Friday, 24 April 2015

My Wee Curly Bap

To all who read what follows. I've been sitting on this piece for almost three years now, entirely unsure of what to do with it. A lot has changed since then, such as Lola the beagle moving on to a new home. However, Jack's genetic condition remains undiagnosed.

Today is Undiagnosed Children's Day. Here's my wee curly bap at the ripe old age of eight. He's a cool dude.

Here's a little snapshot of Jack:

My Wee Curly Bap
By Gerard Brennan

For the third time in three days I take Jack, my five-year-old son, to Dundrum Castle. Lola, our hyperactive beagle pup, comes along. Jack has been asking me all day about this walk. Pestering me. When he gets an idea into his head it sticks. This is part of what makes him who he is. How he is.
We live close to the castle. It’s a five minute walk on your own. Ten minutes with a five-year-old and a puppy. I tread carefully on the shit-littered lane and I watch Jack’s step. He’s a little clumsy and his eyesight is poor. I’m wearing old shoes and Jack has his Spider-Man wellies on. It wouldn’t be the end of the world to get them dirty but I’d prefer to avoid it. I’m so busy watching Jack’s step, and my own, that I don’t notice right away that Lola has found a dead mouse. It’s not that I’m squeamish, but the state this poor wee rodent is in sends ripples of gooseflesh across my skin. We move on.
Halfway along the lane we meet a neighbour walking her dog. I’m not sure of her name. I don’t pay much attention to the people on our street. It’s not out of aloofness or social anxiety. I just don’t have time to go out of my way to meet them or learn their names. Jack recognises the dog she has with her. It’s a greying Cairn Terrier. A decent wee doggie that mopes about on her front garden most days. My wife told me once that the neighbour rescued the terrier. I’m predisposed to liking her.
The neighbour is friendly and asks a couple of polite questions, makes a fuss about Lola and my son’s curls. She’s nice. After Jack is finished petting her dog he’s done with the encounter and wants to move along. With a parting comment about the unexpected sunshine I follow my wee curly bap along the lane.
Jack finds a puddle and asks my permission to jump in. I give it to him with a nod. He rewards me with a magnificent smile.
Soon we’re on the hill leading up to the castle. Jack’s progress slows. This is the point where I need to encourage him to keep up with Lola who is straining on her lead. She’d be half choked if my wife hadn’t bought that harness. After a few rounds of ‘ready, steady, go!’ we’re at the castle’s car park. We don’t go straight to the keep. In Jack’s mind we have to go by the hiking trail at the far end of the car park that circles the castle grounds. It’s pointless to suggest we go straight to the keep. That would be the wrong way to do it.
We meet another dog owner in the car park. She’s an older lady with dyed blonde hair and the look of money about her. Her dog is an overweight King Charles Cavalier. Its fur is red like the long wavy hair of a traditional Irish cailín. My dog and hers sniff each other and the lady tells me she’s come here from Hillsborough. While we’re talking, another woman shouts something at me. I don’t catch what she’s saying so I tilt my head politely; wait for her to repeat herself. She doesn’t. This woman stares at me for longer than I’m comfortable with. Her hair is cut into a perfect bob. It’s thick and black and reminds me of the helmets worn by the Normans who built Dundrum Castle.
Eventually she says, “You look like that fellah that works at our place. Gary Charles.”
I don’t know what to say to this.
“Gary Charles.”
Should I tell her I don’t know who Gary Charles is? She seems to want me to react in some way. I glance down at Jack to make sure he’s okay. He’s examining this new dog so he’ll be fine for a few more minutes. I look back up and the woman with the black hair is closer, giving me a good up and down investigation.
“He looks like Gary Charles, doesn’t he?” She directs this at the blonde woman from Hillsborough.
“This is Margaret,” she says. “We have her home for the weekend.”
Oh. Margaret is a little bit different, then. Maybe a little bit the same as Jack.
“Even your jeans are like his,” Margaret says. “And the way you walk.”
Margaret bends her knees slightly and does a bit of a bounce. Is that how I walk?
I think of something to say. “Well, I hope Gary Charles is a good-looking man.”
She doesn’t laugh. Maybe she doesn’t really care for Gary Charles’s appearance.
The blonde lady says, “She usually tells people that they look like Christopher Lee.”
“I’m not tall enough, I suppose.”
I get a laugh from the blonde lady. Margaret has moved off. She’s gone to stand by a little black Renault Clio that I assume they arrived in. There’s a white-haired lady and a toddler in there. Jack notices them for the first time and skips over to say hello. The white-haired lady asks him for one of his curls. Jack loses interest in her. All he wants to do is close the car door. Open doors bug him. Nobody objects when he slams it shut. I wish he wouldn’t do that, though. I worry about him catching his fingers. He’s been to the hospital too many times already; broken leg, numerous cuts on his head, planned operations on his eyelids… It’s not fair and I don’t want to add to the list. People think I’m over-protective of him, I know they do, even though they don’t tell me to my face. Well, I can’t help it.
