Thursday, 18 September 2014

Best Year Ever

These posts don't usually materialise until we get a little closer to Christmas. However, I've started measuring my time in academic years now that my life pretty much revolves around the PhD I'm working on.

On 20th September 2013, Culture Night, I escaped my dayjob for at least three years. It was magnificent. My colleagues, either encouraging my crazy plan or just plain happy to see me get out of their lives, gave me a nice send-off. Lunch, generous gift, drinks. The hangover was monumental. If I'm honest, I was a little sad to be leaving. It wasn't the worst job in the world, by any stretch of the imagination. It just wasn't my first choice.

Writing is.

But it was weird at first. I didn't warm up to this full-time student and writer gig for a few months, really. Sure, I had more opportunities to read, wrote quite a bit, spent more time with the kids and whatnot. But it all seemed weird. Like I was throwing a sickie from work rather than settling in to my role as a bona fide scribe. I'd say it took until late November or early December to get into the swing of it. And by then I was convinced that I'd wasted half a year. Maths was never my strong point.

Other obstacles popped up throughout the year. I'll not list the details, but basically I thought that I'd become an utter writing machine this year. It doesn't really feel like I've managed that, though. I always feel like I'm playing catch-up. Always.

So, in an effort to calm my twanging nerves, I thought I'd list the significant stuff that I managed to do over the last 12 months. I'm hoping I surprise myself.

Started work on two novels (one for the PhD, one for me; both still unfinished)
Figured out that working on two novels simultaneously is silly
Attended the Killer Books festival in Derry (early November)
Released my novella, BOUNCE, in the form of a free booklet at the festival
Released the novella, BREAKING POINT, through Blasted Heath
Worked on edits for UNDERCOVER, a novel to be released by Blasted Heath in a few days
Wrote and sold some short stories; including spots in Belfast Noir and Streets of Shadows
Read like a motherfecker
Attempted to master academic writing (with marginal success)
Attended various courses and events through QUB
Hosted an event at No Alibis; the launch of Helene Gestern's The People in the Photo
Passed my PhD differentiation
Landed some funding from Northern Ireland screen to work on a screenplay based on my novella, WEE DANNY
Decided to go to Bouchercon 2014 (Long Beach CA, baby!)
Joined a gym and stuck with it long enough to get in shape
Started a health and fitness blog (then ignored it over the summer but continued to train!)
Signed up as a Teaching Assistant in the School of English (and will begin teaching at QUB in October)
Went on holiday to Portstewart
Took part in a panel at the On Home Ground festival
Spent more time with the family

There may be a couple of things that slipped my mind that belong on the list, but looking at that now... I'm feeling pretty chuffed with myself. But I also need to be careful about getting too complacent, I reckon. And I should be wary of distraction and procrastination. Writing has to be a priority this year. I have to finish the PhD novel to leave myself time to work on the trickier academic/critical element.

I'm hesitant to post this now. It all seems a little braggadocious...

But feck it. I'll compromise. I'll post it on a day when the world only wants to read about the Scottish #indyref, I won't include an eye-catching image and I'll not share the link on social media. I'll just leave it here and look at it from time to time. When the nerves start twanging and I start to freak out about not getting enough done now that I have so much more time on my hands. It'll be cathartic, right? Or I'll freak out about not getting as much done this year. Most likely the latter. I'm a tube, like.

Monday, 15 September 2014

A Wee Review -- SINKER by Jason Johnson

The Irish News published my review of SINKER in yesterday's edition (11/09/14), in a slightly shorter form. Here's the full version of the review for anybody who missed it:



Sinker is the novel that will remind you of the silly things you’ve done when drunk, or avoided by abstaining. Because that’s what this novel is about. Getting wasted. Except in the world Sinker’s world, getting wasted isn’t always a waste of time. Jason Johnson has created a sport called sink – there’s even a Wikipedia-type section at the start that covers the rules and public perception – and to tell the story, Johnson employs professional sinker Baker Forley, Derry’s great ginger hope in the so-called sport, and the new kid on the block in the world circuit.

The plot is straightforward enough, but is stuffed with more surprises than you’ll find in an end-of-session kebab. Forley is supposed to drink, drink, drink; stay upright and keep his eye on the ball. He certainly shouldn’t waste time looking at a rich sheikh’s wife during his big shot at the world title in Mallorca. But of course he does look a rich sheikh’s wife. Ogles her, in fact. And everything goes crazy, in a good, old fashioned, “wait ‘til ye hear what happened!” sort of way.

There is a sense of enthusiasm about this book that is contradictory to the lack of enthusiasm displayed by the enigmatic Baker Forley. It may be the comedic aspect of it, because Johnson’s humour, though blacker than a well settled Guinness, is laugh out loud funny in places. That’s actual laughter out loud, not internet-lol; two very different things. Or possibly the enthusiasm is channelled through the larger than life supporting cast. Ratface the sink talent manager, Nap the jolly and deadly bodyguard, and Sheikh Alam who lives in a Gaudi designed house with a Dali designed garden. Yeah. That much larger than life. And there’s a twist of femme fatale in there too. Either way, a character that responds to a death threat with the immortal words, “Aye, right,” is hardly the most dramatic.

