Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Friday, July 11, 2008

On The Perils Of Not Being A Genius: A Grand Vizier Writes

‘Read, read, read and write, write, write’ is what experienced writers tend to say when their aspiring brethren ask for advice on how to become a writer, although the Grand Viz (right, in full-on smug-on-holiday mode) is of the opinion that if you need to be told to read a lot and write a lot, you’re probably not a writer by instinct. Anyhoo, the point being: submerge yourself in story, find out how the best do it, and then do what they do, only different and – hopefully, one day – better.
  Solid advice, for sure, and the most fun you can have while dressed to boot.
  But here’s the kicker – is there a danger of absorbing too much story?
  The Grand Viz has always loved books and movies, and over the last two decades has spent his professional life moving to a point where he now pretty much writes about movies, books and theatre for a living. Nice work if you can get it, certainly. But last Monday, for example, the Grand Viz attended two movie screenings (Meet Dave and Savage Grace), read a goodly portion of Benjamin Black’s new novella THE LEMUR, and saw Tom Murphy’s play The Sanctuary Lamp at the Samuel Beckett Centre in Trinity College.
  The movies, for very different reasons, were both poor; THE LEMUR is terrific fun; and the current production of The Sanctuary Lamp, which the Grand Viz had seen years ago, is excellent.
  The rest of the week was a little quieter from a story point of view, although it still involved watching the movies Baby Mama, City of Men and Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (!), finishing off Fritjof Capra’s THE TAO OF PHYSICS, and reading Liam O’Flaherty’s THE ASSASSIN.
  All of which is wonderful, as the Grand Viz tends to spend most of his week steeped in story, absorbing almost by osmosis the hows and whys of the way others craft narrative, learning from their mistakes, taking note of where they got it right. It seems churlish to complain, especially as there’s a pleasing diversity in terms of story and discipline, and it all generates income for the ever-pressing ‘baby needs new shoes’ fund.
  But is there a danger of saturation? Is there a part of the brain that requires stories in order to be satisfied, and if fully sated, won’t need to create any stories of its own? Is there a danger of becoming imaginatively ham-strung, in the sense that you can begin to second-, third- and fourth-guess yourself, dismissing embryonic ideas as ‘already done’, or not potent enough to rise above the mass of stories clamouring for the public’s attention? And where, once you’ve established that the story you have in mind is fresh, unique and worth another person’s precious time, does the time come from, and enough blank mind-space, to put it all down on paper?
  And all this, of course, is susceptible to the Grand Viz’s sneaking suspicion that no story he could possibly contrive could compete with the interest he has in the narrative of his real life, particularly that of the most recent addition to his family, the endlessly fascinating Princess Lilyput (right).
  The GV does have stories he wants to write and / or redraft, although whether he needs to write them remains to be seen. Matters aren’t helped when he steps out of his reading-for-review routine, as he did last night, and embarks on one of his most self-indulgent pleasures, that of reading a master for the sheer enjoyment of it, in this case Lawrence Durrell’s MONSIEUR, the first of the Avignon ‘quincunx’. It’s at times like these that the Grand Viz begins to wonder if there’s any point in writing anything that doesn’t at least aspire to Durrell’s (for example) quality of writing and scale of ambition. With time so precious – his own time, and everyone else’s – and vast swathes of popular culture engaged in a dizzyingly fast race to the bottom, has the Grand Viz – or anyone else, for that matter – the right to write anything that isn’t, in a word, mind-blowing?
  Of the 41 books the Grand Viz has read so far this year, Cormac McCarthy, John McFetridge, Flann O’Brien, Salman Rushdie, Elmore Leonard, Adrian McKinty and Kurt Vonnegut excited him to the point where he resolved – each time – to abandon reviewing / blogging / his wife (if not his child) in order to get down and dirty with the blank page. Each time, happily enough for his wife, he resisted the temptation. Because he’s saturated, soma-like, with story? Because he simply doesn’t have the time? Or because he’s becoming acutely aware that he’s simply not good enough, and very probably never will be, to match and perhaps even better the stories he most likes to read?
  Questions, questions … Although, the Big Question is, given the outrageously poor time-to-benefit ratio involved in writing novels, at least at the Grand Viz’s level, particularly when said time could be much more profitably spent elsewhere – changing nappies, for example – why bother?
  This month there’s a final edit on the sequel to THE BIG O to polish off, which should be a hugely enjoyable experience, but once that’s out of the way, answers will have to be delivered. One thing is for sure – something’s gotta give, folks, and it won’t be Mrs Viz and Princess Lilyput. Stay tuned …