We leave Margaret and the blonde lady and Ruby, the red-haired King Charles, and make it to the hiking trail. Jack wants to run down the makeshift steps. I’d like to put a harness and lead on him. It’s easy to control Lola. With Jack I have to use calm and clear instruction to keep Jack at a sensible pace. I’m not always calm and clear. Jack’s not always sensible.
We get down the steps without any slips or trips. But I can’t relax. Not yet. Jack still needs to navigate a tricky slope in the path. Thick tree roots have broken through the earth in places and there are muddy patches that haven’t been dried out by the sun. And Lola zigzags in front of us so that I have to constantly monitor the position of her lead in relation to Jack’s legs. There is the occasional stretch of smoother ground along the trail and I take those moments to admire the beauty of this spot. Little birds flit by the wild grass, bluebells and nettles. The sun filters through the branches overhead in ghostly strands. I don’t know what kind of trees line the trail. It seems like the sort of thing a man should know about a neighbouring wood. Later on that night I will consult Google and learn that ‘the canopy comprises mature beech with some sycamore and ash, scattered oak and wych elm along the lower edge and a few larch and Scot's pine’.
The trail slopes upwards; I swear it’s a gradient close to sixty degrees. Jack and I need to dig deep to keep pace with Lola. We’re granted a short break when the beagle pup notices a flock of sheep in a field to our right. Jack points at one of the lambs and tells me it’s a baby. I point at another one and tell him it’s the daddy. We bleat at each other and giggle. Lola lifts her front-right leg and her tail straightens out, her hunter instincts manifesting physically. I tug on her lead and she snaps out of it. We continue up the slope, giddy with exertion.
At the top of the climb there is a fence with a two-step stile for trekkers. Jack wants to climb it by himself. I agree to this for the first time but stand with my free hand outstretched, prepared to steady him if he wobbles. His balance is better than I realise. My wee curly bap gets up and over with confidence. I scoop Lola up and scramble over the stile with her under my arm. We turn left and continue towards the castle.
Young voices carry from the castle grounds. A gang of kids are playing on the grass. They have a Frisbee and a football. The man who works as the castle’s caretaker is off to one side of them. He’s brought his son to work judging by the similarity of their features. They’re honing their cricket skills, the son throwing and catching the gentle returns from his father’s cricket bat. A content golden Labrador looks on, his long tongue hanging.
One of the kids recognises us. A boy that lives next door to Jack’s granny. He’s twelve but is big enough to pass for fifteen. I search my memory banks for his name. Ryan. He has blond hair, a friendly face and a country build. Ryan has no trouble remembering my son’s name, nor my dog’s. He may not know mine.
“Hi, Jack,” Ryan says. “How’s Lola?”
Jack smiles at him.
Some of the other kids break off from the pack and approach us. They’re mostly interested in Lola. That’s fine by me, so long as they don’t hold us back too long.
One boy, the same size and shape as Ryan but with brown curls similar to Jack’s, lies down on the grass in front of Lola. He lets her lick his face.
“I love this dog,” Ryan’s friend says.
“Do you have one?” I ask.
“A wee Shih Tzu.”
“They’re nice dogs.”
“This one’s nicer.”
A tall skinny girl with red hair snickers. “You ever see a Shih Tzu crossed with a bulldog? They call it bullshit!”
I’ve heard that one a few times but the kids within earshot laugh like drunken demons. The little rips. I look to the caretaker to share a glance of disapproval that I don’t really feel, but he’s busy with his son, the cricket protégé. Jack points at the castle’s keep and I have to pry Lola away from the gang of rascals.
The kid with the brown curls skips in front of Jack and asks him his name. Jack answers as best he can but I can see the kid can’t decipher my wee curly bap’s underdeveloped speech. I’m about to translate but the older boy shares a smile with Jack and pretends he’s understood him. He holds out his hand.
“Give me five.”
Jack slaps the kid’s palm. My son looks delirious with joy. I clear my throat and usher him towards the keep. He’s reluctant now that he’s connected with the gang in a small way but I’m conscious of the time. We need to get moving. I tell him he’ll be able to come and play with these kids when he’s bigger. The look of hope on his face breaks my heart a little. I pray to God that I’m not lying to my son about this; that he’ll be fit to go and play unsupervised when he’s older.
At the keep Jack understands that we can’t go inside and climb the narrow steps to the top. Not with Lola. Instead, we circle the outside a few times. Jack runs his hand along the stonework and I ask him to stop when I notice the sleeve of his hoodie is getting dirty. I challenge him to a race down the slope of the castle grounds. He tears off before I can say, ‘Ready, steady, go!’