But then, maybe that’s the point. Perhaps the only way Johnson can imagine a person succeeding in a sport that literally kills you physically and mentally has to have his head in the right – or wrong – place.

Is Forley a two-dimensional lump of drunk or is he actually a zen master? The line, delivered by Forley as narrator, “If it’s not competition, it can only be addiction,” when describing the motivations of a wannabe sinker, points to the latter lifestyle choice. And these nuggets of drinker’s wisdom are scattered throughout the text. There is a depth of understanding displayed not only of the chaos of alcohol, with more emphasis put on the downside of the drug rather than the upside, that is coupled with the ups and downs of abstinence. Interestingly, Forley only drinks when competing. He’s not a social drinker. This creates a madcap balancing act that lends the novel a point of interest to drinkers and non-drinkers alike. Look down your nose at the antics of Forley and his fellow sinkers or grin as you remember past embarrassments or moments of messy glory; whatever works. But Sinker deserves to be read.

Gerard Brennan

Friday, 12 September 2014

Megan Abbot in Belfast

If you've yet to discover Megan Abbott's work, NOW IS THE TIME, PEOPLE!

She's coming to Belfast on Tuesday and will read at No Alibis (see all the details below). This is her first event here, and I for one want to give her a reason to come back for her next novel. So, I urge you to go. GO GO GO! Now! Well not RIGHT now. Tuesday. Go on Tuesday.

And tell Dave, will you? He might not have a chair for you otherwise.


Megan Abbott
Tuesday 16th September at 7:00PM
Tickets: Free





No Alibis Bookstore are very pleased to invite you to an evening with Megan Abbott, to celebrate the recent publication of her latest novel THE FEVER, on Tuesday 16th September at 7:00PM.

Megan Abbott is the Edgar-winning author six previous novels. Her most recent novel, Dare Me, was chosen by Entertainment Weekly and Amazon as one of the Best Books of 2012 and is soon to be a major motion picture.

Born in the Detroit area, she graduated from the University of Michigan and received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University. She has taught at NYU, the State University of New York and the New School University. In 2013, she served as the John Grisham Writer in Residence at Ole Miss.

She is also the author of a nonfiction book, The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir, and the editor of A Hell of a Woman, an anthology of female crime fiction. She has been nominated for many awards, including three Edgar Awards, Hammett Prize, the Macavity, Anthony and Barry Awards, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Pushcart Prize.



Her hands flying up, she grabbed her throat, her body jolting to one side.

Then, in one swoop, her desk overturned, clattering to the floor.

And with it Lise. Her head twisting, slamming into the tiles, her bright red face turned up, mouth teeming with froth.

“Lise,” sighed Mrs. Chalmers, too far in front to see. “What is your problem?”

The Nashes are a close-knit family. Tom, a popular teacher, is father to the handsome, roguish Eli and his younger sister Deenie, serious and sweet. But their seeming stability is thrown into chaos when two of Deenie’s friends become violently ill, and rumours of a dangerous outbreak sweep through the whole community.

As hysteria swells and as more girls succumb, tightly held secrets emerge that threaten to unravel the world Tom has built for his kids, and destroy friendships, families, and the town’s fragile idea of security.

The Fever is a chilling story about guilt, family secrets, and the lethal power of desire.

Don't miss this exciting event. Places are limited, so book your spot now be emailing David or calling the shop on 9031 9607.

Monday, 8 September 2014

In the morning, he was hungover (allegedly)

A favourite of CSNI, one Mr Adrian McKinty, is now the proud bearer of the Ned Kelly Award for his novel, In The Morning I'll Be Gone. I've stated for the record that the third installment of the Sean Duffy series is the best of the bunch, in my opinion. But then, I'd hardly state somebody else's opinion, would I?

Here's a fun picture McKinty shared the morning after the night before on his Twitter account:



And if you want a first person account of the ins and outs of McKinty's much deserved win, the man himself has kindly provided one over on his blog. Check it out, tell him he's the champ and wallow in his reflected glory.

I truly hope that the good times continue to role for this scribe.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Kindle Pre-order Link for Undercover



Buy now for only £0.85 | $0.99

RRP: £2.99/$3.99

When undercover detective Cormac Kelly infiltrates a ruthless gang bent on kidnapping and extortion, he is forced to break cover and shoot his way out of a hostage situation gone bad.

Tearing through the dangerous streets of Belfast with a twelve-year-old boy and his seriously injured father in tow, Kelly desperately tries to evade the gang and reconnect the family with the boy’s mother, football agent Lydia Gallagher. But she is in London, unaware of their freedom and being forced by the gang to betray her top client.