The Pigeon Who Didn’t Want To Fly Home

Darragh McManus (right) waxes lyrical on the pigeonholing of writers below, and while Darragh might be an extreme example of the desire of a writer to write in different styles, genres and disciplines (Darragh’s the guy who kicked the ‘ass’ right back into Renaissance Man, basically), he makes a valid point or three.
  Two of the Grand Viz’s favourite novels were written by William Goldman, but it’s difficult to imagine two more different stories than those of MARATHON MAN and THE PRINCESS BRIDE (plus Goldman wrote Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and The Right Stuff, and a veritable buncha other novels and movies and non-fiction books). Closer to home, we’re always mightily impressed with Gene Kerrigan’s work, regardless if he’s writing novels, non-fiction or his weekly journalism. Another example is John Connolly, whose standalone THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS is very different to his Charlie Parker novels, something of a minor masterpiece, and in the not-entirely-humble opinion of the Grand Viz, his finest work to date. Word around the not-entirely-metaphorical campfire is that Connolly’s book-after-next will not be a crime fiction novel, and we for one are already looking forward to it.
  So, yes, we’re perfectly open to the idea of a writer breaking fresh ground. By the same token, the Grand Viz can’t imagine wanting to read anything by Raymond Chandler outside of crime fiction; thinks Elmore Leonard is a genius in a low key, but has never read any of his Western stories, even though he loves Western movies; and cheerfully admits that he misspent a goodly portion of his youth re-reading THE CATCHER IN THE RYE but has little time for Salinger’s short stories, with the notable exception of ‘Teddy’.
  Anyway, the question is: are publishers short-changing readers by presuming they’re Pavlovian dimwits (how else to explain James Patterson?); or are they canny buggers really, who know us better than we think we know ourselves? Darragh, squire? Over to you …