Lola strains on her lead to chase Jack but I pull back and let my wee curly bap win. At the bottom of the grassy bank he has just enough breath left to giggle. We sit on a low stone wall for a minute. Then I get up and put Jack on my shoulders. Even with Lola on her lead, this is the easiest way to go. He’ll drag his heels if I let him walk. Besides, I’m sure it won’t be long until my son won’t let me carry him at all. Until then, I’ll enjoy the feel of his hands on top of my head and the sound of his laughter when I walk in exaggerated bounds. He’s not heavy, but carrying him like this makes me feel so strong.

Thursday, 23 April 2015


Pronounced as haystack...

I've rattled out a few blog posts over at a collaborative scholarly-type site by the name of HASTAC. It's basically a social network to explore the digital world and attempt to harness it for the good of humanities. Synergy, baby.

Anyway, my blog posts might be interest to some of you. It might not. Here's the opening paragraph to the latest blog post. If you want to learn more then click on through to the HASTAC site.


"In my previous post I relayed some information on digital publishing, the emphasis being on the effects that a BookBub ad had on one of my novels. The ad was designed to inform BookBub subscribers that my ebook, FIREPROOF, would be available to download for free direct from Amazon's Kindle site (UK only -- I'll get back to that later). That meant that if you had a Kindle reader of any generation -- or indeed the Kindle app on your phone, tablet or computer -- you could read one of my novels for free. I held off on a follow-up post as I was aware that my publisher, Blasted Heath*, was pursuing a second ad for a second title..."

Click here for the rest.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Reading Holiday and a Call for Content

Image nicked from The Guardian


Always feels like shouting hello in an empty room when I blog these days. Well not entirely empty. Seana Graham could well be the last remaining reader of this blog. For that, I'm grateful, Seana. However, I'd like to pump some life into this damn thing now. That means new content. I have a few plans, but most of them fall into the self-promotional category. While that's always been an element of CSNI, it's never been the entire point of the blog. I wanted to promote Northern Irish crime fiction. To me, that's crime fiction that has been penned by a Northern Irish native or crime fiction that has been set in Northern Ireland.

Yup, this blog's niche is pretty tiny. It's all I can commit to for now.

