’m not the best plotter — I’ve done a few longer pieces but tend to get stuck after a few thousand words. All that plotting and all those narrative arcs and such … I usually end up going back to flash, my tail between my legs.

I also happen to spend a lot of time just thinking about stories and scenes and snatches of dialogue. I do come up with a lot of ideas and flash, for me, is the easiest and quickest way to get them out of my head and down on paper while they’re still fresh and before the next idea pops into my head and demands to be written. Maybe I just don’t have the patience or the stamina — I’m not sure I’d want to stick with the same story for months or years or however long it would take me to write a novel.

Where does the title come from? What kind of things are likely to make you cry? What kind of stories are likely to make you cry?

The title was suggested by Dana Keller at Vagabond Voices, my publisher. It’s from a line in one of the stories in the collection, about a bereaved dad struggling to come to terms with the loss of his child and his frustration that his counsellor is breaking down right in front of him: “The counsellor’s eyes are wet, and he thinks this is all well and good, sharing the pain and everything, but then he thinks, hang on a fucking minute, I’m the one who’s supposed to be crying, not you. Me. Not you.”

The original title was Snap. Dana came up with a few other ideas but I knew it had to be You’re Not Supposed to Cry as soon as I saw it.

What makes me cry? Nothing! I’m a no-nonsense northerner and we don’t cry. Never. Having said that, I do have a soft spot for John Steinbeck and that scene at the end of Of Mice and Men … well, that always gets me. But that’s just between the two of us …

As a writer — and indeed a reader — what makes you tick flash-wise?

That’s a tough one. With flash it’s the challenge of writing something in as few words as possible that still speaks of a bigger story. You’re trying to catch a moment, or something glimpsed — you don’t need to know the whole story, but you still need to show enough to engage the reader at some basic level. The best ones are those that need to be read again and again, the ones you find yourself thinking about the next day when you’re in the car or standing in line to pay for your shopping.

A good flash should be just the right number of words — if it’s 400 words, then 400 is what it is and it can’t be improved by adding another hundred words. It should be self-contained and complete, but always hinting at something more.

The content in your collection ranges from the mundane to the macabre. Within which genres do your own reading tastes lie?

I’ll read anything, and I’m a mess of contradictions. I’m reading Alan Bennett’s diaries at the moment, and Justin Cronin’s The Passage (all 800 pages — so much for brevity). I also like to have a short story collection on the go, and right now that’s Tom Franklin’s Poachers (which is brilliant). It’ll probably be something crimey next — I’m a huge fan of Don Winslow and James Ellroy, and I read a lot of Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Harlan Coben and David Morrell.

I also have a stable of writers I keep going back to for inspiration — Martin Amis, Raymond Carver, Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis.

Your stories are all undercut with a very British sensibility. Who are your favourite British writers? And who are your favourite short story writers?

Funny you should say that because I tend to read more Americans than Brits nowadays. Most of my early influences were British though — I remember reading the likes of Stan Barstow and Alan Sillitoe, a lot of “northern” working-class writers like that, and just “getting it” — thinking I can really relate to this, the whole “write what you know” thing. That’s probably why I’m drawn to the mundane, the everyday things. Magnus Mills does it very well, and David Gaffney too.

My favourite short story writer is Donald Ray Pollock — Knockemstiff is my favourite book (short stories or otherwise). But there are so many others — Raymond Carver, Michel Faber, Annie Proulx, Helen Simpson, Jonathan Ames, A.L. Kennedy, Charles Bukowski.

Turning our attentions towards Spelk, the flash site you have edited since 2014. What prompted you to set up Spelk, and how has having an editorial role improved your own writing?

I’d had a few (mostly crime) stories published at places like Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey and Out of the Gutter, and I wanted to set up something similar at first. You look at those sites though, how good they are, and you think it’s going to be pretty hard to compete head-on, considering I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. Round about then (2013, 2014) I was also beginning to write more “quirky” stories, some of which would eventually go into You’re Not Supposed to Cry.

So when it came to the site, I thought it would be cool to create a platform for crime and the “other stuff” — just throw it all together and see what happened. And that’s more or less how it has panned out — I built the site in WordPress, sent out an email begging for submissions and that was about it. I was more than a little surprised when people actually started sending me stuff. Some really good writers too, people I’d been reading on these other sites — Gareth Spark, Ryan Sayles, Aidan Thorn, Paul Brazill, Bill Baber and Darren Sant.

I even managed to get something from RJ Ellory, one of my favourite writers. I’d just read A Quiet Belief in Angels and City of Lies and I don’t know what I was thinking, but I just tweeted him and asked if he’d like to submit something for this new site I’d set up. I thought I’d get a snotty reply from his agent or publicist, or no reply at all. But within hours he got back to me and said, “Yes, of course.”

Working with people like that can only be a good thing in terms of your own writing. By having your own site, you get to see what everyone else is up to, and what works and what doesn’t. I see how others “package” their stories — how they lay them out, how they approach submissions, how they handle rejections etc. You get a sense of the bigger picture too — the themes, the ideas, the different approaches.

I have discovered some great writers through Spelk. Has it been heartening to see former contributors develop over the years? Which Spelk writers do you think are stretching the boundaries of what flash fiction can offer?

Yes, it is heartening. We’ve had quite a few first-timers on Spelk and it’s great to see their names popping up on other sites later. It’s a win-win if they then help spread the word about Spelk — flash is still a fairly small community and I think we should all be doing more to promote it.

It’s hard to define the boundaries because there are so many people doing so many different things with flash.

Style-wise, I think Sophie van Llewyn is doing something really exciting — she’s very lyrical and her stories are always beautifully written. We recently published A Conversation between the Spice Trader’s Daughter and her Lover, a Fortnight after She Burned at the Stake and it’s already one of my favourites on Spelk. And that title — how could you not like that? (I love a good title, and we’ve had some cracking ones — Love in the Time of Expectoration, The Woman Who Waltzed With Ulysses S. Grant, Enea Wants the Venice Water, Role Playing for the Early Patricidist, You Must Eat Your Boots First. I’d never accept a story just for the title, of course, but something along these lines, that sets the story up and makes you want to dive straight in, certainly doesn’t do any harm.)

Paul Beckman is always worth reading because he manages to come up with something different every time, whether it’s the point of view, the theme or the basic mechanics of the story (all-dialogue, bullet form, etc.). I love Howie Good’s elliptical stories — they’re at the shorter end of the flash range, but they’re dense with detail and great imagery.

Finally, what is next on your agenda? Do you have any upcoming publishing plans you can share?

I’m working on another batch of flash stories at the moment. They’re darker, these ones — miserable, but in a good way! I’ve sent a few out but I’m holding on to the rest for now — I’m still not sure if they’re going to be standalone or part of a bigger, themed story. I like the idea of doing a novella in flash, so they might evolve into something like that. I also write as Jack Larkham, nasty little crime stories, so I have a few ideas for him too. Time permitting, of course.

You can order You’re Not Supposed To Cry here.