My name is Darragh, and I’m a writer.
  Actually, I’ll be more specific – my name is Darragh and I want to write all sorts of things, but I’m not sure that this is possible. Let me explain.
  When I was growing up I read comic books, thrillers, crime novels, horror novels, lurid western paperbacks full of terrible Apache atrocities and even worse Apache stereotypes. I also read what might be termed ‘high literature’, albeit mainly suitable for children: ROBINSON CRUSOE, LAST OF THE MOHICANS, Sherlock Holmes stories. I seem to remember making a stab at JANE EYRE, aged around 12, which surely was a triumph of optimism over probability – if I couldn’t master this turgid leviathan in university, what hope had I at that age?
  Basically, I read any and all available printed matter, from timeless classics to the ingredients on cereal packets, and it all had an influence.
  Around my mid-teens the notion that I wanted to write for a living became formalised, became concrete in my mind. And what I wanted to write was … well, everything and anything.
  My favourite writers of all time, probably, are Don DeLillo and Margaret Atwood; therefore profound, elliptical, exquisitely crafted literature was definitely on my authorial ‘to-do’ list. My favourite books of all time are NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, and I’ve always enjoyed sci-fi; therefore a paradigm-shattering, futuristic dystopia had to be tackled at some point.
  I had a soft spot for the Gothic horror of Anne Rice, Mary Shelly, Stoker, Poe et al; therefore a grand Gothic of my own (probably set in Ireland, the genre’s and my spiritual home) was factored into the master-plan. I adored comic books (particularly the more mature, ambiguous stuff like Alan Moore and Frank Miller), loved the way they married the visual and the verbal, word and image; therefore an award-winning creation, with huge movie spin-off potential, was marked as essential.
  Aged 23 I read Sarah Dunn’s THE OFFICIAL SLACKER HANDBOOK, the funniest book ever hewn by god or woman, and a collection of Woody Allen’s satire; therefore I allotted some future effort to making ‘em laugh, laugh, laugh. And I also loved James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard and Christopher Brookmyre, among many other crime writers; therefore I would, in this totipotential career awaiting me, find time for a series of dark, edgy crime novels, possibly with a metaphysical twist. (The details, as I’m sure you all recognise, were still a little fuzzy.)
  Hell, I probably even told myself I’d knock out something way post-modern, so hip it hurt, based on those cereal packet ingredients. The Tao of Vitamin B12 (a novel in B12 parts) …
  That was the plan, book-wise. In the day-job – journalism – I also desired diversity, variety, all those colours of the rainbow. I wanted to write about sport, movies, philosophy, politics, celebrity nonsense. I wanted to write serious social commentary and the silliest satire imaginable. I wanted to do interviews and reviews, match reports and features, restaurant criticism and news analysis.
  I wanted it all, baby – it’s the capitalist in me, I guess.
  So what’s the problem, I hear you ask? The problem is this: publishing and media (and in a broader sense, society) don’t want the Renaissance man or woman, the versatile epicurean of letters who can dip their quill into just about area they choose. They want to pigeonhole writers.
  Example: I spent two years, early in a journalistic career of a decade, editing an Irish sports magazine. Editing it, I might add, as a part-time gig, during which I also wrote features and satire for other magazines and newspapers. Forever after, I am known to some folks as ‘the guy who’s into sport’. I swear to God, I still meet people who say to me, ‘Oh, you write about sport, don’t you?’ Well, yes, I mean, I did up to 2001 which isn’t that long ago, so yeah, I suppose you’re not too far off the mark.
  And how does this relate to books – more accurately, to the contents of this here blog? It appears to me that it is very difficult to forge a career as a crime writer AND serious novelist AND purveyor of cheap horror tricks AND smart satirist AND who knows what else. The business, the culture and the audience don’t seem to want writers to diversify. We are encouraged to find our niche, get good at it and stick to it.