Unfortunately, I can't do many more reviews right at this moment. This is mostly down to reading burnout. I have to read for my PhD and I like to keep up with my favourite NI authors. Since the PhD is crime fiction-focussed and most of my favourite NI authors write crime fiction I've carved a small reading niche as well. That's not good for a writer. So I've taken a short reading holiday to allow a little exploration outside the specific subgenres I've spent too much time with.

In no particular order, stand-outs include John Rector's ALREADY GONE and Adam Nevill's THE RITUAL. I'm also quite captivated with the Hugh Howey paperback edition of WOOL (500 pages of which I'm only about a quarter of the way through).

Anyway, until I get over this reading slump, I'd like to extend an invitation to all Northern Irish crime fiction writers (yes, even those previously interviewed) to participate in an interview season of sorts. Five questions that will be written with my knowledge of your work in mind. You can use this to promote a recent book or an upcoming release in any territory. The only rule is that you are easily classified as a Northern Irish crime fiction writer. If you want to slip in under a grandfather rule, chance your arm, but the general guideline is that the writer resides in, hails from or has written (substantially) about Northern Ireland.

Clear enough?

Good. I miss the good ol' days of this blog. Let's see if we can recreate them for a month or two, eh?

Keep 'er lit, folks.

Saturday, 18 April 2015


Delighted to learn that the good people at Blasted Heath have secured a BookBub ad for UNDERCOVER this coming Monday to promote the Amazon UK giveaway. When they did this for FIREPROOF the results were pretty pleasing. Thousands of people took advantage of the freebie and sixteen of those readers took the time to review it. To put that in perspective, the most recent review before the ad was sixteen months old. Post-giveaway sales increased too (which wouldn't be hard since it was my worst-selling title). All good.

And now, the novel that I think of as my most commercial to date is going to get the same opportunity. This, right now, is the magic moment where I can let my imagination run wild and believe that Monday will be the key moment in my writing career.

It won't be, but it does no harm to dream, does it?

Get your copy of UNDERCOVER here, UK Kindle readers.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Death in Devon - No Alibis

We at No Alibis Bookstore are very pleased to invite you to celebrate the launch of Ian Sansom's latest novel 'Death in Devon', on Thursday 26th March, 7pm, at Established Coffee, Belfast.

Join Ian for the second instalment of his County Guide series, this time taking readers to County Devon.

Swanton Morley, the People’s Professor, sets off for Devon to continue his history of England, The County Guides. Morley’s daughter Miriam and his assistant Stephen Sefton pack up the Lagonda for a trip to the English Riviera.

Morley has been invited to give the Founder’s Day speech at All Souls School in Rousdon. But when the trio arrive they discover that a boy has died in mysterious circumstances. Was it an accident or was it – murder?

We cannot wait to celebrate this event, hope to see you all there!

If you're a Facebooker, stop by the dedicated events page and let the event organisers know that you'll definitely be there. Because you will, right?

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Fireproof Freebie

So, Blasted Heath have secured a BookBub ad for my novel, FIREPROOF. The ad went out today as part of this week's BookBub newsletter. Interesting timing, this being St Patrick's Day. St Patrick was tasked with spreading Christianity to Ireland's heathen shores. And the rest of the island, like. The protagonist of my book is on a mission for the other guy. It's up to Mike Rocks to spread Satanism 'round these parts.

So, today I'm celebrating Anti-Saint Mike's Day. And the novel in question is free. If you haven't gone out and got yourself so drunk that your own ma' would be ashamed of you, then maybe take a minute to check it out. Probably not for the religiously sensitive, but then, I'm not seeing a whole lot of Christian behaviour going on today, either. Seems more like heathen mischief to me. More power to the revellers.

Contrary wee bastard that I am, if I do have a drink tonight, it'll be a dram of Scotch (though to be totally honest, I've a wild hankering for an Irish coffee).

Happy Booze Day, people.

If you're not signed up to BookBub, you can get Fireproof for free directly from the Kindle store.