As Kelly breaks every rule in the book and crosses the line from legit police officer to rogue cop on the run, the role of dapper but deadly ex-spook Stephen Black means the difference between life and death…
Price will revert to RRP (£2.99/$3.99) on publication day (25th September 2014)

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Girl in the Basement by Wayne Simmons


The Girl in the Basement is the latest offering from Northern Ireland's genre giant, Wayne Simmons. Published by Infected Books, this brutal little novella is a psychological thriller that wallows in noir conventions. Simmons is primarily known as a horror hack (in his own words), but he has done a terrific job of straddling a few crime fiction sub-genres in this one. But if you're a true-blue horror fan, don't worry, he does manage to squeeze in a cheeky zombie movie reference here and a slasher flick hat-tip there. Now, while there are undoubtedly points in this novella that Simmons hammered out with a wry smile on his face, you are more likely to grimace than grim; which is what his constant readers have come to expect and crave, no doubt.

As far as the plot goes, the title tells you just enough to give you an idea of what's going on. I don't want to spoil anything, so I won't go into any more detail. What I will say is that I took more from this than I did from, say, Stephen King's Gerald's Game, a novel with a similar premise that (in my opinion) should have been much shorter. And I'm a fan of those epic King novels, IT and The Stand, as well as the entire Dark Tower series, so you can't really blame my lack of enthusiasm for Gerald's Game on a shortening attention span. I think Simmons nailed the pace and balanced the back story elements in his offering perfectly. Best read in one sitting. The Girl in the Basement isn't just a gut punch, it's a heavyweight pummelling. Just remember to breathe as you take your lumps. It'll all be over soon enough.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Wee Rockets in Paperback



WEE ROCKETS is available in paperback, y'know.

I'd prefer it if you bought this book from No Alibis (Dave can get you signed copies, y'see), but for those who have a geographic challenge (i.e. if you don't live or spend any time in Belfast), you can get it here:

UK
US
Canada

And many other territories, but you resourceful folk can use search engines if required, can't you?

Have at it.

Hard Rock on CrimeCityCentral



Hard Rock is the short story that keeps on giving.

A brief history:

It was published on ThugLit in 2009 (before the relaunch it was in issue 29).

I got paid with a badass T-shirt that I still wear.

It attracted the attentions of a New York agent (though at the time I was already in talks with another).

It was reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime vol. 8 (currently on sale).

It appears in my Blasted Shorts collection, Other Stories and Nothing But Time.

It's pretty sick and definitely not safe for work or suitable for the fainthearted.

And now, it's available for download over at the CrimeCityCentral podcast!

Why not have a listen and see what all the fuss is about?

Incidentally, I listened to this version myself about a week after I watched Filth, based on the novel by Irvine Welsh and starring John McAvoy, on Netflix. There are certain parallels that make (narrator) Kenny Park's Scottish accent all the more fun.

And again, this one is pretty hard core.

NOT FOR THE FAINTHEARTED!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Jason Johnson Returns!


In 2008 I discovered Jason Johnson. CSNI was a thing back then, so of course I reviewed both of his novels and tracked the fella down to ask him to take part in a Q&A. You can see some Johnson related content here. In the following years I saw Jason Johnson's name appear as a byline in some newspaper articles (I vividly remember him writing about a man who climbed the departed Belfast Wheel at Belfast City Hall), but I wanted more of his fiction.

Well, guess what! He's back with a new novel according to this Culture Northern Ireland article. And I am very much looking forward to reading SINKER when I get my hands on a copy. And I must revisit ALINA in the near future, His use of POV in that novel was highly innovative when compared to the books I'd been reading previously (and especially in comparison to what a lot of creative writing websites and/or workshops considered to be bible in their articles about POV).

Good to see you back, Mr Johnson. And I'll join you in downplaying the Irvine Welsh references in the future (which I did mention in that Q&A in 2008 - soz).

Monday, 11 August 2014

UNDERCOVER: The Cover is Blown

I'm trying not to get too excited about the release of UNDERCOVER in September, but I'm curious about how it's going to be received. The folks at Blasted Heath believe it to be my most commercial novel to date. Part of me wonders if that's a good thing...

Did I mention that there's a pre-order page for it over on that wee Amazon site? Because there is. Click here. Or, if you use the US version of Amazon, click here. It's on all the other Amazons, I believe, but I've a blog post to get through here so I'll choose to believe that people can find the relevant pages pretty quickly with the help of a search engine. Ach, all right, here's a Canadian link, but no more!

Now, for those who can't be arsed clicking the links, here's the cover and the blurb:


When undercover detective Cormac Kelly infiltrates a ruthless gang bent on kidnapping and extortion, he is forced to break cover and shoot his way out of a hostage situation gone bad. Tearing through the dangerous streets of Belfast with a twelve-year-old boy and his seriously injured father in tow, Kelly desperately tries to evade the gang and reconnect the family with the boy’s mother, football agent Lydia Gallagher. But she is in London, unaware of their freedom and being forced by the gang to betray her top client. As Kelly breaks every rule in the book and crosses the line from legit police officer to rogue cop on the run, the role of dapper but deadly ex-spook Stephen Black means the difference between life and death…

Did you see that? Slipped right into salesman mode. This commercialism business is getting to me.

But still, I'm excited; no point trying to curtail that. And yes, I'm working on getting the paperback version out there. In doing so I've learned that typesetting sucks monkey butts, but lots of nice people out there are willing to help you out. In other words, don't blame me if it looks shite.

P.S. I'm going to Bouchercon this year! Check out the list of attendees. More on that in another post.