  Otherwise, whoa, who knows what might happen? We don’t want to surprise the reader, after all. God forbid a writer should challenge expectations or give a little flip to preconceptions, right?
  This is why someone like John Banville writes crime fiction under an assumed name, even though everyone knows it’s him. Benjamin Black isn’t a proper pseudonym which hides the author’s identity, but it delineates the literary, ‘serious’ Banville from the (assumed) mass-market thrills of crime fiction. He has a reputation to protect, after all. The Banville brand must be preserved in dust and amber.
  It’s why Sebastian Faulks publishes an espionage thriller with the caveat, ‘writing as Ian Fleming’. Or Steven King writes sci-fi under the name Richard Bachman. Or Iain Banks does likewise but only after inserting a middle initial on the book cover. Or a thousand other examples.
  I wonder why this is so in publishing – the field of artistic endeavour, one would imagine, that is most open to genre-busting, to freshness and the unexpected. After all, directors are allowed make movies of different kinds. Bands are applauded when they veer off in new directions. Even TV actors – the ultimate hacks in the ultimate hack medium – often quit their soap or medical drama to play a radically different character.
But for us poor writers? Get used to staying stuck in the same place.
  My first book, GAA CONFIDENTIAL, was a humorous, ironic little romp about Irish sports and culture, and I was so afraid of being ghettoised as a sportswriter that I seriously considered publishing under a nom de plume. (Thank God nobody actually read the thing, so I escaped that trap …).
  I’ve also written what might be termed a ‘literary’ novel, a collection of short stories on one motif, a crime novel with a vigilante angle, a fairly avant-garde play about dreams and memory, a broad comedy film script, a slacker drama film script, a collection of satirical pieces on pop culture and media, and the beginnings of a spoof history of the universe and a satirical travel book. I have about fifty other ideas in my computer for novels, plays, TV shows, movies, comic books.
  What’s wrong with the above list? I’ll tell you – it’s all over the place. Too diffuse, too varied, too unfocused. I mean, does this fella want to be a novelist or a comedian or a screenwriter or the new John Connolly or the new John Banville? Or what? (Wow – looking at like that, it’s no wonder I’m still waiting on a publishing deal.)
Meanwhile I’ve been trying to get satirical stuff published in British and Irish papers for over a year now, with limited success. Let me stress, in all modesty, that it’s not because the material isn’t funny, or accessible, or entertaining, because it is all three. The people turning it down even tell me so. But it’s just ‘not right’ for them, or it’s all a bit left-field, or maybe I should concentrate more on what I’m already doing …
  So I set up a blog, basically to promote myself and my work. Hopefully the features editor of the Guardian or New York Times will be passing by, stop for a gander and be enraptured by that hilarious rewriting of Hamlet in the style of Eastenders. But I’m not too confident.
  People always say, ‘Have faith in yourself.’ I have faith in myself, as I’m sure do all of you. The problem is that I don’t necessarily have faith in society, and in the publishing and media industries. I don’t have faith that any of us will be allowed a writing career encompassing crime fiction, heavily researched non-fiction, historical romances, poetry, action-espionage thrillers, elegiac non-linear novels wherein nothing happens and happens really goddamn slowly, or whatever our heads and hearts tell us to put on paper. I don’t have faith that one can earn a reputation as a journalist who writes equally strongly on sober matters and satirical daftness.
  For me there is absolutely no dichotomy in any of this. I see no tension between the guy who writes a meditative novel about death and the guy who writes a film script which crosses The Naked Gun with Commando.
  But that’s just me. The industry, I fear, goes by an inversion of the old catchphrase: ‘Now for something exactly the same as the last time.’ – Darragh McManus