Some Amazon links:


Unconvinced about the premise? Check out what the master wordsmith, Ken Bruen had to say about it below. If that guy can't convince you, I may as well burn the damn thing. Except it's Fireproof. Tee-hee.

“…Also, I'm in a monogamous relationship, so I don't really agree with orgies."
"Sacrifices and orgies have nothing to do with the religion. All that shit was developed by people who wanted to kill things and shag a lot. That's not what it's all about."
"That right?"
"Yeah. I've been working hard to try and shake that kind of misconception."
"Working as what?"
"A representative of Lucifer. I was s
ent here to build a Satanic Religion."
"Okay. Why did Lucifer think a tattoo parlour was the best place to start?"

“This is just one of the various scintillating hilarious surreal chats in Fireproof, the new novel from the excellent Gerard Brennan.
Phew-oh, GB's début was terrific but this is a huge leap forward, an assured fully-formed artist in total control of his art.
Equally hilarious and jaw-droppingly violent at once.
Reading this novel was a total blast.
Catapults GB to the very first league.
And… you'll never… ever see Cadbury's n' Nestle in quite the same or indeed sane fashion again.
Thanks, Gerard, for a wondrous read.”

From Ken Bruen, Shamus award winning author of much genius.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The BelTel Backs The Defence

Image taken from Belfast Telegraph website.

Janey Mac, sure it's nearly March.

What does that mean?

An end to the shite weather?

Probably not. It's Northern Ireland.

A mega session on St Paddy's Day?

Unlikely. I usually spend the day with the kids, and will do until they don't want me to.

A new book from the Northern Irish crime fiction set?

Actually, yeah. A debut. And there's plenty of buzz surrounding The Defence. For instance, check out this mega feature in that there Belfast Telegraph (first printed in yesterday's edition).

There's also plenty of good word coming from early readers (of which I am one). Two opinions in particular stick out. Both Brian McGilloway and Stuart Neville, CSNI favourites, have this to say:

A full-on thrill-ride that hits the gas on page one and doesn't let up until the end. Steve blends a taut legal thriller with a ticking-clock suspense plot and throws in a great protagonist in the form of Eddie Flynn that readers will want to see again and again. A terrific debut (Stuart Neville)

Like Mickey Haller and Mitch McDeere before him, readers will love lawyer Eddie Flynn, the star of this high-octane, hugely entertaining legal thriller. On the evidence of this blistering debut, we'll be hearing much more of Steve Cavanagh (Brian McGilloway)

I had a little something to say about it too.

So, you interested? If you're geographically able, I highly recommend you get in touch with Dave at No Alibis and book your seat at the launch. It's on the 12th March at 6.30pm.

You'll kick yourself if you miss it.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Disorder in Order

Following a meeting with my PhD supervisor yesterday, it would seem that my novel, DISORDER, is on the right track. There is more work to be done (isn't there always?), but not quite as much as my worst-case-scenario thoughts might have suggested. It's all good.

So, now follows a period of thinking time before I tackle it again. This will be facilitated by the kind folk who will be sending me their thoughts when they get a chance to look at the early draft. A few have even gotten back to me already. Many thanks, you absolute stars.

And so, mostly because I can't just sit on my arse ALL day and think about one book, I have other things to get done. Most of them involve sitting on my arse and typing. Thankfully, I'm back at the gym following an injury that became an excuse to be lazy long after it was healed, so I'll spend some time on my feet (and my back) as well.

Again, paranoid that if I release too much info on any of this stuff it'll curse it all, I'll be a little vague for this next paragraph or two.

I still need to seek out and woo agents of various stripes. My screen and stage writing badly needs representation. I have two television scripts, a movie script and I'm working on a play, but I have no idea what to do with this stuff. And while I would like to have a literary agent again, I can get by without one for now, so I haven't put much energy into securing a new one yet. So, maybe this would be a good time to look at agencies that could accommodate all three of my writing streams. Certainly, there's been little response to my half-assed "can anybody recommend an agent?" approach that I sometimes indulge in on Twitter or Facebook.

And while I know that the agent thing is important, I try not to allow myself too much time off from writing. That is the number one concern for a writer, surely? It might also be the reason why I've got stuff on my computer that I keep forgetting to send out to be read/considered/rejected. On the bright side, it also means that I'll be able to release a fourth novel through Blasted Heath this year. Not another Cormac Kelly just yet (but that's coming, trust me). I have a new character to put out there first. Detective Shannon McNulty's first adventure will be available in the near future. No actual date yet, but I'm hoping it'll hit virtual bookshelves by the summer.

So, that's an update that ran longer than I intended. It was my intention to simply list the books that were very important in the writing of DISORDER but I got a little chatty. Here's the list anyway:

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
The Glass Key, Dashiell Hammett
The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins
The Hunter, Richard Stark
Cotton Comes to Harlem, Chester Himes
The Prone Gunman, Jean-Patrick Manchette
Interface, Joe Gores
The Man With the Gloved Hand, Joe McKimmey
Stumped, Rob Kitchin

Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, Patricia Highsmith
Writing Mysteries, ed. Sue Grafton
Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon
The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield

There may be one or two books that I've forgotten about that contributed directly to the writing of DISORDER, but if they come to mind later I'll slip them into the list. I read quite a bit of academic non-fiction as well, but that was for the critical component of my PhD, and so it's not really relevant to this particular post. I'll maybe put a full bibliography on the blog when I've completed the whole thing in another year and a half, but the above will do nicely for now.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Back to the Future Sacrifice of Fools

At last! Ian McDonald's Sacrifice of Fools can be purchased again.

I wrote about it on CSNI before (in 2008! Jesus, how long have I been doing this?), and mention it quite regularly when asked about great crime fiction novels set in Northern Ireland. Ian McDonald's contribution just happens to involve aliens. From space, like.

McDonald further proved his crime fiction street cred in 2014 with his contribution to Belfast Noir. So it's a good time to go back and check out his futuristic vision of Northern Ireland, though we've already caught up with the projected date, and still there are no damn hoverboards.

Anyway, you can get it and three other McDonald classics through one of his new ebook publishers, Open Road. I applaud the company for its good taste.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

The Dead Ground by Claire McGowan

This is a much delayed review/shout-out. I made the mistake of buying a signed first edition as soon as it was released and didn't like the idea of reading it on planes, trains or buses (obviously I can't read it while operating an automobile). However, I'm glad I finally found enough time at home to get around to it. Here are a few thoughts:

The Dead Ground starts out with a scene involving a pregnant woman that'd make most sane people squirm. This vicious opening pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the more grisly elements to the tale, which is the function of a prologue, right (ed - I know what Elmore Leonard thinks about them, be cool (thank you, I'm here all week))?

Public service announcement: The Dead Ground might be better read after your baby is born, should you or your partner be expecting. And maybe you should go in open-minded with regards to the politics behind the book. Surprisingly, this novel, set in a fictional NI town, is less concerned with the traditional tribal tripe that is usually associated with Northern Ireland. It's got important stuff in it. And this is why we need more writers like Claire McGowan focussing on Northern Ireland. She, through her characters, raises many relevant questions on feminism and, more precisely, the issue of abortion.

I'll just leave that there for now. The book, if you want to try to figure out its stance on the subject, is available from all good book retailers.

You can find the blurb and whatnot on the publisher's website.

For my money, this is an excellent addition to the contemporary canon of NI crime fiction that's been building faster than Celtic Tiger houses in recent years. The Paula Maguire series has oodles of potential. Yes, it's crime fiction. Yes, there is mystery, suspense and heartache. Yes, it's the second of a series that I believe should be continued (at the very least) to a third instalment. But it offers more than just a cheap thrill ride. Like all good books should, this one will leave you thinking. And in my case, it'll leave you wanting that third part.