A veritable cornucopia of writing can be found at Darragh’s blog, Satire For Hire

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A GONZO NOIR: An Internet Novel # 11

The story so far: Failed author Declan Burke (right), embittered but still passably handsome, wakes up one morning to find a stranger in his back garden. The stranger introduces himself as Karlsson, a hospital porter who assists old people who want to die and the hero of a first draft of a novel Burke wrote some five years previously. Now calling himself Billy, he suggests a redraft of the story that includes blowing up the hospital where he works. Intrigued, Burke agrees to a collaboration, but things do not go swimmingly …
  For the reasons we’re publishing a novel to the interweb, go here.
  If you want to skip all that malarkey, the novel starts here.
  If you’re one of the 34,014 readers who have been following the story, the latest update can be found here.
  Now read on …

CRIME: But Will It Pay?

He’s not Irish, but he lives here, so we’ll call Irvine Welsh an adopted Irish crime writer. Anyhoo, Welsh has been getting some grief over the subject matter of his latest novel, CRIME. Quoth Peter Doyle in the Irish Independent:
TRAINSPOTTING author Irvine Welsh has lashed out at claims he’s cashing-in on Madeleine McCann’s disappearance and the horrors of child-sex abuse with his latest novel. Set in Florida, CRIME is a thriller about a burned-out Scottish detective who stumbles across a paedophile ring while on holiday with his fiancĂ©e … some critics have panned his latest literary venture, saying the best-selling novelist is cynically exploiting a controversial and emotive subject to “pay the mortgage”.
  This story is particularly relevant in Ireland, where the release of Ben Affleck’s movie Gone Baby Gone, based on Dennis Lehane’s novel, was delayed for six months in deference to the sensibilities of those affected by the McCann disappearance. An unusually tasteful and worthy move by the distributors, the delay was nonetheless a pointless exercise in the kind of woolly thinking that strives to protect the general public from itself.
  Without being flippant or dismissive of child sex abuse, or the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, this issue really does beg the question of what an author, and particularly a crime novelist, is allowed to write about without incurring the wrath of morality’s storm-troopers. For example, on pages 6-7 of yesterday’s Irish Times, there were stories, in no particular order of importance, relating to:
drug smuggling; solicitors found guilty of misconduct; the jailing of a man for possessing child-rape pornography; a woman convicted of murdering her husband; a man convicted of indecent assault; a woman alleged to have contracted a hitman to murder her husband; the trafficking of a Nigerian girl as a sex-slave; a Gardai inquiry into a case of alleged euthanasia; and a murder arising from a gangland feud in Limerick.
  Are these stories, and any stories similar to them, now off-limits to novelists simply because those involved have achieved their 15 minutes of fame? Should Shakespeare be struck off the Leaving Certificate curriculum for writing about regicide? Is it our moral duty to tout Arthur Conan Doyle to the SPCA for advocating the relentless pursuit of large hounds on Dartmoor?
  We don’t for one second believe that Irvine Welsh – who wrote about heroin addiction when it was neither popular nor profitable, for example – had Madeleine McCann in mind when he began writing CRIME. But even if he did, is he not entitled, and some might argue morally obliged as a novelist, to confront the issues that are relevant to contemporary society? If crime fiction is about only one thing, it is about lancing taboos to allow us confront our worst fears, forcing us to deal with the casual horrors of day-to-day life in a mature and balanced way. Demonising paedophiles hasn’t helped; trying to understand the whys and hows of their sickness might help, both them and us. For that reason alone, Irvine Welsh’s CRIME deserves a wide audience.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I Love Them Whores / They Never Judge You

The Grand Viz and KT McCaffrey have been rapping back and forth about songs as condensed crime fiction novels – stripped-back and pared-down narratives about losers, loners and the kind of suckers who never caught an even break. Bruce Springsteen’s album Nebraska could be considered a mini-library in that respect, although there’s a couple of Townes van Zandt (right, foreground) numbers – The Ballad of Pancho and Lefty, and Waiting ’Round to Die – the CAP Towers crew wouldn’t mind reading as fleshed-out tales. It’s been done before – nine years after Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe (1967) hit the top of the charts, Herman Raucher was commissioned to write a novel (Ode to Billy Joe) based on the lyrics, which then went on to become a best-seller.
  Meanwhile, the Grand Viz went stark raving crazy on his holidays and bought two – yes, two! – new CDs, one on the advice of John Connolly – the new Joan as Policewoman collection, on which the jury remains out – the other a best-of compilation from Jane’s Addiction, whom the Viz hadn’t really listened to since his college days but has been playing off the stereo for the last week. Jane’s Addiction, for those of you unfamiliar with this particular pop combo, were a scuzzy, gutter-friendly surfer band of reprobates and ne’er-do-wells who – much like The Pixies – did all the hard work breaking ground only to see some half-arsed wasters (take a bow, Nirvana) steal all the glory. Cheese-wire guitar licks, a seismic rhythm section, Perry Farrell’s plaintively whining vocals, and lyrics to die for (“I love them whores / They never judge you …”) all added up to a speed-fuelled, head-banging package that was just too hardcore for MTV – imagine Jean Genet writing the score to an unusually melodic earthquake and you’re halfway there. What Jane’s Addiction well might prove to be, however, is the perfect retro-soundtrack for a novel currently spinning its web around the darker caverns of the Grand Viz’s skull … we’ll keep you posted.
  Anyhoo, here’s KT expanding on his song-to-novel theory …

“I collect ‘story lyrics’ like others might collect first edition books. Because of my involvement in crime fiction writing, I have a particular interest in lyrics that contain a crime-related plot, tell a self-contained story and provides a dramatic twist or punchline. So, on this visit to my collection, I’d like to share with you some lyrics that supply all the above in spades.
  “The Road Goes On Forever, written and recorded by Robert Earl Keen, packs a punch worthy of a Martin Scorsese movie and has a killer punch-line that’s guaranteed to make all red-blooded males go - ‘Ouch!’”

Sherry was a waitress at the only joint in town
She had a reputation as a girl who’d been around
Down Main Street after midnight with a brand new pack of cigs
A fresh one hangin’ from her lips and a beer between her legs
She’d ride down to the river and meet with all her friends
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

Sonny was a loner he was older than the rest
He was going into the Navy but he couldn’t pass the test
So he hung around town he sold a little pot
The law caught wind of Sonny and one day he got caught
But he was back in business when they set him free again
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

Sonny’s playin’ 8-ball at the joint where Sherry works
When some drunken outta towner put his hand up Sherry’s skirt
Sonny took his pool cue laid the drunk out on the floor
Stuffed a dollar in her tip jar and walked on out the door
She’s runnin’ right behind him reachin’ for his hand
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

They jumped into his pickup Sonny jammed her down in gear
Sonny looked at Sherry and said lets get on outta here
The stars were high above them and the moon was in the east
The sun was settin’ on them when they reached Miami Beach
They got a hotel by the water and a quart of Bombay gin
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

They soon ran out of money but Sonny knew a man
Who knew some Cuban refugees that dealt in contraband
Sonny met the Cubans in a house just off the route
With a briefcase full of money and a pistol in his boot
The cards were on the table when the law came bustin’ in
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

The Cubans grabbed the goodies and Sonny grabbed the Jack
He broke a bathroom window and climbed on out the back
Sherry drove the pickup through the alley on the side
Where a lawman tackled Sonny and was reading him his rights
She stepped into the alley with a single shot .410
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

They left the lawman lyin’ and they made their getaway
They got back to the motel just before the break of day
Sonny gave her all the money and he blew her a little kiss
If they ask you how this happened say I forced you into this
She watched him as his taillights disappeared around the bend
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

Its Main Street after midnight just like it was before
21 months later at the local grocery store
Sherry buys a paper and a cold six-pack of beer
The headlines read that Sonny is goin’ to the chair
She pulls back onto Main Street in her new Mercedes Benz
The road goes on forever and the party never ends
  “As one-time Taoiseach Albert Reynolds might say - ‘That’s wimmin for ya.’ If you haven’t heard the song, it's worth a spin. Some of you might be familiar with a version by the Highwaymen (Waylon, Willie, Johnny and Kris). Meanwhile, I’ve got a bunch of other lyrics that fall into this ball park so if I detect any interest out there, and if Declan’s in the mood, I’d love to share them with you.” – KT McCaffrey

KT McCaffrey’s THE CAT TRAP is published by Robert Hale

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Just in case you thought we were maybe over-egging the pudding a little with our gushing review of John McFetridge’s DIRTY SWEET, here’s a tasty big-up for said tome courtesy of Mike Harrison in The Calgary Herald. To wit:
“It’s a street-nasty ride from start to finish. It’s about shady characters from realtors to bikers to cops and it’s a gritty take on the seedy underbelly of Toronto involving drugs and hookers and cars and clubs and everything in between. If you like Elmore Leonard‘s writing style you’ll absolutely love John McFetridge. He has a fast, damn-I-wish-I’d-written-that style that pulls you in from the top of page one. A truly awesome read—and this guy’s Canadian, picked as one of the top 10 Canadian writers to watch by Quill & Quire Magazine.”
Can we just repeat that? “If you like Elmore Leonard‘s writing style you’ll absolutely love John McFetridge.” The kicker? We stumbled across the above review on Elmore Leonard’s own website. Hmmm, naiiiice …

Mi Casa, Su Casa: Adrian McKinty

More good news and bad news, folks. The good news is that Adrian McKinty (right) has started a blog (which is currently hosting a rather interesting letter to the Joycean scholar who reviewed THE BLOOMSDAY DEAD in the Irish Times), with the bad news being that that means he very probably won’t be writing this kind of malarkey for Crime Always Pays anymore. Boo, etc. The other good news is that Ol’ Happy Chops won’t be doing very much with the blog until later this year, so we might still get some quality writing out of him yet. To wit:
Kerouac, L. Ron Hubbard and South Park: Denver Before Its Moment in the Sun
For four days next month the eyes of the world will turn to Denver, Colorado, where the Democratic Convention is being held. Sure it’s all going to be about speeches, balloons and scoring coke and hookers on Colfax Avenue, but what if you want to get deeper than that? What if you want to find out about the real Denver?
  I lived in the Mile High City for nine years so I know a bit about it. Modesty forbids me from mentioning my own Denver novels HIDDEN RIVER and FIFTY GRAND. Oh wait, I just did. Sorry.
  Jack Kerouac is Denver’s big name author. Kerouac came to town in pursuit of America, the open road and his man-crush, native Denverite, Neal Cassady. It was in Denver that Kerouac bought his first house, had his first serious tequila bender and began planning ON THE ROAD. Sniffing after Kerouac came William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, who spent many a fertile hour in the Colburn Hotel cooking mescaline, injecting bug spray and writing the occasional poem.
  Thomas Pynchon followed a little later, Denver cropping up in several places in his work, but most importantly in AGAINST THE DAY, in which we are transported back to the bawdy turn-of-the-century city where you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a gin joint, a prostitute or another lunatic swinging a cat. AGAINST THE DAY contains my favourite line in all of literature, a graffiti written on a Denver wall: “Roses is red/shit is brown/nothing but assholes/live in this town.”
  But surely the highlight of Denver’s literary legacy has to be its prominence in L. Ron Hubbard’s BATTLEFIELD EARTH. The first time I tried to read BATTLEFIELD EARTH it got thrown out of a train window, when I was 14, by me. Years later I read it again, because a girl asked me to do it for an article she was writing. The girl is now a rich and fairly well known TV historian and I’m a substitute teacher living in Melbourne, Australia. Let me summarize the book for you, so you don’t make my mistake.
  In 3000 AD, Earth is ruled by the Psychlos, nine-foot-tall sociopathic aliens. Humans are slaves called “man animals” who toil bare chested in open cast mines. The hero of the book is Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (yes, really) an escapee from Psychlo clutches who makes his way to the ruins of the Denver Public Library where he finds a copy of the US Constitution in a display case. Inspired perhaps by the commerce clause of this austere legal document Jonnie decides to lead a revolt against the alien overlords. After a few setbacks the revolt gathers momentum and then we only have about 900 pages to go. Interestingly, the Denver Public Library has no display cases containing the US Constitution and all five of its copies of BATTLEFIELD EARTH have been stolen. A Psychlo conspiracy perhaps?
  I haven’t seen the film version of BATTLEFIELD EARTH but by all accounts it’s up there with Swept Away, Gigli and other modern classics.
  If you’re an L. Ron Hubbard fan then allow me to suggest a field trip while you’re in town. Jump on I-70, drive west for a few hours and you’ll come to Tom Cruise’s house in Telluride, Colorado. Mr. Cruise welcomes visitors, especially if you’re carrying a copy of his and (potential McCain VP) Mitt Romney’s favourite novel. Seriously, just park right outside the big metal gates and start yelling “Tomcat! Tooomcaaat!” You’ll have lots of fun. Tom’s sister is in charge of security at the Cruise Lair and is famous for her sense of humour.
  Strangely, Denver is also home to those nemeses of Scientology - Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of South Park. The Denver suburb of South Park is near Evergreen where Parker went to high school but South Park itself is probably modelled on either Boulder, Co. where the boys attended college or Colorado Springs about forty minutes south which is the HQ of Focus on the Family and is reputedly the “most right-wing town in America.” Trey Parker’s childhood home can be found easily but leaving little brown gifts dressed as Santa on the front porch is a joke well past its sell by date.
  If the idea of making a Christmas Turd or being pepper-sprayed by Tom Cruise’s security guards doesn’t excite you, then head back to Denver and out on the I-76 to Fort Morgan, where Philip K. Dick rests forever opposite a sugar cane refinery in the grim Fort Morgan Municipal Cemetery. There are always a lot of interesting characters at Dick’s grave, many from Japan, Finland and that comic-book shop you always walk by but never go in. Get them talking about the nature of reality and whether Dick could be alive in a parallel universe and you’ll happily watch the morning pass by.
  Finally, let me mention David Icke’s book THE BIGGEST SECRET, in which the former BBC reporter and Green Party co-chair claims that “lizard aliens from Mars, through their allies, the Freemasons,” have been running the planet Earth from a secret bunker at the Denver International Airport. Once I lost my bag at DIA and had to go to a basement storage area to retrieve it. I see now that I was lucky to get out alive.
  To sum up: If you’ve never been to Denver before, don’t worry about it, for most people it’s that place they groggily drive through on the way to Vail. But take my advice and go. Even if the Democrats have left town you can still cheer for Obama, eat an Illegal Pete Famous Fish Fajita and put an offer on my house on Pennsylvania Street. Now that property prices have collapsed I’ll take anything: crayons, a box of old keys, interesting (or not) house plants. I might even consider a soiled copy of BATTLEFIELD EARTH. – Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty’s FIFTY GRAND will be published by Holt later this year.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Once You Go Black You’ll Never Go Back

Scottish scribe and sultry sex-god Tony Black (right) has his debut novel PAYING FOR IT published on July 17, and has kindly offered us the first chapter for your delectation in a kind of literary version of ye olde scratch-‘n’-sniff / suck-it-‘n’-see. But be warned, ladies: we’ve met the honey-toned, silver-tongued Tony Black and it’s true what they say – once you go Black, you’ll never go back.
  Now read on …
PAYING FOR IT by Tony Black

Chapter One
FUNERALS MAKE MY EYES WATER. Don’t get me wrong, not in the ‘Oh, he was a lovely fellah taken from us too soon’ sense. That stuff, I can handle. Old ladies with waterbag legs shoving egg-mayonnaise sandwiches at you, I can just about manage. Slipping them in the pocket beside the scoosh bottle is no problem for me. That type, they never listen to a word you say anyway. Fire out ‘Is that right?’, or ‘Really? No, really?’, and they’re happy as Larry. Just don’t stray into the ‘And how’s your Finlay doing in New Zealand?’ minefield. Uh-uh. That can spell catastrophe.
  It’s details like cause of death that have me filling up. Send me reaching for the twelve-year-old Macallan they roll out for such occasions. And hitting it hard. Not just because that’s what drinkers do. But because I know that, in my racket, it doesn’t look good to be moved by things like funerals and death.
  It’s when death comes so close to home, stamps on your doorstep, then invites itself in that I wince. Really wince. I mean, who wouldn’t wince at something like this?
  ‘Gus. Gusgo. Gusie boy . . .’
  The skill of the man, pure piss-artistry, to make poetry with my name
like that.
  ‘Gus, did you hear what happened before the . . . you know . . . ?’
  Malky Conroy, one of Edinburgh’s widest gobshites, weighed his hands out in the air like he had hold of a mortar launcher.
  ‘Booka-booka,’ it was a pathetic attempt at gangster patter.
  I tried to keep my tone serious. I mean, we were talking about a man’s death here. A man I barely knew, granted. I had met him twice, tops. But out of respect to his father I wasn’t going to mess about at Billy Boy’s funeral.
  ‘It’s the noise a shotgun makes,’ said Malky, ‘when it goes off, like.’
  I gave him a nod, straightened my back. ‘Got ya.’ I tipped back the last of my Red Eye laced coffee, crushed the Styrofoam cup.
  For reasons best kept between Billy and the grave, the poor lad found himself on the wrong end of a sawn-off shotgun one evening. One evening, sounds so civilised, doesn’t it? Not in the least. Unless you call finding a lad, barely into his twenties, with both barrels emptied in his face, civilised.
  That’s the sight that greeted some old biddie walking her Westie at the foot of Arthur’s Seat one morning. The official verdict was suicide, but nobody was buying that.
  ‘Like I was saying,’ Malky crouched over, leaned into my lapels, ‘before they, like . . .’ He tried to whisper but in his pissed state it came out too loud. I moved my face away from the gobs of spit he flung from his mouth. ‘Well, you know what they did in the end. But before that, there was . . .’
  Malky straightened himself and shuffled back a few steps. His Hush Puppies squeaked on the church hall’s laminate flooring. And then he did it. I couldn’t believe he did it, but he did . . . he touched the side of his nose and gave me a little wink.
  It seemed a moment like no other. Make this a movie – that’s your Oscar clip right there. He felt on form, in his own mind. This was the juiciest slice of gossip he’d had in years and he itched to serve it up.
  He shuffled again, got right up close. God, he looked rough, like Johnny Cash circa 2008. A white ring of dried spit sat around Malky’s mouth, catching in the corners, like the Mekong Delta . . . Jeez, you could have stripped the Forth Bridge with this guy’s breath.
  ‘Now, Gus, you never heard it from me,’ he said, ‘but I know for a fact there was . . .’ he looked over his shoulder, and then, he did it again, winked, ‘there was torture, his father told me so.’
  ‘Spill it, Malky,’ I said. Immediately, I regretted this, he belched up a wet sliver of lager-perfumed bile onto my tie. ‘Man, be careful there,’ I yelled, loosening the knot and tugging the wet loop of cloth over my head. ‘It’s ruined, Malky!’
  ‘Sorry, it’s the emotion.’
  Emotion my arse, unless they’re selling emotion in six packs these days.
  ‘That poor boy . . . that poor bloody boy,’ he said.
  ‘What?’ Steering a drunk to his point, without having taken a good bucket yourself, is a task and a half. I felt ready to give up, try the sausage rolls. Then he hit me with it.
  ‘His fingernails, and his toenails – they were pulled out,’ said Malky. ‘Blood everywhere.’
  ‘Can you imagine the pain of that, Gus? Hell, it’s sore as buggery just catching one of those wee hangnails.’
  I didn’t need convincing.
  ‘Plod said it was suicide, Malky.’
  ‘My arse! He moved in some shady circles, our young Billy.’
  I felt loath to admit it, but Malky had my attention now. ‘Was that it, just the nails?’
  ‘If only it was, Gus. God, I hear they did his teeth as well.’
  ‘Pulled them?’
  ‘Think so. They say there wasn’t much to go on after the gun went off in his face. Must have pissed off some serious people.’
  ‘Have the filth any . . .’ I needed to use the word – no other came to mind – but it stung my lips as it passed, made me sound like a character from The Bill, ‘leads?’
  ‘They could give a tinker’s toss. He was mixing it with gangsters, man. I kid you not, he was into all sorts. One less for them to worry about now, though.’
  ‘What was he into?’ I couldn’t believe Billy had the marbles to . . . Hang on, it was precisely because he didn’t have any nous that Billy would get involved with this kind of thing.
  Malky shrugged. He remembered who he was talking to. The shoulder movement wasn’t welcome and his frame looked fit to collapse before me. I felt glad, really. I’d no desire to hear any more. It sounded like a tragedy of the type to make you want to pack up and leave this troubled city.
  As if I needed to look for reasons.

© Tony Black, 2008

“Annnnnnnnnd … We’re Back.”

Good news and bad news, people. That we’re back, of course, is the bad news. The good news, however, is that there was something of a coup d’etat while the Grand Viz was away on holiday, and Princess Lilyput (pictured above, grovelling minions just out of picture) is now running the show here at Crime Always Pays Towers. There’ll be changes, apparently, and as most of them will be imposed by the necessity for more Lily-time, they’ll be fairly drastic.
  The first is that the new national anthem is Three Gypsies Are We, and if that doesn’t sound familiar it’s because the Princess commissioned it from the Court Composer Elf only last Monday as the royal cortege wound its way through the West Country towards Dartmoor. Sung to a light, Gilbert & Sullivan-ish operetta air, the anthem runneth thusly:
Three gypsies are we /
Off to see the sea /
To seeeeeeee what we can see /
Where shall we go? /
Nobody knows /
Oooonnnnly we three gypsies.
  A modest piece, it’s true, but the Princess seems to like it. There’s no need to stand, by the way; she’s a fairly easygoing tyrant.
  It’s good to be back, people. Even if I have been deposed …